Sunday’s East Lancashire derby at Turf Moor sees Blackburn Rovers visit Burnley, hoping to preserve a 33-year unbeaten record against their traditional bitter foes.
Rovers fan Jim Wilkinson presents a personal viewpoint.
There is guaranteed to be a good measure of trepidation on Sunday morning as Rovers fans make their way to coach parks for the long day’s waiting around/journeying/being herded hither and thither like cattle with the small business of the eagerly-anticipated match hidden somewhere in the middle.
Chastening home defeats to Millwall and Bolton have cast a cloak of despondency upon Ewood as the Henning Berg era lurches from a vaguely acceptable and approved dawning to a period of grave doubts and sense of imminent crisis unless major surgery can effect an upturn in fortunes.
That would probably have to take place in January and will have no bearing on the outcome on Sunday which will have a profound effect on the collective psyche of fans of each club.
I would guess that on this occasion, most Rovers fans, those going or those not bothering – and I’m in the latter camp, I’m afraid to say, given the over-elaborate arrangements, but brilliant to hear that the 3,400 allocation has completely sold out – would settle for the draw.
Berg will have no doubts about the importance of the fixture having played in the 2000-2001 promotion season “double” as Rovers cruised to 2-0 and 5-0 wins.
But only a handful of his available players have experienced this unique “welcone to Hell” fixture.
On the evidence of their attitude to a cold evening’s North-West derby warm-up against Bolton, Berg has some upping the ante to do in terms of motivation and putting a side out adequately fired up to battle and scrap for the cause from the off in a febrile, hostile, charged atmosphere.
None of my nagging doubts about Berg were assuaged by that tame display.
Eleven games after Steve Kean’s departure some are claiming that the accursed Scotsman’s wretched tenure has left some kind of pervading malaise enveloping the club which cannot be exorcised.
Nonsense. Footballers have the memory/attention span of goldfish and Kean will have been forgotten about by the ‘best squad in the league” (some are still incredibly describing them as) by the time he got off the bus to Charlton.
That was 11 games, a quarter of a season ago.
So I’m not buying “they’re not really fit” or even more preposterously, “they’re psychologically damaged.” A) They damn well ought to be B)Come off it, this is a football club not The Priory.
We should be seeing some Berg influence by now and if the two games this week are anything to go by, his failure to cover himself in glory in the backwaters of Norway may not be as easily dismissed and irrelevant as some have swallowed. “A Norwegian bloke said it wasn’t his fault on Internet” doesn’t represent hard-chiselled out factually flawless empirical research, you know.
Practically none of the side who started on Wednesday could complain at being left out on Sunday but is that the time for wholesale changes and is Berg brave enough to jettison those who let him down?
More pertinently, who is there to significantly improve the side?
Certainly the ludicrous conceit that Danny Murphy was going to illuminate the division orchestrating flowing moves of beauty and precision while the tireless Etuhu did his tackling and running is in tatters.
It was tantamount to animal cruelty to leave Murphy on for 90 minutes, as Fulham seldom ever did in latter years, on Wednesday.
He looked, surrounded by Bolton’s young thrusters, like an old goat tethered to a stake pursued and aggravated by a bunch of hyper-active kids who had consumed a load of Dr Pepper and Haribo, though in fairness a goat may have run around a bit, had a smaller and less comically elaborate turning circle and provided more in the way of entertainment.
Latino Flaneurs Rochina and Formica have been here almost two years now but only exist as bona-fide game-in game-out match-changing contributors in the florid and fanciful imagination of hopeless Romantics convinced they will one day blossom and justify the agent commissions squandered upon them.
Dann and Hanley look an increasingly unsteady pairing, Olsson senior looks vacant and elsewhere and, on a night my wife compared me wearing numerous layers to the Michelin Man, keeper Robinson emulated the resemblance and lack of mobility but without the costume.
All this the prelude to a trip t’t’Turf eh?
It remains the match I most want Rovers to win – I’ll investigate deep-seated reasons for that shortly – but not as desperately as I might have craved so, say 10, 25 or 35 years ago.
Then, had someone put it to me – Burnley do the double over you but Rovers go up, OR you beat Burnley twice but finish mid-table, I’d’ve probably, I admit, ludicrously opted for the latter.
I went to school and lived and worked for much of my adult life alongside mates, neighbours, fellow pubgoers and colleagues who were keen Turf Moor aficionados. That preposterously over-used phrase “bragging rights” did have some pertinence then and I wasn’t always as gracious in victory as I my hav been.
But now only a few of those old contacts survive, although I’ll admit whenever the teams meet I do think about you all…so Dennis Moretta, Rog Watson, Tony Robbo, Graham Topham, Darren Bentley, Steve O’Brien, Dave Studholme, Jeppy, Cliff Wignall, Alan Rycroft, the Plough Clarets…if you do beat us, you are entitled to a moment’s pleasure picturing my deep and intense chagrin…I’ll be thinking of your discomfort over a glass or two if by any miracle we prevail!
