Unless you are familiar with both towns it would be easy to confuse an image of Burnley for its near neighbour Blackburn. Both share the marauding rows of tight Victorian terraced housing, offering a window to England’s past and evoking images of men in cloth caps and the bustling noise and billowing smoke of busy cotton mills.
For those who don’t know the two East Lancashire towns played a key role in Britain’s industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century. Much of its growth surrounded the cotton industry and indeed, fuelled by the growth of the cotton mills, Blackburn became one of the first industrialised towns in the world, while Burnley became the biggest cotton producer on the planet.
What has this to do with football you may ask? Well alongside the cobbled streets and coke filled chimneys were two football clubs, whose roots are born in the industrial revolution. Both Blackburn and Burnley were founder members of the football league in 1888 and have established a rivalry older than the likes of Everton and Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs.
This is despite the two towns fortunes being closely linked over the past 100 years, with the growth and boom of the late 1800s and the relative decline of the 20th century. Even the two town centres are physically similar while the thick Lancashire dialect, though apparently different, is hard to separate even for a northerner like me. Yet even with all that shared history if you were born in Burnley you were brought up to hate Blackburn and vice versa, it’s that simple.
Their first league meeting came on 4 November 1887 and saw Rovers come away with a convincing 7-1 away win, still their biggest win over the Clarets to date. Three months later Blackburn were triumphant again, this time winning 4-1 en route to a fourth place finish in the inaugural football league season.
As the football league grew Blackburn v Burnley became a staple diet of the English football calendar before the Clarets were relegated in 1889. The two rivals would not clash for another 13 years, when Burnley came away with a 1-0 win from Ewood Park in the FA Cup fourth round on 8th March 1913.
As they moved through the 20th century it was Rovers who edged ahead in the silverware stakes. They won the first division championship (now the Premier League) for the first time in 1912 and again two years later. Rovers also famously won the new Premier League title on the last day of the 1994-95 season. They have also won the FA Cup six times, though only one of those has been in the 20th century.
For Burnley they won their inaugural first division title in 1921 and again in 1960. The Clarets then averaged a league title success every ten years, with the second division (now the Championship) title in 1973, the third division title (now league One) in 1981 and the fourth division (now league two) championship in 1992. Their 1992 success meant they became only the second team ever to win the title of all four professional divisions.
But come October 17 2009 all that history will go out of the window as the two rivals square off for the first time in the top flight since 1966 (they have since met ten times in the second division, now the championship, with the last meeting coming in 2001).
We got a taster of what this rivalry is all about in the 2005 FA Cup when a tumultuous and fractious clash finished 0-0 at Turf Moor, with Rovers winning 2-1 in the Ewood Park replay.
Anyone who disputes the antagonism surrounding this fixture should speak to former Blackburn striker Simon Garner. Garner once emerged from the Turf Moor dressing room having scored the winner only to be confronted by a Burnley fan brandishing a meat cleaver and asking where he was. Or maybe read the autobiography of Stan Ternent, the former Burnley manager. Ternant remembers Accrington, the border town between Burnley and Blackburn, being “a Berlin wall of terraced houses, where petty comments can spark full-scale riots”.
While we all hope the fans can behave there is no denying that when there is animosity between two sets of supporters the resulting football match can be explosive and thrilling to watch. These two clubs may not have the glamour of your Arsenals or United’s or Liverpool’s, but when the two sides meet this season it will contain as much passion, drama and commitment as the best of them. And I for one can’t wait.