When the FA Cup third round draw was made in the 1990/91 season it threw up an opponent for the older generation to reminisce about.
In the late 1950s and through most of the 60s, Burnley had been one of the mainstays of the top flight of English football. They had clinched the First Division title in 1960 at Maine Road on the last day of the season and it was the greatest decade for the club; they were competing for Cups and in Europe, they were innovative as a club both on and off the field and seemed to have an endless production line of quality youth players coming through.
When I first saw Burnley in 1973 they had just returned to the top flight after a two year absence and were managed by their legendary former player Jimmy Adamson. They still had home grown talent in their ranks with Martin Dobson and Leighton James among the best, but they slipped out of the division after three seasons and set off on a rollercoaster ride which nearly ended in getting relegated out of the Football League in 1987, only saving themselves in the final game of the season. By the time of this fixture in 1991, they were very much viewed as a team from yesteryear; they were in the fourth division and, on paper at least, no match for Peter Reid’s solid hard working City side.
The match was moved to a Sunday lunchtime kick-off at 12:15pm, these were the pre-Premier League days, we were not yet accustomed to having fixtures moved around the calendar it was still a rarity, so on a crisp January morning the fans headed for deepest Lancashire. Though a regular on the Kippax, I opted to see how the other half lived in the seats for this game, so rather than head for the terrace down the side of the pitch, I took up my wooden bench seat in the Cricket Field Stand behind the goal. My Dad, who had visited Turf Moor back in the day, reckoned bar one roof and all the security fences, the ground had barely changed from those halcyon days.
Going to the game there was an air of confidence that the team would be able to make short work of the tie against the fourth division side. Of course, there were those who recalled previous exits to lower league sides at a frozen Shrewsbury and a muddy Halifax in 1979 and 1980 who preached caution. This was an FA Cup tie, a one-off, and there was also the slight worry of coming up against an ex-player in the form of the now veteran forward Paul Futcher, who had played up front for City during the 1978-79 season, but with thousands of Blues behind them most felt we would emerge victorious.
As is so often the case with lunchtime games, the atmosphere wasn’t quite what it usually would have been especially for a third round tie, but the players eventually got the crowd going. Burnley battled hard in midfield and even got a breakaway chance which they hit wide. City gradually imposed themselves on the game with Reid, Harper and Megson breaking things up and supplying the front line of David White and Wayne Clarke – another of the ex-Everton players in the squad – chosen ahead of fan favourite Clive Allen who was on the bench.
Chances came and went, White had a chance cleared off the line, Megson hit a volley against the post, and it felt like the goal was coming. It was in the second half that City made the breakthrough, attacking the Cricket Field Stand End where the City fans were packed in, left-back Neil Pointon intercepted a clearance, headed it on in front of him into the box, he crossed for White whose diving header was pushed away by the Burnley keeper only to be smashed home at close range by centre half Colin Hendry, for what would turn out to be the winner. Burnley had a late rally as they threw caution to the wind and it was Paul Futcher who got the chances to get the Clarets back in the tie; first a fortunate ricochet fell to him in the box, which he just put wide under pressure from Hendry, then in injury time he got a clear shot on goal which Coton smartly saved with his legs ensuring City went through to the fourth round. Sadly this was not the start of a glorious FA Cup run; City got past Port Vale in the next round thanks to a winning goal from substitute Allen, but fell at the fifth round stage to Notts County to a last minute farcical goal on a massively frustrating day when City hit the woodwork no less than four times.
As for Colin Hendry, the goal scorer that day, 1991 would be the year he left the club. Hendry had been signed by Mel Machin from Blackburn in mid-November 1989, the week after the 6-0 thrashing at Derby County, and he made his debut in the 3-0 home loss against Forest the week after (Mel Machin was sacked little over a week later). Hendry was always a man you would want in the trenches with you, he would put his body on the line stretching every sinew to stop chances, great in the air, a dynamic defender, who was also a threat up front and was over his time at City pressed into a forward’s role on numerous occasions. Martin Tyler once described Hendry during his City days as “a Stormtrooper of a centre half”, his never say die characteristics were what the City crowd loved.
Under new manager Howard Kendall City started to pick up points and become harder to beat, Hendry was at the heart of the successful fight against relegation and deservedly won the 1989-90 player of the season. Hendry was first choice centre half in 1990-91 season with Steve Redmond as Kendall’s side headed up the league table, this didn’t alter even when Kendall returned to Everton in November 1990 and Peter Reid took over the hot seat, taking City to a fifth place finish. Hendry was always good for a goal and that season he scored a beauty in the 3-3 derby at Maine Road in October 1990; intercepting a ball in midfield he skipped past a challenge, played a delightful one-two with Niall Quinn on the edge of the box then smashed the ball into the net, then wheeled away in front of the ecstatic Kippax, arms outstretched in celebration, a glorious moment.
Hendry looked set to be at City for years to come, however the next summer Peter Reid splashed out a record fee on a new centre-half Keith Curle from Wimbledon and Hendry found himself on the bench. The word was that there was a falling out between Hendry and the manager and he was promptly sold back to Blackburn just two years after he arrived. The fans were gutted to see a favourite leave and many saw it as a mistake, hindsight suggests the fans had a point. Hendry would become a Scotland international and was at the heart of the Rovers side, who under Kenny Dalglish would get promoted back to the top flight, then eventually win the Premier League in 1994-95.
Colin Hendry always got a round of applause on his return to Maine Road from the fans and as we saw him grow into one of the best centre-halves in the Premier League, many thoughts turned to what might have been if he had stayed.
Written by Richard Donlan
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