Where this antipathy began, on my and the part of many others on both sides, is buried in sometimes vague, other times vivid memories of the 1970’s.
When I began supporting Rovers in earnest, Burnley were the area’s “Premier League” boys and remained so from 1966 to the mid-70’s, very much my formative years as a fan.
I begged my reluctant father often to take me to top flight games at Turf Moor, which he dutifully did, for the chance to see the Moores, Hursts, Peters, Balls, Royles, Summerbees, Lees, Giles, Clarkes, Charltons, Bests, Laws and Dougans of schoolboy mythology.
I even enjoyed seeing the like of Dobson, James, Thomas and Coates giving them a decent game.
There was little prospect of the teams clashing but in January 1971 Burnley came to Ewood to play a friendly. I vividly remember trouble on the terraces that afternoon and at the very next leaqgue game for the first time ever, Ewood was ‘segregated.’ Up to that point you could, unbelievably, walk round from the Blackburn End down the Riverside to the Darwen End during a game. So could the away team’s mob, too, which often led to the inevitable squabbles.
But a series of six otherwise fairly inconsequential Boxing Day and Easter games between Christmas 1976 and Easter 1979 re-ignited old seethings and loathings.
I can rhyme the games, stats and happenings off as if they were yesterday.
Boxing Day 76, Ewood, 2-2 John Byrom scored both, we were two up, let two in last ten minutes, 22,000 on.
Easter 77 away, 1-3 Bobby Svarc. 17000 on.
Boxing Day 77, 3-2, Wagstaffe, mystery man Keith Fear and dear old Noel Brotherston. Three up at half time, the most magical half I ever saw a Rovers team play. Fear misses a pen to make it four soon after the break, Burnley again get two late on, inordinate amount of stoppage time added for the era. 27000 on. It remains in my top three of days of my life I’d want to live again. No film of it ever existed1
Easter Monday 77, Ewood, 1-0 defeat, Terry Cochrane scores, Brotherston sent off in a tale of two Ulstermen. 24,000 on. End of Jim Smith’s promotion dream.
Boxing Day 78, Turf, bad side lose 2-1, Kevin Hird plays ’em on his own and scores a worldie. 23000 there.
Certainly by the time of Burnley’s last victory over us, a 2-1 Ewood win in April 1979, my 20-year-old incarnation was consumed by the rivalry. Simon Garner put us ahead but it was short-lived joy.
Funny enough, like many legendary occasions, the Pistols at The Free Trade Hall or Beatles at the Cavern style, less than 15,000 were there compared to the ridiculous amount who claim to have been.
That defeat effectively sent Rovers down and I recall the pain of the Sports Pink headline “Clarets Twist The Relegation Knife.”
Four years later a Rovers win at Ewood virtually consigned Burnley to the same fate. It was the day the away fans rioted in the Darwen End. Again, there were just 13,000 on, hardly reinforcing my recollection that the fixture had by then assumed Old Firm proportions in the public mindset. Rovers had won 1-0 there, Garner again, 20,400 on. He scored both the penalties in the 2-1 Ewood win, one given when David Hamilton, who I remember nothing else about, was fouled after a totally uncharacteristic surge into the box!
And that, save the odd Manx Cup meeting and plane prank, was pretty much it until December 2000. For most of that period, even before Jack Walker came forward, Rovers were probably a better-run and managed club and were certainly always in a higher division.
An FA Cup tie in 2005, two Premier League wins for Rovers – Rovers have kept their unbeaten record going since that day 33 years ago and I have reached almost 54 years of age without seeing my team lose to our most detested adversaries.
How many Glaswegian or Milanese or Mancunian or Liverpudlian or North Londonians can conceive of going a couple of generations in such fashion?
So, yes, it still matters more to me than any other single game. Yes, I will still argue to my last breath about respective players, owners, chairmen, respective followings, gates, who’s the better club, who won what where and when.
I used to scour Rothmans to debunk “Who took most away, whose average attendance is best, who has bigger gates per head of population” myths which rivals comforted themselves with.
I still get phone-calls from people in pubs I barely know wanting me to settle rows (1,696 v Colchester at home 1986 the most frequently-requested answer).
But I have a family now, different priorities and while the result will dictate my mood for an hour or two, neither will I be as devastated as I might have been in decades past if my many Clarets pals do finally have their opportunity to text, tweet or call me with taunts they have been waiting to unleash since Two-Tone was the new sound and since two days before Audrey Roberts made her bow in Coronation Street.
Every dog has his day and this, with a new manager impressing in Dyche, may finally be Burnley’s.
If it isn’t, Henning passes a first big test.
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