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1945 - 1954: Decline and frustration

12 May 2014

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Rovers struggle after the resumption of league football.

After World War II the Football League began again in earnest for the 1946-47 season. The man charged with leading Rovers back to the promised land was Eddie Hapgood, the former Arsenal player.

The situation was somewhat different to that encountered after the First World War in that Rovers were no longer the wealthy, influential club they had been then. Money was now scarce and team building had to be done on a shoe string budget. The side was a mixture of veterans from the 1939 promotion side and youngsters who had emerged during the war years.

The team began well winning three of their first four games. It was however a false dawn and Rovers slowly slid down the table. By Christmas it had become obvious that First Division survival would be the main aim, the situation was so worrying that the club embarked on an unprecedented panic buying spree. £26,000 was spent bringing Jock Weir, Jack Oakes and Francis McGorrighan to the club. 

Amazingly Hapgood always maintained that none of these players were his choice. In any event the boost provided by the new players allied to the signing of Alec Venters, brought an upsurge in form and with it a narrow escape from relegation.

Meanwhile relations between the board and Hapgood had become strained and on February 19th 1947 it was announced that Eddie Hapgood had resigned. 

His immediate successor was Will Scott but a spell of ill-health meant that Jack Bruton was soon in charge. If the 1946-47 season had been poor the following one was even worse. The team was in a state of flux and lacked experience. Even so it appeared that Rovers might escape their fate until a run of one win in the last ten games brought relegation. It was not all doom and gloom, however, for a young player who made his debut on the final day of the season went on to become one of the Rovers all time greats, it was none other than Bill Eckersley. 

The first two seasons in the 2nd Division brought mid-table finishes and provided mediocre fare for the fans. The only highlight was the form of Bill Eckersley whose continued improvement brought him international honours.

Other youngsters were also beginning to make their mark in the team. Ronnie Clayton for example, who would go on to become a household name, made his debut in the last game of the 1950-51 season. In 1950-51 the club improved to sixth place in the league and in the following year they enjoyed their best cup run for 24 seasons. 

After outplaying Burnley at Ewood in the quarter-final and registering a resounding 3-1 victory Rovers approached the semi-final against Newcastle United full of confidence. The first game at Hillsborough resulted in a drab goalless stalemate. The second game saw Rovers on the wrong end of some controversial refereeing decisions and a penalty goal from Mitchell, five minutes from the end, ensured a 2-1 defeat. 

The appointment of Johnny Carey as manager in 1953 was the harbinger of a golden period for the club. Although one or two shrewd signings were made such as Frank Mooney and the return of former player Bobby Langton, it was Carey's ability to draw performances from his players that even they didn't know they were capable of, that brought a great improvement.

The emphasis was placed firmly on attacking football and the success of Tommy Briggs in scoring 32 goals, 33, 30 and 32 goals in successive seasons was symptomatic of this new swashbuckling style. 

The crowds flocked to Ewood to watch Carey's team and although promotion remained tantalisingly out of reach following finishes of 3rd and 6th in successive seasons the future looked rosier than it had done for a long time.

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