Bound­ary boys set for in­va­sion

Accrington Observer - - SPORT -


THOSE of us watch­ing Rovers in our sixth or sev­enth decade know how quickly 10, 20, 25 years can flash by vir­tu­ally un­no­ticed, dear old friends sel­dom seen or even thought about, and it’s amazing in some ways that Satur­day sees Rovers re­turn to a fa­mil­iar old stamp­ing ground for the first time in 24 years.

Shiver­ing and usu­ally mis­er­able af­ter­noons on that open end at Bound­ary Park seem like yes­ter­day, never mind a cou­ple of early Premier League wins with an ac­tual roof to pro­tect us from the el­e­ments on a ground from which if you went due East, the first nat­u­ral ob­jects you would en­counter would be the Urals.

We did meet Old­ham at home in the first round of our glo­ri­ous 2001-02 Wor­thing­ton Cup cam­paign... 10 points if you can name the lad who scored his only Rovers goal that night, an­swer at foot of col­umn.

And it’s easy to for­get that Rovers and Old­ham Ath­letic were in the same division for 20 of the 23 sea­sons be­tween our first rel­e­ga­tion to the Third tier in 1971 and Old­ham’s rel­e­ga­tion from the Premier League in 1994.

Our for­tunes were so closely en­twined and Bound­ary Park was such a reg­u­lar stop­ping point for our sup­port­ers dur­ing those two-and-a-bit decades that many of us were on first-name terms with lo­cal land­lords and had what we con­sid­ered our own per­sonal an­nual park­ing spa­ces out­side the same nearby houses,

There are cer­tain par­al­lels and sub­tle dif­fer­ences be­tween the De­cem­ber 1971 visit and this week­end’s, an­other in a cu­ri­ous se­quence of fix­tures which will see Rovers, bar­ring an un­kind FA Cup first round draw, play only one game in the months of Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber more than 30 miles dis­tant from Ewood.

Both clubs had fallen on hard times but un­like to­day any sense of op­ti­mism over a swift re­turn to the Sec­ond Division had dwin­dled away among the trav­el­ling sup­port.

I’m pretty sure it was the first away game I was al­lowed to travel to with- out an adult, aged 12, on a Rib­bles­dale coach with blokes plung­ing bot­tle open­ers into Wat­neys Party Sev­ens and pour­ing them into glasses filched from the Adel­phi on the Boule­vard.

Rovers had played 20 league games by the time a late Dave Shaw goal equalised Tony Field’s opener and had won just five of them.

The re­sult was cer­tainly an im­prove­ment on the pre­vi­ous Satur­day’s, when Old­ham had won 1-0 at Ewood.

But it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that to­day, with those stats, we could have been on our third man­ager of the sea­son a week later.

Pro­mo­tion was al­ready look­ing unattain­able bar­ring a mir­a­cle, an out­come which Tony Mow­bray last week vir­tu­ally ad­mit­ted would see him handed his P45.

For the next cou­ple of decades, the Lat­ics were, if any­thing, of­ten a step or so ahead of us. They won the Third Division Cham­pi­onship a year be­fore we did, main­tained Sec­ond Division sta­tus while we were rel­e­gated again briefly in 1979 and beat us to the top flight by a year, thus ce­ment­ing their “founder mem­bers of the Premier League” la­bel a few weeks be­fore we did like­wise.

In the late eight­ies, un­der Joe Royle, their cup ex­ploits, if not their aw­ful plas­tic pitch, won the hearts of the na­tion as the likes of Ar­se­nal were van­quished un­der the Bound­ary Park flood­lights cul­mi­nat­ing in Wem­b­ley ap­pear­ances in the 1990 League Cup Fi­nal and FA Cup semi.

How­ever they were do­ing at the time, a visit to Old­ham ha­bit­u­ally ended in mis­ery with some no­table ex­cep­tions, just as they gen­er­ally fared badly here.

The low­lights are too nu­mer­ous to itemise in­di­vid­u­ally, although a 5-0 de­feat on Good Fri­day 1979 was, re­mark­ably, only the sec­ond-worst re­sult of a week­end which saw us lose at home to Burn­ley 24 hours later.

The names of Roger Palmer, Frankie Bunn and Andy Ritchie cause Rovers fans the night ter­rors as des­per­ate days are re­called, just as Old­ham fans and goal­keep­ers must break out into a cold sweat over the ut­ter­ing of the four syl­la­bles “Si­mon Garner.”

To­day, our neigh­bours are pos­si­bly even more stricken than are we. Owned by an Amer­i­can anx­ious to get shut, a raft of sum­mer sign­ings ap­proved by some­one patently other than man­ager John Sheri­dan (who not un­ex­pect­edly de­parted) they have re­mark­ably been stead­ied a lit­tle, as clubs of­ten are by a care­taker who is a fans’ favourite, by club stal­wart Richie Wel­lens.

This de­spite the play­ers not be­ing paid for Septem­ber.

Rovers will, as at Spot­land, very pos­si­bly have more, and cer­tainly more rau­cous and ex­pec­tant, fans present than the hosts. Tony Mow­bray and his side must take ad­van­tage of this run of games at which the vol­ume of trav­el­ling sup­port pos­si­bly ren­ders the at­mos­phere even more con­ducive to a per­for­mance than the some­times quiet Ewood am­bi­ence. There will be sterner tests ahead in faroff places with a frac­tion of the back­ing so points stacked up now are pre­cious.

A) Dar­ren Dun­ning scored Rovers sec­ond after Matt Jansen put us ahead

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