Blank Canvas, Blank Scoresheet, Bright Blue Palette

The first home game of any new season is rich with possibilities; a blank canvas awaiting the oils, brushstrokes and perhaps a palette knife flourish.

When it comes hard on the heels of a fully deserved promotion, then the anticipation of the fans to see a masterpiece revealed is unsurprisingly heightened.

In a division that boasts, if that’s the right word, ten of the teams that were founder members of the Premier League, a glance down the fixture list evokes memories of bygone days. A fixture list that contrives to proffer Millwall as the first visitors to Ewood might, therefore, be described as anti-climactic at best, downright disappointing at worst.

Millwall rarely have been described as attractive opposition; revelling in their “no one likes us” persona to such an extent that even a 2004 FA Cup final appearance against Manchester United didn’t endear them to many neutrals. Mind you, Dennis Wise as player-manager…

That said, Saturday’s test against one of the surprise packages of last season’s Championship served ultimately both as a reality check against premature optimism but also to set something of a benchmark as to what can be achieved with a squad of well-drilled, physically honed, tactically organised players, led by a down to earth, respected manager. Rovers resplendent in their new, paler than usual, “Cambridge blue” kit, contrived also to look, initially at least, like pale imitations of last year’s promotion-winning incarnation. In a first half, in which they were largely out muscled and out thought by their opponents, Millwall did the simple things well; essentially, pass accurately, move quickly and shoot when the opportunities presented themselves.

Rovers set off in pre-season friendly mode it seemed, unaware that their opponents were champing at the bit. Listless, sluggish and reluctant to keep possession, it was all a little dispiriting as Millwall dictated the pace early on.First Saville and then Morison took advantage of gaping holes through the centre of Rovers midfield to hit each of the uprights in turn. Morison’s effort in particular defying physics to come back off the post at the angle it did. A snooker player armed with fresh chalk would have done well to achieve the back and side spin that eventually spared Rovers.

Evans and Smallwood were notionally assigned to form a protective shield in front of the back four but time and time again, Millwall passed by them, around them and through them. Possession was given away repeatedly, notwithstanding the song lyrics, the “King of Ewood” seemed to have abdicated, but in fairness, he wasn’t alone in needing a recalibration of his passing radar. A welcome but rare spell of pressure just before half time saw Rovers win a free kick on the edge of the area and it was Bradley Dack rather than Charlie Mulgrew who struck a sharp effort goalwards, a fine save from Jordan Archer foiling Rovers. Neither the first nor the only time that would happen as events transpired. Rovers then found the woodwork, this time Darragh Lenihan hitting the top of the bar with a looping header.

The break served Rovers well, the second half saw much more movement, faster passing and more concerted pressure on Millwall’s defence. Danny Graham was twice sent through, twice defied his age, held off the last defender only to be denied by the efforts of the impressive Archer. The frustration of Graham was palpable and was shared by teammates and supporters alike. Graham also confounded everyone by remaining on the pitch for the full ninety minutes but I suspect Bennett’s injury was a major contributor to that.

Substitutions saw the impressive Palmer leave the field to be replaced by another new boy, Joe Rothwell; then the moment many had been awaiting, the introduction of “mini-Shearer”; the returning prodigal Adam Armstrong replacing the struggling Smallwood. One thing I will say for Smallwood, when he is hooked he doesn’t hang around to milk applause, he really “legs it” off the pitch to make way. Smallwood has been rejected as a Championship player before and this appearance one has to hope is just an aberration. Rothwell then had a tidy run and a shot, saved inevitably by Rovers’ nemesis Archer, but that was largely that.

It seemed that both sides were content in the last few minutes to share the points, Millwall’s Neil Harris saying as much in an unusually balanced and very refreshing post-match interview. Not for him the hyperbole of a Neil Warnock nor the referee-bashing of a Mark Hughes and credit to him for that.

The conclusion from the afternoon’s events is that Rovers seem much more organised than at the opening of our last Championship campaign; not altogether surprising, the squad is more balanced; albeit with some notable weaknesses, but a successful loan window, bringing in options especially up-front, wide and perhaps even central midfield could make the difference between comfort and concern come next May.

Tuesday saw a return to Brunton Park for a third cup tie in five years; this time in the Carabao Cup and not surprisingly, Mowbray used the opportunity to ring the changes, in that troublesome central midfield area. A team including Dack, Armstrong and Palmer should have had too much for Carlisle and thankfully, so it proved.

A bright start seemed to tie things up in the opening seven minutes and despite a stunning Carlisle reply applauded by Rovers and Carlisle fans alike, it ended in a welcome, handsome victory embroidered by quality goals, fluent, penetrative passing and another truly brilliant display from Bradley Dack.

Two goals and two assists only tell half the story of how Dack pulled the strings and ran the show.

There were odd lapses of concentration – although not in regard to Carlisle’s goal which would have graced the World Cup and made it a game for a few minutes – and the gifted Palmer must learn not to accrue cheap bookings as he did in a needless rush of petulance here.

But a strong line up demonstrating superiority over lower league opposition has not always been Rovers’ practice in this competition and it made for a pleasant evening on this easiest of journeys to breeze so stylishly into Thursday’s draw for Round Two.

Tony Mowbray now prepares his team for a visit to Hull City, a club who appear to have eschewed the usual relegated Premier League club’s modus operandi of chucking parachute money and a good deal more at a swift re-promotion while ignoring the FFP rules and any likely consequences.

Most of the star names from the top-flight side followed Harry Maguire out of the door, gates and aspirations have become much-reduced and the openly antagonistic owners seem determined to get the remaining support’s backs up in any way possible, most noticeable to outsiders by embarking on a mission to adopt the most fan-unfriendly pricing policy imaginable.

Their arcane decision to remove any form of concessions in their ticket pricing structure (and it all began with a membership scheme} has served to rile away fans with families, the elderly and the disabled; but spare a thought for the Hull fans who have that issue each home game. That has had much to do with the dwindling attendances and engenders regular protests against the out of touch owners who seem intent on ignoring and irritating their fans…insert your own punchline here folks…

Astonishingly, the EFL remains silent on this topic, content instead to ensure that Carabao Cup draws take place in ever more exotic locations. Priorities eh?

With home games against two of the division’s less fancied teams swiftly following the KC Stadium trip, a smattering of the swagger and self-belief that the cup romp infused could well see Rovers overcome the rather underwhelmed Humbersiders if we’re on our mettle and set up the return to Ewood as an early opportunity to stack some significant points up.

OLD BLACKBURNIAN

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Millwall win would seal spot-on start and farewell to Haggis

“I’d have taken a point at 3pm” is the standard and eminently sensible/sanguine response to a draw which ultimately disappoints and never more apt was it than on a Saturday afternoon which screamed: “Welcome back to the Championship.”

Ipswich are the longest continuous inhabitants of the second tier after spending a great many years between 1961 and 2002 at the top table. It’s easy to forget they were Second Division champions at a bit of a canter the season we went up through the play-offs under Kenny Dalglish now that they are entrenched there in the almost perpetual limbo of mid-table with the odd play-off challenge almost a maximum aspiration.

For those of us who lived through the 1970’s and 1980’s they were a byword for style with substance on a budget under Bobby Robson. They were ahead of their time in introducing foreign players (Dutch) to our top flight and they hold a proud record of never losing at home in Europe in the three competitions they entered, one of which, the UEFA Cup, they won.

Rovers have seldom found results easy to come by there.

Only an inveterate romantic from either side on opening day would envisage a return to the Premier League at the end of this particular season and most will probably sigh with relief if and when survival and another year in the division is confirmed, be that in January, February, March, April or on the last day of the season. Get to 48 points before that and we can happen talk top six!

While we perhaps sniffed  bit at rolling up at Ipswich in 2012, Saturday saw us arrive back in a  land of decent grounds, reasonable home support  (the population isn’t that different to Blackburn’s at 133,000) and far sterner tests than many in League One could offer.

Another healthy travelling contingent didn’t have long to wait to be reminded that the bar is set a little higher either. Gwion Edwards, one of that impressive clutch of players who caught our eye (and obviously that of others) last season and might well have ended up at Ewood,  began something of an auspicious debut by planting a wonderful header in and generally tormenting us for parts of the afternoon.

