Ewood will empty soon enough if leaks persist

Even in the act of throwing us the mildly comforting trinket of a League Cup win at home to a Fourth Division outfit, Owen Coyle’s Rovers insisted on causing maximum discomfort and embarrassment to the pitiful handful of fans who could be bothered to pay to see the dismal spectacle as they comprehensively displayed most of the faults and weaknesses that have made them cannon fodder for all and sundry thus far this woebegone campaign.

“Nowhere near as completely awful as I feared but nowhere near the standard we’d need to be to survive,” said one mate who, like me, had managed to miss the horrors of the defeats to Norwich, Wigan and Cardiff as we emerged from our first look at Coyle’s work-in-not-much-progress, the 2-2 draw at home to Burton on Saturday which left Rovers rooted to the foot of the Championship table.

That was a desperately disappointing outcome featuring the concession of a late goal while leading, a failing which would return to blemish Tuesday’s cup tie.

After the league match which both managers claimed their sides should have won, both with a sliver of justification if little conviction, there were more causes for concern than shafts of light from the end of the tunnel.

The repeated habit of conceding, failure to see out a matter of minutes with a precious lead, disjointed square-peg-round-hole selection, the usual lack of dynamism or mobility in central midfield were only partly compensated for by a fine debut from a local lad who looks calm and measured beyond his years in an important position, a belter of a goal from the oft messed-around but rightly restored Conway and a decent full debut and first goal for Gallagher, raw and unpolished but the one loan signing showing signs of making a significant impact.

It’s difficult to credit the fact that both Lambert and Coyle opened their respective tenures by signing what they surely considered replacements for Conway. What on earth they perceived Bennett or Feeney have to offer that the Scotsman hasn’t remains a mystery. Yes he has dips in form but it would be an insult if he wasn’t one of the first names on the teamsheet at the moment.

Otherwise Burton, forcing the best save of the day from Steele, hitting the bar with a spectacular effort and going close on another couple of occasions were well worth their point, not an encouraging state of affairs when they began the season as most people’s tip for the drop and most Rovers  fans’ hopes to occupy one of the bottom three spots which avoiding is starting to look more and more unlikely.

Any remaining half-full glasses were of course tipped unceremoniously netherwards and emptied within 40 minutes against Crewe as our modest EFL Cup opposition galloped into a two-goal lead, even by this stage of the season an apparent first-half inevitability against Rovers,  which you could hardly argue they didn’t fully merit.

Their scouting report proved their undoing however. Surely they had bargained that, as for the last four years, Jason Lowe wouldn’t move forward and pick out a pass or that no Rovers player would  have the wherewithal to saunter into the penalty area to try and get on the end of  such a  move and when Hope Akpan defied club policy to do just that, the confusion and disbelief in the visitors’ ranks was plain for all to see.

Must be worth trying again an odd time, no?

Even then, only a flurry of fine saves from Raya, making up for a sorry but all-too-predictable earlier  howler (“He’d have expected to save it on another day,” said the manager rather unhelpfully) and the woodwork saved Coyle’s men from falling even more humiliatingly behind as Crewe threatened to run riot.

Having then established some kind of territorial superiority, mainly after withdrawing jury-out pair Byrne and Stokes, subs Guthrie and Graham bringing some coherence, the Championship side finally set about their business to take the initiative, including a joyous first goal for the eye-catching Wharton and another fine Conway effort; that ought to have been that until a blunder by another who has done little to impress, Hendrie,  gave the excellent Alex Kiwomya (nephew of a doughty adversary from years past) the opportunity to set up Dagnall, a prolific and clinical veteran marksman.

While Rovers always looked the likelier extra time winners, particularly with set-pieces, Kiwomya looked exactly the kind of player we should have been looking to loan in – busy, quick-witted, bright and inventive right up to minute 120. Credit to Crewe who launched their first long ball of the game with two hours up on the clock.

It was inevitable that the winner would come from a corner and almost as certain that it would come from Duffy, a big bloke who is pretty good at heading. Lazy “from zero to hero” headlines of course ensued but in truth, a senior defender who has been part of a unit which shipped three in 90 minutes to a League Two side ought to be looking at more than replays of a scrambled goal as he analyses his performance.

Not that he will spend too much time over it, I imagine as a move to Brighton now looks inevitable.

A reliable source told me that 7,400 was the number through the turnstiles on Saturday rather than the 10,000 officially given out so it stands to reason that a glamour-free cup tie would be similarly woefully attended. If season ticket sales and league attendances are at their lowest for 20-odd years, ditto for the most prosaic of all-pay games.

Talk of a “boycott” seems a little romanticised in my view. I might well not have bothered myself but for a last-minute decision but I don’t really class opting not to bother as some form of righteous insurrection against Venkys.

One or two cerebrally-challenged Twitterati were rueing an “opportunity missed” on the basis that a complete no-show by any home fans at all would have generated humiliating publicity for Venkys. I’ve got news for you – it will NEVER,  NEVER happen that no-one goes through the gate no matter how much post-Uncle Jack Citizen Smith “I’m Rovers Till There’s No Prospect Of Spending Loads of Money and Being Successful” types sloganeer and hashtag themselves into a frenzy of high dudgeon over those who continue to need their fix, however painful.

And secondly, Mrs Desai and the Raos plainly do not give the smallest portion of a monkey’s what new indignity is visited on the club. A few semi-literate half-informed “man of the people” social media soundbites from the likes of Robbie Savage and Stan Collymore may sustain the type of dissidents who think an empty Ewood would provide a historic turning of the tide but in the overall scheme of this continuing psychodrama, it’s futile tokenism.

Whatever the misdeeds or perceived crimes of the owners are, I’m personally happy that I and a few more were there to cheer young Wharton’s first goal and encourage him and other young players caught in this maelstrom of rancour through no fault of theirs.

Reports of fans harassing Coyle’s family in the stand are extremely disturbing. If Rovers fans are keen that the media portray their war on Venkys in a positive light, be aware that any news editor worth his salt will also jump on and highlight that kind of behaviour without a second thought.

I’ve even had some mild aggression directed at me on Twitter. After describing fans hoping for a blanket boycott at Ewood as ”feeble-minded fantasists” (on the inarguable basis that it is no more than a fantasy) one testosterone –fuelled numpty asked: “Would you come and say that in a pub full of fans?”

Presumably there are pubs where resolute non-attenders gather? Most of the people in pubs packed with fans near Ewood are actually still going to the game so quite why they’d take umbrage is somewhat of a mystery.

As I said last week, please don’t try to impose on any fan anything he or she is uncomfortable with. Gates will drop naturally enough to an even more alarming level if fortunes and standards don’t improve.

One wonders if Coyle can harness what miniscule positivism he found in Tuesday’s win and convert it to tangible motivation into a home game against Fulham who have made a fine start.

A small chink in the London side’s armour emerged at weekend when their manager complained subtly that a stats guru had veto’d a couple of likely signings, Ben Marshall among  those Jokanovic coveted but has been refused the go-ahead to sign.

On this season’s displays, you have to say the stats guy might be spot on, and the Cottagers have instead recruited James Wilson and Ragnar Sigurdsson this week with talk of a couple more to come. My main hope is that they continue their spree and field 11 guys who haven’t been introduced to each other before Saturday lunchtime.

