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Dobson: Lifting league title for Burnley was highlight
A FIRST team debut at the age of 19, the captain’s armband at 22, promotion as champions aged 25, capped by England at 26 and a British transfer record a few months later. Football has given Martin Dobson plenty of highs, and Burnley is where the good times began.
There have been peaks as well as troughs along the journey, though, not least the heartbreak of relegation.
But as far as the 66-year-old is concerned it is all part of a rich tapestry.
It is the successes that Dobson prefers to reflect on, but he is philosophical about the disappointments. Everything happens for a reason.
Like when he suffered a dip in form soon after making his Clarets first team breakthrough, and was relegated to the reserves and later the A-team.
“I played in a game at Gawthorpe one Saturday morning, scored a couple of goals and got my aggression back,” he said. “I didn’t want to play in there again.”
He didn’t, and at the end of his first year at Turf Moor he was rewarded with a new deal and a pay rise. Dobson had his best season in 1969/70, scoring 11 goals in all competitions.
There was a setback round the corner when he suffered a nasty leg break in a friendly away to Middlesbrough, but his positive outlook came to the fore again.
“Luckily the Middlesbrough doctor was England’s doctor, and I’d played in the England Under 23s as it was then,” Dobson explained.
“He came in and said ‘There’s a good chance you haven’t broken your leg, you might have just dislocated your ankle. We’re going to put it back. It’s going to hurt’.
“My leg was straight but my foot was pointing the other way so I knew there was something dodgy.
“There was no anaesthetic or anything. And it did hurt, but afterwards my leg and foot were straight.
“I went to the hospital for an X-ray and I’d broken my fibula, which again is lucky because it’s the tibia which is the main weight-bearing bone.
“I could have been out all season.
“But the fibula heals in four to six weeks.”
Dobson was soon back on his feet and back in the side, but by the time he returned Burnley were in trouble.
“We had started off the season very poorly. I got back in just before Christmas, we were bottom of the league and we were relegated that season,” he said.
“I’m not saying we got relegated because I broke my leg. There were a few serious injuries at the start of the season.
“Jimmy Adamson was the manager then and he famously said it was going to be the team of the 70s – and in the first season of 70/71 we were relegated. But he was changing the team around.
“He was introducing people like Dave Thomas, Leighton James. He was evolving the team.”
The saying ‘out of all bad comes good’ rang true for Dobson in 1973 as he skippered the Clarets to promotion.
Being made captain of the side was a special moment for this Lancashire lad, who had come into his own as a midfielder under Adamson’s watch – even though he questioned his credentials for the role at the time.
He thought he was too young, too inexperienced, and he did not feel comfortable with dishing out orders to his peers. But Adamson’s only instruction was to lead by example, while he made the demands from the dugout and the dressing room.
That combination led to Dobson lifting his first piece of silverware.
“We’d done the hard work, beating Sunderland on the Tuesday night to win promotion, but then we went to Preston and we knew we needed something from the game to be champions,” he said. “We wanted to do it.”
There were suggestions then, and even now, that Burnley were happy to play for a point because it suited both clubs. It was enough for the Clarets to win the Second Division title and Preston to avoid relegation.
But Dobson insists they went into the game with only a win on their mind.
“We’d achieved our ambition of playing in the top division the next season but wanted the icing on the cake. A pot. And at Preston!
“A lot of things had been said about us wanting Preston to stay up.
“We went 1-0 down and you’re thinking ‘we’ve got to pick it up, we’ve got to play better’.
“Colin Waldron scored a great goal. We were on the front foot then making chances. It was only right towards the end when we had a free kick and I was getting on it quickly.
“But Frank Casper said ‘Dobbo, it’s one apiece with five minutes to go, they don’t want to go down our end, we’ll just keep the ball’.
“We kept the ball for fun anyway in any game, just knock it about like they do now.
“Everybody went home happy, and the scenes at the end were fantastic.
“All the Preston supporters were happy, the Burnley supporters were ecstatic.
“That doesn’t often happen in a derby, but that’s the way the fixtures came about. It was marvellous for everybody.
“And for me as captain, that was the first thing I’d won.
“To receive the trophy was brilliant, reward for all the hard work. It was a young, vibrant side and you’re thinking ‘we can go on for many years now’. It was superb.”
As a child Dobson had dreamed of playing for England and winning the FA Cup, and he almost achieved the double the following season.
Days after losing their cup semi-final to Newcastle at Hillsborough the midfielder received his first full international call-up. But even that he puts down to fate rather than form.
“We played Portugal in the iconic stadium, the Stadium of Light in Lisbon, in a friendly game because England hadn’t qualified for the World Cup in 1974,” he said.
“Alf Ramsey was under pressure to change the team around, change the squad around, so basically the likes of myself and Duncan McKenzie, Mickey Pejic, Malcolm Macdonald came into the squad.
“The team was changing around a bit.
“If they had qualified probably we wouldn’t have got a chance because he would have kept the old brigade.
“I played alongside Trevor Brooking and Colin Bell and we drew the game 0-0.
“A few weeks after that game Alf lost his job.
“I played five times for England under three different managers so I don’t know if they got rid of me or if I got rid of them!”
Dobson earned four caps as a Burnley player. His fifth came after his shock sale to Everton, when Burnley chairman Bob Lord had to raise £300,000 to finance the construction of a new stand. He felt press-ganged into the move, after news had first appeared in the Sunday paper.
“I knew nothing about it, but it was a done deal and I had no say in the matter,” he said.
“I felt a bit let down then that nobody had talked to me about it.
“My relationship with Jimmy Adamson was close because I was the manager on the field and we had total respect for each other. He didn’t want me to go. But I would have thought he would have just had a quiet word about it.
“It left a bit of sour taste in my mouth.”
Nevertheless, Dobson went on to have five good years with Everton, before returning for unfinished business with Burnley.
But it was not the same second time around.
“Harry Potts was manager again and I came back for the wrong reasons,” he explained.
“It was the heart ruling the head for me a little bit because he had given me my first contract as a 19-year-old.
“Harry was a super footballing man with an enthusiasm for the game and I found it very difficult to say no to him.
“They offered me a three-year contract, which was also tempting at 31.
“But as soon as I walked through the door I thought ‘I’ve made a mistake’.
“It wasn’t the club I left, and that was a disappointing thing.”
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