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EPL Season Preview: Blackburn Rovers

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Team name: Blackburn Rovers Football Club

Nicknames: Rovers, Blue and Whites, Riversiders. I have never heard them referred to anything but Rovers, but perhaps a Blackburn fan can confirm these other nicknames.

Location: Blackburn, Lancashire, northwest of Manchester

Ground: Ewood Park (Capacity: 31,367). Opened in 1882. Old.

Manager: Sam Allardyce. Big Sam was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Bolton last June, making him Dr. Allardyce. Thinking of him as a doctor totally skeeves me out. Allardyce played for NASL side Tampa Bay Rowdies, and while he was there he had nothing better to do than watch the Buccaneers practice. Which explains a lot about the way Blackburn play.

Last year's record:

Premier League: 10th position

League Cup: Semi-finals. Lost to Aston Villa, eventual runners-up, 7-4 over two legs. Watching the second leg was a terrifying experience, with Nikola Kalinić scoring twice in less than thirty minutes before Stephen Warnock pulled one back at the thirty minute mark. Villa finished the job when Ashley Young scored the side's sixth goal three minutes into added time.

FA Cup: Third Round Proper, losing to...Aston Villa! 3-1 to the Villa.

Brief History: Early Blackburn history sort of blends in with the last ten teams we've previewed. Began in 1875, joined a football association, blah blah, but then there's this, a quote from Blackburn's official site:

The club's first ground was located at Oozehead, a name that conjures up visions of a debilitating acne attack rather than a venue for top class football.

Amazing. Blackburn moved to Ewood Park in 1890, which is much less disgusting but put a bit of a damper on their ability to win FA Cups-they won in 1884, 1885, 1886, 1890, 1891 and then not again until 1928. Clearly the Rovers were unsettled by their new home. Blackburn spent much of the 20th century bouncing among the divisions, being relegated for the first time in 1936 (coincidentally, the first time Villa was relegated as well, and it was Blackburn beating them that drug them down so clearly we should find plenty of reason to detest them). In 1966, they fell out of the top division for 26 years, spending the ‘70s and ‘80s moving between the second and third divisions.

The climb back to what was now the Premier League started with Jack Walker, a local tycoon and lifelong supporter, purchasing the club in 1990. Suddenly, Rovers had money, and they showed it to the rest of England when they paid a record £3.5million for Alan Shearer. Within five years of buying the club, Walker had managed to win the top title: Blackburn won the Premier League in 1994-1995.

After winning the league, Blackburn again began a descent into madness, with their Champions League run resulting in teammates throwing punches on each other on the pitch, perhaps because their play was poor enough to land them last in their group. They continued to fall after the sale of Shearer, and by 1999, Rovers were again in the second division. Obviously, the team has climbed back up again, winning the League Cup in 2002, and finishing seventh in 2008.

Rivalries: Burnley is the closest, with the Clarets playing a mere eight miles down the road. The teams contest the originally named East Lancashire Derby. Other rivals include Bolton and Preston North End.

Players to Watch:

Morten Gamst Pedersen: The Norwegian international had a tough time finding his feet at Blackburn, but did have time to record a hit single with boyband The Players. In the last two seasons, Pederson, who signed a new contract in May, has blossomed with regular playing time. The attacking midfielder taught himself to play left-footed when young, and exploits this talent on the left side of the field, finding space and making thunderous goals from unexpected positions.

Ryan Nelson: Gotta give a Kiwi credit where credit is due, and credit is due to the man who managed to be the only captain to lead his side undefeated through the World Cup. The defender came to Rovers in 2005 by way of DC United, but didn't score his first goal until April 2009. Last season, however, captain Nelly found the net four times-not too shabby for a solid center-back.

Nikola Kalinić: The striker who terrified me during the second leg of the League Cup semi-final, Kalinić signed for Rovers last August, and quickly impressed during cup play: he scored five goals (three against Villa) outside league play before scoring his first Premier League goal in January. In other words, keep your eye on him because he's young and annoying.

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