Right move, too late, window wasted. Mike and Paul’s Rovers relegation recipe.

While many feared that Owen Coyle was here for the duration, “unsackable” at least for the remainder of this particular season, I confidently predicted some weeks ago that the fissures in the always-uneasy relationship between a Director of Football and a manager who has one foisted upon him unrequested would lead to a “him or me” stand-off sooner rather than later.

As soon as Paul Senior opened his mouth in that flesh-creepingly awful first series of interviews and especially when Coyle went public about the players he had attempted to bring in during a desperately cocked-up final few days of the January window, there was always going to be one winner and the smart money wasn’t on the hapless Coyle however much he might have had a point that the bean-counters had dawdled fatally over player recruitment.

When the Raos and Madam sacked Allardyce in 2010 I wrote here that it was the wrong decision by the wrong people at the wrong time.

This time it’s one out of three right. It unfortunately didn’t come soon enough.

Coyle could and should justifiably have been potted any time from three games into the campaign when the paucity of his organisational and tactical ideas and nous was starkly and boldly made strikingly manifest and  before he was given the chance to grasp at the perennial flimsy straw of the failing coach, the “got-to-win-one-sometime-on-law-of-averages” odd win and decent performance which convinces only the most blindly hard of thinking that better times are just around the corner.

No team goes down having lost all 46 of their games (although Rotherham looked to be having a fair stab at it at one point) and it was inevitable that sporadic triumphs both deserved, scraped  and even wholly jammy (the two Newcastle matches) would punctuate the pervading cloak of gloom and misery to create the occasional sun-stroked delusion that things were maybe going to get better.

But I wrote in December that after the Barnsley defeat and the attendant way in which a section of the club’s most loyal, hard-travelling support turned on him that afternoon that the point of no return had been reached and that ought to have been that.

You simply can’t have a fanbase already as distressingly riven by disagreement, recrimination, incivility, vitriol and in-fighting as ours further imploding on itself on matchdays in hostile territory as soon as a setback on the field triggers ugly scenes. What would the opposition most want to see?

While latter performances haven’t been as shocking as the horrors of August – the defeats to Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Man United were all richly undeserved in different ways after incrementally creditable displays – there was still no sign or collective belief among supporters being constantly fed the contrary that there was any genuine prospect of a sixth season out of the top two divisions in our 142-year year history being avoided.

From all accounts we played very well at Hillsborough and might or might not have been denied one, or two goals .

We certainly played outstandingly well in the FA Cup tie, not a full house but played in an atmosphere against opposition we might not see again at our stadium for a considerable period.

After a sorry Saturday tea-time home hammering by United in May 1966 before a paltry 14,000 post-1960 Cup Final Blues stalwarts who had already accepted relegation weeks earlier, we met the Reds just once in 26 years, the 1985 FA Cup Ewood Basil-on-the-Ball farrago.

So the players (and to some extent Coyle) fully deserved the heartfelt and generous  applause of the home crowd after the narrowest and scarcely-merited United victory.

Graham’s goal, making a fool of Smalling after the kind of brilliant work from Emnes which characterised his contribution (and doubtless enhanced his shop-window placing) was worth the price of admission alone.

If you wanted to pick holes – and plenty did – you could home in on the defensive lapses on both goals conceded (note to PL gaffers – if Rashford and Martial lurk on your half way line when you have a set piece maybe leave your younger, quicker defenders back in attendance) but we’ve conceded enough goals to United over the years when we had good managers and great defenders so I’m not going to complain too much about that.

Mahoney’s cameo, and to a lesser extent Tomlinson’s on debut, was simply exhilarating . From the puny, tentative pubescent who came on against City a few years ago he looks excitingly ready to unleash in the man’s game.

His nimble-footed teasing jink around a bemused Paul Pogba just gladdened the heart of everyone present apart from the Darwen End.

What a travesty if he is allowed to leave or chooses to leave to further his career at a higher level than we are able to offer or in pastures more lucrative.

Hopefully whoever is put in charge for the final 15 ominous fixtures this season will have the courage to utilise him. What more have we got to lose in craven surrender?

Coyle’s increasingly vacuous apologia or lamentations having been consigned to history, neither any of Senior’s risible proclamations nor any financial noises emanating either side of the deadline offered any solace.

Senior’s “bring players in who are ready to hit the ground running” pledge looks sillier every day that  Efe Ambrose’s work permit saga (due to be ruled upon as I type) edges nearer to the time it took  an unwelcomed John Lennon to get a US Green Card with the CIA on his “Deport-the Commie” case.

Lenny Bruce obtained a UK work permit with less difficulty despite a string of obscenity busts at a time the ”F” word hadn’t been uttered on our tellys in jest nor anger.

If Senior’s suitability for bringing in a fresh manager/coach matches that to recruit players perhaps we needn’t get hopes too high about Coyle’s long-overdue replacement.

On the day we should have been reading about the search we were presented with extensive quotes from Micky The Spreadsheet Cheston about further likely cost-cutting measures. His comments almost precisely mirrored those of Bolton owner Ken Anderson the other week, the difference being that Bolton might be coming up and reducing the wage bill while we swap places amid the spectre of being unable to hang onto  outstanding young talents like Mahoney and Tomlinson as the axe falls on Ewood employees in all departments.

Nobody is on the Gold Standard forever. Sunderland with 40,000 on every week, mostly season-ticket holders announced swingeing job losses this week. Newcastle have been relegated twice in eight years.

Nor does spending guarantee anything. If you had been told at the start of the season that your season ticket had risen 100 per cent in price but Rovers would be managed by Steve Bruce, spend £77m and sign the like of Kodija, McCormack, Lansbury, Chester, Elphick, Hogan, and a dozen others I  don’t know about you but I’d have been signing up confident of getting a Premier League cheapie on the “Promotion Pledge”!

But I also fully understand that if you continue each month to bring in less money than you are committed to paying out then eventually you will reach a point whereupon no wages or bills at all can be paid.

However with a modicum of attention to detail – ie a glance at Coyle’s woebegone CV – this austerity future should not have been being planned, as Senior disturbingly hinted, with the dreaded un-named but hard-to-miscomprehend Option B looking more of a banker than Option A.

Whoever comes in now isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea – a steady hand such as Nigel Adkins will engender a similarly-split mix of champions and detractors as an old hero with an unimpressive resume such as Tim Sherwood.

I honestly would rather they put Charlie Mulgrew in charge for the rest of the season than go for an unqualified old terrace favourite.

It wasn’t a shock that a man of the calibre of Gary Rowett declared himself uninterested in the job. I might just as well bemoan the fact that Springsteen has declared himself unable to take up my offer of playing at my 60th do.

A good number besides will fall into the “not-with-a-thirty-foot-bargepole-thanks” category.

