Posted: 9/14/2008
Title: 4,000 HOLES IN BLACKBURN, LANCASHIRE

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   It's one of the most famous lines in the Beatles song penned by John Lennon in their album, 'A Day in the Life', when the small and historic soccer town in East Lancashire decided to count and fill in all the pot holes in their streets in 1967. "Oh Boy, I read today..."., actually January 27th, 1967 in 'The Daily Mail'.

      We took the No 1 bus to Darwen Cemetery from Blackburn Station with lots of visiting Arsenal fans which stopped at Ewood Park, the historic home of Blackburn Rovers, founded in 1875. one of the original members of The Football League in 1888 and still in the EPL, along with Everton, Bolton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke(later Stoke City) and Aston Villa. They have played at Ewood Park since 1890, the longest tenure of any League club. However, it was holes in their vulnerable defence that was the problem this sunny Saturday afternoon. The city of 100,000 is the smallest in the EPL and within 20 minutes there are other clubs such as Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers, Accrington Stanley and Burnley, and only half an hour to Manchester. They have difficulty attracting big crowds, though with over 3,500 Gooners packing one end, and the attractiveness of the opposition, over 23,000 paid this day.

    Rovers had won 5  F.A.Cups before many of their opponents were founded, and with three in a row wins in 1884,85,86 and another three later, they are allowed to display their club crest on their corner flags. They used to be a very English club with a few Scots, who were the reason for cries of professionalism thrown at them by next door rivals Darwen FC, which led to the formation of the Football League by William McGregor, an Aston Villa director. It was to be a 70 year drought before they won anything until the Premiership in 1995 with the input of millions from steel magnate Jack Walker and the then record fee for Alan Shearer from Southampton.

     Nowadays they have 17 nations on the books and last week you could find club captain Ryan Nelsen, a Kiwi, playing against New Caledonia in Auckland and Noumea, Brett Emerton for Australia in a friendly against Holland and a W.C Asian match in Uzbekistan. Georgia's captain Zurab Khizanishvili, vs Ireland's Steven Reid and then Reid in Montenegro. Roque Santa Cruz sat out Paraguay's 1-1 draw with Argentina but figured in the 2-0 shut out of Venezuela. Benni McCarthy captained South Africa in their loss to Nigeria and Chris Samba played for Congo against Mali. Morten Gamst Pedersen came on as a sub for Norway v Iceland, 2-2 and Andre Ooijer for Holland at Macedonia. Of course Arsenal have players from 19 nations, many of which we only used to read and view in the glossy pages of 'National Geographic' magazine.

      Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger chose to start Boy Wonder Theo Walcott after his hat trick on Wednesday in Zagreb, Croatia and he was not to disappoint. His needle pass to Dutchman Robin Van Persie resulted in a 8th minute opening goal, clinically stuck past Paul Robinson, ex Spurs and now England's second choice. Rovers in their blue and white halved jerseys gave some competition before the break but it was a second half rout with Emmanuel Adebayor their Togolese striker scoring a hat- trick. Hat-Tricks were started in Lancashire by chairmen of such clubs as Rovers in the 19th Century when a hat, usually a bowler, were the reward for 3 goals by a player. Walcott came off after the 63 minutes and hopefully he had't mislaid his house key. Last week the 19 year old had to wake his mom up when he turned up at home in the middle after his triumph at his house and couldn't find his key.

     Another piece for the record book. Arsenal chose to blood a couple of teens in the final minutes including 16 year old Jack Wilshere, on their Academy books as a 9 year old, the youngest ever to appear in an EPL match, and Welsh youngster, 17 year old Aaron Ramsey.  New Blackburn boss Paul Ince, who has done very well in the last couple of seasons with minnows Macclesfield and MK Dons has added experienced coaches Archie Knox and former Gunner defender Nigel Winterburn to his staff, but has work to do after the second match in a row his team had conceded four goals. William Gallas and his United Nations defence were hardly troubled. I shared some none too great fries and chicken bits with my Norwegian friend Jonas, who was in fact a happy Gooner.

     After the match I walked back to town, stopping at a few pubs. First, The Navigation Inn on the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. There was a DJ playing Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist Again" and other tunes, but no fans were in the mood to dance, next to Last Orders to watch part of Manchester City v Chelsea in the Battle of the Billionaires and Robinho's first goal. There was a wonderful collection of old photos on the walls including one of 25 Rovers players and staff packed into an open chauffeur driven limousine in Germany on a 1913 tour, and then next door to The Postal Orders pub - a converted post office, to catch up on League scores, before boarding a packed Northern Rail train with lots of Gooners. There wasn't enough time to check out The Clog & Billycock, The Duck and Puddle, nor The Manxman and 70 plus other hostelries.

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