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Famous football fanatics: Alastair Campbell on his love for Burnley

By Chris Murphy, CNN
Alastair Campbell at Turf Moor. The Clarets have already beaten Manchester United there this season.
Alastair Campbell at Turf Moor. The Clarets have already beaten Manchester United there this season.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alastair Campbell fell in love with Burnley in 1961, at the age of four
  • Ex-PM Tony Blair thought his love for Burnley was sometimes "over the top"
  • Local rivals Blackburn Rovers are the club Campbell loves to hate
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(CNN) -- They may be famous, but even the world's biggest names go weak at the knees for their favorite football team. Football Fanzone talks to Alastair Campbell -- former spin doctor of ex-British prime minister Tony Blair -- about his 'manic' love for English Premier League new boys Burnley.

Where does your love of Burnley come from?

I was born in Keighley in Yorkshire and Burnley were the big team in that region at the time and they were the ones I fell for. My first game was in 1961 when Burnley were reigning league champions. I started going regularly when I was about five or six.

How did you keep up to speed with all things Burnley when you were in office at No. 10?

I still managed to get to a lot of games during that period. Saturday at three pm was the one time when the Downing Street switchboard knew there was no point bothering me. Tony [Blair] and Gordon [Brown] both follow football pretty closely so I think they understood it. I think Tony maybe sometimes thought it was a little over the top.

Were there any occasions when Burnley came ahead of any high-level meetings?

When we played Scunthorpe -- the game we won to get promoted to the First Division under Stan Ternant in 2000 -- up until then I'd been in Northern Ireland. Bertie Ahern [Taoiseach of Ireland at the time] was a big Manchester United fan and he had tickets for a game the next day. I said to him: "Bertie, I've got to be at this game, these talks cannot drag on and on." As it happened I left early and by the time I'd landed in Manchester things had wrapped up, so he got to his game as well, but I did sneak off early it has to be said.

What does it mean to you to have Burnley back in the Premier League?

Fact Box
Alastair Campbell served as Tony Blair's communications tsar for nine years.

Campbell played a key role in Labour's election victories of 1997 and 2001.

Campbell resigned in 2003 before publishing 'The Blair Years' containing extracts from his diaries from 1994 to 2003.

It's fantastic. When we were relegated from the top division in 1974 I didn't think we'd come back. We had to win a game against Leyton Orient in 1987 to stay in the Football League. I honestly think if we'd lost that we'd have gone into oblivion so to be back is just incredible. It means a lot to everyone who has followed Burnley through such bad times.

Just how special was that win over Manchester United in Burnley's first home game of the season?

Playing Manchester United as our first game back was the best possible start to the season. Its true they had a bit of an off day, but we played well, and we've played teams who are better on paper but we've beaten them on merit. Our wage bill is the smallest in the league by a mile, we've got a small stadium, we've got the smallest squad and we're the smallest town that has ever produced a Premier League football club, so with all that it's quite an uphill battle to stay up but I think we will, and by playing good football.

Who is your favorite player of all time?

Saturday at 3pm was the one time when the Downing Street switchboard knew there was no point bothering me.
--Alastair Campbell

It has to be Leighton James, he coincided with the period when I was really fanatical. He was one of these players that when he got the ball you just leaned forward a bit and you thought something is going to happen here and quite often it did. The other player I'd pick is Martin Dobson, who is now Head of Youth development at the club. He was such an elegant player.

What is your most memorable moment as a Burnley fan?

There are loads. Beating Leeds 4-1 away when Don Revie was in charge of them, is right up there. It was proving impossible to beat Leeds and we absolutely hammered them. The Orient game, obviously, was the most emotional for every Burnley fan. Both play-offs at Wembley have been great, too. I've got loads of bad memories too, but I think it's the bad memories are what make the good memories even more special.