Tuesday, September 18, 2007

History of Blackburn Rovers F.C.

The early years
The club Blackburn Rovers was the idea of John Lewis and Arthur Constantine during a seventeen-man meeting at the Leger Hotel, Blackburn in November 1875. The club's first secretary was Walter Duckworth, and Lewis was its first treasurer. Many of the initial members were wealthy and well-connected, and this helped the club survive and rise beyond the large number of other local teams around at the time. Blackburn has had a particular strong history of football, Rovers weren't the town's only side in the 19th Century; other rivals included Blackburn Olympic F.C. (1883 winners of the FA Cup) and Blackburn Park Road F.C., among others.

The first match played by Blackburn Rovers took place in Church, Lancashire on 18 December, 1875 -- and was a 1-1 draw. Although the make-up of the team was not recorded it is generally thought to be: Thomas Greenwood (goal), Jack Baldwin, Fred Birtwistle, (full-backs), Arthur Thomas, J. T. Sycelmore (half-backs), Walter Duckworth, John Lewis, Thomas Dean, Arthur Constantine, Harry Greenwood, Richard Birtwistle (forwards), in a 2-2-6 formation.

At the time, the club had no ground of its own and no gate receipts. The only income came from members' subscriptions, which totalled £2 8s 0d during the first season.

During the 1876-77 season, Rovers finally gained a ground of its own by renting a piece of farmland at Oozehead, on the west side of town facing Preston New Road. The ground was little more than a meadow with a pool in the middle that had to be covered with planks and turf when playing, but it did allow the club to collect gate receipts totalling 6s 6d for the season. Occasional games were also played at Pleasington Cricket Ground.

Subsequently Blackburn Rovers rented Alexandra Meadows, the home of the East Lancashire Cricket Club , for their matches. The inaugural game at Alexandra Meadows was played against Partick Thistle, the most prestigious club Rovers had played until then. The result was a 2-1 win for Blackburn, with two goals from Richard Birtwistle.

On 28 September, 1878, Blackburn Rovers became one of 23 clubs to form the Lancashire Football Association. On 1 November, 1879 the club played in the F.A. Cup for the first time, beating the Tyne Association Football Club 5-1. Rovers were eventually put out of the competition in the third round after suffering a heavy 6-0 defeat by Nottingham Forest.

Controversy erupted during 1880 when the club used players not from Blackburn to fill in for unavailable team members — this violated what, at the time, was considered an important principle of the LFA. The situation became worse at the start of the 1881 season when a Darwen player transferred to Blackburn Rovers. The move caused a great deal of bitterness between the clubs and local populations. Accusations of professionalism began to fly, with Darwen accusing Blackburn Rovers of offering the player in question, Fergie Suter, improved terms. However, Suter had initially moved to Darwen from Scotland and given up his trade as stonemason to play for the club. So the professional/amateur divide was already blurred. Nevertheless, subsequent matches between Blackburn Rovers and Darwen were fractious affairs both on and off the pitch. The teams were drawn against each other in the fourth round of the Lancashire Cup, and the clubs refused to agree on a date for the match. As a result the LFA ejected both teams from the competition. This type of controversy would only be resolved five years later in 1885 with the legalisation of professionalism.

During the 1881-82 season, the club continued to rent the facilities at Alexandra Meadows, but began to look towards a move elsewhere. As the leading club in the area, it was felt that Rovers needed its own ground. A ground was leased at Leamington Street and £500 was spent on a new grandstand capable of seating 600-700 spectators. Boards were placed around the pitch to help prevent a repeat of the crowd troubles with Darwen, and a large ornate entrance arch was erected bearing the name of the club and ground.

On 25 March, 1882 the club won through to the final of the F.A. Cup against the Old Etonians. Blackburn Rovers was the first provincial team to reach the final, but the result was a 1-0 defeat by the Old Etonians. There was no repeat of the previous season's success during the 1882-1883 season, when Rovers suffered a bitter defeat 1-0 at the hands of Darwen in the second-round. Local rivals Blackburn Olympic went on to be the first provincial team to actually win the F.A. Cup. Rovers finally won the F.A. Cup on 29 March 1884 at the Kennington Oval, with a 2-1 victory over the Scottish team Queen's Park F.C. Had it not been for this cup success the club would have folded leaving Blackburn Olympic the primary team in Blackburn. The same teams played the F.A. Cup final again the next season, with Blackburn Rovers again emerging victorious, with a 2-0 score. Rovers repeated this success yet again the next season, winning the final against West Bromwich Albion. For this three-in-a-row of F.A. Cup victories, the club was awarded a specially commissioned silver shield and given the unique privilege of displaying the club crest on its corner flags.

