TRY telling Lenny Johnrose the East Lancashire derby is just another game.
The 44-year-old may have appeared in just the one.
But one was enough to show Johnrose, one of only 25 players to play for both Blackburn Rovers and Burnley, what the frenzied atmosphere of a clash between the bitterest of rivals can do to even the most experienced of players.
As Johnrose’s sole experience of a Rovers-Clarets showdown will forever be remembered as the derby in which Kevin Ball nearly snapped David Dunn in two.
Ball, then 36, was infamously sent off for a horror tackle on the 20-year-old Dunn as 10-man Burnley lost the first meeting between the teams in 17 years.
“You try to keep the focus on what you are supposed to be doing and all the clichés will come out from the players and the management about it being just another game,” said Johnrose, a 53rd-minute substitute for the Clarets on that infamous afternoon at a volatile Turf Moor on December 17, 2000.
“But it’s not just another game.
“I know when I was at Burnley and we had Blackburn coming for the first time in goodness knows how many years the buzz around the town was just incredible.
“You couldn’t get away from it and it’s just a completely different animal altogether in terms of the magnitude of the game.
“You get on with some of your opponents and you don’t get on with others but for whatever reason there is just needle in the game. You take it personally.
“What Kevin Ball did backs up exactly what I mean. I played against Kevin Ball a couple of times myself so I knew all about his reputation.
“He was hard but fair but the derby made him do something completely out of character.
“He had never done it before in a Burnley shirt and he never did it after. The game can get to you and it certainly got to Kevin that day.
“I came on as a sub and it is great to say I have played in one of the games even though we lost and we were very disappointed.
“I just wish I had played in more. For the return game that season at Ewood Park I was in the stands which, thinking back, I was glad about because we got hammered 5-0!”
Johnrose, now a teacher at St Silas CE Primary School in Blackburn, may have got a ‘hammering’ too.
The Preston-born midfielder signed for Rovers as a teenager and went on to make 50 appearances for the club, scoring 12 goals, before he left for Hartlepool United in 1992.
But he is best remembered in East Lancashire for his three separate spells with the Clarets, with whom he remains a cult-hero.
“I’ve played for both clubs but if I had to go for one it would have to be Burnley,” said Johnrose, who made 91 appearances for the Clarets, scoring five goals, and helped the club win promotion from the Second Division in 2000.
“I remember when I made my debut at home to Reading and, given I’d played for Blackburn, there were a couple of mini boos and whispers, which I expected.
“But that soon changed and the fans were absolutely brilliant to me. Hopefully that was because I gave absolutely everything I had. They appreciated that and I had a fantastic time.
“That said I’ve got nothing but praise for Blackburn. I’m a Preston lad but I didn’t sign for Preston, I signed for Blackburn at 14.
“They gave me my debut and I played quite a few games at what is now Championship level. It was a good grounding.
“I still look out for them and it’s good to see they have steadied the ship after a tough couple of seasons.
“But it was just at Burnley that things really happened for me.”
Johnrose is tipping the Clarets to win Sunday’s Ewood Park encounter and end 35 years of hurt – which would not go down well with some of his Rovers-supporting colleagues at St Silas Primary.
“I’m really enjoying teaching,” said Johnrose, who took some of his pupils along to Ewood in December to watch Rovers’ 3-2 win over Millwall in a bid to encourage them to support their hometown club.
“It’s something I never wanted to do to be honest – just like football, as I never wanted to do that either.
“It just happened. About four years ago my wife told me to get a proper job so I did a PGCE and I’ve landed on my feet at this school. It’s absolutely brilliant.
“Every day is different and the kids are just so funny it’s untrue. I don’t shout it from the rooftops that I was a footballer but the kids are aware that I was.
“They keep saying to me, ‘why have you given up football to be a teacher?’ I have to tell them it’s because I got old!
“Having been a footballer it has made my job a lot easier as, rightly or wrongly, you’ve instantly got this connection with the children as you’ve done something they perceive to be brilliant. So you’ve got to use it while you can.
“But as I say, I don’t go shouting it from the rooftops.”
Unlike Rovers or Clarets fans if their team triumphs on Sunday.