GRAEME Souness has admitted that he regrets his decision to leave Blackburn Rovers – believing he would still be in management today if he had not made the move to Newcastle.

In an exclusive interview with the Lancashire Telegraph about his time at Rovers, Souness revealed that he now regards his switch from Ewood Park to the north east in 2004 as a mistake.

The former Liverpool star guided Rovers back into the Premier League before winning the Worthington Cup during four years at the club.

“I definitely regret leaving.” he said.

“I had four of my happiest years in management at Blackburn and I do think now it was a mistake to leave.

“Newcastle had gone almost 50 years without winning a major trophy in England and like many people before me and after me, I thought I could be the one who could win that trophy.

“I had won 11 trophies in three countries, and 25 trophies in my career and a player and a manager, and I thought I could be the man to do it.

“But if I hadn’t left Blackburn then, I would probably still be in management now.

“My time at Newcastle soured my experience of management.”

Souness endured a difficult working relationship at Newcastle with chairman Freddy Shepherd, in contrast to the support he got at Rovers.

At Ewood he worked alongside chief executive John Williams, secretary Tom Finn and chairman Robert Coar.

Coar remains a director at Rovers but many supporters believe the departures of Williams and Finn proved to be costly, as the club has since struggled under Venky’s rule.

Souness said: “I had tremendous support from John Williams.

“He would come down to the training ground every lunchtime, or certainly three or four times a week, and any air any concerns he might have had. It would drive me mad sometimes.

“But I knew it always would come from the heart and I was cool about that.

“If he had anything to say, he would say it to my face. At most clubs it isn’t like that.

“I enjoyed working with John, with Tom Finn and the chairman at the time, Robert Coar.

“That’s not always the case at clubs, certainly it wasn’t at my next club.

“Blackburn were a very well run club.”

Souness, now based on the south coast, says he does not know enough about recent events at Rovers to comment on Venky’s and the club’s decline in recent years.

But he does hope that they can return to the top flight, having been the manager that guided Rovers to their last promotion into the Premier League in 2001.

“I hope they can get back to the Premier League,” he said.

“They’ve got great facilities at the training ground, and it’s a really good club.”


Graeme Souness remembers the moment when he knew Blackburn Rovers simply had to secure promotion in 2001.

It was a year earlier, little more than a month after his arrival at Ewood Park.

Manchester City were the visitors for the final match of the season. Rovers led at half time through Matt Jansen, and hit the woodwork four times during the game.

But City somehow came back to win 4-1 and secure automatic promotion to the Premier League.

“I remember Manchester City coming to Ewood Park and winning promotion and thinking I don’t want that ever happening again, I want it to be us celebrating,” Souness recalls now.

“You don’t want other teams celebrating on your pitch.”

Rovers finished 11th that season, in their first campaign after relegation from the top flight.

Brian Kidd had been sacked in November 1999 and Tony Parkes put in charge until the end of the season until John Williams was able to lure Souness to Ewood in March 2000.

“I’d just had two years with Benfica,” Souness said.

“I was contacted by John Williams and I met him at a service station on the M6.

“I didn’t take too long to think about it because I could see they had a squad full of quality who for whatever reason had been relegated and Brian Kidd had left.

“But it was a still a club with a high profile that wanted to get back to the Premier League.”

He started with a draw at Fulham and then successive victories over Birmingham, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United.

But the former European Cup winner knew that his first two months were always preparation for a promotion bid in 2000/01.

His first full season did not start as well as had been hoped.

The club was rocked by the death of benefactor Jack Walker, the man who had done so much to help Rovers win the Premier League five years earlier.

In mid-October, they sat 15th in the table.

But with a squad that contained the likes of Matt Jansen, Damien Duff, David Dunn, Garry Flitcroft, Henning Berg and later Mark Hughes and Brad Friedel, Souness always knew promotion was within their capabilities.

“When I arrived at the club it was March so it was just a case of assessing the squad and then the aim was to push for promotion the year afterwards,” he said.

“Even when we didn’t have a great start to that season no-one panicked, everyone stuck together.

“It was a case of what can we do better, not what can my team-mates do better.

“I always had faith that with the characters we had and the quality of player we had that we would be good enough to go up.

“We had some big characters. We had Alan Kelly and John Filan before we brought Brad Friedel in, and we had Garry Flitcroft and Craig Short. Having people like that is vital because you spend so little time with players that you need your senior professionals to be big characters.

“Fulham were a very good side that year so it was a difficult league, but I always felt we were good enough.

“As a manager it is a good feeling to know that, and to know that there is that togetherness.”

From mid-October, Rovers rarely looked back. In 36 league games between then and the end of the season, they lost only three times.

One of those matches was to Jean Tigana’s Fulham, the runaway champions who had the likes of Louis Saha at their disposal.

There was an East Lancashire derby win at Turf Moor in December, followed by the famous April Fool’s day thrashing of Burnley at Ewood.

A 5-0 win was their biggest triumph over the Clarets since 1929.

Ultimately the second promotion place came down to a race between Rovers and Sam Allardyce’s Bolton.

Importantly, Rovers had won 4-1 at the Reebok Stadium in February.

And automatic promotion was confirmed in their penultimate game of the season, a midweek match at Preston North End.

Preston were then on the way to the play-offs – managed by David Moyes – now the boss of Manchester United.

But Rovers won 1-0 thanks to Matt Jansen’s goal.

“I remember we still had another game left after that one,” Souness said.

“It was a tight game and Preston were our local rivals so they didn’t want us celebrating on their pitch either.

“But I remember Garry Flitcroft gave a real captain’s performance in that game.

“It was a fantastic night.”

If promotion back to the Premier League was a major target achieved, the progress under Souness would not stop there.

Most promoted clubs would be content with 17th place in their first season in the top flight, but the Scot knew his squad was still capable of more.

“Although Jack was no longer alive, the money hadn’t completely dried up so I had some funds as well,” he says.

Among his signings was Tugay, bought from Rangers for £1.3m.

The Turkish international’s supreme skills would make him a legend in eight years at the club, before retiring in 2009.

He shied away from the media during his time at Ewood, citing the language barrier, and jovially declined the request for an interview after his recent return to the club for a charity match.

“He had a great sense of humour and he knew more English than he let on sometimes.” Souness said about his dealings with the midfielder in the dressing room.

“He’s a great guy and I’m still in contact with him to this day.

“Tugay’s passing game in the middle of the field was a big part of our style of play.

“He had great technique, he was a fantastic passer of the ball.

“I worked with Tugay when he was a young man at Galatasaray and I just wish I had been able to bring him to England earlier in his career, because he would have been an even better player then.

“I worked with some great players – John Barnes, Matt Le Tissier, Davie Cooper at Rangers.

“I would have to put Tugay up there with them.”

Rovers would secure a creditable top half finish of 10th in their first season back in the top flight, but the campaign was best remembered for the club’s victory in the Worthington Cup final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

It was the first time they had won a major cup competition since 1928.

“It was a big achievement,” Souness said.

“Some big clubs were trying to win the competition, we beat Arsenal in that run and obviously Tottenham in the final.

“I remember in the final that Flitty (Flitcroft) couldn’t play, he was suspended.

“So I put Mark Hughes in midfield and he terrorised Tottenham.

“Andy Cole got the winning goal and Brad Friedel made a couple of good saves as well.

“Okay, Swansea and Birmingham have won it in recent years, but the gap is a big one and it is hard to win those major trophies.

“I did see that as a real achievement.”