I could have been going back as boss COLIN Hendry will make an emotional return to Ewood tomorrow as Bolton and Rovers prepare to square up again in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

But, had the fates conspired differently, the man affectionately known as 'Braveheart' on the Blackburn End could have come back as manager a year ago before Graeme Souness embarked on his Ewood revolution.

In the aftermath of Brian Kidd's sacking, fans looked to Hendry as the natural successor to the Ewood throne.

And, had he been offered the post, he admits it would have tugged at the heart strings.

"If I'd been offered it I don't know if I would have said no," said Hendry.

"But I didn't really feel ready for it at the time.

"Even now, I don't really want to become a manager.

"I still believe I've got a couple of years left in me as a player and what I want to do is learn more about the job before I consider a move in that direction.

"I feel sorry for people like Steve Claridge.

"He was just starting to find his feet in management with his home town club when the rug was suddenly pulled from under him.

"So all the stuff you've achieved as a player can suddenly be forgotten in a matter of days, weeks or months the minute you become a manager.

"And that's something I'm not prepared to risk just yet."

After celebrating his 35th birthday recently, the rugged Scot could be forgiven for wanting to wind down in the lower leagues after a glittering career which has reaped championship medals north and south of the border.

But Hendry has never been one to take a back seat and now he finds himself in the thick of a promotion battle with Wanderers.

There were those who dangerously assumed the Scot was finished when he was cast aside by Coventry chief Gordon Strachan earlier in the season.

But Bolton boss Sam Allardyce shrewdly stepped in to lure him to the Reebok -- initially on loan.

And it's turned out to be an inspired move for both parties with Hendry desperate to repay a debt of gratitude by leading his new club back into the top flight.

"A few people are now saying they wish they'd done this and done that," said Hendry.

"But only Sam Allardyce was prepared to put his neck on the block and I'm very grateful to him for that.

"A few clubs expressed an interest like Crystal Palace, Wolves, Preston and QPR.

"But there was only three or four clubs in the First Division I would have seriously considered joining.

"And I've really enjoyed my time at Bolton so far."

By a strange quirk of fate, Hendry's destiny is now entwined again with the club he helped lead to the championship on a balmy summer's day at Anfield in 1995.

Currently locked in a battle for automatic promotion at the top of the First Division, Rovers and Bolton will play out the third part of their epic trilogy tomorrow with the prize of an FA Cup quarter final away to Arsenal at stake.

But, though the game is something of a sideshow for both managers, the tie takes on special significance for Hendry as he prepares to return to Ewood for the first time since he left for Rangers in 1998.

"I'm looking forward to it for obvious reasons," said Hendry.

"It was great to get a reception like I did in the first game because a lot of players come up against their old club and don't get treated like that.

"So the fact they reacted like that shows they respect me.

"But, to be fair to the Bolton fans, they've been brilliant to me, too, in all the games I've played so far."

Hendry struck a chord with the Blackburn End from virtually the first day he walked into the club as a fresh-faced 21-year-old in 1987.

And within three weeks, he virtually guaranteed his place in Ewood folklore when he popped up to score the winner at Wembley as Rovers' beat Charlton 1-0 to land the now defunct Full Members' Cup.

"People say that's why I became popular with the fans but I hope it wasn't just that," said Hendry.

"I'd like to think it was because of the player I am and what I brought to the team.

"There's a lot of players who get idolised over the years because of scoring very important goals.

"And, if I'm one of them, then great.

"If not, then it's because of my contribution to the team.

"But all I know is I went from complete obscurity to being an absolute hero in the space of three weeks.

"And the rest, as they say, is history."

Now, Hendry is keen to pen another chapter in a long and distinguished playing career.

And he is relishing the chance of bringing the good times back to the Reebok.

A return to the Premiership remains the top priority after recently committing himself to Wanderers for a further two years.

And, as long as his thirst for success remains as unquenchable as it is at present, he hopes to extend his career beyond his 38th birthday.

"I look at players like Richard Gough, Stuart Pearce and Nigel Winterburn and there's no reason why I can't go on as long as them," said Hendry.

"I still feel great and the only time I've been stretched so far was probably in that last 10 minutes against Blackburn.

"But I still join in everything everyone else does at training -- I just don't do anymore or any less than I have to.

"You've just got to take the opportunity to rest when you can.

"But I still weigh the same as I did when I was 21.

"I still like a drink socially with the lads but only when the time is right.

"And I try to watch what I eat where possible.

"So I've signed for this season plus two which will take me up to 37.

"And I'll be looking for an extra year when my contract runs out -- I've already told the chairman that."