JON DAHL TOMASSON had only just walked through the door of Blackburn Rovers and he was already briefed on the club’s rivalry with Burnley.
The two teams meet at Turf Moor this Sunday, reigniting one of football’s most heated rivalries after a relatively long break in meetings between two historically good football teams.
Although Tomasson’s Blackburn had just eliminated Premier League side West Ham United from the EFL Cup on penalties on Wednesday, much of the attention was focused on the game and after that it was on the Derby from East Lancashire.
Indeed, much of the attention since joining the club has been on this game.
Lesley Fielding’s official title at Blackburn is Player Liaison Officer, but as a longtime club goalkeeper who has held a variety of roles, he was on hand to help Tomasson understand the institution he was entering and to help him settle into Blackburn following his appointment as manager in June. .
“When I arrived it was the first thing Lesley said to me, the first thing he said, so I knew it from minute one,” Tomasson said of the rivalry with Burnley after that his team had just beaten West Ham.
“We are looking forward to the game. A big credit to the players, who have excelled so far. We are going to Burnley to play well and give a good performance.
In terms of intensity, there are few rivalries like this. It may not be as high-profile as others, but it is one of the most fervent. Such rivalries can often boil over, which also adds a sense of threat to the occasion felt in such hostile derbies across the world of football.
Some Blackburn Rovers staff, particularly those who may be more visible to fans, have been advised not to wear club colours.
Fans outside this fixture are usually transported in buses directly to the far end, kept isolated from their enemies as much as possible.
And the match will kick off just after noon on Sunday in an attempt to quell potential aggro.
First played in 1888, it is one of the oldest derbies in football – sometimes nicknamed the Cotton Mill Derby due to the towns and region’s industrial history.
Vestiges of this industrial past are visible throughout the region. Traveling from Blackburn to Burnley, as Rovers fans will on Sunday morning, past towns like Oswaldtwistle and Accrington, reveals a working-class region designed around mill and factory work, with terraced houses lining the hills.
The clubs formed in this field were among the first professional teams. This reflected the development of these Lancashire towns and the need for workers to be paid to play association football if they were to spend much of their time doing so.
This latest Cotton Mills Derby looks set to be one of the biggest for some time.
Both teams have similar goals – promotion to the Premier League – and both have brilliant new managers at the helm, Tomasson and Vincent Kompany respectively.
It will be the first time the two clubs have met in the league since 2016, further heightening anticipation around the game.
Kompany’s Burnley have been one of the most impressive teams in the Championship this season and have drawn plaudits from outside the club for the way they approach games.
It’s a different approach (not necessarily better, it’s worth pointing out, just different) to that seen under their successful former manager Sean Dyche, who spent 10 years at the club.
Burnley have the highest average possession in the league with 64% and remain favorites to be promoted to the Premier League as leaders of the Championship league at the end of the season.
Blackburn have not beaten their rivals since 2010, when a David Dunn penalty gave them a 1-0 victory at Turf Moor, in what was also the last Premier League meeting between the two.
Despite Burnley’s current prowess and position at the top of the Championship, Blackburn may see this as their best chance since winning eight games ago to get ahead of their rivals. They are, after all, only two points behind them in the standings.
Perhaps with that in mind, they made 11 changes to their squad for their trip to East London on Wednesday, leaving some first-team players at home.
Ben Brereton Diaz was brought on in the second half and scored Blackburn’s equalizer to take the game to a penalty shoot-out at 2-2. Tomasson admitted that if it hadn’t been for the next meeting with Burnley, he would have replaced him sooner.
“If I hadn’t thought of the [Burnley] game, I would have brought it on at halftime,” Tomasson said.
“I didn’t do this because I had this game in mind. We also had players who stayed at home.
Burnley themselves will be looking for nothing more than a win.
Although the two teams now reside in the same division, Clarets fans see it as just a one-year break from Premier League football ahead of an expected return for the 2022/23 season, while Blackburn are now in their 11th consecutive season outside the top flight.
It’s the last game before the World Cup break, and the two will be looking to come out on top.
“I feel like I talked about this game without the focus ever being on this game because it started 20 games ago,” Kompany said.
“Finally we’re there. We’ll give him the place he deserves. It’s a derby and there won’t be anyone talking on our side.
“Winning matters more in this game and now is a good time to shine a light on that.”
If the spotlight falls on this historic local derby, casual observers may not like everything they see, but in East Lancashire it’s the only game that matters.
As Kompany says, and as Tomasson was immediately told, this is the game that matters the most since the start of the season.