Blackburn's banner still cuts Clarets

Burnley desperate to pay back their local rivals for plane stunt 18 years ago
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The Independent Football

It is the light aircraft which Burnley still remember. When the Clarets, then languishing in the old Fourth Division, had just lost in the play-offs to Torquay in 1991, a plane flew over the ground with a banner flying behind it declaring: "Staying down forever. Ha ha ha. Love Rovers". Rumour has it that Blackburn legend Simon Garner was involved in the stunt.

Such is the level of antipathy between the fans of the Lancashire sides, divided by 11 short miles and meeting in the top flight for the first time in 45 years tomorrow, that the two clubs reached a prior agreement that only the managers and captains would publicly discuss the game, lest tensions be inflamed. When Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen was asked yesterday if the occasion compared with rugby internationals between the All Blacks and Australia in his native New Zealand, he scoffed. "I've been to several All Blacks versus Australia games and they're absolutely yawn festivals compared to this fixture," said the defender, who featured when the sides last met in the FA Cup fifth-round tie five years ago, which Rovers won with a Morten Gamst Pedersen strike six minutes from time in a replay. "The average New Zealander, who's generally a rugby supporter, just wouldn't be able to get their heads around what's going to be experienced on Sunday."

Absence has made the rage grow stronger, where these sides are concerned. The two have not met in the top flight since New Year's Day 1966 and Burnley, who prevailed that day, must reach back 30 years for their last win. "This one has got more of a special edge because you don't get to play it that often," said Nelsen (below), whose side need to put local passions aside after a poor start which leaves them fifth bottom, with trips to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford up ahead.

"My memories of the last game are of an eruption of noise and to win that game was a special memory. There are 25 players absolutely itching to get picked for this game. There could be some broken hearts when the team is named."

Nelsen is 32 tomorrow and the Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce is 55 the following day but there will be no gifts on offer from either of the Football League's founder members and Allardyce made no pretence about who was under pressure. "Right from the day Burnley were promoted, I knew this was the game that was going to be talked up," he said. "We're expected to win. We're the home side and we've been in the Premier League longer so all the pressure lies with us. It will be a frantic start. 120mph stuff."

Allardyce will also tell his players they need to exercise control both to win the match and avoid any disciplinary problems and he believes referee Chris Foy has a significant part to play. "I'm not trying to put any extra pressure on the officials – Chris Foy and his assistants are very experienced so they will understand what it's about. Chris will have handled derby matches before and will know what's going on and calming players down with the right word in their ear at the right time will be very important."

Derbies are not entirely alien to Allardyce's opposite number, Owen Coyle, of course. "They say it's intense, but you have to remember I grew up in Glasgow," he said. "I also played in the Dundee derby with United." Coyle has bumped into Allardyce at a golf day and charity dinner in the past few weeks and did what he could to nurture a spirit of neighbourliness yesterday. "We should be very proud of having two clubs in what are perceived to be small towns playing in the best league in the world. So let's show all the good things."

Burnley, with four straight away defeats to go with the Turf Moor performances which make them the first newly promoted side since Watford in 1982 to win their first four at home, have no new injury worries. Allardyce is missing Vince Grella, who picked up a thigh injury on international duty with Australia and Steven Reid, with Achilles trouble.