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Champions: Jeff Kenna

The defender reflects on that magical Premier League title-winning campaign 25 years ago

5 April 2020

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This season we're looking back on that memorable and historic achievement of 1994-95, 25 years on, with different members of that legendary squad.

Jeff Kenna was next to take a trip down memory lane.

The full-back joined from Southampton for £1.5m in March 1995 and started each of the last nine fixtures, as Rovers captured the Premiership crown.

Kenna made 194 appearances for the club, before leaving to join Birmingham City in January 2002.

Here’s what the Irishman had to say when we recently caught up with him, reflecting on some magical times …

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Jeff, it’s 25 years since Rovers lifted the Premiership trophy, can you believe it’s been that long?

No, I can’t. It really doesn’t feel like 25 years at all. It’s flown by. I can remember Anfield like it was yesterday, it’s really vivid in my memory. I’ll be 50 this year, so it ties in nicely.

You joined Rovers towards the end of that season, how did that move come about and you couldn’t really have timed it any better?

If I remember correctly, I think Jason Wilcox got injured and obviously Alan Shearer and Tim Flowers had previously been at Southampton, and the month before I moved, I think we played England at Lansdowne Road when there was a riot in Dublin and the game was postponed after about 20 minutes. At that time, the two lads were winding me up saying ‘we’ll see you soon’ and there had been a little bit of gossip in the newspaper that Blackburn were watching me, so I was obviously trying to get the info out of them and they weren’t forthcoming with it at all. And I signed on the 15th of March. The day before, I was resting up on the couch at home in Southampton, because we had a game on the Wednesday, and I got a phone call from Alan Ball, who was the manager at the time, saying I needed to come in and see him. So straight away my mind went running to ‘oh my god, what have I done wrong, am I in trouble, am I getting dropped?’ and it was the clubs had agreed a fee and I had permission to travel up to speak to them. So I then rang Kenny (Dalglish) almost immediately as soon as I got out of the office and he just said ‘are you interested in coming up to play for us?’ and that was a no brainer obviously. So I signed the next day and I think we were at home to Chelsea on the Saturday and I went straight into the team. So within 24 hours it was done and dusted, and 24 hours later I was playing, so for me it was fantastic.

A few players have joked that every Thursday there was a new player arriving. You must have been one of the last, if not the last, to have been one of those Thursday signings?

I think Richard Witschge might have come in on loan just after me, but to my knowledge I was the last permanent signing.

Did you speak to Tim flowers and Alan Shearer about the move up there?

No, not at all. I didn’t have to think about it in the slightest. With the greatest respect in the world to Southampton, success for us was mid-table. Most years, that came with having to produce win after win at the back end of the season to avoid a relegation battle. Some seasons it was very close to the bone. So to go from that to the top of the table, I didn’t even have to think about it or consult Shearer or Flowers about it. At the time, half the England team was playing for Blackburn Rovers, so why wouldn’t you?

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You started the last nine remaining games. It must have been great to not only make the move, but to play so much as well?

There was only nine games left and I played in every game, so I was very pleased with that and ultimately I got a medal. I think there was a thing at the time that you needed to play 10 games to officially be entitled to a medal, but the club sorted all that out. I think there was two or three of us who hadn’t played 10 games, but everybody got a medal, so it was great.

At that time, Manchester United were coming back strongly, what were the emotions and the feelings and the pressure like during that run-in?

For me, it was a totally different type of pressure. You’re winning games, because you want to win the league, rather than you’re winning games to stay in the league. So that took a little bit more for me to get used to, but I’m sure we won the first three games, which were Chelsea, Everton and QPR. And then we drew to Leeds in the last minute, so it became very real then, because once you drop a couple of points and Manchester United are chasing you, and as a player you can’t help but look at that and think you could have had two more points. So I was very aware then that we needed to get a result in every game, it wasn’t a case of just sitting back and relax.

What was the final day of the season at Anfield like and all the celebrations that went with it?

Amazing! I roomed with David Batty the night before and he was just no calming influence whatsoever! He was calm as you like – I never saw him rattled at all – but I think he could sense that I was a bit nervous and apprehensive, and he was happy to keep digging at me about how important the game was and so on. But we did exactly the same preparation that we did for every game. The coach trip to the ground was a bit surreal because usually you get the home fans giving you a bit of stick when the bus goes by and you pull into the car park, but obviously with the relationship between Liverpool and Man United, everyone just wanted us to win the title. So we were getting applauded from three or four miles outside the stadium. All the fans were applauding us and wanting us to win it. The game then was just crazy. I’ve never played in an atmosphere where, as the away team, the home fans are willing you to do well and to get the result. It was all going according to plan, Shearer scored, as he did in practically every game that season. It’s a bit of a blur then after that. I think Chris Sutton had a couple of chances when we were 1-0 up, which didn’t go in, and then they equalised. And then the last thing I remember from that game, I was actually stood at the end of the wall for that free-kick, when Jamie Redknapp took the free-kick, and it whistled past my ear! And before I could even turn around, I thought ‘oh my god, we’re in trouble here’. And then within a minute or two, we got word from the bench that United had only drawn at West Ham and that was it then, the result obviously didn’t matter. So it was just crazy. And then again, the Liverpool fans stayed in, we had the presentation, they clapped us all around the pitch. It was fantastic. The dressing room was electric. I don’t know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, but Liverpool were sponsored by Carlsberg, so there was copious amounts of Carlsberg in the dressing room! We literally went straight from the ground to a French bistro in Preston, so all of the lads were still in tracksuits. Family and friends were invited to that and I just remember that by the end of the night everybody was up on tables and extremely drunk and obviously just having a great night!

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The manager, how good was Kenny Dalglish in all of that and how good was he to work under?

He was fantastic, absolutely! He was probably the calmest of everybody. Obviously he’d been there, seen it, done it, got the t-shirt, so he was a really calming influence in the dressing room. And for me, he was a delight to play for because he had that belief that he had assembled the best players in the country at the time and he kept reinforcing that within team-talks, and you couldn’t help but go out there and think ‘I’m one of the best players in the country here and I’m going to run that extra mile for him’.

Finally, you obviously remained at Rovers for six or seven years after that, you must look back on your time here incredibly fondly? And was the title success the pinnacle and the highlight of your whole career?

Winning the league certainly was. Obviously I’ve seen a relegation, another promotion and then I left the club. But I met my wife there, my children were born there, so yeah I love the place. Nothing but fond memories!

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