History of Blackburn Rovers F.C.

History of Blackburn Rovers F.C.

This is the history of the English football club Blackburn Rovers, from formation to present.

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 on the 5th 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, Ed Youngson (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 for matches. 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 1882–83 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 (along with Aston Villa) from the top flight (for the first time since the foundation of the league) in the 1935-36 season. Their final match prior to relegation was a triumph. By the last game of the season, they were already certain to be relegated, but at Villa Park, they beat the home side, thus dragging the only other team of the original Football League who had never been relegated, Aston Villa, with them. 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 when managed by Scot Dally Duncan. Rovers lost this game 3-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers after playing most of the game with only 10 men on the field. Full back Dave Whelan was lost during the game to a broken leg, the game being played in the days before substitutes were allowed. Despite losing, cup final man of the match was future Scotland manager Ally MacLeod (left winger MacLeod scored 47 goals in 193 appearances for Rovers). 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 Rovers 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 Rovers 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 Rovers got off to a bad start as Derby went into a two nil lead. Rovers recovered strongly in the second half to win 4-2. A 2-1 Derby win in the second leg couldn't stop Blackburn Rovers 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 Rovers place in the new Premier League for 1992-93 - ending 26 years outside the top flight.

Rovers 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. 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. Rovers 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", an acronym for "Sutton and Shearer" and the elite British special forces unit the SAS. Blackburn Rovers scored the 1000th goal in Premier League history. Mike Newell was on target in April 1993 in a 3-1 win at Nottingham Forest.

Premiership Champions (1994-1995)

Early exits from the UEFA Cup, F.A Cup and League Cup were frustrating for Rovers 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 Rovers suffered two highly controversial defeats to Manchester United. Firstly Henning Berg was wrongly sent off at Ewood Park with Rovers 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. Rovers 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 the famous 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 Rovers 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 four 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 nine minute Mike Newell hat-trick, which is still the fastest hat-trick in Champions League history) were two highlights of an otherwise disappointing seasons. Alan Shearer was instrumental again, becoming the first striker to score more than 30 Premiership goals in three successive seasons. Blackburn Rovers improved as the season went on, finishing seventh in the Premiership and narrowly missing out on a UEFA Cup place.

Alan Shearer was top goalscorer at Euro 96 and was linked to domestic and international clubs. The main talk in the national media was of Shearer joining hated rivals Manchester United. Blackburn Rovers, Alan Shearer (many Rovers fans didn't forgive Shearer for several years due to his denials) and the Lancashire Evening Telegraph constantly slammed the rumours especially the links with Manchester United. Local journalist Peter White stated that the club should never be forgiven should Shearer be allowed to join Manchester United.

However Shearer was sold to hometown club Newcastle United for a then world record fee of £15million in the summer of 1996, and Rovers were unable to find a suitable replacement.

It was clear that while Shearer was allowed to join Newcastle that Jack Walker would never have allowed him to join Manchester United. The chairman of Manchester United, Martin Edwards admitted this.

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. The club immediately began the process of recruiting his replacement. cite web |url=http://archive.thisislancashire.co.uk/1996/10/25/842137.html |title=Who's next after Harford? |accessdate=2008-02-10 |date=1996-10-25 |work=Lancashire Evening Telegraph |publisher=Newsquest Media Group]
*Manchester City.{ Meanwhile 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.

The signing of a high-profile manager (Eriksson had won the UEFA Cup, Portuguese Championship and Coppa Italia with previous clubs) was seen as exactly what was required. "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

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 [redeveloping] the Walkersteel Stand". [p.32, "Lancashire Evening Telegraph", Tuesday 17 December 1996]

Eriksson's move to Lancashire would not come to fruition, however. Eriksson went back on his word much to the anger of Jack Walker. He would instead go on to join Lazio in 1997, with whom he would later win the Italian Championship and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

Renewed hope and downfall (1997-1999)

Roy Hodgson joined the club from Inter Milan in the summer of 1997, and appeared to have had a positive effect on the club. He marked his arrival with the signings of highly rated Swedish striker Martin Dahlin and promising defender Stephane Henchoz. Rovers were one of the league's most entertaining sides, scoring 57 goals in 38 games, including seven 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 Dahlin, who struggled with a back injury. UEFA cup football was secured with a 6th place finish, and there were plenty of entertaining games, such as a 4-3 defeat to Leeds which saw all 7 goals coming within the first 32 minutes, and a 5-3 success over Leicester at Ewood Park. Although some of these results went against them, it summed up Hodgson's newly installed attacking ideology. With European football coming up, and the prospect of a title challenge on the horizon, things looked promising at the start of the 1998/99 season.

