Before Leicester’s heroics in 2015/16, there was Blackburn Rovers in 1994/95.
Maybe not so much of an underdog as Leicester, but still a remarkable triumph nonetheless. Still to this day, they are the only town to ever win the Premier League, and the first team to take the title off Manchester United in the early years of the Premier League era.
Blackburn’s winning season is now mostly remembered by the SAS strike partnership of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, who between them scored 49 of Blackburn’s 80 league goals. Shearer was awarded the Golden Boot with 34 strikes to his name.
The impressive squad was more than just these two strikers however. The likes of Graeme Le Saux, Tim Sherwood and Tim Flowers in goal all contributed to Blackburn’s phenomenal achievement. Equally the impact of manager, Kenny Dalglish, cannot be understated either.
Dalglish came to the job after a successful spell at Liverpool; this included three league titles and two FA Cups in six years. He left Liverpool in February of the 1990/91 season with his team three points clear in the league and still in the FA Cup. He was brought into Blackburn seven months later to replace the outgoing Don Mackay who was released following successive play-off defeats.
After a frustrating 2nd place finish in 1993/94 – in which Manchester United won the league by eight points – Rovers started the 1994/95 season with a 1-1 draw against Southampton. It was not long however before Ewood Park became a fortress with 3-0 and 4-0 wins over Leicester and Coventry respectively all coming in the first month of the season.
In fact, it was not until a 3-1 victory against Aston Villa on the 21st September that they conceded their first home goal. This run of impressive form was coupled with a 2-1 away victory at Chelsea and holding Arsenal to a goalless draw at Highbury.
The Rovers remained undefeated until a 2-1 defeat to Norwich City on the 1st October. In the run up to Christmas, there were impressive wins against Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Spurs and QPR, with the only negatives being a loss to Manchester United and a 0-0 draw with Leicester.
The Rovers started the new year in a similarly impressive fashion – losing only five games in the second half of the season.
Blackburn’s main title contenders were again Manchester United. In a tight-fought battle, it came down to the last day of season where after Blackburn lost to Liverpool, United only had to beat West Ham to ensure the title would remain in Manchester. Instead they drew 1-1 and the Premier League made its way up the M66 to Lancashire.
Blackburn’s rise through the divisions is a remarkable story. When Dalglish took over they were languishing in the bottom half of the second division. Dalglish managed to promote Blackburn at the first time of asking and from then on finished 4th, 2nd and eventually as champions.
They were of course helped along by the heavy investment of owner and steel magnate, Jack Walker. The influx of money he provided allowed them to bring in players such as goalkeeper Tim Flowers for a then British record for a goalkeeper of £2.5million from Southampton. Equally Alan Shearer was a British record when he was brought in for £3.6million, also from Southampton. However, it would be wrong to assume that their success solely came down to the investment of the owner. Many of the players integral to their title win were brought in for reasonable or even cheap fees – Colin Hendry and Graeme Le Saux were brought in for £700,000 each and Sutton for a British Record £5,000,000.
With the benefit of hindsight, Blackburn’s style of play has been regarded as pragmatic and uninspiring, relying too heavily on Shearer to score goals. However, they were in fact an organised, balanced and well-rounded team. With the likes of Hendry and Henning Berg marshalling central defence with no-nonsense wingers Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox running the channels and producing ball after ball for Sutton and Shearer to latch on to. The 80 goals scored that season were more than any other team and at a rate of 1.90 goals a game. As well as this, only Manchester United had a better goal difference than Blackburn with +49 to the Rover’s +41. United, along with Liverpool, were the only two teams to concede less goals than Blackburn in the league.
The aftermath of Blackburn winning the league was not so rosy. They failed to impress in Europe and were relegated four years later. Rovers now hold the unfortunate title of being the only Premier League winning team to have dropped to the 3rd division of English football.
Today, Blackburn find themselves in the Championship with the heady days of Premier League victory seeming still very distant. However, for the fans who were there 23 years ago and for those who were not but have had the stories passed down, they have something they will always be able to cherish and cling onto.
There may have been a fall from grace for the Rovers, yet they can claim something which only five other teams can; they are Premier League champions.