Burnley's Growing International Brigade

21 March 2017 06:31

Burnley’s first ever international player John Yates was capped once for England in 1889 and it was another 5 years before Jimmy Crabtree got the first of his three full England caps. Jimmy had the ominous distinction of being the first ever England player to take a penalty and miss it!

Another 5 years passed until a third Burnley player was capped for England, this time it was Jimmy Hillman. Tommy Morrison became the Clarets' first non-England international and Tommy was capped for Ireland in the same year. Over the next half century, a number of Burnley players were awarded international caps, but only two players got into double figures with 11 caps each.

When I was a lad in the late 1950's, Burnley could field a full side of internationals, 'B' internationals and under-21 internationals and fans just expected it. Many of the players were developed by the club at Burnley's Gawthorpe, probably the first in the world state of the art soccer training centre, where even professional footballers sent their sons to hone their skills. 

In goal, Colin MacDonald of England was capped 8 times around 1958 and was destined for many more, until suffering a career ending leg break playing for the English Football League side. He was replaced in the Burnley team by Adam Blacklaw, who gained 3 caps for Scotland in 1963.  At left full back, Alex Elder of Northern Ireland won 34 caps and scored 1 international goal between 1960 and 67.

Right full back John Angus was awarded a single England cap in 1961, a feat repeated by Burnley legend Brian Miller. "Dusty" Miller was probably the best left half  to ever wear the Clarets' number 6 shirt. Burnley's amazing League success n the late 1950's and early 60's put the Burnley players to the forefront of international manager's thinking, even though as now, the club was never truly fashionable.

The Burnley forward line was truly impressive with John Connelly winning 10 caps between 1959 – 63, scoring 4 goals for England on the right wing. Jimmy McIlroy won 51 caps for Northern Ireland playing at inside right, scoring 10 goals and remains Burnley's most ever capped player.

The "Blond Bombshell" Ray Pointer, Burnley's centre forward won 1 cap in 1961, along with Brian Pilkington, who received a solitary cap for England in 1954, playing on the left wing. 

It is worth remembering this was in the pre-substitute era, unlike these days where sometimes 16 caps may be awarded in a single game, not 11!

Over the years and after wage freedoms came in, small town clubs like Burnley inevitably fell down the leagues and Clarets' international players became increasingly uncommon. Contemporary teams have become much more cosmopolitan and with young home grown talent being quickly snatched by the top clubs, it’s increasingly unlikely Burnley will ever have so many full English internationals on the pitch again. 

Recently, the club's policy of finding unrecognised talent at bargain prices in the lower divisions has started to pay off and as the club has featured in the Premier League three times in the past 8 years and been prominent in the Championship, the numbers of internationals have started to increase.  

Sam Vokes leads the new wave of Burnley internationals with 27 caps and 4 goals for Wales since 2012. Stephen Ward has won 16 caps for Eire since 2014 and the Clarets have seen the development of a new international era.  The club bought George Boyd from Hull City who had earned 2 caps for Scotland in 2013, the year before George joined the Clarets.

Scottish born Scott Arfield was signed on a free transfer from Huddersfield Town around the same time Boyd signed and surely should have joined him in the Scottish ranks? Gordon Strachan has continually frustrated that ambition, so Scotty decided to defect and play for Canada in 2016 and has already accrued 6 caps.  His next game for Canada will somewhat ironically be against Scotland in Edinburgh tomorrow, (22.03.2017) at Easter Road.

Tom Heaton the much vaunted Clarets' goalkeeper, signed on a free transfer from Bristol City, gained his first English cap whilst playing for Burnley in 2016. This was the first England cap for a Burnley player since Martin Dobson in 1974 and gave cause for much local celebration.

Clarets' young centre back Michael Keane has been very close to joining him from the England bench and it is hoped from Turf Moor quarters that the impressive Keane will be awarded his first full England cap, perhaps sometime over the next two English international games?

Claret fans' cult hero Joey Barton, received one full England cap way back in 2007. Signed in the summer of 2015 by Sean Dyche on yet another free transfer, one can only wonder, "What if" Barton had been as exemplary off the pitch as he is on it, regarding the number of England caps the Liverpool born midfielder could have accrued?

Things have moved with pace this season as Burnley have been able to cautiously spend some of their Premier League lucre with summer 2016 signings. Reasonably priced foreign talent has arrived at Turf Moor with Johann Berg Gudmundsson coming from Charlton. Gudmundsson has now already played 57 games for Iceland.

Record breaking acquisition Steven Defour signed from Anderlecht, had 46 Belgian caps earned from 2006. After winning his international place back since arriving at Turf Moor, Steven has earned 5 more caps and can now celebrate with 51.

In January 2017, Burnley completed the acquisition of three full Republic of Ireland internationals and broke their transfer record again when Robbie Brady joined the Clarets from Norwich. Robbie has 31 Eire caps, earned since 2012 and Jeff Hendrick from Derby has won 29 caps, earned since 2013.  Robbie Brady recently scooped the pool at the FAI awards, winning both the Senior and Young Player of the Year awards in addition to the Goal of the Year for his strike against Italy in last summer's Euros.

Suddenly, Burnley have a team packed with 10 internationals, with over 200 caps earned between them. Hopefully that number will grow in Dortmund tomorrow when Gareth Southgate invites Michael Keane to join them on the Clarets' International Players Board of Fame?

It might not be a boast too far to say perhaps the golden days for Burnley are back? It is to be hoped the further Sean Dyche inspired development at Gawthorpe and hopefully high regular Premier League revenues will help Burnley attract and develop more home grown players as in their illustrious past. 

There is of course a downside to playing more international games. There is an increased risk of players getting injured on international duty as tragically happened with Colin McDonald. International call ups and appearances place young players in the "Shop Window" and Burnley have previously suffered young talent being poached following international managerial interest.

Jay Rodriguez and Danny Ings were both capped for England within months of leaving Turf Moor. Enormous global soccer media interest is being focussed on young Michael Keane and it will not be an easy task for the Burnley gaffer Sean Dyche to keep hold of the Stockport born wonder kid. 

There is another risk that bringing in international players with big egos carries. It risks damaging the team spirit (or is it now group spirit?) but Sean Dyche's track record suggests he is good at choosing the right ones and blending the players together in harmonious accord.

Burnley fans should enjoy this latest halcyon period whilst it lasts. Clarets supporters can only hope international recognition and success grows with the club and the Clarets can manage to avoid and negate the dangers of big player syndrome.

One thing is for certain, Burnley fans are not short of International teams to support during international breaks these days!

This article was written by veteran Burnley supporter and regular Clarets Mad contributor "Old Colner" (TEC).


Source: DSG