By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Burnley bucked the modern trend when they reacted to relegation from the Premier League by keeping faith with their manager and holding on to the majority of their squad and that decision looks set to pay an immediate dividend.
Four points clear at the top of the second-tier Championship, Burnley stand poised to rejoin the top flight after suffering their second relegation from the Premier League in six years.
On both occasions they lasted just one season among the elite.
Founder members of the Football League in 1888, Burnley are a small club, from a small town and rooted in the history and traditions of the English game.
They have, however, spent all but two of the last 40 years outside of the top flight and endured a miserable seven-year spell in the lowest tier in the late 1980s and early 1990s before embarking on a long haul back through the divisions.
Surrounded by the vast resources of the northern powerhouses to their east and west, they have chosen to retain their values and opt for financial prudence rather than risking bankruptcy in a dash to return to the elite.
Central to that ethos was their decision to keep hold of manager Sean Dyche following last season's relegation, while at the same time keeping their ambitions and fans' expectations in perspective.
"There's a reality to how we work at Burnley," Dyche explained after their recent 3-2 win over Fulham.
"Historically this club has had to punch above its weight and many old-fashioned cliches like loyalty and devotion still apply to it. The fans know what Burnley had to do to survive, sell players to build stands and pay debts and all that sort of thing.
"So over time there has been a more balanced view from our supporters who have kept their belief in the club and what it stands for."
Burnley's way of doing things is paying dividends off the field too.
The club announced net record profits of 30.14 million pounds ($43.31 million) on Thursday following its last Premier League season -- and also reported they were now debt free.
"In times of boom and bust for many clubs in the world of soccer we continue to be regarded by many as a role model of how to run a club in the modern era," chairman Mike Garlick said in a statement to shareholders.
It is a far cry from May 1987 when they were one match away from being relegated from the Football League but saved themselves by beating Leyton Orient on the final day of the season.
Alan Tomlinson, a lifelong Burnley fan, who is also professor of Leisure Studies at the University of Brighton, and author of a number of books on FIFA, believes the club's values are crucial to their current success.
"As one of the 12 original members of the Football League, Burnley do have a special place in the game," he told Reuters.
"But you can't get by on history alone but they also have a sense of realism linked to a different set of values.
"You can get a season ticket at Turf Moor for 230 pounds which works out at about 10 pounds a game. The club have always remained very close to the town, in the best of times in the 1950s and 1960s and the worst of times in the 1980s and 1990s."
Tomlinson, a proud member of what he calls the "worldwide Burnley Diaspora", was among the traveling fans who saw them win at Fulham with a well-taken goal from club-record signing Andre Gray.
He joined for a reported fee of 6 million pounds from Brentford after Danny Ings left for Liverpool in the close season.
He has been the outstanding player in a regular starting lineup made up entirely of British and Irish players.
"He has been fantastic and we will be looking for around 55 million if we sell him," Dyche joked.
Burnley, unbeaten in their last 15 league matches, play at second-place Brighton on Saturday and should they win, it is hard to see anyone stopping them going back up.
Although everyone linked to the club will be hoping they do not come straight back down again too.
($1 = 0.6958 pounds)
(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Toby Davis)