Football: Old ways resonate in a super structure

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The Independent Online
Everyone in The Moorings pub, just a sing-song down the road from Ewood Park, was agreed: the one good thing about Sky's enforced five o'clock kick-off was that you could get a full afternoon's drinking in first. They watched the Cup

final-style build-up on the pub television, jeering every mention of United, cheering every mention of Rovers, consuming gallons of liquid atmosphere.

Half an hour before kick-off, just as games were reaching their climax around the country, the cheerful thousands began to make their way over the cobbles, through the back-to-backs to Jack Walker's new stadium.

The newly completed Blackburn End stand may have all the architectural charm of a multi-

storey car park but several touches evocative of the old days have been kept about the place. The impossible queue for the programme stall for instance, or the fact that the Gents can stand only seven at a time, which meant, given the afternoon's preamble, that the concourse quickly became one long, desperate line.

As they queued, news came over the public address system of the full-time results: as usual in these parts the biggest cheer was reserved for a Burnley defeat.

Though designated a home supporters section, there were United fans everywhere, each with tales of ingenuity to tell about how they came by a ticket. 'It's not what you know with United,' said one man. 'It's who you know. Let's just say I know the right people.' Another acquired his tickets from a friend employed by Blackburn's sponsors. At face value? 'What do you think?' he said, before revealing he had paid five times face value.

Up on the moor behind the Walker Steel stand, huddles of those with fewer contacts stood, braced against the elements, watching several men in the centre circle struggle to control a net full of blue and white balloons, which were to be released as the teams came on to the pitch. Later they would watch several United players struggling in the same way to control the ball.

Indeed the weather was well in tune with United's season. The game started with crisp sunlight casting shadows of building work over the pitch, but by half-time clouds blacker and more billowing than a pair of United away shorts scudded across the sky.

Shearer scored his first, a goal which proved, judging by the affection pouring from the stands, that money can buy you love, so soon

after half-time that many were still queuing for the facilities, craning their necks to watch the action on television monitors suspended over the concourse. They were back in time for his second, however, a goal at which a bonfire was lit up on the moor.

It wasn't clear if this was by Blackburn fans wanting to communicate the news over the hill to Burnley or United fans burning their betting slips, but either way the fire was soon doused by a hailstorm chucking down enough ice to chill champagne throughout Lancashire. By then, big gaps had opened up in the United supporters' section, an apt metaphor for their team's defence.

As the final whistle blew a roar erupted that would have tested Jack Walker's superstructure; it made you wonder what the noise would be like once the ground had four sides.

Back in The Moorings, three disconsolate United fans stood watching Sky's post-mortem as around them thousands sang of how they were walking in a Shearer Wonderland. 'Fifty bloody quid I paid,' one said. 'I'd've been better off staying here and watching it on the telly.'

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