The 1885-86 season was the birth of the legal professional footballer, and Blackburn Rovers spent £615 on player wages for the season. Despite the new professionalism, it was a disappointing season for the club — an unusually high number of defeats would culminate in Rovers losing its three-year grip on the F.A. Cup when it lost 2-0 in the second round to the Scottish club Renton on 4 December 1886 at the Leamington Street ground. Further defeats followed in the other major cups that season.

The Football League and Ewood Park
On 2 March 1888, William McGregor, a Birmingham shopkeeper and a committee member of Aston Villa Football Club, sent a letter to five clubs — Blackburn Rovers among them — suggesting that twelve of the leading clubs should organise a series of home and away matches between themselves. With the introduction of professional players, it seemed natural that better organisation should be brought to the complex and chaotic system of friendly and competitive matches prevalent at the time. On 22 March 1888 John Birtwistle represented Blackburn Rovers at a meeting of a number of clubs at the Anderton Hotel in London. This meeting, and subsequent ones, led to the creation of the Football League, with Blackburn Rovers as part of it. Rovers finished the inaugural season of the league in fourth place, and unbeaten at home.

Blackburn Rovers again reached the F.A. Cup final on 29 March 1890 at the Kennington Oval. The club claimed the trophy, for the fourth time, by beating Sheffield Wednesday a hefty 6-1 — with left forward William Townley scoring three goals and becoming the first player to achieve a hat-trick in the F.A. Cup final. The summer of 1890 brought yet another significant event in the history of Blackburn Rovers with the decision to move again. The choice of new home was Ewood Park, and it remained the club's home for the next century or more.

Ewood Park was built in 1882, the idea of four local businessmen, and it had hosted a number of sporting events. In 1890 Blackburn Rovers purchased the ground and spent a further £1000 on refurbishments to bring it up to standard. The first match was played on 13 September 1890 against Accrington, with a 0-0 draw result.

The 1890-1891 season saw Blackburn Rovers win the F.A. Cup for fifth time against Notts County F.C. with a 3-1 victory — but this success marked beginning of a downturn in the fortunes of the club, and a long lean period would follow. During the 1896-1897 season the club stayed in the first division only as the result of a decision to increase the number of teams. The season did, however, mark the beginning of Bob Crompton's 50-year association with the club, both as a player and eventually as an F.A. Cup winning manager.

The final years of the 19th century brought little success for Blackburn Rovers and several narrow escapes from relegation.

Early 20th century
Blackburn Rovers continued to struggle during the early years of the 20th century, but the results began a gradual improvement. Major renovations were made to Ewood Park: in 1905 the Darwen End was covered at a cost of £1680 and the new Nuttall Stand was opened on New Year's Day 1907. During the first three decades of the 20th century, Blackburn Rovers were still considered a top side in the English league. They were league champions in 1912 and 1914, and F.A Cup winners in 1928, but the F.A Cup win was their last major trophy for nearly 70 years.

Mid 20th century
Blackburn Rovers maintained a respectable mid-table position in the First Division until they were finally relegated from the top flight (for the first time since the foundation of the league) in the 1935-36 season. They struggled in the second division for the next two seasons, until winning the Second Division title in the final season before the war.

When the league resumed after the war, Blackburn Rovers were relegated in their second season (1947-48) and remained in the second division for the following ten years. After promotion in 1958, they again returned to the mid-table position they had occupied in the earlier part of the century. During this time, they seldom made a serious challenge for a major trophy - although they did reach the 1960 FA Cup final, losing 3-0 to Wolverhampton after playing most of the game with only 10 men on the field, having lost full back Dave Whelan to a broken leg, the game being played in the days before substitutes were allowed. During the 1960s Blackburn Rovers had several players who made it into national teams. They were again relegated from the First Division in 1966 and began a 26-year exile from the top division.

1970s and 1980s: More frustration
During the 1970s, Blackburn Rovers bounced between the Second and Third Divisions, winning the Third Division title in 1975, but never mounted a challenge for promotion to the First Division despite the efforts of successive managers to put the club back on track. They went up as runners up in the Third Division in 1980 and have remained in the upper two tiers of the English league ever since. In 1988-89 they mounted their first serious promotion challenge for many years, and reached the Second Division playoff final in its last-ever season of the home-away two-legged format - but lost to Crystal Palace. A defeat in the 1989-90 Second Division playoff semi-finals brought more frustration to Ewood Park, but the following season saw the club taken over by local steelworks owner and lifelong supporter Jack Walker (1929-2000).

