Rovers boss Tony Mowbray is expecting his team to fly out of the blocks against Oldham after the players were given a few days off from training this week. At his pre-match press conference Mowbray said
“This week has been a pretty down week, there has been a lot of rest, they have some days off, the training days have been pretty good. Because the players are coming back on the grass that has increased the excitement and intensity of that. It hasn’t been a normal week, the players have had a couple of extra days off and that’s my call really.
“Some days you have to recharge the batteries and understand the reasons you are giving them a rest, only so that they can burst out of the blocks and show everyone how dynamic we can be and how exciting we can be. Hopefully the next few teams feel the energy levels and the quality we possess and we can get back to winning ways pretty quickly. We’re looking forward to the weekend.”
Rovers are third in league one and face Oldham at Ewood on Saturday followed by a long midweek trip to Portsmouth on Tuesday.
The Evolving Nature of Fandom
I can still recall, clear as day, what it was like to walk into the old Nuttall Street Stand; the smell, the sounds and when I was lucky enough to have a pie bought for me, the flavours too. The creaks and groans from the wooden beams and staircases, the unique whiff emanating from the gents loos and the gloom around the snack bar. Even the low wattage light bulbs had a role to play, doing their bit to save a few pennies on the club’s electricity bill.
My first visits to Ewood actually were to the Riverside, sitting in the seats above that famous old terrace or more accurately on the bench seats in the wings. The admission was cheaper and frankly me wanting to go to the football was seen as a fad that would soon run its course. Not the first time, I confounded my parents with my unique take on the world and here we are more than four decades later, I’m still proving my point. Nothing if not tenacious, that’s me.
Football supporting back then seemed to be a whole lot easier though. As a kid I would have a fixture list sellotaped to the inside of the wardrobe door. Within a couple of days I would have pretty much memorised it, safe in the knowledge that fixtures would be rearranged only in the event of a postponement following bad weather or if we were to be particularly lucky, an FA Cup run.
It was cash on the turnstile, rarely a need for tickets in advance and in fact as a very small boy; it was not unheard of to be hauled up and over the stile with a modest cash adjustment (adjusted for inflation) being passed over in the other direction. This tactic seemed to work well especially at away grounds and made it more economical for me to be taken to a number of local away games. Terraces were not particularly welcoming to the diminutive me, barely able to see over the wall, so sitting in the stand was a treat that at least meant I could see the game.
I was taken to the likes of Gigg Lane, Spotland, Bloomfield Road, Deepdale and Burnden Park. Soon my tastes craved some exotic flavours and a trip to the Old Showground in Great Harwood to watch Ronnie Clayton, Bryan Douglas and Roy Vernon turn out for their new club gave my elders and betters a chance to regale me of their history and what a privilege it was to see them first hand. They were of course entirely correct, but it was a little while until I realised quite why. Some years later I would play on that very pitch in an U15s cup final* and the memories came flooding back.
Replica football kits existed even back then, but the great thing was, you could buy one shirt and have about 23 kits instantly. A red shirt with white round neck collar and cuffs was good for Liverpool, Manchester United, Barnsley, Swindon, Crewe, Doncaster and even Great Harwood if so inclined. Paired with an all white one, this opened up international options, England obviously; but also domestically, Leeds Utd, Spurs, Fulham, Millwall, Bury, Preston and so on. For a child with a vivid imagination, background kickarounds rarely featured the same two teams but no costume change required.
These days I really like to people-watch at football grounds but especially the young kids…oh hang on, no; not like that, what I mean is, I want to feel reassured that they are as excited by the whole experience now as I was back then. I am not one of those people who believes that “everything was better in the old days” but I wonder what our youngest fans make of the whole experience of being a modern day football fan ?
I would have relished the wall-to-wall availability of information, statistics, video clips let alone the amount of live TV, which sees games from all around the globe being available 24/7. No waiting for that week’s Shoot magazine to check up on the line ups of divisional rivals in last week’s games !
The state of modern grounds has improved beyond measure since the terrible tragedies at Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough caused football to re-evaluate its principles and practices. Almost all grounds now have family sections and dedicated facilities for disabled spectators, although these can always be improved.
I can only imagine how over-stimulated the five year old me would be walking around a club megastore these days. The thought of personalised kits, matching training gear, tracksuits, coats and even boots would possibly have blown my mind. I was never short of anything as a kid but these places tempt me now !
