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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK

Boom and bust the Blackburn way

Kenny Dalglish managed Rovers to the Premiership

It took four years for money to take Blackburn from second class citizens to the kings of English football, and exactly the same amount of time for Rovers to return to the lower division.

Nigel Adderley reports on the ups and downs at Ewood
Jack Walker has spent almost 80m on players since he took over the club in 1991, yet Wednesday night's goalless draw with Manchester United leaves the team exactly where they were eight years ago.

When the steel magnate took over Blackburn were one of the longest-standing residents of what was then Football League Division Two.

[ image: Blackburn fans have come to expect success]
Blackburn fans have come to expect success
Seemingly unable to get promotion, they had avoided following their Lancashire neighbours down the divisions.

Walker wanted to see his boyhood idols recapture their former glories, and the way he went about it set a 1990s football trend.

The recipe was simple yet expensive. Invest heavily in the team and employ a high profile manager to attract the players needed for success.

Kenny Dalglish was the man Walker turned to, just as Newcastle later appointed Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle became Chelsea manager.

Ian Ferris, editor of fanzine 4,000 Holes: Angry and upset
Dalglish needed a new challenge after leaving Liverpool, and he wasted no time in spending Walker's cash.

The first signing was left-back Alan Wright from Blackpool, but within a month bigger names were arriving as 2m was spent on Colin Hendry, Gordon Cowans and Mike Newell.

That figure was a small fortune back in 1991, and it had been doubled before the end of the season brought promotion, albeit via a dubious penalty decision in the play-offs.

[ image: Mike Newell was the first 1m signing in the revolution]
Mike Newell was the first 1m signing in the revolution
The timing for an ambitious club was perfect. Summer 1992 saw the start of the Premier League cash bonanza, which Blackburn embraced fully by spending 3.3m on Alan Shearer.

Another 5m was spent before the 1992/3 season ended with Rovers fourth in the new league as Ewood Park itself enjoyed a massive facelift.

The club became known to some as "Moneybags Rovers" and the spending increased still more as 18m was found for stars such as Graeme Le Saux, David Batty and Paul Warhurst.

By now Blackburn were challenging for the league title, winning it in 1994/5 thanks to record signing Chris Sutton's partnership with Shearer.

[ image: Jack Walker applauds another success in 1994]
Jack Walker applauds another success in 1994
Walker's dream was fulfilled, yet this was the point it all started to go wrong.

"Rovers missed a gaping opportunity to establish themselves as a footballing superpower," says local journalist Jim Wilkinson.

"From that championship day, you've never got the feeling that the club's been progressing."

Dalglish decided that day-to-day management was not for him, and the new director of football handed the reins to assistant Ray Harford.

The lucrative Champions League became an embarrassment as disappointing performances culminated in an on-field fight between Le Saux and David Batty.

And the quality of the signings began to fall - with Dalglish gone and most other clubs enjoying millions from the Premiership, Rovers were no longer as attractive to the very best.

'Comfort zone'

Fanzine editor Ian Ferris says many recent signings have treated Ewood Park as a "comfort zone" while the club's record goalscorer Simon Garner accuses some of simply "picking the cheques up".

[ image: Brian Kidd: Has to do it all again for Jack Walker]
Brian Kidd: Has to do it all again for Jack Walker
So where now? The club's fall from grace is almost without comparison in recent times, although Manchester City's recent plight is a stark warning to Rovers.

In the last two decades only Aston Villa have been relegated following a championship win, with Graham Taylor calling what he found "an absolute shambles" as he took over in 1987.

A similar resuscitation act is surely required at Ewood, although much has changed since Taylor brought Villa back in one season.

With players on Premiership wages, more cash will be needed simply to either pay them or find replacements, although Kidd says he needs more than money.

"I don't think pound notes are going to do it, we need a spirit and heartbeat in this club," he said after Wednesday's relegation. "You need to develop it, build it up."

Fanzine editor Ferris backs Kidd to continue the job, and the younger players coming through the ranks encourage him.

