When people talk about Sean Dyche giving Burnley a makeover, a particular memory comes to his trusted assistant and flatmate, Ian Woan.
‘I was lying on the couch the morning before we played Arsenal. Then I heard the Hoover go on and Sean walks in with a baggy T-shirt and baggy boxer shorts,’ recalls Woan.
‘We’re playing a Premier League game and he’s tidying. I said, “I bet Arsene Wenger isn’t doing this right now”. That’s Sean though, proper level-headed. He’s the boss at work and chief hooverer at home.’
Sean Dyche is much different to his public perception, says Burnley assistant Ian Woan (left)
Woan grins. You have to be a close mate to tell stories about your boss, but the pair go back 30 years when they shared digs at Nottingham Forest.
Woan was best man at Dyche’s wedding and, prior to Covid-19, they lived together near Burnley during the week while their respective families stayed further south.
Dyche took the job at Turf Moor eight years ago next week with Woan alongside him. Only he could mark the anniversary with banter such as: ‘You know the gaffer likes to talk. Can we call him busy?’
Yet it’s clear the respect Woan holds for the man who began his career under Brian Clough and is dubbed the ginger Mourinho.
Dyche is seen as an all-action and old school English manager who does not take any nonsense
Dyche has transformed Burnley, twice taking a struggling Championship team into the Premier League and now in their fifth unbroken season in the top flight.
They’ve qualified for Europe and helped Kieran Trippier, Tom Heaton, Nick Pope and James Tarkowski become England internationals.
Though they face Tottenham on Sunday night with only one point from four games, there is no sense of panic, with an injury list beginning to ease.
‘He gets a lot of stick because he looks like a nightclub bouncer,’ reflects Woan. ‘People think he must be rough but it couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s well-read, wants to learn and is always asking questions of himself.’
The Clarets were 14th in the Championship when they appointed Dyche on October 30, 2012. There was talent in the squad — Danny Ings, Charlie Austin, Trippier and two defenders, Ben Mee and Kevin Long, who remain today — but also deadwood.
Woan remembers their first home night game against Leeds. ‘Charlie Austin scored a late winner and our goalkeeping coach Billy Mercer jumped off the bench and shouted, “That’s what he does!”. Sean and I replied, “We hope so!” ’
Burnley had only one season in the Premier League in 2014-15, with Woan admitting: ‘The easier decision would have been to get rid but the board gave us the chance to build.’
Once, before a match with Arsenal, Dyche spent the morning busying himself with housework
Woan puts the longevity of their own relationship down to a ‘strong bond and real trust’.
Though Burnley’s style is different to Brian Clough’s Forest, Woan says their former manager would admire how Dyche has transported some of his values into the 21st century.
‘We demand common courtesy: please, thank you, excuse me — that came from working with Cloughie,’ reveals Woan.
‘Doing the basics super-well is also important to us. That simplicity still has a place.’
Thursday night was always curry night for Dyche, Woan and coaches Tony Loughlan, Steve Stone and Mercer.
When that was interrupted by Burnley’s Europa run in 2018, the team reached halfway in the season with only 12 points. It was then Dyche showed ingenuity to turn things around.
‘He tagged it new manager thinking,’ says Woan. ‘He asked what a new manager would do and tried to get that bounce without changing personnel. It was a stroke of genius really.
This year Woan and Dyche are battling to turn around Burnley’s slow start to the season
‘One of Sean’s great strengths is that during a difficult spell, he won’t immediately go for the players. His first question is always, “Am I doing enough, giving enough?”
There is concern at being in the bottom three but also optimism things will improve. Monday’s league game is only their second at home thus far.
Dyche is by far the longest-serving Premier League boss. Jurgen Klopp is next, with five years at Liverpool. It begs the question what Dyche could do at a bigger club.
‘It would be very interesting to see how we’d work a system with top players,’ says Woan.
For now, the priority is steadying the ship at Turf Moor.
What has it been like being separated from his buddy as a flatmate in lockdown? ‘My ears aren’t bleeding, as you can see,’ laughs Woan.