One wonders in what obscure bargain-basement markets Coyle will look to bolster a squad which is plainly and painfully inadequate with days of the window to go. Callum MacManaman and Jack Cork would be worthwhile considering but I can’t be the only one having sleepless nights over the prospect of a pretty raw 6ft 7ins French centre half being chucked into our predicament.

One hopes we don’t get a painful reminder on Saturday of the prowess of Tom Cairney, whose sale out of the blue last summer effectively signalled the point at which we threw the towel in on trying to build a play-off side.

The descent since has been more vertiginous than many imagined but little surprise to those who lived through five years of a top-flight side being dismantled, good players sold off one by one, from 1966 to 1971 – with the inevitable consequences which now look set to condemn those who fail to learn from Rovers history to repeat them.

BLUE-EYED BOY

Footnote: I thoroughly enjoyed a first visit as a home season-ticket holder to the new Rovers Under-23 team base at Leyland’s LFA ground. Whether it will appeal as much in drizzly November or freezing February is debatable but David Dunn and Damien Johnson’s young, well organised and industrious side grew into a tough game against a useful Middlesbrough side and possibly finished the 0-0 draw the stronger on a shirt-sleeve night before just over 300 souls.

The one veteran Wes Brown looked eminently comfortable in the 62 minutes or so he played and as Coyle obviously regards him highly, it seems inevitable he’ll be offered a contract – provided Coyle is here this time next week!

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There can be no probation period for Coyle as darkness looms bold and stark

Deadlines demand that I write this before Rovers’ result at Cardiff is known.

Hopefully, you will all be reading it after we have pulled off an unlikely win but with Cardiff without a goal before we breezed into town , one rather feared the contrary on the back of another alarming capitulation at the DW Stadium, where, as I predicted last week, games between ourselves and Wigan are often eventful and laden with powerful sub-plots.

Our previous visit had seen Rudy Gestede left out for that one game (he was back the following week scoring against Swansea in the FA Cup) as his “head wasn’t right.” I’m not wholly sympathetic to that kind of apologetic football parlance but given surely the least surprising news for some time that Ben Marshall and Shane Duffy have turned down recent contract upgrades, one is left to wonder if Rovers had even four or five on the field with their minds on the job.

The hapless Henley at left-back, the equally ill-fitting Lowe on the other side, a centre half and winger who want away, two kids in the engine room and Danny Graham looking increasingly as if he’s kicking himself for not waiting for a more ambitious suitor did not suggest a unified and focussed camp and, with a goalkeeper still yet to fully convince, thus it unfolded.

As with Norwich at Ewood a week before, Wigan didn’t have to do much to get their passing game going and stretch us all over the shop and there are only so many times you can gift the opposition a two-goal start and repair the damage. This does not appear to be a side with the required substance or character to put up even that degree of fight occassionally.

The vaguest flicker of a revival was snuffed out by another slick Wigan build-up capped off by Duffy’s inevitable tragic-comic contribution. The pitiful subsequent sideshow of this serially moronic tweeter shutting his Twitter account down while family members railed at the club for dragging him down merely served to emphasise the unwise and fatuous nature of players taking to social media to have their already colossal egos stroked.

Almost as despicable is people celebrating Henley’s hamstring injury which mercifully takes a struggling young player being asked to do a job for which he is ill-equipped out of the firing line. If you’re one of those who’s expressed delight at his misfortune, please don’t ever tell me the media portrays Rovers fans in an unfavourable light.

And as for the pondlife taunting Coyle’s 19-year-old son about the possibility of his dad getting the sack, you really need to have a good long look at yourself and your suitability to interact on social media with other human beings, @reggers3101 I’m talking to you. Cowardly and despicable stuff.

Although not the only Championship side to have started dismally, inevitably at a club where hysteria is never far from the surface, all manner of overwrought opprobrium has been unleashed and focus has shifted onto the perceived crimes and manifest failings of our absentee hands-off, non-management owners as distant and detatched as ever from what is quickly becoming a potentially catastrophic footballing plight.

While I’m as convinced as anyone that the brothers and sisters in Pune have had their pants royally pulled down throughout their reign, I’m not sure that becoming hysterical about stuff we all know happened five years ago is anything other than a waste of energy.

Getting to the top of the hashtag charts won’t convert into points to propel us up the Championship table and while we know that some outrageous stuff went on in the early Venkys years, quite what was illegal or in contravention of any rules – it’s not a criminal offence to be greedy, or an idiot – remains as vague as ever.

A lot of this stuff has a kind of “Occupy the refectory!” feel about it. Actually, that might not be a bad idea, especially as the Blues Bar has Sky and shows the home matches live on a big screen.

I’m not yet at the stage here I feel I need to support any boycott which centres on non-attendance. Having missed one home game, I need some value for my season ticket outlay and at my age in my state of health I don’t have the luxury a 23 or 35 year old has of deciding to do something else and come back when success looks a possibility.

What I would ask is that no fan puts pressure on any other to do anything he/she is uncomfortable with.

I‘m personally more concerned and intrigued about how Coyle landed the job than how much Steve Kean could have been in theory paid in bonuses if eventualities A, B and C had occurred or what Colin Hendry earned. A cursory search of “Gael Givet” and “contract” (throw in “lingerie” for a real laugh), not to mention the memory of Corrado Grabbi being purchased for £7.5m, may point to a possibility that nefarious dealings are not unique to Venkys tenure.

There is nothing about how the club conducts its PR can surprise me. After working briefly for someone who later was responsible for it, then as editor for an official Rovers magazine I once got a call off a long departed and forgotten Ewood marketing bod complaining that I’d failed to put any kind of positive spin on Alan Shearer’s departure. Idiocy wasn’t invented in 2010 any more than football was created in 1992.

Priority for me now is the next half dozen games. Carry on like this and it’s from winning at Arsenal to Highbury, Fleetwood in 25 years, never mind promotion and Mike Newell popping one in at the Mural End.

Our immediate decline on the field needs arresting before we can even think about the very nature of the ownership of the institution changing.

While I have no great liking for the slightly nauseating, sneering gamesmanship-heavy manner and methods of Neil Warnock, I’d be paying Coyle and the three amigos he inevitably shipped in up and sending someone to get down on their knees and beg him to save us.

Talk was when he expressed interest in the job in summer, he wanted his own staff to handle training early in the week and turn up about Thursday till matchday. This of course was a problem when the job spec specified working with Irvine, Kelly and the tubby goalkeeping coach whose name eludes me after an eminently forgettable contribution.

(All three of course were gone within eight weeks, as anyone who vaguely knows that it’s a football truism that managers surround themselves with their regular cohorts, knew they would be.)

While I understood the reasons that a bloke spending two or three days a week managing us from Cornwall could be perceived as unacceptable, it does actually beat leaving a court jester in charge full-time.

Whatever the result at Cardiff last night – and we’d all shake on a dour nowt apiece as I write this – we have a triple bill of home games coming up which could either kick-start the campaign or further embarrass us. Burton and Crewe will surely have no fears about coming here on the back of some decent performances while Fulham , a team I’ve fancied but been spectacularly wrong about for two seasons, look in ominous form.

I’d usually agree with those who say give a  manager a dozen games or so – check out Howard Kendall’s early months.

But five more games like we’ve just seen and there’s virtually no saving this situation.

That, not historical malpractice, is what wants addressing without delay.

