x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Burnley and Blackburn: the neighbours who love to hate each other

It is not a place known for large-scale conflicts but, in December 2000, the streets around Burnley's Turf Moor ground were just that.

Blackburn's David Dunn, centre, went to Burnley's youth academy before joining their rivals.
Blackburn's David Dunn, centre, went to Burnley's youth academy before joining their rivals.

It is not a place known for large-scale conflicts but, in December 2000, the streets around Burnley's Turf Moor ground were just that. Roads into the town were blocked as home fans caused havoc following a 2-0 defeat to their bitter rivals Blackburn Rovers. The Championship encounter had been eagerly awaited; the first between the east Lancashire neighbours for 17 years.

But as goals from Jason McAteer and Marcus Bent proved decisive, it pushed some of the Burnley faithful to the edge. It did not matter that it was their own town that took the brunt of their fury. "I've experienced some hostile atmospheres, but this was as volatile as any," said Craig Hignett, an unused substitute that day for Blackburn. "Some of us had played in Merseyside, Old Firm or North-East derbies, but this was something else; pure hatred.

"At the time, [Blackburn midfielder] David Dunn was only a young lad, but he was telling us what the game meant to him, the fans and the whole town. "It must have been hard for him because we were all experienced players, but he explained the passion from both sides. "But I couldn't believe it when I experienced it. We didn't get told much about what was happening after the game and got out of there quickly, but we heard that it had gone off in the town.

"As a player you can accept the intimidation and rivalry inside the ground, but you don't want it getting out of hand outside. "The fighting and rioting creates a reputation nobody wants." But moments like that, and other ugly incidents, have meant this derby already has that reputation. The rivalry goes all the way back to 1888. They might have been founder members of the Football League and just 10 miles apart, but there is no local kinship here.

The first derby took place at Turf Moor and saw Burnley beaten 7-1. The hurt has been felt, too, in recent years with Burnley's last win over Rovers in 1979 as Blackburn have become the more prominent side, establishing themselves in the top flight and winning the Premier League in 1994/95. In April 1983, two darts - welded to make a lethal weapon - were thrown at Terry Gennoe, the Blackburn keeper.

Burnley fans also launched tiles from the roof at Ewood Park in the same game, which saw their side lose 2-1 and be relegated from the old second division. The same fate could befall them in this Premier League campaign. Ever since a 3-2 defeat at Ewood in October, Burnley have suffered, taking just eight points from a possible 66. It has magnified the importance of today's encounter - the 84th league meeting, but first at Turf Moor in 10 years.

Hignett, who scored in a 5-0 win in the return match at Ewood Park that season, added: "There is pride at stake, but this game could mean the difference for Burnley in staying up. "They are on an awful run and a win would be a massive lift. Despite the rivalry, it would be good for the two towns if Burnley survived. "It's a game that everyone will look forward to in the season no matter how they are doing."

No one more so than Dunn. Born halfway between the two towns in Great Harwood, he was at Burnley's academy before joining Blackburn, his boyhood heroes. He should be fit after being hurt in the midweek win against Birmingham, but Hignett added: "Dunny would not want to miss this for anything. "I remember Kevin Ball absolu-tely cutting him in half in the game against Burnley to get sent off, but he just loved it.

"Some players can't handle games like this, but Dunny loved it 10 years ago and will do so now. "Let's hope they are talking about the football at the end too." akhan@thenational.ae