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Jason Wilcox on the Blackburn Rovers revolution: Part one
JASON Wilcox is often regarded as one of Blackburn Rovers’ unsung heroes in their glory years of the mid-1990s, but there is no doubting that the England winger played a big part in the club’s success, culminating in the Premier League title win of 1995. Here, in the first of a four-part series on Wilcox, he tells of the extraordinary team spirit that binded Rovers together at the time.
JASON Wilcox’s tales of Blackburn Rovers’ Premier League glory years do not sound like your typical formula for masterminding a historic title-winning success.
From smashed coach windows, to hotel water fights, to dressing room bust-ups.
Rovers’ class of 1995 perhaps didn’t take the traditional route towards joining football’s elite.
But now, 15 years on from lifting the Premier League trophy, former Rovers winger Wilcox reflects on their less orthodox approach to glory, insisting their unique team spirit and unity was the key ingredient and was something that could never be copied.
Some will always accuse Kenny Dalglish’s men of ‘just buying the title’ after Jack Walker’s money facilitated the way for Rovers’ incredible rise from footballing obscurity to English champions in the space of little more than three seasons.
Wilcox is the first to admit their rise would never have been possible without ‘Uncle Jack’s incredible contribution’, but is quick to shoot down the critics by claiming ‘you couldn’t buy our spirit’.
He said: “People say Blackburn bought the title, we didn’t buy the title at all.
Kenny Dalglish brought in players who no one else wanted, they were not the players in demand or else other clubs would have got them.
“Kenny just saw things in players, we had to all fit into a jigsaw puzzle.
"If there was a great player out there with a big ego there was no way Kenny would have touched him. There were no egos.
“There are not a lot of players who sit together in a dressing room and think ‘we are all good and can beat anyone’.
"We knew we would all back our team-mates up, run through a brick wall for your mates, your manager and for Jack. I feel privileged to have been part of that.
“Players might earn millions nowadays but to have sat in that dressing room with a bunch of players you really got on with and like as people is a one-off. It was special.”
That memorable May afternoon back in 1995, when Tim Sherwood lifted the Premier League trophy at Anfield, will live long in the memories of any Rovers fan lucky enough to have witnessed the occasion.
But for a 39-year-old Wilcox, still living in the north west, the abiding memories came from some of the ‘everyday moments’ that just summed up the special atmosphere around Ewood Park.
As he recalls some of the antics he and his team mates got up to from his Worsley home, he still bursts out laughing at their childish behaviour and believes it was the camaraderie that paved their way to triumph.
Many of the stories will stay between the men who went on to carve their name forever in the club’s history, but just a taste of what went on leaves no doubts over the enormity of the team spirit.
“Tim Sherwood got the emergency hammer on the coach and said ‘here is a game for you’,” Wilcox recalled from one trip to a London away game.
“There were six or seven of us and we had to tap the window with the hammer, pass it on, and the next person would have to hit it harder.
“We had not even got out of Blackburn and Tim tried to put me under pressure by hitting the window hard.
"The whole window just shattered and you couldn’t see out of it.
“Tim threw the hammer to Chris Sutton and he was desperately trying to put it back where it came from in the ceiling.
"Obviously the coach driver stopped and we had to kick the window out. We were driving down to London.
“So we tell the driver it must have been a stone from the other side of the road and the coach driver wasn’t having that.
"Kenny came up and he must have known but he tried to protect us saying it was the heat from the ovens.
“Then we bet Mike Newell he couldn’t sit there at the side of the bare window all the way to London.
"God know what he was earning at the time but he sat there for a tenner from each of us with no top on all the way to London the day before a game.”
The likes of Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton, Graeme Le Saux, David Batty, Tim Flowers and Tim Sherwood were added to Rovers' squad by Dalglish as the former Liverpool boss quickly built a team to be feared throughout the country.
But, while they were clearly not short of talent on their way to fourth position in 1993, then second in 1994 before claiming the Premier League crown, Wilcox insists the secret was togetherness rather than a group of 'great individuals'.
He said: “We had such an unbelievable team spirit, you couldn’t even repeat half of the stuff.
"Nothing bad, but just mucking around. Water fights in hotels, it was just everyone was messing around.
“We would not have got away with it if we weren’t winning.
"Kenny turned a blind eye to the pratting about as long as we were winning.
“Don’t get me wrong, if we weren’t performing we knew about it.
"But you had this mentality where we were all as one and if we got a rollicking we deserved it.
"We were getting rollickings the right way.
“Kenny was good in that he brought a lot of players in who were happy to be part of the squad.
"We had a group of players who were playing every week but the ones who weren’t were happy not to kick up a fuss.
“No one mentions Nicky Marker but players like that were fantastic for the team. He did an unbelievable job whenever he was called upon.”
With brave heart Colin Hendry marshalling the troops at the back, Batty and Sherwood dictating the midfield and Shearer bullying defences, a lack of strong characters was certainly no problem for Dalglish's Rovers.
Sir Alex Ferguson constantly tried to unsettle Manchester United's new rivals with his usual mind games, Devon Loch anyone?, but with Dalglish leading from the front the boys from Ewood showed they were made from sterner stuff.
“Kenny protected us so much,” Wilcox said. “He wouldn’t take any rubbish off anyone.
"He was standing up to Alex Ferguson, he was the biggest name in football. That played a massive part because it gave you confidence.
“We were all strong in our own right though. There were no shrinking violets in there.
"We were falling out at half-time, having a go at each other, even on the pitch.
“Tim Sherwood was our leader but we were all leaders around that.
"We were strong enough to take the arguments and afterwards we were all laughing and joking about it because we had won.”
“By the time we finished second in the league, we knew we were going to win it one day.
"We were all so hungry. No one had won anything and we knew as a collective group we had a real good chance.
"We just thought it was a matter of time and we were right.”
Click on the links below for parts 2 to 4 of the Jason Wilcox series.