BLUE-EYED BOY

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Coyle earns cup credits but Rovers need points on tour to banish Canary blues

If ever Rovers needed to take the oft-scorned League Cup seriously, it was this week.

After opening –day humiliation at the hands of Norwich and following four consecutive exits at the hands of lower-league opposition in the tournament it was heartening to see Owen Coyle, vacuous pre-season tub-thumping exposed as so much bluff and bluster on Saturday, pick the side he would probably have been obliged to select had there been a midweek league game rather than a trip to what I still refer to as Field Mill for a relatively undemanding brush with Fourth Division opposition.

Football games are for winning, not for picking half-arsed sides in the hope that key blokes don’t get injured or, even more ludicrous, fatigued. It’s the first week of the season and anyone worth his salt should want to play every game at this stage.

The manager’s claim that the squad was “in great shape both physically and mentally” for the curtain-raiser was rendered laughable within half an hour of the first whistle as the visitors cut through our lines like a Brazil side playing one of those pre-World Cup warm-ups to drum up goodwill against the local village amateur side.

Coyle’s decision to go with the tried but certainly not-to-be-that-trusted old lags of recent ignominy rather than freshen it up with a smattering of new boys was exposed as folly.

Credit to Coyle for altering his formation and personnel on Tuesday and to that side for comfortably negotiating a task which previous blunderers Kean and Bowyer virtually laid their own mines out for and failed miserably in.

Two more goals for Anthony Stokes, who has made a fine start, and a header from Shane Duffy, who really ought to rack up Colin Hendry-esque double-figure tallies at this level, made light of an uncomfortable few minutes after half-time when the home side exposed recurrent defensive frailities (full-backs who are poor in the air – a pet hate of mine) to briefly suggest that a bad start to the season was about to get a bit worse.

Greer, despite his advancing years, looks at least as reliable a bet as the stricken Ward at Championship level where he differs from several Coyle acquisitions in having a distinguished pedigree.

Another injury to Bennett led to Coyle opting for Conway and Marshall in the wide positions – surely still the best pair on the books. I have seen nothing Bennett or Feeney offer to suggest either should be on the team sheet before the two Bowyer-era signings.

Jack Byrne’s cameo on Saturday, from all accounts, simply demanded his inclusion and I’m looking forward to my first glimpse of a midfielder whose vision, passing ability and cuteness are undoubtedly an embellishment in an area of the pitch where we have foregone artistry for more prosaic qualities since Cairney’s departure.

Rovers will go to Wigan on Saturday, followed immediately by another away game at Cardiff in midweek, in far better heart after a win which seemed a million miles away at tea-time three days earlier.

Wigan must be feeling a touch vulnerable after losing two games they have been well in and Cardiff, despite “doing a Rovers” in hanging around the play-off fringes without ever really convincing anyone they were serious contenders last season, have slipped, like us (well, we hope),  into that curious state of inertia where a Premier League past or future seems a long way off.

If Rovers have even any pretensions to be comfortably mid-table, these are the kind of outfits they are competing with.

Newcastle and Villa found out that in their first outings that lashing a few quid around will only bring results if your fancy signings are prepared to get stuck in and graft three times most weeks but as one of my favourite bloggers, Michael (@MarpleLeaf) Taylor pointed out in the wake of the Canaries humbling, even the Championship is evolving at a pace Rovers are now barely able to keep up with.

It was always understandable and entirely forgivable that once-wealthy Rovers would eventually be outstripped by the behemoths that Sky’s money has begat, even had Uncle Jack lived to age 100 that might have been the case.

But with parachute payments a thing of the past, crowds dwindling, owners dithering, managers coming and going without distinction, we are not only lagging behind the likes of recently-relegated clubs and better supported and higher-financed ones, the nagging feeling permeates the mind that even the Bristol Citys and Rotherhams are demonstrating more ambition, vision and off-the-field business expertise and sense.

When people came off Ewood on Saturday wondering if we’d find three teams worse than us this season, they did so in the stark knowledge that even facing stiff competition from Leeds, Forest, Wolves and two or three, we are handed a starting handicap penalty by virte of the fact that no rival club is anywhere near as poorly stewarded.

The chasm in quality between Rovers and Norwich spoke not just of 11 players better than the other 11, it told of a light-years gap in planning for success and reacting to adversity when that success isn’t necessarily instant.

“One team always on the move with precise and inventive passing, the other static and bewildered,” my pal Fred described the 4-1 drubbing after I missed the match to attend a wedding.

A few were surprised but for many of us it was a wholly predictable scenario (so predictable in fact that I had a couple of quid on a 4-1 Norwich win).

Norwich themselves a couple of seasons ago, Derby, Brentford, Hull…how many sides have we seen at Ewood since relegation playing the game at 78 rpm while Rovers have been groaning and labouring away like a 12-inch single you mistakenly put on at 33 and a third?

We’ve had a couple of tankings away on opening day but that was the worst at home since Sheffield United won 5-1 at Ewood in 1951, another unwanted distinction in a year in which we have already suffered the heaviest loss on our manor for 50 years (the FA Cup debacle against West Ham).

In recent Championship years, Rovers have had a habit of winning a largely meaningless game or two late on in the campaign to finish in a slightly flattering league position.

I wonder if Coyle had watched the final two wins (Rotherham and Reading) which tailed last season off on video? Why else would he have gone with a starting XI comprising ten men who contributed to the turgid slog that was the best part of the 2015-16 schedule augmented only by a bloke who took part in but contributed very little to the previous one?

Every new season is a fresh start for everyone, managers, fans and players but surely it would have made more sense to have introduced most of his new signings from the off.

Particularly in central midfield, it’s almost as if all Rovers managers have to abide by a clause which forbids them to address the ongoing problem of a slow-in-thought-and-deed engine room which functions like a pair of drunks attempting to carry four pints apiece across a dancefloor full of elegant couples moving gracefully in perfect sync and tempo.

Much of the Twitter and other social media vitriol was directed at Hope Akpan who is another in a succession of players who give the impression of traversing the entire impassable Glastonbury site in his mate’s ill-fitting wellies on a particularly wet year while the opposition slalom through like Torvill and Dean, as Norwich did on at least seven or eight occasions until the final scoreline was the footballing equivalent of a declaration so beyond the team going second that you let the wicket-keeper and fat non-bowling opening bat have a chuck late on.

I don’t rate the lad but also don’t wish that kind of concentrated invective on any player. We’ve had it with Keith Andrews and Chris Brown as well as a few who almost deserved it for a clear lack of effort but in the end it only divides fans and reflects badly on our support which was clearly already at its lowest numerically for some years on Saturday.

With the squad already hit by injury and low in numbers to start with the last thing we need is to be picking out individuals for the treatment; with some “boycotting” or staying away for whatever reasons, understandable in many cases, it ill behoves those supporters who are turning up to be falling out among themselves, often a likelier scenario the closer we play to home such as is the case this weekend.

The five or six hundred who travel everywhere through thick and thin are often far more unified, supportive and less divided than an Ewood crowd with all its factions and favourites. Get two or three thousand with a few pints down ‘em 20 miles away and things start going wrong, it can become an unpleasant spectacle. It was ever thus.

Coyle looks set to add to the numbers with young striker Gallagher from Southampton whose career needs to get moving forward after a wholly unproductive spell with MK Dons. He’s best known to us for an absolute screamer in the Under-21’s final against our lads last year and will hopefully grasp the opportunity to provide meaningful competition for Graham and the thus-far impressive Stokes .

