Burnley ready to renew hostilities with bitter local rivals Blackburn Rovers
16 October 2009 04:55
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Torquay United are celebrating at Turf Moor following a 2-1 aggregate victory in a Fourth Division play-off semi-final in May 1991 when the focus of 13,000 disconsolate Burnley supporters is diverted to the drone of a low-flying aircraft.
The plane buzzes the stadium so that those inside can clearly read the message being trailed behind it: "Staying Down Forever, Love Rovers! Ha, ha!"
Having just avoided relegation to the old Third Division by four points, Blackburn Rovers had little to gloat about, but Burnley's continuing exile in the basement division was reason enough for a stunt which has never been forgotten at either end of the M65.
Forty-three years after they last visited Ewood Park for a top-flight encounter, though, Burnley are back on a level footing with their bitter rivals.
Owen Coyle's team go into Sunday's fixture five points clear of Rovers, so they can even claim to be top dogs again.
Twelve miles separate the two mill towns, but the distance could be covered in permafrost. The supporters of the two clubs quite simply despise each other and the security operation being mounted by Lancashire police on Sunday will be a throwback to the dark days of the 1970s.
A convoy of 60 coaches carrying the 3,000 away fans will travel from Turf Moor to Ewood Park on Sunday morning. The game kicks off at 1pm, but supporters must report to Turf Moor no later than 9.15am.
Any Burnley fan attempting to travel independently will not be allowed entry into the stadium, a measure condemned by Clarets supporters.
Peter Pike, chairman of the Clarets Trust, said: "These arrangements are seen by many as draconian and an infringement on civil liberties.
"To assemble nearly 3,000 fans so early and get them to the ground so long before the kick-off really is very questionable and is not a factor that will lessen pressures and problems."
A history of violence has marred the fixture for decades. When Burnley lost a Second Division game at Ewood Park in April 1983, manager Frank Casper was forced to appeal for calm among the travelling supporters following unrest that had resulted in asbestos tiles being ripped from the roof of the Darwen End and used as missiles.
Blackburn supporters refer to their Burnley counterparts as the "Dingles", a derogatory reference to the devious and incestuous family in the television soap Emmerdale.
In Burnley, Blackburn are simply referred to as "B------ Rovers". Recent meetings, in the FA Cup and Championship, have coincided with clashes in neighbouring towns and villages. A heavy police presence now goes with the territory, hence the security measures this weekend.
A Burnley spokesman said: "This fixture is very high profile and, as a result, there is perceived to be a risk of public disorder if measures are not implemented."
The roots of the enmity are unclear, but reports of trouble and bitterness stem back to the 1950s and beyond.
Historic tensions between two towns forged by a cotton mill rivalry during the industrial revolution suggests that even the first meeting, during the inaugural season of the Football League in 1888, was a battle for the pride of two towns rather than their football clubs.
Blackburn's rise under Jack Walker widened the gulf in the 1990s and a 17-year gap in hostilities between 1983 and 2000 highlighted the contrasting fortunes of the clubs.
Tim Sherwood, who captained Blackburn to the 1995 Premier League title, never crossed swords in a Rovers-Burnley derby, but he admits the rivalry was intense even when the clubs were poles apart.
He said: "I went to Burnley once and someone told me, 'You shouldn't be here. You've crossed the line'. I went to a restaurant there with a friend and a bloke came up to me and said, 'Seriously mate, you'd better get yourself away from here, I'm just giving you a little friendly warning, it's not good for you to be here'. "The geezer was pretty serious, so I took his advice."
Burnley have already taken three points from Manchester United this season, but a victory at Ewood Park would surpass even that result.
Captain Steven Caldwell said: "This is the biggest game of the season for me. I was up at the Old Firm game in Glasgow recently and I think, because Celtic and Rangers play each other so much, there's definitely a bit of edge off that one.
"They are used to it now, whereas this is going to be quite harum-scarum. I love that and I really cannot wait."
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