Liverpool vs Blackburn preview: Piano-playing Matt Kilgallon tunes up for Anfield upset

Blackburn defender is looking forward to the challenge of today’s FA Cup visit to Liverpool

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The Independent Football

All the players who run out at Anfield this afternoon will know the melody to 'You’ll Never Walk Alone'. Most will be able to recite Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics. Matt Kilgallon  is probably the only member of either team who could play it on  the piano. "It was something my mum and dad made me do," said the man who will be the fulcrum of a Blackburn defence that bars Liverpool’s way to the FA Cup semi-finals.

“You know what lads are like, they mess about; they are a pain in the arse. They wanted me to do something other than football and I really took to the piano. It was weird  because I was a proper ‘lad’ and it was not the sort of thing you did.

“The one thing I regret is that I didn’t carry it on beyond the age of 14 or 15 when girls started playing a part, but I can still bang a few tunes out, especially when I’ve had a few. I like a bit of Bach. ‘The Entertainer’ is always a classic. I can play a few.”

This afternoon, Kilgallon will captain Blackburn against perhaps English football’s most entertaining side. Alongside him facing Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho will be Doneil Henry.


His first match for Blackburn was in midweek. Kilgallon’s regular partner, Grant Hanley, was injured and a loan deal was arranged with West Ham for Henry, a 21-year-old Canadian who had come to London from Cyprus and had never played a senior game in England.

On the afternoon Blackburn were due to play Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, Henry was at  St Pancras, boarding a train for Yorkshire. He got off at the wrong stop – Leicester – got back on the train, was picked up at Sheffield station at 4pm and was introduced to his team-mates half an hour later. At 7.45 he was kicking off.

To those familiar with the chaos at Ewood Park since the Jack Walker Trust sold the club to the Venky’s poultry business, it would not seem an unusual story. However, Blackburn won on Wednesday night and it might not be ridiculous to imagine them winning at Anfield this afternoon.

Venky’s are poorer and wiser since they began their ownership of the club – bought for £45m – by sacking Sam Allardyce and appointing the agent Jerome Anderson – “a man who could not pick his nose” according to Sir Alex Ferguson – to help them run Ewood Park.

In one season, 2012-13, five managers oversaw training at the complex at Brockhall framed by the stunning beauty of the north Pennines. Gary Bowyer was the fifth. He has the air of a bank clerk but he must be hard inside to have staunched not the bleeding but the haemorrhaging of Blackburn Rovers.

“All managers sound nice off the field,” said Kilgallon. “But at half-time and full-time he can be throwing things at you. Generally, though, he is calm. He has a really young squad and when you scream and shout at young footballers it can go the  other way.

“This is a different club. He has got rid of some players who maybe didn’t want to be here, and brought in some really good lads who want to crack on. Teams used to think that if we turn up at Blackburn and go after them, they would fall apart. It’s not like that any more.”

It says something that Blackburn will be taking 6,000 supporters to Anfield, where, 20 years ago, they won the Premier League. That is more than the total crowd at Ewood Park that watched them beat Swansea in the fourth round. A quarter of an hour into the fifth-round tie and Blackburn were doing a pretty good impression of a team falling apart. Stoke were a goal up and in control when Josh King, a Norwegian footballer who had once been on Manchester United’s books and also on Borussia  Mönchengladbach’s, tore into their back four with a  hat-trick inside 20 minutes.

“He can shift,” said Kilgallon with a smile. “I don’t think they knew too much about Josh because they played tight to him, which you cannot do, because not only is Josh very fast, he is as strong as an ox. If you are quick enough to get back at him, he can easily give you a little nudge and knock you back five yards.”

Kilgallon has had his set-backs. When he was 18, Leeds sent him on loan to West Ham. Alan Pardew wanted to make the deal permanent. The answer was no. West Ham were promoted to the Premier League. Leeds found themselves in League One.

As for joining Sunderland, “If I’d had a crystal ball I wouldn’t have gone,” he added. “But when you are a centre-half and you have Steve Bruce, who was a legendary centre-half, asking you to come up, you are drawn to him.” His time on Wearside ended messily. After the last home game of the season, he and full-back Phil Bardsley went to a casino. Bardsley won and was photographed on the wine-red carpet covered in £50 notes. His manager, Paolo Di Canio, dropped the pair for the final game of the season and Kilgallon never played for Sunderland again. Bardsley outlasted his manager.

“It was for doing absolutely nothing,” said Kilgallon. “But everything was very militaristic with Di Canio. He was the manager and sometimes you just have to take it. I never saw myself at Blackburn because when I was at Sunderland we used to watch the results coming in and Blackburn kept losing and you wondered what was going on. But I knew Craig Short [now Bowyer’s assistant] from my time at Sheffield United and he called me and said: ‘Come on, we are turning this around.’ And they were.”

Liverpool v Blackburn is live on BT Sport 1 Sunday, kick-off 4pm