He’ll need more than that though, in several under-staffed areas of the field, particularly if Ward and Bennett are out for any length of time, and the worry still persists that the unforgivable tardiness in presenting new contracts to Marshall and Duffy will see them receive more lucrative offers elsewhere. Marshall has already publicly expressed mild disappointment at the stalling of negotiations – footballer-speak for: “interested parties contact my agent.”

With the crazy money and desperation abound in the game as the window insanity gathers its runaway pace, a couple of Championship sides will be chucking a bit at it too. Wolves, Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton all seem to have holes burning in their pockets and a couple more adverse results for the aforementioned relegated pair of Newcastle and Villa will trigger more panic-buying.

The Hanley move shows you that in terms of ambition and wages, we are ripe for picking off.

Unbelievably, Venkys’ main advisor/go-between Suhail Pasha is, we are told, not yet in the UK.

Well done to Rovers for marking the very sad passing of 70’s players Neil Wilkinson and Russell Coughlin who both died at early ages last week. Neither was a world-beater for us but both are remembered by my generation, Neil as a local lad (as well as my so-far only surname-sake to play for the first team) and Russ as a player with promise who had the misfortune to find his new manager occupying his position with distinction shortly after John Pickering, who signed him, made way for one Howard Kendall. The club did right by them.

Anyone who enjoys reminiscing about the Rovers of that era should check out Mick Rathbone’s excellent autobiography, “The Smell of Football,” worth picking up for Basil’s tales about him and Coughlin’s regular nights out alone. Not much attention to dieting or refuelling habits in those days – and Rathbone was one of the most naturally fit athletes several managers worked with on such a “diet!”

To the DW then, where Wigan v Rovers matches are seldom void of talking points or goals. Let’s hope it’s more of a Stephen Reid or a Morten Gamst Pederson day than a Paul Ince one.

BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

 

 

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Ewood ties that bind still strong after 50 years

At the end of last season several Rovers fans asked me if I was going to be continuing to publish this blog on the internet during the summer months.

I thought about it, particularly around the time Owen Coyle was bewilderingly appointed manager when, it appeared, a handful of people were for whatever reason keen to hear my views on the matter.

But after four or five difficult seasons on the run I decided that readers, and myself, needed at least a couple of months’ break from the relentless worry and suspicion which has come to characterise my view of the club which I not only love but which occupies a ridiculously disproportionate chunk of my thoughts and emotions through the months of the regular season.


(Ewood pic by Matt Arrowsmith)

I’m still consumed by following Rovers. I can’t wait for it to be Saturday, or Tuesday, whether I’m going to the game or not. My whole being on those days revolves around those two hours of the game. If I finish work at 4pm, I can’t wait for it to be 7.45pm.

O the opening day of last season I was up at 4.30am and walked the dog six or seven miles almost certainly before you’d got up. This was before the Wolves game at the end of a week where I’d been so fired up with optimism to predict (entirely correctly as it turned out) on here that we’d do well to finish out of the bottom eight.

As chance has it, I’ll be absent on Saturday when Norwich come to Ewood as I’m at a wedding and it will be another joyous, family occasion in a very special summer which has seen one daughter graduate in some style and begin work, another daughter appear on a West End stage after months of rehearsals, we’ve followed a Springsteen tour which has cemented friendships and strengthened bonds here and abroad, birthdays, anniversaries lots of reasons for celebration and happiness … just very special times, really which I didn’t want punctuated by deadlines or to temper with sour misgivings or reservations about something we all deserve a rest from now and then.

My views are always readily available anyway in short form  on Twitter (@jimwilkz) to anyone who’s that bothered and while the events of a close season are hugely important in shaping the immediate future, no-one ever really won or lost a game that really mattered before August, so me casting a cynical slant on matters neither benefits nor educates anyone.

While in some ways I begrudge forking out upfront for a season ticket, there was never really any question that I wouldn’t renew. For the first time for a long time we can go as a family and the prospect of seeing both of our girls attend matches and grow as fans appeals greatly.

I dearly love the social aspect of seeing people whose company I thoroughly enjoy but would be unlikely to bump into otherwise on matchdays.  If I was a loner who went and sat on my tod, I admit I might have got past bothering and there are times, such as a December Friday night against Rotherham, when I question my sanity for pitching out and wonder how long I’ll keep it up.

I accept the right to protest and the reasons and justifications of anyone who’s “boycotting” or has just stopped going – my dad has and a couple of long-suffering buddies I’ve stood or sat with for decades have packed up – but I’m not yet at the stage where I see withholding my £279 (and in all fairness Rovers still practically give season tickets away compared to most) as a necessary gesture.

On a sentimental note it’s also the 50th anniversary of the 1967-68 season when I first became utterly enraptured by it all. I’d been to Ewood many times before but it was a win at Burnden Park late in the 1966-67 campaign when it all fell into place for me.

Possibly my first night match, I can still recall the thrill of the journey, the walk to the ground, the glare of floodlights,the visceral rush of being in hostile territory, the smells and sounds as we sat in the stand and Bryan Douglas scored the winner.

I was hooked and with the players training 30 yards away from our Feniscowles house all summer, by the third or fourth game of the following season there was nothing else cluttering my thoughts. By Christmas I knew all 92 clubs’ colours, managers, grounds and had a programme from each out of a Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly ad for my main present. Blacklaw, Newton, Wilson, Clayton, Coddington, Hole, Ferguson, Darling, Gilliver, Rogers, Connelly still rolls off the tongue and I see every one of them as young men where I can’t remember or picture dozens of players who’ve turned out for us in the last 15 years.

I’d hang around Langdale Road days on end for a 10th autograph of the same player or even a glimpse of one, or better still Eamonn Rogers’ Dana-lookalike wife who even a bunch of pre-pubescents knew was a bit different and strangely alluring in her mini skirt and white leather boots.

Happily, 50 years on, while nothing about me physically suggests any lingering boyishness, that sense of excitement and anticipation over football, if not the one-time Mrs Rogers, just about survives.

But here we are, three days before the proper stuff starts as I write and like many I truly fear the worst about the campaign to come.

Coyle would never have been my choice. He patently wasn’t Rovers’ choice either until the eleventh hour of a tortuously drawn-out application/interview process which appears to have been jettisoned when the former Burnley manager’s busy agent (or whatever he has) spotted the dithering and cast his client’s hat into the ring of confusion.

Mike Cheston and the other individuals involved, who had hitherto specified a list of criteria which Coyle patently didn’t fit, appear to have been impressed by his spiel and possibly by the fact that, living virtually over the back fence to Brockhall, no re-location expenses whatsoever would have to be forked out.

I’m not that bothered by the Clarets’ connection. OK there is probably good reason why no man has ever managed both clubs but we wouldn’t turn Dyche or Eddie Howe away if they became available, would we?

No, the reason I feel Coyle will probably be out of a job soon and Rovers back to square one is that I just don’t think he’s a very good football manager. His last three jobs on the CV tell you that and even at Burnley, those close to the club will tell you that his Alan Latchley (Peter Cook’s comic character) mantra of “the Three M’s – Motivation, Motivation, Motivation, Clive,” soon became like a broken record when there was manifestly no Plan B or capacity for tactical adjustment to accompany the bluster.Like a lot of managers who’ve done it once then never again, he could be one of those “with a great future behind him”

(The Three “m’s” Clive – motivation, motivation, motivation)

Some seem utterly entranced by the plain fact that he’s actually signed five or six players (hopefully more by Saturday as the squad is tram-ticket thin as a series of underwhelming friendlies displayed).

