Joe Garner may have been born in a BB postcode, but he has a heart well and truly rooted in PR1 and he is ready for his first league encounter with the club he started his career.
There are 13.7 miles between Deepdale and Ewood Park – our shortest journey to a Football League ground and therefore our closest physical rivals.
The last time we faced them in a league game it was in May 2001.
Joe Garner had just become a teenager. He was signed on to Blackburn Rovers Academy, dreaming of becoming a Premier League player – the visitors to Deepdale that night promoted back to the top flight thanks to Matt Jansen’s 72nd minute goal.
In attack for the visitors that night was Mark Hughes – who would later go on to become the manager at Ewood Park and ultimately was the man who, due to the attacking options available to him, who would let Garner go out on loan and then eventually leave permanently, joining Carlisle United.
The likes of Paul Dickov, Craig Bellamy, Benni McCarthy, Roque Santa Cruz and even current team-mate Paul Gallagher were in front of him in ‘Sparky’s’ pecking order in the east side of the county.
Having progressed through the Academy system Garner had built up a reputation for himself as a goalscorer. He appeared on the scene at youth team level looking like a replacement for namesake ‘Simon’ [no relation], who had set goalscoring records in the 1980s and 1990s. At U16 level he scored a double hat-trick in one U16 game versus Manchester United and in 20 caps at England U16, U17 and U19 levels he grabbed a dozen goals, but the internationals in front of him proved difficult obstacles to manoeuvre past.
However, under the management of Eric Kinder and now Rovers’ first team manager Gary Bowyer, he set about building a career.
“A lot of the coaches at Blackburn played an important part in my development,” the 27-year-old told The One And Only at the Springfields Training Ground earlier this week, as he reflected on his time across Lancashire.
“Eric Kinder was my youth team manager when I was there and then he got a job at Carlisle and I ended going there as well, so he has been a big help in my career and is a really good coach – but it will be nice to get one over on them!
“Gary Bowyer was also a youth coach when I was there as well.
“I think he was my U17 manager and we ended up winning the league. We beat Southampton in the semi-final and then Coventry City in the Final at Ewood Park and I managed to get the winning goal, so it would have been nice to see him.
“I thought he was doing a good job considering the situation they have there at the minute, but there won’t be any sentimentality once it comes to kick-off.”
Saturday afternoon will be special for a lot of people, including the 2015 Football League One player of the year.
It will be his 100th league appearance in a lilywhite shirt and he admits that it is something he has been looking forward to ever since the morning the fixtures were released back in June.
“When the fixtures came out, in the summer, I certainly looked to see when this game was straight away,” continued the man who will be looking to add to his 43 goals for Simon Grayson’s side.
“I looked for all the derbies and I am sure most of the fans did as well and I am looking forward to the game now.
“I spent a lot of years at Blackburn. I obviously came through the Academy; met some good coaches and good managers and I really appreciate my time there, but I will be looking to get the three points this afternoon.
“I have a lot of friends who support both teams and a lot of friends and family will be at the game and I am really looking forward to it.
“I have played them before, when I was at Forest; we got drawn against them in the Cup, but this is the first time I will have come against them in the league and it is something that I have been really excited about – it should be a really good game.”
And it is not just Garner who is excited at the prospect to facing off against Blackburn, for what will be the 98th competitive meeting between the two sides.
“If you ask all the lads, they are looking forward to the derbies and we’ve now got Blackburn and Burnley in the next couple of weeks where the fans will come out in force and try and make the place a fortress.
“It’s being played at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, not moved by the police or TV and that means that the fans will hopefully come out in their numbers and hopefully we give them something to go home happy about, enjoy the weekend and have the bragging rights.”
You can read more from Garns, plus interviews with Paul Gallagher – answering your questions – Alan Browne, Alan Kelly, Eoin Doyle and Will Keane in Saturday’s derby day matchday programme. There are 84 perfect bound pages on sale from Friday afternoon and inside and outside the ground on matchday for just £3 – make sure you get yours!