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McGrath hoping for a Valley of cheer
IT was April 26 1958. Blackburn Rovers had just held on to a thrilling 4-3 victory at Charlton Athletic to clinch promotion to the top flight, sparking jubilant scenes among the travelling thousands.
Fast forward 54 years and Rovers will be travelling to the Valley tomorrow engulfed by very different feelings – leaving legend Mick McGrath bewildered by quite what has happened at the club over the past couple of years.
McGrath, a key member of that promotion winning side, remembers his 12 years at Rovers with real fondness and believes they were times that will live long in the memory of anyone who witnessed them.
Now, even though Rovers again sit near the top of football’s second tier, the difference in atmosphere between now and then is like chalk and cheese.
Rather than being full of hope for the future, Rovers supporters are currently bemused, frustrated and angry about the uncertainty surrounding their club.
Manager Steve Kean continues to cling to his job while owners Venky’s remain tight lipped and adrift as Rovers again reach crisis point.
McGrath, said: “They were great times back then. We had a great team and they were very happy times. The club might have been a little tight but it was run well and we know how important that is.
“I still live in Blackburn and fans still talk favourably about those days. A lot, well those who are still alive, still say they were their best days of following Rovers.
“The club has of course had good times since then, some very good times, but it is very sad seeing the situation at the moment. No one is together and that is such a shame and not the Blackburn Rovers I know.
“Where do you point the finger of blame? I don’t know. All I do know is things can’t continue as they are.
“A lot of my family and friends were season tickets holders and I went to the games with them a lot, but many of them haven’t renewed this season. Some say because of Steve Kean, others because of Venky’s.”
McGrath, 76, made 312 appearances for Rovers between 1954 to 1966 and established himself as one of the club’s greatest ever defenders.
As well as helping Rovers to promotion in 1958, he played in the club’s FA Cup final defeat – even scoring an own goal against Wolves.
It is no wonder then, he still cares for the fortunes of his club and why he looks at their current plight with such despair.
“There are so many questions,” he said. “I don’t really know who Shebby Singh is and yet he is here running our club. Is he qualified to run a football club?
“Then you hear the manager hasn’t even seen some of the signings made and you wonder what sort of manager is he?
“Steve Kean has said so many things. He should have kept quiet because so many things he has said haven’t happened. He has continually put pressure on himself.
“Some clubs have experienced atmospheres like this between the fans and the club before but the manager has gone. We have not done that and the situation has got worse and worse.
“The fans are the football club. Blackburn Rovers started when four fans looked to put the club on the map. Without the fans the club is nothing and maybe that has been forgotten.
“Venky’s have two options. They either change the manager or they look to sell the club to football people. If they do change the manager, they have to make sure they appoint the right guy or the problems start again.
“They can’t leave things as they are. They have to let people know what is happening. If he stays, the big problem is a lot of fans won’t go back.
“Steve Kean might be a very good coach but that doesn’t always mean you will be a good manager. But if Rovers had been run by football people, maybe he would have had a better chance.”
Anyway back to happier times and that golden afternoon at Charlton. Rovers knew anything but victory could cost them promotion, while Charlton only needed a point to be promoted themselves.
A crowd of more than 56,000 saw two goals from Peter Dobing and one from Roy Vernon give Rovers a 3-1 half time lead and, after Bryan Douglas made it four from the spot after the break, promotion seemed Rovers.
It proved to be the case but not before Charlton grabbed two goals back to set up a dramatic finale.
“No matter what the situation, if the fans get a game like that tomorrow they will enjoy it,” said McGrath.