Rowell Report: Sunderland’s battle at Burnley was brutal

Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Rowell
Ex-Sunderland footballer Gary Rowell
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WHENEVER I go to Turf Moor, I can’t help thinking back to a game in 1978 that had the good, the bad and the ugly all wrapped up in 90 minutes.

The good was that we won and I got a couple of goals, which was personally satisfying.

The bad was we had two players sent off in the first half.

And the ugly was the nasty, bad-tempered nature that the game was played in and got labelled the Battle of Burnley.

Even for an era when the game was a lot more physical than it is today, and dressing rooms up and down the country would have players coming out with clichés like ‘get your retaliation in first’ or ‘take no prisoners’, this one was as brutal as I played in.

Before the game, there was nothing to suggest it would turn out like the game it did.

We had a couple of ex-Burnley players in our squad, who were keen to do well, but that was no excuse for the cynical fouls and punch-ups that were happening regularly in the first 45 minutes.

We ended the half with nine men after our two full-backs Joe Bolton and Micky Henderson were both sent off and our manager Jimmy Adamson’s half-time team talk left us in no doubt how we’d let everyone down and now had the perfect excuse to lose.

We couldn’t really argue, our lack of discipline had put us in a position where it was impossible to win, yet that’s exactly what we did.

The gameplan - if that’s what you can call it - was to surprise Burnley by attacking them, try to nick an early goal and then just hang on.

As it turned out, we caught Burnley cold and surprised even ourselves by scoring twice and even though the Clarets pulled one back with 15 minutes to go and threw everything at us, we somehow held out for a win against all the odds.

After the game, in the dressing room, Adamson - himself a former Burnley player and manager - said his harsh words at half-time were designed to provoke the team, which they did, so I suppose it worked.

But what I didn’t know until much later was that Adamson and the then Burnley chairman Bob Lord had a stand-up argument in the directors box, so the bad blood that day wasn’t just confined to the pitch.

That game is one I’ll always remember for many reasons. Unfortunately it wasn’t televised, which was a pity as it would have been a real eye-opener for younger fans today.