But with a gargantuan six-pointer at Burton on Friday followed by three home games in eight days starting with faltering Derby on Tuesday, surely whoever is in the dug-out needs unconditional backing from the stands until our fate is decided. (Notwithstanding the club’s idiotic decision to nominate the potential relegation decider at home to Wigan as an overpriced Category A game with an Ewood fixture either side).

“Let’s see…. how do we make sure as few home fans as possible turn out?”

You couldn’t make it up they say. At Ewood you don’t need to.

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BLUE-EYED BOY

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Wars of the Roses prick Rovers’ confidence

Blue Eyed Boy has been on his travels this week, taking in a  Boavista v Braga fixture in Porto, so once again our exiled East-of-the-Pennines correspondent reports from a couple of encounters on his own midden…….

Following a home defeat to West Yorkshire’s second finest, the fixture list laid on a short break for Rovers in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire – a sojourn in Scargill country, fixtures against Rotherham Utd & Sheffield Wednesday in the space of four days.

A chance to mine new seams of confidence or would it simply be the pits?

“Lions led by donkeys” was the accusation laid at the door of Arthur Scargill back in the 1980’s; I’m not entirely sure that the current Rovers squad qualifies as lions; as for the club’s leadership…well, let’s be polite and say that the jury’s out.

 

Rotherham Utd, cast as the division’s whipping boys, was surely a chance to secure vital points?

Rovers lined up 4-4-2; Joao, Emnes & the emerging Mahoney on the bench.

The first half saw Rovers start brightly; tidy in possession, rarely troubled at the back and most importantly posing a serious and repeated threat up front.

However, Gallagher looked like he was breaking-in someone else’s boots and on the wrong feet, two chances slipping away. 

That elusive opening goal simply wouldn’t materialise.

The best attempt came from the skipper Jason Lowe who cut inside from the left and struck the bar from distance.

It wouldn’t be the only time Rovers hit the bar in this game; Mulgrew’s late, close-range header ably deflected by Rotherham keeper O’Donnell.

At half time, experienced Rovers watchers would have recognised the signs; all bark, but no bite, whilst Rotherham would have been delighted still to be in the contest.

Inevitably, the second half opened with Rotherham quickly registering their first serious shot on target and as a result, duly opening up a one-goal lead.

 The home fans sensed a change in the momentum of this game, the away crowd almost immediately started to turn; baiting Owen Coyle and especially his Burnley heritage and fondness for Onanism.

For 20 minutes or so, the emboldened Rotherham dominated, threatening with almost every attack to put the game beyond the reach of their visitors. That they didn’t was largely down to the endeavours of Lenihan & the positional guile of Mulgrew.

Coyle then decided to shake things up, by bringing on Hope Akpan in place of Ryan Nyambe; let’s be kind and say that it wasn’t the obvious selection.

From my vantage point it seemed difficult to glean just how the side would be transformed by this initiative.

Many Rovers fans seemed to agree and the chants for Connor Mahoney gathered frequency & volume.

A few minutes later, Coyle concurred and introduced Mahoney & Emnes in place of Conway & Feeney. 

This hadn’t been a good day for either of the wingers, but especially Conway; whose form at the moment seems to ask no questions of his opposing full-back other than, “Would you prefer me to over-hit or under-hit my next pass?”

I like Conway, he is a trier and an honest worker but each time I see him these days, a further increment of his joy (and his pace) seems to have ebbed away.

Far too often he runs down blind alleys and his delivery is currently up there with the quality & reliability of Yodel.

Mahoney in particular impressed after his introduction, his demeanour reminding me of the early incarnation of Morten Gamst Pedersen.

A right-footed corner demonstrating that he is two-footed, albeit much happier on his left side; happy to take the ball up to his full back and then deliver crosses with swerve & dip across the corridor of uncertainty (as Mr Boycott might describe it) that is the strip between the 6 yard box and the penalty spot. 

A Mahoney corner late on resulted in Rotherham’s Kelly diverting into his own net, under pressure from numerous Rovers attackers.

There were a few further flurries; another dangerous Mahoney cross, found Emnes, who aiming for the bottom corner placed his deft header just wide.

The final whistle saw both sets of players frozen, statuesque for a few seconds; seemingly recognising the severity of their respective plights – Rotherham aware that a rare chance to win in a season doomed to relegation had just slipped out of reach by their own means; Rovers’ acknowledging that their own fate come season’s end might be remarkably similar to that of their hosts.

 A Rotherham supporter, walking home after the game, summed it up succinctly to the departing Rovers hordes; “At least tha’ll know where to come next season…” He raised a chuckle from those within earshot, it was gallows humour at its finest.

So to the 2nd leg of this South Yorkshire sortie at Hillsborough.

A Valentine’s Day rendezvous with our former heartthrob Jordan Rhodes. “Valentine’s Day Massacre” was the headline I feared but thankfully that didn’t materialise.

“Referee’s Alcock Tribute Act Stuns Rovers” would have been way more accurate. 

Rovers again started brightly, comfortable on the ball whilst wary of Wednesday’s pedigree and eminently capable themselves of stretching the Wednesday defence.

That it ended pointless was particularly galling. 

To allow a centre-back to wander around your penalty area unmarked once is unfortunate; twice is plain careless.

When that player has only scored just twice previously, in his entire career, you can’t help but wonder what work is undertaken on the training ground to prepare for these situations.

It may surprise readers (!) but I’m not an FA coach, but how about; identify your man, stick close, make his life as difficult as possible to make a clean contact? 

The referee was at best inconsistent, at worst, incompetent; there were 3 or 4 instances where big calls seemed questionable, all of them going Wednesday’s way.

Was the ball from Emnes’ shot over the line? Well, a QPR fan might have a view, but for what worth I wasn’t convinced in real time from my vantage point behind the goal, but the assistant referee was not sufficiently in line to be able to make a correct call. 

Akpan’s “goal” again looked dubious to the naked eye, but what was telling was the lack of vehement Wednesday protest, which suggested they believed they’d just conceded an equaliser.

Least said about Akpan’s sending-off the better. He had to go, anything other than a dismissal for that and every amateur referee in the country will need armed guards.

His (subsequently deleted) Tweet after the game will serve only to amplify the FA charges against him. Four games for the offence, another two for rank Twitter stupidity? 

A few pointers from this game that gave me a sliver of encouragement; Mahoney started brightly, although he faded, perhaps understandably in the 2nd half; Emnes again was effective from the bench linking play far better for the second game running than Bennett, Akpan or Guthrie, but my man of the match was Darragh Lenihan.

Lenihan worked his socks off, again, and those fans that a few weeks ago criticised him and his ability, should take a good look at the videos of these two games and reconsider their position.

Were we unlucky? Yes, but in part.

The last four days has seen us dominate the bottom of the league team for 45 minutes without scoring; then be dominated by the same bottom of the league side for 20 minutes, whilst looking capable of conceding with every attack; stand toe to toe for 90 minutes with a bona fide promotion contender and then shoot ourselves in the foot with daft defending and a needless dismissal. 

