Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League title in 1995. It’s a fact, it’s in the history books and everything. For Rovers fans today, it must still feel slightly unbelievable, though. These days, the blue and whites of Lancashire languish in the third tier of English football. But for one season, they were on top of the world. And in no small part, it was thanks to Jason Wilcox.
Wilcox’s career at Blackburn began back in 1987, when he was signed as a 16-year-old. There were some high prospects for his future, with the Rovers youth team manager at the time describing him as “one of the best young midfielders in English football”. No pressure then.
But he’d start to live up to this hype in his breakthrough season at Ewood Park in 1991/92 when he was just 20. Ever-present on the left wing that season, he would lead Blackburn to promotion to the top tier for the first time in 26 years.
Boom Time For Blackburn
It couldn’t have been a better time for Blackburn and Wilcox. The 1992/93 season marked the beginning of the Premier League era, and the club had a golden ticket to the big time. Local steel tycoon (and lifelong Rovers fan) Jack Walker had recently purchased the club and he invested millions into building a dynasty at Blackburn.
Spearheaded by legend Kenny Dalglish, the club were ready to mix it up with the elite. In the summer of 1992 they made their intentions abundantly clear, as they broke the English transfer record by signing Alan Shearer for £3.5 million – that season they finished an impressive fourth in the Premier League’s inaugural year.
The following season of 1993/94 saw another improvement, as they finished runners-up to Manchester United. Wilcox was playing a pivotal role in this growing success at Ewood Park. His nine assists and six goals were just another indication of the essential role he was playing in this developing Lancashire legacy. Blackburn were now valid title contenders going into the start of 1994/95, and they would duly live up to such expectations.
The final piece in the puzzle for Dalglish and Blackburn, came in the summer of 1994. They broke the English transfer record again, this time paying Norwich City £5million for Chris Sutton. The fabled ‘SAS’ strike partnership was then formed between Shearer and Sutton. 49 goals between the pair would prove invaluable in the chase for the Premier League title. But often overlooked in all of this, was the tireless work carried out by Stuart Ripley on the right of midfield, and by Jason Wilcox on the left.
1994/95 was the season where it all clicked into place for Rovers. They had a starting XI that had been perfectly moulded by ‘King’ Kenny, a team that looked nothing less than ready-made title winners. With Tim Sherwood and David Batty commanding the centre of midfield, the path was clear for Wilcox and Ripley to operate freely down the wings.
Wilcox was helped by a talented left-back sitting behind him in the name of Graeme Le Saux. Because of these two, Blackburn became a hard team to defend against down this side of the pitch. The whole setup was a perfect storm of tactics and players. And Blackburn would go on and win the title from Manchester United by just one single point.
Amidst all the celebrations, Wilcox was in many ways the unsung hero of the team. He may have not been as prolific as he was the season before, but his contribution was evident. His support and blistering ability to cross the ball, was a foundation of Blackburn’s championship-winning team. His off-the-ball ability and tireless work-rate may have gone unnoticed in a team of bigger name players. But without him, Blackburn probably wouldn’t have had enough to narrowly get over the line that season.
England Never Came Calling
Surprisingly, Wilcox never shone on the international stage. After the 1994/95 season, Wilcox hadn’t done enough in the eyes of then-England manager Terry Venables to feature in his plans. The following season did put him in contention for a place in England’s Euro 96 squad, though.
After an impressive first cap for England prior to the tournament, he looked certain of a place in Venables’ final 22 players. But he marginally missed out, and only two caps for his country would follow. It was a time when you couldn’t move for tireless pub bores complaining of England’s left wing problem; Wilcox was never seen as the answer, though.
His career did continue with Blackburn, whom he eventually captained in his later years at the club. Following their relegation from the Premier League in 1999, he moved to Leeds United and played a part in another surprising success story as they reached the final four of the Champions League in 2001. Eventually his career would splutter out through injuries and age, and today he’s looking after the next generation of superstars at Manchester City as their academy director.
And if he can teach them how to play like he did on the left for Blackburn in 94/95, they too could end up as Premier League title winners.