Gianluigi Donnarumma

Continuing the series focusing on two teenagers who had debuts to remember.
Nothing stirs the emotions of mothers up and down the country than seeing a young lad get thrown into the action against older men. Before twenty-two year old Paul Gascoigne melted their hearts with his tears in Turin in 1990, and before seventeen year old Paul Allen was cruelly scythed down by Willie Young when through on goal in the 1980 FA Cup Final, there was an eighteen year old who had the task of keeping out the might of Tottenham in a Second Division match. Then two years later a young lad was given the responsibility of to stop the rot at Burnley when they visited Queen’s Park Rangers. Today we focus on the young lad who was put in goal for Burnley and had a debut no one forgot.

Saturday 27th October 1979

Loftus Road, West London. Home of Queen’s Park Rangers and the plastic pitch. If you didn’t know some clubs had plastic turf then stick around as an article about this may well hit these pages someday soon.

England’s Second Division, or The Championship if you’re younger than me, and Burnley were rock bottom of the table. Twelve games in and they were still searching their first win. They’d amassed just five points. This was enough for the Turf Moor board to dispense with the services of Harry Potts as Manager. First Team Coach, Brian Miller was given the duties of manager and his first game was a defeat at local rivals, Preston North End. Next up was the trip to Loftus Road.

QPR were managed by former Manchester United and Derby County boss, Tommy Docherty. Docherty had taken over from Steve Burtenshaw, who was sacked after the club were relegated the season before, just three years after coming within a point of winning the title. The side still contained players from that season such as Stan Bowles, Ian Gillard and Don Shanks. Docherty had introduced youngsters such as Clive Allen and Paul Goddard as well as experienced campaigners in the shape of Tony Currie, Gordon Hill and David McCreery.

Allen and Goddard both opened their scoring accounts in the opening day win over Bristol Rovers but three defeats knocked them back. When Burnley arrived they had resurrected their form with five wins and two draws from their next seven matches but had just been beaten 0-3 at Sunderland and so there was little evidence Burnley would be put to the sword as much as they were.

One of Miller’s first challenges was to go into the game without first choice keeper, Alan Stevenson. Stevenson was never injured. He made his debut for the club in 1972. For three of the past seven seasons he had played every game. He had not missed a game for the past two seasons. Yet now on the eve of Miller’s second game in charge, Stevenson was injured.

Billy O’Rourke was a nineteen year old who had come through the ranks at Turf Moor. He was part of the team which reached the Semi-Final of the FA Youth Cup in 1977/78. His performances earned recognition from England at youth level. O’Rourke lost his place in the England team when Don Revie did a runner to the UAE and Ron Greenwood handed the responsibility of the youth side to Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, who duly replaced O’Rourke with their own youngster at Forest, Chris Woods. Fast forward to 1979 and Chris Woods was now in the QPR side O’Rourke was up against. So late was the change that the programme still had Stevenson as goalkeeper. But then maybe O’Rourke was pleased there wouldn’t be a record of his appearance given what transpired.

Burnley were a mixture of youth and experience with Northern Irish international, Billy Hamilton, Welsh international, Leighton James, former Everton player, Martin Dobson, former Liverpool player Brian Hall, former Wolves striker, Steve Kindon and former Oldham servant, Ian Wood.

After some early touches to calm the nerves, O’Rourke was left stranded as Peter Noble passed back to Billy Rodaway, on the edge of the area, and with Paul Goddard bearing down on him he flicked it back to his keeper without looking. The young flame-haired teenager was wrong-footed allowing Goddard to tap the ball into the empty net, for his fifth of the season.

QPR   1   –   0   BURNLEY

Goddard

On twenty seven minutes, Clive Allen meandered his way with the ball across the pitch about twenty-five yards out, looking for an opening. As he was heading for the left wing, he scuffed a shot with his left foot and it hit a couple of players and bounced off across the penalty area to the right of the six-yard area where Rangers right-back, Don Shanks, had come up. Shanks’ cross was deflected off Ian Brennan and up over O’Rourke for the second goal. Poor old O’Rourke had been beaten twice and both times by his own players.

QPR   2   –   0   BURNLEY

Goddard, Shanks

As half-time loomed, QPR central defender, Glenn Roeder, intercepted the ball on the edge of his area and after beating a couple of Burnley players, embarked on run reminiscent of Alan Hansen at Liverpool. Unchallenged he reached the edge of the Burnley area, and with several options ahead of him, chose Mickey Walsh wide on the right. The Irish international crossed to the far post where Goddard rose above Rodaway and headed the ball right into the top right-hand corner of the net. Again the poor young keeper had no chance.