We display the brittle qualities that are consistent with what we are; a team assembled on a shoestring budget, lining up with changing formations, players in their less favoured positions but who are capable of raising their games, just not with the consistency that we need. 

Coyle would receive a whole lot more sympathy from me if he was as quick after the QPR game to say, “Well the ref’s gifted us 3 points there…it was a definite Rangers goal and had it been given we’d never have won…”

That day we were fortunate, on Tuesday, we weren’t, swings and roundabouts.

Thoughts now move onto the upcoming FA Cup match with Manchester Utd. Memories of some titanic Premier League battles past loom over this fixture but both clubs have re-adjusted expectations over the last few years.

United for instance, have had to spend considerably less on silver polish, whereas Rovers have simply pawned all the family silver to save on that bill. 

You fear the outcome if they decide to take it seriously, especially with our threadbare squad being tested to its limit but it does give an opportunity for younger fans to see a team first-hand, in the flesh, that once were annual visitors.

That I find myself wondering which fixtures will whet my appetite next season and fearing that we will swap places with Fleetwood Town demonstrates the extent to which our horizons have shifted.

Football is a funny old game of course, but is it THAT funny ? We’ll see…

OLD BLACKBURNIAN

 

 

 

 



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Sweet strike from Gally but will Rovers preserve Status Quo?

If a couple of eyebrows were raised when I suggested I’d seen (even this) Rovers sides play worse than they did against Leeds at Ewood and win, we didn’t have long to wait for an example of such a phenomenon.

I thought it was as near to a pulsating evening as we’ve had this season when Leeds brought their massive following and Rovers matched them so fully in every department , except finishing ultimately as Gary Monk’s side made capital of arguably their only two chances, that you would have been hard pressed to say which side was on the cusp of a promotion bid and which had previously looked to be sinking without much of a fight.

But with only a couple of hundred in the away section on Saturday there simply wasn’t the highly-charged atmosphere that a game against the like of Leeds always adds and that reflected in a somnolent top  to the match which ended with a curious tail against a side who seldom travel well to this part of Lancashire.

The utterly bizarre end to the Queens Park Rangers game left more or less everyone reasonably satisfied with the outcome if bewilderingly unfulfilled by the 92 minutes of dross which preceded it, precipitating anti-Owen Coyle chants which, while fully acknowledging the frustrations the hapless manager has caused, looked a bit, well, daft really, particularly when churlishly repeated after Sam Gallagher’s largely unmerited winner went in.

I always apply this rule when judging that kind of public humiliation for one of our own players or our manager.

If I had ventured onto Turf Moor in 1987 (which I did more than once for ghoulish voyeuristic purposes) as our fierce rivals looked set to lose their Football League status, what would have delighted me more?

The home fans turning on their own or staying behind the team for the duration of the match and letting off pent-up steam at the end if the result went against them? The former would have had me sniggering secretly for sure.

I disagree not one jot with the veracity of the statement: “Owen Coyle, you’re taking us down.” I could forgive it at two-nil down with three minutes of stoppage to go.

But to break into it with a tight game still to be won seemed to me an embarrassment and as premature an act as the blokes folding that tawdry banner up in the Blackburn End before the end and missing the goal (protestors missing goals is becoming quite a theme at Ewood this season).

At one point the flag was so clumsily folded as to read to we on the Riverside (and presumably TV cameras) “We promise to respect the…Anarudha Desai” which will have done nothing to dissuade those who  feel that protestors tend to be sending out mixed and confused messages.

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Had we drawn, or lost, this game I feel that the inevitable stand-off with the newly-appointed Director of Football would have been brought forward. I hear there are 15-minute personal appraisals with Senior for every Ewood employee from top to bottom  this week.

If he needs another quarter of an hour on top of what he’s seen to make a judgement on Coyle he doesn’t merit any mention of expertise on “football” alluded to in his title.

The fact that Ambrose’s work permit is an issue (maybe a merciful relief) and Emnes’ absence from the squad last Wednesday was the result of a failure to get international clearance for the Swansea player suggest that the administration at Ewood ain’t all it ought to be either but the manager (or is he now downgraded to “Head Coach”?) remains our biggest handicap.

Coyle gets minimal kudos for a couple of substitutions which did likely alter the course of the game but ended the day far from in credit after once more failing to send his side out with anything resembling the required urgency to contest a vital home relegation scrap.

Rangers were out of the traps immediately and met with such a dopey response that they could have been two up in the 60 seconds it took me to reach my seat after going through the turnstile as the opening whistle blew following a frantic taxi dash from Blackburn centre.

I’d been at an event at the Arts Centre in St John’s Church celebrating the King Georges Hall concerts of 1973, The Year Bowie Came to Blackburn.

On the equivalent Saturday 44 years ago my 14-year-old incarnation would have watched goals from Don Hutchins and Kit Napier see off York City before a crowd of 8,200, probably more in truth than were on this Saturday past.

They were prosaic times indeed: we had gone out of the cups with defeats  at home to Rochdale and Crewe respectively – although that win against York was in the middle of a 19-match unbeaten run which saw us finish third in Division Three – the year before three-up, three down was introduced!

As a measure of our modest standing and ambitions in the football pyramid in those days it was no real surprise when, the following season, tiny York achieved promotion to the old Second division a full year before we reclaimed our “full member” status!

Many more starts like the one which QPR let us off with and we will be revisiting such lowly haunts with regularity again.

For the next 70-odd minutes you could have quite easily been sat watching two mid-table teams without interest in the top or bottom eight places of the table strolling out an end-of-season “after you, Claude” affair deep into May.

An outrageous stroke of luck denied Rangers as clear a looking goal as it’s possible to ascertain without technology but the introduction of Emnes and the bright Mahoney provided a modicum of energy and inventiveness.

Having seen Mahoney receive the ball, drive forward at speed and try a telling pass, it seemed to dawn on both Bennett and Feeney that such an initiative was indeed within the rules and both attempted similar, Feeney eventually foraging away on the run which led to Emnes supplying the game’s decisive assist in front of the Blackburn End.

If not celebrated as raucously by everyone with the hate-hurlers momentarily silenced and not sure how to react, it certainly beat having an 89th minute header planted into your Darwen End goal in front of a raucous 6,000 travelling fans.

The other results on Saturday highlighted how nearly marooned even a draw would have left us and the late win will count for little if we contrive to lose at rock-bottom Rotherham on Saturday.

The window transfer business has left us in only slightly better shape than we were to start with if – that’s if you wholly discount the loss of Marshall, who promised much at Ewood but had effectively downed tools and contributed only fitfully for months, arguably longer.

