Generally there is always a buzz of excitement, expectation and nervous optimism in the hostelry I frequent before the opening game of the season. It is a chance to compare holiday tales and tans with reputations being put on the line as predictions are made for the nine months which lie ahead. Saturday however was different. The general apathy that had afflicted the supporters from Christmas onwards had not evaporated and the hardy folks who for years have followed the club through thin, thick and thin had real fears for the Rovers.
This is hardly surprising given the shambolic summer the supporters have had to endure. The same old false promises that have come to characterise the Venky's regime were polluting the summer air and this was supplemented by the loss of our prime asset in Phil Jones and ten other squad members. To fill the gaps, only three new signings have been made and those with only limited numeracy skills will see that there is some shortfall. The consensus in the pub was the new season had come around too quickly and most of us would rather have been back on the beach.
Those pre-match pessimistic feelings had turned into overt depression in the pub immediately after the Wolves game. Our concerns had been vindicated after a Wolves side had largely dominated a game that Rovers failed to get a grip of. With a make shift central defensive partnership of Nzonzi and young Grant Hanley admirably trying to command their defence but ultimately failing and very little threat being carried forward, the fans' frustrations at the lack of Summer transfer activity was beginning to reach boiling point.
Jason Roberts was his usual workmanlike self and there were fleeting moments of promise from Formica and substitutes Rochina and Goodwillie but the experienced personnel in the team such as Salgado, Emerton, Dunn and Pedersen were largely innocuous just when the youngsters were crying out for guidance and a helping hand.
Steve Kean's claim that Rovers will be in the Champions League within three years seemed like a sick joke as he gave his post match interviews and appeared to be on his hands and knees begging for extra funding from the owners. With the possible departure of Chris Samba before the deadline, we need at least seven new faces joining the squad and these have to be experienced players who are proven at the top level. We cannot wait for youngsters to become acclimatised to the English league as Formica and Rochina have been. We need signings to go straight into the team now.
At time of writing, it has become clear that Rovers have made a bid for Spanish legend Raul who is currently at Schalke. Indications are that the 34 year old was willing to speak to the club about the possibility of signing a two year deal after falling out with his current manager. However it appears that the former Madrid star has turned the club down and according to Schalke's website, he has opted to stay in Germany. Although unsuccessful, at least a legitimate bid was tabled rather than the rumour and counter rumour we have become familiar with.
I believe Raul's signing could have acted as the catalyst for other experienced and influential players to take a leap of faith and come to Ewood. It is now down to the owners to continue this momentum and put in serious bids for quality players. Goal scorers including Craig Bellamy, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch must be considered.
The next 15 days will define Rovers' immediate future and the next fortnight may prove to be the most important period in the club's recent history. If Steve Kean and the owners get things right, then optimism and confidence will gradually return to the terraces and factions can become united. If they get it wrong, then we all know what the probable scenario for the club will be.
Twenty years ago on Wednesday we made our way to Ewood for the opening game of the season against Portsmouth. Those of us who were there will remember the sense of excitement and optimism before kick off with Jim 'Bullseye' Bowen leading the hype and expectation as we generally believed we were entering a magical new era. The optimism was also tempered with a certain degree of frustration because despite having enough money sloshing around to fill Ewood Park, manager Don Mackay could not tempt 1991 versions of the Galacticos to come to Rovers. This would prove to be his downfall and it was deemed that a higher profile name was necessary to move the club forward. The rest is history and it was the generosity of one man that made it possible.
The great Jack Walker passed away 11 years ago tomorrow. What would he think about the current state of affairs at Ewood?
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