I was at a cricket match and had been briefly elated by a text from my daughter at home shortly after kick-off saying, with her customary economy, “Wahey!” After announcing to my mostly Roverite associates that I therefore surmised we were one up early doors, further scrutiny revealed she was rejoicing after simply locating a satellite link to the match.

When I immediately had to disclaim that outburst and inform them, via the same source, that we were indeed a goal down I was summarily advised in brief but stern terms to keep my bulletins to myself for the afternoon.

The characteristically swift comeback and the fact that we were ahead by the half hour with two of the most comfortingly familiar names on the scoresheet was as heartening as any of the turnarounds we effected in the promotion campaign, although I was by now nervous about imparting the glad tidings to small number of cohorts who these days constitute the travelling Church and Oswaldtwistle CC Barmy Army.

It sounded like we looked in no way out of place in a Championship scrap. You can never read too much into the first game – Norwich were promoted as Champions by Saturday tea-time two years ago according to many – but retaining a few of the positive traits and habits from 2017-18 was encouraging.

The sickening equaliser, freakish and impossibly soft, was one of those things which, if it happens once in a blue moon, fair enough. Should aberrations like that become a regular occurrence we will show no such generous disposition. Conceding two in this division on a regular basis is an absolute no-no.

This weekend sees us face another of the division’s “Category B”  men according to Rovers ticket pricing setters (who the devil is Category C one wonders? Rotherham?) in Millwall, who had a  decent old season last time, galvanised in no small part by that all-too-rarely seen phenomenon at Ewood in years past, Ben Marshall pulling his tripe out.

He’s gone to Norwich to re-unite with Grant Hanley and Jordan Rhodes from the almost-ready-for-a-retrospective-judgement Gary Bowyer (of whom more later) era though and the Londoners’ summer transfer business has been low-key. They too though had reason to kick themselves after outdoing us and squandering a two-goal lead to Middlesbrough in the last five minutes at the New Den last week.

Having had a look at some of the fancied sides on telly – Derby, Leeds, Stoke, West Brom, Forest, Villa – it’s important that we cash in against some of the division’s lesser lights. Some crazy money is being chucked about,

If the Lions can kindly arrange to bring about 400 and lose by the odd goal in three in that way the less glamorous London teams often do up North, we can all move onto Carlisle and Hull (ordinary-looking against Villa) with hope in our hearts.

Given the rather prosaic stature of our early opposition, the transfer window is as ever generating its often frightfully ersatz and exaggerated hype but on this occasion teasingly providing us with the vague prospect that our most costly business might be towards the end.

The eventual capture of Adam Armstrong is a useful addition if not quite, as I’ve seen claimed (I saw the same said about Kasey Palmer) “one of the signings of the summer at £1.75m.” Names such as Patrick Bauer and John McGinn have flitted in and out of our wish-consciousness without landing but it all suggests we have a few quid if we can persuade anyone decent to come here or more pertinently persuade the current employers of said decent performers to part with them.

But as the week’s gone on the names suggesed are getting more and more exotic. USA international Will Trapp sounds like the kind of mantra you’d have quietly intoned to yourself walking into the Mecca on a 1970’s Saturday night and a much sought-after Lithuanian teenager named Vilius Piliukaitis has been mentioned this (Wednesday) morning.

None of us has a clue who they are or if they are any good of course but all of us will rejoice, acclaim them as precisely what we needed and wish them well if they arrive, accompanied by the ludicrous kind of social media frippery which it seems the  youth demand these days. I’ll rejoice a sight more if Sam Gallagher ends up back here by September mind.

It was a little sad to see Gary Bowyer leave neighbours Blackpool one match into the season. I wasn’t a huge fan of his football management but there is no arguing that his successive eighth and ninth finishes look a lot more of an achievement than they did at the time. Maybe time will give his stint as favourable a historical slant as Bob Saxton’s or Don Mackay’s. Something must have caused him to finally snap this week after a perfectly decent draw at Wycombe at that most dysfunctional of clubs after doing so well but having indignities such as having to fork out his own money for training facilities heaped upon him this summer,

Talking of earlier Ewood eras Hyndburn –based Rovers fans and others who recall him of a certain vintage will join me in saying a fond farewell to Dave “Haggis” Hargreaves who passed away this week aged 64. I’d known David was very poorly for some time and the news wasn’t totally unexpected.

Even in an area as small as Accrington and its satellite towns and villages, being instantly identified for 40-odd years by a simple nickname is quite something.

His brief Rovers career in the middle of glittering, goal record-breaking stints at Accrington Stanley was a curious but unique footnote. Signed by Jim Smith from Stanley early in 1978 when his exciting promotion-seeking team was hit by injuries and short of strikers he started two games,

He made his debut away at Blackpool (a 2-5 humbling best remembered for a fearsome display from Tangerines striker Bob Hatton who scored four and had two disallowed

He also played in a 2-0 Ewood win against Luton Town on treacherous ice (it wouldn’t stand a chance of being played today), a match remembered for an exquisite Noel Brotherston chipped goal and a  brutal tackle on Lil Fucillo by Glenn Keeley, roundly condemned by self-appointed guardian of the good of the game, Jimmy Hill on Match of the Day. Such was the force by which “Killer’s” tackle from behind, which was so late it almost went into the following month, propelled Fucillo into the air, horizontal and landing on the tundra flat on his back, that my late pal Fred Bentley once recalled: “He could see the tops of the cars on Nuttall Street at one point.”

Both games, unusually for Rovers at the time, were televised, the Bloomfield Road game was the Granada Kick-Off Match. In later years I wrote a decent-sized interview feature on Dave and began moves to help him obtain video footage. I don’t know if he ever did but both matches eventually, in the way of things now, surfaced on YouTube. I think Old Blackburnian, sometime of this parish and who will write the column next week, presented him with the programmes from the games.

A legend at the Crown Ground and at Immanuel and Accrington Amateurs where he played later, David was also a familiar sight on local league cricket grounds. He would be terrifically proud that his son Bryn made the First XI at Accrington.

He held no bitterness about the brevity of his injury-ravaged Ewood spell which saw him return to Stanley within months and when I last contacted him he was so generous about another ex-Rover he’d played with later named Jeff Whalley who had also died young that he called me back concerned that in describing Jeff as the most talented player he’d played with, others might feel slighted.

That’s a proper team player. His former team-mates at Stanley, Oswaldtwistle Immanuel and Accrington Amateurs speak effusively of his talent and generosity helping out players less gifted.

Thoughts go out to Dave’s family and friends. I’ll always believe had he been given more of a chance to get over those early injuries – full-time training has often been an initial shock to a non-league star’s body –  “Rovers 2-0 (Garner, Hargreaves)” might have become a familiar scoreline.

As I hinted, Old Blackburnian will be in my seat at Ewood this Saturday and writing the column next week. If I can shake off a very sore back I’m off to Warsaw with the family at the end of a week of trauma in which we said goodbye to a beloved old Spaniel.

Legia have a home game on Thursday in Europe so I’ll at last get on a stadium I missed when Rovers played in it during the ill-fated 1995 champions League campaign. At least it’ll take my mind off the fact that our beloved neighbours are having Europa fun of their own. While I stop short of wishing them a positive result, I hope they all get back safe and well.