The return of Emnes and the effective replacement of Stokes, still here but evidently “unselectable”  as Andy Flower might say, with Joao brings the attacking options back to an acceptable numerical quorum but with defender (I use the term loosely based on the opinion of a couple of Celtic followers) Ambrose’s work permit in severe doubt and no additions in the creative department there is little hope of the squad blossoming into the 1982 Brazil side although Joao gave a passable audition for the Serginho role in a clumsy cameo on his bow.

Paul Senior said in another of his generally execrable prelude-to-redundancies-and-cutbacks  interviews that he was looking to bring in players who could hit the ground running. Unfortunately, Joao looks like he does so, literally, with regularity but he may have a vital goal in him at some point.

So might recently-freed Birmingham City defender Paul Caddis who operates also as wing-back and pops the odd one in. It is perhaps indicative of the paucity of our talent pool that a bloke who returned to pre-season overweight at Birmingham, subsequently dislocated a  shoulder and featured little under Rowett or Zola and who admitted in a farewell interview that “maybe I wasn’t the greatest defender” can probably only improve our squad!

The one ray of hope remains the Under-23 kids, who were absolutely splendid to a man beating a fine West Ham side at Leyland last Friday.

Nyambe and Mahoney look far from out of place amid modest competition since being promoted to the senior squad and watching the youngsters is a breath of fresh air given the drudgery we endure at Ewood month in month out.

If we really are back in that footballing wasteland evocatively recalled by “Blackburn 1973” events next season, those kids who remain contracted to the club, currently as unkniown as Freddie Mercury was when his band supported Mott The Hoople at King George’s on Princess Anne’s wedding night,  might have to be plunged in at the deep end.

BLUE-EYED BOY

 

 

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Senior service a flop as Rovers left with fag end of market

Venomously despised absentee owners with no intention of budging who’ve piled up an Everest of debt to leave fans seething, some never to return, as the soul of the famous old colours is sold to the devil.
January transfer window activity so minimal and lame you know it will make no difference as the club faces one of its poorest seasons and finishing positions in the memory of most young supporters.
Players who wouldn’t have been given house room at the club ten years ago and a manager whose glory years are a distant memory who comes over as a desperate old fool every time he opens his mouth.
The sticking plaster of a routine cup win over a vastly-inferior bunch of neighbours from a lower division managed by a familiar old face.
..But enough about FA Cup fifth-round opponents Manchester United and their problems, what an exciting week it’s been for us Rovers fans eh?
Okay, not really.
The underwhelming denouement to Rovers’ January window was nothing if not entirely typical and predictable.
Sell the sulky, disinterested and repeatedly under-performing Ben Marshall (he cleared his belongings from Brockhall and said his farewells the first day in after the Ipswich defeat and infamous subsequent interview) at the nearest point possible to the eleventh hour for whatever remains on the table then fanny about getting a loan over the line for a bloke whose last two games for Celtic were unsuccessful European qualifiers  in July, one of them a defeat to the mighty force that is  Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps.
“Is he trying to get himself sacked?” asked a Celtic fan pal of Coyle, without realising that if he was, he’s been having a darned good go at it since June. It’s not that easy an undertaking here, I informed him.
I don’t wholly blame the non-event of the window on Coyle however.
If you were to design a character the largely working-class folk who follow Rovers might fail to take an instant liking to, Director of Football Paul Senior wouldn’t be that far from the prototype.
Jabbering away sharp-suited in a generic Southern accent with his corporate gobbledegook middle management self-development course psychobabble, telling supporters who have frankly witnessed one deadline day panic after another that he is planning: “two, maybe three windows ahead,” and hoping to “add value” to an utterly threadbare squad which now cost a  total of about £1.25m was guaranteed to raise the hackles.
Here’s the deal – In “three transfer windows ahead” Rovers could theoretically be about to begin a season in any one of three (four if you want to be unrealistically pedantic) divisions of the English  professional football structure so telling us that we’re planning three ahead when we’ve pretty much made an unholy  mess of the current one and the last few is an insult.
Even the twin signings of Lucas Joao and Emnes, neither totally unattractive in themselves, told a sorry story of a communication breakdown or failure between manager and director to co-ordinate strategy and prioritise. We’ve basically signed the same player twice, one Coyle’s pick, the other Senior’s.
What’s the betting both spend more time on the bench than off it in any case?
If the best imaginable scenario was a tumultuous falling-out between the pair resulting in Coyle’s departure it’s probably coming too late now to make any difference.
Anyone hoping for succour from the fact that he might get Coyle shunted out will hardly be encouraged by the fact that the last two managers he worked with before the current Wednesday gaffer rendered him surplus to requirements were Stuart Gray and Dave Jones. Mercifully Brian Laws was, I think, just before his time at Hillsborough but if you think it can’t get worse, don’t be too sure.
The glaring lack of a midfield bossman has again been ignored whoever’s pulling who’s string and with Henley injured and damaged by loss of form we must be the only club in the pyramid down to local combination level which seeks to function without an accredited right back of at least some experience.
One hopes Nyambe emerges as the player we once hoped Henley might become but with a bilious section of our support so embittered by failure that they now dish out to struggling kids the poisonous level of vitriol they once lavished on the cruising likes of Per Frandsen, Keith Andrews and Danny Murphy, the environment is not conducive to nurturing fledgling talents.
If Senior couldn’t identify vacancies at right back, central midfield and goalkeeper after a month here lord knows what his fabled vision of the future is.
I had my own January deadline to get this column off after the window shut and before the Leeds game. By the time you read this you’ll know how that went.
Given the results earlier in the week one fears that defeat will have left us stranded, a draw only slightly less so, or an unlikely win kept us in the pack, rapidly dwindling and becoming isolated from what’s now an identifiable lower-table almost-safety region.
There was nothing in the workaday, routine cup win over woeful Blackpool to offer much hope that the winning habit in the cup is about to be transferred to bread and butter competition.
When an unaccompanied  Bennett is popping (admittedly super) goals in from 35 yards and Lowe and Akpan stroll around looking comfortable in possession you know a certain intensity is missing.
“It was like a training game, in my day, someone would have just smashed somebody after a bit to liven it up,” said the excellent Super Atko somewhat unceremonially on local radio and you knew what he meant.
It was tame,stuff indeed and even the feeble protests looked daft as “Operation Empty Ewood” inarguably resulted in a gate probably considerably better than we’ve had for many league games.
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The demonstrating Blackpool fans, who our few dozen marchers were clearly outnumbered by three to one, were themselves made to look wholly diminished by an away following which would in itself have constituted a decent home portion of a gate at Bloomfield.
I’m not sure what the particular empathy with Tangerines fan is all about. They were kicking around the lower leagues for years with no bugger interested. I was on one game there when they had to apply for re-election in the 1980’s, I can’t remember much goodwill from our lot towards them at that point.
Now that things aren’t going too well for us we suddenly want to be every struggling club’s best friends? what’s that all about?
The sorriest sight was the miserably failed attempt to disrupt the game with a hail of tennis balls. I counted three on the pitch out of hundreds and it took five seconds to clear them, less than it would need to shift a stray dog turd on White Ash. 
What a fitting metaphor to crystallise a series of puny, copycat, unachievable, ineffective “initiatives” by a number of groups with no charisma, leadership or invention, many continuing to put out their mixed-messages more befitting of Operation Ewood Emptyheads by being unable to agree what to do when the attractive Fifth Round tie goes on sale!
I presume a good number of those sorry wretches outside on Saturday chanting about the FA, advising them to insert the famous old trophy where the sun don’t shine, will be happy to contribute their 30 quid or whatever admission fee to disappear up the same fundament in a fortnight.
But with plenty of league games before that, and no game looks easy when you’re in our predicament, who’s coming and who’s not coming to watch Rovers play Man United is the least of our worries.
Even rivals we half-fancied catching or passing  strengthened significantly in the closing days of the month and it will now be a mini-miracle if in August we aren’t hosting our first third tier game since a celebratory Saturday in May 1980 when Howard Kendall’s boys could afford to lose to Bury without dampening the celebrations.
Nobody ever talked about “adding value” to that collection of cheapies, freebies, frees and misfits but we knew from their stirring deeds that their worth bore no relation to their cost.
Oh for a silk purse from sow’s ear of a manager such as that!
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BLUE-EYED BOY
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Don’t tell us to grow up and out of it…carry the news, boogaloo dudes

