Danny Graham says it’s the right time for the ‘best four-and-a-half years of his career’ to come to an end, as he says farewell to his Rovers family.
In an exclusive and emotional interview with iFollow Rovers at the team hotel ahead of the final day fixture against Luton Town, the popular striker spoke passionately about his love for the club, its staff, supporters and players, both past and present.
After arriving from Sunderland, initially on loan, in January 2016, Graham has gone on to score 57 goals in 191 games for the club and played a pivotal role in helping Rovers’ secure an immediate return to the Championship in 2017-18.
Fittingly, his final appearance in a Rovers shirt on Wednesday night was also the 600th of his club career, and he marked it by setting up Sam Gallagher’s goal.
Rovers’ relegation aside, the 34-year-old admits he has ‘truly enjoyed every minute at this football club’ and has vowed to return to Ewood Park in the not too distant future to thank the fans who have taken him to their hearts since he arrived.
Here’s what the talismanic targetman had to say when reflecting on his successful spell in blue-and-white …
Danny, how do you feel?
“It’s emotional. It’s been a great time. It’s been a great four-and-a-half years here. I had a conversation with the gaffer and he told me where he was going with the football club and I’m fine with that. It was nice to have a chat and talk about the time we have had together and look back with fond memories. That’s the most important thing. This club is moving forward and it doesn’t stand still for any player, so the time was always going to come and it feels as though it’s the right time now.”
Just how good a four-and-a-half years has it been?
“Probably the best four-and-a-half years of my career. And that’s saying something considering I had 18 months with Swansea, playing week-in week-out in the Premier League. I’ve said many a time, after my spell at Sunderland, it was a tough part of my career and I didn’t know where my football career was going at that point, and to come to Blackburn and find a home and do so well and have a special bond with all the players and staff and fans, has been beyond my wildest dreams.”
Have you rediscovered your love for the game at Rovers and do you leave here still loving the game as much as you did when you were a young lad?
“Yes, I do. I feel as though I found that quite quickly into my loan spell – my love for the game again – hence why I signed permanently after the loan spell had finished. I do love the game. During lockdown, it’s probably the hardest I’ve worked in a number of years away from football, so the hunger and the drive is still there to play for another two or three seasons at least.”
How do you measure the success you’ve had here – is it the goals you’ve scored, the memories you’ve made or the relationships you’ve formed?
“I think it’s everything apart from the relegation. That was a tough part. But apart from that, I truly have enjoyed every minute at this football club, for the goals, the people I’ve met and the bonds I’m going to have forever. It’s something that’s going to live long with me.”
How proud are you of the part you’ve played in helping to turn this football club around and get it going back up in the right direction?
“I didn’t really think about it until after I spoke to the gaffer and he talked to me about what the club had been through and it reminded me. Obviously you don’t think about it too much when you’re playing. We were in a really bad state when we got relegated and went down to League One, so to stick it out, which I always said was my plan, I never wanted to leave, I do look back feeling good that we’ve got the good times again and hopefully the club that I’m leaving now is a one that’s on the up and is going to go to the Premier League at some point hopefully.”
Would you take great satisfaction if the club can make that final step at some point in the future, knowing that you helped it on its way?
“Yes, I would. Blackburn Rovers is going to be a club that I hold close to my heart for the rest of my days. Hopefully one day this club will get back there. I think we are making progress and that’s been proven with the points total and some of the performances this season, so if that continues, hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.”
Tell us about the friends that you’ve made?
“My phone book is full now! I’ve had some special bonds ever since I’ve come into the football club. There’s a lot of players that I still speak to who have moved on since I was on loan here. And obviously the bond we have day-in day-out is unbelievable. The laughs we have, the pranks we play, the team spirit we have, it’s made this football club grow again and hopefully that can continue. We’ve got a lot of good characters in the dressing room and, like I say, it was all part of building that team spirit, which at the time you probably didn’t think we needed, but actually we did and I think that’s gone a long way to helping us be successful.”
And what about your goalscoring partner in crime, Bradley Dack?
“Ever since he walked in the building when he signed and I said to him ‘I’ll get you 15 goals this season’, there was just an instant connection. We had some good times on the pitch and we certainly had some good times off the pitch. We were never off the pool table, we enjoyed playing golf together, we enjoyed the odd beer here and there, so Dacky is going to be a friend for life, along with several others at this football club. A lot of people will talk about ‘Dack and Graham’, but hopefully there’s going to be an ‘Armstrong and Brereton’ or ‘Armstrong and Gallagher’ partnership and the club will move forward, which is the most important thing.”
What about your favourite games and goals?
“The Sheffield Wednesday game – that was obviously a highlight, getting my first hat-trick for this football club and my first in 10 years. The Doncaster night – getting promoted at the first attempt, which was massive, because we didn’t want to find ourselves stuck in League One for two or three years. The goal against Manchester United in the FA Cup. My goal against Portsmouth, because it was outside the box! There’s a lot of memories, too many to name, but I can’t stress enough how much I’ve enjoyed my time here.”
Is that promotion medal still very, very special to you?
“For the team, collectively, to do what we did after losing the first two games, to only lose one in the next 30-odd games, was a massive achievement from the set of lads we had. The team thing has always been the most important thing for me. I’m not really too fussed about individual awards. They come, but that’s down to your team-mates who help you along the way, so I would say the promotion medal and the stuff I’ve got framed at home is the most pleasing.”
You were voted Rovers’ Player of the Year by the supporters … tell us about your relationship with them?
“It’s a strong one. I get a lot of messages on social media, people asking me to stay and things like that, and the love that they have for me is the same love that I have for them. I can’t stress enough how big a part they’ve played in me enjoying football again and they’ve got behind the team, which has played a massive part in developing what we’re trying to achieve.”
What does that support mean to you?
“It means a lot – coming to the game, whether it’s home or away, and knowing that the fans are right behind you. The way they’ve regrouped and got behind this football club has played a massive part and they’re going to be the ones that help this club go to the next level. I’m lost for words in terms of the amount of support I’ve had from the Rovers fans since I’ve been here. It’s a special place and there’s no doubt that I’ll be back at Ewood to watch games in the near future and hopefully I get to see them one more time. But on behalf of me and my family, I want to say a massive thank you.”
Danny, on behalf of everyone connected with the club, we wish you all the very best in the future and we look forward to welcoming you back to Ewood Park very soon. Thank you for the memories.