Two games against Cardiff City at Ewood stand out in my memory for strange reasons.
In late February 1979, just turned 20, I stood on the Riverside watching a struggling Rovers side which hadn’t won for 12 games go one up against Cardiff, the goal scored by a young lad I’d liked the look of in the Reserves and who lived in a flat not far off where I lived in Cherry Tree.
Simon Garner was well on the way to becoming my, and quite a few other Roverites’ hero.
I’d had some bad luck following his career in the weeks after he broke through to the first team. The coach I had booked on to go to Fulham one Friday night was cancelled because me and my pal Zebo had been the only takers! Garner scored both in a 2-1 win, his first senior goals,
The lunchtime after, BBC’s On The Ball showed footage from Craven Cottage revolving around the game and whoever was Fulham’s manager. They didn’t actually take the trouble to mention us or show Garner’s goals!
A few weeks later a car I was on my way to Leicester in crashed into a wall in heavy snow on the old road between Stoke and Uttoxeter. They came and towed the car away but the sad and bruised occupants were left to trudge seven miles back to the nearest bus stop. Garner scored in a decent draw at Filbert Street.
Simon’s stardust wasn’t sufficient that night against Cardiff however to inspire colleagues like Martin Fowler, John Radford, Paul Round and Alan Birchenall to great heights. We lost 4-1 in front of 7,158 largely unimpressed souls and I’ve never forgotten the magnificent damning report by a doom-monger scribe named David Allin who preceded Pete White in the Telegraph or the accompanying headline: “Oh No! At Least The Dodo Fought For Its Life!”
We were relegated of course that season but a few years later, in May 1984, Cardiff were visitors for the final home game of the season under Bob Saxton. We finished sixth in the old Second Division that campaign but with the play-offs still to be invented interest was minimal in the 1-1 draw and the attendance that Easter Monday afternoon was a pitiful 3,107 which if I’m not mistaken is still our lowest ever league gate or very close to it.
I came off both of those games feeling a more than a little disillusioned and disenchanted and have come off many matches since feeling angry, upset, shattered and sorrowful.
But seldom have I felt the contempt for my own team which coursed through my blood sat in my living room watching last night’s horror unfold.
These young fellows are millionaires in their early twenties.
Jim Branagan, who was on his way to 333 Rovers appearances that Easter Monday, seldom giving less than his absolute all in every minute of every one of them, works on a till in Tesco.
It practically makes me ill.
I couldn’t go last night as my daughter was performing with the School Choir but after making a hasty dash back home just in time for kick-off, we settled down for the TV coverage.
I didn’t expect much. I warned people after the massive over-reaction of post-Peterborough euphoria that the time to assess this side and Henning Berg’s impact would be around a week tonight after Blackpool away.
I was wrong. My mind’s made up now.
We are poor and going nowhere.
It has to be said that thus far Henning Berg has brought practically nothing to the table.
I suspected that anyone who was detecting a sea-change in the style or quality of football in a decent half at Huddersfield or a few decent moves against Birmingham was seeing what they wanted to see.
Imagining stuff in that way football fans desperate to envisage light at the end of the tunnel do.
The only plus in recent weeks has been managing to somehow avoid derby defeat but that only speaks of how soon we’ve accepted our own mediocrity.
The lack of actual, real, measurable, quantifiable genuine improvement since Berg’s arrival is deeply disturbing. I’m sorry don’t buy the “the players aren’t fit” or “these aren’t Henning’s players” arguments. Cliched, dreamed-up excuses barely worthy of comment.
They damn well should be fit, full stop, and they are the players Henning knew he was landed with. Even Mick McCarthy has managed to breathe life into a bunch of previously dead-legged no-hopers in a month at Ipswich.
The lack of action in bringing no-one new to the tired old act of our coaching/backroom staff tells me a great deal about the guy of whom it was being said: ”He’ll definitely be his own man, he won’t be letting Shebby pull the strings.”
We are bereft as a team. Goalkeeper past his best. Defence collectively lacking in pace, physicality or presence. Midfield an absolute shower, a shambles. “Wide men” seemingly on a scale of fines rising if they get anywhere near to the touchline. One decent finisher being played unassisted in a system to which he’s totally unsuited.
Any manager worth his salt who sees a video of our previous displays could organise and shape a team to neutralise any threat we carry and pick out the huge gaping holes for their own quicker, more pro-active, intelligent players to exploit.
Our dull-witted, hesitant, lumpen, indecisive labouring is painful to behold. Football looks like the hardest game in the world when we have the ball, the easiest when the opposition have it.
I haven’t seen any sign of the will to win or mental fortitude that distinguishes winners at sport from losers – looking at close-ups on TV is sometimes revealing and I saw the faces of fear, confusion and acceptance of defeat in far too many last night.
We expected liberated, freed performances after Steve Kean departed but we’ve had even more supine capitulations.
Cardiff are a decent side but were no better than they needed to be to pan us. Nothing absolutely out of the ordinary, the ever-wondrous Bellamy excepted.
The apologists who looked for mitigation for Berg’s underwhelming record in the low-level Norwegian league may soon be admitting that their information about how he never had a chance here and had his hands tied there was little more than patriotic well-wishing from fellow-countrymen who admired his playing achievements.
He’s a nice bloke and you’d love him to do well. But a rather mystifying appointment is looking no more logical than it did at the time.
Make no mistake, Rovers can forget even sneaking into the play-offs unless a remarkable turnaround is achieved and I’m beginning to dread what Berg might bring in as well as doubting his
(or anybody’s, in fairness) ability to shift out the host of non-contributors we have accumulated in abundance.
The way our dismal form and the all-enveloping losing culture is cloaking the club, we may soon be looking anxiously down the table rather than up it.
The ultimate irony is we may be grateful for the luckily-come by points we almost begrudged Steve Kean.
Although last night’s gate was given as 12,000, it was a bloomin’ sight smaller 12,000 than have been at some previous games, says my attendance spy.
Not quite down to the 7,000 or 3,000 of the John Pickering/Bob Saxton days yet but Venkys are well on their way to practically emptying the stadium.
Many more nights like last night and it won’t take long. They’ve already lost two half-season ticket bookings as I cut my nose off to spite my face and decide on a match-by-match approach.
You could have a word with the players in the 100 Club after the game once over, in the seventies and eighties of those old games against Cardiff, up the Cav or in the Knowles or wherever else they went for a night out locally after the game.
Thank goodness this lot don’t really circulate in the vicinity, they’re off to the cities afar in their swanky cars to their VIP clubs ordering bubbly for their hangers-on.
I really felt as much withering disdain for them last night as I felt for Kean. They have shown no desire to assert any authority on the last four games from the outset as all true professionals do.
Oh for 11 players who brought the make-the-best-of-what-you’ve-got grit and cussedness of the Branagans and Garners.
If this lot had been doing the hunting, David Allin’s Dodo might have survived.
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