Blackburn Rovers v Swansea City
Ewood Park / FA Cup 5th Round / 24th January 2015
One of the best away pubs in the land, one of Swansea’s finest team goals for a long time and 4 goals for Yakubu. Throw in the Blackburn fans booing and protesting post match, despite beating Swansea 4 – 2 and it was fair to say that my first ever trip to Ewood Park was an interesting one. This was back in the pre-Lost Boyos days of 2011 and during Swansea’s first ever Premier League campaign; the same time that Blackburn Rovers found themselves managed by boo-boys’ favourite Steve Kean. And that aforementioned flowing team goal was finished by? None other than Leroy Lita. Remember when he played for Swansea in the Premier League?
The Fernhurst pub would be the inaugural winner of my Lost Boyos ‘Pub of the Year’ with its away fan only policy and with it being just yards away from the away stand itself. Despite the Swans losing 4-2 to a Yakubu-inspired Blackburn (I say ‘Yakubu-inspired’ I think, he only touched the ball 4 times and scored all 4 times), a good day was had in Blackburn thanks largely to the buoyant atmosphere amongst Swansea fans both before and after the game in the Fernhurst. Jump forward three and a half years later and Swansea City found themselves being pulled out of the hat to play Rovers again, this time in the FA Cup 5th Round and with the Lancashire club sitting in the second tier of English football. With Blackburn being just a short train journey away from my Salford abode, to Ewood Park I headed.
BBC Wales had decided to air the Swans game on TV and thus irritatingly our kick-off was moved from 3pm to 12.45pm, meaning an earlier set-off; although I couldn’t complain really, as the Swansea fans travelling from Swansea itself had to now get up at around 5-6am. My wake up time was quite a few hours later and much fewer miles were to be travelled from my northern headquarters.
I found myself at the end of my road waiting for Dan, a fellow Salfordian Jack, at 9.30am and by 10.10am we were aboard the train to Blackburn from Salford Crescent (with a can of beer in my pocket to keep me entertained). By 11am we were walking through Blackburn and en route to our first pub of the day.
Last time I went to Blackburn, me and my fellow Jack Mat Tossell hopped straight into a taxi to the Fernhurst and spent a good 3-4 hours indulging in beer there. I would have been quite content to do the same again, but such a plan was no longer plausible. Why? Well, I had heard weeks before that the Fernhurst has been taken over by new owners and they do not exactly welcome football fans into their establishment like the previous owners. Such a shame. A great football pub taken away from us. So, instead, having arranged with a few other of my Swansea pals, me and Dan headed through the town centre to The Postal Order Wetherspoons pub.
It was barely 11am and so service was very slow in the pub, which was littered with the odd Blackburn Rovers shirt on this Saturday morning. Once we were finally served, we found the rest of the Swansea lads in the family area of the pub and soon talk turned to all things Swansea City. I had not been to a Swansea City game since Boxing Day, 29 days before; this was the longest I hadn’t been to a Swansea game for a long time and so it did feel a bit like getting back to the family today.
The highlight of our time in Wetherspoons had to be the fact that they had run out of mash potato and instead they served Steve a bizarre meal of mashed suede, chips (which replaced the absent mash) and haggis. The chef had clearly tried to make up for the lack of mash by piling a whole load of chips on too.
An hour was spent in Spoons and with the ground being a bit of a trek away from the town centre, me and Dan headed back to the train station to hitch a ride in a taxi to Ewood Park, which got us to the ground within 10 minutes, despite a fair bit of traffic heading in the same direction.
I had forgotten how impressive Ewood Park looks from the outside – a nice mix of old and new. Speaking of old, lets not forget that Blackburn won the Premier League back in 1995 and this is celebrated with a huge picture of that title winning team on the side of the Jack Walker Stand – the stand named after the chairman and local businessman who helped fund that title winning team.
