East Lancashire derby: Welcome to hell

The mills may have gone but there is still something dark and satanic whenever Burnley and Blackburn meet in perhaps the most savage rivalry in British football. It is also one of the most seldom played – just four clashes since 1983. Today, Ewood Park stages the first meeting in the top flight since 1966 of these towns built and divided by the now dead cotton trade
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The Independent Football

Simon Garner

Blackburn 1978-1992

I was leaving the players' entrance at Turf Moor after we'd won and there were lots of people milling around and one Burnley supporter came up to me and said: "Are you Simon Garner?" He was carrying a carving knife and said he was looking to stab Simon Garner with it. Naturally, I said I wasn't him but he would be along in five minutes and then I legged it back to the players' lounge. I have never, ever run so quickly in my life.

People outside east Lancashire simply do not realise. They have no idea what it is like; hatred is not a word you want to use about sport but there is hatred there, and in all my years at Blackburn I never found out why. Preston and Bolton are the same distance from Ewood Park as Burnley but there is nothing like the same dislike.

We did the double over Burnley that season (1982-83). At Ewood, we had been awarded a penalty and I went up to take it when a brick landed at my feet. The Burnley fans were tearing down the stand, pulling it apart piece by piece. The players had to go off and when we came back I had to retake it. I scored it, though – I always scored against Burnley.

The atmosphere was equally intense on both grounds, although what made Turf Moor particularly nasty was that the terracing was not behind the goals – it ran along the pitch and so you had two sets of fans jammed together rather than separated by the width of the ground and they would be scrapping all through the game. Years later, I was invited to make the half-time draw at Wycombe, where I'd been a player. They were playing Burnley and they had no idea how much their fans hated me. There was nearly a riot when I came out and waved to them. I wanted to go back and do it again the following season but the police wouldn't let me.

Stan Ternent

Burnley 1966-1968 (player)

1998-2004 (manager)

You ask Graeme Souness what he thinks of this game. He has been in Merseyside derbies and Rangers-Celtic games and yet when he came to Turf Moor for the first time as Blackburn manager, he was shocked by the ferocity of it all. Everyone in Burnley remembers the last game of the season (in 1987) when Burnley had to beat Leyton Orient to stay in the Football League, there was a light aircraft, piloted by a Blackburn fan, with a banner behind it saying, "You're Going Down Forever. Ha, Ha, Ha". They don't forget that.

I know someone who lives within a five-minute walk of Ewood Park and he is a season-ticket holder at Burnley. To get to the game, he has to drive past Ewood to Burnley, get on board a bus at Turf Moor and join a convoy back to Blackburn. Then, after the match, he will go back to Burnley with the convoy, get in his car and then drive back to Blackburn. That is the only way any Burnley fan will see the game. When Burnley were promoted to the Championship in 1999, the only question was: "When are we playing Rovers?" And in the weeks leading up to the derby, all Graeme and I seemed to be doing was talking to the police.

Graham Branch

Burnley 1999-2007

I was going to strike the ball (at Ewood Park in 2001) but Marcus Bent stuck his leg out and I felt something go [it was Branch's medial ligament in his knee]. I should have gone off but we were two or three down and I remember thinking: 'If I go off now, what are the fans going to think? They're going to say he has bottled it.'

I am not a bottler but I was very lucky I didn't do my cruciate because, as I ran, I could feel the bottom of my leg just flopping. It was the weirdest sensation I've ever had. I could go in a straight line but, if I twisted or turned, my leg just gave way and I had Jason McAteer, zipping in and out, to contend with. Our physio said he couldn't believe I'd played on because the leg was bent right out. But it was the derby, what else could I do?

Peter Noble

Burnley 1973-1980

I grew up in Sunderland, at Roker, and played for Newcastle so the North-east derby was in my blood, but before I came to Burnley I knew very little about what the game with Blackburn meant. It is as passionate as anything in English football and it means everything to the fans. They want it so much, partly I think because Burnley and Blackburn have been in different divisions and it's very rarely been played.

The nature of the derby has changed. When I first came to Burnley from Swindon, games against Preston and Blackpool meant as much to the club and although I played in Burnley sides that were successful against Blackburn – the local paper tells me I scored four times in six games against them – my memories of scoring against them are pretty hazy. I do know that it was something special, the town came alive but you had to watch where you were going to drink afterwards.

One of the main reasons Burnley were successful was our manager, Jimmy Adamson. He was like Fergie in that he'd give it to you straight and would never let you be satisfied. Once, when I scored twice in a game in London, he got on the bus, stood up and told me I could do better.

Giving you the finger we called it, and something went from the club when he left to join Sunderland. Owen Coyle has something of Adamson – the straight-talking especially – and although away performances have not been great, I can see them getting something at Ewood. I could even see them winning. It's been 30 years, it has to happen sometime, so why not?

Mark Hughes

Blackburn 2000-2002 (player)

2004-2008 (manager)

Do I have any memories of the game? Well, missing an open goal at Turf Moor of all places springs pretty quickly to mind. It was a little bit unfortunate to say the least. It was a big derby long before I was involved in it, I did not realise the significance of. I had no idea what kind of emotion the game generated in both camps – two teams less than a dozen miles apart. It is up there with any game in the Premier League in terms of sheer intensity. There is a lot of talk about people overstepping the mark when Blackburn and Burnley meet but I really enjoyed the atmosphere, there was a real crackle in the air.

Gordon Taylor

Blackburn 1976-1978

I have played in some fairly tasty derbies, like Birmingham City against Aston Villa, but the 45 minutes against Burnley on Boxing Day 1977 was absolute nirvana. We were 3-0 up by half-time and missed a penalty to make it 4-0. But football being what it is, Burnley fought back to make it 3-2 and we thought the whistle was never going to blow.

Jim Smith had taken me from Birmingham to Blackburn and he had built a very decent side with John Bailey, who went on to play for Everton, Derek Fazackerley, Kevin Hird at full-back (who was a Burnley supporter, by the way) and Dave Wagstaff on the other wing to me. It was a team that was marvellous to play in and that really could have gone somewhere but then Jim left Ewood Park to manage Birmingham and it was broken up and was relegated the following season.

Jim Iley, who succeeded Jim Smith, never even told me that I was going. I was at a Football Writers' dinner when my wife phoned and said that it was on the back page of the local newspaper that I had been released. It was the first thing that I knew about it.

Funnily enough, I have been at three clubs – Birmingham, Blackburn and Bolton Wanderers – who were all relegated the season after I left them. I still live not far from Ewood Park, my daughter-in-law's a Burnley fan but the first kit my grandson got was a Blackburn one and if I can give you one example of what the rivalry means, it is that when they proposed to move the maternity unit of the local hospital from Blackburn to Burnley there were protests. Because no supporter of Blackburn Rovers would want their children born in Burnley.

Blackburn versus Burnley is live on Sky Sports 1 from 12.30pm today, kick-off 1pm