Sixty years ago today Burnley Football Club played in a friendly match as part of the celebrations to mark the official opening of a new stadium which is now one of the great venues in world football.
The team, which then began to play its home matches there, has since become arguably the greatest club side there has ever been.
That club, of course, is Barcelona and the stadium is the Nou Camp, although in Catalonia it is usually referred to as Camp Nou and both versions translate into English simply as “New Field”.
The new stadium, originally to be called Estadi del FC Barcelona, replaced Barca’s previous home Camp de Les Corts, where the club had played since 1922.
Burnley had previously played twice at Les Corts, during a tour of Spain in May 1949, both games finishing 1-0 with Barca and the Clarets each winning one of the encounters.
By the early 1950’s Barcelona realised they were rapidly outgrowing Les Corts and land was purchased in the west of the city, quite close by, for the next stage in the club’s expansion.
The proposed move was not entirely unconnected with the continued development of the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, home of Barca’s great rivals Real, and in March 1954, the first stone was laid at the Camp Nou.
Three years later, in May 1957, Burnley were again on tour in Europe and their final match was in Spain against Athletic Bilbao.
The game ended in a resounding 5-1 victory for the Clarets and included a hat-trick from Jimmy McIlroy. Whether or not there were any observers from Barcelona watching that match and were impressed by Burnley’s performance, we can’t be absolutely certain.
However, just a few months later, in August 1957, an invitation arrived at Turf Moor for Burnley to take part in a friendly match in Barcelona the following month.
It later emerged that Burnley’s invitation was to participate in the grand opening of the Nou Camp which would take the form of a multi-team festival.
The official opening day was actually on 24 September when Barca themselves would face a Warsaw Select Xl, with Burnley taking on Brazilian side Flamengo on the following day
On the 26th, Barcelona would be in action again against Borussia Dortmund. There was a suggestion that Barcelona’s original opponents were to have been Burnley, but quite late on it was decided to change the running order, possibly so that Barca would have an easier ride to start the proceedings.
Fourteen Burnley players were originally detailed to travel to Spain but Colin McDonald and Les Shannon had flu and John Angus was called up for a youth international match. Their replacements were Adam Blacklaw, David Smith and John Connelly.
In addition to illness amongst the players the timing of the trip was unfortunate, coming straight after a 7-0 hammering at Nottingham Forest and a 6-1 defeat at Chelsea.
It’s probably fair to say that Burnley were not at their best against Flamengo, going down 4-0 in front of 50,000 Catalans, still celebrating after Barca’s 4-2 victory against the Warsaw Select team the day before.
One of Flamengo’s goals was scored by Mario Zagallo, who went on to star for Brazil as they won the World Cup in both 1958 and 1962.
Zagallo also coached the Brazilians to victory in the 1970 World Cup and was the first footballer to win the Jules Rimet trophy as both a player and a coach.
The following day Barcelona wound up their celebrations with a 4-1 victory against Borussia Dortmund.
Burnley team v Flamengo: Adam Blacklaw, David Smith, Doug Winton, Bobby Seith, Jimmy Adamson, Brian Miller, Doug Newlands, Jimmy McIlroy, Alan Shackleton (Jimmy Robson 46), Albert Cheesebrough (John Connelly 46), Brian Pilkington. Manager/coach: Billy Dougall.
There was plenty of evidence of the Clarets’ thriving youth policy on view. Most of the players had joined Burnley as youngsters and all of them had played in the First Division.
Robson was only 18, Connelly and Blacklaw were just 19 and Miller was 20 and all but Smith, Newlands, Shackleton and Cheesebrough would feature prominently in the Turf Moor success story to come.
It was Jimmy Robson himself who inspired this story about the Clarets’ links with Barcelona, a few months ago, when he presented to the club a memento of his trip to the Nou Camp as a teenager, the small ashtray featured here.
So, once again we have demonstrated what a significant role Burnley Football Club have played and continue to play in all aspects of the game in this country and beyond. It may have not gone too well on the pitch on that historic day six decades ago, but the Clarets played an important part in introducing a great stadium and a great team on to the world stage.
Ray Simpson, Burnley FC Historian
The programme images are displayed courtesy of Mr. Lester Davidson.