Football: The rebuilding of Blackburn has already begun

Richard Slater senses a renewed spirit pervading a stricken club
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The Independent Online
THE STRAINS OF Miles Davis's Kind Of Blue album were poignantly appropriate shortly after Blackburn Rovers were relegated from the Premiership on Wednesday. Just four years ago, the vapid bombast of Queen's "We Are The Champions" was the track of currency, heard incessantly, drunkenly, on the streets as the party wore on into the small hours.

The Davis classic, by contrast, carries the listener through a swathe of emotions. By turns it is sombre, mournful even, and yet, encouraged by Davis's sure grasp of the needs of the human spirit, there lingers above all else a sense of purpose and hope. That's jazz, and that's football.

There must have been many taking solace in music and a stiff drink as the impact of a desperate season finally manifested itself in the big drop. As the haze evaporated in the brief sunshine of Thursday morning those connected with the club, in whatever form, had, grudgingly, accepted their fate and were readying themselves for the next campaign.

It takes more than a few scathing words in the morning papers to put a proud institution off its stride and the galvanising effect of Brian Kidd's emotional outpourings on the need for commitment and dedication had struck a chord. Seamus Heffernan, co-founder and one-time editor of the Blackburn fanzine 4,000 Holes said: "There seems to be an attitude from some of the players that has departed violently from the traditional ethic of the small-town club. The sum should be greater than its parts, the team is the most important, the blue and white halves if you like - not the individuals who are a transient factor in the club's history."

Like many in the town, and particularly those with memories which predate the Walker-Dalglish era, fans who, even in this inglorious season, pinched themselves at the prospect of a match against Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal, Heffernan is saddened but not despairing. "We have young players like David Dunn and Damian Johnson who look as though they are prepared to die for the club, and that's what we need. Players can have all the ability in the world and the money that goes with it, but if they lack commitment to the cause they're in the wrong place."

Jason Wilcox, the captain and the only player to have taken part on championship day in 1995, added: "It's a nightmare to go down but I want to play for Blackburn Rovers next season and if there are others who aren't so sure, or aren't up for the fight, we'd be better off without them."

The former England skipper Ronnie Clayton was captain last time the team was relegated from the top-flight in 1966. He said: "It hurt me so much both times, I've barely slept this week and I keep waking up replaying moments of this season in my head. We lost great players in my time after relegation and I suppose the same will happen again but we've a fantastic set-up for the youngsters who have really started to shine, and if they can show the kind of spirit some of the senior players couldn't manage then we will be back up soon."

Kidd reiterated his rallying cry before today's match against Newcastle, his view having changed not a jot since he first publicly launched his attack on certain players. Indeed, he went further and, clearly sickened by the actions of a professional, castigated the pounds 7m forward Kevin Davies for breaking club rules by spending an evening in a Preston night club just two days before the Manchester United fixture, a soiree the supporters could barely stomach.

The talk now is of an immediate return. Jack Walker has demanded it and, despite a predicted loss of pounds 10m in income next season, the chief executive John Williams is, like all who have a care for the club, readying himself for the campaign. "Jack Walker has made resources available for Brian but, as the manager says, it's not all about money," he said. Heffernan concurred: "It may not always be enough, but we're a proud town and we want to hold our heads up high."

l Richard Slater was born in Blackburn in 1966, the year Rovers were last relegated from the top flight. He lives two miles from Ewood Park.