The team photo of Burnley is a sight to behold. Players with shaved heads, flat noses, and ears that stick out, ready to fight, which seems to define their ideal of play, Saturday afternoon, and live it up, Saturday night. There isn't a single Black player on the roster of the seventh place Premier League team, managed by a red-headed Englishman, Sean Dyche (46 years old), and it is difficult to say whether that's intentional or accidental.
In fact, there is one player of color on their team photo from the beginning of the season, Daniel Agyei, and he was loaned to Walsall. It's not because he's a player of color that he was loaned, obviously, but so it goes with Burnley FC, a team that resembles the city, a Norther enclave some 40 km from Manchester that voted 70% Leave in the 2016 Brexit vote and which was the site of heavy racial tensions in 2001.
In this first half of the English Premiership season, Burnley appears to be a team from another era, by its pale face, its structured yet tight game that has seen it take 32 points with 16 goals, and by its home from another century, its home stadium of Turf Moor, which it has occupied since 1883, built right in the middle of a row of houses, close to downtown.
A club that fell off the map of professional football, the glory of the club is ancient, by now: Burnley was the smallest city to be crowned champion of England (78,000 residents, at the time), in 1960. Since then, the team disappeared from professional football, going semi-pro in 1987, and is now playing only its fourth season of top-flight football in 41 years.
But it has been a completely unbelievable season, which their tough 0-3 loss against Tottenham, this past Saturday at Turf Moor, doesn't reflect. The "Clarets" have only conceded twelve goals in their first 18 matches, but allowed three in their nineteenth. Perhaps this loss can be blamed on how, for the first time, they were playing as a team in the top six, attractive real estate to hold onto, rather than as an unknown looking to prove itself. Yet main defender and captain, Ben Mee, is pretty confident: "I don't see why this is unrealistic. Everyone doubts us and predicts our collapse, but we are a good team, and we can continue to do what we do well." No one believes that Burnley can qualify for a European cup, which they haven't contended for since the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1967, but proving others wrong is not a major motivator for Mee and his teammates. It's even worse than that:
"Whether people think that we can finish in the top six, or in the top half, or that we're going to fall on our faces, we couldn't care less." Burnley is so English that Gareth Southgate, the manager of England's National Team, has already visited Turf Moor four times this season. He offered his first Burnley selection to Jack Cork, in November, against Germany (a game which ended in a 0-0 tie), and could bring goalkeeper Tom Heaton (31 years old, 3 caps) to Russia.
Thanks to Burnley's current season, Sean Dyche has become the "in" English manager of the season. It's as much a title of nobility as a curse that moves from one person to the next: this one doesn't last, this one always finishes poorly, and this one ends up fizzling out at a big club. A former mid-level player, the captain of Chesterfield (3rd level) semi-finalist for the cup in 1987, he has been with Burnley as they've been promoted twice and have only been relegated once. This seems like it means nothing, but Burnley is now in the top flight for the first time since 1975.
The former goalkeeper of England's National Team, Paul Robinson has recently revealed to the English sports channel beIN the methods that Dyche uses to assert his authority and a certain social atmosphere (??) over the team. When it is cold there are no underclothes, no winter hats, no gloves allowed - and when it's warm there aren't any either. When there's an infraction of these and other rules, the guilty player needs to spin a fortune wheel Dyche has put in the locker room. The punishments vary: if the wheel falls on the "E", for example, the player needs to dress up like an Elvis impersonator and sing infront of the team. It's unsure whether this would shock many on a Saturday night out in Burnley.