The only real area of concern for me is the cost of all this. How do we ensure that the next generation is able to enjoy the match day experience, home and away ?
Their footballing future is obviously the future of our football – it therefore relies on all of us to do everything we can to pass on the baton. It relies on footballing authorities to use the TV millions to keep ticket prices sensible and stadiums full – with the average spectator age reducing, not as it is at the moment.
Football-supporting these days in some respects is fundamentally different to the experience I had as a kid but in so many other ways; the visceral excitement, the passion, the noise, the joy, the despair; that remains unchanged - long may it remain so.
RED ROSE ROVER
*we lost 2-1 but thanks for caring enough to read to this footnote. I still have the runners-up medal.
Rovers boss tony Mowbray is pleased with the way his squad is shaping up as Rovers head into the final months of the season.
Talking to the press ahead of the Northampton match Mowbray said “Not just in numbers or personnel but also an understanding of what it takes to win football matches, the camaraderie in the group”
“There was an uncertainty at the start of the season of whether this was the right environment for them to play their football, for reasons like having families and being able to earn money in the league up but as we’ve talked many times before I’ve said that if you played a part in us finding ourselves in League One and I felt you were good enough you should stay to help us get out of League One and back in to the Championship.
“Moving forward hopefully they can play in the Championship with us again.
“The strength of character, the team spirit and the camaraderie is so much stronger than it was at the start of the season when there were a few doubts and uncertainties about whether they would still be here at the end of the summer window.
“At this moment I’m happy with the group, they’re working extremely hard to try and get in to the starting XI.”
Paul Downing has signed a permanent deal which will keep at Rovers until June 2019 with the options of a further 12 months. The 26 year old defender joined Rovers in August on loan and after some impressive performances Rovers have decided to sign him on a permanent basis.
Talking to the club's official website Downing said "It’s a great feeling," I’m over the moon for it to all get signed."It gives me and the club some stability moving forward and I’m hoping for many successful times in the future. "It's one of the easiest decisions I’ve made. Ever since I signed on deadline day, it’s been an aspiration of mine to try and make it permanent."I’ve said many times how much I’ve enjoyed my time here so far and I just wanted that to continue, and I’m delighted it will do now. "I’ve been pleased to play as many games as I have and to have an impact on the team and to help them on a Saturday."There’s a long way to go for me, I still feel there’s a lot of improvement. "There’s a lot of competition for places here, so I can’t stop working hard and keep improving and trying to keep my place in the team."
Downing added "I think it’s definitely gone above my expectations, Obviously I wanted to be at the top end of the league, like the football club did, and we’ve managed to do that. "We still want to try and get into those top two places at the end of the season, but from my point of view, personally, getting in the team, helping them win and climb up the table, everything has gone really well for me. "It did help, obviously, getting off to a good start and the fans, and your team-mates, taking to you. "Going on that run, without conceding and helping us win games, it was the perfect start for me to then kick on and carry on in the next couple of months. "It’s a great football club. The people behind the scenes and the dressing room welcomed me from day one, so I thank them for that, and the fans for how they have taken to me. "It’s been really easy to settle in, on and off the pitch, which has been a big thing in helping me to play my part."
Rovers are back in action in the league as they host second place Shrewsbury Town at Ewood on Saturday.
A New Year's treat from Red Rose Rover.
There is a certain inevitability at the turn of a new year, that thoughts stray to the past as well as to making resolutions regarding our future selves. Previous New Year’s Eve revelries are recalled; many times with warmth and affection for friendships lost or enduring, sometimes with occasional embarrassment; we were all young and foolish once after all. Some of us remain foolish even if youth is viewed firmly in the rear-view mirror !
As you get older, the cliché definitely holds true that policemen look younger and New Year’s Eves arrive with alarming frequency. The Millennium Bug and all the concerns that entailed seem like yesterday. In writing this column, I’ve just realised that the only time I have ever done the “London at New Year’s Eve” thing was now over 30 years ago. Alarming isn’t the word, believe me; grab it with both hands kids - this isn’t a rehearsal.
Over the years, I have made so many resolutions, only to cast them aside with the enthusiasm of an angler on steroids. Fitness, weight-loss, learn an instrument, learn a language…just some of the things that I will doubtless revisit in 2018…again.
