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Jason Wilcox on the Blackburn Rovers revolution: Part four
IN the final part of our series looking at Blackburn’s rise to the Premier League, Jason Wilcox talks about the magical day at Anfield when Rovers lost the game but won the league title.
“IT should have been the start of lots of trophies and even greater moments.
"For some reason though we never achieved enough. That day at Anfield was the start of the end.”
On a sunny May afternoon in 1995 at Anfield, Blackburn Rovers’ wildest dreams were realised as Tim Sherwood lifted the Premier League trophy to confirm their fairytale rise from obscurity to champions.
Little more than four years after Jack Walker took control of the club, and tens of millions pounds later, Rovers had achieved their aim.
Jason Wilcox just wishes the ‘unforgettable adventure’ hadn’t stopped as quickly as it did.
“The biggest thing that disappoints me was we didn’t achieve enough,” he said.
“We had everything in place to kick on and do something even more special but it didn’t take off. I don’t know why.
“We beat Barcelona in a friendly the year before, that was amazing.
"Blackburn were playing Barcelona in an exhibition match and we beat them 3-1. This squad should have done something in Europe.”
Kenny Dalglish immediately stepped down from day-to-day management, Alan Shearer was sold to Newcastle United the summer after and a top six Premier League finish has only ever been achieved three times since.
The ‘if onlys’ will always be somewhere in Wilcox’s thoughts as he reflects back on how quickly the heroes of 1995 were dismantled but he knows nothing will ever take away from that moment they were crowned champions.
Wilcox himself had to sit out that day of destiny at Anfield due to a cruciate ligament knee injury but, sitting on the substitutes bench, got the best seat in the house for the drama that was to follow.
Just 90 minutes away from the ultimate prize, Rovers travelled to Liverpool on the final day of the season two points ahead of Manchester United, who were playing at West Ham United.
The title seemed destined for Ewood Park as Shearer fired Rovers ahead and United fell behind at Upton Park, but as Liverpool and Alex Ferguson’s men levelled the tension set in.
For one agonising moment it looked as though Jamie Redknapp’s late winner could break Rovers hearts until news filtered through from Upton Park.
Rovers had done it, they were champions.
Wilcox said: “It was a strange occasion. At that time, I just thought if we don’t win it today we will win it next year.
"I just felt so confident and that day when the whistle went we didn’t know the drama that was happening at Upton Park.
“I think we all put West Ham keeper Ludek Miklosko in our team of the year for the next five years.
"He was the first name on our nominations whether he was playing or not.
“The day was amazing. If you want to win it anywhere aside from Ewood Park then you would want to win it there, with Kenny’s history.
“The Liverpool fans were almost Blackburn fans that day.
“When we were walking around the Liverpool fans were singing for us.
"I remember Neil Ruddock coming in with champagne and stuff like that. Great memories.
“It is tainted a little bit for me because I was so disappointed I wasn’t in my kit and really involved.
“We performed poorly on the day, it probably was nerves.
"I remember talking to Henning Berg and he mentioned he couldn’t move his legs.
“You set out as a young kid and that is your dream to win the league.
“To do that was just amazing, especially as we had only been promoted three years before.”
The celebrations that followed were to last all summer as the efforts of the last four years had come together in one glorious moment the whole town were to revel in.
The thousands of Rovers fans at Anfield that day will never forget the date, while the following day a packed Ewood Park welcomed back their heroes in style.
“I was determined not to take my crutches on the pitch but I was limping about.
"If you look at the team pictures there was no way I could have gone on the front,” said Wilcox.
“Alan had just had his cruciate done and if you look at the team pictures he couldn’t bend down either.
"His knee won’t bend and I am at the back because there was no way I could bend down.
“I don’t remember anything about the game. I just remember being on the pitch and celebrating with the supporters and holding up the trophy. It was just amazing.
“There was a big party at Bistro French in Preston, it wasn’t for us though.
"It was a venue where Kenny and Ray had known the owner and us players had been in there several times.
“So we all gatecrashed the party. Whoever’s party it was suddenly it became a better one when we all turned up in our tracksuits.
"I think a Drifters tribute act were on but I can’t remember much about it, I have to admit.”
Within the weeks of celebrations though, the club underwent a major management reshuffle as Kenny Dalglish became director of football and Ray Harford was promoted to manager.
The following season Rovers were dumped out of Europe before finishing a disappointing seventh in the Premier League and, after Shearer’s sale and Dalglish’s resignation, the glory years were over.
“I think only Kenny, Ray and Jack could tell you what went on and I don’t think we will ever get to the bottom of that, despite all the rumours flying around,” said Wilcox.
“I think once Kenny went, Alan left shortly after and that is probably why we didn’t win it again. The two main people in the set-up.
"Something happened and if Kenny and Alan had stayed we would have recovered and won the league again.
"We would have learnt from the experience but the team split up.
“The euphoria around the place was still carrying on as well.
"We still had this immense feeling around the place and I think we rested on our laurels a little bit.
“It was difficult for Ray and it was a big transitional period.
"He had gone from being our friend to our boss. Kenny was never our friend he was our boss, Ray was our friend.
"It became difficult to all of a sudden change from calling someone Ray for four years to calling them gaffer.”
Click on the links below for parts 1 to 3 of the Jason Wilcox series.