Harford soothes the wild Rovers

Simon Turnbull discovers contrasting moods in the town and club of Blackburn
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Ray Harford stopped short of bursting into song as he delivered the Edith Piaf line: "Je ne regrette rien". But it was clear from his demeanour behind the mike in Ewood Park's Media Theatre that the manager of Blackburn Rovers was ready to face the music.

After confronting the Press he faced 300 season-ticket holders in the Premier Suite, and won them over with his disarming candour. This afternoon the audience will be even more intimidating as Ray of the Rovers faces up to the future in what for Blackburn, even before they were shorn of Shearer and detached from Dalglish, has become the Theatre of Nightmares. When they last won at Old Trafford Fred Pickering wore the No9 shirt and Jack Marshall was manager.

That 3-0 success (goals by Mick McGrath, Mike Harrison and Ian Lawther) dates back to 13 October 1962, and the prospect of 50,000 less than sympathetic souls chanting reminders of Blackburn's two notable recent losses - to St James' Park, Newcastle, and the Hillside Golf Club, Southport - is unlikely to help Rovers halt 34 years of failure today. "I'm sure they will take great delight in mocking us," Harford duly acknowledged.

Blackburn's manager could hardly be anything other than pragmatic in his approach to football, having been at Charlton, Exeter, Lincoln, Mansfield, Port Vale and Colchester in his playing days as a journeyman defender. You get the feeling his apparent bewilderment at the fuss the removal of Dalglish's nominal title has caused is not merely bluff. "Alan leaving was a bigger thing," he said, "because it was ongoing and because it was here. You couldn't really touch the Kenny situation as such. You couldn't say it's the end of an era; maybe for Kenny it is, but it's not for Blackburn Rovers."

When Shearer left, BBC Radio Lancashire chose to accompany the bad news with the REM song "It's the end of the world as we know it". The morning after King Kenny's prompted abdication was confirmed, the phone-in show was bombarded by callers blaming Harford (with the exception of Myra from Nelson, who considered the outrage of having been forced to pay 20p extra for not having cream with her scone at a Clitheroe tea-shop a more pressing matter for public debate).

What the Blackburn public did not immediately appreciate was the fact that since his move upstairs at Ewood (where he no longer kept a desk) Dalglish had about as much influence directing first-team football as the honourary vice-president listed above him in the club programme, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. It was significant, nevertheless, that those who rang Blackburn's clubcall line on Thursday morning, rather than the local radio station, were greeted by that familiar Glaswegian drawl and a greeting that sounded something like: "Hlo... Skennydalgleesheer."

The concern among the fans is that Rovers, with no Shearer, no points and no goals, no longer have the name (if not the voice) that could attract the new players they clearly need. Robert Coar, the chairman, does not share their fears. "This has never been a one-man club," he maintained. "It wasn't about Alan Shearer. It wasn't about Kenny Dalglish. They'll be the first to admit that. Alan's gone. Kenny's gone. The club will go on. We've got to look to the future. We're just as ambitious and determined as ever."

The immediate ambition when Jack Walker invested his first pounds 1m was to avoid relegation to the old Third Division. It was fulfilled, with the help of the money that bought Bobby Mimms, Tony Dobson and Steve Livingstone, in the penultimate match of the 1990-91 season. The memory of last year's title success may be starting to fade but Rovers still have 13 international players on their books and their ground is no longer the tramlined timewarp affair that attracted makers of a Hovis commercial not so many years ago. Six years ago, when King Kenny led Liverpool to another championship crown and Blackburn were breadliners, you would have been joking if you had forecast the rise of the ramshackle Rovers.

Ewood Parkers might be reluctant to let go of their recent past but confirmation of how quickly times can change could be found in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph on Thursday night. For the first time in four years a goal by Alan Shearer passed unrecorded.