I’ve just finshed the music writer/TV presenter David Hepworth’s wonderful book “1971 Never A Dull Moment” a fabulous month-by-month roller-coaster ride through the year he considers the best and most artistically fertile ever for rock music.
Hepworth makes the point that in the genre of popular music, the notion of nostalgia for the past and re-packaging it hadn’t then been invented.
Not that, aged 12, it would have mattered to me if it had. If I was in the formative stages of pop fandom and “Disco 45 Songwords” mag, printing out the lyrics to Chicory Tip songs, was dictating my mood and metier more than the NME or Melody Maker arguing the merits of Zep’s or The Who’s latest.
I was practically a fully-formed football fan by then however, five years or more into being as obsessed and consumed by the game as a whole and my hometown team specifically as I would soon be by Bowie, Roxy Music and The Velvet Undergound and in April of that year of 1971 my pre-pubescent incarnation felt the pain of relegation for the first time.
Oh I knew we had come down from the top flight just before the World Cup Willie summer of ’66. I’d even been at some of the games but without any real idea why I was there, what was going on or what the concept of falling from one division to another really entailed.
By ’71 I’d voluntarily had our history, recent and bygone, drummed into me, I was insatiable for knowledge about the past. When you are 12, tales of the likes of FA Cup finals, Ronnie’n’Bryan, Mike England, 7-2 wins over Spurs, a marvellous marauding forward line of Ferguson-McEvoy-Pickering-Douglas-and-Harrison are magical but they are half your life away and seem as distant as recollecting your grainy memories of the Beatles/Stones era today.
Hepworth inexplicably doesn’t weave our relegation into his narrative as he does with most major news events of the year but to me it was as seismic and painful as any world event.
It was my first year at secondary school. At games, I’d be allowed to stand on the Blackburn End with new pals from St Mary’s College, my dad and granddad close by but allowing me just enough room to roam that I felt that first flush of independence. I still meet up with three or four of the same lads for a pint before games and sit next to one at every match. The ties that bind.
What a shocking season it was. Six wins (out of 42 games). One away win. Two wins before December. One win out of the last 15. Our joint top league scorers with six apiece were Eamonn Rogers, a gifted maverick but visibly and tragically falling out of love with the game by then, and Brian Conlon, a much-travelled forward who looked about 80 to us kids and sadly played as if he was at least two-thirds that age.
Three blokes scored four. Nobody else scored more than two. We went out of both cups at Burnden and Goodison at the earliest stage without a goal in either.
For the final game, against Bristol City at Ewood, just 3,971 turned up – at the time the record low attendance for a league match. It was beaten, bizarrely, on a Bank Holiday Monday in 1984 at the end of a season we’d finished in what now would be the last play-off spot!
We were already down by that final Saturday against Bristol. We’d been to Burnden the previous Saturday tea-time (A 5.30pm kick-off “to avoid clashing with Turton Fair” I’m reliably informed) and the bottom two clubs, each Football League founder members neither of whom had played in the Third Tier to that point, played out a drab 1-1 draw in a match Rovers needed to win against the already-relegated Wanderers.
Conlon, a kind of ageing Chris Brown who did actually score occasionally, scored our goal. A bloke called Freddie Goodwin, a full-back who wasn’t the best, scored their goal. Trouble was he was our full-back. It was that kind of occasion played out before a paltry derby crowd of just over 7,000.
In the week, we were away to QPR, Rodney Marsh et al. In those days, with no cell phones, sports news channels, no Five Live, no local radio, unbelievably you had to wait for the end of the nine o’clock news for the football results to be briefly read out, bereft of any further details until the morning paper arrived.
My dad came up and broke the unwanted tidings to me that we’d lost 2-0 and were confirmed as down. I cried myself to sleep. I don’t think football has ever felt quite so crushing since whatever’s happened.
Eight years later, age 20, now working for a clerk’s wage and a travelling fan who went all over the place, I was on the Riverside (4,684 the gate on a Wednesday night against Fulham) as virtually everyone present broke into a chant of “When we all go down, we all go down together.”
