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Tribute to Ray Harford.


Paul
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Former Blackburn Rovers coach and manager Ray Harford died of cancer yesterday. One of our board members, Anti Euro Smiths Fan, has composed a very fitting tribute to Ray.

Ray was quite a shy man - especially in front of the camera, where he would admit that he wasn't always confident dealing with the media. But when you got to know him, as a former work colleague of mine did, he found Ray to be a nice guy and a gentleman.

His death is very sad news - 58 is too young an age to leave the world and I sympathise with his family. (I know that one of Ray's sons has played football at a semi-professional level with Farnborough and he will be sadly miseed by his family.)

As Luton Boss, Ray took the Bedfordshire side to two successive League Cup finals. In 1988, they memorably beat Arsenal 3-2 in the final of the competition. But for the Heysel Stadium tragedy, this would otherwise have resulted in Luton playing in the UEFA Cup the following season for the first time in the club's history. Luton were unlucky not to reach the FA Cup final in 1988, when they lost to Wimbledon in the semi-final at White Hart Lane.

As an England Under 21 boss, Ray had Southampton's Alan Shearer under his wing, and later when becoming coach at Rovers, he was able to confirm to Kenny all the attributes Shearer had, leading to the player signing for Rovers in the summer of 1992. After Rovers finished 4th, 2nd and 1st in their first 3 seasons in the Premiership, Ray was rightly becoming highly regarded as a coach. He reportedly turned down an approach from Sheffield Wednesday to become Owls boss.

Unfortunately he wasn't able to enjoy the same success as Blackburn's Manager as he acheived when he was Number Two at Rovers. He found the transition from coach to Manager at Ewood a difficult one, suddenly having to go from being the players' friend on the training ground to becoming the boss with overall responsibility for the side.

I'm sure Ray later had regrets that, apart from Matty Holmes, he didn't add to his squad before the start of his first season as Boss. He probably later wished that he had done things differently - by strengthening the side with more players before the Champions League campaign. After winning the Premiership, it would have been a great opportunity to bring in a couple of world class players to the club.

Although our European Cup campaign (apart from the 4-1 win over Rosenborg) was a big disappointment - Nevertheless it's also true that if Alan Shearer had stuck away a late chance against Legia Warsaw in the 0-0 draw at Ewood, then Rovers would have actually qualified for the next round. Ray wasn't helped by events like the Le Saux/Batty punch up. During the 1995/96 season, our home form was still good, and not particularly worse than the year before when the Premiership was one. Indeed we had some fine results at Ewood that year, including thrasing a Forest side 7-0 who had previously gone 23 games unbeaten under Frank Clark.

It was away from home that we had our problems. We lacked fluidity away from Ewood. Other sides would know that our main source of attack was hitting the flanks for Ripley and Wilcox to cross for Shearer, and while Alan still continued to score plenty of goals, especially at Ewood, away from home our other players weren't hitting the back of the net enough. We lacked an inventive goal scoring midfielder who could get into the box and cause damage. Batty and Sherwood began to look too similar. With hinsdsight, especially as Ripley went the whole season without scoring, Ray should have made a couple of top quality signings earlier to strengthen our midfield.

He did bring in a few players like Lars Bohinen, Chris Coleman, Gary Flitcroft and Graham Fenton, but this didn't prove to be quite enough.

We still though came close to squeezing into Europe again, finishing 7th, just below the UEFA Cup places. Shearer's departure in the summer of 1996 was such a massive blow, that the following season the team really struggled. Ray quit after a home defeat to Dave Jones' Stockport in the League cup.

Apparently, such was the esteem that Jack Walker held Ray in, that he even initially tried to persuade Harford to stay on for a bit longer. Jack described Ray as a fine man and a smashing fella who had always tried to do his best for the club.

Most of the players in that Championship season would no doubt only have kind words to say about Ray and the part he played as coach in Rovers winning the Premiership.

His death today is sad news. I sympathise with his family and those who knew him.

R.I.P.

Anti Euro Smith's Fan

Fans can add to the tributes here

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