The immediate and brainless calls to remove him were from the same kindergarten origins as the Venkys Out scarves and hashtags, toys-out-of-pram reactions, many from those who still (unbelievably) retain some of the misplaced residual faith invested in the dismally failed Lambert, who, they imagine, would have cakewalked us to promotion if only the poor wronged lamb had been given about £250m to spend.

Ironically, Lambert’s only real success in recruitment has also been Coyle’s major statement but like his predecessor, Coyle has probably not been able to surround his best acquisition with others of comparable vintage.

Danny Graham was a real coup, granted, but I wonder if this consummate craftsman of a centre forward is beginning to look around as David Speedie did in the last, failing weeks of the Don Mackay reign in the Autumn of 1991 and wonder if all he was promised has materialised? “Mis-sold PPI (Premiership Pledge investment? You may have a  claim.”

I am personally appalled at Coyle’s choice of a partner for Graham in Anthony Stokes, a player of some ability (although bear in mind he managed five league goals a division down from David Goodwillie last season) but whose previous rap sheet of misdemeanours hardly suggest that his Ewood spell will be untroubled. I can’t be bothered to re-tread through them here but it’s not hard to google his name and provide yourselves with plenty to ponder upon.

The very act of turning up for a press call in pants with holes (and yes, my kids have similar) in them suggested to me: “Oh, it’s only this lot, Blackburn, no need to bother like at Arsenal, Sunderland or Celtic.” It reflected poorly on Coyle too, who ought to have promptly dispatched him to the kit room and told him to come back looking like a footballer if he couldn’t manage smart. Imagine Fergie or Allardyce allowing that.

Re-signing Liam Feeney reminded me of Elvis Costello’s liner notes for the re-issue of the  Goodbye Cruel World LP in expanded form: “Congratulations! You’ve just bought our worst album again!” mocked Elvis. He looked limited in extremis two years ago and “did well at Bolton last season” is hardly the most sparkling of testimonials. Perhaps he’ll turn out to be more like Dexy’s “Don’t Stand Me Down,” hammered by critics initially only to be re-evaluated and declared a masterpiece in later years.

Byrne and Hendrie may have promise but Championship football and its incessant slog is unknown to them. Byrne looks cute and clever in a video compilation of his Cambuur Eredivisie spell but remember they lost most of those games you see snippets of and finished bottom – surrounded by poor players he may well shine but not necessarily enough to stack wins and points up.

The loss of Hanley has been inevitable since May, you only had to see his unenthusiastic countenance displaying season ticket banners to discern that, so it is criminal that the club have reacted as though it was a shock straight out of the blue. And he may, worryingly, not be last through the out door.

Gordon Greer has forged a fine a career for himself since his solitary Worthington Cup outing against Oldham 14 years ago but it is clearly a career which Brighton considered to be winding down. He will be 36 by Christmas, the same age Wes Brown is already. I can hardly argue that having experience isn’t a virtue in this tough division but one shivers at the thought of two at that age together at the back at any stage.

Duffy and Marshall look likely at time of writing to begin the season at Ewood but there will be plenty of panic and cash splashed during the window, even in the Championship. Someone is going to spend an absolute packet this season and not go up.

From Rovers’ angle, Venkys, rightly derided and reviled as they are, have a track record of spending late in the window or after the season has gotten underway so perhaps Coyle will also be the beneficiary of late-August investment. For every Rhodes or Marshall though there have been a few duck-eggs.

Certainly it was worrying last week to hear Cheston tell shareholders that he didn’t really have any idea what the owners’ long-term strategy was. If he hasn’t, who has?

It seems it’s been another summer of silence from them. Even the much-vaunted plan to appoint a director fluent in the Raos’ native tongue has remained, to my knowledge, unfulfilled. Laughable if it wasn’t us!

Rovers’ season ticket sales, Cheston finally admitted last week, are around 25% down after weeks of spinning the ludicrous conceit that they were holding firm. The local Lancashire Telegraph deserve brickbats for their complicity in pedalling this myth, too. If the club could be indulged for column inches to give specific percentage increases in the first week of sales there was every opportunity to press them for subsequent updates on a regular and concerted basis.

It doesn’t really surprise me that we’re down. Years of second and third tier underachievement is where I came in really half a century ago and in a town which offers far less employment than it did, and actually far less actual town than it did with most of Blackburn centre a desolate hole, gates of 8,000 would be no shock to me. I don’t blame anyone who isn’t going, I’m just not ready to sever the ties that bind myself just yet.

The whole season ticket thing was poorly handled, forcing people to move, shutting sections, some prices rising others falling, and even what should be the simple (if in my view wholly unnecessary) task of re-situating TV gantries appears likely to invite further groans and complaints.

I was hoping Norwich would complete the signing of Ross McCormack before Saturday – I can’t think he’s ever been on a winning side at Ewood – but it now looks like Villa will pip them.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the division unfolds. The three relegated clubs will have never been as monied as these three yet the likes of Derby, Wolves and Wednesday seem to have obliged themselves to chuck money at it too. Brighton, who deserved promotion,  spending £8m on a lad who can’t get a game at Spurs and who was available for loan two years ago tells you that if we ever were able to compete financially, that time is now passed.

I don’t know about you but an uneventful 0-0 draw tomorrow would do me just fine and Coyle can earn himself some early credit by naming the best available side and steering us through a League cup tie at Mansfield on Tuesday without the embarrassment visited upon us by his predecessors.

Whatever reservations I have, I sincerely hope that more optimistic supporters than me turn out to be right and those who have seen stuff to enthuse about over the way Coyle has done his business can turn round and say: “see, you miserable git, things aren’t as bad as you thought after all.”

Most of all, I desperately want to enjoy the football matches as much as I enjoy the act and rituals of going to the football matches.

My prediction is a season of struggle. My hope is that, like two of the past four seasons, we get to a day in March or April and realise that there are three worse teams than us.

I won’t be able to see you there on Saturday but hope you all have plenty to enjoy.

BLUE EYED BOY

*Thanks to Matt Arrowsmith for the use of his great pic of Ewood at the Girona friendly

 

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Shipwrecked ghost vessel Rovers seeks shape or form

The barmy we do as a matter of course and the utterly perverse we will usually have a go at these days but fair play to Rovers.

While most clubs would conclude a drawn-out power struggle in the boardroom by replacing the manager, it seems we are currently attempting to fit the small and not-at-all painstaking matter of a partial takeover into the middle of what ought, even to us,  to be a fairly straightforward search for a new chief coach.

I genuinely feel sorry for whoever’s job it is to price and market the season tickets. “Prices slashed – get yours and see who the new mystery manager will be,” or “Prices up – possible new owners may need your backing”?

Someone even mentioned that a “pay what you think it’s worth” scheme had been mentioned. Gordon Bennett. Only in Blackburn, eh, no wonder it took about five years to get a row of bus shelters built.

