BLACKBURN Rovers’ players have been told beating Burnley at Ewood Park on Sunday and extending their unbeaten run over their fiercest rivals to 12 matches will be as ‘good as it gets’ in their careers.
That is the view of former Rovers favourite Mick Rathbone who knows exactly what it feels like to lose and win an East Lancashire derby.
The 55-year-old made his derby debut the last time Rovers lost to Burnley 35 years ago.
But Rathbone’s next and final two clashes with the Clashes were altogether more happy affairs and he credits Rovers’ 1-0 victory at Turf Moor on December 27, 1982 as the single best moment of an incredible career that now sees him mentoring the next generation of stars at Manchester United.
“If I look back in my life in football and pick out one second of absolute ecstasy it would be after the game over Christmas in 82-83 when we won 1-0 and Garns (Simon Garner) scored,” said Rathbone, who has been acting as a mentor for United’s U21s team for the past 18 months.
“That split second after the final whistle stayed with me the next day, the next week, the next 10 weeks – forever!
“I say split second but I probably mean the two minutes from the final whistle to going behind the goal and into the changing rooms.
“There were fans throwing scarves at us and hugging us and I really do think that moment is as good as it is going to get for any footballer.”
Rathbone has remained based in Blackburn ever since he signed for Rovers in March 1979 from his boyhood club Birmingham City following an initial loan spell.
He admits he was not aware of the significance of the East Lancashire derby the first time he played in it – Burnley’s 2-1 victory at Ewood in April 1979.
But he soon got up to speed and now he reckons the derby is the equal of any in world football.
“I always think back to the golden era of the derby when we won two in the 82-83 season but funnily enough I was looking through the history books recently and I actually forget I had played in a previous derby,” said Rathbone, a veteran of Merseyside derbies having spent eight years as Everton’s head of sports medicine between 2002 and 2010.
“I don’t remember a lot of it as I was on loan from Birmingham at the time and this parochial affair meant nothing – in inverted commas – to me because I’d come from the big derby – in inverted commas – of Birmingham against Aston Villa.
“But once I signed permanently and I started going out with a Blackburn girl who was a Blackburn fan and whose dad played for Blackburn in the 60s – once I got the DNA in me – it was completely different.
“It’s unbelievable. I tell the guys at Manchester United when they talk about El Clasico, the Milan derby, the Manchester derby and the Glasgow that you’ll go a hell of a long way to beat the East Lancs derby.”