(Wimbledon joy: pic by home and away Rovers stalwart Russell Prescott used with thanks)
We know from how we closely follow their fortunes and celebrate the stumblings of our promotion rivals how disheartening it can be when they keep on winning so Rovers, in my view, passed a couple of stern tests of character and struck a pair of damaging blows at both Shrewsbury and Wigan by winning a brace of testing away games this week.
There are no formalities away from home and to rack up six points on the road in four days was a major feat on the road back to the Championship.
Nothing is decided yet but I firmly believe that the psychological advantage Rovers have given themselves by embarking on another impressive run following that isolated defeat at Plymouth could not have put them in a better frame of mind to take on long-time leaders Wigan who must be wondering how the devil they can fit 15 league games in between now and the end of the season.
Not our problem, of course, and by producing our best, Shrewsbury at home style, we can pile on the self-doubt and mental pressure which surely must be gnawing at Paul Cook’s side as they look just a touch forlornly and whistfully at the table they dominated for months.
Wins for ourselves at Ewood on Sunday and Shrewsbury a day earlier at home to Peterborough would put the top two nine and five points clear of the Latics respectively and I don’t care who you are, I insist winning games to play catch up is much harder than winning them to extend an already healthy lead.
All that’s assuming we do the business, of course. Wigan, for all their league and cup commitments ahead, have had a week off after a rather routine home win against Rochdale while Rovers, comfortable through two pieces of routine but happens-too-often-to-be-lucky opportunism from Danny Graham, faced a rousing second half Walsall comeback then a taxing midweek journey to the frozen extremities of the capital.
Never mind the Beast from the East though, once the fans had negotiated a nervy day travelling, anxious to hear the game would go on – every credit to AFC Wimbledon for ensuring it did – we had the Perfect Gent from Kent, Bradley Dack, who nudged us ahead in an otherwise undistinguished first half with a piece of typical skill only the sharpest football brain could persuade anyone to attempt.
His brilliantly directed header from the unlikeliest of angles was one that Graham or Jordan Rhodes would have been proud of, as, if not quite to the same extent, was his second, a consummate finish which ended the match as a contest. If you have been backing the right players to bag a brace in games this season you’ve made a killing.
I’ve been having a punt on generously-priced Elliott Bennett, who was certainly due one, to do so but as usual his rare strikes are eye-catching efforts so I’ll forgive him for not popping up with another after that latest addition to his portfolio.
I can’t imagine how cold it must have been by half nine so well done to nearly 800 who braved it and I hope everyone got home safely and warmed up.
(Celebrations! Pic used by kind permission of James Haworth)
It’s impossible to overstate the positivity and joy abound stemming from the regular winning of games with bright, inventive football. Even the social media isn’t getting on my nerves, all fist-pumps and winners’ smiles rather than that “Not good enougph today – we go again” stuff that rather got on all our titsggygggy for so long.
I was therefore surprised last week when I slammed the boo-boys to get a series of pitifully negative messages attempting to justify that show of petulance telling myself, and others of long fandom who joined the debate of being among “some Rovers fans (who) have short memories.”
I might accept such criticism from my wife on (the regular) occasion of forgetting to post a card or pick up a bottle of milk memory than what one pal calls my “freakish power of recall” they are probably club historians and authors, TV quiz guests or eminent grandees (doffs titfer to messrs Berry, Jackman, Pittard, Makinson and Cumpstey).
I must admit I had to chuckle when it was subsequently revealed that my obstreperous adversary in badinage was a stripling just 16 years old and berating a few of us for “forgetting seven years of mismanagement, debt and shocking decisions.”
I’m not sure how much I knew or concerned myself with management strategy or how au fait with footbauat nine years old, or indeed 16 for that matter, but I am long enough in the tooth and in possession of sufficient of my faculties to recall a conversation being relayed to me about how former secretary John Howarth once had to ask Ewood’s milkman for a fortnight’s grace settling the billgvv , an indignity not thus far heaped on us by current owners.
I floated a question today on social media asking if fans would accept Venkys’ continued tenure if they showed as much commitment next season as they have this and the replies were largely guarded thumbs-ups, very considered, thoughtful and forgiving in most cases. In fact only one came back completely hostile to the notion and dismissive of such a scenario (from a not altogether surprising source). Do I detect a softening of hearts? I hope so.
I really don’t see anyone going mad to buy the club so I think the current success and by my reckoning a seventh promotion in our history is to be embraced and relished. Those promotions came in 1939, 1958, 1975, 1980, 1992, 2001.
We’ve had relegations in 1936, 1948, 1966, 1971, 1979, 1999, 2012 and 2017. History shows you little is permanent. Apart from the megabillions five or six in the PL (and Everton) clubs go up and down periodically. Well, ok, maybe not Ipswich then.
