How times have changed since the last time we played Blackburn, a 4-1 defeat at the Liberty stadium in a friendly back in July 2005, when the Swans were in League One.
Sadly on a day that the Swans gave a debut to their rather bright orange away kit, the result was more akin to the grim northern weather that greeted us on our arrival in this Lancashire town.
With Sports Writer Jack at the helm, we embarked on the 400 mile round trip (using the mid-Wales route) from the Swansea valley at around 08:15 and made good progress reaching Blackburn by around 12:30 – without a pee stop I hasten to add. Now that’s what you call bladder retention!
The journey ‘up north’ passed without much in the way of incident – apart from a couple of mid-Walian kamikaze pheasants (now rather well known due to previous Swans away days) which sadly met their match in the form of an accelerating 4×4 owner. You’d have thought he’d have slowed down to let them cross the road – as we did – but obviously he had other ideas and a sunday roast to prepare no doubt.
In keeping with the food theme, once we arrived in a wet, grey and grim (depressing?) Blackburn – we decided to utilise one of the many £4 or £5 a time impromptu car parks dotted along Branch Road – some half mile or so away from Ewood Park – and headed off in search of some nourishment.
Fortunately for us we came across a chip shop come chinese takeaway called the ‘Bamboo House’ on nearby Fore street and we were good to go. Once our curly chips and meat & potato pie were no more, we set off in search of Ewood Park to have a nose around. What is it with chinese takeaways and curly chips?
Whilst making the 10 minute walk to the ground we passed the designated away fans pub – The Fernhurst Arms – which was already packed with Swans fans. I suspect the bouncers on the door and large police outside were in case of any violence at finding out it cost £2 just to get into the place!
As we approached the ground, it was obvious to see where some of Jack Walker’s millions had been spent and it made us realise that whilst Blackburn might not be in the list of most fashionable clubs to trip off everyone’s tongue – they are certainly up there when it comes to heritage and history.
Our early arrival meant that we were able to have a walk around the ground and see both team buses arrive. It also gave us an opportunity to gauge the sense of disenchantment of the Blackburn fans towards Steve Kean.
Much to our surprise the Blackburn team bus was greeted by no more than 30 or so fans, and as the players/management got off the coach there was only a solitary comment aimed at Kean – “It’s now or never Kean” and that my friends was it! Not quite the sort of barracking I anticipated.
As if planned with military precision, the departure of the Blackburn team coach heralded the arrival of the Swans bus less than 5 minutes later, by which time around 20 or so Swansea fans had arrived to greet the team.
The players looked very focussed and ‘in the zone’ – with the majority wearing the trendy Skullcandy headphones which are so popular with Premier League footballers nowadays. I’m sure it was disappointing for the young Swansea fans present that none of them (from what we could see) – other than Stephen Dobbie – chose to acknowledge they’re presence. Surely a quick hello or autograph wouldn’t go amiss? Having said that I suppose given the time of arrival 13:30 the players are purely focussed on the game and nothing else.
Continuing our tour around the ground it was evident everywhere we looked the impact Jack Walker (and his money) had had on the club – and the local area no doubt. There was a customary stand named after him and even the catering/hospitality area aptly known as “Jack’s Kitchen”. Perhaps Delia Smith should take note?
A quick visit to the club shop once again illustrated how far the Swans lag behind other Premier League teams in terms of merchandising opportunities. Does anyone from the club ever take the time to check what ‘the opposition’ is up to? I’d happily provide a dossier on what I’ve witnessed at the 5 other clubs I’ve visited watching the Swans this season – and no that doesn’t include Shrewsbury Town’s club shop! Anyway I’ll wrap up about that as I’m a web anorak not a marketing guru.
After not undertaking any retail therapy whatsoever, we continued our walk around the ground and came across a memorial garden – where fans could (if they so wished) have their ashes scattered.
This struck us both as something which I’m sure a lot of Swansea or indeed Ospreys fans might wish to see at the Liberty stadium perhaps. There is after all some available green belt of land behind and to the side of the East Stand.
I wonder if the club would be receptive to this idea? Let’s not forget that whilst the club was in residence at our once beloved Vetch Field that ashes were scattered onto the pitch. I wonder what happens to such requests nowadays?
It was a poignant reminder of years gone by when we passed the Riverside Stand, which was in stark contrast to the other 3 re-developed stands at Ewood Park. The site of the groundsman’s tools and machinery nestled under the stand was comical and served to remind me of our days at the Vetch.
There is always something to be said for the old skool football grounds and I miss the quirky character that they bring to an ‘away day’ trip. Sadly modern stadia can’t and I don’t think ever will be able to re-create this ‘feeling’.