1973 The Year Bowie Came to Blackburn – Ongoing Series of Celebrations

“From Ibiza To The Norfolk Broads” – Bury Met Theatre

Lazarus – Kings Cross Theatre London

It was stalking time for the moonboys.

A year on from David Bowie’s still practically-impossible-to-process and come-to-terms-with passing, the children, and now grandchildren of Ziggy seem almost as busy and active as in that period around the turn of the 1980’s when the Durannies, Spandaus, Almonds, McCullochs, Numans and Boy Georges re-dressed punk up with a glam twist and filtered their hero’s brilliance through exciting new, if not exactly as revolutionary as the original, prisms.

January 2017 was always going to be a notable anniversary month, the month we hoped we would be celebrating the Thin White Duke’s 70th birthday and hoping that his Indian summer of late activity would continue on the creative roll which yielded the brilliant and incredibly un-pre-publicised “Where Are We Now” single and punchy, energised “The Next Day” album, recorded amid secrecy and non-disclosure arrangements with participating musicians,  followed by the truly astonishing “Blackstar”, his most intriguing, mysterious, edgy and plain strange sounding piece of work since the StationTo Station to Heroes run (I always class those three as more of a true trilogy of genius than the accepted “Berlin”  treble which actually includes the enjoyable but lightweight and poppy  in comparison Lodger).

Instead we marked the swift fast-forward button taking us 365 (366?) days on from his death.

Perhaps unsurprisingly however the calendar and various other agencies – notably my wife and the lovely, clever people at Dovetail agency (more of whom later) added further poignancy to the January of my own 58th birthday by presenting me with a month of Bowie-related delights (And I’m not finished yet…we have a Bowie’s Berlin walking tour booked for May).

The whole 2017 shebang began with a rich but delightful piece of musical serendipity.

The last gig I went to in 2016 was a now 77-year-old Ian Hunter with his highly-skilled Rant Band at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (a lovely welcoming venue if you spot anyone you fancy seeing play there).

What else could be the final song of a Hunter show of course but “All The Young Dudes.”

At the opening event of “1973 – The Year Bowie Came To Blackburn” in early January a nostalgic and retrospective but also forward-looking and musically creative project led by the Dovetail creative team, Teri Birtwistle,  a young student from Blackburn’s McNally Music Tuition, another of the project partners, took the stage in Blakeys and strummed, clarion clear and sparkling, a chord sequence seldom heard acoustically.

She first a little nervously approached the mike and sang, beautifully: “Billy rapped all night about suicide…”

 

It was a real moment of musical and cultural synchronicity and an amazing  moment of déjà vu. Hunter was also the last front man onstage at King George’s Hall in that year of 1973 in November (on Princess Anne’s wedding day – we got a day off school!) we were celebrating and though I can’t be exactly certain, “Dudes” would almost surely be the last song performed on that stage that year.

Hearing it stripped down to its lovely acoustic bare bones as I never before have done – maybe Bowie wrote it like that but even his “guide vocal” demo is Ronson’d up to maximum volume – highlighted that while this is a nostalgia trip at a  pertinent time, new blood and re-interpretation mark the undertaking as something taking the best of the past into the future.

Sadly, with Bowie and two more of his Spiders already gone, not to mention Freddie Mercury whose band so jaw-droppingly supported Mott that night, Hoople bassist Pete “Overend” Watts died last week to join his bandmate Dale “Buffin” Griffin in the Upstairs Star Bar. Drummer Griffin passed away on January 17th last year, almost completely under the radar during the outpouring of Bowie grief.

It was a reminder to all of us at those ’73 extravaganzas that most of us have more road behind us than in front. This stuff needs documenting and these experiences want recording and Dovetail are offering a great platform for that.

I was 14 at that ’73 gig and at that time liking Bowie or, crime of crimes, getting his album out of your Reidys Home of Music yellow plastic carrier on the bus was an invitation to be ridiculed, humiliated or much physically worse by hairy sixth formers on a diet of Heep, Tull, ELP and possibly even ferociously bearded old Edgar Broughton and his hirsute combo, first men up in King Georges 1973!

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Roll on three years and by 1976 at 17 I was, I imagined, acne-free, floppy-fringed confident hip priest of the common room. There was now no stigma about worshipping the world’ hottest ticket.

Many years later I asked a girl I’d gone out with at school why she picked me out of all the jocks and footballers who were lusting after her.

“I walked into the rec room one day and you were sat in the sunlight with shades on an old beaten chair smoking a fag blowing smoke rings reading the NME having insisted on putting side two of “Low” on,” she said.

“As a girl at a lads’ school I felt every pair of eyes on me. You barely gave a cursory glance.”

“Nobody else would have dared done that. I knew you were the one in that moment.”

She then proper spoiled the tale by admitting she delayed dumping me by a month to make sure she was my plus one for the “Stage” tour at Stafford Bingley Hall the night after the 1978 World Cup Final.

Bowie had moved on so quickly and quantumly from Ziggy by then and his material was so outré, experimental, avant-garde and futuristic that when he played a medley of Ziggy songs just six years after that album’s release it already sounded like pure nostalgia.

In six years these days U2 might have sorted a snare drum sound out and decided on a studio.

Ziggy. Aladdin Sane. Pin-Ups. Diamond Dogs. David Live . Young Americans. Station To Station. Low. Heroes. Stage.  Okay the live albums were ordinary but for that still barely believable run alone (we’ll leave Hunky Dory in 1971) he should have a statue erected in every locality in the Kingdom.

