Blackburn Rovers over 50s walking football team secured third place in the prestigious WFA National Finals in Nottingham courtesy of a 3-2 penalty shoot-out win over Norwich City.
The tournament had started in May with local games, then progressing to county and regional stages. It culminated with what WFA chief executive Paul Carr described in his introductory address to the players and officials as “the best eight walking football teams in the country” competing for the national title.
The grand final event consisted of two leagues of four teams drawn from the hat by the team captains on the day. The draw pitched Rovers in League A against Hemel Hempstead, Norwich and Stroud.
In their opening encounter, coach Billy Legg’s team faced Hemel Hempstead and were quickly into their stride. The midfield three of Tony Hartley, Mick Crump and Mick Stockley had control of the game with Tony Jones up front holding the ball up and bringing them into play in the attacking quarter. Trevor Hanson stepped forward from his defensive position and hit a long range effort which went over the bar.
Soon after the start of the second half a good passing move between Hartley and Stockley carved out a chance for the Jones. The Rovers front man accepted the opportunity to fire past the keeper to score the only goal of the game. Three points on the board.
Second up were Stroud. The game followed a similar pattern to the first game until Jones took a ball from substitute Gordon Arkwright, beat his man and played a square ball to Crump who fired in one of his trademark hammer-blows to give the keeper no chance. Rovers stopper John Sykes made a couple of sharp stops to maintain the lead. Stroud then hit back with an equaliser just before half time.
About half way through the second half Crump, Jones and Arkwright again combined with some great two-touch football with the final touch of the sequence by Arkwright sending the ball into the bottom corner of the net. Stroud the came back into the game and an equaliser late on made the final score 2-2.
The final league game against Norwich, who had won two games, saw the introduction of Nigel Baker, deputising for Mark Jenkinson who was unable to make the trip due to injury. This was a much closer affair and keeper John Sykes was called on to make two excellent saves to keep Rovers in the game. Trevor Hanson was involved in an epic battle to keep the outstanding Norwich centre forward in check.
Rovers carved out one or two openings and Baker almost broke the bar with a shot which rebounded to safety. But they could not find a way to break through the opposition defence and when Norwich scored after a good move it was enough to secure a 1-0 win.
The league tables concluded with the Blues in second place in Group A and that meant a semi-final tie against Barnsley side Leggy Mambos. The Tykes were the favourites for the title on the day having won it twice previously and with a string of honours in the game over the last four years.
Rovers were understandably a bit more on the back foot than they had been in previous games. Nevertheless they were holding the would-be champions and causing them some problems at the back but without producing a clear cut chance. The 0-0 half time score-line reflected the tight play.
Leggy Mambos broke the deadline with some excellent football and a great finish and then late on scored a second as Blackburn threw caution to the wind and pushed forward to try and get an equaliser. The victors went on to play Leicester in the final and triumphed 1-0 to add to their more than impressive trophy haul.
That left Rovers to play Norwich once more in the third-fourth play-off. Again it was a tight affair but this time neither side could find a way to break down the opposition.
With the score 0-0 at full time the game went to a penalty shoot-out. Crump and Jones both scored. With Norwich having scored two and having had one disallowed - by falling foul of the one-step rule for spot kicks - it left Trevor Hanson to slot in the third and secure a 3-2 victory.
The final placings put the Rovers team in third position in the national competition which had attracted record entries compared to previous years. The overall result was a great achievement and a positive endorsement of their ranking among the top walking football teams in the country.
Squad: Billy Legg (coach), John Sykes, Trevor Hanson, Tony Hartley, Gordon Arkwright, Mick Crump, Tony Jones, Mick Stockley, Nigel Baker.