FA Cup fever mounting? Dreams of another trip to Wembley suddenly jostling relegation nightmares out of focus? It would be nice to think this could be to be our year – provided we also claw our way beyond mere safety to midtable comfort.
But before we get on to Salut! Sunderland‘s own Blackburn Rovers fan Glen Mullan, this week’s very welcome Who Are They? candidate, let us cast minds back to the early 1980s and the village of Whalley. Our guide is Murray “Muzzer” Walker, of whom more in what Lancashire folk may call afore lung.
Eight miles or so from Ewood Park, Whalley is a place described at Wikipedia as a “large village in the Ribble Valley on the banks of the River Calder..overlooked by Whalley Nab, a large picturesque wooded hill over the river”.
It is famous for having a village cricket team that has played against England. and for hosting the first Roses match (Wikipedia felt the need to add that this would have been between Lancashire and Yorkshire).
On that Saturday a quarter of a century ago, a double-decker bus trundled into the village, which is also famous – locally at least – for being split fairly equally between Blackburn and Burnley fans.
The occupants of the bus were a lively bunch of Sunderland fans who had just crossed the Pennines and were heading for the match.
First, though, they wanted to sample the delights of Whalley: not to take in the pleasing view of the hill, nor to pay homage to sporting history, but to guzzle a drop of ale in at least one of the village’s four pubs.
That day, recalls Murray Walker, pictured above, a tradition was born. “Aye, them were t’days,” he says, or summat like it any road.
Whalley lad made good, not as the motor racing commentator but as sports editor of The National in Abu Dhabi, Murray is Rovers to the core.
He says the unexpected visit from Mackems, “all great lads, a change from the Boro fans who’d caused some bother at Ewood a few weeks earlier”, led to a sort of town twinning agreement. SAFC fans would stay over in Whalley for a game, Rovers fan would be put up in the North East when Blackburn visited Roker Park.
He might have added: ‘Ah could swig a pint of whoam-brewed an’ ger a lung poo. Ah towd ‘im Ah’d appen find one afore lung. Appetite! Ah con eight a ‘orse’s yed awf. Six shieves o’ bread wi’ cheese fer mi jack-bit.” But he didn’t; that was taken from “A Lancashire letter”, circa 1951.
Some Salut! Sunderland readers may have been on that first bus and have memories of their own. One or two diehard Rovers fans in the crowd on Saturday – no, we are not suggesting the away support will be in single figures – may have taken part in the return trips
Not our Glen. He’s only 30 now so would have needed to be an especially precocious drinker to have taken part in the exchanges before they petered out.
But in a season when we seem to have played virtually no one but Blackburn, he kindly stepped forward to do the honours for yet another Rovers edition of the series.
We found him at Vital Blackburn Rovers, his branch of the Vital Football Network, which produced last week’s exchanges with Villa fans.
His fascinating answers to our questions reveal him to be a passionate Rovers fan with a heartwarming view of may become of Newcastle United. Come back tomorrow and all will be revealed….
* Photograph of Whalley Nab (top) adapted from an image by Chris Sheldon posted at Picasaweb. If anyone knows Chris, please let him know a home was found for it here.