T'mills are alive with the sound of glory

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Blackburn, the Lancashire town that is famous for its 4,000 holes, its closed-down cotton-mills and its lottery winners, celebrated its first football championship for 81 years last night with a passion that would not have been out of place in Milan.

Within minutes of their long wait ending, Blackburn Rovers supporters were flocking, as if dragged by gravity, to the main road outside Ewood Park, the club's home.

There was soon a gathering equivalent to an average home gate in the bad old days, now so blissfully forgotten.

"I watched them in the Third Division," said Paul Kenny, one of the first on the scene for the simple reason that he had been wandering the streets for the last 15 minutes of the game against Liverpool, unable to watch.

"Getting into the Premiership was unbelievable, without even thinking of winning it," he said.

Blackburn was a ghost town during the screening of the match from Anfield, although there was an audible groan from behind the festooned windows on Livesey Branch Road when John Barnes equalised for Liverpool and again when their beloved SAS strikeforce - Sutton and Shearer - failed to take chances that would have made the title safe.

With 10 minutes to play, the man at number 55 could take no more. In full Blackburn kit and cowboy hat, he was out in his front garden. "I can't watch it," he said. "I've tried but I just can't watch it."

His next-door neighbour appeared, mysteriously, on his garage roof, his head in his hands at the news of Liverpool's injury-time winner.

But then the simple cry of "Yes!" from those whose nerves permitted them to stay in front of a screen ended his misery.

Within minutes, and as if a road-block somewhere between Ewood Park and Blackburn town centre had been lifted, Bolton Road was full of cars, decorated and honking their hoods off in the best Continental fashion, even if the beverage of choice that was spraying them as they passed was canned beer.

On a garden wall, a tattooed punk was weeping uncontrollably in the arms of his girlfriend. This was not a typical English scene.

One dampener on the afternoon was all too typical of the English Sunday, however.

"Eighty one years and then the police kick us out of the pub with dogs at five to four," said James O'Malley.

"Sixty of us went to this lad's two-up, two-down house and watched it there."

When the first police car arrived though, just before Bolton Road became completely impassable, it too was honking its horn.

"You're going to have problems here," the reinforcements were told when they arrived. "No, we're not," they said. The town of Blackburn was all of one mind about the joy and significance of the occasion.