1990s: The Jack Walker revolution

Back at the top (1991-1994)
Jack Walker's takeover was too late to save Blackburn from finishing a dismal 19th in the Second Division at the end of the 1990-91 season, but the new owner had made millions of pounds available to spend on new players. Blackburn began the 1991-92 season with Don Mackay still manager, but he was soon sacked to make way for Kenny Dalglish - who had resigned as Liverpool manager some months earlier, after a six-year spell in charge had yielded five major trophies. Dalglish made several substantial signings during the season. After his appointment Rovers climbed the league, eventually opening up a significant gap at the top of the table. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Rovers would win the Second Division title, but an unexpected twist followed. Rovers lost six games in a row, causing them to fall out of the play-off places, but Rovers fought back and a 3-1 victory at Plymouth got Rovers to the final play off place. The club had got to the play-offs three times previously without success. The semi-final was against Derby County but Blackburn got off to a bad start as Derby went into a two nil lead. Blackburn recovered strongly in the second half to win 4-2. A 2-1 Derby win in the second leg couldn't stop Blackburn reaching the play-off final at Wembley where they beat Leicester City 1-0 thanks to a Mike Newell penalty. Newell, a former Leicester striker, had missed most of the 1991-92 season due to a broken leg, but his stylish comeback was enough to book Blackburn's place in the new Premier League for 1992-93 - ending 26 years outside the top flight.

Blackburn made headlines in the summer of 1992 by paying an English record fee of £3.5million for the 22-year-old Southampton and England centre forward Alan Shearer. Other expensive signings during the 1992-93 season included Chelsea defender Graeme Le Saux, Middlesbrough winger Stuart Ripley and Coventry striker Kevin Gallacher. An impressive Blackburn side remained in the title challenge for most of the season before finishing fourth in the final table, that season not quite enough for UEFA Cup place. Still, it was a remarkable comeback in the top flight after an absence of almost 30 years. Leeds midfielder David Batty and Southampton goalkeeper Tim Flowers were two key signings who helped Blackburn progress in 1993-94 and finish Premiership runners-up to arch rivals Manchester United. Blackburn broke the English transfer fee record again a few weeks later when paying Norwich City £5million for 21-year-old striker Chris Sutton. Sutton's prolific striking partnership with Alan Shearer would be dubbed the "SAS", a pun on "Sutton and Shearer" and the elite British special forces unit the SAS.

Premiership Champions (1994-1995)
Early exits from the UEFA Cup, F.A Cup and League Cup were frustrating for Blackburn in 1994-95, but turned out for the best as they could concentrate on the league and the challenge with arch rivals Manchester United for the Premiership title. During the season Blackburn suffered 2 highly controversial defeats to Manchester United. Firstly Henning Berg was wrongly sent off at Ewood Park with Blackburn leading 1-0 as TV replays clearly showed he had won the ball from Lee Sharpe, with Eric Cantona equalising with the resulting penalty and Manchester United going on to win 4-2, and secondly an equaliser from captain Tim Sherwood was disallowed controversially at Old Trafford when Alan Shearer was ruled to have fouled Roy Keane in the build up, with United taking the game 1-0. Blackburn led for most of the season but a 2-1 defeat at Dalglish's old club Liverpool on the final day of the season looked to have blown the club's dreams to pieces. But the news came through that their arch rivals Manchester United could only manage a 1-1 draw at West Ham United and the league title was back at Blackburn Rovers for the first time since 1914. Jack Walker's dream had come true: within five years of buying the club, he had taken them from strugglers in the old Second Division to champions of the Premier League.

Ray Harford era (1995-1997)
Kenny Dalglish moved upstairs to the position of Director of Football at the end of the championship season, and handed over the reins to his assistant Ray Harford (1945-2003).

Blackburn made a poor start to the 1995-96 season, and found themselves in the bottom half for most of the first half of the season. Rovers also struggled in the Champions League and finished bottom of their group with just 4 points. A 7-0 victory over Nottingham Forest on the day of the official opening of the redeveloped Ewood Park and a 4-1 win over Rosenborg (including a 9 minute Mike Newell hattrick) were two highlights of an otherwise disappointing season. Alan Shearer was instrumental again, becoming the first striker to score more than 30 Premiership goals in three successive season. Blackburn improved as the season went on, finishing seventh in the Premiership and narrowly missing out on a UEFA Cup place. Shearer was sold to hometown club Newcastle United for a then world record fee of £15million in the summer of 1996, and Blackburn were unable to find a suitable replacement.

