Blackburn Rovers and Burnley: we’re all united by football

‘You must be Burnley in disguise,’ the fans around me in the Blackburn end suddenly started chanting during one of the few slack periods in Sunday’s game.

Almost without thinking, I was about to join in. Then everyone realised it wasn’t any team in disguise, it wasn’t Burnley in disguise, it was the real thing.

The first top flight contest between these two East Lancashire teams since 1963.

What a game. I aged ten years before, and during the game until the final whistle was blown, and we’d won!

The great Bill Shankly famously remarked that “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death…. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.

Of course, Shankly was not being literal, but there was and is an essential truth in what he said.

In East Lancashire, whether Rovers’ or Clarets’ supporters (or neither) we were all able to witness Shankly’s essential truth.

It’s this; that what happens on the field can reverberate across whole communities, like a stone dropped into a pool.

East Lancashire, from one end to the other, has just a quarter of a million people within it.

That’s less than one two-hundredths of the population of England and Wales.

Yet we have one tenth of the Premier League teams – two out of twenty. It’s a great asset for our area.

The Blackburn-Burnley derby excited interest across the country, and has helped add, in a good way, to the definition and profile which East Lancashire enjoys nationally.

Above all, however, I think that the derby has helped to strengthen the already strong-sense of community of towns along the East Lancashire valley.

I’m sure Burnley was buzzing, though I thought it wise not to check out the atmosphere in person.

Blackburn was certainly buzzing. Everyone was talking about the game and I mean everyone.

If they were Blackburnian, the imperative of a win for Rovers was the first topic of conversation – and often the only one.

I attended a rather belated Eid dinner on Saturday. Half those present were Asian; half white.

If the conversations had been recorded, but without the name of the speakers, you’d have heard, virtually everyone talking about the game, regardless of ethnic background.

Rovers’ fortunes are part of what gives everyone in town part of their sense of place, their identity.

And, contrary to the utter nonsense we hear from the BNP, it’s possible to have layers of loyalties – we all do.

Back to the game itself. There was a dismal period (more than one) in Rovers’ recent history when if we’d gone a goal down we’d had it.

Five minutes into Sunday’s game I feared that’s where we were, again.

Like it or not, Robbie Blake’s goal was a corker – and so was the set-up, with our midfield falling apart and our defence deceived.

A millisecond after the goal there was that awful silence as hope collapsed into fear!

Every credit then to Sam Allardyce for the way he has the team fighting back whenever we’re down. What relief with Dunny’s equaliser, what joy with Di Santo’s second, and ecstasy with Chimbonda’s, the third.

Of course, success never comes easy at Ewood Park.

But like every Rovers supporter I’ve been walking on air ever since Sunday – and recalling, we really did beat Burnley.

Author: Jack Straw

Jack Straw was elected as the MP for Blackburn in 1979 and is currently the Secretary of State for Justice.

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