A question for Rovers fans, especially to those that have travelled up and down the country watching the club, do you know where Outwell is?
Well, it’s a small village in Norfolk (the Western edge of the county borders with Cambridgeshire), it’s 190 miles from Ewood Park and is where I have spent most of my life living.
Based on this, I’m assuming one of the first things that comes to your mind is: ‘Why do you support Blackburn Rovers?’
As a young lad, I was football mad and always in the garden playing football when I had the chance and more often than not standing close to the goal to score.
It was the love of scoring that drew me to a young Alan Shearer. I remember seeing highlights of his full debut for Southampton against Arsenal and the hat-trick he scored. I also have vague memories as an 8-year-old of the 1992 play-off final and Mike Newell hitting the winning penalty but it was late July 1992 when Alan Shearer signed that I knew Rovers was the club for me.
It’s fair to say I was in the minority as a Rovers fan in Norfolk – many of my mates supported one of the big teams (Liverpool/Man United/Arsenal) or stuck to their roots and followed the local teams of Peterborough, Cambridge or Norwich.
I saw my first professional game at Peterborough and then spent a lot of time watching Norwich (including a season ticket for the 94/95 season – anyone remember what happened that season?), and I had no issues wearing a Rovers shirt within a sea of yellow and green.
Two Rovers games that stick out from my time at Carrow Road are when Chris Sutton returned and scored for Rovers (although we did lose 2-1) and then a Tuesday night 2-2 draw (Kevin Gallacher with both for us and Sutton with both for Norwich). The highlight of the latter was the ‘we want chicken and beans’ song for Alan Shearer after he had revealed on Football Focus the Saturday prior that this was his pre-match meal of choice.
As much as I loved supporting Rovers and seeing us thrive against some of the big teams, it was tough not having any other fans close to share this passion or to attend as many games as I would have liked.
Away games at Norwich, Ipswich (where I have never seen us win) and Nottingham Forest (Tommie Hoban stopped my winless run at this ground) were as good as it got for me.
It was September 2002 when I first went to Ewood for a UEFA cup game against CSKA Sofia and amazingly I saw Corrado Grabbi score. I also went to the second round game against Celtic (with an attendance of 29,698) and as much as we were well beat that night, we were so unlucky to lose the first leg at Celtic weeks before – with another Tugay passing masterclass.
My son Joshua was born in 2008 and, as much as I wanted a fellow Rovers fan in the house, I was never going to force him to support Rovers. When he decided himself it was something that meant so much to me and has already brought us so many Rovers memories – admittedly I had to show him old season DVD reviews to show how good we used to be!
The first game I took him to was Derby away in August 2013, and not only was he hooked instantly on live football, he saw Leon Best score in a Rovers shirt!
A game that sticks out to me (when looking back past the Oxford game) was the final home game of the season v Reading in May 2016.
A 3-1 win but a real lack of atmosphere – not surprising after another disappointing season and Lambert’s last game in charge. As the players did a lap of honour, Joshua was delighted to get photos with Graham, Marshall, and Hanley – the latter who came back and gave Joshua his captain’s armband from the game (which turned out to be his last for Rovers) but for me it was somewhat a different feeling. I was worried that was it, any chance of pushing forward gone, a summer of players leaving and no clue who would take over as manager (most would say no clue did take over).
I’d spoken to Tommy Spurr in the stands that day who was equally baffled at what was happening and was clueless to whether he would remain at the club – I was seeing first-hand evidence of the destruction caused by the owners and previous managers but on the other hand, my son was on cloud nine.
Joshua has also had the pleasure and honour of being Rovers’ mascot twice during the 2016/17 season. Firstly, he was selected for the Wolves game at home, which was initially a routine Saturday 3pm kick-off that got moved to be shown live on Sky and then became the famous 1875 Venkys walk out game.
The second game was the away trip to Ipswich in January 2014 which was another defeat under Coyle and featured a goal from Hope Akpan (who I see has found his scoring boots again) – I must thank the 300 odd Rovers fans that made the journey that day to watch the game.
I’ll never get to as many games as I would like to, but this season I have been to Ewood twice (Gillingham and Oxford), treated the family to a few days in Cleethorpes to enjoy a friendly v Grimsby, followed by a poor performance at Southend, a missed penalty and open goal at Northampton and last minute heartbreak at Rotherham before my season’s viewing took a turn for the better.
Walsall away really showed to me what Tony Mowbray was doing for the club, followed by seeing my team promoted at Doncaster and then taking the whole family at Ewood to see the promotion party. Thank you to every single one of the 27,600 that attended – never did I think as we watched the 2016 lap of honour at home to Reading that my son would ever see Ewood Park near to capacity.
In today’s evolving world of technology, it’s become so much easier to keep up with what is happening with Rovers.
The day I discovered I could access the Lancashire Telegraph online was a godsend and then Twitter has taken it to the next level. The #Rovers, the social media team at Rovers, Rich Sharpe at the LT, Jaquob at Lancs Live, Andy Bayes at BBC Lancashire, the Rovers fans account (Rovers Chat, TalkBlackburn, Talk of Ewood) and the BRFCS.com podcast. I’m sitting here writing this and never have I felt as close to the Blackburn fan base – all of the mentioned have helped to close the 190-mile gap.
I’m already counting down the days when we can be back in the stadiums enjoying away days, and having that bit of normality back in our lives.
For fellow fans that live a distance away, remember the following….
Distance is not for the fearful, it is for the bold. It’s for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone in exchange for a little time with the one they love. It’s for those knowing a good thing when they see it, even if they don’t see it nearly enough.
Blackburn Rovers…We’re on our way back!
Thanks for reading.