An old fitter pal of mine at the Gas Depot in Great Harwood was summoned into the boss’s office one Friday after the gaffer, extremely well refreshed as was his custom, made a rare late afternoon appearance. “You’ve grafted this week,” he beamed, handing an initially nervous and perplexed but delighted Pete, who well knew his supervisor’s tea-time visits were seldom bestowed in order to exchange pleasantries, a tenner. But as he relaxed, Brian’s face immediately assumed a thunderous countenance rather more choleric.
“But I also note that you’ve also been late every @#/? morning. Now go and get yourself a reyt alarm clock and make sure you clock on at eight on Monday and every other day or you’ll find yourself down the job centre.” Rovers got the wake-up call they and a fair proportion of the fans badly needed on Saturday at Southend and having already claimed they had received one in the final friendly at Carlisle, one hopes Tony Mowbray was similarly unforgiving and quick to summon them for a rollocking after what, in the wake of so much silly talk about walking the league, amounted to a humiliation at Roots Hall. “They couldn’t have complained if they’d been 5-1 down at half-time,” said a long-suffering eye-witness, “and it said everything that at 2-1 down we were the side hanging on as they pressed at the end as well.” I’m absolutely convinced that a proportion of our supporters began the campaign firmly in the belief that no other side in the division had acquired any decent players in the summer or even possessed any to start with. Two of those I warned about in last week’s column, Ryan Leonard and Michael Kightly, put Rovers to the sword while one of those much-travelled and oft-rejected lumbering, seldom-scoring beanpoles we have struggled to cope with for generations, Marc Antoine-Fortune, took advantage of a central defensive pairing which is possibly one of Rovers’ most capable in a footballing sense but lacks the kind of dominant aerial presence we were afforded by messrs McNamee, Hawkins and Keeley on the occasion of our previous lower league adventures.
I was sat on Trent Bridge Cricket Ground on Saturday and roughly in the concurrent time it took Alex Hales to smash 50 from his first 19 balls received Rovers were two down, a depressing echo of last season’s “we’ll look-to-begin-at-a high-tempo-but-we-never-do” repeated pattern of beginning games dopily then pledging sincerely not to do so again. My head was spinning enough watching Hales go completely beserk for a 30-ball 95 without that. It’s an absolute must that it was a one-off aberration. We will lose games for sure but to surrender the initiative in the opener that early and squander the residual feelgood factor a promising summer spread among fans was a pitiful effort.
I could have done without reading one of our lot was up and down in a nightclub after limping off with a tight hamstring. But as his in amorata that evening is rather more newsworthy currently than is he, perhaps he was the incidental support B-feature in the story, a fact hammered home by the fact that his surname was erroneously spelt, to the tune of one vowel, “Deck” by one newspaper. Oh well, that could have been a whole lot worse I suppose.
I was amused by the fans who banged on about how the lass in question was “entitled to her privacy.” If anybody who has just come off a TV reality game show, or whatever the hell Love Island is, hasn’t hired a PR firm to extend their 15 minutes of fame and brief the press as to where and when they can locate them, I’ll knit myself a mankini and wear it at Ewood on Boxing Day. Dack wants to study the Leon Best and Anthony Stokes files and see how long the “big popular summer signing” cache lasts with lads who are prone to act the goat. Back to the football, one supporter made a decent point that around 17 or 18 of our fellow League one rivals had played at least one friendly against a team from a higher division or at least semi-decent continental opposition. It might have benefited us more to take on a Stoke or Everton, even a Leeds or Middlesbrough, rather than strolling about peppering a York team virtually having to advertise in the paper shop window for players.
As a largely irrelevant aside I’m also baffled by us playing in the home kit against a side whose shirts are primarily blue. Modern football often baffles me. I hate to see us change from our proud, unmistakeable traditional unique strip when we don’t actually need to but it looked weird. Lovely, though, to be able to reflect on a midweek boost from a win in a competition which has provided us with all kinds of opportunities to make life hard work for ourselves in recent seasons. I know a lot will say we could do without additional fixtures but progressing in any cup means: A) you get to look forward to and enjoy the draw a lot more. It’s another midweek match night.