However, this year, what about setting some football-related ones – much easier to keep, much more convenient to pursue, none involving fitness or diets. You’re in I presume ?
Here we go then in a handy Buzzfeed* type list…
(I’ll apologise now though for the lack of an accompanying gallery of tangentially related photographs which seemingly is de-rigeur for this kind of “journalism”, I use the term journalism quite incorrectly) :-
1. Visit (more of) the 92 league grounds
I’ve been a football fan almost all of my life and have often thought that visiting the 92 league grounds seems like an achievable and enjoyable aspiration. I’ve been stuck round about the fifty mark of current league grounds for some time. That needs to improve, so in 2018, I plan to make it a focus of attention.
In my defence, my score has been affected adversely by the fact that many of the grounds that I visited in my (relative) youth no longer exist – Burnden Park, Leeds Road, the Dell, Highfield Road just some examples.
Even Morecambe have shifted grounds since I once watched a pre-season friendly at Christie Park as a teenager. Some of the teams have since dropped out of the league – Wrexham (remember Duncan McKenzie on the railings ?) Halifax Town (Easter 1974 for me), Chester City even dropped out of the league and changed grounds – but at least I did see a young Ian Rush in his only season at the club.
This season has provided the opportunity to add some new ones to the portfolio – clouds, silver-linings and all that I suppose. I’ve even added one (Chesterfield’s new ground) by virtue of attending an Accrington Stanley away game, you take ‘em where you can !
2. Watch a Scottish League Two game (preferably in a stadium not able to host international football)
I tried the first part of this a few years back whilst visiting Glasgow, but then failed on the second aspect and subsequently decided it didn’t really count. The mighty Celtic were at home but perversely I decided instead to watch Queens Park take on Berwick Rangers as I thought it was likely to be a more “authentic” experience. It also meant that I could watch in relative comfort at Hampden Park after visiting the Scottish National Football Museum; which is deep in the bowels of the main stand, with a number of Rovers-related artefacts, highly recommended should you be in the area.
However, I recognise that watching a fourth tier game at Hampden is far from “authentic”, so watch out Stirling Albion et al…you are on my list, why not put it on yours ?
3. Watch the 2018 World Cup without betting on an England victory
I love the World Cup. The chance to see nations from the different confederations competing against each other throws up some terrific combinations - Cameroon v Argentina (1990); South Korea v Italy (2002); Germany v Brazil (2014) for instance.
The only thing that takes the edge off the whole thing for me is the hype that surrounds England in the run up to a tournament. It usually lasts until the opening game and then the cries for the return of capital punishment for under-performing footballers begin.
In 2014 I had the good fortune to be between jobs and thus was able to gorge myself on every single game, that’s right…the lot. It was fantastic, except for the England games, they were interminable.
On the cusp of 2018, who knows what will unfold for our heroes, but whatever happens, we could resolve to take it in our strides, meeting triumph &/or disaster just the same. Or we could call for Mowbray to be sacked.
Either way, have a very Happy New Year & let’s keep our fingers crossed that this time next year we can resolve to attend more Championship matches at Ewood.
RED ROSE ROVER
*apparently this is journalistic clickbait which entices in readers…I’m definitely old.
The following account is fictionalised version of real events, any names (people, teams etc) and locations are made up but the events are all real and have happened to myself, coaches I know or things I have witnessed.
Sunday, 11:45am The final whistle goes and we’ve been beaten again. It’s a common occurrence this season and unfortunately it looks like we’re going to get relegated. We had a very good year last year but unfortunately we lost a few players. We’re playing at U15 level this year and that’s around the age that kids start to turn away from sports. We lost two players who just gave up football. Two went to a local academy and one went to another team to play with his friends. The players who came in to replace them, despite our best efforts just weren’t as good and so we’re having a “bad” season.
I put the word bad in quotes because it depends wholly upon your perspective. What do you think grassroots football is for ?
On the one hand, there’s the traditional view of a good season; you get promoted, win a cup or make the playoffs if that’s how your league is set up. Perhaps you got promoted last year and so a good season this time round means you stay in the same division. Or maybe you’re a club that exists to give as many kids as possible the opportunity to play football? In which case your measure of success is more likely to be measured in how much better individual players are over the season or how much they enjoy themselves.