No sooner had the increasingly unloved Paul Lambert made his unlamented exit from Ewood, news broke to encourage us all that long-time Rovers fan and business luminary Ian Battersby, along with partner Ian Currie, a boyhood Blackpool fan who was latterly on Bolton’s board, had approached Venkys with an offer to  buy just over half the shareholding in the club and pump some money in.

Currie’s last offer to finance a club ended with Phil Gartside refusing his offer to pump £5m into Wanderers and the late Reebok chairman promptly hoofed him off the board so we hope this approach will land on more favourable ears and the saga ends more favourably for all concerned although nobody’s counting any deep-fried batter-coated chickens to be honest.

We have all hoped for some time that owners Venkys are getting so little back to nourish them from their stewardship of Rovers, financially or spiritually, that they would be favourable to a merciful offloading and someone taking the whole shebang off their hands and it would seem unlikely that they would ever get a better, more transparent, potentially break-even and trustworthy offer to do so than this.

A local presence on the corridors of Ewood power would gladden the hearts of all and would relieve the hapless Indians of the residual hatred and resentment just about still smouldering after five years of catastrophic tenure.

But we are like shipwrecked survivors clinging onto what little wreckage of our club remains buoyant, and any light or formless apparition on the horizon is to be clutched at no matter how often it turns out to be a mirage. People have been plucked from the seas before and we can but hope.

Of course before this latest potential oasis appeared across the desert there were anti-Venkys chants, banners and catcalls on Saturday as the team completed its even-more-meaningless-than-usual annual sunshine pressure-off Ewood goal romp against an even more relaxed Reading but even the mild modicum of hostility pent up in the disparate angry few was assuaged by going two goals up in no time on a shirt-sleeve afternoon.

It’s a bit easier to vent your spleen if your team is collapsing in front of your eyes on a bitter winter evening as Steve Kean once discovered.

Like the game, the protests were weak and half-hearted and couldn’t match the take-up rate of the touching applause for the little girl who died.

One banner in the Darwen End bafflingly proclaimed “Football Without Fans Is Nothing,” the relevance of which rather escaped me on an afternoon there were said to be as many home fans present as there have allegedly been all season.

Perhaps the flag bearer was off to watch a Combination game and taunt the players and officials later in the afternoon.

The handful of patient supporters who can stomach the drippy tokenism of a pretty mediocre bunch of players walking round with their kids and applauding the fans (they should sit in the dug out and clap us while we walk round, said one chum) were treated to the utterly bizarre spectacle of Lambert displaying the bare-faced cheek to take the microphone and tell them all what a grand club it is.

A couple of days earlier Lambert had given a jaw-dropping interview in which he admitted to giving his notice weeks ago and saying that the club were derelicting their duties if they hadn’t begun the search for a new manager at that juncture, further emphasising the fact that from the point he expressed his desire not to continue, he should have been escorted through the door by security.

His valedictory soliloquy was a bit like that “its not you, it’s me” speech we all had once from a departing girlfriend who assures you there’s no-one else and you’ll make someone a lovely partner, she just needs a bit of space.

You can usually guarantee to catch her coming out of Weatherspoons on a rugby player’s arm and getting into a fancy sports car within a fortnight and so it will transpire with Lambert as he breezes into Celtic Park or Carrow Road or somewhere.

At least we can be sure of obtaining much more info on why he left if his inability to shut his trap about his “old flames” persists.

He’s thankfully out of our hair though, and the most damning condemnation of him is that he made many of us nostalgic for a man whose summer 2015 signings included Koita, Petshi, Guthrie, Akpan and Delfouneso.

Some of whom we are left with among a threadbare squad which, if the takeover miracle doesn’t happen soon, could also be cherry-picked of much of its remaining quality.

The likes of Hanley, Duffy and Marshall will have their suitors as well as ambitions hitherto unlikely to be realised here.

Danny Graham has put himself firmly in the prize bull section of the market place but waiting until we have an executive structure, a manager and finance in place could well be costly, he is hardly going to bide two potentially lucrative months of his career out to see what happens here is he?

It is inconceivable that the club can function even in the first weeks of the close season without someone at least appointed caretaker, takeover or no takeover impending. It’s like a ghost ship floating aimlessly with the crew mysteiously departed.

Still, we are told, we have “almost finalised drawing up a final shortlist for interview” which sounds very much like that thing the errant lad in the class would say at school about having actually done most of their homework and just forgetting to bring it in.

All we can hope for is that Venkys first respond at all, for which there is no precedent, to the “bid” (the “announcement” of which was not trumpeted grandly through a loyal local press but strangely proffered to a low-grade transfer tittle-tattle column in a disreputable red-top rag no self-respecting football fan, or arguably human being of any description, would buy and given about as much prominence as Raith’s bid to ward off approaches for their gaffer) and secondly, respond favourably, which really is wishful thinking.

There is talk of former Rovers director Richard Matthewman being involved with Seneca which would provide a glory years link with the Walker family but with a quoted £60m said to be the amount brought to the table, don’t forget that that precise amount equates almost to the penny to Rovers’ wage bill for the two seasons prior to the one just ended. You can chuck an awful lot of money at football and still not guarantee results.

If we did well and sold 15,000 season tickets at average £350 each and 6,000 home and/or away fans turned up every week paying an average of £25 a ticket, that brings £9m through the gate a season.

Now imagine, just imagine, you found a squad of 18 good hungry players who cost an average 12 grand a week apiece – modest these days by any standards. It would be a modern day miracle wouldn’t it? Off the top of your head, no calculators how much do you reckon that is that a year?

More than £11m.

It can be done on a sensible budget – we have had to watch painfully as our neighbours have shown us how and become, in the process, everything we are now not but would wish ourselves at this point in our history to be – but not even all of the best-laid five-year plans come off seamlessly  in five years.

If we have another go at chucking money at it and still fail, well it doesn’t bear thinking about does it…?

Any how, what will be will be and no amount of wishing or hoping on our part will have any real say in what transpires.

I wish all our fans a happy summer with cheery news to illuminate it, good luck to Stanley in the Play-Offs and if you’ll have me, see you all again in the Observer in August.

For those who follow these blogs on WordPress I’ll bob in from time to time when anything happens at Ewood and if you want my instantaneous, often expletive-peppered and sometime ill-judged Rovers reactions you can follow me on Twitter @jimwilkz although that might subject you to more mundane news about local club cricket, my family or opinions on obscure bands of the 1970’s than you care to digest.

 

 

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BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

 

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Mike a man out of time as Rovers hurry down doomsday

Somewhere in East Lancashire a little lad or girl has Saturday 7th May pencilled in as a real red (or maybe blue) -letter occasion, the day they have waited for all season when  they get to be Rovers’ mascot and hold the skipper’s hand leading the team out at Ewood.

 

How the rest of us envy that kid and the family their eagerness and the frisson of anticipation they feel for the final act of a season the rest of us will be giddily glad to see the back of and consign to the “never want to see that highlights DVD” bin.

 

Those of us for whom actually turning up at the ground to see a meaningless mid-table scuffle between us and another set of fallen under-achievers will be a mental and physical effort, little more than fulfilling a perceived obligation or an attempt to see if we can squeeze at least a couple more positive moments of value to divide into the modest cost of our season tickets and justify contemplating renewing.

