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1955 - 1964: A golden era

11 May 2014

Young guns make their mark

Two more promotion near misses, in 1955-56 and 1956-57, when the team finished fourth on each occasion only served to underline the depth of talent at the club.

The gradual strengthening of the team as young players such as Ronnie Clayton, Bryan Douglas Roy Vernon and Peter Dobing were introduced and gained experience allied to the signing of men such as Matt Woods and Ally McLeod meant that Rovers were not to be denied a promotion spot much longer.

The 1957-58 season began with confidence high at Ewood for the team was now peppered with stars in the making. After a slow start the team started to show promotion form from the end of September onwards. At the turn of the year Rovers went on a cup run that brought famous victories over both Everton and Liverpool leading to an eventual semi-final meeting with Bolton Wanderers at Maine Road.

Blackburn took the field wearing black and white stripes and played the better football in the first half, opening the scoring through Peter Dobing. Two goals from Gubbins reversed the score line and yet again Rovers had lost a semi-final. 

Rovers did not have time to feel sorry for themselves as they were pitched back into the promotion race. Four goals from Peter Dobing went a long way towards securing a 5-0 victory against Bristol City. Whilst April brought a run of five successive victories.

By the time of their penultimate match at Craven Cottage Rovers could not afford to be defeated and a controversial last minute equaliser from McLeod meant that they went into the final game against Charlton at the Valley still in with a chance.

Charlton only needed a draw to go up with West Ham, Blackburn had to win. 

The Cup was a different matter however. Victories over Sunderland and Blackpool after replays brought the reward of a fifth round tie at Tottenham. On a poor pitch they overcame the home side by three goals to one. Next up in the sixth round were deadly rivals Burnley.

At Turf Moor it seemed the Cup dream was dying when the Clarets took a 3-0 lead. A controversial penalty, converted by Douglas, seemed no more than a consolation goal until a Dobing goal was added a minute later.

Rovers then went on all out attack and four minutes from time McGrath poached an equaliser to crown one of the greatest comebacks in the club's history. The replay at Ewood Park was not quite as nerve jangling as Rovers took a firm grip on the game from the outset running out comfortable winners with goals from Dobing and McLeod.

Maine Road, Manchester was the venue for the semi-final game against Sheffield Wednesday.

Over seventy-four thousand people saw two goals from Dougan overcome a dour hard working Wednesday side.

After a gap of over thirty years Rovers were back at Wembley for an FA Cup Final. Their opponents were the formidable Wolves team. 

Unfortunately the occasion was marred for Blackburn by off the field squabbles. Loyal fans were unable to purchase tickets, Derek Dougan asked for transfer on the eve of the big game, rumours around the town accused the players of selling tickets on the black market. A tetchy atmosphere enveloped the team.

As to the game itself Rovers just did not perform on the day. Once Stobart had given Wolves the lead they never released their grip on the game and two further goals from Deeley only served to underline their superiority. Rovers chances were not helped by their having to play much of the match with ten men following Dave Whelan's departure with a broken leg. This was in the days before substitutes were allowed.

Despite legend having made the Wembley defeat a major turning point in the club's history the facts do not support such an interpretation. The 1960-61 season brought a very respectable 8th place finish in Division 1 under the capable managership of Jack Marshall.

Men such as Keith Newton, Andy McEvoy and Fred Pickering began to win regular places in the first team. 

Off the field, the 1961 close season brought the end of the maximum wage. It was one of the defining moments in modern football. To a club like Blackburn it manifested itself in an increased inability to match the wages offered by larger clubs and a lack of quality reserve players. A real handicap when first team stars were injured. After a close season of hard bargaining Dobing and Dougan left the club although most players accepted the new terms on offer.

New stars began to emerge. Fred Pickering, converted from nondescript full-back to dashing centre-forward, scored 23 goals in 36 games in 1962-63. Mike England fought his way into the team instead of Matt Woods. The team was also strengthened by signings such as Mike Ferguson who was rescued from the debacle of Accrington Stanley's demise.

The net result of all these factors was a team capable of finishing in the top half of Division One several years running, 11th in 1962-63, 7th in 1963-64 and 10th in 1964-65. A forward line that contained men such as Ferguson, Douglas, Harrison and Pickering couldn't help but score goals.

Witness the 7-1 thrashing of Tottenham early in the 1963-64 season. 

That season saw Rovers emerge as championship challengers with an 8-2 defeat of West Ham on Boxing Day lifting them to the summit. Unfortunately injuries to key men such as Douglas and Newton and the transfer of Pickering to Everton after he became unsettled undermined their efforts. 

With John Byrom replacing Pickering and scoring 25 goals in 40 games the 1964-65 season was another good one for the club.

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