Half a century of Bolton battles make victory the sweetest feeling

As I made my leisurely way from my Horwich-side parking spot to the Macron at about 3.45pm  on Saturday I reflected, as I always do on the occasion of a Bolton, away, game on my very first experience of watching Rovers away 51years ago.
The venue has changed of course, but I’d guess in that half century and a bit we have met the Wanderers more regularly than any of our other local rivals. We’ve gone entire decades without playing Blackpool, Preston, Burnley and other Lancashire sides big and small but the Trotters always seem to have been there or thereabouts as we both yo-yo’d up and down divisions.
Barrie Ferguson famously reckoned nothing to it as a derby game when his career was still flourishing sufficiently for his opinion to be of interest to anyone and you’ll always find younger Rovers fans decrying its merits, usually in a 50-odd tweet thread informing you that they don’t care about it or on a 19-page forum topic containing disparaging views about their supporters rather contradicting the original theorems that “it matters more to them than us,” or “they’re obsessed with us.” If you’re ambivalent about it, you don’t need to bang on about it, folks.
The truth is some way in between as usual. A poll run by Bolton’s daily paper last week found that 35%, by far the biggest single sample, of those responding regarded Rovers at home as the most serious derby as against Wigan, Bury, Man Utd or others, That of course means that 65% don’t but I’m personally pleased that a healthy segment feel that passionately about what I personally feel to be a proper traditional Lancashire battle between two founder Football League members traditionally separated only by an expanse of wild moorland.
I can recall the thrill of that night in April 1967, setting off in dad’s green and cream Consul and traversing those moors from Feniscowles. I can remember exactly where we parked on the other side of the dual carriageway which now runs past the ghost of Burnden,
There was the false thrill of catching sight of lights at what turned out to be a  greyhound stadium lit up (Blackburn and Preston also had thriving dog tracks at the time) before eventually catching sight of Burnden and walking across that huge forecourt.
Not that many months earlier Pele, Garrincha, Tostao, Jairzinho and Gerson had got off a coach on that front expecting to train. They were summarily told by a bloke painting the gates that they weren’t coming in before the rather more diplomatic Wanderers secretary informed them that the facilities they had in fact been allocated were the club’s Bromwich Street training ground over the A666.
There were 21,000 on for a rather meaningless end-of-season affair that night(Rovers had lost an all or nothing six-pointer against Coventry at Ewood the Saturday previous virtually ending hopes of an immediate return to the top flight), less than the 33,000 who attended a memorable Rovers win in the third division in the mid-1970’s if a rather better turn-out than we got last weekend but the memories are still cinematically vivid to me.
The smells and sounds of men smoking fags on the way to the ground, swearing or muttering their thoughts about the game, the tight feeling of anticipation and slight fear in my eight-year-old tummy going into enemy territory ( although football hooliganism was in its infancy). What did you do at an away ground? would people stare at you funny?
We went in an unsegregated stand that night and the wondrous, feral strangeness of it all as Bryan Douglas, my dad’s hero, later work colleague and now old friend, notched the only goal, was my Road to Damascus moment. Everything about it was new and startling: Rovers in red, a look I’d only seen in black and white newspaper pictures, being among people shouting vociferously for the opposition, the feeling of snatching something on enemy territory.
After being dragged to many a match reluctantly I was converted, a ‘lifer’ and never wanted to miss a game again and while I’m not quite as consumed by it all, I’m not far off and while the emotions approaching the smart newish stadium aren’t as boyishly apprehensive, Bolton away still matters and means a great deal a lot to me.
Where once I might have gone for a pint or two I joined my Bolton-supporting pal John in the sedate surroundings of Tesco’s café pre-match. John and I met a decade ago travelling to a Springsteen concert in London together and football seldom figures much in our conversation. We exchanged pleasantries about how our teams are doing before discussing what gigs we’ve caught, which bootlegs we’ve acquired or exchanging details of what Boss-related delights we’ve unearthed on YouTube.
He’d kindly offered me his neighbour’s season ticket sat with their lot, something of a relief after witnessing some reprehensible goings-on among visiting sections here down the years. I was introduced to a few old Bolton boys in their 60’s and 70’s and wondered how many were at Burnden back in ’67.
At least there’s no crumbling brickwork on unsegregated terracing at the Macron so by and large everyone behaves although cheap ticket deals brought some of the worst out of Rovers fans on past visits.
Even before this match, for which an eye-watering £30 ticket price perhaps kept some of our more unsavoury dregs at home, I’d witnessed a straggle of deeply unpleasant Rovers-supporting youths verbally abusing bemused ladies and kids pushing shopping trolleys across the store car park. They kept a safe distance and shut up sharpish when a guy built like a retired prop forward emerged from the shop. They sensibly elected not to advise him to “fuck off Bolton wanker,” which they’d bravely shouted at a few junior school children and grannies.
The match itself went pretty much how John had hoped it wouldn’t. “If we get ahead we’ll try and shut the shop up immediately,” he told me, “If you do, that’s it, game set and match.”
Whenever a Rovers side wins one-nil away it always seems like a tactical and defensive triumph in the manner established by Howard Kendall of this parish 1979-81, bless his soul. But I’m not that convinced it was any planning mastery on Mowbray’s part that we held out after producing the game’s one reasonably fluent and incisive attacking move.
If a striker recruited recently from non-league hadn’t strayed a foot offside (and been spotted by a very alert linesman) the second half plan, whatever it was, was scuppered. If Mowbray has that amount of attention to detail to predict a cigarette-paper decision we truly are onto a winner.
No, it looked to me like a decent side having a bit of an off day beating a less gifted side having a stinker in terms of attacking craft. We’ll play better than that and lose.
At least I was in the right end to see our goal close up and not miss anything up the end we attacked second half. I actually thought the switch to three at the back handed Bolton the opportunity to pin us back for the last 45 minutes. Bennett, given the freedom of the right hand side in the first half, was buried on the left and rather than a brilliant system ensuring a shut-out I think a better or luckier side would have made us regret the unambitious approach.
But who cares? My pal made his exit after the ghost penalty was un-awarded and I stopped to see the away end erupt with joy and relief.
The three points, which I predicted we’d collect in this column last week, made it, as I also wrote, a distinguished first quarter of the campaign. Tenth and a point away from a top six spot reflects great credit on Tony and the team.
Tough tests lie ahead but we can forget about them for a fortnight and reflect on two months of solid consolidation in the Championship.
Making my way home through Horwich and Adlington (and saving myself three quarters of an hour stuck on the car park) I was as happy as that eight-year-old holding his dad’s hand walking back to the car way past his school night bedtime in the 1967 Bolton night. If only I could stay up that late these days!
We’ve had many ups and downs at Ewood, Burnden and Macron since and I look forward to the return fixture later this season and hope Wanderers can overcome their recurrent financial woes, particularly if we both stay in the Championship. As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the original and best derby matches. Maybe you had to be at the big ones in the 1970’s with 30-odd thousand on to appreciate it.
Me and my great Bruce bud John might even splash out and stretch to a Burger King next season!
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Draws will gain more context as Rovers’ season develops


It’s sometimes difficult to put football results in context and while this week’s brace of draws have rightly been favourably acclaimed, the weeks to come will tell us more than we are able to surmise at this stage about the value of points garnered against points lost..

Are we unbeaten in two? Without a win in three? Have we chucked points way? Gained points we ground out in the face of adversity against costlier, slick sides? Are we looking solid in defence? A bit lacking offensively? The only true reading is to look at the table and as I write this we lie thirteenth and depending on the rest of the midweek fixtures could be anywhere from 12th to 15th by the time everybody’s played eight times.

That’s a fair enough juncture to assess your standing in the fledgling table and I’d have shook hands on being in such a position now – or indeed in May – at the beginning of the season.

After the Bristol City mauling I’d have happily taken draws from the following four fixtures. They all looked difficult on paper and I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect us to win any of them. Now? I’d still take another two draws but I’m encouraged enough to believe we could beat Stoke or Forest.

Villa have had their spending trimmed a little this summer but they still boast a squad of high value. Twelve million Ross McCormack, signed just two years ago, is still on the books but isn’t allowed to train with the first team at present to put into some perspective the amounts they have chucked at it since dropping out of the Premier League.

But after a first ten minutes where we politely allowed Grealish and co to pass it around, Rovers got stuck into them and closed down and certainly looked in no way intimidated by whatever status Villa still cling onto. Only an erroneous flag denied us the lead and as someone cleverly pointed out they wouldn’t have been up the other end claiming a penlty had it stayed down as it should have.

For the record, I thought the foul by Reed on Grealish was a daft foul in a dangerous position. I’d expect that to be given every time at the other end so I’m puzzled by accusations that Grealish somehow went down in an affected manner.

I thought a draw was about fair. It’s disappointing to lose a lead so late even when the quality of the strike would do Roberto Carlos proud but both sides contributed to a pulsating afternoon. More on the attendance later but I much prefer Ewood well populated with away supporters personally. It seems to lift our fans who do turn out and elevate the event to a feel you just aren’t getting with Reading’s, Millwall’s, Brentford’s paltry following.

Whatever, it was a fine response to the defeat prior to the International break.

I wasn’t at Bristol but it’s hard to believe the second half at Ashton Gate was any worse than the first at Pride Park. Put simply, you won’t very often get away with as inept a 45 minutes as that.

What looked a bizarre team selection to start with proved so and it was no real surprise that Tony Mowbray made a swift change. Craig Conway’s chagrin at being the man hooked could be partially justified by the fact that he had been no more culpable for the display of ineptitude than the rest of the four behind Dack and the curiously lost looking Armstrong.

Harrison Reed – or “Harrison” as he was dubbed by the Sky red button commentator who was possibly under the impression he’s a mono-named Brazilian such as Oscar or Fred – must have sat on the bench puzzled by the manager’s words about needing to do more to dislodge Evans and Smallwood. He looked a better, more pro-active and energetic player than either in his cameo against Villa and must have looked on as bewildered as the rest of us at Derby having the freedom of Pride Park.

It wasn’t so much that nobody was holding the ball up up front as no-one was able to retain it, pass it or win it full stop.

Derby had oceans of space to play in but great credit to Rovers heroic back four and keeper for holding out. That they continued to stand firm for a quarter of an hour into the second half enabled the Yellows to get a few steps up what had looked a mountainous climb back into the game.

The Rams, after the impressive Mount’s free-kick hit the bar, almost visibly sighed and wilted collectively, you could pick up even without hi-def, close-ups and replays (the whole experience was like watching through specs four prescriptions old when you’ve broken your current ones) the belief that they were ever going to score visibly draining away.

A kinder bounce as Graham’s header found a gap in the underworked Derby defence and Dack would have been putting his one chance away for a  classic awayday smash’n’grab.

I’m not going to get dragged into any infantile “our best player’s better than your best player” arguments, and Dack had one of his quieter nights with Gareth Southgate present but that glorious flick from Graham deserved a better finish. Having watched it back a few times I reckon it should have got one too.

But it wasn’t to be, just as what looked like a monumental win against Villa wasn’t and we are where we are going into two further games against two more clubs who have spent extravagantly and fancy they will be among the promotion contenders without really having done anything so far to justify their optimism.

Stoke will have less excuse than anyone if they don’t go up but like many a relegated club before them they’re finding that the Championship is stuffed with teams who care nothing for your fancy reputation or high-cost players.

If Rovers set up a bit better than they did on Tuesday and get on the front foot they can frustrate another crowd which will be loud and expectant but can turn loud and derisory if they don’t like what they’re seeing.

Stoke’s midweek win came courtesy of a blatantly offside winner against Swansea or they would be hovering just above the relegation zone. Forest, our next Ewood opponents, had underwhelmed up to time of press.

In between we have a rather unwanted trip to play, presumably, Bournemouth Reserves in the League Cup. I dearly love the knock-out competitions as you know but that wasn’t far off the worst possible draw.

I feel for the lads and girls who travel to every game having to fork out to get all that way and get in, but I really hope they’re rewarded with what every one of them would want, a win and another cup game to go to!

At least I’m fairly certain they won’t get as wet as we did at a League Cup tie at Dean Court in the early 1990’s Shearer era (a 0-0 thriller inevitably) when even ripping the tarpaulin advertising sheet stuck on a hoarding and attempting to stand underneath it couldn’t keep us dry.

At least the tickets are appropriately cheap on the night.

The expense of football for fans has been a talking point this week. Bolton announced their price for Rovers supporters next month in the lower tier at The Macron Stadium as £30 – and that’s a  bit of a let-off as Wanderers are breaking this season’s protocol of selling the top tier first. That would have been 35 quid.

That’s frankly ridiculous for another tea-time televised game. Not even starting on the train problems getting in and out of Horwich. What should be fostered and developed as a great old Lancashire derby between Football League founder member neighbours will doubtless present television viewers with the ghastly sight of vast swathes of blocks and rows of empty seats.

Rovers didn’t cover themselves in glory either by making the Villa game Category A. Just under 4,000 Villa fans, a decent efforty,  turned up for the televised game (I think it was £27 for them) but less than 12,000 Rovers supporters opted  to bother. A huge percentage of those who did attend would be season ticket holders with very few “occasionals” rolling up to pay on the day. And in some ways I don’t blame anybody for staying home or going to the pub.

Without regularly  letting everyone in for prices which undercut season ticket holders, Rovers (and most other clubs in fairness) have got to be a bit more creative and attractive in their pricing. If the opportunity to fleece big away followings to the maximum are not to be spurned by the financial overlords though, that’s unlikely, which is sad.

The battling qualities and manifest togetherness of the team and fans carried over from last season have clearly not been dissipated by the summer or the more testing opposition a division higher as the two games this week has demonstrated. It would be sad if no more effort was made to tap into the residual feelgood factor and attract back a portion of the 15,000 extra who turned up at bargain prices against Oxford.


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Dack back would help Rovers burst Brucie’s balloon and foil Frank

The season restarts for everyone this weekend and I feel as if it actually starts proper for me.

I’ve only got to one of the six league games played so far (Reading at home) with cricket and holiday commitments so I’m rather ill-qualified to pass judgement or make any predictions based on seeing that match and two hammerings handed out to lower-league outfits in the cup.

You can’t, of course, fail to pick up on a largely positive vibe only slightly and hopefully temporarily ruptured by an uncharacteristic afternoon (or half an afternoon if you want to be exact) of sloppiness at Ashton Gate.

No-one is panicking but as I hinted at last week, the fixtures for the rest of the month, starting with Aston Villa on Saturday tea time, have in the light of that Bristol stomping assumed a rather more daunting sense of foreboding than had our remaining September schedule constituted games against Birmingham, Bolton, Rotherham and QPR.

Villa obviously come off their own micro-crisis, coincidentally a first defeat of the season 4-1 away at Sheffied United. Their record is practically identical to ours (Played 6 Won 2 Drawn 3 Lost 1) other than a level goal difference (For 11 Against 11) where ours is minus one.

Villa’s default response to problems under Steve Bruce, whose immunity to the sack during their two and a bit seasons at this level has become something of a mystery to me, has usually been to chuck more parachute money at it.

Even in this regard I think they have sailed close to the wind and tried the Football League’s patience with regard to the Financial Fair Play regulations. No real punitive sanctions would appear to have been imposed or threatened though. Their three most recent signings, Anwar El Ghazi, late of Ajax and Lille, Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolasie are all loans.

They are the type of players most would expect to enhance any Championship squad so we must hope that Bruce’s uncanny ability not to be able to motivate star names in a Villa shirt at least extends to Saturday evening. Sooner or later you’d expect a squad with talents like those three, Grealish, Kodjia, Elmohamady, McGinn, Whelan, Hourihane and Jedinak to shape up but if they want to leave it another week, fine by me.

I’ve always enjoyed playing Villa outside the top division at second and third tier level. It’s sometimes almost been reassuring that another decorated Football League founder member has accompanied us on our downward trajectories.

The games in 1987-88 were particularly significant. Few who witnessed the 1-1 draw away in September of that season (and only a paltry 11,272 of either persuasion bothered – so much for your illustrious history dictating whether you’re a “big club”) realised that Rovers were beginning their record run of 23 games without defeat.

The return game at Ewood  in February was the 22nd of those unbeaten matches with a healthy 17,000 on a Riverside-less ground and still ranks as one of the most tumultuous games I’ve seen. Steve Archibald’s two goals at the Blackburn End to cap moves driven by the like of Garner, Reid, Price, Hendry, Barker and Sellars rank with Speedie’s double gainst Derby and any amount of Shearer strikes as moments when being a Blackburn fan fleetingly felt like you were privileged to be born and raised so!

The famous FA Cup clashes of the 1980’s were lovely dashes of glamour to colour a mundane spell too, although the novelty wore off in the early part of this century when it seemed we were destined to be drawn together in every knock-out comp in perpetuity.

Draws at Ewood in 1980 (1-1) and 1990 (2-2) under Howard Kendall and Don Mackay respectively were followed by heroic replay failures. There have been few funnier moments than Andy Kennedy cutting in from the left as the Holt End taunted him with “(Birmingham) City reject” before unleashing a thunderbolt into the top corner under their noses.  We were Tony Daley-ed into submission eventually but it was fun while it lasted.

Up to press the Villa had sold around 3,500 tickets for the game and where the Darwen End has lately looked pathetically underpopulated I’m relishing the prospect of big match atmosphere despite the fact that television coverage will persuade a few in both camps to stay away.

There may also be a similar effect on Tuesday when Rovers visit Pride Park now that you can watch on the red button. It’s very rare I do away games midweek unless they’re within the old Lancashire boundaries and while nothing beats being there, if I did decide to set off and take the girls it would cost upwards of £60 for tickets.

Again, at time of writing Rovers had sold just 300 for this fixture. I’d expect to at least double, possibly treble that by matchday but it would be a shame if the convenience of watching at home for a tenner diminished the loyalty of the fabulous travelling army which so boosted last season’s efforts in far-flung locations.

We all know the media can’t wait for their beloved Frank Lampard to succeed and there’s no reason not to suppose he might not do in time . In fairness Lampard’s exalted status isn’t as undeserved as that of some of his contemporaries (you’d possibly rather see him succeed in management  than, say, John Terry. Or maybe you wouldn’t). But Derby are another lot who have often seemed to flout any threat of FFP constraints and Tony Mowbray will be canny enough to realise that the Rams are still an odd setback away from being the finished article.

If Rovers can restore the equilibrium and self-belief that has for almost a year now instilled us with confidence that we can produce a goal or two whenever needed, and I don’t need to spell out img_9328the four-letter-name which would enhance the prospects, there’s no reason we can’t take at least a couple of points from these two games.


It was fascinating to see our Wandering neighbours from the Macron, where we go in early October, pull off yet another eleventh-hour recovery from the brink of administration.

While I have no particular grudge against Bolton or their supporters I have mixed feelings about clubs who continually cry wolf then emerge seemingly unscathed at the death.

Whether Bolton really do have a(nother) saviour in waiting or will be pleading poverty and failing to pay wages again in a month or two remains to be seen but there’s a limit to everyone’s good will.

In the 1980’s it bothered me not a jot that Blackpool, Preston, Bolton and, most celebrated of all at the time, Burnley, languished in the Fourth Division while we enjoyed a frugal yet largely untroubled existence at the rarified heights of Division Two.

But I’ve mellowed a bit with age and these days rather like a Lancashire derby or two a season to look forward to.

And Wanderers’ predicament is possibly a salutary lesson for those who feel Rovers’ fortunes would be restored by a mere signature transferring ownership at a stroke.

The Championship is almost three-quarters full of clubs who enjoyed decent-length spells thinking themselves established in the Premier League at various junctures  since 1992 and whose fans would consider promotion a “return to our rightful place.”

Your only real rightful place in football is where you are right now and while we may have no real illusions about immediately improving our status this season, let’s hope we can consolidate it this week while temporarily deflating the perhaps loftier aspirations of a couple of the division’s more fancied bets.

Blue Eyed Boy

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Shock September setback and month set to get harder for Tony’s Rovers

“First half good, second half absolute bag of shite,” as Paul Calf’s Scandinavian cousin Sven Goran might have said.

Rovers conceding four goals in a game for the first time in two and a bit years, that horrendous 2016-17 opening-day at home to Norwich the previous occasion, was maybe not quite a seismic shock as a one-off but few fans won’t have experienced mild tremors at the comprehensive nature of the defeat to one of the Championship’s less fancied outfits.

We’re not used to good hidings under Tony Mowbray. We learned many years ago that anything can happen with Rovers but not being competitive for 90 minutes is happily a rare sensation these days.

The first taste of legal red button viewing for an away league match wasn’t a great experience for those who tuned in sat in their armchairs or stood in the pub watching it unfold.

Certainly not pleasant for those who had to make the inconvenient journey at a punishing hour either.

I was in neither camp to be truthful, relying on updates from family and Twitter as I watched Church win at Enfield on the penultimate day of the cricket season, eschewing the age-old option of sitting by the bar window with one eye on the telly, the other on the goings-on outside.

Those nipping out for a breath of fresh air or a fag at half-time indicated that the portents were good. “Missed a couple of sitters,” and “should have been three up before they equalised” conjured visions of a highly competent 45 minutes blighted by a bit of a soft equaliser.

By the end they were grumpily emerging with a squint into the daylight with tales of a bit of a shoeing.

Nobody relishes seeing their team having the floor wiped with them however creditably you’ve performed in the first 45 minutes.

I am long enough in the tooth not to attempt to watch a Rovers game on licenced premises in Clayton-le-Moors where more than one or two Clarets supporters, some of them tormented for three decades by their rivals, are drinking.

At the end of a week when Rovers fans (it took us 18 games to actually win a European match which wasn’t a dead rubber) had far too much to say about Burnley’s Euro-failures (and I’ll say here and now I’d happily take one more continental campaign, getting through ANY two rounds and visiting two of the great cities of the ancient world in the rest of my lifetime) it was those of a blue-and-white persuasion who had been on the end of the piss-taking.

“Him there once blew a gasket at cricket,” said a mate, pointing out a Burnley fan who was tormented for many years by his Rovers counterparts, “It all got too much for him, the mickey taking and our lot glorying in their demise. He stormed off saying he’d had enough and we never saw him for months. Left best part of a pint, just upped and buggered off.”

One dearly hopes Sunday was a one-off aberration and that not so many more one time victims of deconstruct-a-Dingle are having too many smug days like that.

But a year of comparative success does not mean observers must suspend any critical faculty when assessing the performance.

As someone who’s been described as “the most miserable bastard in Rovers fan base” and “an inveterate Happy-clapper Venkys cheerleader” on the same forum on the same thread on the same day I can see validity in polar opposite reactions.

That’s three times in six league games we’ve conceded twice.

To balance that we’ve also kept three clean sheets but it would be my guess that if you let a couple in in half your games in this division you won’t win many of them.

Tony Mowbray’s as-then unemerged team were beaten 2-1 and 3-0 in the first and second games of last season and thereafter in 44 matches were breached twice on just eight occasions.

Three of those were won, four drawn and only one lost but I don’t believe that kind of pleasing statistical quirk  will apply in the Championship.

The last time we were peppered to the tune of four away from home was at The Reebok in March 2014 and I’m pretty certain that Rovers haven’t opened the scoring and lost a game since Villa away in November 2016.

As I say, traits virtually unknown under the current manager which added to the shock.

By and large, we’ve got into decent habits and shown powers of recovery, both during and after difficult matches. I’ve said before I thought September would be difficult but I was rather focussing on the games after the break.

They are for previewing at a later date and having only seen the goals from Ashton Gate I’m certainly not going to home in on individuals and their errors but capsizing to a team who’ve parted with much of their goal threat in summer means Mowbray must pay detailed attention to the defensive midfield and back line.

If they are as generous again, there are forward players in the championship to exploit any such vulnerability far more mercilessly than it would get punished at the Bristol Memorial Rugby Ground or Priestfield.

Let’s hope it was just one of those days everything you try misses or hits the woodwork and everything the oppo hit flies in.

If it happens again there may be questions as to why we didn’t try a little harder to bring in a seasoned central defender but people judging whether the window has been a success or failure seems ridiculously premature.

We’ve seen a few minutes of Ben Brereton while Davenport, Reed, Rodwell, and young pair Lyons and Candlin are yet to don a first eleven shirt.

What we could do with is a fit and focussed Bradley Dack back in the productive groove he mined last season.

A stunning bid from West Brom, whether it was £5m, £10m, £15m (or all three) won’t have helped, nor will his run-ins with the authorities. Even Rovers supporters will have little sympathy for one of their own thinking he’s entitled to play fast and loose with the system.

If it’s any help, Bradley, my legal Eagle missus will certainly vouch for you knocking out a couple of hours’ unpaid work if you want to type a few hundred words out for next week’s international break Blue Eyed Boy column.

If I ever get In bother for chinning a copper I’ll put the last few years body of work since the Observer stopped paying forward as a deposit on my community service

It was a mild shock to read that Charlie Mulgrew has lost the Scotland captaincy.

The former Celtic ace at least added another to his stunning and richly varied tapestry of Rovers goals at Bristol.

With quite a few caps needed to make the Hall of Fame perhaps he might consider retiring from internationals soon.

I’m all for players being proud to play for their countries but we can do without any more stunts like the one where he was played for 90 minutes in Budapest 48 hours prior to an important league game.

Certainly I couldn’t be more delighted that Lenihan and Williams have been omitted from their national squads and will be raring to go against Villa a week on Saturday.

The Under-23s have had a difficult start, a 3-0 home defeat to Everton on Friday their latest result but as is the way with these things much of the team which has done so well this last two years has dispersed here and there or moved up.

The two exciting new acquisitions Candlin and Lyons should freshen it up though and give the Leyland crowds a bit of a spark, an incentive for keep turning out

With no meaningful football this Saturday, all that remains is a last weekend of cricket.

I hope to spend part of it watching Oswaldtwistle Immanuel, where Rovers and Burnley fans happily mingle, congratulating them on their first Ribblesdale League title

Enjoy your weekend of sport, everyone


Pictures used courtesy of Jack Heyes, Linzi Lewis & Kevin Bradley.

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Nathaniel’s magic moment capped derby win as summer nears end

I’m not sure why Church’s results and scorecards home or away never seem to appear on the Lancashire League’s official website. Is it a North Korea-like refusal to share any information which betrays any hint of vulnerability or weakness? Is our or someone else’s scorer impossible to contact on a Sunday night?

I know I often was when I was scorer. After being out all weekend, ignoring Nigel’s calls as I drove home, I often found myself being scowled at murderously across the dinner table, the whole family having been kept waiting hours for their Sunday roast as I attempted to eat it one-handed while holding the book up and giving dictation: “Yeah, Adam Greenwood, stumped Hanson, bowled Roscoe….” ad nauseam for another 10 minutes.

Luckily, I’ve been able to get to more games this season for many a year or I’d have been spending those evenings searching for the scores, cursing the phone or the League website for not refreshing/updating, moaning about Radio Lancs discontinuing their live cricket coverage a decade and a half or so ago and reverting to my default state these days, getting extremely angry and abusive to people on Twitter.

So I can reveal to anybody who’s not yet got the result – and Joycey messaged me from Iceland to say he hadn’t, not everybody is in the Stop & Rest or Plough late on – that Church made….er, of course I can’t say exactly because there’s no bloody website to check it on….well, more than 200 for nine. Was it 208, 210 or 214, I can’t be specific, can I?

Young Fergy, as many of us still call him, made 40 opening, continuing a splendid run of late-season form. A couple of us calculated his age by estimating what year it was and how old he was when we watched him on the boundary edge at Haslingden once playing impeccable straight drives with a bat he was barely able to lift while having our tea on the balcony, Happily he was even younger than we remembered so surely has a season or two left yet. His steady, unfussy manner and decision-making has been invaluable in the middle order on numerous occasions in 2018 and moving back up to the top presented him with no problems here.

He was out in the middle of a mini-collapse which coincided with a mass trip to the tea room, We were 100 for two when we decided to indulge but after a quick brew and pie we emerged out to find the score 108 for six.

Happily, however, and in defiance of a trend which almost weekly sees two or three spectacular “collopses” adorn those Lancashire League scores which do make it onto the net, the Church middle and late order has shown great durability and powers of stickability and recovery this time and on Sunday they had just the man to nurse them through,

I knew nothing about Saurabh Bandekar before Sunday but if ever a sub pro earned his fee this lad did. He’d pro’d for Immanuel the day before – and many congratulations to our neighbours on their fabulous Ribblesdale League title win – and I think he’s been at Whalley in past years.

He talked every one of his partners through the situation (125 for seven with plenty of overs left at one point) and what he recommended/expected. Singles were turned down early in numerous overs as he farmed the strike and exploited the gaps in the field with twos and boundaries, ones off the last ball or two. He deserved a ton but finished unbeaten on 96, which without the rejected singles was two less than the board ought to have shown as one fieldsman stopped a drive to the deep with a leg clerly trailing over the line.

Having concluded that part of his business Bandekar reduced Enfield to about 22 for four (and I’m still trying the League website for the details on Tuesday afternoon) including one of those hat-tricks hardly anyone notices, last two balls one over, first ball next. I say hardly anyone, I suppose I have to say hardly anyone who is gabbing away about footy, matches we played and nights out we had in the early 1980s, or who they bumped into in Aldi last week. Well nobody goes to cricket to talk about cricket all afternoon, do they?

Of course no details or figures are available but, you know, someone hung about, somebody got a few but you knew already who’d won and the main story of the latter part of the afternoon was 14-year-old Nathaniel Young getting his maiden bowl and maiden wicket in the senior league.

Barely much bigger than the infant Fergusson described above, he’d played gun-barrel straight for a few at number eight and stroked his first senior boundary before landing his first six Lancashire League deliveries on the spot for a  maiden.

Inevitably, one batsman decided he’d better chance his arm but the kid didn’t panic after getting hit for one six and had him beautifully pouched in front of the pavilion steps he was thus condemned to walk back up, the moment enhanced for a few of us by being sat just behind proud mum and dad. First of many, we hope and lovely to be there to see it.

The sub pro polished the last man off for a five-for and for at least a season, unless we draw them in a cup or the T20, we say adieu to our neighbours.

It was great to see five of our 1974 Worsley Cup winners at the game, even if one of them, our president, rebuked me for shall we say, enjoying premature semi-retirement without having really earned it, a lecture similar to that I first received from most of my teachers around 1973 when I discovered David Bowie and the West End Catholic Youth Club, and have endured repeatedly ever since. In mitigation I can only say: “Under-achiever and proud of it.”

At least I managed to find my way to Rochdale for our first league match on the right day. This undertaking proved somewhat troublesome to two of our 1974 heroes who set out for a day of beery conviviality last month but unfortunately on the Sunday after the match had been satisfactorily concluded the day before.

I shalln’t name names although both surnames begin with the same consonant. Answers on a postcard to be left behind the bar of any Clayton-le-Moors Working Mens Club or to the Hong Kong Cricket Society.

What a season it’s been, though, sunshine, some great cricket from the boys and more laughs and good times than you can shake a stick at.

I’m gonna miss the summer of 2018.

Now has that bloody table been updated yet?

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Nathaniel’s magic moment capped derby win as summer nears end

Nathaniel’s magic moment capped derby win as summer nears end

— Read on blueyedboy.wordpress.com/

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Rovers rejoin the big spenders but Ben will need our patience

If early-season League Cup ties are habitually low-key, sparsely attended affairs, even in a season which has started so promisingly overall, Rovers are doing their best to add value for those forking out to attend games in the old three-handle trophy.

Not content with re-introducing promotion hero Adam Armstrong in the 5-1 romp at Carlisle, Tuesday saw £7m signing Ben Brereton unveiled at half-time, the teenager handed the obligatory scarf and shirt for the benefit of the handful of photographers present for what had to that point been a rather mediocre affair, all square at one apiece.

I’ll swear teenage centre-forward Brereton’s appearance put an extra couple of MPH into Danny Graham’s stride as he almost immediately matched a quick-thinking burst from Lewis Travis after he’d nicked possession in midfield before slipping the veteran striker in to score.

Graham must be as relieved as we all are delighted to have such a marquee acquisition in his department as the aforementioned Armstrong and sundry other goal-getters have been queueing up for the treatment table.

From that point on it was plain sailing with the collector’s items of a Paul Caddis assist/Paul Downing goal followed by a lovely free-kick from Kasey Palmer for his third Rovers goal and second in four days. Palmer is emerging as a genuine talent who can hurt teams, precisely the sort of capture who genuinely improves an already slickly functioning unit.

His winner at home to Brentford on Saturday last seemed somehow more significant than just a decent strike in a hard-fought one-nil’er at home against a side you probably expect to beat.

It was more how the three points had to be grafted for, how the lead had to be jealously guarded after the moment. We knew by three-quarters way through last season that this was a team with such collective commonality of purpose that they’d always find a winner or an equaliser when needed, always batten down the hatches to have what they hold.

Doing that against Rochdale, Bury and Walsall is one thing but producing the goods against teams who are well established at this level is hugely encouraging. The comeback against Reading and the spirited victory over Brentford have been giants steps for the team and the fans.

I wasn’t at the Brentford game but hearing the descriptions of the performances of the likes of Evans and Bennett, ineffective plodders in the relegation season of 2016-17, reinforces the belief that Mowbray’s training and coaching methods have brought the best out of players who might have been sold short under previous regimes.

I’ll happily admit to being prematurely dismissive of both players.

But Tony also  looks to have worked the under-appreciated managerial trick of adding the kind of performers who won’t just improve the squad (and Joe Rothwell looks another with talent to burn) but bringing in the kind of characters who will only augment and foster that kind of togetherness and esprit de corps.

That’s how to play the transfer window. I’ve read so many pages of rubbish about whether the signings are too early/too late/too dear/too cheap/ too mundane/wrong positions  that my head is spinning and I’m left wondering why Steve Waggott hasn’t had a trawl round a few of the pubs we all go in pre-match and formed a 10-man signings committee. Although it’s become almost unfashionable to say so, I’m actually happy to leave it to Mowbray. By the end of the window he’ll have the players he wanted who were available. That’ll do for me,

Whether he can revive Jack Rodwell’s career is another matter, and really a side issue which will only enhance his managerial/coaching  CV if he pulls it off, but for now the addition of Harrison Reed, a versatile player ready for action with a decent season at this level with Norwich under his belt, and Brereton expands his options and for the first time in many years, gives fans a glimpse that Rovers may at last be emerging from a long tunnel of watching the pennies carefully.

