The House That Jack Built
While the club’s dream of a second Premier League title has never been so stratospherically distant, the East Lancashire club is currently in strong contention for automatic promotion back to the Championship. As of 2 February 2018, online bookie Betway prices Blackburn at 7/2 to win the League 1 title of 2017/18 and, by skill and labour, the blue quarter of East Lancashire will once more dream of better days.
The 1994/95 title-winning Blackburn squad is most readily remembered for the partnership of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton. There were plenty of other key players that deserve particular recognition for their efforts but there is only one man who made it all possible – the late, but immortal, Jack Walker.
The exact genesis of Blackburn’s rise to the top is disputed but some would argue that it came during the 1987/88 season when Jack Walker gave financial aid to his floundering boyhood club. His assistance enabled the powers at Blackburn to refurbish the stadium and invest in a squad for the future. Squad development was a slow and painstaking process. A lowly 19th place finish in 1990/91 suggested that Blackburn Rovers, a small club in a working town, could not possibly get the momentum needed to become founder members of the Premier League in 1992/93.
In a foreshadowing of the glorious day at Anfield in 1995, when the fruits of Walker’s labours would finally be realised, Blackburn had to go up the hard way despite signing two key players in 1991. By this time, Walker had formally taken over at the club.
With the galvanising presence of a ‘dying breed’ hard man Colin Hendry at the back, and Mike Newell providing a new degree of menace up front, Rovers finished sixth in 1991/92. It was far from straightforward but, through good attacking endeavour, the Lancastrians snuck into the promotion playoffs by just three points. After a pulsating 5-4 aggregate win over favourites Derby, a Newell penalty at Wembley saw Blackburn join the elite, after an absence of 26 years.
Call in the S.A.S
With new manager Kenny Dalglish bringing a winning mentality to the Ewood Park dressing room, from his glory days as a Liverpool legend, it was immediately apparent that Blackburn were a new force. Record signing Alan Shearer, playing with a pomp reminiscent of Jimmy Greaves, raised hell from the off. At a blisteringly hot Selhurst Park, he netted twice and scored a contender for goal of the season in a 3-3 draw which justified the hype of the new Premier League.
Finishes of fourth (in 1993) and second (in 1994) meant that the title win of 1995 was not a seismic surprise – certainly not in the same league as Leicester’s triumph of 2016. However, the arrival of Chris Sutton from Norwich City was a real game-changer, not just for Blackburn, but the identity of English football thereafter. Together, Shearer and Sutton enabled Blackburn to champion the sort of swift, counter-attacking football that is considered the norm in today’s glamorous game. By the end of 1994/95, the two Englishmen had become etched into history as one of the most potent strike forces in living memory.
Arte et Labore
The efforts of the ‘S.A.S’ would have been rendered meaningless without nine other players living up to the Blackburn motto. By 1994/95, Colin Hendry was Blackburn captain, and made up a formidable backline, marshalled effectively by England international goalkeeper Tim Flowers. In midfield, David Batty and Tim Sherwood were a central pairing to die for, providing vision and precision to devastating effect. Though there were no outright ‘flair’ players at the club, such as Eric Cantona or Dennis Bergkamp, the unity in the dressing room was apparent throughout 1994/95.
This was the squad that started the finale against Liverpool. At 4.45 pm on 14 May 1995, Blackburn Rovers became the champions of England for the first time in 81 years.
These days, the Ewood Park faithful might look towards Manchester City and Leicester for inspiration, with both clubs going on to win the Premier League after occupying the third tier. Impressively, Leicester did so less than ten years after relegation to League One. Blackburn may not be able to emulate such an achievement under the current regime but, with plenty of history and past inspiration, the East Lancashire club has just as much chance as any other of becoming the next success story from nowhere.