However, Rovers made a poor start to the campaign and Hodgson was sacked in December less than an hour after a 2-0 home defeat to bottom side Southampton, a result that locked Rovers in the relegation zone. A series of injuries to key players, such as Tim Flowers and Sutton, combined with the failure of a number of costly signings, meant the Ewood Park side were firmly in trouble. The £7.5m signing of young Southampton striker Kevin Davies was a disaster, with Davies only netting once, against Charlton in a rare win, in 24 games. To make matters worse, team captain and midfield enforcer Tim Sherwood was sold to Tottenham Hotspur, leaving the side without a leader. Brian Kidd, the hugely successful Manchester United assistant manager, was named as Hodgson's successor. The popular coach had initial good success, taking his team out of the relegation zone and winning the Manager of the Month award for February. However, the turning point was a bitterly disappointing 3-3 draw versus Southampton at the Dell, when they had led 3-1. The club slipped away, despite a memorable and morale raising 3-0 away win at title challengers Aston Villa, and relegation was confirmed with a scoreless draw at home to Manchester United in the penultimate game of the season. Kidd was left with a battered and bloated squad, with the club having spent heavily and desperately over the campaign. Nathan Blake, Christian Dailly, Jason McAteer, Keith Gillespie, Sebastien Perez and Lee Carsley, mid season arrivals all, had failed to impress. So, just 4 years after lifting the Premiership title, Blackburn Rovers were now back in the second tier of English Football. They are, to date, the only side to both win and be relegated from the English Premier League.

The new millennium

Fighting for a comeback

1999–00 was a massive disappointment for Rovers, 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. The final humiliation of the season came in the form of a 1-4 home defeat to Manchester City, a result that secured them promotion, something Rovers should have but did not achieve.

Jack Walker died just after the start of the 2000–01, and the club dedicated its promotion challenge in memory of their benefactor. Fittingly, they returned to the Premiership after a much improved season, albeit that they finished second to Fulham. Blackburn Rovers relied on the form of their young stars Matt Jansen, Damien Duff and David Dunn and on the performances of goalkeeper Brad Friedel, whom Souness had previously coached at Galatasaray and whom he signed on a free transfer when he arrived at Rovers. With timely contributions from future manager Mark Hughes and others, second place was secured. They returned to the Premiership with a strong team and harboured optimistic dreams of returning to their best.

Return and cup glory

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 Rovers 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 Rovers in front. The Jansen and Cole partnership excited the Ewood Park faithful after the latter's arrival in January, and both were disappointed not to make the 2002 England World Cup squad. Before the season began, Turkish playmaker Tugay Kerimoglu, Italian hotshot Corrado Grabbi and full back Lucas Neill were signed to strengthen an already solid squad. With David Dunn and Damien Duff both shining, the season was a memorable one. A mid season slump during the Worthington Cup campaign was arrested, and despite the poor form of new boy Grabbi, the team established themselves as a strong side of high entertainment value. This was underlined by another seven goal haul, as they destroyed West Ham United 7-1 in October. Their cup success meant a place in the UEFA Cup for 2002-03.

The following season, Souness signed Dwight Yorke from Manchester United, thus reuniting the Trinidad & Tobago international with former United strike partner Cole, a duo which had been massively successful for Manchester United during the late nineties. The signing was equally necessary though, as Matt Jansen was involved in a motor cycle accident during pre-season that left him with serious head injuries. He would play little part in the campaign. The lack of form from Grabbi and Egil Ostenstad, coupled with the retirement of veteran Mark Hughes meant new attackers were needed.Blackburn Rovers progress continued as they finished sixth on the last day, with an impressive 4–0 win away at Tottenham, to qualify for the UEFA Cup for the second season running. Again it was Duff and Dunn who shone brightest, while goalkeeper Brad Friedel was one of the league's best players, as the American stopper provided a series of vital and breathtaking performances throughout the season. Highlights including a league double over defending champions Arsenal, a deserved victory over Manchester United at home, and the 5-2 thrashing of Newcastle United. The signing of legendary Turkish striker Hakan Sukur in December proved their growing calibre and prestige. However, the club had to be content with a disappointing exit from the UEFA Cup to eventual finalists Celtic, and the form of Yorke and Cole in attack was not as good as expected. Despite this, the club went into the 2003-04 with great expectations.

2003-2004: Setback

At the start of 2003–04 the sale of fan favourites Damien Duff and David Dunn meant that Rovers were always going to struggle to emulate the previous season's form, and there was anger from fans at their sales. In particular, Dunn, who had demanded a transfer after falling out with his manager. That his cut price £5.6 million move was to the lower placed Birmingham City merely compounded the frustration. The £17 million raised from Duff's sale to Chelsea meant that transfer funds would be available. Souness replaced Duff with the highly rated Australian winger Brett Emerton from Feyenoord, while Lorenzo Amoruso, the Rangers defender, was also signed. Stephen Reid, Markus Babbel and Dino Baggio were also drafted in, the latter two on season long loan deals, while Henning Berg was among the departures.