For sake of argument, we will keep our charting of honours to the 20th century and thereafter. There were honours in 1912, 1914, 1928, 1987, 1995 and 2002. I kind of checked out how many triumphs and disasters my late grandad and my very much alive dad have lived through. Plenty of both, which is probably true of most Rovers fans who live to a decent age.
I tell our kids that this possible promotion/title, if it happens,might be the first of many ups and downs, highs and lows for them in the continuum of our history peppered with them. Or it may be the last good thing i happens for a couple of decades or more. Que sera sera. It’s what we do for leisure, entertainment, fun and bugger what anyone says, if we go up we’re damn well entitled to enjoy it so I’m sorry mister adolescent curmudgeon, we’re having a party whatever you think.
In a week of two priceless victories there has been a sizeable portion of sadness among fans of my vintage with sad news of the passing of two Rovers who formed an indelible impression on my developing love for the club and for anyone who was privileged to wear the famous blue and white shirt in my boyhood
Billy Wilson, a classy left-back who came to Ewood as a kid from the North East, was a member of the first side to imprint their names on my consciousness to the extent that I could reel their names off: Blacklaw, Newton, Wilson, Clayton, Coddington, Hole, Ferguson, Rogers, Gilliver, Darling, Connelly.
The first five of those have now passed, plus John Connelly, but Billy’s death came as a real shock.
I remember him as a good-looking blonde lad and somehow expected him to have remained youthful and fit into his 70s.
He possibly holds one of the more curious Rovers records in that he failed to score in 246 league appearances, the first 40-odd of them in the first division of old, and 270 games altogether. I can think of no Rovers who played outfield so often without netting. He was a hell of a player though and by no means without qualities pushing forward.
In 1971, clearly disillusioned after the sale of his erstwhile full-back partner Keith Newton (believe me there have been few better pairings, |I couldn’t understand why they weren’t coupled up for the national team) and relegation to the Third Division, he left for Portsmouth where he promptly scored in his seventh and 12th appearances and became as popular a figure as he had been at Ewood, eventually taking over the running of the Fratton pub at the ground while still playing!
“He would be behind the bar five minutes after the final whistle,” Pompey historian Graham Dubber tells me.
He was also the first Rover I ever saw sent off – you had to virtually commit ABH to do so in the 1960’s – after a spat with Birmingham City’s John Vincent.
A few years ago I had a mind to try and put a book together about my first bunch of heroes, many of whom lived in close proximity to one another on Langdale, a few hundred yards from the estate I grew up in at Feniscowles, and Billy and Eamonn Rogers were the two I was most keenly anticipating talking to but my own health worries meant I couldn’t see it through.
Bill’s wife was a receptionist at Star Paper where my dad worked. These guys and their wives just lived in normal people’s houses next door to bank clerks and mechanics with few affectations about them and not a gated mansion to be seen.
I’m immensely sad that I’ll never get to tell him how much I loved and adored him as a player. If you get the chance to talk uto a boyhood idol I’d strongly advise you to take it.
Also passing away this week was Jeff Whalley, another distinctive blonde, a Rossendalian forward who made only a couple of first XI appearances but remained well-known in local non-league circles. He lived in Oswaldtwistle till his death last Friday.
Fondest memory of Jeff ? Scoring in an extraordinary 4-0 win over Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup on New Year Day 1969 with a decent crowd on Ewood, one of my top 10 Rovers performances at any level. It was an exhilarating afternoon and Jeff and Bill Dunning looked like stars in the making. Bill scored a couple for the first team and faded away, Jeff never bagged for the seniors and dwindled off the scene too, flitting around Australia and scoring heavily for Stanley, Great Harwood, Colne and Oswy Immanuel.
What better send-off can Rovers give them other than a minute’s silence or applause (I prefer the former) and a significant Ewood victory on Saturday.
In some ways it could also mark the end of the link between Rovers and what we know as Dave Whelan’s Wigan. Our former full-back has always been a generous host at the DW to his old team-mates and their partners but once the impending takeover sees Latics pass into foreign ownership, his grandson may not be involved too much longer as chairman.
I well remember going to Springfield Park, Wigan’s old ground, as Alan Shearer hit the comeback trail from his knee injury in 1992 and our Reserves were welcomed to play their home games there.
Games in Wigan have tended to be more eventful than the Ewood clashes although I do recall a 4-2 win for us in a home FA Cup tie when the David Lee inspired visitors gave us a scare as Roy Hodgson’s double training session days took their toll.
The noon Sunday kick-off may diminish the crowd somewhat but not the significance of the occasion.
Will we be meeting again a division higher next season? I hope so.
BLUE EYED BOY
(Walsall pic: used courtesy of Ian Herbert)