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Play the game not the occasion, urges Blackburn Rovers boss
THE instruction to silence the home crowd has turned up in many a manager’s team-talk over the years, but Henning Berg knows enough about the East Lancashire derby to think that may be a little ambitious.
“You’ll do well to silence the crowd in this one, that will be very difficult!” the Blackburn Rovers boss laughed.
Perhaps importantly, Berg can call on his own experience of playing for Rovers at Turf Moor when he leads the club into tomorrow’s derby at Burnley.
The two sides did not meet during the Norwegian’s first spell with the club but he made his derby debut in December 2000 at the age of 31, when Rovers triumphed 2-0 away from home thanks to goals from Jason McAteer and Marcus Bent.
That, along with the 5-0 thrashing of their fiercest rivals at Ewood Park later that season, are games he has not forgotten.
“I remember the first game up there was quite a tight game,” Berg said.
“I think Jason McAteer scored the first goal and then Sparky (Mark Hughes) missed a sitter from one yard! But we won the game so we’re not going to worry about that!
“I think we were quite solid on the day, we got the goals and it was a great game to be involved in.
“That was the first time in 17 years that we played them and the atmosphere and the intensity was fantastic.
“We got into the ground, it was an hour before kick-off and it was a full house, everybody was jumping up and down and making themselves heard.
“The home game was a comfortable one where we got the early lead and controlled the game in a football way.
“They are fantastic games to be involved in.
“I was an experienced player when I was involved the first time and I really cherish that, especially that we won as well. Everyone was happy afterwards.
“I hope that the players are looking forward to the game and that they cherish the opportunity to be involved in a game that so many people feel so much about.
“I know for me when I look back at the big games I played, these games are the ones that stick out.
“I played in some good games over the years, but I never forget these games.”
Berg did not feature in a Manchester derby during his time at Manchester United, with City outside the top division during his time.
His experiences in the Old Firm matches were less happy, as Celtic beat Rangers on all five occasions the two clubs met during his one season at Ibrox in 2003/04. Berg featured in the first three of those games.
The Rovers boss is well aware of his club’s record against Burnley – they are unbeaten in eight games against their rivals stretching back to 1979.
But Berg has warned his players that the history will count for nothing when tomorrow’s game starts at 12.30pm.
“History is one thing but we have to make sure it happens on the day of the game,” he said.
“Of course we are happy with that record but sometimes it is difficult to explain why some clubs have certain records against other teams, it isn’t always logical.
“We are happy about it but at the same time what will decide this result is what is going to happen during this game.
“I’m the same now as when I was a player in terms of making sure that mentally we are right for this game.
“Yes, we should cherish this. But at the same time when the game starts we have to focus on the football.
“If you start thinking about the crowd and everything else when you play football, you’re not going to play football well, are you?”
The two clubs issued a joint statement on Thursday urging both sets of fans to be on their best behaviour, and Berg hopes the rivalry will not spill over.
“I certainly hope that everyone cherishes this as a football occasion and doesn’t do anything in terms of violence,” he said.
“I hope everyone behaves and makes it a great occasion for everyone to be involved in, and not be spoilt by people not behaving the way they should do.
“They are fantastic games and we are really happy that people have that passion for the clubs and for the football.
“The tradition in this country with the two clubs, the history that goes back so far and the passion for the football clubs in this area, all those things I have seen in these derby games.
“We just have to make sure that we do the right things when we play the game, that the focus is right and we make sure we handle it the right way.”
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