BLUE-EYED BOY

Championship incomings May-August 2018

Aston Villa (Steve Bruce)

Andre Moreira Gk Atletico Madrid Season loan

Axel Tuanzabe, Df, Manchester United, season loan

Orjan Nyland, GK, Ingolstadt, undisclosed

Birmingham City (Gary Monk)

Omar Bogle, CF, Cardiff City, season loan

Conor Mahoney, winger, Bournemoth, season loan

Blackburn Rovers (Tony Mowbray)

Joe Rothwell MF Oxford Undisclosed

Jacob Davenport MF Manchester City Undisclosed

Kasy Palmer MF Chelsea Season loan

Adam Armstrong, Fwd, Newcastle United, undisclosed

Bolton Wanderers (Phil Parkinson)

Jason Lowe MF Birmingham City

Erhun Oztumer MF Walsall free

Clayton Donaldson CF Sheffield United

Pawel Olkowski RB Cologne Free

Yanic Wildschut Winger Norwich Season loan

Marc Wilson MF Sunderland Free

Josh Magennis, CF Charlton Undisclosed

Jack Hobbs CH Notts Forest Free

Luke Murphy, MF, Leeds United, free

Gary O’Neill, MF, Bristol City, Free

Brentford (Dean Smith)

Ezri Konsa CB Charlton Athletic

Said Benrahma CF Nice Undisclosed

Julian Jeanvier DF Reims Undisclosed

Moses Odubajo, RB, Hull city, free

Bristol City (Lee Johnson)

Marley Watkins FW Norwich City £1m

Adam Webster CH Ipswich Town Undisclosed

Jack Hunt RB Sheffield Wednesday Undisclosed

Hakeeb Adelakun MF Scunthorpe United Free

Andreas Weimann MF Derby County Undisclosed

Mohammed Eisa, CF, Cheltenham Undisclosed

Niki Maenpaa GK Brighton Free

 

Derby County (Frank Lampard Jnr)

Harry Wilson MF Liverpool Season loan

Mason Mount MF Chelsea Loan

Florian Jozefzoon Winger Brentford Undisclosed

Jack Marriott CF Peterborough Undisclosed

George Evans MF Reading Undisclosed

Martyn Waghorn, CF, Ipswich, Undisclosed

Fikayo Tomori, DF, Chelsea, season loan

Hull City (Nigel Adkins)

Eric Lichaj LB Notts Forest

David Milinkovic CF Genoa Undisclosed

Reece Burke CB West Ham United Undisclosed

Jordy de Wijs Defender PSV Eindhoven Undisclosed

Todd Kane RB Chelsea Season loan

George Long GK Sheffield United Undisclosed

Ipswich Town (Paul Hirst)

Trevor Chalobah MF Chelsea Season loan

Jordan Roberts winger Crawley Free

Gwion Edwards MF Peterborough United Undisclosed

Ellis Harrison CF Bristol Rovers Undisclosed, reported at £750,000

Janoi Donacien CB Accrington Stanley Undisclosed

Tayo Edun, Mf, Fulham, season loan

Jon Nolan, MF, Shrewsbury, undisclosed

Toto Nsiala, Df, Shrewsbury, undisclosed

Leeds United  (Marco Bielsa)

Lewis Baker MF Chelsea Season Loan

Jamal Blackman GK Chelsea Loan

Barry Douglas LB Wolves Undisclosed

Jack Harrison Winger Manchester City Season loan

Patrick Bamford CF Middlesbrough £7m

Middlesbrough (Tony Pulis)

Paddy McNair MF Sunderland Undisclosed

Aden Flint CH Bristol City £7m

Andy Lonergan, GK, Leeds, free

Millwall (Neil Harris)

Murray Wallace CB Scunthorpe

Ben Amos GK Bolton Season loan

Norwich City (Daniel Farke)

Emi Buendia ST Getafe

Moritz Leitner MF FC Augsburg Undisclosed

Teemu Pukki CF Bronby Free

Ben Marshall MF Wolves Undisclosed

Felix Passlack DF Borussia Dortmund season loan

Jordan Rhodes CF Sheffield Wednesday Season loan

Tim Krul GK Brighton Free

Nottingham Forest (Aitor Karanka)

Tobias Figueiredo DF Sporting Lisbon

Michael Dawson CH Hull City

Joao Carvalho MF Benfica £13.2m

Diogo Gonvalves W Benfica loan

Gil Bastiao Dias Winger Monaco Loan

Hilal Soudani CF Dinamo Zagreb Und

Jack Robinson LB QPR Free

Costel Pantilimon GK Watford Undisclosed

Lewis Grabban CF Bournemouth Undisclosed

Jack Colback MF Newcastle United Season loan

Luke Steele GK Bristol City Free

Preston North End (Alex Neill)

Ryan Ledson MF Oxford United

Ryan Crowe GK Ipswich

Jordan Storey DF Exeter City

Graham Burke CF Shamrock Rovers

Andrew Hughes LB Peterborough Und

Brandon Barker , winger, Manchester City, season loan

Queens Park Rangers (Steve McClaren)

Toni Leistner CH Union Berlin Free

Joe Felix RB Fulham Free

Reading (Paul Clement)

Andy Yiadom FB Barnsley

David Meyler MF Hull City

John O’Shea DF Sunderland

Marc McNulty CF Coventry City Undisclosed

Darren Sidoel DF Ajax Undisclosed

Sam Walker GK Colchester Free

Sam Baldock CF Brighton Undisclosed

Rotherham United (Paul Warne)

Kyle Vassell CF Blackpool Free

Clark Robertson DF Blackpool Free

Zak Vyner DF Bristol City Season loan

Billy Jones RB Sunderland Free

Marek Rodak GK Fulham Season loan

Sean Raggett DF Norwich Season loan

Sheffield United (Chris Wilder)

Dean Henderson GK Manchester Utd loan

John Egan DF Undisclosed (club record fee)

David McGoldrick MF Ipswich Free

Ben Woodburn CF Liverpool Loan

Kean Bryan, Df, Manchester City, season loan

Sheffield Wednesday (Jos Luhukay)

no incomings

Stoke City (Gary Rowett)

Oghenekaro Etebo MF Feirense 6.35m

Benik Afobe CF Wolves loan

Adam Federici GK Bournemouth Undisclosed

James McClean Winger West Brom £5m

Tom Ince FW Huddersfield Town £10m

Ashley Williams, CB, Everton, Season loan

Swansea City (Graham Potter)

Joe Asoro Winger Sunderland Undisclosed

Barrie McKay Winger Notts Forest Undisclosed

Bersant Celina Winger Manchester City Undisclosed

West Bromwich Albion (Darren Moore)

Sam Johnstone GK Manchester United £6.5m

Kyle Bartley DF Swansea City Undisclosed

Jonathan Bond GK Reading Free

Harvey Barnes Winger Leicester Season loan

Conor Townsend FB Scunthorpe Undisclosed

Boaz Myhill GK re-signed after release

Tosin Adarabioyo, Df, Manchester City, season loan

Dwight Gayle, CF, Newcastle, season loan

Wigan Athletic (Paul Cook)

Kai Naismith MF Portsmouth

Leo Da Silva Lopes MF Peterborough

Christian Walton GK Brighton loan

Reece James RB Chelsea Season loan

Callum McManaman MF Sunderland Undisclosed

Antonee Robinson, LB, Everton, Season loan

Cedric Kipre, CH, Motherwell, £1m

Darron Gibson, LB, unattached

BLUE EYED BOY

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Mowbray has earned patience as Blues look to be sunshine supermen

“I know someone who just follows the sun,

“She says: “I don’t wanna be smart, I just wanna stay young.”

(Daryl Hall and John Oates, “So Close”)

Six years ago, Rovers began life in the Championship with a visit to Portman Road, just as they will on Saturday, having this time ascended to second tier status rather than rolling up on a downward trajectory

Looking back to the stats and reports for that game, a back four of Jason Lowe, Gael Givet, Scott Dann and Bradley Orr wouldn’t necessarily inspire one, certainly not in retrospect,  but most fans were reasonably happy with the rest of the side.

Like the later Jason Lowe hate-fest, the Murphy-Etuhu backlash hadn’t started by then. I know that as I’d described him on a forum as a “jobbing box-to-box man who couldn’t get box-to-box anymore,” not my worst-ever prediction but I got absolute pelters from dozens convinced he would be “our Pirlo.”

Mauro Formica on the right was the kind of player we all hoped might illuminate the second tier, popular Morton-Gamst Pederson was looking to ram the cretinous Shebby Singh’s first batch of ill-chosen words down his throat and up front we had an experienced new pairing of internationals in Colin Kazim-Richards and Nuno Gomes. If that doesn’t convince you the past is another country, Michael Chopra was a starter for the Tractor Boys.

I was sat at an arts festival on Cartmel Racecourse that afternoon following Portman Road events on my phone, as Lowe began his slow descent into ultimate scapegoat status by prodding in a late equaliser – for Ipswich -and concluded a pleasant day with a pint or two watching alt-bluegrass combo Sid Griffin and the Coal Porters in the course function room.

Despite fielding the likes of Fabio Nunes,Edinho Junior, Bruno Ribeiro and David Goodwillie Rovers, under the universally-loathed Steve Kean, remained unbeaten for the next five, winning four of them, boosted by the addition of the then-lethal Jordan Rhodes and despite having pretty obviously used up a season’s worth of luck in doing so, the local paper’s scribe declared in one of the all-time ill-judged sports page leaders that it was time to relax the criticism of Kean as it was plain to see that the squad would “walk this league” whoever was in charge.

