David Burnside: 1939 – 2009

Radical Thinker With A Rebellious Streak

David Burnside after joining Cheltenham Town as football coordinator in 2003. Picture courtesy of Bristol Evening Post.

By David Instone

David Burnside would have been 70 in December and a video about his life and times was already being prepared as part of his surprise party. There was no shortage of material.

Forty-three competitive appearances and five goals for Wolverhampton Wanderers were only the start of it for a man who did things a little differently. So much so that he wanted to call the autobiography I was helping him write ‘Me And My Bad Attitude’.

By the time he arrived at Molineux in 1966, just in time to score against the Crystal Palace side he had left and in whose line-up he was named in the match programme, the youthful cockiness and defiance had departed.

But, having gone against the wishes of his parents by signing as a kid for Albion and then so infuriated one of his early Hawthorns coaches that he was reported to the club manager, he did retain some rebellious ways.

As a long-time coach with the FA, grooming the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Sol Campbell, he insisted he did things his way – not necessarily by the Lancaster Gate manual.

And he and John Holsgrove once very nearly added an unscheduled extra leg to an overnight stay at Portsmouth that would have earned them the wrath of manager Ronnie Allen.

“David and I were rooming together and having a stroll along the sea front with some time on our hands on the morning of the game,” the tall defender told me.

“We saw a sign for the Isle Of Wight ferry and thought about popping over and coming straight back.

“In the end, we didn’t and were glad we had decided against. The wind quickly got up towards lunchtime and we later heard that all crossings had been suspended, so we wouldn’t have made it back for the match.”

Burnside had contacts in high places. When I was first informed of the surprise party for him in a couple of months time, I was asked by the part-organisers, Les Wilson and his wife Lois, to try to lay on four tickets for the Manchester United v Wolves game on December 15 as part of his present.

The task was a simple one once it became clear to those in the Old Trafford offices how well known David was to Sir Bobby Charlton through FA circles as well as an opponent.

It wasn’t only with the father figure of English football, though, that Burnside was highly familiar at the Premier League champions and current leaders. More than anyone, it was the Bristolian who tried to make Ryan Giggs English.

No 6 John Holsgrove looks on as Burnside (facing camera) challenges in Wolves' win at Carlisle in 1966.

“We had Ryan in the English Schools set-up because he was educated in this country and we could recognise his ability,” he told me when we met several months ago in his native city for our first session on his book.

“We looked into his background to see whether there was a loophole by which he qualified for us but he didn’t. Although he lived in England, his parents were Welsh and he wanted to play for Wales. He says his mom would have given him a right telling-off if he had come to play for us.

“We had to accept it but were very disappointed. Imagine what he might have achieved in our national side over the years!”

Burnside, who was a promotion winner with Wolves in 1967 and the scorer of a hat-trick in the epic 6-5 final victory over Aberdeen in the United Soccer Association Championship that summer, had a mesmeric talent with the ball at his feet.

And, although he owned up to once hitting team-mate Peter Knowles as they argued while waiting in the penalty area for a Wolves set-piece to be taken, he bitterly regretted not staying longer at Molineux.

Derek Dougan berated him over his decision but the pull of the south-west was too strong and he headed for Plymouth, where his playing career disappeared down something of a cul-de-sac.

Not that his creativity deserted him. When he subsequently worked for the FA and coached an England youth side in a tournament in Australia, he took his own steps to eradicate this country’s penalty shoot-out phobia.

He insisted on telling the players which of them were taking kicks, rather than seeking volunteers. They won.

Restless but exuding great thought and self-control, Burnside didn’t consider his work done following his exit from the FA and then his departure from a youth development role at Bristol City several years later.

He still had so much to give and threw himself in recent months into his ambitions to achieve that rarest ‘transfer’ – from football to Westminster.

As a Palace player just before his Molineux move.

As recently as Friday, he had a meeting in London at which he was expected to be ratified by the UKIP as their man to fight for a seat in Bristol at the next General Election.

And he was excited that the tantalising prospect of a role in Parliament might just infringe on our book deadlines some time next year.

David Gort Burnside was known far and wide and it will be standing room only for those who don’t arrive early for his funeral.

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