"I'm not convinced we'll come back first time," he admits. "But if Kidd gets the right players around him, we will come back in a couple of seasons."

If that does not happen the Rovers revolution will go down in history for all the wrong reasons - as a big adventure that went horribly wrong.

Good buys and bad buys
80m worth of players bought since 1991

Oct 91: Alan Wright (Blackpool) 500,000
Nov 91: Colin Hendry (Man City) 700,000
Nov 91: Gordon Cowans (Aston Villa) 200,000
Nov 91: Mike Newell (Everton) 1.1m
Feb 92 Tim Sherwood (Norwich) 500,000
Mar 92: Roy Wegerle (QPR) 1.1m
Mar 92: Chris Price (Aston Villa) 100,000
Mar 92: Duncan Shearer (Swindon) 700,000
Mar 92: Matt Dickins (Lincoln) 200,000

Jun 92: Lee Makel (Newcastle) 160,000
Jul 92: Stuart Ripley (Middlesbro) 1.2m
Jul 92: Alan Shearer (Southampton) 3.3m
Aug 92: Wayne Burnett (Leyton Orient) 80,000
Aug 92: Frank Talia (Sunshine GC, Aust) Free
Sep 92: Nicky Marker (Plymouth) 500,000
Oct 92: Simon Ireland (Huddersfield) 200,000
Dec 92: Patrik Andersson (Malmo) 800,000
Jan 93: Henning Berg (Lillestroem) 400,000
Mar 93: Kevin Gallacher (Coventry) 1.5m
Mar 93: Graeme Le Saux (Chelsea) 650,000

Aug 93: Andy Morrison (Plymouth) 150,000
Sep 93: Paul Warhurst (Sheff Wed) 2.7m
Oct 93: Ian Pearce (Chelsea) 300,000
Oct 93: David Batty (Leeds) 2.75m
Nov 93: Tim Flowers (Southampton) 2m

Jul 94: Chris Sutton (Norwich) 5m
Aug 94: Tony Gale (West Ham) Free
Aug 94: Robbie Slater (Lens) 300,000
Mar 95: Jeff Kenna (Southampton) 1.5m

Oct 95: Lars Bohinen (Nottm Forest) 750,000
Oct 95: Billy McKinlay (Dundee United) 1.75m
Nov 95: Graham Fenton (Aston Villa) 1.5m
Mar 96: Niklas Gudmundsson (Halmstad) 1m
Mar 96: Garry Flitcroft (Manchester City) 3m

Jul 96: George Donis (Panathinaikos) Free
Feb 97: Per Pederson (Odense) 2.5m

Jul 97: Anders Andersson (Malmo) 500,000
Jul 97: Stephane Henchoz (Hamburg) 3m
Jul 97: Patrick Valery (Bastia) Free
Jul 97: Martin Dahlin (AS Roma) 2.5m
Sep 97: Alan Fettis (Nottingham Forest) 300,000
Sep 97: Tore Pedersen (St Pauli) 500,000
Oct 97: John Filan (Coventry) 700,000
Feb 98: Callum Davidson (St Johnstone) 1.75m

Jul 98: Kevin Davies (Southampton) 7.5m
Jul 98: Sebastian Perez (Bastia) 3m
Jul 98: Darren Peacock (Newcastle) Free
Jul 98: Jim Corbett (Gillingham) 500,000
Aug 98: Christian Dailly (Derby) 5.2m
Oct 98: Nathan Blake (Bolton) 4.25m
Oct 98: Oumar Konde (FC Basle) 500,000
Oct 98: Dario Marcolin (Lazio) Loan
Dec 98: Keith Gillespie (Newcastle) 2.35m
Dec 98: Ashley Ward (Barnsley) 4.5m
Jan 99: Jason McAteer (Liverpool) 3.5m
Jan 99: Matt Jansen (Crystal Palace) 4.5m
Mar 99: Lee Carsley (Derby) 3.25m

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