For all the indignities heaped upon Rovers fans over seven years of failure, the constant simmering anger and despair of the long-suffering supporters – and we’re unquestionably down to a few thousand of the most fiercely loyal and tolerant at the stadium now – I’ve never witnessed such a startling and damning sound as I heard at around a quarter to five on Saturday.
For every Venkys Out chant, for every attack on a manager (Kean and Coyle both vehemently targeted individually on occasion) and for every groan or boo of dissatisfaction individual players have come in for (Andrews, Best, Murphy, Orr etc) over the years I have never previously heard a decent home turn-out (including, importantly, many non-season ticket holders who were willing to give the new team a trial run) turn so unanimously and vociferously in venomous vocal condemnation of what they saw before them and vent their spleen on the team as a collective.
At the precise moment fans chanted “You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” – not just a few, practically everybody – there were four of Tony Mowbray’s summer signings on the field as well as men like Elliott Bennett, Charlie Mulgrew and Danny Graham, who along with the withdrawn Peter Whittingham, we were told, were players the like of which humble third tier outfits would not be able to cope with being on the same pitch as.
It was simply staggering – although surprisingly not remarked upon by Rovers’ closest press commentators who deign to suggest “Five talking points” after each game. If that wasn’t second or third on the agenda in any pub full of fans following the game, they must have had a hell of a stripper on.
We’ve had home humiliations – Cardiff 4-1, Peterborough 3-0 up after 20 minutes, Birmingham similar, and we’ve had teams wipe the floor with us, Huddersfield the season before last under Lambert a particular low point – but usually we’ve had the consolation of a doughty fightback of some kind or the fact that the opposition were just too classy for us.
I’ve heard some of the most pitiful stuff I’ve ever heard trotted out by Rovers supports this week to attempt to explain the stark reality of a pointless start against two of league football’s perennial nearly men.
“Teams are trying harder against us because we are former Premier League champions.”
“We’re a big scalp, the team everybody wants to beat.”
Get real, pussycats. We are no longer considerd so storied or monied to be regarded as any kind of fading aristocrats or elite.
After five largely wretched seasons in the Championship hoovering up rubbish such as Chris Brown, Paul Taylor, Simeon Jackson, Lee Williamson and Luke Varney, any residual sheen or lustre from our gold-standard spending 1990s or early 21st century glory years is a distant memory.
It’s like me claiming to have been in awe of Ipswich in 1967 because they’d won the league five years earlier. Ancient history.
Teams – and more to the point smart opposing managers like Phil Brown and Darren Ferguson – know full well that Rovers are damaged goods psychologically and that Ewood, statistically, is a ground more than half of visiting sides have walked away from with one or three points for a period of more than half a decade now.
Let’s not flatter ourselves that we’re bringing an exciting touch of glamour to deprived footballing regions only for them to insult our largesse.
We get a few thousand at home and take a fair –to-above-average following away. We’re hardly Newcastle or Man City rolling up.
Footballers, if they are truly professional, want to win any game. The win bonus on offer is usually sufficient to ensure that.
If we really are reduced to arguing that a passionate Roots Hall home contingent or a larger-than-usual Doncaster following for the first away game is a factor in raising the odds against us we ought to be thoroughly ashamed.
Where we must look for reasons is inwardly, are our manager and players up to the job? So far resoundingly not with hopefully a few tough decisions to be taken and one or two looking at themselves so as to say: “What more could I have done to avoid this start?”
One or two, like Caddis I suspect, will prove to have been folly, mistakes of acquisition which all managers make. The trick is identifying the error quickly and eradicating it.
Remember every one of those 2-3,000 walk-ons on a lovely August afternoon was a potential bury-my-reservations season ticket holder who went home thinking: “Same old crap, different division, I’ll keep my money in my wallet and come to one or two if they pick up.”
I called the pre-season 100-point talk delusional nonsense all summer but nothing had prepared anyone but the most avowed pessimist for the meek, simpering manner in which Mowbray’s side has failed to even compete adequately for the first six points of this campaign.
