by Garry Cook (published in Total Football magazine)
It’s the only truly original way to celebrate a promotion in English football. Forget dancing in the stands, naming your newborn child after the entire first-team or getting the club crest tattooed on your arse.
In the small Lancashire town of Bamber Bridge they mark the success of local clubs Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers by turning out en masse to resurrect a blue and white coffin from a pub cellar
Strangely, they do the same when either team gets relegates with the very same coffin going in to the cellar at the end of the parade
For Blackburn’s promotion to the Premier League in 2001 it wasn’t so much a wake, more a *!?* up outside a brewery as various cowboys, nurses, bishops and nuns – plus a moustached Mother Teresa in a fetching backless habit – swigged lager on a tour of the town, all proudly lining up behind an empty milk float.
In a carefully planned event, half of Ewood Park plus local dignitaries, marching bands, karate clubs, club mascot Roar and baffled Rovers legend Ronnie Clayton lined the streets to cheer on the strange looking group and their entourage of twenty odd floats as they snaked their way to what has become the almost biblical Trades Hall pub cellar entrance.
Here, in what was surreally reminiscent of a sketch from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and complete with a dead-ringer for Michael Palin, a cartoon coffin carrying a ginger-haired baby doll dressed in full Rovers kit is raised from the cellar and carried by two OAP undertakers to a ceremonial milk float. You just could not make this stuff up.
The utterly bizarre ceremony began life over fifty years ago in 1948 following Rovers relegation from Division One. In the various ups and downs since then, the coffin has been raised and buried in ever extreme circumstances. Emotions came to a head in the early seventies when vigilante mourners took over the ceremony and cremated the original coffin, such was their displeasure at Blackburn’s faltering fortunes. Football is, quite literally in these parts, a matter of life and death.
Witness to every resurrection and burial held over the last 53 years is little George Rimmer, now in his 85th year. Shaky on his feet, George rode the procession in an American jeep before raising the coffin from the cellar floor.
“I’ve been coming to this ceremony since it started in 1948. I’ve been through the war and nothing is going to get stop me doing this,” George muttered.
In a stirring final speech to mark the resurrection, ‘Bishop’ David Tuson paid respect to Rovers’ Uncle Jack Walker, who passed away last season.
He proclaimed: “Look down on your team from the heavens above, be proud Jack Walker for what they have done. You have come from near, you have come from far, to see Blackburn Rovers as they are. Nothing will stop us, young and old, from celebrating as we have been told. This team I said was far too slow, did not like it down below.”
And to whoops of delight Tuson concluded: “Preston tried and Preston failed, to climb the mountain that Blackburn scaled. I bless thee in the name of the Bitter, and of the Mild, and of the Holy Lager. Amen.” Amen indeed.
Here’s Bishop Tuson’s speech in full:
Oh Walker, Jack Walker, Walker
Look down on your team from the heavens above, be proud Jack Walker, for what they have done
I bless thee one and all in the name of the bitter, and of the mild, and of the Holy lager
This team I said was far too slow, did not like it down below
The humiliation of going down, came then the strength they have found
To ascend the Premier League Blackburn Rovers have returned
The other teams are nowhere to be seen, for Blackburn surely are the cream
In the wake they are scattered across the land, for Rovers had the upper hand
Preston tried and Preston failed to climb the mountain that Blackburn scaled
Someone said we should not celebrate this tradition we started in 48.
But we shall march on through the Brig and have this day as we always did.
Down Station Road, you know the rout, people will cheer it, car horns will hoot
You have come from near, you have come from far, to see Blackburn Rovers as they are
So nothing will stop us, the young and the old, from celebrating as we have been told
Things of kind, tender nursing care will benefit from your people out there
It all goes to charity from ten pence to a pound, there is nothing comes out and there is not a sound
From the drivers, the Bishop, the nuns and the band we all do it for free and I think its right grand
And so we march down this little village down yonder, up there, and back to the Withy’s
There is football tomorrow, and a grand tug of war, it’s on Brownridge field in case you aint heard.
There will be people from far and wide, who come to watch the seven-a-side
It will be a grand do just like today and for years to come you people will say, when Blackburn went up to the Premier League, I was in Brig on July the 14.
And what a grand do and what a good show, the coffin was blessed by the Bishop you know
And forbid that it never go down below
And so you good people with heads held high walk through the Brig at Blackburn Rovers side
I bless you all in the name of the bitter and of the mild and of the Holy lager, go in peace, enjoy your day