There was still just under 30 minutes to go until kick-off, but there was extra reason for us Swansea fans to get through the turnstiles early today. Swansea City Football Club have been pretty kind to us travelling Jacks over the past two seasons with a whole host of little incentives. Today the club were providing us with a £5 voucher to use on food/drink on the away concourse, so with that in mind, I headed through the turnstiles, received my voucher and headed straight to the food/drink outlet to grab a pint and a chicken balti pie (priced £5.80 meaning I had to cough up another 80p alongside my voucher). The pie was actually rather good too without being flash.
It was great to catch up with all my Swansea pals, before we headed up into the stand with 5 minutes to go until kick-off.
Blackburn Rovers were formed in 1875 and spent their early years playing at Oozehead Ground, Pleasington Cricket Ground and Leamington Road until 1890 when they moved into Ewood Park. The ground was actually built in 1882 as Ewood Bridge and hosted a variety of sports such as football, athletics and even dog racing. Located on the banks of the River Darwen, the ground holds just shy of 32,000. There is nothing particularly ostentatious about the place, but it does have some character to it. The four stands all stand by themselves with gaps in most all 4 corners of the ground. The smaller Riverside Stand also adds a lopsided-ness to the place with the other three stands being much larger and the Jack Walker Stand being the largest of the four.
Fair to say, the stands today were rather devoid of home fans. Clearly, the magic of the cup and/or Premier League Swansea City were just not appealing to the Blackburn community with just under 6,000 in attendance for today’s game (600 of those being Swansea fans). Both teams were also predictably resting some of their first choice players. More interestingly for the Swans, Bafetimbi Gomis was starting up front for them, a player who had received a whole load of hate from his own fans in the build up to the game thanks to his comments to French TV berating the club and generally fishing for a move. A player touted to replace him was Jordan Rhodes, the free scoring Championship striker who was on the bench for Blackburn today.
6 minutes was all it took for Swansea’s day to go to pot. A long ball over the top saw Rovers’ Josh King go in chase and seeming to overtake Swansea’s Kyle Bartley. Both players were giving a bit of argy-bargy, but eventually King went down and a freekick was given in Blackburn’s favour. Us Swansea fans knew what was coming next: red card to Bartley – Swansea’s 7th red card of the season.
Swansea composed themselves and actually didn’t do too bad after the dismissal, although Gomis was having an absolute mare up top for the Swans. However, the striker would prove superfluous for Swansea’s opening goal as Gylfi Sigurdsson worked some of his magic. From 25 yards out Gylfi launched an absolute thunderbolt and I was already screaming ‘GOAL!’ before it hit the net. An absolute screamer and virtually unstoppable. 1-0 to ten man Swansea.
The Jack Army were still singing their joy at taking the lead when Blackburn equalised. A cross to the back post was headed down by Tom Cairney to Chris Taylor, who wrapped his foot around the ball to send it past Lukasz Fabianski and in.
The game died down a bit and the Jack Army turned their attention to a gentleman in the Jack Walker Stand, who found himself flanked by 4-5 children/teenagers. Chants of “PAEDO!”, “Where’s your Haribo?” and “He’s got sweet in his pockets!” bellowed from the away end. This kept a portion of the away fans entertained for the majority of the game.
There was still time for Nathan Dyer to have 2 shots blocked in the box, but the game would remain 1-1 at half-time. Probably the fairest scoreline after 45 minutes.
Half-time: Blackburn 1 – 1 Swansea.
It turned out that Dan had acquired another £5 voucher off a steward and so he sent me back down onto the concourse to buy myself a beer and him a bottle of Coke. Go to any Football League ground and dare to attempt to take a bottle with a bottle top on it anywhere near pitchside and expect to be rugby tackled by a barrage of stewards; a bottle top is a lethal weapon in the world of football fandom it seems. Clearly, Blackburn Rovers don’t know how lethal such a weapon is as Dan was allowed to take his bottle of Coke pitchside complete with the top on it! Mental! Also, while we are talking about potentially lethal beverages, Blackburn Rovers sell two pint cups! Just look at that monster below! Won’t Blackburn Rovers think of the children!
