Glory days


When Burnley won the old First Division Championship after 39 years in 1960, their fans could be forgiven for taking Prime Minister Harold McMillan’s recent “Winds of Change” speech out of context and applying it to the Clarets. They’d certainly, “Never had it so good”.

Having never led the table at any stage of the season, they saved the best until the last game of the Season at Maine Road and when the final whistle blew a team of mostly young players had scored exactly 100 goals in League and Cup, pushing 106 goal Wolves into second place. With that achievement came entry into the European Cup and a tie against French side, Rheims.A 2-0 home win set us up for a controversial away battle that saw Burnley leaving the field battered, bloody but triumphant having won 4-3 on aggregate. The prize was a January 1961 Quarter Final against Hamburg S.V. captained by the great centre forward Uwe Seeler at Turf Moor.

At the same time, over in Germany, U.S. Private 53310761, Presley, Elvis, cruised the autobahns in his BMW 507 Roadster humming the tune of a German folksong he was to call “Wooden Heart” and the Beatles, fresh from Germany (and Hamburg no less) were playing some of their early gigs in obscure Liverpool town halls. So fresh from Germany that many of their fans thought they were a German group. One album, released in Germany, saw them billed as “The Beat Brothers”. The word “Beatles” being too similar to the German word, “Pidels” pronounced “Peedles”, a slang word for penises.

Whether Hamburg’s famous 24 year old centre-forward Uwe had heard of either “Wooden Heart” or the “Pidels” it’s impossible to say. That he would have known of Burnley’s football reputation is beyond doubt. Hamburg manager Gunther Mahlmann would have made all of his team sure of that. The mighty Hamburg Sports Verein (Sports Club) was a force to be reckoned with in those pre-Bundesliga days, having won their regional leagues and their association cup on several occasions. Ominously, in this, the 1960/61 season, they were running away with their league, having only dropped one point from 16 matches. Mahlmann warned that “Burnley is one of the greatest teams in the world” Even allowing for his diplomatic hyperbole, many Claret’s fans were inclined to agree with him.

Having stayed overnight in Manchester, courtesy of Matt Busby, the Germans arrived in Burnley the following day. The hotel of choice was then “The Keirby”, Burnley’s new luxury hotel named after a brewery that had stood on the site owned by “J. Grimshaw”.If connoisseurs of ale and football cast their eyes upwards above the entrance to the nearby Turf Hotel they will see two carved stone roundels and notice that “JG” is featured on one and “Ltd” on the other. The Turf was another of Mr Grimshaw’s establishments, as was the Talbot Hotel, also suitably inscribed.

The Keirby attracted not only top football teams in those days. Film fans could only marvel at seeing the cast and crew of “Whistle down the Wind” pass through its carpeted halls. Originally set in Sussex, the screenplay was re-written by northern writers, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall to give it a “grittier” quality and shot in numerous local locations. It was possible, if you hung around long enough, to have a pint with director Bryan Forbes, producer “Dickie”, now Sir Richard Attenborough, and leading man, Alan Bates. The young star, Hayley Mills would, of course, have long been tucked up in the Land of Nod, no doubt dreaming of Sussex. Perhaps “Dickie” slept in the same bed vacated by Uwe Seeler? History declines to inform us. But when Uwe (he of the dangerous overhead kick) left that bed in the Keirby on match day, Wednesday the 18th January 1961, he and I were destined to meet.

At 19 years of age, I was a drama student in waiting but still a photographer having served a somewhat curtailed apprenticeship on the Burnley Express. The management wouldn’t give me extended leave to go to the 1960 Olympics in Rome so I went anyway and was fired for my initiative. Then again there was the incident when I photographed an evening match on the Turf in full stage make-up so I could make a late appearance on stage. I thought if I turned my collar up and wore a hat and scarf no one would notice. It must have been the full set of Victorian mutton-chop whiskers that gave me away.

By the time of the Hamburg match I was working for a newly formed Burnley Press Agency which had the distinction of having premises above John Colliers –“The window to watch”—and a ladies hairdressers in St James’ Street. The grubby studio we occupied was later used by “amateur photographers” to learn how to photograph the scantily clad female form. Whether film was actually in all the cameras was uncertain. Certainly those films that were handed in for developing often showed a remarkable degree of camera shake.

Such was the importance of the Burnley/Hamburg clash, we received a contract from a London news agency to cover the event for them for syndication with German newspapers. They wanted pre-match stuff and, of course, the match itself the same evening. Pre-match was simple. The Hamburg team would stroll up the road from the Keirby to take eine kleine peep at the hallowed Turf. Not that they’d been allowed to train on it. Chairman Bob Lord had seen to that and sent them off to be impressed by the training facilities at Gawthorpe. Mr Lord—no slouch at gamesmanship where his beloved Burnley were concerned—had said that he wanted the pitch to be “in the best possible condition”.

In the event, the 46,237 fans who turned up on the night saw a well rolled swamp that, by the time Burnley had won a corner in the opening seconds, had turned into a quagmire. Unplayable by modern standards but quite acceptable at the time, Hamburg were playing us in their mid-winter break designed to avoid such pitches.

In those pre-digital days before the advent of memory chips that enable photographers to take hundreds of shots, I was sent to the pre-match armed with two rolls of film. 24 shots. It was easy enough to fire off 23 of them but in the best tradition of the trade, I left one unexposed frame in the camera in case something happened on the way back to the office.

And, goodness gracious, it did!

I mean, when you’re 19 and a football fan and you get to stroll along the street back to the Keirby with the great Uwe Seeler and the entire Hamburg team, you do it. Uwe Seeler! Hamburg, where he scored 137 goals in 269 appearances was his only club. (I know they were odd times). He was also to make 72 International appearances, scoring 43 times, captaining both his club and the national team. In 1960 he was voted German Footballer of the Year.

Now, as fate would have it, he was possessed of a football and I, callow youth, was possessed of one frame of film in my camera and there, on a cobbled Burnley back-street, festooned with sheets hanging out to dry, were two grubby little lads kicking a bald, torn tennis ball about. Uwe stopped bouncing the football and turned to look at the boys. Then he dropped the ball at his feet and dribbled towards them across the cobbles and two astonished kids found themselves trying to defend a Burnley back-street against one of the world’s most dangerous strikers and the first man ever to score in 4 World Cups.

I raised my camera, focused, (“Please let it be sharp.”) and clicked the shutter. Mercifully, it was a beauty and found its way into several newspapers

The rest of the day didn’t go well for the lovely Uwe. The closest he came to scoring was to hit the post. In front of an hysterical crowd, commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme found himself shaking on his camera position shouting that the noise was “fit to waken the dead”. The Clarets famously won 3-1 but Hamburg’s away goal was to cost us dearly in the away leg when Jimmy McIlroy, like Uwe, hit the post. I’d like to say I saw it all. I didn’t. Twenty minutes after kick off, I was back in the darkroom, above the hairdressers nervously developing the early match pictures before running round with them to the GPO where the London agency’s “wire man” was waiting to send them to Germany.

A short time later when the second leg went against us the European dream was over. At the season’s end we were 4th in the League, semi-finalists in both domestic cup competitions and had found the net 102 times, a new club record.Uwe Seeler and his Hamburg team would go on to play Barcelona, end up 2-2 on aggregate and then be eliminated 1-0 in a play off. So, I guess, it might have been Barcelona and not Burnley. Who knows? Barca would lose the final 3-2 to the “Eagles” of Benfica.

I hope Uwe enjoyed playing against “one of the best teams in the world” and when those two backstreet kids woke up the next day I bet they started to tell of how they not only took on Uwe Seeler but the whole German team.


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