SINCE leaving Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 1995, Premiership winners’ medal wrapped proudly around his neck, Tony Gale has forged a successful career in the media.

But his life may have gone in a very different direction had he not turned down an offer to remain at Ewood Park from the man who was instrumental in first bringing him to the club.


After playing an important but unlikely role in Rovers’ remarkable rise to the summit of English football, Gale was asked to stay on in a player-coach capacity by Kenny Dalglish’s number two, the late Ray Harford.

Soon after Harford was promoted to the manager’s position, leaving Gale, now 54, to wonder what might have been.

“One thing I do regret was that Ray offered me the chance to stay at the club,” said the Londoner, who made 15 league appearances in Rovers’ famous 1994-95 title-winning campaign.

“He said, ‘look, I want you to stay up here next season, I want you to play in the reserves and do a bit of coaching’.

“I turned down the opportunity because I thought I had another year left in me and my family weren’t going to move up north but then I didn’t realise Ray was going to take over.

“If I had stayed I could have been part of his coaching team and you never know where that would have taken in me in my life.

“I might have been bad at it and I might have been good at it.

“So that’s the one big regret, not taking up Ray’s offer.”

It would not have been a role completely foreign to Gale.

The veteran defender, who was 34 when he surprisingly signed for Rovers in August 1994, had spent the second half of his sole season at the club acting as a ‘father figure’ to the younger members of Dalglish’s star-studded squad, players like Chris Sutton and Ian Pearce.

“I played virtually up to Christmas and then my brief from Ray, with Ian Pearce coming through, was to look after the younger ones when I wasn’t playing,” said Gale who, after ending his one-year stay in East Lancashire, signed for Crystal Palace, for whom he made just two appearances before calling time on his 19-year professional career because of injury.

“It was about being in and around it, keeping the buzz going and keeping the vibe going and using what experience I had because, if you actually looked at it, it was a young squad not featuring many senior figures at all.

“I was probably looked at as being a bit of father figure, which I always took the Mick out of.

“But I also took the Mick out of them. I used to call them poor little rich kids because they were on good money at the time, big and good signings like Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton, Tim Flowers and David Batty.

“But they were all good lads, terrific lads. They all had a tremendous work ethic, they all knuckled down and they didn’t really have egos.

“I actually said to the boys when I first came in that, ‘I’m older than you lot but this season has the chance of being really special, the kind of season you may never experience again, the kind of season you could look back on for the rest of your life’.

“And, if you think, not many of them did go on to win more titles and honours.

“So for us to achieve what we did was fantastic and, you know what, we all had a part in it.

“Mine was a minor part but everybody had a part to play whether it was Shearer who got 30-odd goals or Jeff Kenna who came in late on.

“It was just a really special time.”

And for Gale there was no one person more special than the late, great Jack Walker.

But he insists Rovers’ benefactor, whose vision and wealth helped bring the top-flight crown back to the town for the first time in 81 years, was not alone.

“Jack Walker was a great guy, he knew everyone from the hot dog man to the manager, Kenny, and he treated them exactly the same,” said Sky Sports pundit Gale.

“Robert Coar, the chairman at the time, was the same – everyone at the club could not do enough for you.

“It was the same with the backroom staff, people like Tony Parkes, Ray, obviously, Terry Darracott and Alan Irvine, who is now head coach of West Brom.

“The club just had really good people around the place, football people.

“They surrounded themselves with good people and it only took them a short amount of time to set it up all quickly.

“It was a remarkable feat what happened there, one I don’t think will happen again.

“Hopefully there’s another Jack about but I doubt it.”

Twenty years since winning the Premiership, Rovers are attempting to mark the anniversary by earning promotion back into it.

“I know Blackburn have had their problems but things seemed to have calmed down and the manager, Gary Bowyer, has helped with that,” said Gale.

“They’ve had a few years in the Championship but hopefully they now can have a right good go at it.

“I’m pleased that they’ve picked up, and whenever I go up there I always get a warm welcome.”