After I was asked to say a few words to a healthy Blakeys attendance by Ian Alderson who has co-ordinated much of the programme and I managed to get on and off without being booed or boring anyone to tears it seemed.

This Saturday, at The Bureau Centre for the Arts at St John’s Church, Victoria Street, Blackburn (1pm – 5pm) , I’m looking forward to the next event in the series, including presentations by Ian and music author and “Bowie course” tutor Dr Toby Manning. Who knows, if it’s good and there are plenty of you to chat to, I might even give the Rovers a miss!

If it’s as enjoyable as the two very different Bowie-drenched dramatic productions I saw this month, it’ll be some afternoon.

“From Ibiza To The Norfolk Broads,” written and directed by Adrian Berry, at the tastefully refurbished Bury Met, was a one-man tour de force starring Alex Walton, about a young man with a dysfunctional grip on life.

The teenager, whose father walked out during his infancy leaving a broken but spirited mother who has a drink problem, discovers and becomes obsessed by Bowie through chancing upon his departed dad’s records. On his 18th birthday he’s handed a communication from the absent father which leads him on a tour of Bowie landmarks where he’s encouraged to overcome his communication difficulties but ultimately discovers that further dreams of the contact he really longs for may be a forlorn hope.

Peppered with Bowie tunes throughout, permission to play the recorded versions having been granted, Alex Walton plays his own part and inventively supplies the voices of several unseen characters.

My 12-year-old daughter who is dedicated in her drama classes and does very well at them was rapt at seeing how high Walton raised the bar with the range and physicality of his performance.

“Lazarus” two days later was the third-last performance of what I’d been warned before was a dense, obtuse, hard-to-follow piece of work.

Staged in a specially-constructed theatre behind Kings Cross St Pancras it was a poignant walk to the venue (after the usual obligatory half hour on Heddon Street) knowing, having fastidiously avoided seeing any other detail in reviews, clips or word-of-mouth accounts, that 45 years after discovering “Starman” courtesy of a lifelong  gay friend (before I actually knew with any certainty what gay even meant ) that this would probably be the last “new” piece of Bowie work I’d ever see.

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He’d been linked with so many theatrical ideas – “1984,” a Ziggy musical (lord, we even missed out on the Diamond Dogs concerts here) – I’d effectively given up on it ever happening. I never caught him in the Elephant Man and nobody really deserves to recall The Glass Spider Tour as their last quasi-theatrical Bowie memory.

We’ve all read enough of the “he staged his own death as an art happening” stuff – this was a husband and dad remember – but it’s clear that he’d put more into Blackstar and Lazarus than could be reasonably expected of a man in his late 60’s with extreme medical problems so both the album and musical contain a sense of the urgency and acceleration he drove them with.

My wife is far more of a stage musicals type than me but thank goodness I insisted she watch “The Man Who Fell To Earth” with me two days earlier. Sci-fi films certainly aren’t her bag and there are moments in that movie that still baffle me 40 years after a bunch of those 1976  sixth-former hipsters traipsed across  from Blackburn Boulevard to see it. (My mate Chris, gloriously in powder-blue suit and fedora!)

I’m sure anyone unfamiliar with Nic Roeg’s lengthy adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel would be quite lost.

In actual fact, I found much of the narrative of the play pretty easy to follow in the light of what I’d been led to expect.

There were a couple of characters baffling and unexplained and certainly not present in the film (I admit the psychotic schizo Valentine’s exact role in the stage plot bemused me other than to crowbar “Valentine’s Day” in …but did anyone else make the connection that the Mars-raised Earthling in another novel Bowie was once linked with starring in a film of, Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger In a Strange Land” was named Michael Valentine Smith?).

Michael Hall  (Six Feet Under, Dexter) was immense as the reprised Thomas Jerome Newton, the alien broken by the failed quest to save his own planet in the film. Years on, he is mired in the alcoholism and loneliness he was abandoned in back in ’76.

Jettisoned too by his one-time earth love Mary Lou (played by Candy Clark in the film, though reportedly Bowie and Candy didn’t hit it off as well as they seemed to in the racy scenes which had our 17-year-old eyes a-boggling sat in the Majestic ) Newton, still wealthy, retains the ability to intrigue all around him whether their motives are fired by the search for money, sex or friendship.

The ethereal ghost guardian angel character spectacularly made beguilingly flesh by strikingly other-wordly teenager Sophie Ann Caruso (who it seems spent every pre-show meeting and greeting fans and happily signing stuff) seems to connect the half-mad Newton to the terrestrial past, his lost existence on his native planet and a half-imagined future in which he’ll complete his original mission.

Bowie having steered the production, Mama Mia it is not of course but the trump card it has to play was always going to be his back and late-life catalogue.

His Next Day/Lazarus burst of genius extended into three brand new songs from the Blackstar sessions written for Lazarus and with the band inventively visible on a raised platform behind glass screens, they were given possibly better context-fitting performances here than he himself gave them as bonus tracks on the excellent cast recording.

Set pieces such as the title track, Life On Mars (cleverly just a little understated to avoid histrionic Streisandian sturm und drang) and Changes were always going to be a shoe-in and I’d make a decent arguement  that Absolute Beginners should be shoe-horned into every musical theatre production of anything anywhere ever.

Shoe-horned is probably the word for a couple of numbers in Lazarus –  “All The Young Dudes” was here again but the sequence rather puzzled and  if it’s difficult to fathom how some “Bowie’s seventies Berlin” projected footage fits, well, the fact that Hall gets to demonstrate what a deceptively magnificent, layered song “Where Are We Now” is surely reason enough to allow a few characteristically elliptical DB tangents.

My favourite musical moment (as opposed to “Musical!” moment) was Hall’s manic reading  of  “It’s No Game” which would be in my Top 5 of criminally under-rated Bowie songs (which The “Cygnet Committee” would top).

Retaining the fierce Japanese half-spoken half-shrieked Geisha Girl sections from the Scary Monsters opening version it perfectly mirrored the section in the film in which a  disturbed Newton flees a restaurant while a violent Kabuki theatre scene is providing accompaniment to his meal.(Intercut with with a student/lecturer sex scene in the film, I told you it wasn’t going to necessarily be straightforward.)

“Always Crashing In The Same Car” superbly showcased the band’s dexterity and simpatico with the nuances of a  “Low” song which was always short on seconds but packed with swirling motifs and Visconti-treated arabesques.

The film left little doubt that Newton’s planet had run out of time and Lazarus concludes with Newton almost surely laid to a restful death or a deathful rest but the combination of classic good stagecraft, musical excellence and eye-popping use of technology carry enough of the typically Bowie enigmatic to render Lazarus a spell-biding experience on themes of alienation and human disconnection.