I certainly didn’t subscribe to the arrant “walk this league” twaddle (read some of that back if you want to see why some fans might enjoy doing a number on us) but nor did I or do I believe that the personnel available to Mowbray are incapable of giving a better account of themselves. But, boy, do they need to start showing signs thereof soon.
I dismissed as hysterical bullshit the notion that Mowbray should be judged on the first ten games. But I’ll revise that – three more displays like the first two and serious questions will have to be asked.
Whether the likes of Dack, Gadwin, Whittingham, Samuel and Smallwood and co will eventually sparkle in this league remains to be seen.
Antonnson, Nuttall, Chapman and the likely Celtic loanee Liam Henderson offer Mowbray options but they deserve to be introduced into an environment where at least the senior pros are taking responsibility. So far they pointedly aren’t.
One thing which isn’t in doubt however is that if the manager’s selection and tactics aren’t quickly tinkered with after an appalling set of Mowbray errors for the openers, nobody is going to be able to show their best in a system ill-designed for the parts available.
Whatever formation you imagine we are playing, three at the back with two wing backs only offers a foundation if your three at the back are solid and able to concentrate and your wide fellas are capable of contributing going forward along with their defensive chores.
Mowbray reiterated on Saturday evening that there was nothing wrong with the system. He’s right, there isn’t if you have the 1974-78 Dutch World Cup side at your disposal, or perhaps peak Dani Alves and Roberto Carlos with Baresi, Costacurta and Maldini inside, Lothar Matthaus holding while Carlos Valderama and Messi slip balls through to Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.
With the best of wishes, it’s not gonna work with Derrick Williams and Elliott Ward key men in it.
And if your midfield is packed with holding type players and has little inclination and even less options to move forward or get the ball to attacking players then the system looks what it did on Saturday, ponderous and slow, calculated to offer incessant sideways and backwards movement as the opposition get behind the ball in droves with a centre forward not in the first flush of youth or indeed inclined much towards industry when so isolated, rendered virtually a passenger.
Smallwood showed flashes of a quicker, crisper ability to demand the ball, think swiftly and shift it but by the second half he had reverted to anonymity among his less pro-active colleagues.
The one time Rovers worked an opening, Graham, who thought he’d bought himself a gap with a neat shimmy, found a second defender showing enough commitment and awareness to block what momentarily seemed a golden chance.
That’s not a team fired up to beat the champs of 22 years ago. It’s a team where everyone knows his job and knows when he needs to step in and help his mate out in a difficult moment.
There are no stats recorded in Rothmans for how many times you get your head, chest, upper thigh or arse in the way of a cross or shot but the way the game panned out the importance of the kind of doggedness and defensive determination Doncaster displayed throughout was thrown into sharp relief shortly after the interval.
A rather casual attempt from a strangely disinterested-looking Mulgrew wasn’t the best but it ought to have presented no real problem for Ward, heavily lambasted for pre-season aberrations, and Marquis (a striker Roves might have coveted before he extended his Keepmoat contract) would have been considered ungrateful to have missed out on such a gift as the hapless centre-back tumbled like some Sunday morning hungover mate of the manager’s who hasn’t played for 20 years drafted in on a bumpy pitch five at Pleasington.
Of course there was no-one anticipating a potential mistake other than Marquis.
Around that point Mowbray chucked his three subs on. The possibilities of injury aside, I thought there was an argument for doing that after half an hour, or at least half time, when the initiative was still there to be seized by any configuration which could carry a threat to Doncaster as eventually Gladwin, and to a lesser extent the thus-far underwhelming Dack, did.
These were players, we were told, who had “bought into Tony’s vision.”
At the moment “Tony’s vision” looks as singularly odd as but less convincing even than the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult’s who persuaded his followers that a spaceship following the Hale Bopp comet was about to pick them up if they shed their earthly existence.
I dunno about that but a move to Sheffield United or Wednesday by any available form of transport must look increasingly appealing with an unsteady hand at the helm already plain to the players.
