Boundary boys set for invasion
BLUE-EYED BOY’S BLACKBURN VIEW
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