For the first time in my lifetime, Blackburn Rovers will kick off the new season on Saturday in the doldrums of League One with, all due respect, the likes of Rochdale, Plymouth and Fleetwood.
I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Sure, I’m imbued with the same old start-of-season optimism that all football fans have before the leaves start to fall and the grim reality of a season of struggle begins to set in. (Make that ten past 3 on Saturday then).
But, for all that following Rovers is both a delight and a nightmare, there is some cause for cautious optimism.
Here are my reasons to be cheerful/reasons to be churlish…
Summer transfer windows have not been kind to Rovers in recent years, usually involving us losing one of our best players and replacing them with a unknown free transfer from a French lower league club (Sacha Petshi anyone?)
However, this summer, not only have we kept hold of – so far – all the players bar Connor Mahoney that we would have wanted to keep hold of, players like Bradley Dack, Peter Whittingham and Dominic Samuel et al may actually improve the first team. A novel experience indeed. And, although there’s plenty of time for “bigger” clubs like Barnsley, Bristol City and Burton Albion (what a joke they’re higher in the football pyramid than Rovers) to try and snatch Charlie Mulgrew off us, at the time of writing the first team looks in decent shape.
Tony Mowbray brought calm authority, consistency and an attractive brand of football when he arrived in February. We were down-and-out under Owen Coyle and, even though we got relegated, to only go down by two goals (essentially Shane Duffy’s parting gift back last August) was a remarkable achievement.
He managed to unite the fans – mostly – get us some wins and bring back some spirit to Ewood Park.
And we will need bags of that this year because it’s going to be a dogfight in League One. In Mowbray we trust. I want to go along with that.
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3. No fear
Even though Rovers have been relegated and things look bleak, the nature of how we finished the season has given fans belief that this could only be a temporary stay in League One. For too many years, the fanbase has been divided (probably since Sam Allardyce was appointed to be honest. Remember the days of the vitriol against “BFS” and his “hoofball”?) but maybe, in the face of extreme adversity, we can come together and support the team.
Perhaps as well, the necessary inclusion of more homegrown lads from the Academy can serve to unite the fans as well. Mahoney was a revelation when he was finally given his opportunity by Mowbray and in Raya, Tomlinson, Lenihan amongst others the shiny Brockhall Academy could be well represented in the first team. These lads are young, fearless and care about the club. Let’s get behind them.
They’re still there and seem to be going absolutely nowhere.
Unfortunately, despite almost seven years of broken promises, shambolic mismanagement and a chaotic ruining of the club from top-to-bottom, they still claim to be in it for the long haul. How far can they sink us before they’re done? There are many thousands of Rovers fans across the globe who believe there is no hope while the chicken farmers are in charge and I can certainly see their point.
Sadly, there are many ways this rears its ugly head.
The exuberance of youth can lead to naivety and our U23 side didn’t exactly set the world alight when they represented Rovers in the Checkatrade Trophy last season. In fact, they looked exactly what they were. Inexperienced.
As for the experienced guys, Mulgrew, Graham, Conway etc – do they really know what’s in store for them? Have they experienced anything like the muck and bullets of Fratton Park on a wet February evening? Time will tell.
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Rovers don’t tend to hit the ground running.
Last season’s abysmal 4-1 defeat at home to Norwich was the latest in a long line of opening day distresses. Not starting well has become a permanent fixture and that sets the tone for the rest of the season. Up against former Bolton stalwart Phil Brown and his confident Southend side away this Saturday looks like a tricky one to navigate for a Rovers team still adjusting to League One.
So that’s the situation. I don’t know where you’re at about Rovers season and if, like me, you’re feeling utterly mixed about it.
One thing’s for sure, it’ll certainly be interesting. #COYB #Rovers