Local historian

FOOTBALL is a different game to what it was 60 years ago.

Then, it wasn't unusual to see players such as attacker Fred Pickering down at the Blackburn dog track or defender Bill Holt jumping on a bus. No one can remember him having a car.

Which brings me to a story from the early 50s; a story of players and supporters. And the rivalry with Burnley which is reckoned to go back about 150 years.

It was early March, 1952 and Rovers had been drawn at home to the Clarets in the Sixth Round of the FA Cup. At stake was a place in the semi-finals. Glory awaited the winners. East Lancashire was lit up.

Everyone went to the Rovers on match days and three Darwen pals, Dr Harris and businessmen Harry Mitchell and Bill Bolton never missed a match.

They decided that the Blackburn lads needed an incentive to put one over their old rivals and told the club that they would stand the team to a slap-up dinner at the High Lawn Hotel if they made it to the semis.

"Book it," said Bill Holt. "We'll do the rest." And on March 8 at Ewood Park they did just that with a 3-1 win.

Bill Bolton's son Jim was a young teenager but he remembers the occasion clearly: "Most of the team turned up looking very smart, including a young Ronnie Clayton and legends such as Eddie Quigley, Ronnie Suart and Jack Campbell. Everyone wore a tie."

As Jim said: "Imagine that today. Imagine three Manchester United fans inviting the squad out for a classy meal – and most of them arriving, all in their best suits or blazers!"

Bill Bolton was a prominent scrap metal merchant in Darwen and a keen sportsman. Harry Mitchell was into textile waste and had been mayor the previous year. Dr Harris was one of a small group of sporty doctors who all smoked like chimneys and liked a bet and a drink or three.

High Lawn was run at that time by Bill Baines whose family were into most things including tripe. He put on quite a spread.

Rovers didn't reach the final. They drew 0-0 with Newcastle at Sheffield and lost the replay 2-1 at Leeds, with Quigley on the mark for Blackburn.

Bill Bolton shouldered the semi-final defeat with good grace. But he did wonder about all that jam pudding the lads had wolfed down at that free dinner...

In this image from 1952 banquet are: a back four of Quigley, Holt, veteran Harry Healless and Jock Wightman. In the middle are: a mystery man, Suart, Jack Waddle, Eric Bell, Joe Harris, Clayton, J Patterson, David Grey, Campbell.

Forwards are Dr Harris, Alec Glover, Harry Mitchell, Bill Kelly and W.B.Bolton.