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1905 - 1914: The best team in the land

16 May 2014

Rovers dominate pre-war football.

Once these projects had been completed funds were released to recruit new players. Amongst the new blood that arrived was Jimmy Ashcroft, the England international goalkeeper from Arsenal and centre-half George Chapman from Hearts.

The transformation was startling as Rovers ended the 1908-09 season in fourth place. Other players who were beginning to make a name for themselves included Eddie Latheron who had been signed from Grangetown in 1906. The 1909-10 season brought a further improvement to third place as Rovers accumulated forty five points, their highest ever total up to that point

For a period of three months between October and January Blackburn topped the table until defeats by Newcastle and champions elect Aston Villa cost them their place. Even so their improved form was a foretaste of the good times to come. 

There was a hiccup during the 1910-11 season when an atrocious start to the season meant that Rovers spent the season playing catch up. A final position of 12th was better than at one time seemed likely. 

With success in the league out of the question a Cup run was of vital importance. In an effort to improve their chances when Rovers were drawn away to Southend a £400 inducement was offered to the Essex side to play the tie at Ewood A 5-1 home win was ample compensation. The next match was a home tie with Tottenham but before this could be played Rovers astounded the football world by signing the great John Simpson in February 1911.

After a goalless draw at Ewood, Rovers travelled South to Spurs for the replay where goals from Bradshaw and Davies eased Blackburn through to the next round. The next two matches were both away. The first brought a 3-0 victory at Middlesborough and the second saw West Ham pipped by 3 goals to two at Upton Park.

A semi-final fixture against Bradford City at Bramall Lane was Rovers reward. As overwhelming favourites Blackburn went into the game full of confidence. Four thousand fans left on special trains bound for Sheffield. Unfortunately many Rovers players suffered a dose of first night nerves and failed to play to their potential. The result was a dismal 0-3 defeat.

Rovers were now on the verge of the greatest period in their league history. When the 1911-12 season began with two defeats in the first three games no one could have suspected what was to follow. Although the team's form improved, it was not until George Chapman was played at centre-forward and scored in nine successive games, that they began to climb up the table. An undefeated run that lasted three months brought the leadership of the division with it. Following a defeat by Bolton Rovers went on another run accumulating nine points from the next five games and a 4-1 defeat of West Bromwich brought the Division One championship to Ewood for the first time.

At the same time Rovers were enjoying another good cup run. A fourth round replay victory over Manchester United brought a semi final against West Brom and the prospect of doing the 'Double' loomed ever larger. It was not to be however for after a goalless draw at Liverpool the replay at Sheffield saw Rovers lose by the only goal of the game. For some fans winning the league still did not compensate for defeat in the FA Cup. 

Every effort was made to retain the title and both Danny Shea and Joe Hodkinson were signed with that aim in mind. Unfortunately the team could not repeat their form of the previous year and they eventually finished in fifth place.

The 1913-14 season began with the team hitting top form from day one. They began with five straight wins and never looked back, remaining undefeated until the eleventh game. With the defence in supreme form and Danny Shea hitting twenty-eight goals Rovers were able to successfully overcome deficiencies in other areas. Such was their dominance of the division they secured the title with four games remaining.

War broke out during the following season and as a consequence the importance of football in the eyes of the nation diminished. Although the team finished third in that first year it meant little except as a pointer to what might have been achieved had the war not intervened. Sadly Rovers have never recovered the pre-eminence they enjoyed in those bygone days.

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