A terrible start to the 1996-97 Premiership campaign saw Harford resign in late October with the club bottom of the division, having failed to win any of their first ten games. Relegation looked a real possibility, just two seasons after winning the league. But caretaker manager Tony Parkes turned the club's fortunes around and they eventually finished in a secure 13th place in the final table.

On 16 December 1996 with Rovers hovering above the relegation zone, it was announced at an Ewood Park press conference that Sven-Göran Eriksson had signed an "unconditional contract" with Rovers to take over as manager at the end of the season on 1 July 1997 when his contract with Italian Serie A club U.C. Sampdoria expired. The Swede had already visited Ewood Park and the club training facilities at Brockhall as well as sending representatives to watch Rovers' Premiership clashes on his behalf.
I am pleased and honoured to be coming to Blackburn Rovers next July but I am not in a position to give interviews about the next club I will be working with. I can only comment on the club I am currently employed by and that, of course, is Sampdoria.

The signing of such a high-profile manager (Eriksson had won the UEFA Cup, Portuguese Championship and Coppa Italia with previous clubs) was seen as a coup for Rovers. "We set out our stall to bring in a top man with experience of football on the continent if possible and we believe we have done just that" commented club chairman Robert Coar, "Sven's reputation is widely acknowledged across Europe and it is a major coup for him to agree to come to Blackburn from Serie A in Italy".

It was hoped that the signing of Eriksson would usher in a new era of success after the continuing difficulties following Ray Harford's disappointing tenure as manager. "Not only do I want us to be a top club in this country, I want European football to be the norm for us", said club owner Jack Walker. "If we get support as high as we want it and the public back us in every way they can then we could even consider the Walkersteel Stand".

Eriksson's move to Lancashire would not come to fruition, however. The Swede later opted to stay in Italy to enable him to spend time with his children following a divorce. He would instead go on to join Lazio in 1997, with whom he would later win the Italian Championship and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

Downfall (1997-1999)
Roy Hodgson was named as Blackburn's new manager in the summer of 1997, and appeared to have had a positive effect on the club as they qualified for the UEFA Cup at the end of his first season in charge. Indeed, Blackburn were one of the league's most entertaining sides, scoring 57 goals in 38 games, including 7 in one game against Sheffield Wednesday at Ewood Park. Chris Sutton and Kevin Gallacher led a prolific attack, and were able to help the team overcome the disappointing form of new signing Martin Dahlin. But Hodgson was sacked the following December with Rovers struggling near the foot of the Premiership, with key players injured for long periods and new signings struggling to settle. The £7.5m signing of young Southampton striker Kevin Davies was a disaster, with Davies only netting once in 24 games. Brian Kidd, the hugely successful Manchester United assistant manager, was named as his replacement but was unable to stave off relegation and their fate was confirmed in the penultimate game of the season - they drew 0-0 at home to Kidd's old club and did United a favour in their treble glory. Blackburn became the first (and so far, only) modern day former Premier League champions to be relegated.

The new millennium

Fighting for a comeback
1999-00 was a difficult season for Blackburn, who began the season as promotion favourites. Brian Kidd was sacked in October with the club hovering just above the Division One relegation zone, and first-team coach Tony Parkes was named caretaker manager once again. Parkes was eventually given the job on full-time time basis until the end of the season, but only remained in charge until March when the club appointed Graeme Souness as their new manager. Jack Walker died just after the start of the 2000-01 season, and the club dedicated its promotion challenge in memory of their benefactor. Promotion was achieved at the end of 2000-01, as Division One runners-up, behind Fulham F.C. Blackburn relied on the form of their young stars Matt Jansen, Damien Duff and David Dunn. They returned to the Premiership with a strong team and hopes of returning to their best.

Cup glory and European adventures
In 2001-02, the club marked their first season back in the Premiership with a tenth-place finish and their record signing, an £8m swoop for Manchester United's Andy Cole. More significantly, Blackburn won their first-ever League Cup by beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff - where Cole proved his worth by scoring the winning goal in the 69th minute after Matt Jansen had put Blackburn in front. Blackburn's progress under Souness continued in 2002-03 when they finished sixth on the last day, with a 4-0 win away at Tottenham, to qualify for the UEFA Cup for the second season running. During this time they signed a number of high profile players, such as Hakan Sukur and Dwight Yorke, proving they were a big club once again.