QPR   3   –   0   BURNLEY

Goddard 2, Shanks

With barely minutes of the first half remaining, QPR had a corner on the right which Stan Bowles took left-footed. The inswinging corner went just over the head of Steve Wicks on the near post, which foxed O’Rourke. The ball bounced up and hit Goddard, at the far post, on his forehead. It bounced back where O’Rourke tried desperately to fall on it, but only succeeded in adding to the bouncing ball and David McCreery was standing just outside the six-yard area and he looped his header over Brennan on the line to make it four. If O’Rourke was blameless for the first three goals, he had to take some responsibility for his part in this. He came for the corner and missed it, then struggled to get hold of the ball when it came back to him, giving it the appearance more of a bar of soap than a football.

QPR   4   –   0   BURNLEY

Goddard 2, Shanks, McCreery

Into the second half and Burnley managed to keep their hosts at bay for a period but then a long kick downfield from Chris Woods was headed on by Goddard, and he found Barry Wallace, making his first start of the season. Wallace surged forward and as he drew the defender, he slipped in Allen who calmly slotted the ball home. It was Allen’s ninth goal in his debut season and would soon alert managers in the First Division of his talent.

QPR   5   –   0   BURNLEY

Goddard 2, Shanks

McCreery, Allen

Wallace was again involved in the next goal as he picked the ball up in midfield on the right, and with his left foot played a ball over Jeff Tate for was heading back to his area. The ball dropped over the Burnley number ten’s head. Stan Bowles was closing in on the ball too and he got there first, just as Tate slid in, scything the QPR talisman to the ground for a certain penalty. Clive Allen was the man with the responsibility of taking penalties and he made no mistake, with his third successful penalty of the season

QPR   6   –   0   BURNLEY

Goddard 2, Shanks

McCreery, Allen 2 (1 pen)

Allen should’ve had a hat-trick when a swift counter-attack started by Bowles as he found Mickey Walsh in space on the left. With Bowles now charging into the area, screaming for the ball, Walsh decided to use him as a decoy and chose Goddard unmarked wide on the right of the area. He drew the keeper, chipped it to the far post where Allen, inexplicably, hit the post from a couple of yards out with the goal at his mercy. Fortunately there was Roeder to turn the ball in to spare Rangers’ blushes.

QPR   7   –   0   BURNLEY

Goddard 2, Shanks

McCreery, Allen 2 (1 pen), Roeder

QPR: Woods; Shanks, Wicks, Roeder, Gillard; Wallace, Bowles, McCreery, Burke (Walsh); Goddard, Allen

Burnley: O’Rourke; Scott, Thomson, Rodaway, Brennan; Young, Dobson, Noble, James; Kindon, Fletcher

Attendance: 11,261

In amongst the mayhem, O’Rourke had pulled off some good saves. Bowles had a shot from outside the area tipped wide by the teenager. He saved well from a corner where Wicks headed, then the best was from Goddard as the young Rangers striker fired a fierce shot on the half-volley from the edge of the area and O’Rourke pushed it away firmly, as if he’d been playing for years.

Match of the Day cameras concentrated on the young keeper as he walked off at the end of the game. Miller came to console him and it was clear the poor lad was in tears. Ian Gillard and Glenn Roeder were the first players to commiserate with him as they each put an arm round him to help him from the pitch.

Burnley Express named O’Rourke as Man of the Match as the score could’ve been far worse but for his efforts. It was clear the Burnley defence gave their teammate little chance with many of the goals. He kept his place for the following weekend for the home game with Leyton Orient, where Ralph Coates was one of the scorers in a 1-2 defeat for Burnley.

Stevenson was fit again and played every game for the remainder of the season which ended with Burnley suffering relegation to the Third Division. O’Rourke had another run in the side during Christmas period in the 1982/83 season and then at the end of that season he played the last five games, conceding just four goals in another season with ended with relegation.

He stayed with the club until early 1984 when he left for Chester City. Then during the summer he moved to Blackpool, where he had already spent some time on loan from Burnley. In February 1987 he signed for Tranmere and after just over fifty league games for them was released at the end of 1987/88 and at the age of twenty-eight, his career was over.

Sadly Billy O’Rourke’s life ended at the age of forty-one in 2002 when he suffered a brain haemorrhage