ROVERS stars got their chance to take on a different sporting challenge this week when British No 1 Kelly Sibley visited the Brockhall training complex to test out their table tennis skills.

Despite hailing from Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, Kelly is a lifelong Blackburn fan and ranks meeting Ewood Park legends Alan Shearer and Jack Walker among her childhood highlights.

Since then she’s a added a few more memorable days as a professional sportswomen, including winning a bronze medal in the mixed doubles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

But when she had the chance to show Rovers stars including Hope Akpan, Danny Graham and Jason Steele who was top on the table, she jumped at the chance.

She even challenged manager Owen Coyle to a game, coming out on top despite his enthusiastic display, The visit came about after Akpan posted a video online of himself and teammate Ben Marshall playing during down time on the summer pre-season camp in Austria.

Sibley explained: “I saw Hope and Ben on Twitter playing a bit of table tennis.

“I sent a cheeky tweet out, being a Rovers fan, and Hope replied saying he was up for a game, that he was the ‘Mr Forest Gump’!

“So it’s great to finally get it arranged and brilliant to come down here and play table tennis against them.”

She added: “Supporting Rovers all my life it’s nice to meet them on a social level and to get them playing table to tennis was good fun – and to beat therm was even better!

“Hope likes to think that’s he’s the best, and to be fair he was good. Danny Graham’s got a very good serve, but probably the most competitive of them all would be the gaffer. He was ready for a match and I’m pleased to say I won.

“It was great fun and great for table tennis as well, to get publicity out there for the sport.”

Sibley, 28, revealed the reasons behind her choice of team and says that she tries to watch them as much as her hectic schedule allows.

“My step-dad supported them and so I have grown up with them since I was a baby,” she said.

“We used to travel up to Blackburn from Leamington Spa, which is a two-hour drive. It was a commitment.

“But we enjoyed it and I was lucky enough to be mascot the season Rovers won the Premier League – although it was the match against Middlesbrough in which Graeme Le Saux broke his leg, so I wasn’t a good omen for him.

“It was great to be part of that at such a special time for Rovers, meeting Alan Shearer and Tim Sherwood.

“I also met the legend Jack Walker; that was an experience I will never ever forget.

“You have to stick with your football team – you can only have one – and I always follow Rovers.

“Obviously I’m a lot busier now than I was back then, but as soon as I’m free or if they play matches closer to home for me, I’ll always go and support them.”

Sibley and the players were joined by the Year 10 boys team from St Bedes RC High School, who recently won the county title and will now go on to represent Lancashire in the next round of English Schools finals.

They are part of the Blackburn Rovers Community Trust’s Premier League 4 Sport programme, which provides coaching sessions in eight different sports across East Lancashire.

St Bedes PE teacher and table tennis coach Dave Pilkington revealed that Sibley is a familiar face to pupils from the Green Lane school.

He said: “I met Kelly through the English Schools set-up and she presented us with the Premier League 4 Sport champions trophy in Birmingham earlier this year.”

Fergus Heyes, the Rovers Trust’s Premier League 4 Sport co-ordinator, was delighted to see the pupils showing off their skills against Sibley and the Rovers stars.

“We put on 25 sessions per week at 20 different venues across East Lancashire, which includes table tennis at St Bedes,” said Heyes.

“It’s open to all and we get around 1,000 young people taking part every week, with specialist coaches offering their expertise.

“It’s fantastic having Kelly involved and bringing the kids down here is a great opportunity for them.”

Sibley said: “I enjoy doing stuff like this, giving back to the sport and the community.

“And I just think it’s really important for them that they get opportunities to come here and play against people like me.”

She added: “The Premier League 4 Sport programme provides vital funding.

“When I was at younger we had after-school clubs but we didn’t really have anything like that.

“It’s important because kids need sport and something like that helps.

“I didn’t go to school in Blackburn, but if I was a pupil and knew the football club I supported was involved in it, and it gave me opportunities like this, I would without a shadow of a doubt be saying, ‘I want to be involved in that’.”

Sibley missed the Rio Olympics through injury but she is looking forward to a busy 2017 and is determined to improve on the bronze she claimed in Glasgow.

“My main goal now is the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia,” she said.

“I was really pleased with my performance in Glasgow but, like any sportsperson, while a bronze medal is good I want silver or gold.”

And she hopes there are good times ahead for her football club, too.

“We’re in a bit of tricky situation, but I actually think that the football we’re playing isn’t too bad,” Sibley added. “I guess we just need a little bit of luck along the way.

“Blackburn deserve to be in the top flight with the history the club has, so I just hope that everybody can try to stay positive.

“I was at the Reading match at Ewood Park and we hit the bar. When things are going your way, they will go in but when you’re in a sticky situation, like we are now, they don’t go in.

“But it’s how you handle that and if they all stay positive and keep the team spirit high, and the fans stay behind them, then I honestly believe we can get out of the mess we are in.”