Burnley legend Martin Dobson hopes to create more vintage Clarets

In Burnley at least, Robbie Blake will be able to dine out for life on the goal that beat Manchester United when top flight football returned to Turf Moor, yet the club can also boast an individual so blase about scoring the winner against the defending champions he cannot even remember it properly.
"I thought I had scored the last Burnley winner against Manchester United," says Martin Dobson, now the club's head of youth development but once a midfielder for Burnley, Everton and England for whom the adjective "elegant" appeared to have been invented. "I came on as a substitute for Andy Lochhead against United in the 1967-68 season, the one that ended with them winning the European Cup. George Best scored the first goal but we equalised and then I got the winner. When I heard Burnley hadn't beaten United since 1968 I assumed that must have been the game, but apparently we beat them at the start of the following season, too. We had a good record against United, it wasn't such a big deal at the time."
For a player rejected at 19 by Bolton, a club by 1967 fully aware of their mistake in showing Alan Ball the door a few years earlier, Dobson did not just go on to have a lengthy and successful career but proved inspired in his choice of clubs. His father helped fix him up with a trial at Burnley, where Harry Potts liked what he saw, and what Dobson found at Turf Moor will come as perhaps the greatest surprise to modern ears. "Burnley were years ahead of their time, absolutely light years beyond what I had known at Bolton," he says. "I was staggered by their standards, their youth set-up and their progressive attitude. Burnley, Tottenham and Everton had been the top, most modern teams in the early 60s, and they were still miles ahead of the rest."
Dobson should get a rousing reception from both sets of supporters when he makes the half-time draw this afternoon. He has kept up his Everton links and took up Bill Kenwright's invitation to join other former players at Wembley for the FA Cup final last season. In his capacity as chief of Burnley's school of excellence, he only wishes he could take youth teams back to his other club now that Burnley are in the Premier League. "We are still waiting for academy status, so at the moment our games programme involves fixtures against clubs such as Stockport, Blackpool and Accrington," he explains. "We would like to play against bigger teams, but academies can only play academies, and nowadays you need all the facilities in place before you can apply. When Howard Wilkinson launched the scheme nine years ago clubs were allowed to sign up for academies first and build facilities later, but Burnley missed that boat."
Despite the frustrations inevitable in competing with all the north-west's clubs for under-16 prospects within 90 minutes travelling time, and Sam Allardyce's outspoken criticism of academy standards while at Bolton, Dobson believes in both the system and Burnley's ability to recover their former position as a nursery. "Last year five lads won professional contracts with the club and we are very pleased with that," he says. "Especially as three of them had been with us from the age of about nine. I don't think the value of academies can be doubted when you look at the quality and numbers clubs such as Everton, Manchester City and Sheffield United have been bringing through. We see that as the way to survive. We have already sold on players of the calibre of Richard Chaplow and Kyle Lafferty, and we are just as proud of Chris McCann and Jay Rodriguez.
"Lafferty and McCann are Irish, and we are lucky to have a manager like Owen Coyle with knowledge and influence in Scotland and Ireland."
Clearly Burnley do not have the budgets of bigger clubs or the glamorous facilities, though what Dobson finds persuasive is the promise of a chance. "We are looking for hungry kids, and that comes right down from the manager. We can't offer all the glamour of a leading club but what we can say is we'll give you a chance to show you can play."
Not everybody makes it, as Dobson well knows, though he is ideally placed in his present position to make sure players not offered contracts will receive more help than he did from Bolton in 1967. "I just got a letter through the post, 'Thanks and goodbye'," he says. "I was devastated at first, then annoyed and more determined than ever. At the very least, when telling a player he has no future with you, you should do it face to face and be able to offer a few alternatives to soften the blow. Because rejection is only one club's decision. It doesn't have to be for life, though it can feel that way.
"When I was at Bury I would get players on free transfers and their confidence was on the floor. I would ask them what was their ambition and they would say to play for Bury. So I would say no, I don't want players with only that amount of belief in themselves. Footballers should be ambitious to play at the highest level. Bury had to be a stepping stone, and it could be. I remember a lad coming in who had been given a free by Burnley and then by Chester. He thought he must be useless. He was wrong. His name was Lee Dixon and he went on to have an unbelievable career. There will always be a wastage rate, everyone accepts that, but there is a right way of doing things and you can go a long way with self-belief and application."
That could be Burnley's motto. They have a manager who turned down Celtic in favour of staying loyal to what Billy McNeill dismissively described as "a village". The village managed to beat Manchester United in the week Celtic lost at home to Arsenal. It seems Coyle knows what he is doing. "He has been magnificent for this club, everyone from the players to the supporters feeds off his belief and enthusiasm," says Dobson.
"Turf Moor was rocking on Wednesday, it was a joy to see. I'm not going to make any rash predictions about Everton or the rest of the season, I'm just happy that Burnley have already shown what they are about. We can play, and however the results go from here, we are going to enjoy ourselves."

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