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1895 - 1904: End of century blues

17 May 2014

The late 1890's brought a decline in Rovers performances in both league and cup.

In 1896-97 the club slumped to 14th place in the league and followed this up by finishing 15th in the next season. Because automatic promotion and relegation had not been introduced in those days Rovers were involved in the end of season Test matches to determine their future status.

Their opponents were Burnley, Newcastle United and Stoke City. Three defeats seemed to doom Rovers to relegation but deliverance was at hand from an unlikely source. 

Burnley, who were now safe, suggested that the Division should be increased from 16 to 18 teams and that neither Rovers nor Newcastle should be relegated. This proposal was accepted and Rovers were safe for the time being. Ironically Rovers' John Lewis voted against the expansion of the league because he believed that the increase in fixtures would interfere with the industrial life of the nation as spectators sought more time off work to attend matches. 'Football' he declared, ' should play only a minor part in their (spectators) lives and in the affairs of the nation.'

The shock of their narrow escape galvanised the club and the Blackburn public. Fate also played its part with the arrival on the scene of the legendary Bob Crompton, who made his debut against Stoke City as a seventeen year old, on 10th April 1897.

The 1898-99 season brought an immediate improvement with Rovers rising to a creditable 6th place although they were knocked out of the Cup by Liverpool at the first hurdle. Rovers were entering a transitional period and in the following season they dropped to 14th. Even so there were bright spots such as the recruitment of one of Rovers favourite sons, Sammy McClure. A robust, vital man his enthusiasm shone through during the season that followed. The continued improvement of Bob Crompton until he became an England regular and his recognition as a prince amongst defenders was the cause of quiet satisfaction.

The 1900-01 season saw Rovers finish 9th and the 1901-02 season brought another improvement when they finished fourth. The game of the season was against eventual champions Sunderland at Ewood. A hard fought battle, in which Rovers enjoyed the majority of the play was eventually settled by a goal from Sunderland's Gemmell. At the end of that season Rovers lost the newly capped 'Kelly' Houlker to Portsmouth of the Southern League who offered him more money, a fact the fans took to mean that Rovers were not prepared to pay the going rate for success. In addition to this the loss of several of their Scottish players meant the side was breaking up. 

The 1902-03 season was not a good one and the team entered the last part of the season facing a real threat of relegation. Amazingly Blackburn put together a run of good form in their final five games, taking seven points from a possible ten to save themselves. 

More lean years followed as the club concentrated on improving facilities at the ground. In 1905 cover for 12,000 spectators, at a cost of £1,680 was provided at one end of the ground. A year later a 395-foot long stand was erected along Nuttall Street , underneath which new changing rooms and offices were constructed. In a period of ten years £23,000 had been spent on ground improvements.

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