Football / Fan's Eye View: Cheers to Big Al and Uncle Jack: No 72 Blackburn Rovers

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The Independent Online
SOME days I have to pinch myself to make sure it is not just a dream. Did we really challenge for the Premiership? Was Fergie really getting uptight about us? No more promotion nightmares? No more David Coleman asking on A Question of Sport which team have appeared in three Second Division play-offs and never made it? Jack and his millions have put paid to all that.

However, following aspiring champions is not without its trials and tribulations. The stress of wondering whether we would catch and overtake Manchester United made me hard to live with at times. Flicking from TV to Teletext - 'Damn, Giggs has scored' - was just one manifestation of how manic you can become.

There are other difficulties, too, like sitting among Leeds fans with my seven-year-old daughter, Marisa, and trying to explain that it might be better to keep her Rovers shirt covered as Big Al (also known as Golden Balls), cracked in his first hat-trick for the club.

To be fed a rich diet of goals from 'chicken and beans' Shearer is exhilarating, but times were not always so. Simon Garner, the club's all-time leading goalscorer with 168, often kept us going when there was precious little else to cheer. What a pity that Jack's millions came too late for him to take his rightful place in the Premier Division.

I have supported Rovers since the mid-1970s, so I cannot refer to the good old days of Douglas, Clayton, Vernon, et al. I had to be content watching them play out their days at Great Harwood in the Northern Premier League, brought there by the late Derek Keighley, soon to become Rovers chairman and a man with a dream similar to Uncle Jack's, but unfortunately with not quite the same wherewithall. However, Keighley's signing of the flamboyant Everton striker Duncan McKenzie - he could jump over a Mini, could Dunc - did put us on the map and create more interest.

Nevertheless, the 1970s and 1980s, while interspersed with the Third Division championship, saw two relegations and two good managers in Gordon Lee and Howard Kendall leave for brighter things at Goodison Park as Blackburn became a stepping-stone to First Division jobs.

Good players were continuously sold and Rovers' legendary balancing of the books seemed to take preference over the teams on the pitch and the fans' desire to return to the First Division sadly left in 1967. The nearest we came to the big time was winning the Full Members' Cup in 1987 under Don Mackay, but again the books were balanced by the sale of Simon Barker to Queen's Park Rangers. Had we no ambition?

Things changed suddenly in 1990. Bobby Mimms, Steve Livingstone and Terry Dobson were signed for then considerable fees and rumour was rife that someone was putting his hand in his pocket. Then came the football coup of the century, Kenny Dalglish coaxed back into the game, and the rest is history.

Dalglish has put Walker's wallet to good use and his team have done a magnificent job. The stadium is being transformed with breathtaking speed and performances have fulfilled all our expectations, despite much bitter criticism from parts of the media. Criticism, it has to be said, shared by some of my fellow fans, who are too quick to moan at the first reversal. I hope this will not be the case next season.

The title has been lost to United, but we gave them a good run and could have snatched it with a bit of luck. Now we wait for the summer signings we know Kenny has up his sleeve and prepare for new experiences of our own, like telling my wife on Tuesday I'll be back Thursday as Rovers venture into Europe for the first time. Thank God Jack didn't come from Burnley.