David Jones exclusive: The saved penalty in the mid-90s that would have a significant bearing on Burnley's future successes

When Tom Heaton saved a David Jones penalty as an 11-year-old goalkeeper at Manchester United, nobody could ever have imagined how defining that moment would be.

Wednesday, 13th May 2020, 8:00 am
Former Clarets midfielder David Jones tussles with Jack Cork during the Barclays Premier League match between Burnley and Swansea City at Turf Moor on February 28, 2015. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

There was certainly nothing out of the ordinary when the former Burnley midfielder had the ball on the spot during a training match at The Cliff in the mid-90s.

But the outcome, which saw Heaton repel the kick, would prove to have a significant bearing on Burnley's future successes.

It was a conversation starter and the birth of a friendship which, further down the line, resulted in silverware.

Sadio Mane challenges David Jones during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Burnley at St Mary's Stadium on March 21, 2015. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Jones, who had been due to sign for Liverpool from Wrexham before United swooped in at the last minute, said: "We first met when he saved one of my penalties when we were 11.

"He was in goal and we were playing a practice game with a couple of aged groups mixed in.

"I'd never met Tom before and then he saved my penalty and that's when I started to know him. We continued as mates after that and we're still mates today.

"It was nice to be together at United, go through the youth levels, and then be reunited at Burnley where we celebrated two promotions.

Tom Heaton celebrates with David Jones during the Sky Bet Championship match between Birmingham City and Burnley at St Andrews Stadium on April 16, 2016. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

"We left one club and then about eight years later we were playing in the Premier League together! We've had a lot of special times on and off the pitch, which is quite unique. We've got a lot of happy memories."

Had it not been for their friendship, Jones, 35, may well have extended his stay with Blackburn Rovers following a loan spell at Ewood Park.

The midfielder had hit a crossroads in his career after his contract at Wigan Athletic had come to an end.

That's when Heaton, now at Aston Villa, intervened after becoming Sean Dyche's first signing at Turf Moor.

Tom Heaton and David Jones of Burnley celebrate at full-time following the Barclays Premier League match between Burnley and Hull City at Turf Moor on November 08, 2014. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

After getting word that discussions between Jones and Rovers had stalled, when it had once seemed likely that he would make his switch permanent, Burnley made their move.

Jones, who was Heaton's best man when he tied the knot with long-time girlfriend Taralee, said: "There was a lot of instability at Blackburn at the time and they'd gone through quite a few managers.

"Even during my brief spell Michael Appleton left the club and Gary Bowyer came in for the remaining games.

"I really got on with him and he eventually got the job. There were discussions about me signing there, but it never really materialised on both sides really.

"There was a lot depending on whether Gary got the job, which delayed it initially, and then I spoke to Sean Dyche."

He added: "Tom was the one that kickstarted the interest from Burnley. He'd been there a week or two and I'd been training at St George's Park with the Michael Johnson Performance Centre for the first couple of weeks in pre-season.

"Tom told me that it was really good at Burnley and asked whether I'd fancy it if he dropped my name in and I was available.

"I think the manager thought it was inevitable that I'd be signing for Blackburn, but once Tom mentioned it he called me up, we had a discussion and it went from there.

"After having that conversation and meeting the staff I knew it was a place that I wanted to go.

"It just felt right and everything I heard from the manager about how he wanted the club to progress and how he goes about training was exactly what I wanted to hear. It was an easy decision in the end because it just felt right."

And that was that. Between them they would make 331 appearances for the Clarets, securing two promotions to the Premier League, one as Championship runners up and the other as champions.

Neither of them missed a league game during that first campaign as they finished behind Leicester City. "They were both special in different ways," said Jones, who enjoyed four Championship promotions during his career.

"The first time, from the outside looking in, Burnley didn't stand a chance of promotion, but I got a really good feel when I arrived. There was plenty of quality in the squad, the profile of the players wasn't that high, but the standard was.

"The mentality of the players in pre-season, the intensity of training and the fitness levels we were showing made me think that we had a real chance. I'd been promoted twice before and I just had a feeling.

"Emotionally that was higher than the other one because we were not expected to do anything and it was a new journey for a lot of people that year.