As we wended our way away with a bag of souvenirs, I reflected that there is probably little to exhume from the vaults now other than a few old album out-takes, unfinished sketches, miraculously re-discovered lost live recordings and film thereof, digitally enhanced and remastered to within an inch of their lives for those of us who lived through it to decide whether we really need any more stuff or not.

Whatever emerges, and Nicholas Pegg’s essential  latest edition of The Complete David Bowie book (another birthday present) pretty exhaustively documents the remaining possibilities, Bowie unlocked so much for me that I’ll probably be first in the queue.

People often ask me: “Bowie or Springsteen – you’re such a fan of both.”

To explain the difference and the reason I can never compare them I’ll give you a quote of Bruce’s which I love but just know the young Bowie would never have come out with.

“It’s important at our shows that the audience see something of themselves in you and you see something of yourself in them, “ said Bruce, crystallising what I absolutely love and adore about him in a nutshell, a mirror to the common man but a hero who you’d secretly like to learn to walk like.

With David, it was always different. I might have briefly pranced around the back room to records imagining myself in a one-piece body stocking or flailed my acoustic with a string missing along to Aladdin Sane wanting to be Ronno.

But long after those adolescent daftness Bowie opened a world that nourished, inflamed and fired your imagination rather than reflected largely everyday  adult concerns.

There are artists for showing you the World as you see it and maybe better explaining it to you. But other artists show you ways of looking at that world and unusual ways to interpret it which you never imagined.

He taught me to think differently about sexuality, fashion, art, literature, other genres of music and even for a time making sure your worst few teeth weren’t ever exposed to a camera.

And as much as that led to my 15 minutes as Upper Sixth heart-throb and I  hope you all enjoy this piece, my only brush with creativity these days, and turn up for Dovetail’s thing in Blackburn on Saturday – do say hello! – few of us can ever be that kind of hero.

Not even just for one day.

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Jim Wilkinson, Blue Eyed Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Zola buds of spring as winter of discontent bites hard

Away in London last weekend so once again Riversider23 supplies the wise words this week. He also blogs brilliantly on politics, economics and social issues, follow him  on Twitter @MarkMark37m or remarkablethings1.wordpress.com

 

The sun was out and there was just a touch of warmth in the air; daffodils in bud here and there in sunny sheltered spots, and there’s birdsong in the early hours of the morning.

 

But at Ewood there are no green shoots of spring. The long dark Venkys winter grinds on and, after the feasting of the Walker years, famine stalks the land.

 

The game against Birmingham on Saturday got off to the worst possible start when Steele made the mistake of not coming for a ball that was clearly his, and then compounded his mistake by coming when it clearly wasn’t his, with a penalty the inevitable and undisputed result.

 

He who hesitates is lost. His brave attempt to save from Lucas Jutkiewicz failed, and yet again we were behind early on.

 

To be fair to him, Steele later made amends with two great saves – one in the first half from Cotterill when he was clean through, and one in the second half from a point-blank header from Shotton – but the unwelcome pattern of self-inflicted wounds continues.

 

This wasn’t a Birmingham side with any Zola-esque zest or threat and one that has lost its Rowett-infused functional efficiency since the inexplicable sacking of the manager who had them on the fringe of the top six.

 

Much-travelled David Cotterill (saddled, according to Wikipedia, with the middle names “George Best”),  recently-arrived loanee Craig Gardner, and centre-back Ryan Shotton were their best players, but only just.

They are a dull and uninspiring team who should have been there for the taking.

 

Unfortunately, we have become even more dull and uninspiring.

 

Plenty of successful teams have included a Makelele-style “water-carrier”.

 

Players who may not catch the eye but who do their basic work simply and well, holding the team together, and contributing much more than they might seem to. Our Mark Atkins and Burnley’s “Ginger Pele” Billy Ingham are just two local examples.

 

Our problem, and Birmingham’s too judging them from Saturday’s match, is that we’ve ended up with a team chock-full of water-carriers who often can’t even do the simple basic things well.

 

Our midfield – however you try and configure it – has no bite or creativity or daring.

 

No-one who can slot a pass, or plough through a tackle, or burst into the opposing half and threaten the penalty area.

 

The midfield four of Feeney, Lowe, Akpan, Bennett has to be one of the worst we’ve ever put out.

 

Add an out-of-position Gallagher to make a midfield five, as Coyle did with 15 minutes gone, and you barely improve it.

 

 

Exchange any of those five for Evans, Guthrie, or Conway, and it’s hardly worth doing.

 

We still don’t know enough about Mahoney’s ability at a senior level to judge whether he might bring some hope, but if there was really anything about him, then surely he would be the first name on the team-sheet, not the last name on the bench.

 

There’s a great quote from Birmingham’s recently-departed boss, Gary Rowett, on Cotterill’s Wiki page. He highlights his rare ability to “play badly and still affect the game in a positive way”. What a gift! If our players had that, we’d be flying.

 

To continue in this slagging-off vein, and with Gallagher pulled out to the wide left, Graham did a passable imitation of Jordan Rhodes.

 

Look like you’re putting some effort in and chasing without ever actually getting close enough quickly enough to make a realistic challenge or force a defender into a mistake; wrestle with the centre-backs with your eyes off the ball, and end up on your backside or conceding a foul; offer nothing to team-mates who now and again might just be looking for a forward pass or a floated ball down the channel.

 

And then suddenly pop up with an impeccable finish. It’s still not enough. The disconnection brought to the team does more damage than an odd goal can off-set.

 

And I don’t want to leave out the defence. Greer had one of his worst games for us but his ageing frame survived apparently intact.

 

The similarly experienced Mulgrew looked classy again but only lasted 23 minutes, with my fellow-substitute-columnist “Old Blackburnian” offering the view that his three-year contract might not turn out to be the most sensible deal ever done.

 

Coyle’s comment that “you couldn’t make (the saga of his injury woes) up” was among his most laughably risible yet, among some considerable competition possibly the stupidest thing he’s come out with.

You didn’t have to make anything up with a record of about ten starts in two years for Celtic and practically everyone said so from the moment he was signed.

 

At left-back, Williams is limited but tries hard. Lenihan wasn’t his usual forceful and combative presence.

 

Just two flashes of play stood out apart from Graham’s sweet finish, and Gallagher’s glaring late miss. Nyambe’s first-half interception and charge forward, that eventually petered out with a sideways flick to Feeney’s wrong foot, in the absence of any other options.

 

And Lowe actually beating a man going forward with pace and a jink for the first time I can remember, late in the game, before he also fed Feeney to no great effect.

 

It’s highlighting those two rare moments that makes me realise how bereft of excitement and endeavour the Rovers’ performances have become.

 

Coyle is working with limited resources but has to carry the can for the stultifying approach. “Safe” sideways and backwards passes that often waste good possession and position; an emphasis on defensive covering and playing on the break, when we don’t have players who can break with pace and control and awareness of others; loose passes that put players who don’t have the confidence or ability to play under pressure, under pressure.

 

The extent of ambition, if there is any ambition left, seems to be survival in the Championship.

 

With only Rotherham and Burton looking as poor as us, and Wigan apparently picking up, it’s only catching Bristol City that could save us.

 

Unless, of course, the completely unexpected happens and some transformative players are brought in before the end of January.

 

Most people’s resigned conclusion, based on recent history and the continued shenanigans between ownership and management, seems to be that there’s absolutely no chance of that.

 

There are dark days ahead.

 

Gary Bowyer’s return with Blackpool in the Cup this Saturday is perhaps an unwelcome distraction from what really matters, although it’s better than the away trip to Fulham that would have been the alternative.

 

I’d expect Coyle to field the “reserves”.

 

After that, home games against an in-form Leeds on Wednesday with their new manager making a big impact, followed by struggling QPR on the following Saturday might just lighten the gathering gloom temporarily.

 

I can’t see us taking more than a point, but you never know…

 

Even a heartening 4-0 win over the Clarets’ youngsters at Morecambe, a rare green shoot perhaps, was tempered by the fact that the newspaper report on the “Premier League Cup” (whatever that is?) game featured a photo of the 36-year-old Wes Brown congratulating Anthony Stokes, 29 this year, on scoring for our “kids”!

 

 

RIVERSIDER 23 (@MarkMark37m on Twitter)

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Bowie weekend will bring me closure

Jim Wilkinson

2010 eh?
This is an article I wrote seven years ago when Bowie had been largely inactive for years. I’m just about to set off for London to see Lazarus after a week when his presence has loomed large through a stage play I went to see on my 58th birthday and a talk I gave at a retrospective function last week.

It feels a little sad, like the end of me assimilating his work and influence as something new and fresh – the last memory if you like.

A few hours into the New Year, I was emerging from Leicester Square tube station with my mildly bewildered 15-year-old stepdaughter, me a man with a mission, her a little puzzled as to my enthusiasm for the minutiae of the A to Z.

While Millie, armed with gift vouchers and cash, had Oxford Street and sales on her mind, my focus was on finding a slightly more obscure destination just off Regent Street.

Heddon Street, in particular number 23, was a mild disappointment. of course there are no longer any piled-up boxes or dustbins.

No “K West” sign, either and in fact you can’t really pose on the doorway because a chic Italian bistro, has, as they are quite entitled to do, placed plants and tables all around.

But the scenario still had the power to cause me a sharp intake of awe and a shiver – for this, as most of you know, was the very scene of a photo-shoot in early 1972 which assisted in the propulsion of David Bowie from well-respected if unpredictable and modest-selling singer-songwriter to rock deity in a few short weeks.

2010. 1972. 38 years ago. Millie 15. Me 51. The numbers game. You can’t avoid playing it as you grow older.

In late 1972 I bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, the album whose cover now adorns Royal Mail stamps as an icon (a criminally overused word but not on this occasion) of British Pop history.

I had been turned onto Starman by a classmate, Keiron, who brought the single into a trendy English teacher’s “Juke Box Jury” period.

While earnest pupils at our Lancashire all-boys Grammar School wrote reviews of “A Thing Called Love” by Johnny Cash, “Softly Whispering I Love You” by The Congregation, “Desiderata” and other inconsequential ditties, all I wanted was to befriend the rather strange, tall, other-worldly 13-year-old who had provided us with this startling three minutes of gentle acoustic strumming, mumbling, impossibly seductive lyrics, hooks, dare-you-not-to-sing-along irresistible choruses, previously unheard-of sounds.

Kieron of course, was gay, not that any of us would have known what gay meant had he announced it there and then. We barely knew or believed that homosexuality could possibly exist.

The fact that Bowie’s Ziggy masterplan had included the famed Melody Maker “I’m bisexual” interview hadn’t registered and would only do so months later in retrospect as matters dawned on us like finding out that maybe Santa doesn’t really…

38 years ago it was. When I’ve been a Ziggy owner for 50 years David will be 75.

In 1972, things that happened 38 years ago had happened before my dad was born.

Records made 38 years before 1972 were made in 1934. There weren’t really records then were there? Not 45’s, or 33 and a third LP’s? Even I knew Elvis was the mid-1950’s.

1934 was surely pre-Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, Frank Sinatra wasn’t it? Who could possibly be interested in a record which was made 38 years ago.

As I stood on Heddon Street, imploring patient but unimpressed Millie to snap me as near to the spot, as near to the phone box – I know it isn’t the same one! – I resisted the urge to pick up the receiver and ready some coins and dial a friend: “Look, I had to phone someone so I picked on you…”

It was 2010. New Year, New Decade. Still a young century. He stood in this spot. The man who changed my life’s direction during an English lesson. The man who changed the world.

It’s easy to say that about a lot of people. Hard to provide empirical evidence.

A few days after London I went into my hometown, Preston, on the bus through the snowy streets.

There were guys and girls on the bus with spikey, coloured, pompadoured, teased hair, tattoos, piercings, amazing clothes, long leather coats, boots, buckles, outrageous make-up – you would have been beaten up or put in an institution pre-David Bowie.

He changed my world and the world. And that’s without even considering the music.

This week he was 63. 63 in 2010. If you were 63 in 1972 you were born in 1909. I think my late Grandfather was! He was a very old man at 63 in 1972.

I’m 51. I don’t feel old, not in some senses. I don’t think or I hope I don’t feel like an “old man” at 63 – I might have an old man’s aches and pains, maybe as Leonard Cohen says, I’ll be “in that golden period before the onset of the diseases which prepare the body to die,” but in some ways I hope I’ll still feel as adventurous and rebellious and free as when I bought Ziggy.

Last week, on my Blackberry phone – yes I can work this stuff – I listened to “Wild Is The Wind” from the Bowie at The Beeb CD3. Beautiful. Perfect. Maybe even better than the original.

With David 63 and semi-retired we may not see him perform with that wondrous band again.

I only saw him six times. Blackburn and Preston 1972, Stafford 1978. Milton Keynes 1983. Roker Park 1987. Maine Road 1990.

Nowhere near enough. Twenty years ago the last time – damn. Damn all the times said I’d go next time. Those last two football stadiums don’t even exist any more.

But his relevance and legend must survive.

At 51, I am lucky, or foolish enough to also have a five-year-old daughter, beautiful Olivia. I hope one day she asks me what I used to be like. What I used to do. What I used to like. I hope what I tell her tells her something about the things I loved. At my age, I’m probably too sensible to throw her homework on the fire and I’m definitely not much cop at punching other people’s dads.

If she feels as passionate, as captivated, as swept away as I was in that English class in 1972, her life won’t be wasted!

© 2010 Jim Wilkinson.
January 2010.

 

 

 

 

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