Souness's job was put on the line by a disappointing 15th-place finish in 2003-04, which saw the club go through an awful sequence of results and left the club needing a late turnaround, inspired by little known striker Jonathan Stead, to avoid relegation back to the English first division. Souness left just after the start of the following season to take charge at Newcastle. Rovers appointed Welsh national coach Mark Hughes as his successor, a key player in the club's promotion and League Cup successes a few seasons earlier. Hughes secured Blackburn's Premiership survival for the 2004-05 season as well as an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, with Rovers finishing 15th once again, with Hughes's arrival coinciding with the team becoming one of the most solid teams in the league, thanks to astute signings such as Ryan Nelsen and Aaron Mokoena, and good motivational skills. He was able to strengthen the setup for 2005-06 with the £3.2 million transfer of much sought-after Wales international striker Craig Bellamy from Newcastle United.

Return to Europe
Following a 1-0 victory over league champions Chelsea F.C., Blackburn secured the 6th place in the league and a spot in the UEFA Cup for the 2006-07 season - their third European qualification in five years, and their sixth foray into Europe since 1994. Striker Craig Bellamy repaid the faith shown in him by Hughes, as he scored 17 goals, 13 in the league in only 22 starts, including vital goals in the 3-2 wins over Middlesbrough and the 2-2 draw at Portsmouth. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who was signed by Graeme Souness but nurtured by Hughes to become a star, shined and attracted interest from a number of big teams for his performances and set pieces, including his two goals that won the game in a historic 2-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford.

After qualifying for Europe, Blackburn signed South African striker Benni McCarthy from Porto as a replacement for the departed Craig Bellamy. Blackburn suffered a disappointing start to the season with just one point picked up from a possible nine. On 25 August 2006 the UEFA Cup draw pitted Blackburn against Red Bull Salzburg. The return leg saw Blackburn advance to the next round, courtesy of a 2-0 victory (a 4-2 aggregate win) with a goal from McCarthy and a spectacular 30-yard volley from David Bentley. Blackburn were then drawn into Group E of the UEFA Cup group stages alongside Wisla Krakow, FC Basel, Feyenoord Rotterdam, and AS Nancy. Blackburn finished top of their group and were drawn against Bayer Leverkusen; they suffered a narrow 3-2 defeat in the first leg of their tie against Bayer Leverkusen, but a 0-0 draw in the second leg saw them bow out of the competition.

The club was busy during in the January transfer window, signing David Dunn, Stephen Warnock, Christopher Samba and Bruno Berner. Leaving the squad were Dominic Matteo, Andy Taylor (loan), Joe Garner (loan), Lucas Neill and Jay McEveley. In cup competitions, Blackburn were knocked out of the Carling Cup in the Third Round, after a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on 25 October 2006. They defeated Everton, Luton, Arsenal (after replay) and Manchester City in the FA Cup. Thereafter, they faced Chelsea for a place in the final. The semi-final was a tight affair, with Rovers missing a number of good chances to win in the second half. The team eventually went down 2-1 when Michael Ballack scored Chelsea's winner in extra time.

Rovers finished the season 10th in the league, with McCarthy netting 18 league goals. The club also qualified for the Intertoto Cup and drew Lithuanian side FK Vetra of Vilnius.

To prepare for the 2007-08 season Blackburn invested in three new players, signing Roque Santa Cruz, Maceo Rigters and Gunnar Nielsen.

On 22 July, Blackburn travelled to Vilnius and defeated Vetra 0-2 in the first leg of the tie, goals coming courtesy of Benni McCarthy and Matt Derbyshire. Blackburn won the second leg 4-0.

On 11 August, in their first Premiership game of the season they defeated Middlesbrough 2-1, coming from 1-0 down thanks to goals by Roque Santa Cruz and Matt Derbyshire.

On 16 August, Blackburn won 1-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round tie away against MyPa, thanks to another goal by Santa Cruz.

On 19 August, in their first home League game of the season, they gained a 1-1 draw against Arsenal in a very heated match, with 4 yellow cards given to Arsenal players and 3 to Blackburn. Ryan Nelsen was also shown a red card in the latter stages, after picking up his second booking. David Dunn scored his first goal on his Rovers return thanks to sloppy goalkeeping by Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. Robin Van Persie had put Arsenal in front, also due to sloppy goalkeeping, this time from Rovers goalkeeper Brad Friedel. On 8 September David Bentley became the first Rovers player to represent England for five years, with a subsitute appearence against Israel.

No comments: