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Nationwide Division One, 12/9/00
Blackburn Rovers
By Matt Rowson

Fashion is a load of arse.

Fashion implies conformism, that things are "good" or "bad", implies an ideal, but it's not necessary or desirable for everyone to look the same. Visit a conservative society like Vienna to see something like that in horrific Technicolor. There are weirdoes in Vienna...dressed in black with OTT mohicans and ugly three legged-dogs pulled along on filthy pieces of string. But they are conforming too. THEY all look like each other.

The more you stay in one place, the more you are concerned with fitting in and being the same as other people, the narrower your perspective on life becomes and therefore you rot. Resistance is the only option, but it ain't easy. It's not supposed to be.

It was even harder when you were at school, of course. So much of the early teens is about being accepted, conforming. The bus-trip back from my only appearance for the school rugby team (during the narrow window when being big and robust was enough...stupid game anyway) is a particularly painful memory, dissed as I was for reading "Roy of the Rovers". Not hip for a fourteen-year-old in the mid-eighties.

"Roy of the Rovers" and it's ilk were absolutely superb, a lifeline between trips to Vicarage Road. One memorable story revolved around a chap who was to football what John Gregory is to diplomacy. The sign of any good story is characters you can empathise with...anyway, this lad was picked by the passengers of a passing flying saucer as a suitable guinea pig for their new discovery, a treatment (seeming to consist of a jagged beam of light) imparting Giftonesque footballing ability on whoever it hit. The hero of the tale proceeded into his local team scoring a hat-trick against their local rivals before the effects of the treatment wore off and his two left feet returned.

Which mirrors somewhat the recent history of Blackburn Rovers. A mid-table drone of a club for so many years, Jack (RIP), Kenny, Alan et al briefly turned them into the best club in the country and Premiership Champions as little as five years ago. Then it went wrong, the beam wore off and Rovers ended up back where they started.

The major difference is that Rovers are now big fish in the First Division, title favourites with an attitude to boot. The official site observing that "the anticipated walkover failed to materialise" during an insipid 0-0 draw at Gresty Road recently really isn't a friend-winning line to take.

Nonetheless, Rovers have a very strong squad and must surely improve on last season's disappointment. Goalkeeper is likely to be Irish stopper Alan Kelly. With John Filan injured, his cover will come from former Boro' man Alan Miller.

At right-back is likely to be summer signing and one-time Man.United youth team captain John Curtis, who has impressed in his early games for Rovers. On the left Stig Inge BjÝrnebyŽ, who Souness was originally responsible for bringing to Anfield.

In the centre, bearded Scotsman Christian Dailly is an imposing figure. He has been repeatedly linked with a move to Celtic, with Eyal Berkovic mooted as part of an exchange deal - this possibility is not welcomed by Rovers fans following a historical incident between Berkovic and former Rover Kevin Gallacher.

Another option at the back is Henning Berg, re-signed on a three-month loan from Old Trafford this week with a view to a permanent move. Marlon Broomes and the enormous Martin Taylor are both products of the youth system, whilst former Everton defender Craig Short finally arrived at Ewood Park last season a number of years after Rovers had first battled Derby for his signature. Jeff Kenna is the only remaining member of the Championship squad, and another Souness stooge Steve Harkness is another option at the back. Simon Grayson and Darren Peacock are on-loan at Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham respectively.

Souness has been looking to strengthen his defensive options with the signing of Cameroon central-defender Lucien Mettomo, impartially described by his agent as "the best young defender in France". Mettomo, however, looks like staying at St.Etienne.

In midfield, as one might expect from a Souness team, a number of energetic, destructive options in Lee Carsley, Gary Flitcroft and Billy McKinlay. Jason McAteer, now thirty, still runs around a lot but gives the ball away too much and isn't the most popular player with the Rovers' support. England U21 cap David Dunn, scorer of a hat-trick of penalties in mid-week, is back in favour having lost his place last season, whilst Ulsterman Damien Johnson is another possibility.

On the wings, Damien Duff has taken advantage of Jason Wilcox's departure to cement his place on the left, but Souness' use of 4-3-3 hasn't suited him this season and he has failed to reach last year's comparative heights. Keith Gillespie has a thigh injury, but could be available by Tuesday.

Craig Hignett, another summer signing, has yet to feature for Rovers following an achilles problem. The talented but inconsistent Matt Jansen looks likely to feature up front, alongside either loan signing and former Arsenal backup Kaba Diawara or whinger Nathan Blake. Former Southampton striker Egil Ostenstad is another option, but is having roughly as much success at Ewood Park as the man he replaced, Kevin Davies.

Souness' tinkering with formations has yet to be wholly successful, with Duff and Jansen in particular appearing to be incompatible in models attempted thus far. Rovers strength in depth justifies their billing as favourites, however it's difficult to have too much faith in a manager who once signed (and played) Ali Dia for Southampton on the strength of a phone call from someone claiming to be George Weah....

Needless to say, this is a big one.