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1996 - 2004: Downs and ups

7 May 2014

Almost inevitably the following season was an anti-climax, a serious injury to Alan Shearer cut off the goal supply and Rovers eventually finished 7th.

In keeping with their other continental adventures the European Cup campaign was not a success. The very public dispute between Batty and Le Saux, when they came to blows on the pitch, summed up their effort perfectly. 

The sale of Alan Shearer to Newcastle during the 1996 close season came as a bombshell to the fans and was indicative of the break up of the championship team. During the 1996-97 season itself Blackburn slumped to a disappointing 14th position.

The appointment of the highly regarded Roy Hodgson as manager halted the slide as the 1997-98 season ended with Rovers in sixth place and back in Europe. New players were recruited during the 1998 close season with Rovers paying a club record fee of over £7,000,000 for Kevin Davies.

Manager Roy Hodgson pictured with new signing Kevin Davies

The 1998-99 season began with the club full of optimism, afterall Man Utd and Blackburn were the only two clubs to have accumulated over 400 Premier League points. Nobody forsaw what was to come. The Davies signing was not a success however and as the club's form on the field declined Roy Hodgson's position came under increasing threat.

Eventually he was sacked and replaced by Brian Kidd. His arrival brought a short lived respite from the poor run but the revival could not be sustained and Rovers' stint in the Premier League had come to an end.

The new season began as the old one ended with Rovers unable to produce the goods on the field. As they plummeted down the First Division Brian Kidd was relieved of his post and Tony Parkes was again installed as caretaker manager. 

Tony Parkes magic touch didn't fail him and the team immediately went on an eight match unbeaten run. With Parkes finally declaring an interest in taking the managers job on a full-time basis it was decided to confirm him in that position until the end of the season.

Thus as we enter the new millennium Rovers fans are left wondering how long it will be before Blackburn regain their place amongst the country's elite.

Although Tony Parkes was appointed as manager until the end of the 1999-2000 season events, or rather a run of poor results, dictated otherwise. At the time of Parkes' appointment Jack Walker said  "As soon as Tony made it clear he was interested in the job, the Board considered his candidacy along with the other short-listed names and Tony came out on top."

"He is a true Blue and White has always given us outstanding service and I have every reason to believe he will again be successful this time." 

During his short stay as manager Parkes did enjoy one memorable night when Rovers travelled to Anfield for a 4th round FA Cup tie and proceeded to turn the form book upside down when a Nathan Blake goal secured a shock win for Blackburn.

Nathan Blake scores the only goal that knocks Liverpool out of the FA Cup.

In the next round Rovers were drawn to meet Newcastle at Ewood and to the surprise of no one it was a brace of goals from ex-Rovers idol Alan Shearer that ended Blackburn's interest in the competition. 

In the League, results continued to disappoint as Rovers underperformed on many occasions. After a home defeat against Crewe in March speculation arose that Graeme Souness was about to replace Tony Parkes as manager.

Phil Boersma, Graeme Souness and Tony Parkes

On Tuesday 14th March Blackburn officially announced that Mr Souness was to be their new manager with Tony Parkes reverting back to the assistant manager position. At the time Souness was quoted as saying:

"This is a wonderful opportunity and just the sort of challenge I relish. I am delighted to be back in day-to-day management, particularly as the chance has come at a club as ambitious as Blackburn Rovers.

"This club is geared for top level football and has a proven record. My job is to help bring back the good times to Ewood Park and I cannot wait to get started." 

The club's reasons for its actions were put forward by Ewood chief executive John Williams who said: "The Board met last week and, in parallel discussions with Mr Walker, it was decided to appoint a new manager as soon as possible rather than wait until the end of the season. 

"The compelling logic is not just to give a boost for our remaining games but, more importantly, to provide time for a thorough assessment of the football situation at the club. This will help to ensure that we hit the ground running next season whichever league we find ourselves playing in."

A major breaking story in April was the news that owner Jack Walker was suffering health problems. An official statement released on 18th April stated that Mr Walker had left hospital and was recuperating at home. In June the story re-surfaced after another bout of newspaper speculation.

On the playing front the season ended in disappointing style as Rovers became bit part players at Manchester City's promotion party, held at Ewood Park on 7th May.

During the close season Souness strove to revamp his playing squad signing Craig Hignett from Barnsley for £2.7m. Other newcomers included Stig Bjornebye, signed from Souness' old club Liverpool. His team rebuilding continued after the season proper had started with the capture of the highly promising young forward Marcus Bent from Sheffield United. 

Shortly after the start of the new season came the news that all Rovers fans had been dreading as the death of Jack Walker was announced on 18th August 2000. The following statement was released by the club in tribute to the man who had guided Rovers back to the big time...

"No tribute from us, no matter how long or how detailed, could ever do justice to Mr Walker's achievements here at Ewood Park.

"Jack Walker was this football club's number one supporter in every possible sense. His love for Rovers knew no boundaries and his loyalty and commitment could never be brought into question.

"His remarkable drive and determination changed the face and fortune of the club, culminating in the ultimate prize in the spring of 1995 when we were crowned champions of the Premier League. 

It was always his goal to take Rovers to the very top and, quite understandably, the title feat brought him immense joy, pride and satisfaction.

"Although residing in Jersey, Mr Walker played a hands-on role until recent months when illness curtailed that involvement in day-to-day affairs and left him unable to attend matches. However, he remained in regular contact and has, in conjunction with our Board and his advisers, set out a strategy to guarantee Blackburn Rovers a secure future over both the short and long term.

"It goes without saying just how much we will all miss Jack Walker, but he has left us with some fantastic memories.