By the time Mulgrew’s crass challenge, outpaced onto a straightforward but incisive through ball from a midfield runner – how many times has that happened at the other end lately? – gave Donny a cushion, the game was up.
I would have had Nyambe as my Rovers MOTM (with maybe 6/10 and nobody else above 5) personally but I’d remarked to Old Blackburnian beside me early on that I felt queasy anytime he and Raya were left in tandem and so it proved to be a route to complete bathos as the pair’s fatal hesitation offered the lively May a comic third to unleash the collective anger and derision of the crowd.
All Rovers can do to win back the faith is improve a great deal, which shouldn’t really be rocket science. I’m unconvinced by the argument that we will rise to the top because we have better players than everyone else, no-one knows that, but we certainly can’t be the bottom two material we have looked in the first 180 minutes of a long campaign.
It would be devastating not to pick up at least a point at Valley Parade on Saturday. It’s a long time, although in some ways it doesn’t seem it, since we went there. Their two years in the Prem coincided with our two out of it if I remember rightly.
Their top flight experience was fleeting but they have had Wembley finals and promotions to enjoy and with imaginative pricing they have an excellent home following and a good start behind them.
An unexpected away win has often been the catalyst for a Rovers revival in years past and with a decent following ourselves just over the dark side who will, as ever, faithfully and admirably support the team as if they’d won the last two, there must be at least something for them to drape hopes on.
Then on Wednesday it’s the game you either most dreaded or most desired when the Caraboa Cup draw was made.
I’m in the latter camp and can’t wait.
A decent pricing structure and absence of TV coverage should generate at least the impression of a big game and despite the bubble travel arrangements our cousins will bring a large contingent hoping to see them extend their recent upper hand in the exchanges.
If many Rovers have lost a little faith this fortnight, they can certainly be won back by this time next week. A result against Bradford and at the very least a dogged performance on Wednesday and the team will be just about in credit with the ever-forgiving football fan.
You know just what to do to make us happy,Tony and the boys!
BRFCS forum member riverholmes as kindly done written a preview for the upcoming match against Bradford City.
Bradford City vs. Blackburn Rovers
The season that Rovers were promoted to the Premier League from Division One, managed by Graeme Souness in 2000-01, was the season that Bradford City finished rock bottom in the Premier League, earning just five League wins all campaign. Rovers’ wilderness years in the second tier were behind and Bradford’s decline just beginning.
As the clubs swapped places, Rovers had the bright new stars in Duff, Dunn and Jansen, to be joined by the likes of Tugay, David Thompson and Brett Emerton, Bradford contemplated how to offload Beni Carbone, Ashley Ward and Robbie Blake.
That relegation season, Bradford waved goodbye to a remarkable run in the Intertoto Cup, reaching the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by Zenit St Petersburg. Rovers, of course, were on the cusp of their own European adventures. 16 years later and a couple of league cup final appearances a piece (Bradford reached the final in 2013) and the two clubs meet in the Third Tier.
Rovers’ recent transfer activity has troubled me somewhat, reminding me of some of the more inauspicious moments in the Roy Hodgson/Brian Kidd/Souness era of transfer dealing marked by targetting so-called solid players (such as Christian Dailly) and players that the manager had previously worked with at some earlier point in their careers.
The scale now is very, very different but some of Mowbray’s major signings for the new season have been players he previously worked with or was connected to: Dominic Samuel (Coventry); Richie Smallwood (Middlesbrough); Harry Chapman (Middlesbrough). Bradley Dack’s best season was for Gillingham in this same division when Mowbray was managing Coventry and trying to sign Gladwin.
Dipping into the old boys’ network was a favourite policy of Graeme Souness. Sometimes it worked, such as in Bjornebye, Tugay and Friedel but it worries me when it becomes a trend, as it suggests that the manager is not examining all the options open to him and is, perhaps, acting hurriedly. Not knowing the market inside out can sometimes mean not know the players stepping out against your team.
