Burnley and Blackburn prepare for rare derby

17 October 2009 08:20
The majority of fans scour the fixture list when it is printed to check out the date of visits to Old Trafford, Anfield and possibly this season, that home of the Eastlands Globe Trotters, the City of Manchester Stadium.

Apart from the fact Blackburn Rovers tend to be generous in their allocation of away tickets, there is not much that appeals to visitors about a once-a-season journey to Ewood Park.

 Related ArticlesBlackburn v Burnley previewBurnley renew hostilitiesBurnley fan who lives near Ewood takes coachBurnley fans dress Blackburn statue in their kitOwen Coyle turns out for BurnleyComplete TV guideUnless, that is, you are a Burnley supporter. According to Clarke Carlisle, the Clarets centre back and the man once reckoned by dint of winning a television quiz to be the brainiest footballer in the country, the game 13 miles down the road has been the talk of the town since promotion from the Championship was achieved.

Wherever he goes in the area, it is all anyone wants to detain him about. Never mind beating Manchester United and Everton already, only victory over Rovers will prove to the Burnley faithful that they have truly returned the top table.

"Now the fixture's imminent, I've not met anyone who's not obsessed by its meaning and consequence," says Carlisle, using at least three words in his first sentence that would not figure highly in the vocabulary of most of his contemporaries.

And it is no wonder they are excited in East Lancashire. Given the venerable condition of the two clubs and the fact that both were there together at the founding of the Football League, their rivalry has been an oddly distant one over the past few years. Meetings have been rarer than a first team start for Emile Heskey at Villa Park.

Recently the enmity has been played out in extravagant stunts. Supporters have hired light aircraft to fly over each other's stadiums during crucial games bearing derogatory messages, wreaths have been delivered following unhappy defeats, sales of shirts of opponents have suddenly increased in each other's territory before critical fixtures.

But now at last the two are to meet in the top league for the first time since Burnley won 2-0 at Ewood in January 1966. The anticipation is, according to the ever-eloquent Carlisle, "almost visceral".

"It is big news," he adds. "But that's the talk outside the stadium. Within the four stands and on the training ground, it's about it being another game, another opportunity to secure three points in our aim to accrue enough to stay in the division."

So far, Owen Coyle's side have gathered 12 points, which is roughly 12 more than many pundits had predicted for them at this stage of the season. But to foresee such gloom was to underestimate the desire of players such as Carlisle to seize their opportunity.

After all, the last time he was in the Premier League, with Watford, he missed much of the club's only season in the division through injury. At 31 he is not about to let his second chance pass him by.

"It's integral to what is deemed a small squad that you have players that are hungry. But it's also indicative of the group the manager has put together," he suggests.

"He's sought out players who have desire for all sorts of reasons: they're young, they maybe have a point to prove, or maybe like myself they have under achieved in the past."

Carlisle says the two months in the top flight already represents a learning curve far steeper than the one he conquered to gain 10 GCSEs, or the one he will encounter at Staffordshire University when he enrols in a degree course this month.

"It's the consistency of brilliance that's surprised me," he explains. "You'll get asked serious questions in a positional sense maybe three, four times a game in the Championship. Playing against Robbie Keane or Dirk Kuyt it was every three or four minutes.

"You come off the pitch having being tested mentally to your limits; afterwards I watch and re-watch the game asking myself what I should be doing in certain circumstances. And I've reached the conclusion there isn't a right answer, some times it's just the lesser of two evils.

"The best defenders in the world are the ones with the higher percentage of right choices."

And he anticipates a further tutorial on Sunday. "There is no let up in this division and Blackburn are unquestionably a quality side."

The kind of side he and the rest of the Burnley team aspire to become, perhaps? "I'll have to think about the ramifications of my answer to that one," he smiles.

"In as much as they are now a settled Premier League operation, there's no yo-yoing, the majority of their players are internationals and the talk pre-season isn't so much can we stay up, it's can we qualify for Europe, then yes, that's got to be every club's ambition.

"To be always looking forward, not over your shoulder. If that's Blackburn's aspirations, yes, we want to be like that."

He pauses for a moment before adding what he alone of Premier League players might term a caveat.

"But in terms of the East Lancs postcode, no we most definitely don't want to be Blackburn."

Source: Telegraph