Former Clarets Keeper On Turf Moor Exit

Tom Heaton Talks About Leaving the Clarets to Join Aston Villa

Tom Heaton might no longer be a Burnley player but the former Clarets captain would love to come back to Turf Moor in a coaching role in the future. He ended his six year association with Burnley in the summer and joined Aston Villa and the goalkeeper is currently recovering from a serious knee injury sustained when his new club beat the Clarets in January this year.

Heaton, who is hoping to return to full fitness in the summer, is currently working to an individual training plan with football shutdown until at least the end of the month. But he took time out of his schedule to give us an interview, the England international discusses how his Clarets exit came about and why he’d love to return and his relationship with the Burnley supporters.

Heaton, moved to Aston Villa on the 1st August last year with the Clarets netting £8M for a player synonymous with the Clarets rise under Sean Dyche. He was also Sean Dyche’s first permanent signing at Turf Moor when he arrived for Bristol City following relegation to the third tier of the Football League.

Over the next six seasons Heaton elevated himself to hero status with the Clarets faithful the highs too many to count as he played a huge role in claiming two promotions to the Premier League. His form last term was one of the main reason why Burnley secured top flight status and yet within a few months of the season ending he’d left.

Nick Pope had been handed a new deal in May in a sign of where Dyche’s loyalty lay for this campaign and with Joe Hart also on the books three into one simply didn’t go. Heaton revealed that just like it did for the fans, the move to the Midlands took a while to sink in.

Speaking about his time at Turf Moor Tom Heaton said “To be brutally honest having been there for so long, it was a massive part of my life and my career so far. It was six years but it felt more like sixteen years because that was how good it was. The one thing I would say is that the timing was right for me personally and I was ready for that fresh challenge.

Burnley was a massive part of me and my career and I will never forget my time at the club, Sean Dyche is a manager I have huge respect for, but before the move we didn’t sit down and discuss the move it was a transfer that just felt right. If I am being honest, there wasn’t a single conversation about my Turf Moor exit. It was more how I felt and I felt the timing was right on the back of the injury and Joe Hart coming in. The situation suited me and the club sold me and so I am pretty sure it suited them.

If I am honest it is how it goes, football is constantly evolving it was it a big decision for me, Of course it was, a massive decision. You can never have any guarantees in football and looking back now I am certain I can say it was the right decision and I am thoroughly enjoying it at Villa at the moment but at the time you never know.

You can only go on what you feel, the easier one would have been to stay, but you have to roll with it. In terms of the staff, players and the manager especially we have an incredible relationship. People find it strange, but I’ve kept in contact with him pretty regularly since I have left the club, I have a very good relationship with the gaffer and that is great.

You look at the bigger picture and assess the situation there were a lot of factors involved but you just go with your instinct and if you feel it is right then you do it. Football is an interesting journey and you never know what is around the corner.”

Speaking about his future, Heaton hinted in a recent behind the scenes interview with Match of the Day that he would be open to a return to Turf Moor as a coach or manager. I think staying in football, hopefully it will be five or six years down the line as I think it would be difficult for me to move away from the playing side of the game.

It’s all I have ever done and I absolutely love it, coaching or management is something like that down that line would be great. I have got a connection with the club (at Burnley) and if I could return there in the future then that would be fantastic. You never really know but it’s something that would massively appeal to me.

Having kept in contact with Billy Mercer I have had a good laugh with him saying I was coming for his job! I am not coming for Billy Mercer’s job, because he is doing a fantastic job and it is down the line for me. I had a fantastic relationship with him and still speak to him regularly.

Back to the present and Heaton’s main focus is recovering from the knee injury that ended his season when he collided with the post in trying in vain to claw out Chris Wood’s header in the 2-1 Villa win at Turf Moor on New Year’s Day. The keeper, who made exactly 200 appearances for the Clarets, admitted he initially felt he could play on but it soon became apparent the injury, sustained at what the player called his ‘favourite end’ was serious.

At the time when I did it I thought I was going to be alright, I actually tried to stand up. I had no issues with my knees before but something felt not quite right. The doctor and the physio came on and said ‘code red’ to the bench and I was thinking ‘hang on a minute lads steady on, let’s see if I can shake it off a little bit. I tried to stand up but something wasn’t right so the stretcher it was, I didn’t fancy the stretcher but it had to be done.

It was a real innocuous one but the damage was obviously there, it was relatively straight forward damage to the anterior cruciate ligament and nothing too complicated and I am on the road to recovery now. I underwent surgery eleven weeks ago and am able to continue the rehabilitation pretty much as planned despite the current lock down.

I have total belief that I will come back better and stronger and using those experiences is vital really. It is a strange comment but it is nice to have that in the bank and be able to draw on it. I am actually really pleased with the progress so far, the surgery went really well and itis all moving in the right direction.

With uncertainty surrounding when football will resume given the coronavirus, during which Heaton is spending time with his wife and two young children, playing teacher as well as dad, the plan is simply to recuperate as quickly as possible and be in a position to play again in the summer. I have been fortunate with the lock down that I am at a point where I am strengthening the leg so I am able to do most of those exercises myself and I am not missing out on too much by being at the training ground.

His last act being carried off at Turf Moor was to raise a hand to show his appreciation to the Clarets supporters, who gave him a standing ovation as he left the pitch. While Heaton couldn’t quite appreciate the praise at the time given his injury concerns his dad Dave who was born in Burnley and watching in the stands, certainly did.

My dad said he got a bit emotional in the stands listening to it, said the keeper, who had an incredible relationship with the Burnley supporters during his time at the Turf Moor thanks to his ability, affable personality and willingness to chat to fans and get involved in the community. I enjoyed going back and seeing everyone, playing the game I was focused on that but it was certainly not how I envisaged leaving the pitch.

I got a fantastic reception from the fans coming off, it was difficult to fully appreciate it when you have some uncertainty about your leg. I was very, very grateful for that (reception) and I would hope people know that respect is mutual. It was great going back and having so many fond memories, there is still a strong feeling in my heart about the place, as you might imagine. They say home is where the heart is and maybe one day Heaton will be back at Turf Moor.”

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