Snubbed by England’s number one Joe Hart, schoolboy footballers Elliot and Zak James were left feeling blue when their hopes of securing a prized autograph from their hero were dashed.
The boys, aged 9 and 6, had travelled up to Ewood Park with dad Iwan, a lifelong Blackburn Rovers fan, to take in the club’s long awaited third round FA Cup tie with Manchester City.
Elliott, a promising goalkeeper on the books of Bristol City, had been eagerly awaiting the chance to meet the glittering galaxy of stars he hoped would be turning out for City.
The family arrived at the ground two hours before kick-off to ensure they had plenty of time to ask for autographs. But as the players warmed up, the two boys and others were ignored. The incident left dad Iwan fuming.
Iwan said: “I have followed Rovers for years, but the boys were more excited about meeting Joe Hart as he is a current England player.
“I had two England flags that I wanted Joe to sign so I could frame them and hang them up at home.
“We got there two hours before kick off so there was plenty of time for Joe to come over and give us a minute of his time. It was as if the players had been specifically told not to talk to the fans or sign autographs to stay focused on the match. They acted as if they were film stars. Joe is Elliot’s favourite player. The boys are young and they will remember something like this.”
Iwan blamed the team’s South American manager, Manuel Pellegrini. He said the coach had ordered his players not to be distracted by supporters during the warm up.
But all was not lost as the boys later ran into retired England stars Michael Owen, David James and Steve McManaman.
The three former players did find the time to sign autographs - and offer some kind words of advice for the boys, who go to Longney Primary School.
Iwan added: “From players that have been there and done it, it meant a lot to them. Their signed pictures will be mounted onto their bedroom walls.
“Maybe Mr Pellegrini should take a leaf out of Andy Murray's book regarding his views on signing autographs and also realise that he currently lives in England ,where the great game was invented, not Chile.
“After all sport is for everyone to enjoy, if footballers do not want to be approached then perhaps matches should be played behind closed doors to save the players the hassle.”
The game ended in a draw and will be replayed tonight in Manchester.
Manchester City were approached for a comment, but failed to respond to our requests.