Wednesday, August 19, 2009

England: The Miracle at Burnley

There's no accurate comparison in the U.S. to the European system of promotion and relegation, but consider this theoretical scenario. The University of Chicago, a founding member of the Big Ten, revives its long dormant college football program, works its way up through Division III and Division II, and eventually returns to Division I-A status. And in their first home game back at the top level, the Maroons upset Ohio State.

Sound far fetched? That's basically what went down in England today as Burnley shocked Manchester United 1-0. Burnley last played in the top level of English football in the same year that I was born, 1976. Today's home opener was a festive occasion before the opening kickoff, but no one expected Owen Coyle's men to take down the three-time defending champions for the first time in 41 years.

But it happened and tonight the Clarets and their fans are celebrating. While no one is suggesting that Burnley will contend for the title, the win gives them a leg up in their efforts to remain Premier League members beyond this season.

As for the champs, was this a fluke setback or the first signs of a fading dynasty? Last year United surged to the title during a three-month stretch in which they pulled 10 one-goal victories out of 14 matches. (They won three and tied one among the other four matches.) Today ManU were on the wrong end of the simple 1-0 formula that served them so well last season. But Alex Ferguson's men won only one of their first four matches each of the last two campaigns, so there will be little panic at Old Trafford.

All we know for sure tonight is that the evening's result is one that be celebrated at Burnley for years to come.

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