We all know the rest of course: Kean lasted just one more game, Rhodes scored goals in bucketloads but rather than fire us up the table they saved us from relegation – for just four more seasons by which time another grotesque appointment of a manifestly inadequate Scottish manager (I’d argue our third of the decade) all but finished the job off.

I can’t really remember how I felt at that concert after the draw at Ipswich. My main concern was that I’d begun to feel strangely woozy and unsteady on my feet over a period of weeks in the summer of 2012, my diabetes readings, heart rate and even my eyesight going haywire for months before stabilising although to this day I have never felt as well as I did prior to those weeks of wobbles.

A bit like Rovers in some respects. This summer I have had days when I’ve felt in more robust shape than for years. The 1976-like prolonged sunny spell has made most folk feel good and the joyous feelings from the denouement of the promotion campaign lingered long into the months spent reflecting on the achievement and speculating on what comes next with old friends at cricket matches.

I’ll be at a cricket match on Saturday and will miss the first home game as we’re away but that erratic heart rate will undoubtedly come to the fore between 3pm and 5pm on each occasion until, hopefully, I can get to Carlisle for the League Cup.

Given decent fortune, I’ll turn 60 halfway through this season and a landmark like that inevitably makes you more reflective, patient and tolerant and one thing I certainly haven’t spent the summer doing is further endangering my well-being by agonising over who we’ve signed or haven’t signed. There’s hundreds of pages of folk doing that for anyone who’s interested and though I acknowledge that incoming transfer activity hasn’t quite panned out as advertised, I have sufficient faith in Tony Mowbray not to sign a load of tosh (see above) and to use what money he is provided with by the unpredictable owners as if it was his own personal savings.

I accept the days of lashing out like we’re on the gold standard are over. Someone, possibly two or three teams, are going to do that and miss out on promotion this season. Whether you think the FFP penalties are sufficient, one or two are surely going to breach the limits.

True, Mowbray, perhaps a little foolishly, pledged that he wanted his less spectacular but very necessary business done early, pre-Austria if possible. That plainly hasn’t panned out in toto but if that turns out to be the daftest thing he says – he doesn’t really come out with any rubbish – he still has some way to go before catching up with most of his recent predecessors for spouting nonsense.

Nobody would have said in May: “What we need is three midfielders, none of whom have started 20 games in the Championship,” and while we should be well-stocked in this department, there’s a danger in expecting too much of the incoming trio. Palmer has started just four league games of any kind since he played against us at the John Smith on New Year’s Eve in 2016. He has a goal or two in him though – he scored against us for Huddersfield earlier that season – which I always like in a footballer.

Rothwell and Davenport are also inexperienced. Like Palmer, the majority of Rothwell’s first team appearances last season were from the bench. But I like the idea of signing young, ambitious players and possibly having them competing for one or two spots between them, not to mention the highly promising Travis and Tomlinson.

Early indications were that the manager wanted a keeper (Frank Fielding, now out injured for a spell, mentioned) and a centre-half, Charlton’s Patrick Bauer the prime target. Understandably, Charlton upped the asking price as soon as our interest was known, just as we’d expect our owners to do if Lenihan was coveted.

If those positions were a priority then, they presumably still are and a blind man on a flying horse would spot that we are light in a couple of attacking berths, a striker and a winger short.

But Venkys have a record of letting their managers do late-window business. I’m not particularly bothered if it’s Chapman and Armstrong, despite the hyper-inflation which has seen the likes of Sam Gallagher and, astonishingly, Martyn Waghorn talked about as £7m players. I think there are probably players more truly proven at this level available without spending that sort of brass.IMG_5108[1]

What is important is that the fans retain the special camaraderie and willingness to back the side virtually unconditionally which made travelling away (only an occasional pleasure for me these days) such a wonderful shared experience last season.

It’ll be harder. Hanging on for a point at Stoke will be tougher than hanging onto a lead at Walsall, being heard at Villa Park harder than it was at Gillingham, very few grounds will see travelling Rovers outnumber the home support. Turning on the team, manager or even the owners immediately there’s a problem isn’t an option.

The opposition will be fitter, tougher, faster and more clinical than it was last season. Teams won’t dominate for an hour like Bristol Rovers did at Ewood and fail to take advantage and the likes of Notts Forest or Middlesbrough might find a man more likely to net a late goal here than Southend did.

But let’s at least make capital of the fact that we have a team and manager we love – and they showed against Everton with Dack quite sensational in that company that they carry a bit of that togetherness and joie de vivre over from the tail-end of 2017-18 – and keep our nerve when, inevitably, things don’t go our way. No predictions from me but I’d shake hands on anything from 14th-18th and no relegation jitters.

Portman Road hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for some years and they have a couple of new signings in Edwards and Harrison we probably wouldn’t have turned our noses up at from what we saw of them last season.

Enjoy the rest of the summer which the campaign begins in. There’s tough winter nights ahead but maybe a little bit of footballing sunshine to be soaked in before that.

BLUE-EYED BOY

Championship incomings May-August 2018

Aston Villa (Steve Bruce)

Andre Moreira Gk Atletico Madrid Season loan

Blackburn Rovers (Tony Mowbray)

Joe Rothwell MF Oxford Undisclosed

Jacob Davenport MF Manchester City Undisclosed

Kasy Palmer MF Chelsea Season loan

Bolton Wanderers (Phil Parkinson)

Jason Lowe MF Birmingham City

Erhun Oztumer MF Walsall free

Clayton Donaldson CF Sheffield United

Pawel Olkowski RB Cologne Free

Yanic Wildschut Winger Norwich Season loan

Marc Wilson MF Sunderland Free

Josh Magennis, CF Charlton Undisclosed

Jack Hobbs CH Notts Forest Free

Brentford (Dean Smith)

Ezri Konsa CB Charlton Athletic

Said Benrahma CF Nice Undisclosed

Julian Jeanvier DF Reims Undisclosed

Bristol City (Lee Johnson)

Marley Watkins FW Norwich City £1m

Adam Webster CH Ipswich Town Undisclosed

Jack Hunt RB Sheffield Wednesday Undisclosed

Hakeeb Adelakun MF Scunthorpe United Free

Andreas Weimann MF Derby County Undisclosed

Mohammed Eisa, CF, Cheltenham Undisclosed

Niki Maenpaa GK Brighton Free

Derby County (Frank Lampard Jnr)

Harry Wilson MF Liverpool Season loan

Mason Mount MF Chelsea Loan

Florian Jozefzoon Winger Brentford Undisclosed

Jack Marriott CF Peterborough Undisclosed

George Evans MF Reading Undisclosed

Hull City (Nigel Adkins)

Eric Lichaj LB Notts Forest

David Milinkovic CF Genoa Undisclosed

Reece Burke CB West Ham United Undisclosed

Jordy de Wijs Defender PSV Eindhoven Undisclosed

Todd Kane RB Chelsea Season loan

George Long GK Sheffield United Undisclosed

Ipswich Town (Paul Hirst)

Trevor Chalobah MF Chelsea Season loan

Jordan Roberts winger Crawley Free

Gwion Edwards MF Peterborough United Undisclosed

Ellis Harrison CF Bristol Rovers Undisclosed, reported at £750,000

Janoi Donacien CB Accrington Stanley Undisclosed

Leeds United  (Marco Bielsa)

Lewis Baker MF Chelsea Season Loan

Jamal Blackman GK Chelsea Loan

Barry Douglas LB Wolves Undisclosed

Jack Harrison Winger Manchester City Season loan

Patrick Bamford CF Middlesbrough £7m

Middlesbrough (Tony Pulis)

Paddy McNair MF Sunderland Undisclosed

Aden Flint CH Bristol City £7m

Millwall (Neil Harris)

Murray Wallace CB Scunthorpe

Ben Amos GK Bolton Season loan

Norwich City (Daniel Farke)

Emi Buendia ST Getafe

Moritz Leitner MF FC Augsburg Undisclosed

Teemu Pukki CF Bronby Free

Ben Marshall MF Wolves Undisclosed

Felix Passlack DF Borussia Dortmund season loan

Jordan Rhodes CF Sheffield Wednesday Season loan

Tim Krul GK Brighton Free

Nottingham Forest (Aitor Karanka)