"It was absolutely brilliant and so special. To be able to do it with Tom was great and it was quite surreal. It was amazing to be able to celebrate with the fans. Each promotion I've had was unique, but that one stands out in the memory."

Jones was absent just twice in the top flight, a term that ended in relegation alongside QPR and Hull City, but he would go on to end his three-year stay at Burnley in style.

That was, however, after an emergency meeting was called to clear the air following a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Tigers at the KC Stadium on Boxing Day.

"We'd had a bit of an up and down start to the season, although we were still in a decent position in the play-offs places," Jones recalled. "There was a 3-0 defeat away to Hull and then we kicked on from there after various meetings that week about what we wanted to achieve that season.

"It was all about honesty and general authenticity regarding the situation whether it was criticism or analysing what had gone on. It was an open discussion and a few people got things off their chest.

"The manager and the staff were open to listening to see if there was anything they needed to learn as well. They don't make you feel like you can't say anything. At the end of the meeting it was almost like an affirmation of what we were going to do.

"Everybody got it into their head that we were going to win the league and then we went and did it. The strength of everyone coming together and aligning their mentalities in wanting to achieve something is a powerful thing.

"The 'gaffer' has a big part to play and that's why the team and the club progresses. The staff don't think they've got the formula or the recipe, they're always self analysing and learning and moving forward themselves."

The Clarets responded with a 4-0 win at home to Bristol City, which included an Andre Gray hat-trick, and the momentum snowballed from there. Victory over Charlton Athletic at The Valley on the final day of the season was the club's 23rd consecutive league game without loss as they clinched the title.

Jones said: "For everybody to get on board, make that effort and have that mentality to get a result week after week was unbelievable. We knew we needed to do it to get that promotion. It's what was required and once we got that momentum there wasn't any stopping us.

"It was special because we were one of the favourites after coming down from the Premier League and to be able to bounce back like we did and go on that run over the second half of the season was incredible.

"It could possibly be done again, but it was a great achievement and quite remarkable.

"I've never experienced anything better throughout my football career than my time at Burnley. From the first squad that got promoted to the second squad that won promotion they were probably my favourite times in terms of team spirit and the enjoyment of the dressing room.

"The camaraderie and character was there in abundance throughout my time at Burnley and it's still there now. They're all special memories."

Jones is now looking to the future after concluding a brief spell with Oldham Athletic. He'd returned to the Barnfield Training Centre to keep ticking over as he awaits his next opportunity.

The plan now is to give it one final go before he hangs up his boots. He said: "I was at Oldham for six to eight weeks over December and January just to get some games really because the season was getting on and I had been training at Burnley. I needed to get some proper competitive matches in.

"The plan of action is to stay as fit as possible and then when things resume I want to give it another go. I'm 35 now, but I still feel fit enough and strong enough mentally to carry on. I'm just going to give it everything for next season and see what comes of it.

"The plan was to get fit at Burnley and hopefully get some offers that I'd be willing to take on the back of that, but nothing materialised so I'll try a different strategy for the next pre-season.

"It was brilliant to be able to go back to the club and train with the lads. Obviously it's not the same when you're not playing, but it was nice to see everyone, go on the pre-season trip and train everyday with a Premier League club. I definitely felt sharp and ready to go.

"It was a similar formula, but it has adapted and progressed since I was there. The facilities are better because I'd just left before the move into the new building, there's more staff and things have moved on an upward curve. It was easy to slot back into the routine of the training there."

Jones, who is due to become a Dad for the first time at the end of the month, has been keeping busy in readiness for his next step. He's been trying his hand at the media side of things, working towards his coaching badges and now he's ready to go back to school.

"I've been thinking about what I want to do," he said. "I've been trying different things over the last year, dabbling in a little bit of media, I've done a business course, I'm doing my coaching badges and I'm thinking of doing a Masters Degree in Sporting Directorship in September as I've been accepted onto the course at Manchester Uni.

"I can do that part-time if I'm still playing so it won't be a problem. I'm doing a bit of everything within football at the moment to see what it is that I enjoy and want to do.

"It can be difficult when you've dedicated most of your life to playing, but I've been very lucky to have enjoyed what I've done. Now I want to make a decision where I'm able to enjoy my job again. Nothing will compare to playing, but I just want to do something I enjoy."