I’m on holiday at the moment but I insist with every fibre of my existence that any working week with a match in the middle of it, home or away, going or following it from afar, is more enjoyable than a blank footballing week. Well, I say that now, ask me again when it’s Plymouth at home on a Tuesday in October. I note Stanley had a fine win too, congratulations to Coley and his boys, and having missed out on a rare competitive meeting with our closest neighbours in the Checkatrade I’d like to see it happen in the League Cup. So well done to Mowbray for putting a strong side out – I’m not entirely sure how seriously Coventry were taking it with six changes from Saturday – and to players like Smallwood and Samuel who I believe impressed. Evans’ goal was a stunner – when was the last time two central midfielders scored in a game for us?
The fans who’ve put in all those miles this week at considerable cost deserved a performance and the possession and shots stats suggest they got rather more for their money on Tuesday. One hopes that Mulgrew limping off was a precaution, however it seems Lenihan might be a while with his foot injury. That might just dampen the ardent and persistent upfront pursuit of the Irishman by Sheffield United. Lose either or both of those short-term, long-term or permanently and a centre-back of some experience becomes a priority if it isn’t one to start with. I’ve no problems with Chris Wilder being honest.
I know people will say: “He’s trying to unsettle our player,” but guess what? All players are informed and know full well when someone wants to sign them. That’s how we sign players other clubs don’t really want to sell us and always has been.
It would be unfortunate to be without the pair for the visit of Doncaster, themselves off to a decent start under a manager who knows this league well in Darren Ferguson. They had a fine promotion campaign last season, inexplicably collapsing for the final four games after sewing up promotion with a great run from October to April only to miss out on the League Two title which looked theirs for the taking.
Like most, their summer signings consist of a couple of interesting Premier League and Championship loanees such as Manchester City’s Rodney Kolongo and a smattering of frees though Alex Kiwomya, son of Chris, signed permanently from Chelsea, is out through illness and unable to replicate his fine performance here for Shrewsbury a year ago. Let’s hope for one of those sunny August Saturdays and a decent turn-out from both sets of fans to provide a bit of atmosphere.
It will be grand to be back at Ewood but I must admit I have an ulterior motive in hoping for a baking hot afternoon – before setting off to take my seat in the Riverside I’ll be taking in the first part of Church’s Worsley Cup final reply to Darwen’s 186 all out last Sunday before rain wiped out the home team’s innings.
A Rovers win and a possible Church Worsley Cup win? Something tells me one excited lad won’t need an alarm clock to get up this Saturday.
Rovers are back in Division 2 & Howard soon has the team believing that greater glories are possible. In this podcast, we learn how the first half of the 1980/81 season unfolds and sets the scene for the pursuit to come later that season:
Rovers have announced that they signed highly rated youngster Harry Chapman on a season long loan from Middlesbrough and he becomes the club's eight signing of the summer. Chapman was part of the England under 20''s squad during the summer which won the world cup in South Korea.
Howard Kendall turns Rovers into a winning machine and promotion becomes a reality THAT night at Gigg Lane. Written by Jim Wilkinson and. narrated by Ian Herbert
Rovers have announced that they have completed the signing of Jayson Leutwiller. The Canadian international signs from Shrewsbury for an undisclosed fee and has signed a 2 year deal. Leutwiller has previously worked with Rovers boss Mowbray at Middlesbrough and becomes the club's seventh signing of what is proving to be a busy summer for Rovers.
We are delighted to announce that Jim Wilkinson (@jimwilkz) has given us permission to publish his excellent weekly Blue Eyed Boy column. It is an essential reads for Rovers fans and we are grateful to Jim for letting us use it.
