BURNLEY, England (Reuters) - The second qualifying round of the Europa League may not set many pulses racing, but for Burnley a return to continental competition after 51 years is a cause for celebration.
On Thursday, the Lancashire club return to UEFA action, when they face Aberdeen in Scotland, with a return leg to follow at Turf Moor next week.
For a club that faced relegation from the fourth tier in 1987, a fate which would probably have led to the club folding, being back in Europe after finishing seventh in the Premier League is, as manager Sean Dyche put it, “a badge of honour”.
Burnley is the smallest town in the Premier League with a population of 73,000 and their 2,000 allocated tickets at Pittodrie quickly sold out with many more gathering at their own stadium to watch a special broadcast of the untelevised game.
The last time the Clarets played in European competition was in 1967 when they reached the quarter-finals of the ‘Fairs Cup’, the forerunner to the UEFA Cup and Europa League.
Having beaten Bundesliga club Stuttgart, Swiss side Lausanne and Serie A side Napoli, Burnley were beaten over two legs by Eintracht Frankfurt.
That was the team’s second European campaign — as English champions they took part in the 1960-61 European Cup, losing to Hamburg SV in the last eight.
There was some disappointment among Burnley fans when the draw pit them against another British side, with supporters hoping for a more exotic destination.
But if the Clarets can get past Aberdeen they will face Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir in the next round before a potential playoff round to earn a place in the group stage.
“We are only going to Scotland, so we are going to face a lot of British lads. But I still think the whole feel of it will be exciting for the fans and for ourselves,” said Burnley defender James Tarkowski.
“The lads are really looking forward to it and going to experience a different style of football.”
Aberdeen are more familiar with the challenges of international football - they won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983 when managed by Alex Ferguson and are regulars in the Europa League having finished runners-up in the Scottish Premiership for the past four seasons.
“There’s a lot of excitement, especially from the fans about us going on a European tour,” said Tarkowski.
“So it would be daft to go and waste it on the first round of qualifying, so we want to go as far as we can. But we have to get past the first game,” he added.
If they were to reach the group stage — with six more games on top of the six needed to qualify — that would represent a significant increase in workload for one of the smallest squads in the Premier League.
Burnley have yet to bring in any new players during the close season and have been blooding several youngsters from their development team in recent friendly games.
While the excitement and pride of the club’s supporters is focussed on the Europa League debut, Dyche, who has twice taken the club from the second-tier Championship to the top flight, is well aware that Premier League survival is the priority.
“I think it has to be recognised that, for a club of this size, this is a massive jump. Not many people at the beginning of last season gave us a chance of finishing seventh. Clubs like this one almost have to go back to the start point each season to remodel it again,” he said.
The remodelling work will surely come before the end of the transfer window on Aug. 9 but on Thursday there will be plenty in the travelling support savouring the sense of history.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge