HE PLAYED two important games for the Socceroos in the past week but Brett Emerton is braced for 90 minutes of total pressure and scrutiny tomorrow in one of the English Premier League’s great rivalries – the Rovers v the Clarets.Emerton will play for Blackburn Rovers against recently promoted Burnley FC – a team based just 12 kilometres from Ewood Park and one that has a 125-year blood rivalry with the Rovers.Emerton left Melbourne just hours after playing his part in securing a 1-0 Asian Cup win over Oman on Wednesday to prepare for the two teams’ first clash in the top flight in 43 years.The week leading into the derby has been staggering, even for Emerton, who has played in the Dutch league and a World Cup campaign. It has included:❏ A beefed-up police presence to quell possible violence across East Lancashire;❏ Historians dredging up moments of valour on the field between the two clubs – and examples of horror off it;❏ Former Blackburn Rovers captain Tim Sherwood describing the game as his old club’s ”biggest” in ages;❏ An opera singer being dragged into a 30-year debate between the two clubs over ”ownership” of the song Wandering Rover .Despite the obvious emotion, former Rovers great Derek Fazackerley urged his club’s large roster of foreign-born players to appreciate what the match means to their fans.”This game is definitely for the fans,” the veteran of 674 games told The East Lancashire Telegraph . “At the end of the season, even if you have finished below your rivals in the league, at least you can say: ‘We won both derby games’.”This game is still massive for the fans, it really is. Particularly with Burnley coming from the Championship, it is the first opportunity to play Blackburn as a Premier League side. Both sets of fans will want to win for local pride.”It is not quite the same for the players. I suppose Burnley are more of an English side, so their players will have seen this sort of rivalry before and perhaps more than Blackburn’s because they have been an established Premier League side for so long.”Emerton, one of the foreign-born players Fazackerley referred to, fully realises the significance of the clash and conceded the pressure was on him to perform.”It’s a massive game, it’s the local derby and everyone takes an interest in it,” he said. ”This was the first game the people here [Blackburn] looked for when the draw was announced.”I spoke to someone about this game and I think they got it right when he compared the intensity to The Ashes. I thought that was a good comparison because this [fixture] means so much to our supporters and to the people of Blackburn.”While helping Australia nut out a 0-0 draw with the Dutch and a desperate 1-0 victory over Oman was gruelling, Emerton needed little prompting to get his head in the right space for the match that will bring East Lancashire to a standstill at 1pm local time.”You really do try to take it one game at a time because each game does require a different approach,” said Emerton, when asked how he could mentally prepare in time after his action-packed week in Australia.”I thought the most important thing was for me to return to the UK and get on the field in the best possible shape to perform well on Sunday.”I’m in the same position as all my teammates, I have to perform and I have to play well because we really need [competition] points.”Burnley is one of those teams that don’t have a stand-out player but the reason why they are doing so well is simple – they play as a team and for each other. I think of us like that. It’s going to be a great game, a wonderful experience.”Goalkeeper Brian Jensen, who has played a mighty role in Burnley being the only newly promoted team to win their first four Premier League home games, warned the derby was not for the faint-hearted.”It’s hostile. The fans don’t like each other and make it known verbally,” Jensen said. “The atmospheres are good and this will probably be the best so far.”But when it comes down to it, it’s just football and it’s nice to be involved in those games.”Fazackerley was also aware of the potential for violence and said it was his hope “the game is played in the right spirit with no trouble”.The local law enforcement was determined that would be the case, with Lancashire Constabulary Superintendent Chris Bithell vowing troublemakers would be quickly dealt with. “We want this game to be remembered for what happens on the pitch,” he said.
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