I still don’t know what we all really meant by it but that and The Jam’s “Thick As Thieves” sum up for me the post-punky spirit of youth and the camaraderie we enjoyed as a bunch of fans following a crap side at the decade end.
After another hideous campaign we were Division three-bound again. This time we had won 10, but most of them far too late to matter. Simon Garner with eight was top scorer. The 5-0 defeat at Oldham on Good Friday was the only time I’ve ever walked off a ground early watching Rovers for reasons other than illness and I saw all five goals – and Faz getting sent off in utter frustration – before departing with two minutes left.
If you thought things couldn’t get worse than that 24 hours later we were at Ewood to see us lose 2-1 to, of all people, Burnley.
“Clarets twist the relegation knife,” ran the Saturday night Sports Pink headline.
Can you compare one relegation with another? Are circumstances now worse than then? Who knows, only history can tell you what the future once was.
Most of us hope that Venkys will have a tipping point but none of us know when or what will trigger it.
Perhaps we would find a buyer or at least a caring steward in the image of a Bill Fox or Bill Bancroft. A steady and locally-connected hand in the boardroom would find favour with everyone.
Ian Battersby, who’s spoken with nothing but sense and compassion about the club and its situation would be everyone’s favourite to find a backer and lead any attempted route map back to glory.
That’s the hope. A wealthy backer maybe.
There wasn’t a bloody prayer of one of them in 1971 or 1979! I recently scoured the Evening Telegraph pages from that era in the library archives and in the pre-Twitter/Facebook epoch people expressed their frustration by writing to the local paper.
Far from seeing the era as one where the club’s directors “had the best interests of the club at heart” (and, boy, they did) as I am often told now, the noisiest and most vociferous critics wrote in reams about how they lacked ambition, wouldn’t invest and lacked the imagination to speculate to accumulate.
There are dozens of such letters. I wrote some of them myself!
Plus ca change, plus la meme chose, eh?
What we will need, first and foremost is a decent manager. Mowbray resigned at Coventry saying you couldn’t do much with frees and loans which is sadly what we will be dealing in.
Phil Parkinson hasn’t done badly at Bolton though.
It wasn’t as disastrous as 1979 (which had a third game in four days and a shock 1-0 win at packed Roker Park as a welcome but ultimately meaningless little twist) but two steps forward, two steps back. That was this Easter, though it could be a (generous) description of our midfield, a unit so static and bereft of athleticism and sharpness that Opta stats on four of those wooden figures across a table football pole would surely suggest more positive movement and sprints in a 10-minute tap room encounter than most of Rovers’ midfield clocked up in 180 minutes over the Holiday weekend.
I’ve watched football enough decades in enough far-flung points of the compass to know that any away win is to be savoured and I dropped lucky on Friday when my only road trip this season yielded three priceless points.
I didn’t think it was the greatest performance. Forest ran out of ideas, we had none to start with other than keep a clean sheet – nothing wrong with that – and we got the delivery spot on at one of the few set-piece danger moments our largely timorous approach afforded.
Mahoney looked the only viable outlet or source of a telling ball for much of the game and his perfect inswinger precipitated joyous “Duffy at Brentford” scenes.
Me and Mrs Blue Eyes witnessed them from the Brian Clough stand, immediately looking down on the away section. Our daughters were in with the Rovers lot though and it was wonderful to see them come singing and dancing across the car park, overjoyed and carried away with the significance of the occasion, when we met up with them after.
It was a classic Howard Kendall defend-properly-you-get-one-point –sneak-one-you-get-the-lot display and the back four and keeper deserved every credit. The fans who’ve travelled up and down and watched us play far better and get nowt on occasion deserve it far more than we occasional day-trippers too.
That ought to have been the springboard to set about Bristol City, who recently capsized to the tune of 5-0 at Deepdale, like a pack of rabid dogs.
