Bacup and The Big Man

Bacup. On a wet Sunday afternoon. Drinking coffee from a  flask peering through a wet windscreen.The wipers on although you’re parked up, peering through the gloom to see who’s around, what’s happening. (Hardly a soul, nothing).

Not the greatest sporting afternoon out ever, even though it was mercifully short. With the clouds there for the duration and no likelihood of the rain ceasing, both sides, umpires and everyone else present – there’s usually one dissenter who’s heard an obscure forecast who’s convinced it will be cracking flags by 4pm but happily not this time –  shook hands by a quarter past one and we could all make our way home.

A pointless, wasted afternoon. I wonder if the late Bill Frindall experienced many like it, a 66-mile round trip in the rain just to say, “no chance” before turning around to waste another expensive gallon of petrol.

Not much has changed about Lancashire League cricket grounds in the 43 years I’ve been going.

While they have a lovely new pavilion and a rebuilt bar, Sir Everton Weekes would recognise the Bacup ground and its environs from his arrival there in 1949 – the terraced houses behind one bowler’s arm, the school behind the other.

It’ssomething of a comfort in a constantly being upheaved world. Jeez, I hardly recognize my home town Blackburn when I go there now.

Not much has changed about Bacup, or Rossendale, on the surface, from driving through. The factory buildings which mostly housed the footwear manufacturers are largely still standing, if disused, as are the endless rows of terraces, pubs, WMC’s – some still going, some boarded up.

Waterfoot, Stacksteads, Newchurch – they all make me think of lads I went to school with, bus’d in from the Valley daily, little Catholic 11-plus passers, the majority, when we first met up in 1970, strapping teenagers when we left St Mary’s College in 1977, only the final two years introduced to the concept of sharing a classroom/working space with females. Strange times.

Chris Manning and Mick Hammond with their tales from The Royal. Harry “Hotlegs” – in my mind all still 17 like I wish I was, in truth, grandads!

How many of those bus journeys to Blackburn must have taken place on miserable grey days such as Sunday?

Some of the Rossendale boys were Man United or City fans, Bury supporters maybe but most leant either to Rovers or Burnley.

It has often been cruelly suggested that the brighter ones followed Rovers, as getting to Ewood entailed the difficult act of changing from one bus to another in Accrington from most points in the Valley.

For the less celebral, a single chara’ would get them oe’r t’hills into Burnley to within sight of the floodlights and you just followed the crowd to remember how to get back there.

Mind you, we seem to attract a fair number of numpties ourselves these days going by the abuse being meted out to Phil Jones, and, utterly shamefully, the lad’s poor girlfriend.

Happily, her ripostes, while almost certainly not understood by the recipients, suggest that she is smart enough to know that the outraged minority are somewhat challenged in the grey matter department.

Most of the abuse seems centred on the tiresome premise that at some time in the past, Jones, who has been on Rovers’ books since age 11, said that he was a Rovers fan.

Here’s the thing. Jones is/was a player. A professional footballer. Professional. That means better than we ever dreamed of being.

As a pro, like every other pro, who he supports/followed as a kid, means nowt. He wants to get to the top and, man, I really hope he does.

If that has to be with Man United, so be it.

We are fans. People who never made it as players, never looked like doing so.

We wear our favourite team’s shirt, rather less elegantly than players, as we subsist on burgers and pre-match pints. We follow our team home and away and pay through the nose for the privilege.

At Christmas our loved ones buy us scarves, polo shirts, daft hats, jumpers, car seat covers with the club crest on.

If I wasn’t 52 I would still probably get Shoot or Match Weekly if they came out, especially when our team group poster was in.

I am permitted to have paintings of Ewood and a signed portrait of Alan Shearer around the house.

I am a fan. If Rovers win 6-0 but Burnley get a point at home to Shrewsbury, my day isn’t perfect.

Phil Jones is a professional footballer from Chorley who played so incredibly well as a teenager for Rovers that the best club in the land want him to play for them.

I have no idea whether his mum or dad live in a house that is a shrine to Rovers, if they went to Ewood on a regular basis while they were courting in matching manager coats or whether his parents had any or no particular football loyalties before Phil signed for Blackburn.

But of course if your lad is on a club’s books, yes you “support” that club.

But can we please get away from this infantile concept that because the press once reported that Phil was a “local lad who supported Rovers” that he somehow owes it to all of us to carve BRFC in blood on his arm and pledge undying devotion to the cause.

That’s for the beer-bellied, tattoo’ed, replica-shirted, chanting likes of us.

I’m sorry to stretch the metaphor but it really smacks of lads who get dumped and spend the next three months telling their mates that they couldn’t stand the girl in the first place.

Childish and embarassing. Grow up, Blues.

I have two mates whose lads were on Rovers’ books up to age 18/19 and got released. Both have struggled since but both have played Football League matches elsewhere after their Rovers dream came to an end.

None of us fans can imagine how that felt, either, being told it’s not going to happen by a club that’s been your life for years.

Not many people seem to remember that there were just as high hopes for Tiny Taylor as there are for Phil Jones and while he’s had a career, it never really happened big time for him.

So Phil taking what might be his one and only chance ever to sign for the Champions is fine by me.

Interesting names being linked in the Telegraph’s latest “names out of a hat” round-up.

I’m personally relieved that a suggested approach to recruit Adam Pearson failed.

*There was shocking news for us Springsteen fanatics yesterday when it emerged that sax god Clarence”Big Man” Clemons is seriously ill after a stroke.

Bruce’s closest musical ally for more than 40 years has been struggling for a time with back/knee problems but has always pledged that as long as he can get on a stage and blow, he will continue to play with his long-time friend and Boss.

In Hyde Park two years ago this month, his great hulking frame almost had to be wheeled onto stage and a chair provided where once he would have bestrode the boards.

But every solo was joyously reeled off – “Badlands” “Born To Run” and as always most memorably, “Jungleland” was a quasi-religious experience for one and all.

I first became aware of Bruce and The E Street Band in 1975. After a  Roxy Music gig at The Guildhall in Preston, I saw an advertising hoarding for some upcoming albums and actually ripped the cover of “Born To Run” with no record inside, off the display.

I had vaguely read the name in the NME but who was this guy in the flat cap/leather jacket with the guitar and the look and who was the huge black guy with the sax?

Reading the lyrics on the way home, I was entranced. I had to hear the music which went with this iconic sleeve and these marvellous words about Roy Orbison singin for the lonely and one soft infested summer me and terri becoming friends….

Since that night, Springsteen’s music has been a great part of the soundtrack to my life, loves, highs, lows and joys, it has been a healing and inspirational force at times when I could find neither healing nor inspiration in any other place.

Clarence has been a huge part of that. The Springsteen family know how much affection is poured out for The Big Man every time he lifts that sax to his lips or sings or goofs around with the gaffer.

Right now, Big Man, that affection is all yours in our good thoughts and prayers.

 

 

 

 

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