Who's A Big Club - Newcastle Or Blackburn?

Last updated : 02 May 2006 By Footy Mad - Editor

Much has been made by the media and opposition fans about the empty seats at Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Bolton and my preferred temple, Ewood Park. Although I admit to a certain disappointment with the situation I can see the inevitability of it all.

The capture of the FA youth cup in '58 and subsequent promotion to the top flight swelled gates and an average of 30,000 plus in 1959 remains Rovers best in the modern era and a benchmark for how far a small town can support a modern football club 

The following season saw Blackburn Rovers reach the FA cup final, but a monumental mishandling of their allocation saw thousands of Ewood regulars unable to obtain a ticket amid rumours of players selling them on the black-market. The situation was compounded when Derek Dougan handed in a transfer request on the eve of the final but was still selected to play. After a miserable performance and 3-0 defeat disillusion spread quickly through the Rovers faithful with more than 8,000 wiped off Blackburn's average gate during the following season, and a further 3,000 a year later. The natives were restless so to speak?

Rovers enjoyed a brief upturn in fortunes in 1964, finishing 7th in the top flight and the average gate creeping back above 21,000, but it was a false dawn, two seasons on and Rovers were relegated, with crowds and fixtures badly affected by a polio outbreak in the town.

Demotion to the 3rd division for the first time in the clubs history saw gates fall below 10,000 for the first time too. And Blackburn's average dipped below the 10,000 watershed again when relegation claimed the club once more in 1979. 

Fortunes on and off the field during the 90/91 season were to change dramatically when local businessman and lifelong fan Jack Walker took an active interest. The club was destined for the third division and oblivion beckoned, Jack Walker was in a position to help financially, which he did and players were brought in to stave off the dreaded drop. When Mr Walker eventually sold his steel stockholding business in the town, he was able to throw himself into his role as Rovers benefactor, further stunning the town when Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford were appointed to head the Rovers revival. Under "King Kenny's" stewardship the clubs fortunes and gates rose but a wobble at the end of the season saw the "bridesmaid" spectre raise its head again before Rovers climbed back into England's top flight again after an absence of nearly three decades.

With a stadium that could house nearly a quarter of Blackburn with Darwens population and a team that were England's finest, Rovers were attracting gates comparable to the heady and less expensive days of the late 50s. With no, "fans in waiting" like the big city clubs and ever increasing ticket prices, any dip in fortunes would see the same reflected in the gates surely? It did, and when Captain Kidd led Rovers back into the division below the gates fell below the 20,000 mark. Not bad for a town the size of Blackburn but a serious impediment to a club trying to challenge for silverware and attract quality players.

The sad loss of Rovers benefactor brought reality crashing down on the heads of Blackburn's board and fans alike. How to compete or even survive when cast adrift from the Premierships cash cow would mean a radical rethink. Promotion under Mr Souness lifted the gates back above the psychological 20,000 barrier with success in the league cup and a top six finish adding to the gates and feel good factor as well. The last few years have seen a change in mood in Blackburn, Mr Souness' aiming low philosophy became a major turn off, flirtations with the wrong end of the table and all too infrequent home wins made for a gloomy Ewood park. The sales of local favourite David Dunn and the mercurial Damien Duff added to the feeling that the good days had long gone even though the cash influx enabled the club to strengthen.

Under Mark Hughes the place is once more transformed! It feels good to be a Rover again, but I feel that the damage is irreparable. Parts of the fan base have found other things to spend their time and money on, whilst thousands of others enjoy their Rovers fix in the scores of pubs with foreign satellite set-ups. The price of tickets will always be a factor, but the constant changing of kick-off times to suit TV in a town full of shift workers makes buying a season ticket a risky business.

The proximity of the big boys from Manchester and Merseyside don't help either as does Bolton and Wigan's recent rise. Local championship sides Preston and Burnley as well as Accrington Stanley all have a traditional following and we all know you can't poach "real fans"? So until the messiah turns up, we will have to make do.