TWENTY years since the Premiership title triumph. Forty years since the Third Division championship success.

2015 has been a year of significant modern-day anniversaries for Blackburn Rovers.

But the promotion-winning season of 35 years ago will always hold a special place in the hearts of supporters fortunate to live through it.

At the end of the disastrous 1978-79 campaign the club found itself back in the third tier and back in the doldrums.

But fast forward 12 months and its fortunes had been transformed.

And for Glenn Keeley, a key member of the Rovers side that won promotion back to the Second Division at the first attempt, one man above all else has to take credit for that.

And that man is Howard Kendall.

“We were having a bit of a bad time,” said Keeley, a defensive rock and virtual ever-present in the 1979-80 season, which also saw Rovers enjoy an excellent run to the FA Cup fifth round.

“We had just got relegated and the club was a total mess and seemed to be totally ambitionless. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes that were disappointing to say the least.

“But then Howard came in and he was a breath of fresh air. He was a brilliant manager, the best I played under. He knew how to manage people, he knew how to organise, and he was a great tactician.

“You could see this guy was going to be a winner.”

Kendall, in his short two-year stay as Rovers’ player-manager, would prove to be one of the club’s best ever bosses.

But the then 33-year-old, who had no previous managerial experience, enjoyed a far from perfect start.

Rovers were floundering in 19th after taking just eight points from their opening 10 matches.

But Kendall’s man-management skills and eye for a player, aligned with a little help from one of his most trusted on-field lieutenants, turned the season around.

“We started off really poorly and I think we were third from bottom after six or eight games,” said Keeley, who played 418 times for Rovers between 1976 and 1987 after a making a £25,000 move from Newcastle United.

“I remember we went to Blackpool and got beat 2-1, and there was a little bit of despondency, but Howard just turned it on its head. He turned around and said, ‘guess how far we are off the top three? Four points. That’s just two wins. All we need is a goalscorer. If we get a goalscorer, things will change’. And I just remember thinking, ‘he’s right’.”

Lancashire Telegraph:

As it happened, Kendall got two.

Andy Crawford arrived from Derby County in October 1979 and went on to finish the season as Rovers’ 23-goal leading marksman.

But just as crucial was a positional change for the mercurial Duncan McKenzie.

“At the start of the season Duncan was playing up front and struggling because he was getting clattered and battered,” said Keeley, who was born in Essex but has made Lancashire his home.

“It was a rough, rugged league and I remember having a chat with Howard about how to get the best out of Duncan, and I made a little suggestion that perhaps he’d be better playing off the front players.

“Howard was very open to other peoples’ opinions and didn’t just listen to people’s opinions, he actively courted them. He would ask players individually what we thought. Then he would have a think about them, sift through them, and then come to his conclusions and make his own decisions.

“He was good enough to take my suggestion on board and, with Andy Crawford up front, he stuck Duncan into midfield, and all of a sudden, for Duncan, with that freedom, it clicked for him.”

And for the team.

A 2-1 defeat at Sheffield United on New Year’s Day, 1980 left Rovers nine points off the top three.

But what followed was nothing short of extraordinary as Kendall’s side won 14 and drew one of their next 15 matches – including a sequence of eight straight victories, which remains a club record – to move into third.

That remarkable run contained 11 of the 21 clean sheets they would keep in the league during the campaign.

While McKenzie and Crawford would fire 39 goals between them in all competitions, much of Rovers’ success was built on their superbly drilled back four of Jim Branagan, Keeley, Derek Fazackerley and Mick Rathbone, and goalkeeper Jim Arnold.

“Howard organised us better than anyone had ever organised us at the back,” said Keeley, a tough-tackling centre-back.

“Jim Branagan was a very good defender, very, very quick. Mick Rathbone, on the other side, was quick and had a bit on the ball, was disciplined but could get forward.  And then there was Faz next to me. He was just heaven to play with. He was very knowledgeable about the game and very steady. You got a performance out of him week in and week out, over hundreds of games. His consistency was amazing.

“So, while we had Duncan and Andy scoring goals, we realised we didn’t have one, more than two maximum in us, so it was important we defended well.

“We had a very well organised back four but we also had Howard in front of us most of time. He was a holding midfield player who you could knock the ball down to and he was comfortable taking it tight, and then developing counter-attacks on the break.

“It was a delight to have someone of his quality, not just as a manager, but as a player in front of you.”

Rovers sealed second spot and promotion, behind champions Grimsby Town, with one game to spare, when, roared on by thousands of travelling supporters, they beat Bury 2-1 on an unforgettable night at Gigg Lane on April 29, 1980.

“I just remember it being a combination of joy and relief,” said Keeley, who scored three of his 24 goals for the club during the 1979-80 campaign.

“I remember being so pleased we didn’t have to go to the wire, to the last game of the season.

“I was just so happy for the lads and for the club, and I was chuffed to bits for the supporters because they had stuck by us in some tough times.”

“Come the last game on the Saturday, we were still drunk!”

One year later Rovers went desperately close to a second successive promotion, to the First Division, when they missed out on third place to Swansea City on goal difference on the last day.

“I felt we were stunningly unlucky as we had a lot of injuries,” said fans’ favourite Keeley.

“At vital times we had vital players missing, Howard included, and I just felt if we’d had more luck with that, we’d have gone up again.”

But while Rovers were not destined for the top flight, Kendall was, and in May 1981 he returned to his beloved Everton.

Kendall went on to become the most successful manager in the Merseyside’s club history, winning two First Division titles, an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Keeley, a former England youth international who won an FA Youth Cup winners’ medal at his first club Ipswich Town, was not surprised.

He said: “I played under the late Joe Harvey at Newcastle United, who was a wonderful manager, and the late Bobby Robson at Ipswich, who was a very, very clever coach, and in many ways 20 years ahead of his time, and he turned Ipswich into a force.

“Yet out of all of them, for me, Howard was head and shoulders above. I thought he would become England manager.”

Keeley would later follow Kendall to Everton.

But his Goodison Park experience was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Tomorrow: My Everton despair but Wembley joy with Rovers