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Burnley defender Duff back ‘home’ for Robins clash
MICHAEL Duff is hoping for ‘home’ advantage as Burnley bid to continue their 100 per cent record in pre-season.
For Duff, Whaddon Road is where it all began.
The defender was just 17 when he was offered trials by the then non-league club.
The Robins were battling it out in the Dr Martens League, but under former Burnley boss Steve Cotterill won two promotions in three seasons to earn a place in the Football League for the first time in their history in 1999.
They have sustained that status ever since – going on to experience life in League One too.
Cheltenham were on the verge of returning to that level in May, but lost out to Crewe Alexandra 2-0 in the end.
There was a battle of ex-Clarets in the Wembley dug-out, as Crewe boss Steve Davis (the first), got the better of Mark Yates.
But Duff, who joined Burnley for £30,000 in July 2004, believes his former team-mate is plotting another promotion push for the new season, and anticipates a tough challenge in this afternoon’s friendly.
“I trained with them at the back end of last season because I had the international game with Northern Ireland,” said the long-serving Claret.
“I trained there for a couple of weeks and they have some good players.
The 33-year-old added: “I’m at an age now where I know all the staff because I used to play with them all – I don’t know any of his players.
“Yatesy used to be my golf partner. It will be good to see him, and his assistant Neil Howarth, who was at Burnley as well – he started his career there.
“They did really well last year.
“They were unlucky not to go up via the play-offs.”
Although Duff has a job to do for Burnley tomorrow, as they bid to continue their unblemished pre-season record, his return to Whaddon Road serves as a reminder of how far he has come since those early non-league days; working his way up the divisions to play at the very top with the Clarets.
But he is acutely aware of how different his life could have been had it not been for those trials at Cheltenham as a teenager.
“It was at college at the time studying sports’ science,” he said.
“I probably would have joined the RAF as my dad had 38 years’ service, so I probably would have gone down that path.
“But I got offered a trial when I was 17 from a guy who knew my dad.
“I went there and played in a couple of games in the youth team, made it into the first team and after about four games Steve Cotterill turned up and saw something in me.
“I ended up playing nearly 400 games there and had a lot of success with them – personally and with the club because we came up three or four leagues.”