Tobias Figueiredo DF Sporting Lisbon

Michael Dawson CH Hull City

Joao Carvalho MF Benfica £13.2m

Diogo Gonvalves W Benfica loan

Gil Bastiao Dias Winger Monaco Loan

Hilal Soudani CF Dinamo Zagreb Und

Jack Robinson LB QPR Free

Costel Pantilimon GK Watford Undisclosed

Lewis Grabban CF Bournemouth Undisclosed

Jack Colback MF Newcastle United Season loan

Luke Steele GK Bristol City Free

Preston North End (Alex Neill)

Ryan Ledson MF Oxford United

Ryan Crowe GK Ipswich

Jordan Storey DF Exeter City

Graham Burke CF Shamrock Rovers

Andrew Hughes LB Peterborough Und

Queens Park Rangers (Steve McClaren)

Toni Leistner CH Union Berlin Free

Joe Felix RB Fulham Free

Reading (Paul Clement)

Andy Yiadom FB Barnsley

David Meyler MF Hull City

John O’Shea DF Sunderland

Marc McNulty CF Coventry City Undisclosed

Darren Sidoel DF Ajax Undisclosed

Sam Walker GK Colchester Free

Sam Baldock CF Brighton Undisclosed

Rotherham United (Paul Warne)

Kyle Vassell CF Blackpool Free

Clark Robertson DF Blackpool Free

Zak Vyner DF Bristol City Season loan

Billy Jones RB Sunderland Free

Marek Rodak GK Fulham Season loan

Sean Raggett DF Norwich Season loan

Sheffield United (Chris Wilder)

Dean Henderson GK Manchester Utd loan

John Egan DF Undisclosed (club record fee)

David McGoldrick MF Ipswich Free

Ben Woodburn CF Liverpool Loan

Sheffield Wednesday (Jos Luhukay)

no incomings

Stoke City (Gary Rowett)

Oghenekaro Etebo MF Feirense 6.35m

Benik Afobe CF Wolves loan

Adam Federici GK Bournemouth Undisclosed

James McClean Winger West Brom £5m

Tom Ince FW Huddersfield Town £10m

Swansea City (Graham Potter)

Joe Asoro Winger Sunderland Undisclosed

Barrie McKay Winger Notts Forest Undisclosed

Bersant Celina Winger Manchester City Undisclosed

West Bromwich Albion (Darren Moore)

Sam Johnstone GK Manchester United £6.5m

Kyle Bartley DF Swansea City Undisclosed

Jonathan Bond GK Reading Free

Harvey Barnes Winger Leicester Season loan

Conor Townsend FB Scunthorpe Undisclosed

Boaz Myhill GK re-signed after release

Wigan Athletic (Paul Cook)

Kai Naismith MF Portsmouth

Leo Da Silva Lopes MF Peterborough

Christian Walton GK Brighton loan

Reece James RB Chelsea Season loan

Callum McManaman MF Sunderland Undisclosed

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Incoming Summer Championship transfers

Championship incomings May-August 2018

An updated version of this list appears in the article entitled “Mowbray has earned patience….”

Aston Villa (Steve Bruce)

no incomings to date

Blackburn Rovers (Tony Mowbray)

Joe Rothwell MF Oxford Undisclosed

Jacob Davenport MF Manchester City Undisclosed

Kasy Palmer MF Chelsea Season loan

Bolton Wanderers (Phil Parkinson)

Jason Lowe MF Birmingham City

Erhun Oztumer MF Walsall free

Clayton Donaldson CF Sheffield United

Pawel Olkowski RB Cologne Free

Yanic Wildschut Winger Norwich Season loan

Marc Wilson MF Sunderland Free

Josh Magennis, CF Charlton Undisclosed

Jack Hobbs CH Notts Forest Free

Brentford (Dean Smith)

Ezri Konsa CB Charlton Athletic

Said Benrahma CF Nice Undisclosed

Julian Jeanvier DF Reims Undisclosed

Bristol City (Lee Johnson)

Marley Watkins FW Norwich City £1m

Adam Webster CH Ipswich Town Undisclosed

Jack Hunt RB Sheffield Wednesday Undisclosed

Hakeeb Adelakun MF Scunthorpe United Free

Andreas Weimann MF Derby County Undisclosed

Mohammed Eisa, CF, Cheltenham Undisclosed

Derby County (Frank Lampard Jnr)

Harry Wilson MF Liverpool Season loan

Mason Mount MF Chelsea Loan

Florian Jozefzoon Winger Brentford Undisclosed

Jack Marriott CF Peterborough Undisclosed

George Evans MF Reading Undisclosed

Hull City (Nigel Adkins)

Eric Lichaj LB Notts Forest

David Milinkovic CF Genoa Undisclosed

Reece Burke CB West Ham United Undisclosed

Jordy de Wijs Defender PSV Eindhoven Undisclosed

Todd Kane RB Chelsea Season loan

George Long GK Sheffield United Undisclosed

Ipswich Town (Paul Hirst)

Trevor Chalobah MF Chelsea Season loan

Jordan Roberts winger Crawley Free

Gwion Edwards MF Peterborough United Undisclosed

Ellis Harrison CF Bristol Rovers Undisclosed, reported at £750,000

Janoi Donacien CB Accrington Stanley Undisclosed

Leeds United  (Marco Bielsa)

Lewis Baker MF Chelsea Season Loan

Jamal Blackman GK Chelsea Loan

Barry Douglas LB Wolves Undisclosed

Jack Harrison Winger Manchester City Season loan

Patrick Bamford CF Middlesbrough £7m

Middlesbrough (Tony Pulis)

Paddy McNair MF Sunderland Undisclosed

Aden Flint CH Bristol City £7m

Millwall (Neil Harris)

Murray Wallace CB Scunthorpe

Ben Amos GK Bolton Season loan

Norwich City (Daniel Farke)

Emi Buendia ST Getafe

Moritz Leitner MF FC Augsburg Undisclosed

Teemu Pukki CF Bronby Free

Ben Marshall MF Wolves Undisclosed

Felix Passlack DF Borussia Dortmund season loan

Jordan Rhodes CF Sheffield Wednesday Season loan

Tim Krul GK Brighton Free

Nottingham Forest (Aitor Karanka)

Tobias Figueiredo DF Sporting Lisbon

Michael Dawson CH Hull City

Joao Carvalho MF Benfica £13.2m

Diogo Gonvalves W Benfica loan

Gil Bastiao Dias Winger Monaco Loan

Hilal Soudani CF Dinamo Zagreb Und

Jack Robinson LB QPR Free

Costel Pantilimon GK Watford Undisclosed

Lewis Grabban CF Bournemouth Undisclosed

Jack Colback MF Newcastle United Season loan

Preston North End (Alex Neill)

Ryan Ledson MF Oxford United

Ryan Crowe GK Ipswich

Jordan Storey DF Exeter City

Graham Burke CF Shamrock Rovers

Andrew Hughes LB Peterborough Und

Queens Park Rangers (Steve McClaren)

Toni Leistner CH Union Berlin Free

Joe Felix RB Fulham Free

Reading (Paul Clement)

Andy Yiadom FB Barnsley

David Meyler MF Hull City

John O’Shea DF Sunderland

Marc McNulty CF Coventry City Undisclosed

Darren Sidoel DF Ajax Undisclosed

Sam Walker GK Colchester Free

Sam Baldock CF Brighton Undisclosed

Rotherham United (Paul Warne)

Kyle Vassell CF Blackpool Free

Clark Robertson DF Blackpool Free

Zak Vyner DF Bristol City Season loan

Billy Jones RB Sunderland Free

Marek Rodak GK Fulham Season loan

Sean Raggett DF Norwich Season loan

Sheffield United (Chris Wilder)

Dean Henderson GK Manchester Utd loan

John Egan DF Undisclosed (club record fee)

David McGoldrick MF Ipswich Free

Sheffield Wednesday (Jos Luhukay)

no incomings

Stoke City (Gary Rowett)

Oghenekaro Etebo MF Feirense 6.35m

Benik Afobe CF Wolves loan

Adam Federici GK Bournemouth Undisclosed

James McClean Winger West Brom £5m

Tom Ince FW Huddersfield Town £10m

Swansea City (Graham Potter)

Joe Asoro Winger Sunderland Undisclosed

Barrie McKay Winger Notts Forest Undisclosed

Bersant Celina Winger Manchester City Undisclosed

West Bromwich Albion (Darren Moore)

