How Rovers changed the game for the bet­ter

> Trail­blaz­ers Black­burn Rovers changed the game to pave way for ‘money no ob­ject’ own­ers into the PL for the rise of Chelsea’s and Manch­ester City’s suc­cess

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - BY MARK OG­DEN

IT MAY well pass vir­tu­ally un­no­ticed, but to­day marks the 25th an­niver­sary of the day that English foot­ball changed for­ever. The fact that the sig­nif­i­cant event hap­pened in a cramped room in­side a crum­bling Sec­ond Divi­sion sta­dium in a de­clin­ing Lan­cashire mill town makes it is even more re­mark­able 25 years on, but when Jack Walker un­veiled Kenny Dal­glish as the new man­ager of Black­burn Rovers, a blue­print was laid which has since trans­formed the land­scape of the game, not only in this coun­try, but across the globe.

The bit­ter irony for Black­burn, cur­rently lan­guish­ing in the Cham­pi­onship rel­e­ga­tion zone, is that they now ap­pear to be be­ing de­voured by the mon­ster that they cre­ated, with the club suf­fer­ing at the hands of one of those for­eign in­vestors tempted into the English game by the prospect of en­joy­ing the same suc­cess and pro­file which Walker earned as foot­ball’s first ‘money is no ob­ject’ bene­fac­tor.

Walker, the def­i­ni­tion of a lo­cal boy made good, was worth £300m when he kicked off his own ver­sion of fan­tasy foot­ball in 1991 by in­vest­ing the pro­ceeds of the sale of his Black­burn-based steel com­pany to re­vive the for­tunes of one of English foot­ball’s most his­toric clubs.

Prior to Walker, no foot­ball club owner had been quite so pas­sion­ately am­bi­tious about their team. Here was a man liv­ing the dream, pump­ing his for­tune into the club he had sup­ported as a boy.

Walker, not one for grand public state­ments, had claimed that his am­bi­tion was to make Manch­ester United look ‘cheap’ by bank-rolling Black­burn all the way back to the sum­mit of the game for the first time since win­ning the Foot­ball League Cham­pi­onship in 1913-14.

No­body be­lieved him, of course, un­til Dal­glish walked through the doors of Ewood Park on Oc­to­ber 12, 1991, to give his grand plan the ul­ti­mate cred­i­bil­ity.

Dal­glish, the most suc­cess­ful man­ager in the English game at the time, looked to have been lost to man­age­ment af­ter leav­ing Liver­pool eight months ear­lier due to the de­mands of the job and the psy­cho­log­i­cal strain of the Hills­bor­ough dis­as­ter, but Walker had tempted him back.

Three months ear­lier, Black­burn had at­tempted to lure Eng­land cap­tain Gary Lineker from Tot­ten­ham to be­come their Pied Piper, but the move was greeted with in­credulity and a threat to re­port Rovers to the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion for bring­ing the game into dis­re­pute.

Dal­glish was the game-changer, how­ever, and from that point on, Black­burn’s tra­jec­tory was north­wards, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Pre­mier League ti­tle in 1995.

As Tony Parkes, the long-serv­ing Black­burn stal­wart, ob­served dur­ing the club’s re­mark­able rise, “I had to read the pa­pers to find out who we were buy­ing next.”

Yet in be­tween 1991 and 1995, Walker and Black­burn pro­duced the magic for­mula for glory which has since been copied vir­tu­ally to the let­ter by Ro­man Abramovich at Chelsea and Sheikh Man­sour bin Zayed al Nahyan at Manch­ester City – two clubs who were no threat to the elite un­til the money ar­rived.

Oth­ers have, of course, tried and failed to follow in Walker’s foot­steps, but what Chelsea and City have done in re­cent years, Black­burn did 25 years ago.

The big-name man­ager, fol­lowed by the record-break­ing sign­ings – Black­burn broke the Bri­tish trans­fer record twice in three years by re­cruit­ing Alan Shearer and Chris Sut­ton – and the lav­ish in­vest­ment in sta­dium re­de­vel­op­ment and train­ing ground build­ing.

Ewood Park be­came one of the most mod­ern and im­pres­sive arena in the Pre­mier League in the mid-1990s hav­ing been trans­formed from the ram­shackle, red-brick, pre-war ground it had be­come prior to Walker’s ar­rival.

And hav­ing shared their train­ing ground with dog walk­ers dur­ing the days when Walker se­cretly funded the wages of Ossie Ardiles and Steve Archibald dur­ing the late1980s, Black­burn be­came the first lead­ing club to build a pur­pose-built 21st cen­tury train­ing com­plex when Walker funded the con­struc­tion of Brock­hall Vil­lage in 1994.

Chelsea and Abramovich fol­lowed a decade later, with Jose Mour­inho and Di­dier Drogba as­sum­ing the roles of Dal­glish and Shearer, and the club’s state-of-the-art Cob­ham train­ing ground built by their Rus­sian owner’s in­vest­ment.

And at City, Robinho, Car­los Tevez and Roberto Mancini all played their parts in fol­low­ing the Black­burn blue­print – City even had their Lineker mo­ment when try­ing and fail­ing to sign AC Mi­lan at­tack­ing mid­fielder Kaka – be­fore Abu Dhabi money and fore­sight funded the re­de­vel­op­ment of the Eti­had Sta­dium and con­struc­tion of the in­cred­i­ble City Foot­ball Acad­emy train­ing com­plex.

Would Abramovich and Sheikh Man­sour have turned their at­ten­tion to the Pre­mier League had Jack Walker not shown that an in­di­vid­ual’s per­sonal wealth could up­set the es­tab­lished or­der?

When Howard Ken­dall was Black­burn man­ager in the 1980s, he was asked to re­duce the amount of milk used in the play­ers’ tea and make sure his mail went sec­ond class, but Walker’s money lifted them from be­ing an also-ran to the most feared club in the land.

Now, of course, Black­burn oc­cupy the un­en­vi­able billing as one of the most ridiculed, with In­dian own­ers Venky’s un­pick­ing ev­ery strand of Walker’s legacy to leave the club on the brink of the obliv­ion of rel­e­ga­tion to the third tier.

But Black­burn were once trail­blaz­ers and it started 25 years ago this week.

Whether it was all worth it, only Walker, who died in Au­gust 2000, could an­swer that, yet the game is now un­recog­nis­able from that which he shook up with his foot­balling earth­quake back in Oc­to­ber 1991. – The In­de­pen­dent

Kenny Dal­glish (left) and Tim Sher­wood show off the Pre­mier­ship tro­phy won by Black­burn Rovers

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