I shake hands with the opposition coaches, give a quick pep talk to the players, try and emphasize the things that went well in the game. We played some good football in places, but we didn’t do enough to get the ball from the opposition and gave them too much time without putting them under pressure. I tell the players this, tell them we’ll work on it in training and wait for the spectators to wander over.
I take a minute to listen to the other coach’s team talk. He’s pointing and jabbing his finger at the assembled group of players, he’s going full Warnock on them, not that they’d know because they’re all staring at their feet, I doubt they’re listening. Meanwhile my players are already talking amongst themselves about what they’re going to do better next week and how they’re going to win. I wonder what he’s like when they lose? I pick up the cones that made up the 2 “technical” areas, I need to mark these or I get fined £10. No “Respect Barrier” is another club fine.
Once I’m home I fill in the the FA’s Full Time system for today’s game. I need to give marks out of 100 for the ref, managers, players & parents of the opposition. Fill in the referee’s ID number & county affiliation, mark the pitch, what type of pitch, details of any injuries anyone who was injured last week & couldn’t play, did the players shake hands before the game and did the managers check registration cards of the players before kick off … and that’s before I get to the bit where I fill out the team sheet with scorers etc. I have to do this before 6:30 or I get fined £20.
Monday lunch time at work I get a call from one of the player’s dads; it’s usually a dad, mums normally talk face to face. Little Jimmy isn’t a left winger, he’s a striker and I should play him up front more. We have a discussion for almost 30 minutes about how, at the age of 13, kids are not strikers, or wingers, or goalkeepers, they’re players who are still developing and growing. As they grow and their body changes they may not keep the speed they had 12 months ago, they may not be the tallest player on the team any more or they may not be the strongest any more. I try and explain my philosophy that every player benefits from an extended run in any position. Then we get on to tactics, and how we’re naive and should be playing a diamond formation that adapts to a christmas tree when we’re “in the attack”. In the end I spend almost an hour, my whole lunch break on the phone with him and it ends with a threat to take him to another team.
Sometimes on a Monday night the local coaches’ club gets together for a demonstration by a guest coach; they usually happen every couple of months and it’s a chance to watch professional coaches and how they interact with the players, a chance to pick up some tips. Rather than take away specific drills I try and watch their mannerisms, how they communicate, where do they stand, what are they looking at. My biggest problem as a coach is observation, all too often during a game I’ll find myself watching as a spectator rather than a coach so this is my opportunity to see how others do it. Recently we’ve had Chris Sulley, Graeme Carrick and Dean Saunders amongst visits from the heads of various Premier League academies (Newcastle and Liverpool).
We’re at home this weekend so Tuesday is the day I need to get all the match details to this week’s opposition. A couple of texts is all it takes, but not without a little moan about the kick off time. I need to get this done by 9pm or I get fined £5.
Wednesday is training night, we are lucky in that we have some astroturf with floodlights so the weather is never really an issue, my only gripe is it’s a bit small, but we do better than many so I can’t really complain.
I spend my lunch break looking at drills that encourage players to press for the ball when we’re not in possession, we’ll work on the notion of 1st, 2nd & 3rd defenders, when to press, high risk/low reward and low risk/high reward areas of the pitch. It’s not the first time we’ve worked on these ideas and it won’t be the last, they’re not simple concepts and not easy to pick up. Some of the players understand so their role in the drills has to be more complex and some players struggle with the ideas and have to be given something that’s a challenge to them. I base all my sessions on small sided games (or SSG’s) because the kids come to play football, not stand in a line and kick the ball every now and again. I think this makes it harder for a coach to mix and match the players, but the players benefit more.
I plan the session with a full squad in mind, we have a notification system where parents can let us know if they can’t make it, we get a couple drop out at the last minute and by the time the session is due to start we’re 5 or 6 down, which means a quick change to the session on the hoof. This isn’t unusual and while it’s annoying when you’ve spent a good couple of hours putting something interesting, fun and relevant together you get used to it and plan in ways to adapt.
Thursday there is a league managers’ meeting, they’re fairly rare and we just sit around and discuss the same things we did the last time we met. Not enough facilities, the facilities are too expensive, the league just fines us to make money, some argument over a rule change that’s been implemented for over a season and of course the tales of how good football used to be and how it’s ruined nowadays by political correctness.