Tales From Lancashire

Blackburn Rovers vs. Chelsea : 9 November 2008.

I had arranged to meet up with Jamie ( aka Crowtrobot ) at her hotel in Blackburn before the game. I knew there wouldn’t be much for her to see in Blackburn on the Saturday. I texted her to let her know that if she was struggling to find something to watch on TV, maybe The Remembrance Service from the Royal Albert Hall would be worth watching. I always like to catch this every November. I think it is something that the British do so well – nice and understated, but rich on ceremony. As a child, I always used to keep a watch out for the Chelsea Pensioners ( just the sound of the word Chelsea used to make me go all goose-pimply ). Then there is a moment when thousands of poppies are released from the rafters, each representing the life of a serviceman or woman lost in the defence of the things we hold dear.

“At the going down of the sun – and in the morning – we will remember them.”

I do like the idea of Pensioners leading us out for home games.

I set off for Blackburn – the stereotypical Northern town – at 7.45am…a sunny start to the day, the beech trees looking especially golden as I headed towards Bristol. Every time I drive through Bristol, I think back to 2006 and Jenni’s ( aka BlueBelle ) first ever Chelsea game up at Wigan. Jenni was staying with friends and I collected her en route. I’m lucky to be able to share all of these experiences with you lot.

This will make you laugh – as I drove past Bristol Temple Meads station, I glanced up at a billboard for the forthcoming pantomime at the local Hippodrome. It was starring none other than Mickey Rooney! 88 years old ( I’ve looked it up! ) and still working. Amazing! I told a few mates this at Blackburn and they responses were “are you sure?” I then doubted my sanity for thirteen hours until I spotted it again on the way home at 9pm. It certainly is a mad, mad, mad, mad world – I loved that film!

Lovely sun on the M5, zipping up past Cheltenham, but then – ominously – clouds at Birmingham, then rain at Stafford, then atrocious rain at Stoke.

I stopped for a coffee in the dry at Sandbach. Alan and Gary were en route too…they had left Chelsea at 6am. Depeche Mode gave way to the Cocteau Twins. As Winter Hill to my east was spotted – it overlooks The Reebok – I mused on the importance of a few venues in the North West to Chelsea Football Club…1905 – first ever league game at Stockport…1970 – first ever FA Cup at Old Trafford…2005 – first League title in fifty years at Bolton.

At last the roads were dry at Wigan. Darwen Tower was spotted ( looking like a ‘fifties space rocket ) and as I approached Blackburn, I saw signs for Burnley too, their hated rivals. Burnley is just 11 miles to the east, nestled under The Pennines, almost on the border with Yorkshire. I have a good mate who comes from Darwen – Mark is a Rovers fan and has told me Rovers don’t object to Bolton or Preston – they just abhor Burnley, or “the bastards” as he calls them.

I made good time and reached the Premium Lodge, just a mile south of Ewood at 11.15am. Time for a coffee with Jamie – I had brought along my 2007-2008 photo album to show her…around 220 photos from that emotional season.

We then parked up and made a beeline for The Fernhurst, the focal point for all Chelsea fans, as it is one of the few “away fans” only pubs in England. Unfortunately it was mobbed and it took ages to get served. The Nuneaton lot were well represented – about ten – and Lovejoy was right in the middle. I introduced Jamie to him. I had sorted a ticket for Mark Coden via one of the Nuneaton lot…said “hi” to a few people…then outside to meet up with Alan and Gary, nursing pints, in the porch. Cathy and Dog were nearby. We wondered if the eastern-European girl who was with Lovejoy in Rome was still around. Gary said he thought her Visa had run out. I replied that it was Lovejoy’s Mastercard that had more likely ran out!

The weather was shocking as we trudged to the ground. Bumped into Mark’s mates Lee and Jon. Good lads.

I demolished an excellent steak and ale pie, then found my seat, halfway back, behind the goal.

So – the same team as Rome, except Kalou in for Joe. A lot was made of the “poor” 20,000 gate on the radio, but – to be fair – Blackburn only has a population of 105,000. I think 20,000 is a fine effort to be honest. London’s eight million and its eight teams – the same pro rata figure would be gates of 200,000!

I made the point that I did wonder why, on such a dark day, we were wearing the all black kit. Received a text from Bob – now in Paris – saying exactly the same thing.

The conditions really were atrocious in the first-half…rarely have I seen the ball “hold up” on the pitch like it did. But I think we adapted a lot better. We had all of the play in the first-half and the much derided Paul Robinson made many crucial saves. Anelka was Anelka – good one moment, lazy the next. What an enigma. I was losing my patience with him…was just about to shout “Anelka – move!” as Bosingwa shot from a distance…it hit Anelka and just about made it over the line…much laughter. Me and my mouth! He had stayed completely still and had scored. I will shut up next time.

I guess we had around 2,000 at Blackburn…maybe a bit less…quite a few empty seats. Jamie was ten rows in front and loving being so near the players. The singing wasn’t great, but I think the damp conditions were to blame…pretty poor though, really. One or two nice “ZZs” from Martin.

The second half was a bit more open – and the rain had slowed – but we still had the edge. I thought Mikel and Alex – big men, not hindered by the greasy conditions – were our best players by a mile. Cech played well. But Deco was poor – really poor. Good 6 and 7s out of 10s for the rest.

A nice move and a slick finish from “Doves” and it’s looking great…safe. Say what you want about Anelka, but ten league goals so far! He should have scored a third, eh?

By the way, referee Chris Foy was awful…I commented that he seemed to be making decisions on things which had happened five minutes previously. What about that foul throw?

“Have another go, son.” A joke.

The final whistle…our sixth away win out of six…goals for 16, goals against 1. Just beautiful. We love it up north.

Jamie and myself raced back to the car and I dropped her back at Blackburn train station. Left Blackburn at 4pm…listened to the Spurs game…pah! Annoyed they took 3,000 to City. I guess they are all euphoric about moving out of the bottom three…ho ho ho.

I stopped for food at Knutsford – saw Mark, Jon, Lee – but was feeling really tired, so caught thirty minutes sleep in my car…the weather was awful on the trip south…there were signs for spray, wind gusts and standing water. Not enjoyable. It was really tiring. Had to stop for another coffee, but eventually reached a windswept Somerset at 9.45pm. Time to see the replay on “MOTD2 “ but I soon crawled to bed…

Rovers’ rivals next!


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