Sam Johnstone GK Manchester United £6.5m

Kyle Bartley DF Swansea City Undisclosed

Jonathan Bond GK Reading Free

Harvey Barnes Winger Leicester Season loan

Conor Townsend FB Scunthorpe Undisclosed

Boaz Myhill GK re-signed after release

Wigan Athletic (Paul Cook)

Kai Naismith MF Portsmouth

Leo Da Silva Lopes MF Peterborough

Christian Walton GK Brighton loan

Reece James RB Chelsea Season loan

Callum McManaman MF Sunderland Undisclosed

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First to last – 37 years of Springsteen live

From glam to blue collar New Jersey rock wasn’t the most obvious one-stop leap in the seventies but strangely, it was A Roxy Music concert in Preston in 1975 which ignited my (thus far) 43-year obsession with the Boss and came within an ace of putting me in the Hammersmith Odeon that November – but a sixth form dispute borne of raging hormones meant I had to wait another six years to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Outside the Guild Hall at the Roxy Music gig on a cold winter night, a local record shop, Ames, had put up a display of recent album releases and I was transfixed by the Born To Run cover, which I took it upon myself to liberate on the way home. I’d read about this “New Dylan” hairy folkie type in the NME but this looked authentically glamorous, edgy and rock’n’roll enough to appeal to the 16-year-old me.

The image is one of the few which now fully merits the overused description ‘iconic’ and, unbeknown to me, had been planned in as much meticulous detail to hook young dreamers in after a couple of poorly-selling albums as every chord, note, intro verse and chorus had been relentlessly perfected by its obsessive creator who knew time was running out of he was to justify the effusive praise and predictions of stardom his live work had engendered.

He as about to, as one reviewer prophetically noted, “pay off every bet placed on him” with a third album which remains as totemic 44 years on.

Studying the lyric sheet, I knew I had to hear this album and on a pocket-money budget the cheapest way possible was to borrow it off the one sixth-form pal ahead of me in the game who already owned it.

In time-honoured fashion, it was taken home and recorded onto one side of something like a blue cover Boots C-90 cassette tape (I wish I remembered what was on the other side) and as it re-configured my DNA, endorsements from the likes of Nick Kent, Charlie Shaar Murray, later Burchill and Parsons on the NME who had led me to Bowie, Iggy, the Velvets and would later approve the best of punk, only served to ratify the feeling I had that this was the very stuff my soul needed.

There were only two lads at school with cars that winter and with a recent influx of those exotic creatures, girls, to our Boys’ Grammar Sixth Form, a plan to attend a London gig carried with it the prospect of not only spending time in their company but also perhaps the exotic possibility of actually getting off with one of them.

Alas, after much lobbying for the historic Hammersmith shows from myself and Zeb, the owner of the Bruce vinyl, it was decided that Wings at Wembley would be more of a sure-fire romance catalyst for the Macca-adoring lovelies than some largely unknown American bloke in a wooly bob-hat nobody had really heard of or seen. Zeb went to Wembley. I sulked.

Roll forwards six years to June 1981 and I’m a regular gig-going man about town with an office job at the Gas Board. I’d flunked Uni and given up on an English Lit degree after a year, but with a little brass in pocket I’m in my mate Graham’s Triumph Dolomite with the aforementioned Zeb, forgiven for his act of Beatley betrayal (he hadn’t copped off either which helped) heading south down the M6 from Lancashire to the NEC in Birmingham.

We are in effect the three of the school friendship bunch who even at this tender age had got stuck in our hometown jams in the East of the county; mundane jobs but with the means to relieve the humdrum and go out at weekends, go to the football and most liberating of all, see the acts who make the 7-inch and 12-inch pieces of plastic which truly exorcise the plodding mundanity of our day to day existence.

We are almost the subject of early Springsteen material, young people a little hemmed in by our circumstances and surroundings with an aching feeling of somehow missing out.

I was no gig virgin at the age of 22; I’d seen Bowie several times since my debut gig in 1973, Mick Ronson, Queen, Mott The Hoople, Sparks, Judas Priest, Dr Feelgood, Buzzcocks, Jam, Clash, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Dury and the Blockheads, Specials, Magazine, Cooper-Clarke, John Cale, The Modern Lovers, Nico, John Cale and The Fall. That’s off the topof my head.

But nobody had captured that aching longing for something more glorious, that sense of almost spiritual yearning to rise above it all, the frustrations of youth, the indomitability of the human spirit to deal with surprises, sensations, setbacks and failure than the man we are holding tickets to see tonight.

Still living comfortablt with my parents I was perhaps pretty oblivious to the domestic stresses and strains of just living day to day which Bruce’s current album “The River” documented. I knew little about marriage, divorce, parenthood, joblessness, depression. My hermetically-sealed home life hadn’t exposed me to much of that. It was not to be until later when I was capable of my own brand of fuck-ups and bad choices that I’d finally hear those songs resonate.

Although that night in Birmingham lifted my rock’n’roll heart to the stratosphere t was some years before I understood Bruce’s point about the “redemptive power of rock’n’roll” – I had nothing yet to be redeemed from.

Bur there would be Springsteen gigs in high times and low times to come and the power and glory communicated in that June 1981 performance via all the now decidedly adult Bruce’s messages stood me in good stead for a lifetime of failures and disappointments -and occasional triumphs – yet to come.

However despondent I would ever feel (and many times I did), I would always know that one artist could almost empty me of the heartbreak and low self-esteem and at least make me resolve to get back on my feet. As someone wrote: “When you come out of a Springsteen gig, you come out determined to be the very best version of yourself you can be.”

Bruce has said since:”The concert audience has got to see a little of themselves in us, and we have to see a little of ourselves in them to keep the relationship honest.”

A Springsteen gig is transformative communion, shared, you participate, are “in concert with” the performers.

We were side-on to the stage in the NEC that Sunday night and actual details I recall are sketchy after seeing the band so many times since.

I know the setlist of course and have a tape somewhere but I hadn’t learned to savour the way the band walk on individually, Bruce last of course, or to anticipate that first “one-two-Three-four” count in we now regard as an almost religious experience.

The first time you hear Clarence’s Jungleland sax solo or Danny’s sacred organ outdo on Racing In The Street you have no concept it may be your last time.

Yes it as the most powerful gig I’d been to at that point but at such a youthful juncture who knows, there might be a better one next week.

I certainly remember Pete Townsend on stage for the encores. The thrill of seeing The Boss and The Big Man, the striking pair so cleverly posed and juxtaposed on that black and white cover outside Preston Guildhall, interact for the first time. The band possibly still dressed a little “like pimps” which in 1975 had caused the otherwise adored John Peel to harbour an irrational dislike of Springsteen for decades. When The River was out he was playing Dire Straits!

The sheer length of the gig and the diversity of the music delivered blew us away. There was even that sense that’s almost unique to Bruce’s gigs of getting a song you never heard before but came out of the Hall singing. “Jole Blon” with its sha-la-la’s remained a mystery to me as far as its origin was concerned for several years.

Did this guy just pull songs out of the ether? Make them up on stage? The E Street Band’s powers seemed so all-ranging that you could have believed it right there and then.

Listening back to my bootleg tapes and CDs and eventually, miracle of miracle, official releases of recordings from the time, it’s clear that the fiery, impassioned concerts of 1978 had tightened the band up from the loose, jazzy, improv-orientated incarnation of earlier years.

The 1980-81 gigs took a step further. This band was now mighty, unequalled. Cool and confident with its growing legend and its right to be mentioned in the same breath as behemoth rockers such as The Stones and The Who. Townsend’s presence that night told you the old guard were as happy to be reflected in Springsteen’s stark light of brilliance as he was to be mentioned in the same breath as his forbears and contemporary giants.

It was the last but one date of the European leg of the tour. If Hammersmith 1975 audiences had found the look or sound of the band alien or foreign, if London hadn’t quite been ready for Bruce as angrily he tore down the Hammersmith posters proclaiming , a triumphant “River” continental jaunt followed by UK dates had shown that the man could work a European or British audience as well as he could hold a Passaic NJ, LA, New York or Philly crowd in his hand.

We stayed the night at another school pal’s Uni Halls of Residence in Edgbaston. None of us could sleep and after emptying a few cans relating the splendour and magnificence we had just seen, we went outside to have a hit in the night darkness in the college cricket nets. A planned trip to the England v Australia one-dayer at Headingley on Monday morning was aborted due to lack of sleep.

