Visiting the old mill town of Blackburn, nestled between the Pennines and the Ribble Valley, for a match does feel pleasantly like stepping into a Lowry matchday painting – despite the fact that Ewood Park is a thoroughly modern football stadium.
Blackburn’s history, though, is fairly top-loaded: Established in 1875 and founder members of the Football League in 1888, they were a major force in their first few decades, lifting two league titles and six FA Cups. But by World War II they were in the Second Division and spent most of the subsequent half-century there.
Then came Jack Walker. The archetypal local lad made good, he sold his steel company for £330m and set about sinking it into Blackburn. Bankrolling manager Kenny Dalglish (and a major stadium refurbishment), Walker watched as Blackburn reached the top flight, broke the transfer record for Alan Shearer and won the 1995 Premier League title.
From there, however, it wasn't so good. Dalglish moved upstairs to be Director of Football and just four years after winning the league, Blackburn dropped out of it. Graeme Souness brought the club back up and won the League Cup, but since Jack Walker's death in 2000 the club has sought stability rather than the stars.
New Indian owners Venky’s seem interesting, though, with their apparent habit of making off-the-cuff decisions. They immediately baffled the fans with the sacking of Sam Allardyce, whose side was performing about as well as could have been expected given their budget; making noises about wanting attractive football and big names, they replaced Allardyce with Steve Kean.
The Scot – a well-regarded coach with little managerial experience but a golden chance to get some – will be hoping to squeeze the best out of a squad containing Morten Gamst Pedersen, Ryan Nelsen, El Hadji Diouf and FourFourTwo columnist Michel Salgado.
There’s not much reason to linger in the town itself post-game – although unsurprisingly, considering the huge local Asian population, there are some truly brilliant Indian restaurants to check out if you do.
Set – like so many Victorian-era grounds – among terraced streets a short walk from the town centre, Ewood Park was a typical old-fashioned English venue until Jack Walker ordered in the builders. It now has a 31,000 capacity thanks to three large two-tiered stands – development of the fourth, opposite the main stand, is hampered by a river running behind it, not to mention Blackburn's recent difficulties filling the seats they already have. As with many English clubs outside the big names, Rovers have frequently used enticing ticket offers to get more through the door: keep an eye on the club website and you might get a bargain.
Blackburn train station is 1.5 miles away; Mill Hill station is nearer, a mile away, but is less well-served with trains. If you’re driving, the ground is located off of the M65 – leave at junction 4 and follow the signs. Street parking close to the ground is limited; better to use the provided car parks
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