We may not be back on the Jack Walker era Gold Standard or in the same league outlay-wise as Stoke who have spent in the region of £40m this summer but nor are we now any longer entitled to look upon ourselves as piteously ignored or underfunded by the owners. The cheque hasn’t been handed over for Brereton yet but I live and work in Preston where one or two wry neighbours have said: “Dont you moan about your owners, mate!” while Boltonians too may be casting an envious glance Ewood-wards.

Young Brereton may well make his debut in our sixth league outing on Sunday at Ashton Gate where £8m Jordan Rhodes scored his first goals for Rovers in the fifth match of the 2012-13 campaign. If we avoid defeat on Sunday (and why on earth is it Sunday? I’ve heard three varying explanations) we’ll emulate what was, almost unbelievably, our best start to a season since relegation in 2012.

The difference is that anyone with any insight knew in that Autumn of six years ago that Rovers, despite heralding a new goalscoring idol, were getting away with murder.

This time, while acknowledging that not every month will go as swimmingly as this August has, we have genuine hope that this is a developing, emerging side which a new goalscoring hero can only enhance, not one in which he is likely to be hampered by overpaid flops and ne’er-do-wells.

I must urge caution with young Brereton however. Rhodes was not far off the finished, or at least oven-ready article when he walked in the door. Brereton, not 20 until the final month of this season, will be pretty much a work in progress.

His fledgling Forest career has been illuminated with a few highlights (notably an FA Cup double against Arsenal) but also peppered with the odd barren spell. At one point he went 24 first team games without a goal. Even in his second season last time round, when he started more than half of Forest’s games and appeared in another 10 as sub, there were two goalless spells of eight goals between the highs.

With a kid coming up through the ranks, there’s a degree of patience and common sense to be demanded.

But one can just imagine the reaction on some of the more unhinged forums and twitter accounts if a lad already burdened by a hefty price tag needs a little time to develop and blossom, as most 19-year-olds do.

It strikes me as a monumental piece of hubris by Aitor Karanka, a manager I find awfully arrogant.

Forest have spent a bit and brought a few in and I’m sure they have stipulated that Brereton can’t play against them while nominally on loan next month. But they are hardly in so exalted a condition as to regard Blackburn Rovers as a club which can do them no harm, can’t possibly compete with them and are completely unconsidered as any kind of likely promotion or play-offs rival.

I know I’m getting ahead of myself on several fronts but I dearly hope he bangs the winner in at the City Ground in April to confirm our play-off spot while scuppering their hopes of one.

That’s all future dreams, though. For now I wish the young fella nothing but success, starting Sunday, I hope, in what will be a testing month, despite an accursed international break. With Villa,  Derby, Stoke, Forest themselves and hopefully a plum Carabao Cup opponent to come September might not be as plain sailing as August sometimes seemed but we have much to be hopeful and optimistic about.

Finally, a late word in support of Lennie Johnrose  who has been so brave and frank in making public the implications of being struck cruelly by Motor Neurone Disease.

Lennie briefly became a real cult hero at Ewood in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. He was the first black player to come through the club’s own ranks after near-misses for reserves such as Mickey Graham, Dennis Letts and Winston Small and made his debut just a few months after Howard Gayle, our first black signing, in 1987.

In 1988-89 he showed an eye for goal playing upfront and netted three in five games in November, most notably and crucially in a 5-4 home thriller of a win against West Ham, hugely enjoyed and enhanced still further by a bizarre sit-down protest in the away end when the Hammers were, from memory, 5-1 down at one point.

Opportunities were limited even in the following season when, converted to a pugnacious midfielder, he scored eight goals, often used as a sub, the most significant undoubtedly a late equaliser to give Rovers a joyfully-celebrated point at the dreaded Boundary Park where Oldham had become our annual 1980’s nemesis.

Gates at Ewood were routinely around the 7,000 mark in those days. When Lennie made his final Rovers appearance, scoring in a 3-1 win at the Den in late 1991, few wolud have believed that by the following weekend Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford would be named as the managerial team. For likeable and wholehearted Lennie that was it as a terrace favourite at Ewood but he carved out a notable career with Hartlepool. Bury, where he made 188 league appearances, Swansea and Burnley, where he had three spells.

His wholeheartedness to graft for the cause brought him 430 league appearances, 50 goals, but far more, the appreciation and admiration of supporters wherever he played, including his home town Preston in a short loan spell.

I still see his brother, who was a regular attender at Ewood during Lennie’s spell there, around where I live and was delighted to hear Lennie, an entertaining pundit on local radio, had embarked on a primary school teaching career back in Blackburn. You could just imagine him connecting with kids with that ebullient personality the way he appealed to fans with his exuberant goal celebrations. Nobody made life, and football, look more of a joy.

It is desperate news that such a lovely man has been struck by such an unremitting and debilitating condition and I’m sure all Rovers fans will join me in wishing Lennie well.


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