Blackburn Rovers, established in 1875, are one of the founder members of The Football League which started in 1888. Despite limited success over the years, they are one of just four teams to have won the F.A. Premier League.
The club was formed by John Lewis and Arthur Constantine during a meeting on November 5th in the St Leger Hotel on William Street. They played their first match on the 18th December 1875 at Church, Lancashire and it ended in a 1-1 draw.
As the club had no ground, the only income they received during these early days came from members’ subscriptions, which totaled two pounds and eight shillings in their first season.
Rovers caused controversy in 1880 when they fielded a player from outside Blackburn. This broke the rules of the Lancashire Football Association, which Blackburn had helped to form along with 22 other clubs, in 1878. Conflict was also caused when Blackburn offered Darwen player Fergie Suter better terms to join them. However, this sort of debate was solved in 1885, when professionalism was made legal.
In the meantime, the club was enjoying success on the pitch. They won the FA Cup in 1884, 1885 and 1886, although they were aided by the fact that England’s best team, Corinthians, were absent from the 1886 competition.
In the first season of The Football League, Rovers finished 4th, having drawn their opening match 5-5 with Accrington. However, the cup was still regarded as their priority, and they went on to win it again in 1890 and 1891.
It was in 1890 that Blackburn purchased Ewood Park, which had been built some eight years earlier, for £1000.
Best Team in the League
After a quiet start to the 20th century, Blackburn bolstered their squad with signings such as Jimmy Ashcroft and George Chapman. This resulted in a 4th place finish in 1908-09, and this was bettered by a 3rd place finish the following season. However, in 1910-11, the club faltered and they were fortunate to finish in 12th place after a horrific start to the season.
The following season, though, Blackburn were crowned Football League champions for the first time in their history, thanks to an unbeaten three month run. In stark contrast to today, though, many fans felt that winning the league did not compensate for the club’s failure in the FA Cup. Blackburn crashed out of that season’s Cup during the semi-final stages, losing to West Brom. They had been eliminated at the same stage the season before.
Further league success was not far away. They finished 3rd in 1912-13 and won the championship once again in 1913-14, before the First World War deprived the club of what could have been an unprecedented period of dominance.
Post War struggles
The club failed to replicate the success of the pre-war era, and had to wait until 1928 before picking up their next piece of silverware, defeating Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup Final. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, the club suffered and were forced to sell many of their players, as they struggled to compete with the richer teams in the league.
This turmoil resulted in the club’s eventual relegation to the Second Division for the first time in their history, in 1935-36. They failed to succeed during their first two seasons in the second tier but won promotion as champions in the final year prior to the Second World War.
Blackburn were once again relegated in their second season after the war, in 1947-48, not making a return to the top division until 1958. The closest the team came to success during this period was in the 1960 FA Cup Final, which they eventually lost 3-0 to Wolverhampton, in a game which saw Dave Whelan break his leg.
The club were relegated once again in 1966, beginning a 26 year exile from the top division. During this period, they spent their time split between the second and third divisions, winning the Third Division in 1974-75.
Rovers came close to promotion in 1977-78 under the leadership of Jim Smith but after the “bald eagle” left, the club were relegated back to the Third Division. However, the club bounced straight back, under the guidance of their first ever player-manager, Howard Kendall.
Despite a slow start, Rovers went on a run which saw them win 13 out of 14 games after Christmas, to secure 2nd place and promotion. The following season, they played well in the Second Division and only missed out on a second successive promotion (and a place in the top flight) thanks to an inferior goal difference.
The club then had to wait until 1984-85 for another promotion push. However, with an ageing squad, the following season the club narrowly avoided relegation, thanks to a last day victory over Grimsby Town.
Following the appointment of Don Mackay as manager, the club made high profile signings in the shape of Ossie Ardiles, Steve Archibald and Frank Stapleton, as they pushed for promotion to the First Division. However, fans began to doubt the club’s ambition, as they finished 5th in the league for three consecutive seasons.
After a play-off defeat to Swindon in 1989-90, the club responded badly, finishing a dismal 19th in the Second Division in 1990-91, before Jack Walker took over the club.
The Jack Walker era
Jack Walker took over the club in the summer of 1991, having sold his family business to British Steel for £360m.
One of his first actions was to sack existing coach Don Mackay and replace him with Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish had left Liverpool several months earlier, having won five major trophies in six seasons at Anfield.
