Burnley’s win at Chelsea in this season’s opening fixtures prompted me to look at their entry in Wikipedia. The Lancastrian wearers of the claret-and-blue are recorded as having been founder members of the Football League in 1888, F.A.Cup winners in 1914, and League champions twice, in 1920/21 and 1959/60.

The second of those championships came in a season which those of us old enough to remember it, will never, ever, forget! Promoted in 1958, the Hammers had enjoyed an excellent first season back in the First Division, finishing in 6th position, and 1959/60 began with great promise, with three wins in the opening four fixtures, including a 3-1 win at Burnley.

Another 3-1 win, at Highbury on 14th November, took the Hammers to the top of the table, setting up an enthralling prospect for the following Saturday, when West Ham entertained Wolves, the current First Division champions. Nearly 38,000 of us were packed into the Boleyn Ground that day and the home fans were not disappointed, a hat-trick from Johnny Dick putting the Hammers 3-0 up before Wolves pulled back two late goals. A 3-2 win, and West Ham stayed top of the table.

A week later, I spent Saturday afternoon shopping with my parents. I remember my Mum telling me off for being in a bad mood. Why I was in a bad mood, I do not know; some premonition perhaps, some sense of forboding? When we got home and I listened to the football results on the radio, I was certainly not in a good mood, West Ham having been thrashed that afternoon, 7-0 at Sheffield Wednesday.

A win at home to Nottingham Forest a week later brought hope that the Sheffield defeat had just been a momentary hiccup, but the next away fixture resulted in another heavy defeat, this time 2-6 at Blackburn. By the season’s end, the Hammers had slumped from pole position to 14th in the table, suffering 13 successive away League defeats, in which they scored 14 times and conceded a horrifying 47. The only time they avoided defeat away from home was in the F.A.Cup, when they managed a 1-1 draw at Huddersfield, but this only set up another humiliation, with Huddersfield, inspired by a young Denis Law, winning the replay 5-1.

That defeat was one of five occasions during that dismal period when the Hammers conceded five goals in a match. One of the other teams to score five against them was Burnley, whose 5-2 win at West Ham in early January gave  them revenge for that 3-1 defeat back in August.

Having won the League in 1959/60, Burnley remained a major force throughout the 1960s and when the Hammers were drawn to meet them in the 6th round of the F.A.Cup in 1964 it promised to be a tough tie. And a tough tie it proved to be; in fact, even though for old-timers such as myself the Semi-Final win over Manchester United at rain-swept, muddy Hillsborough was the stand-out memory of that season, Burnley in the 6th round arguably provided tougher opposition than did Manchester United, even though the latter boasted the likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law.

John Connelly, Burnley’s left-winger, gave his team a 1-0 interval lead. And what a goal it was; Brian James, in the ‘Daily Mail’ wrote that ‘Elder shoved away a clearance to Connelly. It looked odds on the winger must fail as first Bond, then Brown and Moore and finally Burkett slanted across to intercept. But the ex-England winger eeled past three sliding tackles to score.’    In an inspired spell midway through the second-half, John Sissons, who, less than a year earlier had been one of the stars of West Ham’s F.A.Youth Cup-winning side and was now established in the First Team, equalised and then Johnny, ‘Budgie’, Byrne took over. Byrne scored twice and, according to Brian James, ‘the goals were mere punctuation for the finest 20 minutes I’ve ever seen from Byrne. It was England form-plus that took him twisting and swerving through tackles to break Burnley’s poise and send them teetering towards defeat.’

Trevor Bond, in the ‘Stratford Express’, eulogised over that second-half comeback, writing that ‘in those history-making moments Hammers, mud-bound and mesmerised in the first half of this gigantic 6th round cup tie, smashed Burnley off the cup trail with three goals forged in courage and brilliance and hoisted themselves into the semi-final for the first time in 31 years. The chessboard soccer moves, that for 45 first-half minutes had been buried like Roman relics in the Boleyn mud, blossomed into magical being, slicing huge chunks off the man-made barrier called Burnley’s defence.’

Heady stuff. Burnley’s fortunes have see-sawed since then (Wikipedia even goes so far as to refer to the period between 1976 and 1987 as years of ‘decline and near-oblivion’) but that recent win at Chelsea suggests that maybe the good years are back to stay.