ALASTAIR Campbell used to be the butt of many a joke in political circles when the subject of football cropped up.

Unashamedly a Claret, Burnley were often flitting between the second and third tiers during Campbell’s career in politics from 1994 to 2003.

But he’s noticed a change now. Burnley are no longer the team that would lead to Monday morning mocking in the halls of Number 10, but a proud and exemplary club taking the fight to the Premier League’s big six.

Now when Campbell travels around London he finds people wanting to talk about the Clarets success and their admiration for how it has been achieved.

Speaking at the book launch for the novel entitled Saturday Bloody Saturday which he has written with former Burnley striker and chief executive Paul Fletcher, the 60-year-old said: “We’ve become everybody’s second team. 

“When I get in a cab in London now I get loads of cabbies saying ‘I like your manager’, or ‘I like the way your team play’,” Campbell explains.

“It’s interesting to see how people have taken to us in a way I’m not used to.

“We nearly went out of the league not that long ago (1986/87). 

“I used to be the butt of a lot of jokes, but now people know we’ve done well, they respect how we’ve done it and they admire the values.

“Sean (Dyche) communicates this thing about hard work and ethic but as well in his post-match interviews he never slags the other team off, he never criticises referees.”

Campbell is full of praise for the way Dyche has transformed Burnley’s fortunes. 

The two men speak regularly and recently Dyche revealed he often picks the brains of the former Downing Street Press Secretary for bits of information and advice he might be able to use.

“I had that relationship with Fergie (Sir Alex Ferguson) a bit as well in terms of dealing with the media and things like that,” Campbell said.

“I had a good relationship with Stan (Ternent), he’s a good friend, I still see him quite a lot. 

“If I have dinner with Sean he’d never ask direct questions, but he’d ask about things like Tony Blair meeting George Bush and what planning goes into that. He’s asking about other stuff, but I think he’s hoovering for how you think about things and deal with things.

“He said he’d listened to the Winners book I did on audio and was asking about (chess champion Garry) Kasparov and things like that. He’s obsessed with football, but I think he hoovers other stuff.

“He’s picking brains. I did it when I was in politics, I thought it was important to have people outside politics that I could talk to and get their opinion on things, and Sean has a network of people outside sport that he can use.”

Campbell and Fletcher, meanwhile, have long been friends, with Fletcher regularly picking Campbell up from Preston train station on the way to Burnley home games.

So when Fletcher told him he he had an idea for a football-based novel with a heavy dose of political and terrorist intrigue, what did Campbell think?

“He sent an outline to me and I thought ‘I’m not sure this is going to work’, but I showed it to my agent and he said ‘listen, there’s a great story in it, why don’t you do it with him?’,” he said.

“I thought maybe, maybe not. 

“Then my brother (Donald) died two years ago, I was in France, I came back, sorted things out, there was a post-mortem so there was quite a gap to the funeral, I went back to France and as I walked through the house I threw my bag on the bed and thought it ‘sod it, I’m going to do this book’.

“I just decided like that. I sat down and started doing it that night then I phoned Fletch the next morning and said ‘we can do it, we can make it work’.”

At the UCFB campus at the Etihad Stadium last week the two were surrounded by some star names from football’s past, as well as current Clarets captain Tom Heaton, as they launched Saturday Bloody Saturday.

“We’ve had a lot of laughs, he’s a great bloke, we’ve had a lot of fun doing it,” Campbell said.

“There’s no ego in it, we’ve brought something to the book, it’s Fletch’s idea, Fletch’s story, I can write, I know about politics and the IRA so I can bring in that.

“We both brought some good things to it. I think Fletch is just amazed that at 67 he’s suddenly a novelist. 

“The publisher said ‘people know who you are, they don’t know Paul, we want to make your name bigger’.

“I wanted it to be equal billing so I mentioned to Paul and he was fine.”