No spectacle, not even Botham in his Ashes Annus Mirabilis, could have compared to what we’d seen, so three tired boys made their way home to find careers, loves, homes, marriages and children which the music of Bruce would forever be the epic soundtrack to.

Cheap flights to far-off places were a thing of the future like the internet so after that it was scouring the news pages of the music press for four years.

My last Bruce show to date was, appropriately enough, a ”River Tour” celebration, Bruce’s seconds-shy of four-hour midsummer show on a Saturday night in Gothenburg in 2016. I was with my wife Lesley, a teenager in 1981 who I had taken on a nervous, tentative date to see The Jam a week or two after the NEC show.

In a complicated series of twists we never had another date until 2002, never in fact saw each other for 20 of those years.

Bruce shows punctuate those intervening years with the regularity of Bank Holidays or Birthdays in the diaries.

In 1985 I was at St James Park, Newcastle, unrecognisably modernised since. It’s strange to imagine Little Steven wasn’t in the band. He made a brief guest appearance as we (I had another fiancée now) sat on the hill at Roundhay Park in Leeds on an idyllic Sunday afternoon.

By 1988 the fiancée had gone and when the Tunnel of Love tour rolled into Bramall Lane , Sheffield I knew how love could hurt and the lyrics from the album rang as true as any before or since. I took my pal. Damian, who was a fledgling musician and songwriter but hadn’t really “got” Bruce to that point. (“I just don’t understand why that riff never alters all through ‘Born In The USA,’ he’d say to me, looking puzzled). He got him that night.

From the moment the band walked on paying one by one at the ticket booth, carrying balloons and the like, the first and only time the E Street Band made any concession to theatricality or stunting up their entrance, he was captivated.

I felt for the first time that real thrill I’ve had many times since of taking someone along to see The Boss and watch the enlightenment shine through on their faces. It’s like seeing the Blackpool illuminations switch on, never mind a lightbulb. If he hadn’t to that point decided to be a career musician, he did that afternoon and has made a decent living at it since, his cruise-ship sets always sprinkled with Bruce covers of course. He was one of the late Keith Emerson’s last collaborators.

Four gigs in seven years as a member of the E Street Nation was a modest initial effort on a clerk’s wages before the days of budget travel, but I was getting a taste for it….just as Bruce broke up the band.

By mid-1993 I’d actually seen the “Other Band” more times than Clarence and co.

Not that I regarded it as a problem. Now in my early thirties, they were some of the happiest times as I began to realise that being a Bruce fan made you part of a community where friendships fleeting and lasting were to be made. I even sampled going abroad to see my hero for the first time.

The Badlands trip to the Bercy shows in Paris in late June of 1992 came at a very low point personally but, persuaded not to miss out altogether and lose the money I had forked out by my parents, it proved pivotal in turning things around for me.

A succession of disastrous affaires du couer had left me depressed, over-dependent on drink to keep up the happy-go-lucky image and having committed career suicide repeatedly as well as seriously contemplating actual suicide at the darkest points. I was booked on the coach to Paris on my own, a little shy and worried if I’d fit in or even if I’d be able to make conversation with 70-odd people I’d never met before.

I came home feeling like a new man with phone numbers and addresses from new friends, promises to meet up at whatever your came next and offers to supply me with bootleg tapes and with a renewed determination to sort my life and myself out.

The much-criticised Human Touch/Lucky Town albums and what one tourist in friendly discussion on the trip called: “A poor man’s E Street Band” may not have been to everyone’s taste but in Paris, two nights in Sheffield a year later and on a celebratory Saturday at Milton Keynes, also in 1993, Bruce’s words spoke directly to me.

It would be some years until his autobio revealed that he of all people suffered from bouts of depression but I knew from the lyrics on those albums that he had overcome demons just like the ones tearing me apart. I was in deep and profound depression too.

I could tell, too, from his exuberance on stage with his new friends that he was rejoicing in throwing off the dark shackles too. There was hope. The performances of songs like “Better Days,” “Leap of Faith,” “Living Proof” and “Real World” are some of my happiest in-concert Bruce moments.

Transformative almost.

I was with Badlands friends too in 1996 when I caught the sombre solo storyteller’s Ghost of Tom Joad tour in Manchester, Dublin and Belfast. By now I’d got my shit together a little bit, changed career and was working as a journalist.

May 1999 brought the Reunion Tour, two nights in Manchester and one in Birmingham as the gloriously reformed E Street Band re-asserted its omnipotence, Nils and Steve now a permanent guitar duo.

In 2002 I was getting on a bit to be single but I’d found the girl I needed to be with. The same sweet redheaded teenager I’d taken to see The Jam in 1981. We met up again by chance with a little help from Friends Reunited and though I’d made up my mind, there was an acid test we had to make sure about. Could she put up with a Bruce fanatic as a permanent partner? I went to Wembley Arena in 2002 as we were becoming close on my own but a May 2003 afternoon at Old Trafford Cricket Club confirmed that she could.

She called a few days later and said: “Do you want to go to New Jersey to see him in July?”

I replied: “Yes! And while we’re there shall we get married?” Deal sealed.

The Giants Stadium gig on July 27th, two days after we got married at City Hall, Manhattan, was our last night in the States. “At last, a hot New Jersey night,” said Bruce, walking on, “we’ve been waiting for one of these.”

It was the seventh in a run of seven straight dates at the venue, very much Bruce’s home territory (the band returned later in the summer for four more). Funny enough, we’d seen Roxy Music at Radio City the evening before – that Roxy connection again – and got a taxi in the late afternoon from our hotel in the Meadowlands to the stadium, which was clearly visible through our window across a couple of lanes of freeway.l

It was a terrific show, my first as a married man, but just as it was coming up for ending, during an insanely long “Kitty’s Back,” as I recollect, the heavens opened. And I mean O-P-E-N-E-D.

In our newlywed bliss sauntering on the sunny “Jersey Boardwalk” walkway erected round the stadium before the concert, gatecrashing tailgate parties and chatting to all and sundry, we’d completely omitted to book or even think about any transport back.

When we found the bus shelters in the deluge which made even walking nigh impossible, they were empty, all the buses gone. The few taxi drivers around told us they were booked up and making another reservation now with the traffic at standstill would entail hours of waiting.

We were saturated from top to toe. After an hour or so someone took pity upon us and gave us a ride back to the Hilton. It was one of the best nights ever.

We sat at the bar with Bruce fans from far-flung places and every five minutes or so another bedraggled pair of specimens would make it back and join us for a beer or warming brandy. Many, discovering that we were newly married, generousy ordered us champagne.

I told the crowd that at one time we’d seriously thought about walking over the freeway and field to the hotel, in clear view throughout our frustration.

“Good job you didn’t,” said one guy, “the alligators are keen on a bit of supper after dark”!!

It wasn’t our last post-Bruce gig soaking.

In 2012 in Florence, “Siete pronte? …OK, here we go….the frenzy in Firenze!” exclaimed Bruce on a sunny afternoon in Fiorentina FC’s Artemio Franchi Stadium.

This was an extraordinarily special night for me as my daughter Olivia, born in 2004 and now aged eight, was with us. We’d literally missed bumping into Steve and Maureen Van Zandt by an hour at the Leaning Tower of Pisa 24 hours earlier.

We were, incredibly under the cover of the one bit of seated stand in the huge, otherwise open-to-the elements stadium.

The show was superb, the Apollo Soul Medley still a big feature by this stage, and round about the time Bruce threw in a rare cover of Elvis’s “Burning Love” the weather was still fine.

But a little later before darkness fell we could see ominous clouds rolling over the distant mountains and it rained so torrentially I am astonished Serie A Football has ever been played there in the six years since. Many fans rushed onto the concourses underneath for cover and a good many more, with nowhere to shelter, left. Unthinkable to diehards but this was one serious mother of a storm which only the dedicated fans would have been daft enough to ride out.

A couple of visits to the toilet and refreshment huts (I hate people making beer runs at gigs but made an exception on this occasion in the Italian heat) had already rendered Olivia and I so wet it hardly mattered any more.

Despite being fortunate enough to have seats among the 2,000 or so actually out of the rain, Olivia saw the remaining die-hards dancing on the soggy covered playing area, looked at me with that look only a daughter can throw, and asked me if we could join them?

