Up until about a year ago, any article about Blackburn’s title win in 1995 would have began along these lines…
Just five teams have lifted the Premier League trophy since its inception in 1992: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City… and Blackburn Rovers?!
Leicester have squarely taken the crown of least likely Premier League champions, after delivering a title win that absolutely nobody – and we really mean nobody – could predict last year. But that doesn’t mean we should forget about Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn – the, err, second most remarkable triumph in PL history.
— Football Memories (@footballmemorys) December 4, 2016
In truth, Blackburn’s success didn’t carry quite the same romance as that of Leicester twenty years later. Whilst Ranieri’s side entered the 2015-16 campaign with the aim of beating the drop, the team from Lancashire had narrowly missed out on the title the previous season.
Throw in the fact that they were essentially the Manchester City of the 90s – bankrolled by a wealthy investor hell-bent on conquering English football (Blackburn owner Jack Walker was at least a life-long Rovers fan though) – and neutrals weren’t exactly lining up to congratulate them.
Dalglish, backed by Walker’s millions, had assembled a team of hungry players – largely young, largely British – who bought into the club’s vision of knocking Manchester United and Alex Ferguson off of their perch (something Souness’ Liverpool couldn’t quite manage).
The Scot was a proponent of an orthodox flat 4-4-2, which by today’s standards may seem hopelessly archaic to some, but at the time was more or less cutting edge (indeed, most teams, even on the continent, found room for two strikers).
Stylistically, Blackburn kept things simple, with tough tackling midfield duo Tim Sherwood and Mark Atkins (in place of the injured David Batty) holding fort, and industrious wingers in Jason Wilcox and Stuart Ripley whipping in the crosses. They spear-headed the attack with a couple of out-and-out number nines, with John Sutton – the less prolific of the two – tasked with winning knock-downs and running the channels (yeah, it sounds a little old school, but it was the mid-90s).
The other forward was Alan Shearer – who, at the time, was the most expensive player in the history of English football, having signed from Southampton for a whopping £3.6m (oh, how times have changed). The 24-year-old hit 34 league goals, which remains the record haul to this day.
Remarkably, Blackburn managed to win the title despite suffering a late season title collapse. Dalglish’s side actually lost three of their last five games, and even went into their final match – away at Anfield – needing a win to guarantee bringing the trophy back to Ewood Park. On the day, they were beaten, thanks to a last minute Jamie Redknapp goal.
Down in London, however, Manchester United failed to beat a dogged West Ham side, who held them to a 1-1 draw. It was rare that Fergie’s team ever bottled a must win game – but this was one occasion where the Reds lost their nerve, and a grateful Blackburn limped over the finish line.
Rovers never became a permanent power in English football, their team slowly siphoned off by emerging competitors as they struggled to meet expectations in the seasons that followed. They were dumped out of the Champions League the next year at the first hurdle, and eventually relegated under Brian Kidd in 1999 (about a decade later, the Venky’s arrived, and… well, let’s just say 1995 seems like a long time ago).