Speaking of children, as I headed back up to our spot at the top of the stand for the second half, it seemed a large portion of Swans fans were entertaining themselves by chanting paedophilic-related chants at the Rovers fan near the away end; not that he helped matters, by singing along and encouraging the chants.
On the pitch, there were half chances for either team, but still not much to write home about. However, predictably the Swans were tiring and slowly Blackburn were beginning to create a little bit more. The introduction of former Cardiff City striker Rudy Gestede, who had scored 12 goals this season before today and who looked destined to move on from Rovers by the end of January, brought an inevitably of a Rovers goal with it. Swansea opted to bring off Gomis and he left the pitch to little applause from the away end, quite a few boos and a lot of shouts of “fuck off!” I’m not one to condone such behaviour from your own fans towards a player for your club, but its hard to defend Gomis at the moment and I had absolutely no sympathy for him as he walked lethargically (just like how he had played) off the field to be replaced by Nelson Oliviera.
Immediately, following Gomis’ departure, Blackburn took the lead as Rudy Gestede controlled the ball from a corner and then fired a volley from close range into the net. 2-1 and Swansea looked done for. There was still time for things to get worse though.
Another former Cardiff player would get on the scoresheet to make it 3-1 in the 89th minute, as Craig Conway’s dipping shot from 20 yards somehow crept under Fabianski. Throw in Gylfi Sigurdsson also receiving his marching orders in injury time for a cynical tackle on Taylor, which saw him receive a straight red (Swansea’s number 8 of the season), and a rather dire day for the Swans was rounded up appropriately.
Full-time: Blackburn 3 – 1 Swansea. Two red cards for the Swans, a loss to a team a league below us and out of the FA Cup – a pretty crappy day at the office. Time to go drown our sorrows.
The rest of the lads knew of a pub up the hill towards the Mills Hill train station and so Egy led the way for us, sending us down past a canal until we arrived at the quite hidden away Navigation pub. And fairplay, the lads were spot on with this pub recommendation. Despite the big red rose of Blackburn Rovers on the door as we entered and the various Rovers’ memorabilia scattered about the pub, the locals were more than welcoming. Most of our party headed off and headed onawrds to Preston and Wigan for more drinks, whilst me, Dan and Jamie (who had joined us in the stands just after half-time) hopped in a taxi back into the Blackburn itself.
The sorrow drowning continued in the rather busy Last Orders. Our FA Cup woes were compounded further as we watched the big guns get knocked out of the cup, as Man City fell to Middlesbrough at the Etihad and more amazingly Chelsea fell 4-2 to Bradford City, despite being 2-0 up at home; jaws were seen hitting the floor in the pub. “We would have had a good chance of winning this cup if we hadn’t cocked up today,” I reflected as a large portion of the top half of the Premier League were knocked out.
Dan headed back home and the haze of beer saw me lose Jamie and somehow end up in the Adelphi across the road from the station. Here I bumped into a elderly man called Ken, who was fascinated with my groundhopping exploits and wanted to know about all my tales from my travels; me being drunk meant that I happily obliged.
Our day finished watching another Premier League club struggle against lower league opposition as Liverpool failed to beat Bolton at Anfield and were held to a 0-0 draw in the evening kick-off. A crazy day for the FA Cup, but sadly my team was on the end of one of the ‘shock’ defeats.
Ewood Park is a good ground without being particularly pulsating; Rovers need to get the big crowds back for starters. Plus, the day is less attractive for away fans now with the once brilliant Fernhurst pub no longer allowing away fans anymore. Blackburn is your standard Lancashire town: a little bit run down, but generally welcoming. A trip to watch Blackburn Rovers is something I’m not in any rush to do again, but the thought of going back doesn’t exactly make me shudder either. Good luck for the rest of your cup run Rovers.
Highlights: cheap tickets, decent ground £5 voucher for food/drink courtesy of Swansea City, Gylfi’s goal, the Navigation pub.
Low Points: Fernhurst no longer being an away pub, shocking day at the office for the Swans.
See all my photos from my trip to Ewood Park here.