As you scan through the English Premier League in it’s current state one word springs to mind – BIG.
The league is the biggest in the world, the hype surrounding it is the biggest I am aware of and some of the teams are the biggest across the globe… the likes of Manchester’s United and City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have huge following’s on all continents.
But once you get past the financial power house behemoths there is a core of teams who make up the rest of the division. The arrogant call them the dross, the real football fan calls them the proper teams. The ones that aren’t brands and corporations but still have footballing roots. Amongst these teams are our boys, Blackburn Rovers.
Long before Sky came in and turned football into a money making machine, Rovers were a proud, traditional club with a limited but passionate fan base and a family ethos. Yes, Blackburn Rovers were one of the founder members of the football league way back in the 19th Century and have been going strong ever since. For instance, did you know that Rovers are still the only side in the history of English football to have won the FA Cup three years in a row? It may have been the years 1884, 1885 and 1886 but then the Scousers of Liverpool still bang on about their exploits from over 20 years ago so I can stretch to mention this.
We even carried our pedigree through to the early 20th Century with a couple of league titles around the time the Titanic bit the dust and a further FA Cup win in 1928 meaning that the great depression of America was not felt in our humble East Lancashire roots.
But back then, no-one knew it would be nearly 70 years before we bagged another trophy. As a club we’ve always worn blue and white but we haven’t always been in the silverware, we even suffered our first ever relegation just before World War II started.
Rovers remained on the periphery of importance in the eyes of the people who like the bigger picture for a large portion of the rest of the century. A 1960 FA Cup final defeat to Wolves the only achievement to show up on the footballing radar.
But after bouncing between the old Second and Third Divisions (The Championship and League One to the more recent viewer) a change of ownership totally reinvigorated the landscape at Ewood Park.
A local supporter and rich to the nines steelworker Jack Walker took over the club with promises of taking the club he supported to the top. He had the money to make the dream happen. Some laughed at the notion, but he was about to make them look a shade silly.
Walker invested heavily in the infrastructure of Blackburn Rovers and spent previously unseen transfer fees during the early to mid-nineties to turn the club from also rans to heavy hitters. Jack didn’t run the club to make a profit, he ran it to make his club successful. Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton, Tim Flowers, David Batty and Tim Sherwood all came in and with it bought the most famous trophy of Blackburn Rovers existence – the 1994/95 Premier League trophy. To this day, Rovers are still one of only four teams to have won the re-named Premier League trophy. (This is the point where we wave smugly to supporters of Liverpool, Man City, Leeds and Newcastle. All of whom tried and have failed so far to do the same)
That day at Anfield where Rovers lifted the trophy was to be a peak in our timeline however, with relegation being suffered under the management of Brian Kidd only four years later. Jack still had the cash but a series of unsuccessful managerial appointments and flop signings condemning Rovers to a slide that they wouldn’t recover from in time to avoid relegation in 1999.
It was during the two year spell spent in the Championship that Jack Walker sadly passed away after a battle with illness. After all his investment and the rise of Rovers he passed away on a low. The fact he missed our promotion back to the top flight less than a year after his death made the high of ascending back to where he wanted us a bitter sweet moment.
Rovers have never been back to the summit since our arrival back in the Premier League but we HAVE been back in the big time ever since. We won the League Cup back in 2002 with a fantastic, Brad Friedel inspired 2-1 victory over Spurs at the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff and we’ve been on the European trail more than once after the mutually beneficial appointment of Mark Hughes as manager.
After Hughes left the club to chase glory and bigger transfer kitty’s Rovers have been in something of a slump. The Walker Trust spent years trying to sell the club as they never had the interest that their Dad did after being handed the reigns after Uncle Jack’s death and their lack of spending left Rovers struggling to stay in the top division. Without a sale to Indian firm Venky’s last November the club would have eventually plummeted back down the leagues due to the lack of investment.
So, here we are. We’re still in the Premier League and to say it’s been something of a rollercoaster being a Rovers fan would be like saying that the sky is occasionally blue.
Has the Indian ownership of Rovers been the bed of roses we all thought? Not even close. But it’s never a dull moment. Don’t listen to people who tell you that Blackburn Rovers don’t matter… they have no idea what they are talking about.