You can read all of Jim's Blue Eyed Boy columns first at: https://blueyedboy.wordpress.com/
Never look back, walk tall, act fine and give us a Golden Year, Rovers
Posted on August 1, 2017by blueyedboy
Let’s start the season with a little quiz. No googling.
Go on the Beeb website and look at the League One table, all currently listed neatly in alphabetical order.
When you get over the thrill of seeing us in an automatic promotion spot, try this little exercise.
Write down every club’s manager.
Then try writing down roundabout where they finished last season.
Next maybe have a stab at who was their best player last season and is he still there?
Finally, and this is where you can really stack points up at a mark each, write down any players each club has signed in the summer window.
I must admit had I not started monitoring the transfers daily from mid-June onwards, I wouldn’t have scored heavily.
Neither, I imagine, would many of the people currently proclaiming that Blackburn Rovers are about to sweep all before them triumphally as they parade untroubled to the League One title.
You can maybe multiply your final answers by approximately how much you knew about Rovers’ summer signings before they landed here and a lot would still struggle to top the 100-point mark the more extreme optimists are predicting.
Leonard Cohen used to deliver an onstage rap about how “I’ve tried Prozac, Ritalin, I’ve plunged into studying the great philosophies and mystic religions…but cheerfulness kept breaking through,” which amused me every time I saw him (a lot) over 30-odd years and it always reminded me of the indomitable human spirit of the football fan.
Although I will take some convincing about the nine month title parade, I find myself enjoying and if not falling in with the (possibly insanely) positive attitude of those expecting the 100-point stroll, preferring the outlook to the utterly miserabilist doom-mongering Jeremiahs who foresaw administration, another relegation and re-forming as a Phoenix club ground-sharing with Mill Hill St Peters as an inevitable consequence of relegation in May.
That’s not to say that the prophets of Stygian gloom won’t necessarily turn out to be exactly right. I just reserve the right not to subscribe to their fear-laden rhetoric for a bit along the way as I continue to enjoy going more than I’d enjoy not going.
This season represents the 50th anniversary of the autumn when I got completely hooked on football. I rolled up at Ewood in August of 1967 just about keen enough for my dad not to have to drag me there and something magical happened in the ensuing weeks.
I vividly remember by Bonfire Night that year having my dad and granddad test me, as the last embers of our fire glowed in the garden in Feniscowles, on every one of the 92 league clubs they could recall… manager, kit, name of ground….I bet I did better than most of you do with the League One quiz we nosed off with.
Despite the fact that our fall from the Premier League years has been long and vertiginous, I dearly want my kids to experience that feeling I felt, after what seemed at that age very long years of disappointment and mediocrity, as a 16-year-old in ’75 and again five years later, of seeing your team actually win something which every other side you played that season wanted to win so much too.
There can, in all likelihood these days, never be scenes like there were at Port Vale under Lee or Gigg Lane under Kendall (or at Ewood when triumphant Bolton invaded two years before) – modern stadium H & S restrictions and ticketing prevent that ever happening again and in any case most of the local away games at which a big following is likely (how cynical and opportunistic is that “another fiver, please” 1875 Club rubbish?) take place in the first half of the season or shortly thereafter.
On the plus side for the first time in a long while we have a manager who’s popular with the fans, has some pedigree, is respected by most in football and seemingly able, unlike the chip-on-both-shoulders Lambert and the inane, inept Coyle, to manipulate our absentee owners into enough support to ensure he doesn’t, like most of his predecessors, guarantee making an utter buffoon of himself.
It’s as well that Rovers have almost certainly been the biggest spenders in the Third Tier this season. I rather expect there WILL be a couple of departures and a possible net profit but that doesn’t alter the fact that no-one, absolutely none of our competitors, has acquired players costing what, say, Dack and Samuel have cost,
Practically everyone else is operating on frees and loans – which to me refutes the argument that Mowbray and Mark Venus could not be held responsible for leaving Coventry bottom of the pile as they had no funds to work with.
Let’s hope the truism that all managers get better when they have more money to spend holds true.
