Bradley Dack is the kind of football hero that cannot be judged on a Wikipedia entry
Bradley Dack leaves Blackburn an absolute hero – the kind that maybe you can only understand if you are a Blackburn fan. They are precious.
There are thousands of professional footballers and most of them have unremarkable careers. It is a game that celebrates the few at the expense of the many. A game that, for much of the past decade, has been reduced to a singular debate: Messi or Ronaldo.
But far beyond the bright lights of the Ballon d’Or, the Premier League best XIs and Project Mbappe, there are footballers at every club in every corner of the world who are adored by fans. For the past six years at Blackburn Rovers that player, more than any other, has been Bradley Dack.
Bradley Dack will never play in the Premier League. To many his career may even appear to be a story of unfulfilled potential; a seemingly unstoppable rise to the top flight cut cruelly short by not one, but two cruciate ligament injuries. We are quick to judge as football fans. We stay up late at night, scouring Wikipedia profiles, making snap decisions on whether a player had a half-decent career or not based on the clubs they appeared for, the goals they scored or saved, and the honours list at the bottom of the page that, for most, consists of a couple of player of the month awards or a coveted ‘Hammer of the Year’ gong.
There’s only one judgement that really matters though: what did that player make you feel?
If they never played for your club, then your opinion of their utility is instantly discounted. Tweet your tweet, say your piece, it’s all immaterial. Because you only truly understand the value of a player, of the person, by how they made you feel when you watched them in the colours that are etched into the fabric of your being.
When they pulled you out of your seat as they surged down the channel; when they gave you that cherished moment with a loved one as they scored a last-minute winner or cleared one off the line at the death; when you winced as a challenge sent them crashing into the turf, promotion dreams on the line – but more than that, the pain of seeing someone suffer in agony, someone who, despite all that time sharing the same stadium, you have never met, but still care for on a level that makes very little actual sense.
On a football level, Dack’s greatest achievement at Rovers was his pivotal role in securing promotion out of League One at the first attempt. The significance of that triumph isn’t lost on Rovers fans, especially against the backdrop of Sheffield Wednesday’s plight in the play-offs this season. Were it not for Dack’s goals and Dack’s vibes, at a time when the club was on its knees, a short stay in the third tier could have given way to a long, gruelling struggle to escape.
Dack was clearly at home in the Championship. Fifteen goals in his first season from midfield; nine in 22 at the start of his second as he looked on course for his best tally in blue-and-white halves — and destined for the Premier League with or without Rovers. Until tragedy struck against Wigan. I was there that night with my dad, back home for Christmas and attending one of the handful of home games I can attend each season since moving out of the area. It was immediately apparent the situation was bleak. Thirty years of following Rovers distilled briefly into recollections of harrowing injuries, heroes strewn on the grass.
As he assessed Dack’s injury after that grim 0-0 draw on a freezing December night, among his concerns for the player Tony Mowbray acknowledged, “For the club it’s hugely disappointing and maybe on a day like today Bradley Dack can do something on the pitch that takes the mediocrity out of it.” For all the tributes to Dack as he departs Rovers this week at the end of his contract, that line from Mowbray, the nod to a rare individual talent who could overcome football’s ever-lingering mediocrity, is arguably still the most fitting.
For it wasn’t just the fans that felt something when Dack played at his best. Mowbray spoke of him with the fondness of a proud father; Ben Brereton Diaz and John Buckley beamed alongside him as the trio enjoyed their regular fishing trips; former captain Elliott Bennett displayed the warmth of a brother, unforgettably holding up Dack’s shirt as the pair celebrated another goal in front of the Blackburn End.
In Messi’s iconic celebration of the same genre, he held up his own shirt – Dack had Bennett on hand to do it for him. Even Jon Dahl Tomasson, despite trying to usher in a new era this season, was eventually won over by Dack as he made his latest comeback from injury.
It’s clear that Dack has left an indelible mark. A fan hero denied the wider acclaim that is ultimately meaningless. Anyone who watched him at Blackburn, and many who played alongside him, will remember him fondly for being a player who could do what they could only dream of doing with the ball. A player who not only captured the energy of entire stadiums, but ignited it, bent it to his will.
It seems that should be worth more than any trophy, any record-breaking transfer, any bulging Wikipedia honours list. Most football fans will never be able to savour the joy of having watched Bradley Dack in his prime; of recalling a player who, during his six years at Rovers, helped restore the soul of a broken club. It is a legacy scored in hearts and memories, the places where, when all the dust settles, it matters most.
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