WE HAVE to go back more than a century to trace the origins of the intense rivalry between Blackburn Rovers and Burnley.
Rovers were founded in 1875 and in the years that followed, football was passionately taken up by the area, spawning the development of other clubs from nearby towns.
One such was Burnley Rovers, who started out as a rugby club until changing codes in 1882. Calling themselves ‘Rovers’ did not go down too well with the people of Blackburn, so the name was soon dropped.
The two clubs met for the first time at Turf Moor on September 27 in front of a 5,000 crowd, Rovers emerging as 4-2 winners.
Burnley were not long in gaining revenge, winning 5-1 on the same ground the following March. Their first meeting in Blackburn took place at Leamington Road and ended all square at 2-2.
These early pre-league ‘friendlies’ were keenly contested affairs, with considerable pride at stake, and there was also a refreshing informality in the way they were played and covered by the local press.
Rovers’ goalscorer in the next match against Burnley was ‘unknown’, some matches were conducted with 10 men and as much as 10 years later in the league itself, two Burnley goals in successive season against Blackburn were credited to ‘Scrimmage’.
The total number of pre-league meetings between the clubs was 13, with Burnley coming on on top seven to four.
Blackburn Rovers and Burnley were among the original 12 members of the Football league and proudly, if a little sceptically, took their places in the inaugural seasons, which was to be dominated by their neighbours Preston North End, who completed an effortless league and cup double.
Where Blackburn and Burnley were concerned there was little doubt who were the masters in the first four seasons before the league was spilt into two divisions, with Blackburn performing the double over the Clarets in each of the initial three seasons ... and the goals rained in!
Their first league match against each other was at Turf Moor and produced a 7-1 win for Blackburn and the very next season they won the home fixture by the same margin; the only team Blackburn have beaten home and away by this scoreline to this day.
The next season of 1890-91 was not much better for Burnley as Rovers chalked up a five and a six.
The main figure in this demolition job was Jack Southworth, a violinist who was good enough to make a living later in life with the Halle Orchestra, but who was currently happy enough just to fiddle with the Burnley defence.
And how he fiddled, scoring 12 goals in 10 appearances against them, including Rovers’ first ever hat-trick in the league in the 7-1 away win of 1888-89.
To this day, no-one in official fixtures between the clubs have matched his goal tally.
Burnley finally recorded their first league victory over Rovers on December 12, 1891.
However, it was in circumstances that were controversial to say the least.
In driving snow, and making good use of the wind, Burnley had stormed to a three-goal interval lead at Turf Moor.
Emerging for the second half, the Rovers players seemed disinclined to proceed with the contest and their lack of enthusiasm increased considerably when Lofthouse was sent off along with Burnley’s Stewart after a brief altercation, and the rest of the Rovers outfield players went with him!
This left the entire Burnley side against Herbie Arthur, Rovers’ larger than life goalkeeper who proved he was no fool by appealing for offside as they bore down on his goal! The referee wisely abandoned the farce and the points were awarded to Burnley.
The next season saw the start of the old First Division and their first meeting in it was goalless: the first of only six matches that have ended that way between them in 89 league and cup pairings.
Rovers continued to have the better of their scrapes with the Clarets, registering five consecutive wins at Ewood between 1892-97, which still stands as the record number of straight wins on one ground between the clubs.
Burnley’s brightest moment against the old enemy came at Turf Moor in 1895-96 when they won the season’s final game 6-0 with Nicol scoring a hat-trick, the first and last by a Burnley player against Rovers in official competition.
The clubs were temporarily parted by Burnley’s relegation in 1896/97 which was assisted by Rovers completing the double over them, something they have done nine times to Burnley’s seven.
Their next meetings were destined to be in the notorious Test match series at the end of 1897-98 season. The forerunner of the current play-offs, these were used to determine the composition of the First Division for the next season.
Rovers had finished next to bottom while Burnley had won the Second Division at the first time of asking. They beat Rovers twice in these matches, Wilf Toman scoring in both with a hat-trick in the first. The controversy arose when Burnley met Stoke for the second time as both sides needed to draw to ensure First Division football.
The resultant 0-0 draw was known as the ‘game without a shot’ and questions were asked about each side’s commitment to winning the match. The powers-that-be decided to extend the First Division anyway and so that Test match series proved meaningless and Blackburn, along with Newcastle United, survived.
Burnley won three of the next four games between the clubs before their relegation at the turn of the century meant that it was to be 13 years before the rivals met again in official competition.
When the First World War ended, Blackburn v Burnley fixtures really came into their own with 11 uninterrupted years in the top flight.
Burnley experienced initial dominance, winning the league in 1920-21 and doing the double over Rovers in successive seasons before Rovers returned the favour in 1921-22. The mid-20s saw three hat-tricks in two seasons by Rovers players against the old foe; those were from John McIntyre, Arthur Rigby and Ted Harper in his record-breaking season of 1925-26 when he found the net 43 times in 37 league games, a Rovers record that still stands today.
The teams met for the first time in the Second Division on October 24, 1936 in a rare goalless draw. Rovers won the return 3-1 and Jack Bruton scored against his old club in that game and at Ewood again in the next season.
He remains the only man to have scored for both clubs against the other, having netted twice for Burnley against Rovers in the 1920s back in the Division One.
Rovers won the Second Division Championship in 1938-39 and honours had ended even in their three-year sojourn of Second Division football when the Second World War arrived.