Blackburn Rovers have spent the last decade in the second tier of English football, the Championship. However, their current status tells little of the story of seven incredible years in the club’s history that saw dreams fulfilled for the relatively small club from Lancashire.
The pinnacle of those years came in 1995, when Rovers won the Premier League title, beating their far more illustrious and successful local rivals Manchester United to the English top-flight crown.
Jack Walker the key to Blackburn’s success
This Roy of the Rovers-esque story started in 1991 when successful local businessman Jack Walker bought his boyhood club.
Walker became one of the country’s most successful industrialists. Since his youth, the Lancastrian worked in a sheet metal factory, and it was in steel where Walker made his fortune, which proved to be the key to Rovers’ rise.
In January 1991, Jack Walker bought Blackburn Rovers. He had reportedly helped out the club financially even before becoming the owner. Rovers struggled in Walker’s first half-season as their club owner, as they had a poor start to the campaign. However, Blackburn won promotion to the English top flight in 1992.
Won the Premier League three years later
Walker used his personal fortune to fund a meteoric rise at Ewood Park, with the result being their surprise title victory. However, the title may not have been much of a surprise, in fact, as Rovers finished fourth place in their opening Premier League campaign and as runners-up in their second campaign. Ultimately, it wasn’t a big jump from second place for champions.
The summer before their debut Premier League campaign, Rovers made arguably their most pivotal signing in the modern era, as they paid Southampton a fee of £3.5m for a promising young striker called Alan Shearer. The forward reportedly turned down Manchester United in favour of a switch to Rovers.
Shearer missed half of his first season with Rovers due to injury, but he still managed 16 goals in 21 games. He returned to fitness the season after to fire home 31 Premier League goals and earn himself Football Writers’ Player of the Year.
However, his most influential campaign came in season 1994/95. Shearer formed a deadly partnership with Chris Sutton, as Shearer scored 34 goals in the English top flight to guide Rovers to their first English top-flight title since 1914.
Sutton had arrived from Norwich in the summer of 1994 for what was then a record fee of £5m. The gamble to bring in the young forward paid off handsomely.
Blackburn played some superb attacking football under Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, with wingers Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox supplying the ammunition for the “SAS’ as Shearer and Sutton’s partnership became known. Rovers finished their title-winning campaign as top goalscorers with 80 goals in the Premier League.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing for Blackburn, though, as the title race went into the last day of the season, with Rovers travelling the short distance to Liverpool on the final day. Meanwhile, title rivals Manchester United had to visit West Ham. Rovers started the day three points clear of the Red Devils.
However, disaster struck at Anfield, as Dalglish’s team suffered a 2-1 defeat. There was a strange atmosphere around the ground when Liverpool’s goal went in, as the home fans preferred their hero Dalglish to win the title over their bitter rivals Manchester United.
Rovers’ defeat mattered little, though, as United could only draw 1-1 at West Ham, who were also desperate not to let the Red Devils win the title because Paul Ince defected to the men from Manchester.
Although the millions spent by Jack Walker backed Blackburn’s title, the title was a notable achievement for Dalglish and his team. They had taken the club to levels that they had not seen for a long time, and it turned out that they have not since returned.
A downward spiral and Walker’s death
There is only one way to go when you are at the top, and that’s down. Dalglish changed roles at the club at the end of the season, stepping down as head coach to become director of football. The Scot’s former assistant Ray Harford then took on the head coach role.
Rovers spent most of the 195/96 league campaign in the bottom half of the table and exited the Champions League with just four points. Harford left the club the following October after a poor start to the campaign. Long-term coach Tony Parkes stepped into the head coach role and saved Rovers from relegation.
Roy Hodgson was the next man in the hot seat, and he guided Blackburn to a sixth-place finish in the Premier League. The following season Hodgson was sacked in December, and Rovers suffered relegation under Manchester United icon Brian Kidd.
Sadly, Jack Walker passed away in 2000 from cancer at the age of 71. Fittingly, Rovers won promotion back to the Premier League in season 2000/01. The club then went through many ups and downs. In 2010 Indian company V H Group bought Rovers as Venky’s London Limited for £23 million.
During Venky’s ownership, Rovers have not achieved great success. In fact, in May 2017, Blackburn Rovers suffered relegation into League One, the third tier of English football. It was certainly far from being Premier League champions 12 years earlier.
However, Rovers were in the third tier for just one season before winning promotion back to the Championship. They have endured mixed fortunes since their promotion back into the second tier.
Tough for Blackburn to ever repeat the title feat
It seems unlikely that Blackburn Rovers will repeat the feat of winning the English title anything soon. The 1990’s spell under the stewardship of Walker was fairy tale stuff for the club’s affable owner and his boyhood club. He built something special, but it was never going to be sustainable.
One day Blackburn Rovers may well be back in the Premier League, challenging at the top of the table. However, for now, everybody connected with the club from Lancashire can always look back on the glorious season Rovers were crowned as English champions.