I once watched a film called the History Boys, something I won’t ever do again. I understand it is some sort of classic, but there wasn’t enough jokes or mortal peril to keep me watching for too long.
When I hear the words ‘history boys’, I think of Danny and Nicky Cowley. I think of them leading us to Wembley, of us getting to an FA Cup quarter-final or registering our biggest ever win at Vale Park. All along our journey of the last couple of years, history is made, records are broken and precedents set. Whenever I do a piece about hoodoos, they smash them down.
I hope tonight is the same.
Do you know we haven’t played Blackburn Rovers in a competitive match since 1972, when they hammered us in the FA Cup at Ewood Park following a replay. Big Percy Freeman and Brendan Bradley had earned us a replay after a fine draw at the Bank, but a solitary Dave Smith goal was replied to four times by the home side on November 27th, 1972.
Curiously, we weren’t strangers up until that point. Only one year previous we’d met them in the League Cup, the same competition we play them in this evening. Back then we also had a replay after a 0-0 draw at their place.
Then-manager David Herd was impressed. They were Division Three, we were in Four, and we managed to force the replay. He said in his notes for the replay: “Any of the supporters who made the trek to Ewood Park would substantiate the fact that the team deserve every credit for a first-rate performance.”
That set up the replay in which Herd wrote his notes, a match featuring players such as Tony Parkes and Derek Fazackerley. Both have gone on to have careers in management, the latter is current assistant at Oxford whilst the former has been caretaker at Ewood Park on no fewer than six occasions after making over 350 appearances for them as a player.
They were a division above City too and we hadn’t started the season well. we had drawn our previous two matches 0-0, meaning we were without a goal in 180 minutes of football. we were 15th in Division Four with five points from six games. The League Cup seemed to be a distraction, but it was also taken seriously by both sides.
It was a relatively full-strength side for City, the only change from the previous 180 minutes of football was the return of Phil Hubbard to the side after a two-match absence. What a bonus that proved to be.
He smashed a hat trick and along with a Blackburn own goal, we secured a surprising 4-1 victory. Herd was delighted, remarking in his programme notes fr the following league match against Cambridge: This win was achieved by a thoroughly good all-round team performance and no element of luck attached to the victory. Special mention must be made to Phil Hubbard who took his chances very well and laid a good foundation stone in the build up of this win.”
The win took us to Loftus Road, home of Second Division QPR. Their squad had the likes of Stan Bowles, Terry Venables and Gerry Francis in, but there was little shame in the 4-2 defeat. They finished second in their division and were promoted to the top flight at the end of the season. Percy Freeman and Phil Hubbard got our goals.
If we go back a little further, we find our last win at Ewood Park in September 1957. Back then we were a Second Division side, today’s Championship. We were strugglers virtually throughout our ten-year stay at that level, but it didn’t stop us registering our last win against Rovers on their home ground.
Tommy Northcott scored the only goal of the game, but the season didn’t bring the sort of joy the result suggested. We finished third from bottom, not enough to be relegated but still a dismal finish, whereas Rovers finished second behind West Ham and were promoted. Liverpool finished fourth.
So that is our history set to be beaten this evening. We haven’t won at Blackburn in 61 years, we haven’t beaten them in any competition in 47 years and we haven’t even progressed to the third round of this competition since 1996/97. On that occasion we despatched Hartlepool, over two legs, 3-2 and 2-2 (Gijs Bos, Colin Alcide (2), Jae Martin and Steve Holmes), before beating Manchester City 5-1 on aggregate: I’m sure don’t need to reel off the scorers that night.
In the third round we got handed a tie against Southampton and earned a fine draw at the Dell, courtesy of Mark Hone and Gareth Ainsworth. Super Gareth gave us the lead in the replay, the deserved lead, but then an Egil Ostenstad dive broke our resolve and we lost 3-1.
There’s the history. Boys, it’s over to you.