It’s obvious looking at the list below that plenty of managers and clubs have been highly active in the market and a few will be fancying it a bit themselves. Charlton and Bradford look to have done decent business.
Others like Bury – whose ambition and purchasing power may surprise one or two – Northampton and Shrewsbury have recruited in large numbers but are very much an unknown quantity. Who knows how good guys they have signed or borrowed are?
Who knows how good all ours are/will be?
The signings themselves have been encouraging on two fronts.
One, Mowbray has clearly identified that the midfield he inherited was crushingly dysfunctional and laboured, neither destructive in stopping the opposition having largely their own way for long periods nor creative enough to supply quality strikers like Graham and the departed Sam Gallagher with sufficient chances to win enough games.
I’m not a big stats fan but Whittingham’s show that the fella actually PLAYS GAMES, as in lots of them. Never less than 32 a season in the last ten years. Compare that with the like of Guthrie and Corry Evans. I’ll be very surprised if he isn’t a positive addition.
He also contributes a fair portion of goals, almost a lost Ewood art, as does Dack who had a splendid campaign for Gillingham in 2015-16, rather less so last season which was hopefully down to that undefinable yearning to be elsewhere young players who’ve been denied one big move are sometimes consumed by (See Rhodes, Gestede).
I expect double figures plus from him if he lives up to his billing – and fee!
Smallwood, Gladwin, Samuel, Nuttall, Caddis..possibly not names to get the pulses racing and as I seldom bother with friendlies I can’t proffer an opinion. But neither possibly were Hawkins, Beamish, Hickman, Oates, Burgin, Hoy and Mullen on the occasion of our first promotion from this level, nor Crawford, Arnold and Branagan second time.
And there’s a great lesson of patience to be learned from those promotions of yesteryear. I’ve heard more than once “a good start is essential.”
Gordon Lee’s team had just that, hit the top two in the first week of October and were never subsequently out of it.
Howard Kendall’s baptism in management saw just two wins, none of them at home, in the first 12 games. It is unthinkable that he’d survive under today’s prevailing entitled, social-media-fury conditions. In mid-January 1980 Rovers, even after the first win of a run which transformed the season, lay 14th.
So whether we are 3-0 up at Roots Hall after an hour on Saturday or 3-0 down it won’t necessarily augur with certainty the pattern of the season. We all watched a side last season go four up in 20 minutes and acclaimed them Championship title certainties.
Coincidentally, Sheffield United are currently coveting The Shrimps’ Player of the Year from last season Ryan Leonard (five bonus points if you got him!) in much the same way they are testing the waters over Darragh Lenihan, like Charlie Mulgrew certain to attract interest not only this week but through to the end of August.
Danny Graham is another who will come onto the radar of championship outfits struggling for goals early on if he continues his pre-season form.
But Mowbray will continue his search for additions too, whether we armchair sports news watchers are fully conversant with their pedigree or not. Surely nobody feels we are the finished article, particularly if one or more of that trio depart.
Even if you didn’t know there were able managers at this level such as Darren Ferguson, Lee Clark, Uwe Rosler, John Sheridan, Kenny Jackett, Keith Hill and Phil Brown (2 points apiece) operating, even if you don’t know who’s signed Michael Kightly, David Ball, Brett Pitman, Steven Taylor, Chris Maguire, James Henry or Chris Long (don’t panic they’ve all gone to different clubs not the same one), expecting a procession seems fanciful.
It’ll be a slog at times, with dollops of Checkatrade nonsense thrown in, even if we make no progress in the two authentic cup competitions.
As ever, I hope we extend our fixture list by progressing in those, starting on Mowbray’s old manor at Coventry next week, but I will be slightly more forgiving than I have been in the past if we don’t, although I can never understand not giving your first choice XI a free chance to blend together in the first 72 hours of the campaign.
There’ll be hard days and dark, cold nights against opposition even less glamorous and attractive than we have got used to over the last half-decade. It’s the Third Division because the players and teams and possibly the managers aren’t as good as they are in the Premier League and The Championship.