I expect Dominic Samuel to do well at this level and Dack is a young, technically gifted player with pedigree at this level – and in the right team, will do well. To my mind Mowbray has overlooked some important areas of the pitch and has gone for too many average players.
In the close season, Mowbray needed to get in a fast, skilful wing-back/midfielder. Our promotion winning side under Souness was abound with attacking pace in Duff, Gillespie and Bent – combined with the skill that Duff possessed, allied with Dunn, Jansen and later in the season, Mahon, Hignett and Eyal Berkovic. The combination of pace and skill Rovers had meant that the lack of pace at the back in Craig Short, Berg and Tiny Taylor wasn’t so much of an issue. The defenders could drop deep, knowing that the attack would have the opposition pinned back. Not that we’re shopping for the calibre of those heady days any more.
At the back, this season, Rovers needed a decent, fast central defender, if the youngsters were not deemed ready. A quick defender would ease the pressure on Nyambe and cover Mulgrew. Lenihan could finally be pushed into defensive midfield which is his preferred position and the one in which, I think, he will eventually assume and go on to have a fine career in.
The letting go of players like Connor Mahoney (Bournemouth), Josh Morris (Scunthorpe) and, arguably, Jack O’Connell, seems short-sighted now – albeit, efforts were made a little too late to keep Mahoney. He could’ve been the outlet we so sorely lack – or could’ve earned us a tidy sum, if he’d been tied down to a longer contract back in the day when he was playing for the U21s alongside £1 million Jordan Slew.
Bradford are in decent form, barring a defeat to Doncaster in the Carabao Cup. Last season they got to the play-off final, only to lose to Millwall. In the summer, they lost some key players in that team in Mark Marshall (Charlton), Josh Cullen (Bolton), Roy McCardle (Scunthorpe) and James Meredith (Millwall).
However, they did sign a midfielder from AFC Wimbledon called Jake Reeves, who they are very hopeful about as a creator in their team. They also have experienced and technically decent players in Nicky Law (ex-Rangers), Tony McMahon (ex-Boro right back), and Romain Vincelot. Upfront, they have pace and power in Dominic Poleon (ex-Leeds) and Charlie Wyke, if he is fit, is a regular goalscorer for them.
Their manager Stuart McCall wasn’t ecstatic about the performance in beating Gillingham 1-0 but two league wins is a solid start and they have their French captain, Vincelot to come back into the team. If Rovers are to win, they’ll likely do so by exposing the dodgy form of keeper Colin Doyle and the defensive frailties in the side. Two familiar names in their squad are Matt Kilgallon, at centre back or left back and Paul Taylor, who’ll likely start on the bench.
I expect Bradford to nick a win. They’re not, I think, as strong as last year and their early wins mask a bit of an unsettled side. However, I think Rovers’ players, positionally, don’t really know what they’re doing – and I wonder about complacency with some. Bradley Dack, clearly, is the key attacking player. If Mowbray can find him a settled position in the side, he will lead the side – he can be our David Dunn of season 2000-01.
Welcome to Episode 82b of the BRFCS podcast. This is an unscheduled edition, rushed out due to ...er...popular (?) demand; well at least 4 of you asked.
Hosted by Ian Herbert, the panel has Josh Boswell, Linz Lewis making a return appearance and of course, our very own Kamy.
One fool thinks that the Burnley game is going to be OK, the rest are less sanguine, there is widespread confusion regarding formation & tactics and some discussion of great & some not so great starts to previous seasons...
We hope you enjoy it...!
Rovers have confirmed that Swedish striker Marcus Antonsson has signed from Leeds United on a season long loan deal.
The Swedish international moved to Leeds last summer for a reported £2 million fee.
Antonsson has signed in time to be available for the game against Doncaster Rovers tomorrow and Rovers have been given permission by Leeds to play in all the cup competitions that the club participates in this season.
There is also speculation that Rovers will sign Celtic midfielder Liam Henderson on a season long loan deal later today.
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.