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Rovers old boy and Hartlepool boss Mike Newell is the latest to confirm his place in the line up for Simon Garner's Testimonial.

The ex-Blackburn striker thought Simon Garner was “one of the best” . . . until he discovered that he smoked!

Newell, now boss of promotion-bound Hartlepool, explained: “Simon was a great lad, a nice down-to-earth sort, and a strike partner who got goals. In fact, he still holds the record for goal scoring at Blackburn.

“I liked him a lot – until I roomed with him and found that he smoked. He asked me if I minded and I told him ok if he opened the window. He was such a great lad so I told him it was not a problem.”

The irony is that now he’s quit playing, Garner has given up the weed, which should cheer up Newell no end.

Newell will be in the line-up with his other Championship-winning colleagues at Garner’s testimonial match at Ewood Park on Sunday, May 18th – and he can’t wait for the day.

The former England B striker recalls: “If I remember correctly, I teamed up with Simon up front in my first game for Rovers when I signed up in November, 1991. David Speedie was suspended - just for a change! - so Simon and me were the frontmen.”

Newell, who was Rovers’ first £1 million signing, went on to play for the Ewood Park outfit until 1996, taking in the celebrated Championship victory in 1995 at Anfield.  He says: “It was very emotional for me, since I started out my footballing career as a Liverpool FC Junior, even though I played for Everton before my move to Balckburn.”

He had turned down a move to Ewood when Don Mackay was in charge “ but when Kenny Dalglish came in later on, I jumped at the chance. He was a hero of mine as a kid and you could see things were ready to roll. If anyone could get Rovers up into the top flight, it was Kenny.”

Newell looks back fondly on those years as his “most successful time as a player,” much of it being with fellow strike partner Alan Shearer, who is still a big mate to this day. “What a striker,” he says. “Whenever you gave him the ball you expected him to score.”

Now, Newell is looking forward to promotion in his first season in management . . . and the big day down at Ewood on May 18th when he’ll team up with his old mates against Graeme Souness’s Worthington Cup Winners. He says: “We’re just a wee bit older than them – but who knows?”

The Simon Garner Testimonial Match takes place on Sunday May 18 at Ewood Park. Kick-off is at 4pm. Tickets are priced £12 and £6 and available from the club ticket office or by calling 01254 671666. Corporate packages and boxes can be purchased by calling 01254 690909.

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