OLIVER NORWOOD watched his first Burnley game at the age of just four. He also grew up in the shadows of Turf Moor.
However, even this dyed-in-the-wool Claret could not have foreseen in the summer just how well his beloved Lancashire club would fare in the opening third of the season.
Sean Dyche’s side will arrive at Huddersfield Town today sitting proudly on top of the Championship with 35 points from 16 games. Not bad for a club priced at 80-1 to win the title by the bookmakers before a ball had been kicked this term.
“You have to give credit for how Burnley have done,” said the 22-year-old midfielder ahead of today’s encounter at the John Smith’s Stadium.
“To sustain this form over 16 games is not a fluke and shows how hard they must be working for each other.
“They seem to have a small group of players but that is working for them. Team spirit seems high and they have plenty of quality in the squad.
“We will have to be at the top of our game but the good thing is we are full of confidence after the way we beat Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.”
Norwood’s Claret credentials are not in doubt. Along with his family home as a youngster being within a stone’s throw of Turf Moor, he had a season ticket from the age of eight to when he signed full-time at Manchester United.
His cricket team also play on a pitch that backs on to the town’s football ground. Despite that, there will be no split loyalties for him today.
“It is always special when you play against your home town,” said Norwood, who started last season’s 2-0 August victory over Burnley and was on the bench in the Turf Moor return that Town won 1-0.
“I have always supported Burnley. Promotion to the Premier League is the thing that really stands out. It meant so much to the fans and to the town.
“All my family and friends are massive Burnley fans so it was brilliant to see how pleased promotion made them. I can see them getting similarly excited with the start that they have made.
“There will be a lot of them at the Huddersfield game and I know they are looking forward to it, as you’d probably expect considering where Burnley are in the league.
“But we have a good feeling about this. We did the double over Burnley last season and that was brilliant for everyone, not just me. The first one was really early on, when we were flying.
“Then, we went to Turf Moor (in late February) when we really badly needed the three points and managed to get them.
“In the end, those six points we got against Burnley proved crucial in keeping us in the Championship. Obviously, this time I’d imagine Burnley will be full of confidence. But we are confident about a game that should be played in front of a great atmosphere.”
For Town, the key will be building on the magnificent performance at Hillsborough from a week ago.
Adam Clayton and Martin Paterson scored the goals and then claimed the headlines thanks to the celebration routine that re-enacted the pair’s training ground clash of the previous month.
Behind those headlines, however, lay a dominant midfield performance that saw the Owls simply over-run by Clayton, Norwood and Jonathan Hogg.
The 2-1 victory, a scoreline that flattered Wednesday, was enough to nudge Mark Robins’s men up to 13th as memories of the demoralising defeat to Birmingham City in Huddersfield’s previous outing were banished.
“It was awful against Birmingham,” admits the Northern Ireland international. “There is no other word to describe how we played that day. From start to finish, we just weren’t good enough and we got what we deserved.
“So, to go from that to how we played at Sheffield Wednesday was very pleasing. Mind, I wouldn’t say how we played at Hillsborough was a surprise or anything like that. In our 16 games this season, I would say there is only the Birmingham match where we didn’t perform at all. We might not have got the results at times that we deserved but our performances have been okay.
“Even so, winning like we did against Wednesday has given everyone a lift. This is a tough league and we are reasonably happy to be where we are.
“The games come thick and fast now, all the way through to the New Year. We have already said among ourselves that we want to come out of this little period in a healthy position.
“If we can be in a position to push on in the New Year then anything can happen.”
A repeat of the performance that proved too much for Wednesday will be needed today if Sean Dyche’s men are to be condemned to a rare defeat.
“Burnley have had a great start and their confidence must be sky high,” said Norwood. “The results have been great.
“But there is a good team spirit among the lads and we fancy our chances against anyone.
“Everyone gets a sense that something if developing at Huddersfield. This is a good club to be at. There is a real family feel to it.
“It can be a bit strange to have fans wandering round the training ground at times but that is how the chairman (Dean Hoyle) wants it. Everything open. And I do enjoy the family feel that there is to Huddersfield Town.”
Asked if Huddersfield reminded him of Burnley in terms of both being towns slavishly loyal to its own team, Norwood replied: “To be fair, I live outside the Huddersfield area so can’t really comment.
“But Burnley is definitely a football mad town. Everyone in the town supports Burnley and no-one else. The fans are really passionate, just as our fans are about Huddersfield.
“It should be a great atmosphere and we can’t wait for kick-off.”