The gates are lower and the grounds aren’t generally as good – there’ll be midweek drudgery with the away end (and possibly vast home sections) sparsely populated although you will be spared the delights of the likes of Haig Avenue, The Shay and Layer Road of yore, or Torquay fetching about enough to fill one-and-a-half minibuses.
But it’s what we do. Turn up. I have far fewer winters ahead of me than behind me and as long as I can get there and there’s one or two prepared to meet up for a pint and sit it out, I’ll carry on in the hope that fortunes turn.
Maybe this year, every year, that’s football fans.
I hope all Rovers fans, whether incurably romantic, cynically miserable or irascibly angry and raging at our plight, find much to enjoy between now and May.
Surely no-one on Saturday will have as unfortunate a day as I had on my last visit to Roots Hall in February 1980 when, having travelled by train for our game, a couple of lunchtime pints before emerging into a cruel seaside wind without wearing a vest occasioned me a slight chill on my kidneys which I could only assuage by means of a visit to the gents….precisely as little Andy Crawford was striking our winner home in a customary Kendall-era 1-0 win.
Rovers will start this campaign on August 5th in the third tier of English football for the first time since 1979.
In 1979, the board decided to try something new by appointing a player-manager in the hope that the chosen one could turn round the club’s fortunes. That man was Howard Kendall & the appointment proved to be a masterstroke…but it didn’t look that way during the opening half of the 1979/80 season. In today’s cutthroat football landscape, how long would he have lasted ?
Upon Howard’s untimely passing in October 2015, Jim Wilkinson was moved to write a marvellous four-part blog charting the Kendall years at Ewood Park & we have transformed this into a podcast series for your pleasure !
“On The March With Howard’s Army” pays a fitting tribute to a fine footballer, a great manager & a Rovers legend.
Part One – The Beginning - http://brfcs-podcast.brfcs.com/?name=2017-07-29_howard_kendall_part_one.mp3
For your listening pleasure a new BRFCS podcast. Hosted by Ian (@ianherbert) and featuring myself, Mikey (@mikeydelap), Josh (@joshboswell) and special guest Linz (@linzlewis15). We look at transfers, pre season matches and Linz talks about how she became a Rovers fan and the #formegan campaign.
If you want to donate to the #formegan campaign then you can do so via:
Rovers have announced that 7500 season tickets have been sold up to the 1st July prize freeze deadline.
Tony Mowbray has been encouraged by the season ticket sales “Hopefully it's indicative of the fact that we've seen support for me, regarding the signings and being able to retain our players from last season. We now have to try and get the team together as we aim towards the start of the season and then get off a good start.
“We will do our best and hopefully it’s an enjoyable season for everybody who is going to invest in coming and supporting their team.
“For me, we have to try and make the team exciting for the fans on paper, so they look at the signings and want to come along and watch. Then, when they do come along and watch, we play entertaining winning football and they want to come back.
“I understand some people are waiting, because it's still early. Some people will want to wait and see what the team might look like and if they think that they want to come along, then great.
“The more we've got in the stadium, the more support the players have got, obviously it helps. A partisan crowd at any home stadium is really, really important, as we saw on numerous occasions at the end of the season – the crowd driving the team on to get a result.
“So hopefully we can get a few more new signings. We’re very conscious we need to fill up the top end of the pitch, where the goals are going to come from, and we're trying hard to do that and hopefully people will make their minds up and want to come and support the club.”
Rovers kick off their league 1 campaign on 5th August with a trip to Southend. The first home game of the season is on 12th August when Rovers host Doncaster.
Rovers have this evening completed the signing of Bradley Dack from Gillingham. The 23 year old has signed a 3 year deal with an option of a 4th year. He will cost an initial fee of £750,000.
Sources have also confirmed that Rovers are closing in on a deal for Ben Gladwin, the QPR midfielder spent last year at Swindon and has been heavily linked with Rovers over the last week or so.