What kind of a dad can refuse his daughter a request to dance? We trooped back out of our oasis of shelter once more and were soon sloshing across the field to “Born In The USA, ” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Twist and Shout,” “Dancing In The Dark,”and, obviously, “Who’ll Stop The Rain.” But that was only the start of the evening!

The pair of us couldn’t have been any wetter had we dived in the River Arno. When we returned to the seats my wife was bone dry but ten minutes later as it dawned on us that we had no transport back to town and there in fact wasn’t any anyway she was as soaked as us. After a two-hour trek in biblical precipitation – and every single bar, cafe, restaurant, any point of refuge is closed at 10pm on a Sunday evening in Italy even when the E Street Band is in town – neither of our phones could ever be revived. We lost every picture. But what a night! Miss it for the world? No chance.

Most gigs at my “local” Springsteen venues in Manchester have been hit by rain too but who cares at the end of the day.

Even the most recent, the magical midsummer night in Gothenburg in 2016 ended with a light shower. It had been the most idyllic day. One of my greatest memories is hearing the Finnish tribute LittlE St Band playing in the park by the Ullevi, an enchanting space, at first thinking it was a dodgy bootleg airing, and joining fans from all over the world in the fanzone around them. Just one of the enchanted moments.

The hours before a Springsteen show, the camaraderie and anticipation, are to be enjoyed as much as the gig itself. You kind of know it’s going to be right when I’m arriving in a flight from Copenhagen the first thing which catches your eye on the outskirts of Gothenburg, a city the E Street Band have a history in, is the amusement park rising bold and stark.

The Bruce who walked on at the Ullevi and sat at the piano to play “The Promise” was a different man to the burning, confident rocker who’d walked on at the NEC 35 years earlier. Older, wiser, more reflective himself and a man I admire for his humanity, compassion, ability to educate and inspire far more than I was capable of appreciating age 22 in 1981.

But as “The Promise” ended and his bandmates took the stage one by one it was that same unquenchable thrill, that tear-in-eye “I’m actually here in the same space as the legend” sense of enthrallment and anticipation in the pit of the stomach and that deep connection with the words and music I felt looking at that ripped-off album cover listening to the Born To run tape.

“Badlands” and the 3. 99 hours which followed cemented every good feeling you’ve ever had about yourself, your loved ones and your fandom at a Springsteen concert. In 1993, A review in now-defunct fanzine “For True Rockers Only” described the E Street fans filing out of Milton Keynes Bowl as possibly having “their very last great Saturday night.”

I’m so glad I was still lucky enough and healthy enough to be capable of enjoying another one to the full in the company of my soulmate 23 years burning down the road.

Nothing, not even growing old can reduce a fan’s passion for ….the. LEGENDARY….E….STREET….BAND. “The older you get, the more it means….” Now who was it said that?

Jim Wilkinson

An abridged version of this piece appears in two instalments in the book Bruce Springsteen The Day I Was There by Neil Cossar published by This Day in Music Books, available in bookshops and froAmazon for £12.99

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Glory Days a long time coming but better ahead for Rovers?

img_5095 Exhausted and emotionally drained – and with a pressing deadline for a lengthy Springsteen book contribution looming – Blue Eyed Boy hands the final word on the season  to Riversider23 (@MarkMark37m) with whom he’s shared the many ups and downs of the season and indeed ofthe preceding 47 years!
I’m sure there are plenty of pundits and bookies giving themselves a pat on the back for predicting at the start of the season that Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic would be the ones in the League One automatic promotion slots come the crunch. For us Rovers fans – better-informed, generally smarter, and wearied by our miserable downhill slide – there was never anything inevitable about it.
In fact, after a lacklustre pre-season and a disjointed and misfiring first few games, it looked extremely unlikely. And it more or less stayed that way throughout the first three months of the season. Then three draws and a win in four games followed by six straight wins left us in a hopeful mood by Boxing Day, and the run stretched gloriously on to an amazing and exhilarating series of 35 matches with only two defeats.
How did that happen?
Well, we were lucky.
We were lucky to avoid too many long-term absences for key players. Granted, Chapman and Lenihan were big misses, but having the spine (and reflexes and heart and muscle and know-how) of Raya, Mulgrew, Smallwood and Dack fit and healthy for the majority of the season was crucial. 
More by luck than good management, though? I don’t think so.Bags and bags of credit goes to Tony Mowbray, who proved himself a very good manager.
The recruitment of Smallwood and Dack pre-season, the introduction of Downing, the addition of Armstrong and Payne in January, the transformation of Bennett, Nyambe, Williams, and especially Graham, and – most importantly – the moulding of all those elements (along with Evans, Conway, Antonsson, and Samuel) into a team that worked hard for each other and wouldn’t be beaten, all demonstrates that Mowbray has a lot going for him as a manager. On the evidence of this season, he’s competent, grounded, knowledgeable, inspirational, and hard-working – that’s a fair combination. 
Happy days!
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And while we’re happy, let’s be magnanimous and congratulate Champions Wigan. What a season for Burnley, too – back in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup (qualifying) at long last. And for Accrington Stanley, with promotion to the old Third Division (National).  PNE just missed out on the play/offs and Gary Bowyer’s Blackpool did extremely well. Morecambe had a flirtation with returning to non-league but escaped in the final day. And we’ll have derbies against Bolton after their late Houdini act. Rochdale also escaped at the death with a heartwarming human angle to the story.
Bamber Bridge were promoted and Matt Jansen’s Chorley and Fylde came close. Local rivalries aside, it’s great to have such football success across East Lancashire in particular and the old Counrty in general with commiserations to old friends Bury and Oldham. well 
It’s been two other North-West sides too – Man City and Liverpool – who have lit up the Premier League this season, both teams playing a free-flowing attacking style that has been a pleasure to watch. Good to see “United” and the dour Mourinho in their shade still.I’m less and less interested in top-level football though with the dominance of the top 6 and their extraordinarily disproportionate resources that see brilliant players who should be playing at a high level week-in and week-out on the bench semi-permanently.
I don’t think our former right-back Todd Kane is quite in that class but, prompted by him playing against us for Oxford on Saturday, I checked him out on Wikipedia. Apparently, Oxford are his 7th loan club and he has a contract with Chelsea until 2019. By the end of his contract he will have been with Chelsea for 17 years, man and boy – and never once played for them.
One of the notable successes this season has been that of AFC Wimbledon. Having had their club and league position “stolen” and transferred to Milton Keynes, and beginning again 8 leagues below MK Dons, it’s taken them 16 years but they’re now a league above their usurpers. How satisfying that must be.
It’s probably too much to hope that FC United could pull off the same trick.
Back to the Rovers. Plenty has been said since the pitch invasions at Doncaster and Ewood about the madness of crowds, especially when fuelled by alcohol and overcome by sunshine and excitement and youth, and I don’t want to add to that. But, on that theme, walking onto the Riverside at almost 5.30 on Saturday, with the ground packed and bouncing, and flags waving, it was a happy reminder of a unique feeling, of the tribe I belong to, and the power of football to unite disparate people and groups – if only temporarily.
Even though we may not individually have much in common with our fellow-supporters, there’s some kind of magic in the intensity of connection and shared emotion at times. For me, that jumping, roaring crowd-madness magic was there when first Armstrong and then Bennett (both teed up by Dack) slotted home in the first 15 minutes against Wigan. The best bit of a great season.
Let’s hope negotiations in Pune  in the days ahead go well and we can meet the challenges of the Championship well-equipped.
For the first time in years we’ve had a year of success shot through with moments of pure joy.
Here’s to more of the same!
 Riversider23
Blue Eyed Boy would like to thank Mark Fraser and Ian Herbert for their sterling contributions and help throughout the season.
Most of all though I’d like to thank the many readers who took the trouble to read the column, and especially those who repeatedly  get in touch and provide encouragement.
Even the ones who didn’t like the column but got in touch were generally entertaining, too.
Thanks to the staff at the Rochdale Observer headquarters too who continue to support and publish the column each week, notably Richard Partington on the Sports Desk.
Given reasonable health, I’m guessing I’ll be back in late July or August after a summer of cricket, World Cup watching and relaxation , ready for an early August start to The Championship season.
Snap those season tickets up and see you at Ewood!
BEB
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Glory days – success a long time coming but better days ahead for Rovers?

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