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Blackburn v Burnley – Friends reunited?


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.

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  1. Hillbilly

    October 18, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Your sign post picture is taken in Edenfield which has more Blackpool fans than rovers!

  2. chris_rabz

    October 13, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Bit of an outsider where this is concerned but as a Bolton fan I’m quite close to a number of Blackburn supporters due to going to college there. And I’d place this right up there with the big derbies. Personally I think that while the Merseyside and North London derbies may be bigger in terms of eventual prize (league titles, silverware) they are equalled in passion by this one here.

    I was in Blackburn the night of the cup replay a few years back at a friend’s house and walking around Mill Hill at around 4.30pm I was stunned as the town was just completely shut. Shutters up, doors locked, no-one to be seen except coppers. I wasn’t allowed to leave til about 8.15 when all fans would be in the ground but even from Mill Hill station I could hear the atmosphere.

    It’s a special fixture and I only wish we had a derby like this. We hate United but… not like this.

  3. joe

    August 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    its a wind up david take no notice there a bunch of saddos -im a claret for 30 years and our derby is nowhere near as big as the mersey one -it might be to us but were both small clubs in comparison so get real .

  4. David

    August 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Having read all the emails from both sides of the pitch(As it were) Who the hell thinks Burnley is in Yorkshire??? Even before the old boarders were moved to get more votes, Burnley was still at least 12 or 13 miles inside the LANCASHIRE boarder. Get a map or maybe a satnav. Oh and by the way, to feel the pride and passion at Wembley when we won was something I will never forget, the air was full of Ow Do pride, not Buzzes or Carrrz Parksss

  5. Andy

    July 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Yes the game is bigger than the Merseyside derby. Much bigger.

    Fair enough about the title deciders, but local bragging rights are of more importance to us. We have all won cups and leagues and celebrate long and hard each time another is won, but celebrating an East Lancs derby victory is far far greater. No feeling better. A goal is celebrated 50 times more than any other league/cup goal.

    People may now get to see what this rivalry is like on the big stage. Luckily now a lot of the violence as been cleared up as these games often resembled war zones in and around the grounds. Police measures now prevent any comings together as every fan must go to the game by coach, under heavy almost armoured escourt and away fans are in the ground a couple of hours before kick off.

    The points about the town centre’s are a bit petty and have been made by Rovers fans IMO. Burnley does resemble a ghost town in places now with everything closed down, but Blackburn is no paradise.

    The2 towns rivalry goes way back before football was invented. How about a history of rivalry since the civil war!?

    We simply do not get along and never ever will.

    For many fans just finishing above the other or winning the fixtures will be a successful season even if they are relegated.

  6. Tom Mallows

    July 15, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Hi All,

    Thanks for the comments, I can feel the passion for both clubs seeping out of your words!
    A few people have mentioned my comparison of the town centres, I never said they were exactly the same I just felt on my past visits there they contain similar features that stem from their shared past – I will be more precise next time!

    As for the accent I am sure there are noted differences, but as an exiled Northerner I struggle tell, like may people who are not from a certain area it can be tricky to pick up certain dialects – I will be sure to listen out harder next time!

    Is the derby bigger than Everton v Liverpool? That’s a brave call, Merseyside derbies have settled more titles but Rovers/Burnley does go back longer, and Burnley have their fair share of history in the top flight as you said Steve.

    Every fan will label their derby the biggest, but from an outsiders point of view it depends on what is at stake, be it Premier League points, Championship points FA Cup leagues etc..

    Passion wise though The East Lancashire derby is definitely up there, it just hasn’t had the EPL stage to show it – until now!

  7. aj

    July 14, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Making a comparison between football clubs and finding some common ground in the history is one thing but finding similarities between Burnley and Blackburn town centres and accents is ridiculous. Anybody from east lancashire can tell the distinct difference in accent – they dont pronounce all the letters in Burnley e.g. “Coh moh Bur-ley” or put extra letters in e.g. “They-yer over theyer”. Blackburn town centre is no great shakes but Burnley is a dead end, non starter and not worth considering. As for football today, Blackburn’s signings to date are not that inspiring but Burnley are buying second class Scottish players. Blackburn’s exisiting team is at least better than Burnley’s. One thing is correct, the derbies and the rivalry beats any on merseyside and manchester.

    • Steve

      July 15, 2009 at 7:07 am

      How does it beat the Liverpool Derby? The Liverpool Derby has settled more league champioonships than any other.

  8. Steve

    July 14, 2009 at 7:10 am

    I bet many people don’t know that whilst Burnley are making their premier league debuts next month, it will actually be their 52nd season in the top flight, which is more than Leeds (50), Fulham (20), Wigan (5), and Portsmouth (32).

    Historically Burnley are a massive club and boast as many league titles as the mighty Spurs and Newcastle and more than a good third of the league.

  9. mortengamstpederson

    July 14, 2009 at 1:20 am

    There is no simarlarity in the town centres whatsoever, the one in yorkshire is an absolute cess pit of a place full of pound and boarded up shops, Which their own fans(?) smashed up when we did them 2-0 at their place in the Championship, only bettered by the 5-0 beating they took at Ewood in the return fixture. Okay, so they’ve got promoted for the first time in over 30 years and we’ll have to listen to those dingle lovers going on about “Famous old clubs” etc etc. But it will only be for one season!
    Looking at the manager signing half of Scotland and their fixtures, when are they going to get ANY points?

  10. eddio

    July 13, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Rovers fans reckon Burnleh have one foot in Yorkshire, and of questionable interbred heritage ala their namesakes, the Dingles!
    RE. the Simon Garner confrontation at t’ turf: It’s common knowledge to both sets of fans that the aforementioned Rovers legend and all-time leading scorer was instrumental in the organisation of a plane to fly-over t’turf trailing a huge banner displaying ‘Burnley staying down 4 ever! love Rovers.x’ when they were trying to escape the old Div.4.
    To say there is no love lost between the two clubs is to put it mildly.

  11. OneMattJansen

    July 13, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    “Bring on the Dingles!” Burnleh, you are going to get slapped and you will beat Derby’s record as you sink for another 30+ years…

  12. julie harris

    July 13, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    The parts of the article relating to the football are very true but the town centres? the accents? You have got to be kidding. The Burnley accent is very distinctive from the Blackburn one and I cant see any resemblance between the two town centres.

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