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Blackburn Rovers were Full of Wembley joy
THE short life span of the Full Members Cup will never be regarded as a major chapter in English football, but try telling Blackburn Rovers fans that it wasn’t important.
Almost 30,000 Rovers fans travelled to Wembley on March 29, 1987 to see their Second Division heroes beat top flight Charlton, with match winner Colin Hendry taking a giant step towards securing his long lasting love affair with the Ewood Park outfit.
Also known as the Simod Cup and the Zenith Data Systems, the competition for teams in the top two divisions was only in existence between 1985 to 1992 – with Rovers one of only two teams outside the top division to lift the trophy.
An unlikely hero from the afternoon was reserve goalkeeper Vince O’Keefe, who had spent most of his previous five years at the club playing second fiddle to Terry Gennoe, and he believes the afternoon could have proved even more significant for the club than anyone would have imagined.
“I heard it was the day that Jack Walker really made his mind up to take control of Blackburn Rovers,” said O’Keefe. “I have to say I don’t know if it is true but that is what I have long since been told.
“Blackburn Rovers’ following that afternoon was incredible and I was told afterwards that seeing such numbers, Jack realised the true potential there still was at the club and started to think what could happen if he put his money in.
“If that was true then obviously it was a pivotal moment for the football club. It may be a wives tale but it is a nice way think that about that final. I guess no one will ever really know.
“Why did it catch Blackburn Rovers fans’ imagination? A lot of people tell me it had something to do with the problems Rovers fans had in getting tickets for the 1960 FA Cup final.
“A lot of people felt bitter about that I understand and I think a lot saw this as their chance to make up for a lost opportunity. This was their day at Wembley.”
Introduced following the ban on English clubs in Europe, Rovers were just one of a number of clubs who didn’t even bother entering the competition in its inaugural season in 1985.
By the time a young Colin Hendry, a Scottish defender-cum-centre forward, took advantage of Charlton goalkeeper Bob Bolder’s flailing attempt to gather Ian Miller’s cross to fire home the winner five minutes from time though, it was a guaranteed a place in Rovers’ hearts forever.
O’Keefe said: “It just built up in momentum. I remember we beat Huddersfield in the early rounds and we played in front of their lowest post war crowd of about 800. I think Noel Brotherston scored the winner in extra time.
“I remember beating Ipswich in the semi final. An hour and a half before kick off a young Colin Hendry was sitting in the dressing room about to make his debut because Glen Keeley had to pull out due to personal reasons.
“He played that night and did exceptionally well. He was actually having a quiet game in the final until he scored. But those last few minutes at Wembley were a nightmare. It seemed to drag for so long.”
O’Keefe, now 54 and working as a football agent and a financial consultant in sport, thought that Full Members Cup triumph could have been the start of a new lease of life for his own career.
Having been signed from Torquay United by Bob Saxton in 1982, O’Keefe was restricted to limited appearances due to Gennoe’s form between the posts but that Wembley afternoon was to prove as good as it got.
“People often forget that I snapped my leg badly soon after that Full Members Cup win,” he said. “Everyone talks about my performance at Wembley but forget what happened after. Perhaps I had been too loyal at Rovers but I had spent those five years as second choice to Terry.
“We were very close though and I was pushing him all the way.
“Terry was going to retire the season after we won the cup and having been patient for so long that was going to be my chance.
“I started the following season flying but, just four games in, I snapped my leg. Terry returned and enjoyed a second wind. That was it for me. That is football I guess.”
From there, O’Keefe went on to play for Wrexham – where he helped them beat Arsenal in the FA Cup – and Exeter before hanging his boots up and starting a career with the PFA.
Having also worked as a coach at QEGS, O’Keefe, now based in Whalley, has since worked as an agent and financial consultant, and has looked after the likes of Chris Sutton, Martin Keown, Nick Barmby and Ben Foster.