All set for latest Burn’s night celebration
Wigan captain keen to topple Southampton as little Latics chase a fourth Premier League scalp
From pushing trollies at Asda to silencing Sergio Aguero, Dan Burn’s journey to within touching distance of a place in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley has not been conventional, but then his career to date has been a triumph for perseverance. The Wigan Athletic club captain will be hoping to claim a fourth Premier League scalp when Southampton and their newly installed manager, Mark Hughes, visit the DW Stadium this afternoon and, in the process, secure the club’s passage to a third Cup semi-final in six seasons. Bournemouth, West Ham United and, most memorably, Manchester City, the runaway top flight leaders, have all been dispatched there by the League One club this season. And listening to Burn, their affable 6ft 7in Geordie centre-half, tell his story over an engaging half-hour at Wigan’s Euxton training ground this week, it is easy to understand why he plays like every game might be his last.
Take his spell on loan at Yeovil Town from Premier League Fulham five seasons ago, for example.
“I remember going to see the Fulham manager [Martin Jol] at the time and saying, ‘I’m not happy in the Under-21s, I want to go out on loan’ and he was like, ‘Well, no one wants to take you’,” Burn recalls. “Gary Johnson was the Yeovil manager and his brother was a scout and fortunately he must have been watching one of the Under-21 games at some point and thought he’d take a chance on us.”
The season was already two months old by the time Burn pitched up at Huish Park on a four-week loan. His debut was eventful.
An own goal four minutes from time was followed by his first senior goal 60 seconds later as Yeovil lost 3-2. “Things didn’t start the best. We lost six in a row,” Burn explained.
He feared he might be back at Fulham no sooner than he had left but Yeovil opted to extend his loan until November and then again until the end of the season and, benefiting from a sustained run in the team, he gradually began to excel. Between Christmas and mid-February, Yeovil won eight successive matches in League One and, against all expectations, reached the play-offs.
The only problem was Burn ended up rupturing ankle ligaments three weeks before the first leg of the play-off semi-final against Sheffield United. “I should have been out for about six weeks but I went back to Fulham and told them, ‘The play-offs are in a few weeks, I need to be fit!’ I spent a lot of time in hyperbaric oxygen chambers and at the end they gave me some pain killers and I had heavy duty strapping on the ankle. It was painful but I wasn’t missing the play-offs for anything. We shouldn’t have been near the play-offs that season but we played very well and once we got to the final I knew we were going to win.”
And so, eight days after Wigan pulled off the biggest Cup final upset for 25 years by beating Manchester City at Wembley, Yeovil overcame Brentford, with Burn scoring in a 2-1 win.
“I’ve been trying not to think too much about that and possibly going back to Wembley because we’ve got to beat Southampton first but everyone dreams,” he said.
By his own admission, Burn thought his dreams of becoming a footballer were shattered when he was released by his boyhood idols, Newcastle United, as an 11-year-old and there would be further setbacks to come.
He was struggling to even get a game for his local Sunday league team at one point and, after failing to make an impression at local amateur side New Hartley Juniors in Northumberland, a few miles from Blyth where he grew up, he applied for a job at Asda. He was 16 and uncertain about his future.
“I did the interview, turned up in a suit and everything, and thought I’d be doing shelfstacking or on the checkout but all they had was pushing trollies so I took that,” Burn recalls.
“I went there half one till 10 every Saturday for about six months.”
Burn was playing for Blyth Spartans on Sundays and got a lucky break when he was selected to play in a mini-home nations
tournament for local players one weekend in Durham and caught the eye of Darlington, who signed him on an initial £55 per week.
Those early days at Darlington were certainly far removed from marking Aguero and toppling City. “I still don’t think it’s sunk in now,” Burn says.
Pep Guardiola, the City manager, became involved in an angry touchline bust-up with Wigan manager, Paul Cook, after Fabian Delph was sent off in the 44th minute for a reckless challenge on Max Power. But Burn thought City’s grievances were somewhat hypocritical given their complaints all season about tackles against them.
“If one of our players had got sent off for the same sort of tackle we wouldn’t even be having a conversation about it,” he said. “People would be saying, ‘That’s League One football for you … shocking tackle’. City spoke to the FA about tackles against them and then that happened. You can’t have your cake and eat it. They were on for the quadruple so they are going to be bitter about being put out by a team two leagues below them.”
Burn played nine times for Fulham in the Premier League the season after his Yeovil experience but, looking back, he thinks he took it for granted.
“I don’t think I appreciated that time in the Premier League as I should have,” he said. “I didn’t ever think I’d be going back down to League One.”
Second in League One, five points behind leaders Blackburn but with three games in hand, Wigan and Burn might not be in the third tier for much longer but, for now, all he is thinking about is Southampton. “Their manager [Mauricio Pellegrino] has just got sacked which normally means they will pick up a few good results straight away!” he said. “I wish they’d left that until after playing us but they need to be in the Premier League so hopefully their battle against relegation will be a distraction against us.”
‘Man City were on for the quadruple so they would be bitter about losing to a team two leagues below them’
Top marks: Burn superbly shackled Argentine superstar Sergio Aguero in shock FA Cup win
Cup of glee: Burn contemplates another win and (below) celebrates beating Man City