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Jason Wilcox on the Blackburn Rovers revolution: Part three
In the third part of our series on Rovers’ rise to the Premier League, Jason Wilcox talks about the special bond between the players and the man who made it all happen, the late, great Jack Walker.
HE was simply known as Uncle Jack. Even now Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers’ love affair shines from Ewood Park like a beacon.
From the state of the art stands, to the envied Brockhall Academy, to the Premier League replica trophy standing proudly in their trophy cabinet. None of it would have been possible without the club’s favourite ever son.
A memorial statue of the Black-burn-born steel magnate still greets visitors to Ewood today as the memories of Rovers’ Premier League triumph remain there for all to see.
Starting out as a Rovers fan on the terraces in the 1950s watching local heroes Bryan Douglas and Ronnie Clayton, Walker inspired a new chapter in the club’s history, possibly the finest, when he took control in 1991 and ploughed millions into his boyhood club.
His money, made in the development of Walker Steel, suddenly propelled the club among football’s big boys and facilitated the arrival of the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton and ultimately the 1995 Premier League title.
Former Rovers winger Wilcox was still in his early 20’s, having progressed through the ranks, as the direction of the club’s future changed forever and he admits the contributions of one man can never be under estimated.
He said: “We had heard all these rumours about Jack, how he had won a nightclub in a game of pool. These rumours just circulate, or on the toss of a coin he won something else. We never knew what is true.
“We never really knew him. He was a man of mystery to us but he was a great man and so generous and a real Blackburn Rovers fan. What he did for the club was immense.
“To put his mark on his home town club the way he did, that will never happen again. He came into the dressing room, a real humble fella and none of us knew how powerful he was or how wealthy he was. He was one of us, he was like Kenny.”
Life changed around the East Lancashire outfit almost instantly on Walker’s investment as Liverpool and Scotland legend Dalglish was appointed as the club’s manager, with Ray Harford as his assistant, and money made available.
Promotion to the Premier League was quickly achieved but this was just the start of the Walker revolution. Over the next couple of years three sides of Ewood were demolished and totally rebuilt.
Alan Shearer’s £3.3million arrival from Southampton in the summer of 1992 broke the British transfer record and Rovers were starting to spring to national prominence.
All the time ‘Uncle Jack’ was building his football empire though he never strayed away though from what was crucial in the construction of a title-winning team, looking after the people who were part of it.
Wilcox remembers: “He took us over to Jersey one particular year to play his team First Tower. He flew us over on one of his planes and we had a pre match meal at a fish restaurant somewhere. We were all sat on these long tables, with Jack, Kenny and Ray in the middle of everything.
“Jack said to Kenny ‘can the lads have a glass of wine with the pre match meal?’. Kenny said ‘yeah, just the one’. So these bottles of wine just started coming, coming, coming and coming. They just didn’t stop.
“In the end we were just all absolutely drunk as skunks.
“I don’t know if Jack did it on purpose because he wanted his team to win or at least give them a chance. That would sum Jack up because he was a real clever bloke.
“I remember seeing Stuart Ripley being sick during the national anthems before the game. The first ball that came he couldn’t even see the ball. We just about won in the end. We just had a fantastic time.
“We went to this nightclub, that we were all saying Jack had won, and everything was on the top floor. Stan Boardman was on and he got pelted because no one was listening to him, we were all partying.
“Everything was free. I remember seeing David May walking round with two bottles of champagne in his hand. What was going on? I had never heard of champagne before.”
While Walker’s wealth remained something of legend to Wilcox and company, the man himself refused to put himself on a pedestal as he mixed with everyday life around the club.
In Dalglish and Walker, Rovers had two of life’s success stories but Wilcox believes it was their down to earth approach that made the transition so comfortable.
Wilcox said: “Kenny had done everything in the game and Jack had done everything in business. It was the perfect marriage and there were no airs and graces.
“When we went back to the hotel on that trip to Jersey, Jack was playing this game, flick a 10 piece in a wine glass and Jack cleaned up from all of us. I don’t know how long he had been practicing that? Who practices that?Maybe that is where he started making his money.”
The death of Jack Walker on August 17, 2000, aged 71, left the town in mourning, as thousands converged on Ewood to sign books of condolence and leave personal and floral tributes to a man who had touched the lives of so many people.
The journey was over but the memories never will be for anyone who witnessed Rovers’ rags to riches tale that still sees them as one of only four clubs to have ever lifted the Premier League trophy.
Wilcox said: “Jack had a private funeral. I think a couple of the lads asked if they could attend. If we all knew we could have done that, we would have done that.
“I will always have my memories of him though.
“I have played for three clubs since but it seems as though I played for Blackburn yesterday.
“It is embedded in your memory and what Jack did for the club and the town is amazing.
“If you ask anyone who has played for Blackburn they will say it is a special club.
“Your family settles quickly because everyone is a nice person.
“They are all top people at this club and you can never take away what we achieved.”
Click on the links below for parts 1, 2 and 4 of the Jason Wilcox series.
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