Continuing our new series, Lee Kitson looks at his Rovers hero, Simon Garner…
If, like me. you started watching Rovers in the ’80s. there really was only ever one player on the lips of the Ewood faithful. That player was, of course, Simon Garner.
However, as a young boy, I was more drawn to the left foot of Scott Sellars, the silky skills of Howard Gayle or the long flowing locks and tough tackling of Colin Hendry. Despite all these players, there was one guy whose name still resonates around the streets of Ewood Park, a player whose record for goal scoring has stood the test of time and also the challenge on many multi-million pound signings since.
When asked if I would about my Rovers hero. it was a task I was only too glad to take on. But then I sat back and thought about all the players that I had admired over the years and realised I idolised them all for different reasons. I sat and pondered awhile and realised the person I was going to write about wasn’t perhaps a hero of mine at the time but now looking back is someone, should I have been fortunate enough to have played the game professionally that I’d like to have been like.
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To me, a ‘Hero’ is just a normal person, noting flashy or ostentatious but goes about their job in an exceptional but uncomplicated manner, I’m not one for maverick talents and never have been. That was what was so magnificent about Garner, he was just a normal bloke. He drank, smoked, gambled, and didn’t really have the physique of an athlete and in all my time watching him play not once did I see him warm up before the game with the other players. Yet, come Saturday, he would pull on that Blue and White shirt and become a goal-scoring genius. He would spend 90 mins thundering round Ewood, terrorising the opposing defence and more often than not pummelling the ball into the net. Upon the final whistle, the shirt was off and he returned to just being a normal guy which was demonstrated to me in glorious technicolour the first and I only time I met him.
I don’t remember the date exactly but a friend of my late father had managed to get us entry to the Ewood Park 100 club after the game, it was an exclusive members-only club for players, club officials and selected dignitaries. I stood by the player’s entry beyond which I knew where the changing rooms, I was stood and waited the door opened and in swaggered Scott Sellars, he posed for a photo, an autograph and he was gone. John Millar, David Mail, they came and went. The door opened, in wandered Simon Garner. I asked him for a photo and autograph, he replied: “Just give me one minute.” I turned, as he walked past me, he walked up to the bar, lit a cigarette, took three – what seemed like huge – gulps from a pint of bitter and turned back to me and had his photo taken.
I didn’t realise it at the time but what he had done was akin to most Sunday League players but there was a man who not only sat atop of the league scoring charts, he was also on his way to be Rovers record goalscorer. A feat I am certain I will not see surpassed in my lifetime.
An ordinary bloke extraordinarily doing his job, and for this reason, Simon Garner will always be a hero to me and thousands of others.
There is only one Simon Garner.
Thanks for reading.