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1885 - 1894: Rovers' cup over-floweth

18 May 2014

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A hat trick of Cup victories was achieved in 1885-86

A hat trick of Cup victories was achieved in 1885-86 when Rovers retained the trophy once more following a 2-0 victory over West Bromwich in the final.

It might be worth noting here that England's foremost club Corinthians refused to play in the FA Cup, a fact that undoubtedly aided Blackburn's cause. To commemorate Rovers achievement the FA presented the club with a silver shield. Whilst Rovers were garnering success on the field football was undergoing change off the pitch as professionalism was finally accepted by the FA after considerable pressure was exerted on it by the clubs.

Rovers run of success come to an abrupt end in 1886-87 when they were dismissed in the 2nd round of the FA Cup by Scottish side Renton. The team was undergoing a period of change and despite reaching the semi-finals in 1887-88 Rovers were not felt to be as strong as they had once been.

Their refusal to increase the number of professional players on their staff meant that they were falling behind clubs such as Bolton who had embarked upon an aggressive recruitment campaign. Indeed if it wasn't for the fact that Rovers were able to plunder Blackburn Olympic for players, as the latter steadily declined in influence, they would have been in serious difficulties.

A struggle to a narrow victory over local club Witton, in a match billed as being for the championship of Blackburn, underlined the falling off of their playing standards.

It was at this point that a benefactor, in the form of William McGregor, rode to the rescue. His newly formed Football League issued an invitation to Rovers to become founder members in 1888 thus cementing their position in the upper echelons of the game. Even so Rovers still regarded the FA Cup as being of paramount importance and league fixtures were played in amongst a series of lucrative friendly matches.

Rovers first league game took place on 15th September 1888 when they shared ten goals in an exciting encounter with Accrington. The scorers on that auspicious day were Jack Southworth, Beresford, Townley 2 and Fecitt. In a bid to strengthen the side for their new adventure Rovers had signed several new players, amongst them John Forbes, the Vale of Leven captain, who was recruited from Scotland. His subsequent success encouraged Rovers to send secretary Tom Mitchell back to Scotland to scout for more players.

The first league season brought a respectable fourth place finish, which was bettered the following year when Rovers finished third, scoring 78 goals in 22 games.

The Cup was still the priority however and in the 1889-90 season Rovers once more reached the final. After defeating Wolves by the only goal in the semi-final at Derby and thus gaining revenge for their defeat at the same stage the previous year, Rovers went on to annihilate a nervous Sheffield Wednesday team by a six goals to one.

1890 saw a further piece in the jigsaw fall into place when Rovers moved ground once more. The move was prompted by the landlord of the Leamington Street ground raising their rent by an exorbitant amount. This led Rovers to cast their eyes around the town for a suitable alternative venue. Ewood Park was the site chosen. At the time Ewood was an all purpose sports ground which hosted football, athletics, dog racing and trotting. It had been built in 1882 by four local entrepreneurs. The club leased the ground for ten years to begin with, at an annual rent of £60 for the first five years and £70 for the remainder.

Firmly settled in their new home the club began to concentrate on playing matters once more. As holders of the Cup Rovers were amongst the favourites to take the trophy when the 1890-91 season began. They did not disappoint their followers although it could be argued that their obsession with Cup success deprived them of a first league title, for as they progressed in the Cup they put less effort into their league fixtures. Victories over Middlesborough Ironopolis,Chester and Wolves brought a semi-final tie against West Brom which was played at Stoke.

After a hard fought, end to end battle Rovers ran out victors by three goals to two. Their opponents in the Final were Notts County, a team that had beaten them 7-1 at home some weeks earlier. There were suspicions at the time however that Rovers had allowed County to win in an effort to inspire a fatal dose of overconfidence.

In the event it was the real Rovers who turned up at the Kennington Oval to give County a footballing lesson as first half goals from Dewar, Southworth and Townley underlined their superiority. At the end of the match Rovers had retained the trophy following their 3-1 victory. Rovers were the new Cup kings having captured the trophy five times in eight years. Unfortunately they had already reached the zenith of their cup career.

The following seasons brought mid table finishes and relative failure in the FA Cup with semi-final defeats in 1892-93 and 1893-94. The situation wasn't helped by the financial fall out from their move to Ewood. The move had cost the club around £2,700 and with admittance only costing 6d (2½ p) and gates of around 10,000 Rovers had to generate extra income by undertaking a series of friendlies.

The decision to spend £2,500 purchasing the freehold of the ground, although making good sense, only added to the burden. It was a theme that was to recur with increasing regularity as financial worries off the pitch held back progress on it.

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