Think of Burnley and the first images which come to mind will likely be those of a gritty northern mill town which has seen better days. It is true that house prices there are some of the lowest in the country and the unemployment rate is slightly higher than the national average. Perhaps not the most appealing away day for the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal supporters when they look at their fixture lists then.
However, following numerous promotions to the Premier League over the last 7 years, and what now looks to be the makings of an established and financially secure top flight team under Sean Dyche’s leadership, the football club has had an important impact on its local community, becoming a focal point for the town and detracting from some of the previous negative images associated with Burnley as a poverty-stricken area.
Just a five minute walk from the town centre and nestled behind old terraced streets you’ll find Turf Moor, a grand old place which many Burnley fans regard as their ‘church.’ With official capacity sitting at a little over 20,000, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a small club.
But when you consider that the population of the town is around 70,000, it means that a full house for a home game equates to almost 30% of the locals attending. In fact, in their last Premier League season, the Clarets averaged an impressive attendance of 19,000, proving that this is a town which is well and truly behind its team.
And when you wander through the streets, very rarely will you find people sporting Man United or Liverpool shirts; the locals are proud to wear the badge and their hearts bleed claret and blue.
The financial reward which has come with playing Premier League football week in week out is massive – not just for the club itself, but for the town too. When bigger teams visit, revenue is derived from the large travelling support, who may venture into local pubs or stop for food along the way. Add to this an increased number of foreign visitors keen to see a top tier match – this season I have heard a whole host of different languages in the home end – and you can see why being in the top flight will have made such a difference for the town.
Investment around the ground itself has also improved the look of the surroundings; a new, much improved club shop has been built, and the exterior has been smartened up, with colourful murals of famous ex-players adorning walls and a small memorial garden planned for a nearby grassy area.
On top of all these positives, the club’s creation of the Burnley FC in the Community scheme ensures that the players are constantly visiting local schools and hospitals, making their presence felt and showing that they are proud to represent their employers. A particularly touching moment this season was allowing elderly supporters to be ‘mascots’ for the game against Lincoln City in honour of their lifetime of support – the first time such an ideas has been used in the English game.
Burnley is clearly on the up, and for me represents a fantastic example of how a football club and its local people can work together for the better.
Do you think your club could be doing more within the local community? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @AllOutFootball_!