The Red Rose County (Part 1) – Art Et Labore

26 01 2011

Early Sunday afternoon I set off up the M6 to the red rose county, Lancashire. I had overnight accommodation booked with a money back guarantee, courtesy  of Lenny Henry, if I didn’t get a good night’s sleep at the Premier Inn, Worsley (on the outskirts of Manchester).   

I had a full day ahead of me, on Monday, visiting two schools with my Rwanda road-show (VSO outreach work), one just over the border in Wigan LA and the other in, the home town of everybody’s favourite Lancastrian, Peter GarlicBread?” Kay, – Bolton. “Ave it!”  

It just so happened that by coordinating my visit to the north-west with the Sky Sports cameras I had the opportunity to knock off another two Premier League football grounds on my hit list.

First up, Ewood Park – home of Blackburn Rovers since 1890 and one of the oldest football league grounds still in use. With the help of a slightly out of date, 2007 edition, of A Fan’s Guide – Football Grounds by Duncan Adams, I located the Fenhurst pub, which welcomes away supporters, and parked up just a stone’s throw from the ground.

There was plenty of time to enjoy a pre-match pint of Thwaites bitter, the long-established local brew.

The away fans on this occasion were the Baggies, West Bromwich Albion, although I had a ‘home’ ticket for the Jack Walker Stand.

The late Jack Walker was a local lad who left school at 13 but went on to make tens of millions in the steel industry, much of which he invested in the love of his life – Blackburn Rovers.

Under his ownership, during the 1990’s, the ground was substantially redeveloped and the team significantly strengthened. In 1991, after 26 years floundering in the lower divisions, Rovers finally returned to football’s top tier and just three years later Walker’s long held dream was fulfilled when they lifted the Premiership trophy under the management of Kenny Dalglish and with Alan Shearer leading the forward line.    

Next to the ground is a statue and touching tribute to Uncle Jack. Following his death in 2000, another Jack, Jack Straw, Labour MP for Blackburn since 1979 and honorary vice president of the club, saluted him as a ‘local hero’ who ‘has done more than any other individual in the last century to enhance the self-confidence and the prosperity of his home town.’ Walker was one of the last of his type in the modern game, more is the pity.

Ewood Park is still flanked by Victorian terraces, one of which  caught my eye – the wonderfully named Top O Th’ Croft.  

Outside the ground I found a stall, surrounded by old timers in flat claps, wrapped in mufflers and with  accents thick as treacle, selling Rovers programmes from seasons past. I rummaged around and came up with one from Forest’s visit in 1964-5, face value 3d.

As a kid I was always attracted to Rovers’ distinctive shirt of blue and white halves, and there it was beautifully reproduced in the art work of the front cover, a throwback to another age. An anonymous Rovers player, hair neatly parted, is striding out in his baggy shorts and heavy boots with a ball tucked under his arm.

Those of course would have been the days when it went without saying that the match would be played on a Saturday afternoon, kick off 3.00pm.

Sunday’s game, on a bitterly cold January afternoon, had been designated for the 4.00pm graveyard slot by the game’s lord and masters Sky Sports. That’s fine if you are settling down by the fireside in front of the TV, after your Sunday roast, but not so hot for fans travelling any distance to the game, hence reduced price tickets in order to boost the gate.

The ‘homecoming’ of on loan Paraguayan international, Roque (Rocky to the locals) Santa Cruz, a 11 million pound transfer flop at Manchester City, also helped to increase the gate.

The Rovers Review heralded his return with, ‘Time to Roq,’ but not on this performance. He showed some neat touches, holding the ball up and laying it off nicely but seems to have lost a yard of pace and only managed one worthwhile shot on goal.

However Blackburn fans will be more than happy with a 2-0 win against the Baggies who, although fluent going forward, failed to make their superiority count before conceding two goals from lack lustre defending. 

Gabriel Tamas, gifted Rovers a half time lead, against the run of play, heading a speculative cross into his own net, when it would have been easier to clear, and the game was dead and buried shortly after the restart, as Junior Hoilett skipped through a static Albion defence to deliver the final rites with fiercely struck shot into the roof of the net.   

Blackburn’s noble old motto is Arte et Labore. On this occasion there was plenty of the latter but Hoilet’s goal, withstanding, very little of the former.

The Rovers fans didn’t care though as they hurried cheerily homeward, up Top O Th’ Croft, and Uncle Jack was, no doubt, smiling contentedly somewhere above the dark Blackburn sky.          

 

(The Red Rose County Part 2 – to follow shortly…)

     

                     

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2 responses

26 01 2011
Gerry

Another gem (no pun intended!) – looking forward to Part Two.

26 01 2011
Keith

Really enjoyed the account of the match Phil. Keep ’em coming.

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