Dalglish’s first game in charge resulted in a 5-2 victory over Plymouth and the new manager was given a generous transfer budget with which to build a squad capable of promotion and more. Subsequently, in came Alan Wright from Blackpool and Colin Hendry from Manchester City, before the first ever seven figure fee saw the arrival of Mike Newell from Everton.
At Christmas, Rovers found themselves in 3rd place but an injury to Newell coincided with a run of six straight defeats, which saw the club fall out of the play-off places. However, a 3-1 win over Plymouth in the final game of the season saw them reach the top six.
After three previous play-off runs had ended with defeat, it proved fourth time lucky for the club, as a semi-final win over Derby put Rovers through to a promotion play-off with Leicester City. Newell’s solitary goal proved enough to secure a 1-0 win and with it a place in the new Premier League for the 1992-93 season.
Blackburn continued to boost their profile as they made the headlines in the summer of 1992, paying an English record fee of £3.5 million for 22 year-old Southampton and England striker Alan Shearer. The season also saw the expensive signings of Graeme Le Saux from Chelsea, Middlesbrough’s Stuart Ripley and Coventry striker Kevin Gallacher.
Walker’s investment was rewarded with a highly impressive 4th place finish during their first season in the top flight for 26 years. The following season saw further improvements, with Leeds midfielder David Batty and Southampton goalkeeper Tim Flowers joining the ranks. It saw the club close the gap on champions Manchester United by eight points, with Blackburn finishing runners up. This was their highest league position for almost 80 years.
Blackburn then broke the English transfer fee record yet again, as they paid Norwich City £5million for 21 year old striker Chris Sutton. Sutton went on to form a prolific striking partnership with Alan Shearer, dubbed the "SAS".
Few predicted that anybody could prevent United from winning a third successive league title in 1994-95 but the champions were locked in a battle with Rovers from the outset. Two controversial defeats for Blackburn – 4-2 at Ewood and 1-0 at Old Trafford – appeared to give United the upper hand. Indeed, it looked like Blackburn had blown their chances of the title when they lost 2-1 to Liverpool on the final day of the season. However, United could only manage a 1-1 draw at West Ham, when a victory would have seen them win the title for a third year in a row. As it turned out, the league title returned to Ewood Park for the first time since 1914 and Jack Walker’s dream had come true. Within five years of buying the club, Blackburn had gone from Second Division strugglers to Premier League champions.
Ray Harford then took over as manager, as Kenny Dalglish moved upstairs to the position of Director of Football. However, Blackburn made a poor start to the season and also struggled in the Champions League, finishing bottom of their group with just 4 points. During their only win in Europe (a 4-1 drubbing of Rosenborg), Mike Newell scored a nine minute hat trick, still the fastest in Champions League history. The campaign was overshadowed by a public dispute between David Batty and Graeme Le Saux on the pitch in a tie against Spartak Moscow. Furthermore, despite Alan Shearer becoming the first striker to score more than 30 Premiership goals in three successive seasons, Rovers finished 7th, missing out on a UEFA Cup place.
Shearer was then sold to hometown club Newcastle United for a then world record fee of £15million in the summer of 1996 and this was seen by fans as the first step to the break up of the championship winning team. Another poor start in the 1996-97 season saw the departure of Harford, with Tony Parkes taking over as Caretaker manager, guiding the club to a secure 13th place. It was announced in December that Sampdoria and future England boss, Sven Goran Eriksson, had signed an unconditional contract with Rovers to take over as manager for the 1997-98 season.
However, Sven changed his mind when the time came, choosing to remain in Italy in order to spend time with his children following a divorce and he went on to join Lazio. Roy Hodgson was then named as Blackburn manager and under his leadership, Rovers qualified for the UEFA Cup at the end of his first season. However, Hodgson’s main signings struggled, with Martin Dahlin and £7.5million striker Kevin Davies failing to contribute goals. Hodgson was sacked in December with the club struggling near the bottom of the Premiership. Manchester United’s highly respected and successful assistant manager Brian Kidd took over the club but he was unable to save them from relegation. Indeed, relegation was confirmed thanks to a 0-0 draw with his former club in the penultimate game of the season, meaning Blackburn became the first modern day former Premier League champions to be relegated.
