In theory, the rivalry between Burnley Football Club and Blackburn Rovers is a geographical one. This is partially true, but there’s more to it than just that, explains Claret Down Under Adam Heap.
Firstly, the combination of the 9,113 miles between my house and Ewood Park and my loath of Rovers is evidence of the incredibly obvious fact that sheer geographical proximity is not enough in and of itself to provoke rivalry. It is, of course, the proximity between the two clubs themselves which is then projected on to us as fans of those respective clubs which provokes the rivalry.
But is proximity really so important?
Although in my 22 years I’ve never witnessed Burnley defeating Blackburn, my dad has seen plenty of it, including the last time we won at Ewood. My dad was around my age when Burnley won four of their six games against Rovers between 1976 and 1979, and he remembers the rivalry being quite different.
It’s his opinion that the rivalry as we know it today isn’t spurred by geography as much as we think it is – rather it is fuelled by the total change in stature between the two clubs. The last non-promotion trophy we added to our cabinet was the 1979 edition of the short-lived Anglo-Scottish Cup. Since then, Blackburn have claimed both a League Cup and a Premier League title – and it is the latter of these which they were spurred to by the funds of Jack Walker.
Although Burnley played a large number of derbies against Rovers prior to the Jack Walker era, my dad remembers plenty of games we played against other teams who he at least considered far greater rivals than Blackburn. Manchester United, Liverpool and Bolton were just a few of the teams who he remembered having a more passionate rivalry with at that time because we were competing for the title, which forces me to ask the question of whether being on top of the heap changes the way you view a rivalry.
Some would argue that it doesn’t. After all, when the Clarets were stuck in the Fourth Division and Blackburn were topping the Premier League they didn’t hesitate to rub it in. But I’d be very intrigued to observe how Blackburn fans – or at least the ones with common sense to look at it without hurling insults – viewed the rivalry during the majority of the early noughties when just a single division separated the teams.
My dad, however, comes at the rivalry from a perspective of someone with fifty years plus of supporting Burnley and someone who lived in close proximity to the Turf. I am a different generation supporter – I’ve never seen Burnley defeat Blackburn, let alone win a trophy, and I’m not exactly next door to Burnley or Rovers. What does the rivalry mean to someone so far away?
Firstly, I have no real experience of the atmosphere that emanates from within the grounds on matchday. I have no first-hand account of what supporters travelling to the ground have had to endure, or how fans treat each other in person. A lot of my perception comes from watching how fans treat each other over message boards, which is always going to be biased due to the near-complete anonymity of internet discussion.
In part, I ‘hate’ Rovers because I’m told to. Until Owen Coyle left Bolton Wanderers earlier this season, I felt that on a personal level there was more of a rivalry between Burnley and Bolton than between our direct East Lancashire counterparts, even though they were in the same division as us once again.
But even though as a former History major I’m told to think critically about everything, I’m willing to leave that behind for the sake of ‘hating’ Blackburn. I am 100% claret and blue and if harbouring an intense dislike for Rovers is part and parcel of being a supporter then I will loathe those chicken farmers until I’m red in the face.
Rivalries are ingrained in the blood of all football clubs. Fans of those clubs may dislike any given club for any reason, but rivalries are a part of support. Whatever the reason behind the rivalry is, as a Burnley supporter you are nigh-on entrusted with the task of disliking Blackburn Rovers until the end of the age.
We are the underdogs in the East Lancashire derby. We have been for over 30 years now. And not a single one of those 9,113 miles will dissipate the emotion that a single 22-year old Burnley fan in Perth, Australia will send across the world by shaking his fist in anger at the bastards in blue and white.
Does distance impact the way we perceive the East Lancashire Derby? Does League position? Leave your comments below.