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Dalglish: Stepping down as Blackburn Rovers boss was emotional
AS far as turning points go, the moment Kenny Dalglish stepped down as manager was a pretty big one for Blackburn Rovers. He admits the decision was far from easy.
It was the summer of 1995 and Dalglish had just remarkably guided Rovers to the Premier League title.
Unquestionably he had achieved what he set out to do when he took over as Rovers boss four years earlier.
It would always have been difficult to top or even match what had happened during that incredible 1994/95 campaign.
On June 25, 1995, it was announced that Dalglish was stepping down as boss.
His assistant manager Ray Harford would take over, and Dalglish would move upstairs to a new role as director of football.
Ultimately, it did not go well for Rovers. With few signings that summer to capitalise on their success, they finished seventh in the Premier League and crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage.
Never again would they reach the heights of 1995.
Dalglish’s decision was a selfless act, out of appreciation for the work Harford had done during his time at Ewood Park.
But that did not make it any easier.
“It was emotional, you don’t make any decision without emotion,” Dalglish reflects now.
“It wasn’t an easy decision but Ray deserved his chance.
“He was a brilliant coach and I felt he deserved his shot at management at the club.
“So although it wasn’t easy, I felt it was the right decision.”
The decision to become Rovers manager in the first place was perhaps a little easier.
Dalglish had resigned as Liverpool boss only eight months earlier, wanting a break from football after the stresses of management and the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, when he had attended the funerals of so many of those who died.
The chance to take over a mid-table Second Division club at that point might not have seemed the most attractive offer at first glance, but Dalglish quickly understood how determined Rovers were to become so much more than that.
“I just got a phone call from Bill Fox the chairman, asking if I would be interested,” Dalglish recalls.
“Bill came to see me, and I met Jack Walker too. It wasn’t an overnight decision, but it wasn’t prolonged either. I took the job because of the people there.”
During his discussions with the club, Dalglish was keen to make sure that he had the right backroom staff around him.
Harford was brought in after a spell in charge of Wimbledon, while club stalwart Tony Parkes stayed on the coaching staff after a creditable spell as caretaker manager.
“I really wanted Tony to be part of it because he completely understood the club and its history,” Dalglish said.
“He had done really well to take the team from 18th in the table when Don Mackay left to halfway when I arrived in October.
“Tony and Ray Harford were both fantastic for us.”
Under Dalglish, attendances at Ewood Park grew steadily. An average gate of 8,126 in 1990/91 rose to 13,251 by the end of his first season in charge, and reached 25,272 by the Premier League title winning campaign of 1994/95.
“By the end we were getting fantastic crowds in the Premier League, but even at the start with 10,000 there the supporters were great,” he said.
Rovers had plenty of work to do to reach the top flight when Dalglish took over.
He might have been forgiven at time for taking a long-term strategy for getting Rovers into the Premier League, but the Scot’s philosophy has always been a simple but pretty effective one.
He had no thoughts of ‘five-year plans’.
“No, we just tried to win as many games as we could and see what happened,” Dalglish says now.
“Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?”
Indeed once Dalglish arrived, Rovers were in no mood to hang around.
They won 14 of their next 20 league games to charge to the summit of the Second Division table, before things got a little more dramatic towards the end of that 1991/92 season.
“We were top of the league but I think we hardly won a game once we were top,” Dalglish remembers.
“I think we were sixth or seventh going into the final game of the season at Plymouth, but then David Speedie scored a hat-trick to get us into the play-offs.
“Then we were 2-0 down against Derby after 12 minutes in the play-offs, but we came back to win 4-2. Kevin Moran scored a header for us in the second leg at Derby.
“Then obviously David Speedie was brought down for the penalty in the final at Wembley and Mike Newell stuck it away.
“To get promotion in that first season was a great achievement.
“The final whistle was an emotive moment, for the players and for everyone.”
Emotion is never far away when Dalglish describes his time at Ewood Park.
It is why he always enjoys talking about Blackburn Rovers.
If Liverpool undoubtedly mean so much to him, so too do Rovers.
In four years as manager at Ewood, a bond was formed that will never be broken.
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