Back in the Second Tier
Blackburn’s alarming downward spiral continued in Division One and Brian Kidd was relieved of his duties with Rovers struggling at the wrong end of the table, despite being the pre-season favourites for promotion.
Tony Parkes took over once again as caretaker manager and led a mini revival, with Blackburn pulling off a shock FA Cup win over Liverpool at Anfield, thanks to Nathan Blake’s goal. Results remained inconsistent, though, and so the club moved to bring in Graeme Souness as manager from March.
During the close season, Souness prepared for a promotion push. Craig Hignett arrived from Barnsley for £2.7million, Stig Inge Bjornebye from Liverpool and Marcus Bent from Sheffield United. The start of the season was overshadowed, though, by the death of Jack Walker in August 2000, following a period of illness. Throughout his illness, Walker was always adamant that Blackburn should regain a place in the top flight by winning promotion in 2000-01.
Their promotion challenge, led by youngsters Matt Jansen, Damien Duff and David Dunn, was dedicated to the memory of the man who had transformed the club. Hignett’s long awaited debut after injury inspired the team to a six game winning run and the capture of veteran Mark Hughes added experience to the team. A win over Preston in the final game of the season secured second spot and automatic promotion behind Fulham, as Blackburn returned to the big time.
Cup success and Europe
The club’s first season back in the Premiership saw the club sign Andrew Cole from Manchester United for a club record £8million, as Rovers finished in 10th place. They also won the League Cup for the first time, with a 2-1 win over Tottenham at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, with Cole scoring the winning goal. This secured UEFA Cup qualification and in 2002-03, Rovers again qualified for Europe thanks to a 6th placed finish.
The sale of Damien Duff and David Dunn had an adverse effect on the team and Souness’ job was put in danger the next season following a 15th place finish, with relegation only prevented by the goals of Jon Stead towards the end of the season. Souness then left for Newcastle, to be replaced by Wales boss and ex-Rovers striker Mark Hughes.
Hughes secured Premiership survival in 2004-05, finishing in 15th place and he strengthened the side with the signings of Ryan Nelsen, Aaron Mokoena and Craig Bellamy. In 2005-06, Hughes guided the club to European qualification once again thanks to a 6th place finish.
The following year, Hughes signed South African striker Benni McCarthy to replace the departed Craig Bellamy but Rovers had a disappointing start to the league season. However, they won their UEFA Cup group but suffered defeat over two legs to German side Bayer Leverkusen in the knockout stages. They eventually finished 10th in the league, qualifying for the Intertoto Cup. They won this Cup and subsequently entered the UEFA Cup once again.
Hughes has continued to build his team as Blackburn have become one of the most feared teams in the Premiership. He bolstered his squad with the signing of Paraguay international Roque Santa Cruz from Bayern Munich and young stars Maceo Rigters and Gunnar Nielsen.
Premiership Champions: 1995
Premiership Runners-Up: 1994
FA Cup Winners: 1884, 1885, 1886, 1890, 1891, 1928
FA Cup Runners-Up: 1882, 1960
League Cup Winners: 2002
Football League Champions: 1912, 1914
League Division One Runners Up: 2001
League Division Two Champions: 1939
League Division Two Runners-Up: 1958
League Division Three Champions: 1975
League Division Three Runners-Up: 1980
Lancashire Cup Winners: 1882, 1883, 1884,1885, 1896, 1901, 1902, 1904, 1907,
1909, 1911, 1945, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989
Full Members Cup Winners: 1987
Charity Shield Winners: 1912
Record Attendance: 62,522 v Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup 6th Round, 2 March 1929
Record Victory: 11-0 v Rossendale United, FA Cup 1st round, 13 October 1884
Record Defeat: 0-8 v Arsenal, Division 1, 25 February 1933; v Lincoln City, Division 2, 29 August 1953
Highest Scoring Game: 5-8 v Derby County, 6 September 1890
Most Appearances for club: 593+3 sub Derek Fazackerley, 1970 – 1987
Most League Goals for club: 168 Simon Garner 1978 – 1992
Most League Goals in a season: 43 Ted Harper 1925/26
Most Goals for club: 194 Simon Ganer 1978 – 1992
Most International Caps whilst at club: Henning Berg, Norway
Transfer Record (Received): £17m from Chelsea for Damien Duff, July 2003
Transfer Record (Paid): £8m to Manchester United for Andrew Cole, December 2001