 

I’ve heard all kinds of strange calls and cries for protests and boycotts this week, but, really, would anyone actually notice if the gate was 2,000? The club would announce it as 11,746 in any case and it wouldn’t look much different around the place than it has since those two games on a Friday and Monday round Christmas time gave folks a good excuse not to bother. I’m convinced  couple of thousand have never been back.

 

In the wake of Paul Lambert’s resignation, surely the most blatantly self-fulfilling prophesy-come-true since Old Testament times, confusion rather than genuine anger seems to have shrouded those regulars who still care.

 

There are the usual muddled cries for “Venkys Out” but they’re not here really here in any kind of bodily or philosophical presence to” get out” are they, other than in the capacity of silent, invisible underwriters for our continuing and increasingly forlorn, unlikely-ever-to-be-recouped losses. How we envy those fans who are able to vent at owners who actually show up a time or two.

 

“Out” in favour of whom in any case? Even the most starry-eyed believer must surely have abandoned any hope that there is anyone out there bonkers enough to be prepared to pick this club and its books  up and run with it as a going concern on anything like the level it’s been artificially powered at since we had to admit that only League Two prices would fill two-thirds of the stadium even for top-flight football.

 

 

More and more reminds me of Father Ted and Dougal stood outside the pictures, unsure what it is they’re protesting about with their “Down with This Sort Of Thing” placards.

 

Lambert has the sympathy of many having been abandoned by the owners and most of their representatives in Lancashire since evidently taking the job in the belief that finance would be made available but there are significantly fewer who really lament with palpable anguish the departure of a man who came highly heralded and exalted by the fanbase as a “proper manager” but has produced nothing significantly different (35 points from 29 games) to what we have seen across four largely unspectacular Championship seasons having been given what he wanted in January.

 

Given his capacity for talking about his past employment no doubt we will hear more from the underwhelming Scot on his torpid tenure but going on his Villa chronicles, it will be a highly romanticised and somewhat fanciful saga casting himself as the entirely wronged hero whom ill fortune prevented from conquering all.

 

 

I’d personally have had him clear his desk by the time the statement announcing his “exit clause” (who ever heard of that for a manager not as far as we are informed officially required by another club?) was released, although I’m sure he’ll discharge his duties professionally for the last game as he did as Rovers picked up a hollow but welcome win at Rotherham.

 

As soon as he has announced his intention to leave Rovers his priority is to look for his next job (if it hasn’t been sealed as a deal to start with) and if at his next posting he decides to target what few decent players he inherited (Hanley, Marshall, Lenihan) or brought here (just Graham sadly), don’t anybody tell me I didn’t warn you that this fortnight could be a handy period for him to lay vague plans to do so.

 

Reported chants of “Paul Lambert, we want you stay” at the New York Stadium sound wholly embarrassing and cringeworthy in the extreme for a man whose parting gift to us appears to be Elliotts Bennett and Ward.

 

We have even had the slightly embarrassing spectacle this week of people “bigging up” Rovers’ (in all honesty numerically wholly unremarkable) away support and their propensity to sing a lot at Rotherham in similar fashion to that in which Burnley fans used to exaggerate and mythologize their followings in the Jimmy Mullen era.

 

What those fans could have done without was an imbecilic quote from Mike Cheston, who has unfortunately been thrust into the spotlight as the only working director available to provide such a pronouncement, that we “have all the time in the world” to make a managerial appointment.

 

I’ve said before there are times when we could have done with less communication, not more and this was one of them. With contracts running out and falling into final years, with clubs planning the 2016-17 campaign as we speak, to hint that Rovers can put their feet up and take their time sifting through applications was a thoughtless, insulting and factually plain wrong thing to say.

 

What’s item two on the agenda, have a brainstorming session on deciding season-ticket prices? Ah, no rush, Mike, it’ll do a couple of days after we get Wakes weeks out of the way.

 

From the moment you know what division you’re going to be in, if not before, preparations should be under way for next season and the best available manager prepared to work under current conditions might be available NOW but not available in another three weeks.

 

While the job might not be quite as it was allegedly sold to Lambert, many a Rovers manager has earned the respect of fans here by digging in and working with what was available to make steady progress. I do concede they had able and vigilant hands and eyes in the boardroom keeping tabs on them and probably less needy fans wanting the world and wanting it now but our current plight sure makes you appreciate what wonders the likes of Kendall, Mackay and even Bob Saxton performed on little else but hard work and an eye for a player, particularly a bargain .

But in a week when Leicester’s fairytale and Claudio Ranieri’s modest alchemy have shown the very biggest spenders that a slightly less extravagant approach can work miracles and in which along the road both Sean Dyche and  John Coleman have illustrated that value and reward have to do with far more than simply the price, it seems obscene and mildly cowardly that a bloke walks away basically because he can’t have the biggest chequebook in the Championship this summer.

 

All the more galling that Dyche went unnoticed and uninterviewed by Rovers in that remarkable period in late Autumn 2012 when practically every club in Lancashire had a  vacancy he’d have walked here to fill.

 

They are everything we are not, now, The Clarets and some of our embittered supporters are so unable to cope they harangue one of our players into deleting a tweet congratulating an old school pal who happens to play for them. Pathetic.

 

And perhaps more tellingly I’ve spoken to Rovers fans who are giving us a miss on Saturday or even leaving early to go along and see if Stanley can complete a bit of history. Even my dad, nearing 80, is making his first visit to The Wham with another old boy. He politely declines my offers to take him to Ewood these days after a lifetime as an Ewood regular.

 

At least we’ve avoided dropping down to League One and meeting them in the league for the first time (Stanley a different club to the Football League founders Accrington) – for now.

I wish Coleman and his side and their fans every good fortune in completing an odyssey I was in on the beginning of as Accy Ob sports editor when he first took over as Stanley boss.

 

Unlike their fans and that Ewood mascot this week my enthusiasm for Saturday’s game is regrettably minimal.

 

With a daughter home from Uni this summer we may have another Ewood regular in the fold for next season.

 

Oh, for something to fire the imagination and stir the footballing passions between now and August. Even a cynic such as I am was up at about 5am and walking the dog miles to pass time on the first day of this campaign.

 

It’s been a long and laborious undertaking since and if this summer goes as I fear, it will be more of a civic duty than a pleasure than for many decades. I want to look forward to and relish my remaining days and seasons at Ewood but they make it bloody hard work doing so these days.

 

 

BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

 

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Lambert and co sound like hollow men as Ewood looks ever more a waste land

  
I still enjoy the whole concept and process of going to Ewood on match days, I really do, I count the days off until the next time and virtually measure out my life in Championship fixtures rather than coffee spoons but yet another afternoon of predictably dull underachievement at home to Bristol City set me off thinking what it is exactly I relish about the whole shebang.

 

I even like the journey there, chatting to my pal about how his lad’s team is doing, what new bands or CDs he’s caught. His boy and my daughter are tomorrow’s supporters so we like to think positively about what might be ahead.

I really like that 21st Century social media moment when the team news comes through on Twitter, usually as we drive by my boyhood house at Feniscowles and I recall days and nights spent on the rec ground there, some of them watching Eddie Quigley’s late-sixties Rovers train.

 

On the way down Livesey Branch on Saturday  – there’s even an exciting new zebra crossing there, surely destined to be named after a player with a propensity for moving sideways or one from days of yore who could cross  – I was delighted to bump into another good old mate from Church CC, a fellow Springsteen fanatic. We caught up a bit and compared eager-anticipation notes about which gigs we’ll be at this summer.