"He always invested with great foresight and wisdom and his legacy is there for all to see - not least a superb stadium at Ewood Park and a top-class training complex at Brockhall together with a state-of-the-art youth Academy. 

"Throughout his illness Mr Walker was always adamant that Blackburn Rovers should regain a place in the top flight this season and we will do everything within our power to turn that into reality over the coming months."

Rovers and Norwich players stand for a minutes silence before the match in memory of Jack Walker

The night of Rovers' Worthington Cup tie against Rochdale at Spotland gave a touching glimpse of how ordinary football fans felt about Jack Walker. After an impeccably observed minutes silence the fans of both clubs gave a prolonged standing ovation in his memory. Football fans everywhere recognised that Mr Walker was a true fan at heart.

Rovers 2000-01 League season didn't really take off until Craig Hignett made a belated debut for the club after suffering injury problems. In an attempt to add more grit to his team Souness signed the veteran Mark Hughes from Everton. The Welsh international coach enjoying a dream debut scoring twice in a 3-2 victory over Tranmere Rovers. 

Hignett's presence galvanised Rovers into a run of six consecutive league victories as they moved into the play-off places and closed the gap on the automatic promotion positions.

By the time of their 125th anniversary fixture against Wolves Rovers fortunes were on the up and up and a return to the Premier League no longer appeared to be beyond the bounds of possibility.

Matt Jansen celebrates Rovers' third goal in their 5-0 win over Burnley

The current season has provided many highlights such as the crushing of arch rivals Burnley in the league fixture at Ewood Park; the emergence of Matt Jansen as a consistent goal scorer and the continued development of David Dunn into a goal scoring midfielder of rare quality.

Fittingly it was top scorer Matt Jansen who headed the winning goal at Preston to finally confirm Rovers' promotion back to the Premiership.

Jansen heads Rovers back into the Premiership

The net result has been to raise the spirits of Rovers fans everywhere as Graeme Souness has gone about the task of producing a side not only to win promotion but which can hold its own in the rarified atmosphere of the Premiership. 

In Rovers' first season back in the Premiership, finished a healthy tenth place, but the major achievement of the 2001/02 season was lifting the Worthington Cup at the Milennium Stadium, Cardiff.

Record signing Andy Cole and Matt Jansen scored the goals that gave Rovers a memorable 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur.

The Rovers players and staff lift the Worthington Cup

The 2002/03 season saw Rovers embark on another UEFA Cup campaign, they were drawn against Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia in the first round. Rovers were disappointing in the first leg at Ewood Park, only managing a 1-1 draw. But in the return leg at the Army Stadium, Rovers roared into a 3-0 lead through goals from David Thompson, Damien Duff and Egil Ostenstad.

But in true Rovers fashion, they gave the fans the fright of their lives to concede three goals in the final twenty minutes of the game. But held on to reach the second round of the competition for the first time in their history.

Fans eagerly awaited the draw, checking their European maps for far flung destinations, but Rovers were drawn against Glasgow Celtic! Tickets for the first leg at Parkhead were snapped up in record time, and Rovers put in an excellent performance against the hoops, but despite all their domination, they couldn't find the goals their performance deserved. It looked to be heading for a goalless draw until Henrick Larson scored an undeserved winner for the home side.

Damien Duff battles with Celtic's Neil Lennon

Rovers were disappointing in the return leg at Ewood Park, crashing out 3-0 on aggregate. Celtic went on to reach the final of the competition.

Meanwhile in the league, Rovers were ticking along nicely, a 2-1 victory at Highbury over Arsenal at the end of October saw them rise to seventh in the table.

Two defeats at the end of January saw Rovers slip to 12th in the division, but six wins out of seven matches, saw them back into the top half of the table, and as the season drew to a close, they were back in contention for a European place. 

Going into the final game of the season saw Rovers in 7th place, a win over Tottenham was vital to have any chance of reach 6th and a coveted UEFA cup place. The Rovers ran out 4-0 winners at White Hart Lane, whilst at Goodison Everton were defeated by Champions Manchester United, to see Rovers end the season with an excellent sixth place.

The following season, Rovers disappointed. The sales of Damien Duff and David Dunn left positions hard to fill, and with a shocking run of injuries, Graeme Souness's side struggled to maintain their Premiership status. Often flirting with the relegation places, the inclusion in the UEFA Cup ended up being a hinderance as Rovers lost heavily 3-1 away to Genclerbirligi of Turkey, and could only draw in the corresponding home tie.

It was only when Rovers put in a run of four consecutive victories in April that saw them finally put daylight between themselves and the bottom three, ending the 03/04 season in 15th place.

It was all change at Ewood Park a month into the 2004/05 season with, much to everyone's surprise, Graeme Souness taking over the reigns up at Newcastle United. The hunt was on for his replacement with fans favourite Mark Hughes being appointed. The former Welsh boss made an immediate impact, with Rovers' first win of the season coming just two days later at home to Portsmouth.

Hughes is unveiled as the new Rovers boss

But after a poor start to the season, it took some time before Mark Hughes was able to influence the players, by the time November was reached Rovers were rock bottom, but slowly and surely the tide turned as Rovers pulled away from the bottom places.

During the January transfer window Hughes brought in three captains of their respective country, Ryan Nelsen of New Zealand, Aaron Mokoena of South Africa and Robbie Savage from Wales all joining, which shored up the Rovers defence.

But it was the lack of goals that was still the concern, they ended their league campaign in 15th place, despite scoring just 32 league goals.

The highlight of the 2004/05 season was unoubtedly the FA Cup run that saw Rovers reach the semi final stage, bowing out at the Millennium Stadium losing 3-0 to eventual winners Arsenal, though they did defeat Burnley along the way!

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