There may never again be a night that stirs quite so much professional pride inside Ashley Westwood. January 21 will be one forever remembered in his household.
The victory — ending Liverpool’s 68-game undefeated run at Anfield — represented an achievement of significance but the mental fortitude of Burnley’s diminutive central midfielder was unbeknown and ultimately more striking. Westwood had buried his grand-father, Sid, hours beforehand.
Sid had seen it all — the rise through Crewe Alexandra’s academy, the realisation of a dream by playing Premier League football with Aston Villa and then the depression his grandson suffered at Villa Park.
There may never again be a night that stirs quite so much professional pride inside Ashley Westwood as January 21
Westwood buried his grandfather, Sid, hours before Burnley beat Liverpool at Anfield
There was no doubt in Westwood’s mind he was making it to Merseyside that day. The ground he covered, the interceptions, barely wasting a pass, was his tribute.
‘He wouldn’t have been happy with me missing a game because of that,’ says Westwood, smiling softly. ‘He would rather I missed the funeral than the game.
‘The pandemic has been a long 18 months. You don’t know what people are doing behind closed doors and you need to look out for others. I’ve been affected by it, losing two grandparents.’
Westwood was given a day’s leave from training to attend the funeral of his other grandfather, Roy, in the days before scoring in a 4-0 win at Wolves in April. Roy is Westwood’s middle name and has been passed down to his own son.
There was no doubt in Westwood’s mind he was making it to Merseyside that day
At 31, he is a devoted family man with two children and wife Rebecca. Burnley’s decision to switch Tuesday’s kit sponsor from Spreadex Sports to the Alzheimer’s Society has struck a chord. They aim to raise tens of thousands of pounds in donations for a charity that is now closely associated with ex-footballers.
Seven of Burnley’s title-winners in 1960 were or have been diagnosed with dementia. The Clarets hope raising awareness during the Carabao Cup third-round tie with Rochdale will prompt more action. For Westwood, the topic is even closer to home. The boyfriend of his younger sister is currently caring for his grandfather.
‘He’s only 19 and does so much work looking after him. He’s a credit to his family,’ he says. ‘It’s something close to my heart. It’s horrible, you lose a relation before you fully lose them.’
So when Westwood discusses how the last 18 months has acted as a reality check, he is doing so without platitudes.
Westwood scored in a win at Wolves in April just days after he had buried his other grandfather Roy
‘It puts your life into perspective and focus on your family. Family is what we’re in life for.’
He is engaging company, flitting between darkness and light in a chat that started with his admission that he was dumbfounded at why Burnley are perennial slow starters. There is nothing wrong with how Sean Dyche’s team are playing, he reasons.
‘We can’t get our heads round it,’ he says. ‘Usually we come good. It’s nothing to do with what we did in pre-season. It’s that fine detail of seeing a game out. Once we do that we’ll be back to our best.
‘I thought we were terrific in the second half against Arsenal on Saturday and probably deserved something. The main thing is we are creating chances. When that doesn’t happen is when you worry.’
It is suggested the togetherness at Burnley’s Gawthorpe Hall training centre— a dressing room he has previously labelled as ‘Sunday league’ in a positive sense — can pull them through despite one point from their first five games.
Burnley’s decision to switch kit sponsor from Spreadex Sports to the Alzheimer’s Society has struck a chord
‘Togetherness is a powerful thing,’ he says. ‘The greatest teams — those Manchester United and Arsenal teams — had it. We have it in abundance.
‘The Covid restrictions are relaxing a bit but we still travel to games on two buses, it’s still two to a dining table when we eat. It can be quite nice, having a little chat with your mate next to you.’
Sounds like a candle would go perfectly in the middle. ‘Not quite that far,’ Westwood laughs. ‘I just try to avoid Barnesy.’
Ashley Barnes was a founder of the Burnley taxi firm to training every morning before the pandemic with riotous trips from Cheshire’s golden triangle up to east Lancashire.
Westwood was dumbfounded at why Sean Dyche’s Burnley are perennial slow starters
Those early starts were different last year — less karaoke to Celine Dion in a battered Mercedes the pair purchased, more mathematics in the kitchen.
‘Home-schooling the kids was great but I take my hat off to the teachers. English… I’m terrible. One of my lads is doing verbal reasoning. It’s mind-boggling.’
And the role was taken very seriously. ‘I did it in a suit the first day… I got a bit carried away.’
Burnley FC’s principal front of shirt partner Spreadexis donating its front-of-shirt branding to the Alzheimer’s Society, in support of the club’s work with the charity, for the Clarets’ Carabao Cup fixture against Rochdale on Tuesday, 21st September. Spreadex have also pledged to make a charitable donation of £1 to Burnley FC’s wider community activities for every Carabao Cup bet placed with them on Tuesday