 

In my seat, after a small bet, I’m surrounded by folks I love to spend the build-up with. My buddy Fred, slightly older and with a fund of memories and anecdotes to trump mine, is always there to greet me with his grandson, the next generation like my youngster.

 

I sit in the Riverside next to one of my first Secondary School chums Mark and his dad, our former Maths teacher, and we swap news. His lads, in their twenties, with their good looks, stubble and hangovers and chips remind us of lost youth and how short a time ago we too were young, pretty and carefree with little to bother about bar getting up in time for the match and how our beloved team would get on.

At half-time it was lovely to see Rishtoner Jim Norris, father of another lifelong friend, get a presentation on the field for his 80th. Jim was Ken Beamish’s number two for years, wheeling out the tombola, standing in for Ronnie Clayton on ground tour guide duty and whizzing round the shops and pubs with the scratch-off cards when every single one sold counted.

He’ll stand and argue Rovers’ cause stoutly but politely with anyone (particularly of Claret and Blue stripe) will Jim, an effort which must take up all his wit and mastery of the quick riposte these days, and I could see his son Graham’s pride as we stood taking snaps from the Riverside, Jim’s image up on the big screen.

After the game I had to decline a trip to the Black Bull at Tockholes but that’s another big attraction as a rule – good beer, good company and only sometimes able to find “three talking points” from moribund, mundane matches we soon forget about before sorting weightier matters out!

I called in the office at the back of Rovers store to pick something up and greeted Barbara, a stalwart who’s been there forever. With Rosemary and Margaret, now retired, those three, John Howarth and Beamo pretty much ran the whole club off the field at this level but in simpler times.

Familiar, friendly faces in an environment you feel fully at home in. Your patch, your people.

You know exactly what’s coming next, don’t you?

As so often, only the actual football itself really ruined the day.

Even without seeing the Huddersfield game I’m aware that it was a slight improvement but no amount of dressing up could paint it as anything other than a gormless, drab display against a team whose players, managers and supporters appeared to go about their business with a verve and joie de vivre almost completely absent from home ranks at Ewood these days.

People have talked about “sick building syndrome” and while I’m the last person to accept late 20th century new-age mumbo jumbo as any kind of mitigation for our rank ordinariness it cannot be denied that where once there seemed to be a heart and soul and an undeniable spirit filtered through a  history and communal pride which cannot be touched or measured, that intangible something appears to have vacated the stadium along with pretty much the last director, Alan Myers, who cleared his desk this week.

For all Lambert’s smoke-and-mirrors gobbledegook about “five mad minutes of defending” blemishing what we are presumably expected to interpret as an otherwise blemish-free 85, there was little or no consolation about snatching a point off a side haunted by relegation fears all season to stay a point clear off a disgraceful fourth-bottom spot.

I didn’t see Bristol’s manager’s reaction but he could have equally said something along the lines of: “We let a dopey goal in against the run of play, lost our way for a bit but then took total control and lost concentration for a second which cost us two points.”

Managerspeak, see. It’s easy, isn’t it? Anyone can make it up and prove that they’re in no way to blame for anything.

With ever-willing acolytes in the press to support him, Lambert, whose record is inarguably now dire in extremis, can bang on all he wants about how well we played in this game or in part of that game and the Lancashire Telegraph in particular will slavishly support him but the evidence and facts make such claims and head-scratching about “why can’t we do it more often” a flimsy conceit indeed.

Even in the context of the final third of this woebegone season the fine performances against Middlesbrough and the four consecutive  home league wins can be seen as isolated aberrations, not patterns, in an overall morass of mediocrity.

The question isn’t why can’t we do it more often, more like how the hell did we ever do it at all?

And I’m very sorry, trotting out stuff about how we “ran Burnley close” is  a bona-fide insult of the highest order or at best the kind of patronising back-handed compliment you may hand out to a plucky underdog such as Bamber Bridge for putting up a doughty fight in a cup-tie at The Etihad.

There were jaw-dropping moments of sheer incompetence on Saturday – Steele’s throw out straight to Bobby Reid, Lowe’s dropped ball at a throw-in – which recalled a recurring nightmare I have that I’ve blagged a game for Rovers but am filled with the fear of knowing I’m about to make a complete tit of myself in front of a big crowd with all my friends and family there.

Hardly anyone jeered or greeted those incidents with the howls of outrage you’d expect. We are worn down by oafishness on and off the pitch  and have almost come to expect it as the norm.

At one point Hanley, Steele and Kilgallon did that play-it-across-the-back nonsense (it cost us a goal jn the season’s opener so lesson obviously well learned eh?) so close to our own goal line that I feared they may end up knocking it square to each other under the Blackburn end concourse or in front of Jack’s statue.

There were some positives. Mahoney looks a big strong lad who might kick on although unlike some I thought he was ready for coming off and Conway was a likelier option at that stage. You always encourage the kids but a couple of hopeful, easily-cut-out crosses aside the youngster’s time was up.

Danny Graham is on a one-man mission to make our goalscoring chart look healthy. What a pity other clubs will be taking notes and will have club representatives poised to compete – if they even need to – with us for his signature.

His opening goal – what a technician he is, a consummate practitioner of the number nine’s art – was an expert piece of work but followed an opening twelve minutes Bristol had dominated. Their two goals came after a sustained period camped in our half after the interval.

Compare the vivacity of Lee Tomlin, a footballer who clearly has some body mass index issues, with that of Jordi Gomez, virtually anonymous after his cross for the opener.

Graham’s equaliser was well-constructed and finished but like the first it precipitated only the feeblest of celebratory cheers.

Compare that with the footage recently doing the rounds on YouTube of a thrilling 3-3 scrap with Leicester and a late Colin Hendry leveller in 1988 v Leicester when a pulsating Ewood burst into unbridled transports of delight.

People have told me since that they felt unable to get up out of their seats and “lose it” over the goal.

I managed to, partly I admit as I had a wager on two apiece along with bets on both sides to win 4-2, a weekly folly of mine which was actually still possible either way at that point.

I’d usually close by looking ahead but this season, more even than in any recent year, even two late wins would ring hollower and less meaningful than usual. Take a look at Neil Warnock’s record. Instant impact and results on peanuts. It can be done.

One pal tells me he feels no real sense of commonality of purpose currently between himself and the club he has supported for decades and at which he used to go and eagerly and repeatedly  spend money on merchandise happy in the knowledge that it was boosting the coffers.

More and more, he says, he finds himself rooting for little Accy Stanley.

Another tells me that to this point nobody, but nobody at the club has an inkling what to do over ticket prices for 2016-17. He’s not sure if there’s anyone left whose responsibility it is to even think about it.

The only sign of life is that Alan Myers has been put on gardening leave but it’s a  good question to ask: By whom?

The club it seems, is being left to wither on the vine.

Sadder still, a relative of mine in his mid-60’s, blue and white to the very fibre of his existence,  tells me that he wasn’t even there on Saturday. For the first time since he was a small boy in 1960 and not committed to be elsewhere by virtue of work, illness or a wedding or some such, he missed a Rovers home game because he simply did not want to go. I wrote last week about the thought of finding something preferable to do and can fully empathise. He did so for the first time in 56 years.

Venkys have undone and sucked out of this club in five years what half a century of life itself could not.

BLUE-EYED BOY

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