The site of a ‘Multi Faith Room’ underneath the stand was something which neither of us had ever seen before at a football ground – but I guess it just goes to show the diverse range of cultures that exist in this part of Lancashire.
After the obligatory touch and feel by the stewards, we entered the away end… now that sounds dodgy, so I’ll re-phrase it… we entered the Darwen End stand where the 3,000 or so Swans fans would be housed (lower and upper tiers).
It must be said that ALL of the Blackburn people we met were very very friendly and I can see why people say that northerners are generally a friendly bunch – unlike their compatriots from south of the Watford gap.
Anyway, enough of the ground tour and stereotyping – what of the game…
- A rapturous minutes applause was held in memory of Gary Speed, with the Swans fans singing “There’s only one Gary Speed” throughout. A fitting tribute for a well respected and much loved Welsh football great;
- The absence of Danny Graham to injury meant a start for the more physical Leroy Lita – an attribute that would be needed against a big, physical Blackburn outfit;
- Ashley ‘Jazz’ Richards was making his full Premier League debut and we hoped that his inexperience wouldn’t be exploited by his more experienced opponent – in the shape of the pacy Junior Hoillet;
- The orange away kit was given a debut on a dreary winter’s day – which we thought might be a useful advantage, despite the colour clashing with the stewards dotted around the pitch;
- The Swans started brightly with a strong Ashley Williams block tackle on Yakubu – forcing him to initially hobble – setting the tone for the opening 15 minutes;
- Unfortunately, Jazz was ‘done’ on 21 minutes and Blackburn were ahead thanks to a wonderfully taken strike from Yakubu. He really is a big old unit and would prove to be a right handful all afternoon;
- The body language after the goal wasn’t good and we did wonder how the team would react. We needn’t have worried;
- Another long period of domination led to us scoring a sublime team goal, with a salmon like jump from Leroy bringing us level – cue jubilation from the travelling hordes. Lita for me was one of the positives from the afternoon – working hard at closing down and chasing back;
- The 2nd goal was again from a defensive lapse with Jazz arguably giving away a corner rather than perhaps ushering the ball out of play. The Yak wasn’t going to miss (unfortunately) with a header from 3 yards out;
- Another lapse in concentration in the 2nd half – this time by Neil Taylor (I think) – saw the Yak add to his tally with a powerful header and I did wonder which Swansea we were going to see for the remainder of the game. Would be capitulate or rally?;
- Somehow to their credit, the team and fans rallied and a goal from the hard working Luke Moore after some good work by Wayne Routledge – who continues to prove me wrong – set the game up for a grandstand finish. The belief was there again;
- After Luke’s goal and during another long period of Swans dominance, we wasted a couple of chances (Sinclair’s in particular) to bring things level and I think had we done so we would have gone on to win the game – such was the frailty of Blackburn’s defence at the time;
- Sadly the sending off of Joe Allen (2nd yellow) and Neil Taylor’s subsequent unnecessary penalty box lunge meant the Yak sewed the game up from the penalty spot and we were left to rue missed chances and what might have been’s;
- Whilst I’ve previously commentated on the way teams appear to target Angel Rangel at away games – on today’s evidence I also realise how much work he actually does in both defence and attack. His month long absence is a huge blow;
- Our consistent, fluid passing game seems to have gone a little awry over the last 2 or 3 games (in patches) and I can’t help but feel this is reflected in the results;
- The inconsistent standard in refereeing was once again evident today with Chris Foy seemingly falling firmly into the ‘Homer’ category. Mind you if the half-hearted manner of his pre-match warm-up was anything to go by, I don’t think either he or his fellow officials really wanted to be there anyway!
- It was somewhat bizarre to hear the Blackburn fans chanting ‘Kean Out’ during and after the game considering the result. But in fairness I guess the ‘rot’ had set in quite some time ago and one win certainly wasn’t going to change that;
- Chant of the day would have to go to the Jack Army with ‘Steve Kean for England’ – we can only hope 🙂
- Overall we’d once again dominated for long periods of the game but a lack of killer instinct in front of goal and some uncharacteristic sloppy defending cost us dearly. We really MUST become more ruthless in front of goal;
So all in all it was a disappointing end to what we’d hoped was going to be an historic day and with the opportunity to sing the “Jingle Bells Swans Win Away” song dashed, we trudged off back to the car to contemplate the 4 and a half hour drive home.
The highlight of the journey home was without doubt tasting Olivia’s muffins which lifted our spirits no end and ensured the trip home was an extremely pleasant one.
Despite the the odd burst of torrential rain, we made good time and I was back home with my feet up by 21:30, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to scrutinise our performance once again on match of the day.
However disappointing the result today may have been, at this juncture, one game certainly doesn’t make or break a season and I’m optimistic that we’ll return to form sooner rather than later.
As always, I’m proud to be a Swan.