But once again, by five minutes into an Ewood game, we have lapsed into that soporific, slow-slow, slow-slow-slow fug of a tempo, allowing the opposition – this a side which recently won one out of 20-odd, mark you – the opportunity to pass it around and feel comfortable and unharried, neat triangles, people skipping into space unaccompanied, full-backs constantly finding space.
As ever, we made the visitors look a good side. Okay they were coming off two wins but they’re not Rinus Michels’ Ajax side which is precisely what we made them look like.
One of my pals summed it up better than I could: “Quite simply we don’t work hard enough with or without the ball, that’s why we concede so many.”
Their goal was a perfect illustration. Somebody counted 31 passes, most in our half before a clever run by Abraham allowed him the kind of finish your bored mate who once had trials with Everton, played non-league for money and still runs half-marathons scores to make it 18-3 against your lot in the weekly over-45’s kick-about on the Astroturf he’s been asked to make up the numbers in.
You can guarantee that if we get to make 31 passes, Derby away excepted, 27 will be in our own half and the final one will evade our widest player’s attempt to catch it as it sails over his head into row 14.
The lack of any kind of response was so staggering that when Rovers actually did produce an equaliser they had scarcely threatened it seemed as difficult to comprehend as the 72 minutes of mind-numbing incompetence which preceded it.
Even then there was little need for Elliot Bennett’s unseemly posturing to the Riverside.
He’s been far from our worst performer of late and popped an odd goal in but after declaring to those daft enough to follow him on Twitter that the relegation battle was now so important that he would be depriving his acolytes of his social media wisdom in order to fully concentrate on his job (Gee, thanks, El, so glad you’re going to give this your best shot from March onwards, how will we manage without “3 massive points 4 the boys today and a great away following”) his reaction to actually slinging a cross in competently was way over the top and beyond the merely celebratory.
Tony Mowbray has to shoulder a bit of blame for the remarkable lack of urgency in the last two home games. With wins a must and decent attacking players among his armoury, setting up to approach the Bristol game in a similar mind-set to Forest away was handing the initiative to the foe from the off.
He’s been unlucky with injuries to Mulgrew, Lenihan and Graham but could have got more out of the three strikers available (the moronic Stokes presumably awarded another idiocy-related absence after his brief and unremarkable cameo at the City Ground) with a more positive approach, possibly involving Guthrie on the field at some stage.
Guthrie, however, probably has to ask himself, after witnessing Lowe and Akpan flounder from the bench: “How on earth have I given the manager the option of leaving me out when that’s the competition?” Guthrie turned 30 this week and needs to take a good long look at himself if there is reasoning behind his omission.
I think we’ll now need a minimum of two wins from the last three and I can’t see it happening.
Forest’s fixtures look less imposing than Birmingham’s but the appointment of Harry Redknapp is an “It’s A Knock Out” style joker card to throw in after the misery Zola visited upon them.
How ironic if, as predicted by my fellow columnist Old Blackburnian, Paul Lambert and his Wolves side, safely mid-table, hammer a decisive nail into our relegation coffin on Saturday.
For one of our girls, aged 12 as I was, it would be a first real taste of relegation since becoming a supporter around the start of the 2012-13 season when hopes were high of a swift return to the top flight.
Five seasons of failure and disappointment followed by Third tier football would exactly mirror my initial fan experience.
I desperately hope Mowbray sends the team out in a positive frame of mind for these last three and gets the wins which spare her that ordeal, the one that dad wept over, 46 years ago.
My favourite line in the David Hepworth book is one he quotes early on, describing a meeting between Paul McCartney and the gentlest of the Beatle souls, George Harrison.
McCartney desperately wanted to get away from the Apple contract which meant that despite the band breaking up, they were inextricably bound together in perpetuity in a seemingly unbreakable business arrangement and asked George to agree to his release from the commitment.
“You’ll stay on the fucking label. Hare Krishna,” snapped George with a strange cold-eyed mixture of corporate stubbornness and mystic religious gobbledook peace-and-love sentiment.
That’s what being a Rovers fans sometimes feels like. However much we’d like to get out of the contract we have to stay on the effing label forever!
Hare Krishna indeed!