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Burnley legend still loves the beautiful game

Burnley legend Frank Casper (pictured) still finds the beautiful game entertaining, despite the fact that his own career was finished by a "cowardly" challenge from Norman Hunter, one of football's notorious hard men.

Casper, a silky smooth inside forward, scored 74 goals in 237 appearances for Burnley between 1967 and 1976 and played alongside the likes of Ralph Coates, Martin Dobson, Paul Fletcher, Colin Wadron and Leighton James.

He played for the Football League against the Scottish League and went on to manage Burnley twice, first as caretaker in 1983 then as manager between 1989 and 91.

Casper, whose son Chris played for Manchester United, Reading and Bournemouth and now works for the Premier League, still watches a lot of football, mainly at his beloved Turf Moor, and rates the current Championship almost as entertaining as the Premier League.

"It's not as good as the last two or three years. It used to be really competitive going right down to mid table, with the likes of Barnsley and Watford all being involved in the shake-up.

‘Millwall impressed me’

"This season only Southampton and Reading have really stood out for me. Having said that, while a lot of the teams I have seen at Turf Moor have been ordinary, Millwall came and despite struggling for much of the season were one of the sides that really impressed me. They were very organised.

"West Ham and Leeds have been a disappointment. I thought Leeds in particular would be a lot stronger but they have lost one or two of their better players over the last few years and they are hard to replace."

Speaking of Leeds brings unhappy memories flooding back for Frank. After sustaining one bad injury on his knee in a match against Tottenham Hotspur, a further tackle by Hunter finished his career for good.

"It was a cowardly challenge," said Frank. "One minute I was going past him the next he was kicking me from behind on the running track behind the goals. He just whacked me and that finished me. I don't rate him as one of the real hard men of the game. He was a coward. He wouldn't take you on face to face, he would just kick you when you least expected it.

"The real hard players of my time were Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, Tommy Smith, Mike England, George Curtis and Harry Cripps. There was also Nobby Stiles who used to kick you and then tell the ref he was sorry but he hadn't got his contact lenses in!

‘Hard but fair’

"He was a little bit over the top now and again – but I thought Nobby was hard but fair. Leeds were the worst team for that when it came to over the top tackles."

Of the current Championship sides, Casper admits that Blackpool have surprised him with their late run.

"They do go out to win games. Birmingham look nice and organised too and they could go straight back up if they can stay in the play-off positions.

"Cardiff have got themselves back in contention too after being up at the top early in the season then fading. I think their run to the final of the League Cup upset them a bit in the league."

Casper has spotted two bright young stars for the future in his own team's ranks at Turf Moor.

‘Good enough for the Premier League’

"Jay Rodriguez and Keiron Trippier look good enough for the Premier League. They still have quite a lot to learn. Rodriguez is enjoying his football and he needs to push himself for 90 minutes now instead of flitting in and out of games."

Trippier was a bargain buy after a spell on loan from Manchester City. A local lad from Ramsbottom, he is played at right back but Casper reckons his best position is as an attacking right-sided player.

"He is great coming forward, one of the best I have seen, but he still lacks a bit defensively. If I was a Premier League manager though I would take a look at Rodriguez and Trippier."

The view that the gap between the Championship and the Premier League is narrowing has been backed up by the success of two of last season's promoted teams, Norwich and Swansea. They have more than held their own in the Premier League this season and the third, QPR, may yet escape relegation.

Casper added: "They have done well and I will be surprised if the three that go up this time do as well.

“The better players are in the Premier League, but there is no question that the fans are getting value for money in the Championship right now."

By Steve Bott


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