The season started promisingly, despite the gloom, as newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers were defeated 5-1 at Ewood. Emerton and Amoruso shone, and there were talks of a title challenge. A last gasp equaliser at Bolton Wanderers helped morale, as did the signing of Rangers captain Barry Ferguson for £7.5 million. However, results dipped, and the club began a long sequence of home defeats that left them in relegation danger. Souness's job was put on the line, and the club eventually were left needing a late turnaround, inspired by little known striker Jon Stead, to avoid relegation back to the English first division. 15th place was secured by a run of 4 wins from the final 6 games, sparked by a 4-3 victory at Fulham, and also included three 1-0 wins over Leicester, Everton and Manchester United. Stead scored the winner in three of these games, and grabbed 6 overall. The poor form of key players like Dwight Yorke, Emerton and Andrew Cole were cited as causes of the slip up while star signing Ferguson missed half the season with a knee injury. However, given Stead's form, better times were expected of the following season.

2004-2008: Return of the Spark

Souness left just after the start of 2004-05 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 Rovers 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. Following a 1–0 victory over league champions Chelsea F.C., Blackburn Rovers 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 arch rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford.

After qualifying for Europe, Rovers signed South African striker Benni McCarthy from Porto as a replacement for the departed Craig Bellamy. Blackburn Rovers 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 Rovers against Red Bull Salzburg. The return leg saw Rovers 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. Rovers were then drawn into Group E of the UEFA Cup group stages alongside Wisła Kraków, FC Basel, Feyenoord Rotterdam, and AS Nancy. Blackburn Rovers 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 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, Rovers 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 [ [http://www.scorespro.com/lives2/goals.php?f=211983 Blackburn Rovers - Vetra: 4 - 0] Match report from ScoresPro.com] of Vilnius.

To prepare for the 2007–08 season Rovers invested in three new players, signing Paraguay international Roque Santa Cruz from Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, Dutch under-21 star Maceo Rigters and young goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen. In the January 2008 transfer window, Robbie Savage left for Derby in a £1.5m (rising to £2m) transfer to seek first team football as well as youngsters Andy Taylor and Mark King moving clubs. Young Northern Ireland defender Jonathan Flynn joined from Ballymena United on a contract until 2011. Midfielders Anders Karlsen, Jason Koumas and Michael Bradley were all linked with moves to Rovers during the window, though moves for Bulgarian striker Valeri Domovchiyski and Senegal midfielder Amdy Faye broke down. On the 6 February, Rovers confirmed an application to next season's Intertoto competition. Rovers qualified for this season's UEFA Cup through the Intertoto and by the end of April it was certified that there would be no other route into the competition as it is no longer mathematically possible to attain UEFA Cup qualification via a top-five finish. However, Blackburn lost 4-1 to Birmingham City on the final day of the season to deny them the Intertoto Spot, which went to Aston Villa. But despite this disappointment Rovers were never at any stage during the season outside the top ten and made their best start to a campaign for 10 years and Santa Cruz brilliantly shone scoring 23 goals in all competitions. [http://www.premierleague.com/page/blackburn-rovers]

Ince Perfect

After the 2007-08 season, Mark Hughes released three senior players who were out of contract - defenders Stephane Henchoz and Bruno Berner and goalkeeper Peter Enckelman. Tugay was given yet another one year contract which included a possible move into coaching as well as playing, whilst young defender Martin Olsson was also given a new contract. On top of this, Stephen Warnock was also handed a new contract and was also called into the England squad, where he won his first cap.

In May, Chelsea manager Avram Grant was sacked as Chelsea manager, leading Mark Hughes to become the leading domestic favourite to take over the post. On June 2, preparations for the new season took a 'slight' hitch when it was revealed manager Mark Hughes was to be holding talks about becoming the new Manchester City manager. With talks under way, Rovers had to face the possibly of looking for a new manager for the 08/09 season. On 4 June 2008 the departure of Mark Hughes and his assistant Mark Bowen, was confirmed by both Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City, Mark Hughes left the club in a very healthy position and with an excellent record. In fact his statistics beat that of any previous predecessor's bar Kenny Dalglish. Several names were mooted to replace Hughes, including former players Mike Newell and Alan Shearer. Other managers linked included, Henk Ten Cate, former England Manager Steve McClaren and former Rangers boss Dick Advocaat. Former Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce had been linked also, a fact that a large portion of the Rovers fans reacted very angrily to resulting in a fan group with over 1500 members being created.

