IT may be more than 14 years since Blackburn Rovers and Preston North End last clashed competitively, but when the Football League founder members renew rivalries today there will be a sense of familiarity in the stands, in the technical area and out on the pitch.

It will be the first time that Derek Shaw has returned to the club he supported as a boy and went on to preside over as chairman since he took the job as Rovers’ managing director.


Down on the touchline Preston boss Simon Grayson and goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly will be encountering the club they were on the books of when it sealed promotion back to the Premiership on that famous night in May 2001.

And in the opposite dugout there will be Alan Irvine and Rob Kelly, whose first game since being named as new Rovers boss Paul Lambert’s right-hand men takes them back to the club they guided to the Championship play-offs in 2009.

The links between the Lancashire rivals, who are locked on points in the Championship table, do not end there with Paul Gallagher, Joe Garner and, more unlikely, Chris Brown, in line to face their former employers this afternoon.

It would appear improbable that Rovers striker Brown will play any part in the hotly anticipated derby clash having only just returned from another knee operation.

But Gallagher and Garner, who both came through the Rovers ranks, are set to play a prominent role for promoted Preston.

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It will be a particularly special occasion for talented attacking midfielder Gallagher who moved from Glasgow to Blackburn when he was seven years of age and went on to play for the team he still supports 74 times.

But the one-capped Scotland international, who will be facing Rovers for the first time since he left for Leicester City in 2009, admits things could have been very different.

“I played in local teams after I moved to Blackburn,” said Gallagher, 31, who, unlike lifelong Preston fan Garner, has vowed not to celebrate if he scores the 90th goal of his career this afternoon.

“I started off at Roman Road Boys, on the estate I grew up in. I was only seven and played with a lot of older lads. I think I was playing in the under-12s.

“It helped me a lot. My cousin was two years older than me and we moved down from Scotland together. He was the only one I knew so when he got in the team I played with him. I was a tiny little blond kid.

“It was a friend’s dad who started the team up called Roman Road Boys. We used to play on Higher Croft estate and used to win games 24-0 and things like that.

“I took the challenge to go and play for Blackburn Eagles who played in the East Lancs League which was a lot tougher league and scouts came to watch games.

“I went and played there with a few of the lads I went to Our Lady and St John’s School with.

“I went training with them down on Witton Park, training with my own age group, but then the older age group manager came and had a look at me and said he wanted me to go and play for them.

“Terry Hannon was the manager and he was magnificent for me because my mum and dad couldn’t drive so he would come and pick me up, take me to games and drop me off.

“I owe a lot to him because he put me in a team that was quite successful as well. We had a few players who played for Preston when they were younger.

“I actually signed for Preston when I was nine years old. People don’t know that. I got scouted to play for them, scored a hat-trick and then I signed a one-year deal.

“But my parents couldn’t drive so I couldn’t get to training on Tuesday night so I started playing for Blackburn Eagles again.

“Blackburn came and scouted me – a scout called Derek Langley came along – and I didn’t mention that I’d signed for Preston so I went along for the trials.

“I think there were 70-odd kids there. Only two of us got in and I was one of them, but I couldn’t sign because in the end my dad had to explain I’d signed for Preston for a year.

“Blackburn said, ‘it’s lucky you told us that because it would have cost us £10,000 for a nine-year-old’.

“They told me to play for Blackburn Eagles for another year, keep playing and enjoying your football and then come back. So I did, and the rest is history. I played 60-odd games for Blackburn, and I enjoyed my time there.

“I was good friends with David Dunn and came through with people like Matt Derbyshire and Jay McEveley. We got a lot of good players through that youth team and it was a good upbringing.

“We had Ian Miller, who is here now. He was the under-19s manager when I was at Blackburn. You keep falling back to these people that you know, but it’s good to work with them again.

“They know you, you know them, they know what gets you going and how to get the best out of you.”