WHEN Burnley were beaten at Bolton Wanderers three years ago, there was a sense that the belief in the Clarets’ Premier League dream was starting to ebb away.
Sadly it proved to be the case, as Burnley’s time in the top flight ended just months later.
But at the time the Clarets had faith in their own ability like few others, securing promotion and beating the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal on the way to the League Cup semi-finals.
For Graham Alexander, a key member of that team and now in charge of League Two side Fleetwood Town, his message to the current promotion-chasing Burnley side is simple: Just keep believing.
“If you believe you can do something you’ve got as good a chance as anyone,” said the 41-year-old, who was reunited with a number of Burnley’s promotion team at Brian Jensen’s latest testimonial event this week.
“You’ve just got to keep focused on the next game ahead and make sure you’re in touch with everyone come March and April.
“I’d love the fans to go through it again and for the players at Burnley to enjoy the stuff that we did, to live through it, because there’s nothing that beats it, there really isn’t.
“It was great and I don’t see any reason why it can’t be repeated.”
Never was the belief stronger for Burnley than before the play-off final victory over Sheffield United at Wembley in 2009, a match theplayers watched again at Turf Moor during Jensen’s event.
Alexander had lost play-off finals before, with Preston and Scunthorpe, but his worries were calmed by the confidence of the dressing room as a whole.
“I would say I was the only one with a bit of fear going into that final because I’d been there a few times before,” he said.
“If you get beat it stays with you for months. I was probably the only one with a sceptical side inside me, but I buzzed off the rest of the lads.
“There was no way that we were going to let Sheffield United beat us that day. It was just destined to be.
“We were saying though that there was only one of us who had actually watched the Wembley game back.
“You’d think an occasion like that you would watch it over and over again but sometimes things like that are best just left in your mind.
“Seeing the game again we could have won 4-0! It looked like a tight 1-0 and that’s how I remember it. You forget the majority of the game, you only remember the snippets.
“But you talk to anybody in Burnley now and they just want to talk about that day, and I don’t mind talking about it, nor do the other lads. It will be a special day in our lives forever.”
The agonising way in which Owen Coyle’s Clarets missed out on the Carling Cup final, after an extra time loss to Tottenham in the last four was something Alexander recalls equally well.
“I remember the dejection of being in the changing room after the Tottenham game,” he said.
“It was pure dejection, especially on my part because I was 36 or 37 and I knew I was never going to get to a major cup final. I’d never been to one and that was the closest I’d get.
“The reality hit me that that was probably my one and only chance of getting there.
“But we came in two days later and it was as if it hadn’t happened, and that goes down to the manager.
“He came in with a smile on his face, he knew what we were going through, he was going through it himself. But he just refocused the group to go one better, to go to Wembley in the play-offs and get up. We just had the spirit.”
Alexander hopes to have similar success one day in management, two months into his first job as a boss at Fleetwood.
“I’m absolutely loving it,” he said. “I’m privileged to still be in football, outside of my family life it’s the only thing in my life.
“I thought I would maybe be a coach for a little bit longer before I got the opportunity to be a manager but it was too good an opportunity not to go for.”
Steven Caldwell was another of those back in Burnley for this week’s reunion and admits it is a pity that it’s still difficult for Coyle to attend such gatherings, because of his controversial departure to Bolton.
“Obviously Owen left but everybody leaves at some time,” said Caldwell. “What he brought to the football club and where he took the club is thanks to him and the group of players he had at his disposal.
Caldwell added: “I wanted to show my support to Brian (Jensen). The longest I’ve been at a club is Burnley and that was three-and-a-half years, a third of how long Beast has been here. It’s a great achievement.”
Caldwell also returned to Turf Moor two weeks ago, helping Birmingham to victory.
“I’ve only been back twice and I’ve managed to win twice,” he said. “We had a little bit of luck with Deano (Marney) getting sent off when he probably shouldn’t have got sent off.
“But it’s always going to be a special club to me. In my football career the day of the play-off final is top. It’s one that I think about more than any other day.
“I’ve seen it back a few times, the kids love watching it on the DVD at home, they watch it in their rooms.
“I’ve seen the first half an hour but they always seem to fall asleep after that!
“I hope to have another day like that again but being honest I don’t think it would be the same with any other team, because it just felt so special with this football club.”