Paul Ince, who took Milton Keynes Dons to the League Two title in 2007-08, was also linked with the manager's job. On 19 June, BBC Sport revealed that Paul Ince was set to replace Hughes as Blackburn manager. In the final few days of the selection process it was also revealed that Michael Laudrup was interested in the job. [Cite news | title = Laudrup Enters Rovers Manager Race| publisher= Sky Sports | date = 2008-06-19 | url = http://msnsport.skysports.com/story/0,19528,11095_3710662,00.html] On 22 June 2008, it was officially confirmed by the Blackburn Rovers Website/club, that Paul Ince had indeed been brought in to manage Rovers, signing a three-year deal at the club [Cite news | title = Paul Ince Rovers New Manager | publisher = Rovers official website | date = 2008-06-22 | url = http://www.rovers.premiumtv.co.uk/page/NewsDetail/0,,10303~1332318,00.html] . Ince was presented to the media on Tuesday June 24. Ince's first job though as the Blackburn Manager is to persuade some of the wantaway players to stay. [Cite news | title = Warnock - Exciting times lay ahead! | publisher = BBC Sport | date = 2008-06-23 | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/b/blackburn_rovers/7469927.stm] . On 4 July, Paul Ince signed experienced coach Archie Knox, who will be taking over as 1st team coach for the oncoming season.

Before the start of the 2008–09 season, regular goalkeeper Brad Friedel and England international winger David Bentley left the club. Goalkeeper Paul Robinson then became Ince's first signing on the 25th July for a fee of £3.5 million.

Ince's reign as Blackburn Rovers manager got off to the perfect start, with a 3-2 away win against Everton FC in the first game to the 2008–09 season; which saw a first goal for Andre Ooijer at Rovers. Newly promoted vice-captain David Dunn and Roque Santa Cruz provided the other goals. Striker Roque Santa Cruz signed a new contract shortly after the start of the season to provide a major boost for Ince.

Club takeover

In January 2008, the Dan Williams-led consortium interested in taking the club over withdrew interest. The club are prepared to sell and other groups are still interested. [Cite news | title = Investor confirms Blackburn talks | publisher = BBC Sport | date = 2007-06-19 | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/b/blackburn_rovers/6748019.stm]

On Sunday 20 April 2008, Blackburn Rovers were yet again linked with another consortium led bid. This time from new JJB Sports owner Chris Ronnie, and a Icelandic based consortium. Whether this will lead to a formal bid being presented to the Walker Trustees, is still yet to be seen. [cite news | url=http://www.thisislancashire.co.uk/sport/sportheadlines/display.var.2211225.0.blackburn_rovers_in_dark_over_chris_ronnie_takeover_report.php | title=Blackburn Rovers in dark over Chris Ronnie 'takeover' report | author=Neild, Andy | publisher=This Is Lancashire | date=2008-04-21 | accessdate=2008-04-21]

On Sunday 8 June 2008, Blackburn Rovers were again linked to Chris Ronnie's consortium in the National Press. In which the Sunday People reported "Chris Ronnie is closing in on his takeover of Blackburn Rovers", the aritcle also went on to say "Ronnie has had four (4) meetings with Rothschilds, the financiers selling the club for the Jack Walker Trustees, and there has been 'significant progress."

Whether or not any takeover of the club results from this will become very clear within the next 4 weeks from 8 June to 8 July. [cite news| url=http://www.people.co.uk/sport/football/tm_headline=ronnie-rush-job%26method=full%26objectid=20600075%26siteid=93463-name_page.html | title=Chris Ronnie closing on 'takeover' of Blackburn Rovers FC | author=Nixon, Alan | publisher=Sunday People | date=2008-06-08 | accessdate=2008-06-08] .

On 29 June 2008 it was reported that businessman Nabeel Chowdery revealed he is interested in a £40million takeover of Blackburn Rovers. [Cite news | title = New Investor Interested In Talks | publisher= Sunday People | date = 2008-06-29 | url = http://www.people.co.uk/sport/football/tm_headline=new-bid-for-rovers%26method=full%26objectid=20625814%26siteid=93463-name_page.html]

On 6 July, it was revealed that Chris Ronnie had pulled out of a bid to buy the club, and that Chowdery had a bid of £30 million pounds rejected. [Cite news | title = Ronnie Loses Interest/Chowdery bid rejected | publisher= Sunday People | date = 2008-07-06 | url = http://www.people.co.uk/sport/football/tm_headline=rovers-hold-out-for-pound-40m%26method=full%26objectid=20634095%26siteid=93463-name_page.html]

References


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