ONE of Blackburn Rovers’ longest serving supporters who has spent 50 years commentating on Rovers games for hospital radio received a special gift from the club.
Barry Illsley, 81, was invited to meet manager Gary Bowyer at the club’s training ground at Brockhall, but was unaware he was being given a special present, a personalised signed shirt, which had been arranged to celebrate his milestone.
It came as Mr Illsley, celebrated 50 years of commentary at Ewood Park for Radio Hospitals Blackburn.
Mr Illsley said: “It was a complete surprise and I was absolutely delighted about it.
“It was great that Gary took time out to speak to me and I must give a special mention to the two people, Stuart Wearden, RHB sports commentator, and Rob Gill, Rovers’ press officer, who went behind my back to arrange the surprise.
“I was sat in the manager’s office and Terry McPhillips asked me who the best centre half was that I had seen play for Rovers and then next thing, Colin Hendry and Craig Short walked in.
Mr Illsley said he had supported Rovers all his life.
He said: “My grandfather was the club dentist, so that was the connection.
“I went to my first match in 1938. It was against one of the Nottingham clubs, either Forest or County. The best players I have seen were Ronnie Clayton and Brian Douglas, without question, and Alan Shearer and Colin Hendry.”
Among his other memories, Mr Illsley said he recalled walking from Hoghton to Ewood and back with his dad to watch Preston beat Arsenal in the 1941 League War Cup Final.
He also regularly walked to the ground from Mill Hill railway station with star players of the time such as Bill Eckersley.
“Footballers were a bit different then. I’d like to see them walk from the station now,” he said.
And Mr Illsley gave his backing to current Rovers boss Bowyer, in spite of recent difficulties on the pitch.
He said: “Without a doubt the club should stick with Gary Bowyer.
“If you look at all the players he has brought in they are all very young so he needs to be given time.”
Mr Bowyer said: “We were delighted we could play our part in the surprise, because it is important you reward people that have given so much to others.
“Barry is a good bloke. I have met him several times and he offers me some good advice and his opinion on the game.”