This season we're looking back on that memorable and historic achievement of 1994-95, 25 years on, with a member of that legendary squad.
In an interview he gave to the club back in 2005, Tony Parkes reflects on his remarkable 35-year association with Rovers, which included spells as a player, coach and caretaker manager, and culminated in our Premier League title triumph 25 years ago …
Tony, take us back to the very beginning and how your move to Rovers from Buxton in 1970 came about?
I remember travelling up from Sheffield, my home town, to Ewood and walking up Nuttall Street to a portacabin in the car park just opposite the office. My first game was against Manchester United, which I think we won 4-1. A player called John Connelly, who had been involved in the 1966 World Cup winning squad, was with Rovers at the time and he was playing for the Reserves that night and scored a hat-trick! I played a part in two Reserve games, obviously did okay and then signed on. Blackburn was only a small club in those days. We had no money and were always in the lower leagues – yo-yoing between the Second and Third Division. It was only really when Jack Walker and Kenny Dalglish got involved that it became a high-profile club.
Gordon Lee played a key role in your development as a player. Talk to us about him and his time in charge?
Gordon was one of the most popular managers I think we’ve ever had here at Rovers. He was certainly one of the best managers around at lower level football. Gordon came from Port Vale and assembled a good team together. He knew the players, he knew what kind of players to buy and, of course, he led us to the Third Division title in that memorable 1974-75 season. Winning the Third Division championship with Gordon at the helm was excellent. We had some really good games during that season. We were always in contention with Plymouth at the time and one of the greatest games of that era – people still stop me to talk about it – came against Plymouth at Ewood when the race for the title was really starting to hot up. We beat them 5-2 after being 2-0 down – it didn’t guarantee us the Championship, but it certainly gave us a push in the right direction. Great days, but very different days. There wasn’t a lot of money around and so when we played away from home, if we won, the directors or the chairman would stop the coach at a pub and we would all have a drink for half-an-hour or so. That was your treat, that was your bonus. It was probably a happier and certainly a less pressured time. You were allowed to lose games, it wasn’t the end of the world if you got beat. They were not constantly gunning for the manager after he’d lost a game. Out of all the managers I worked for, Gordon is certainly the one that stands out the most. When he left for Newcastle, there were eight players who went round to his house to ask him not to go. He was always very popular with the players and everyone wanted him to stay, but the lure of top-flight management was too good to turn down.
How did it feel to be appointed captain under Jim Smith?
Being made captain was a great honour. Everyone you talk to wants to be captain of their club. I enjoyed it with Jim, we had a good team in those days and we played some great attacking football, so it was a good time to be captain. Jim was a good man, he called a spade a spade. He was quite a tough character, he used to bounce a few cups around, but he never held grudges or let arguments run on for longer than a day.
You eventually moved into coaching under Howard Kendall, as player/coach of the Reserves, at the age of 30. How did you find that?
Coaching the Reserves was difficult, as both the Reserves and the first team usually played on a Saturday, so somebody else had to take charge on the day of a game.
You then became caretaker manager for the first time in 1986, following Bobby Saxton’s departure. How was that?
It was a little bit daunting to be honest. My first game was against Portsmouth at home and we won 1-0. I was in charge for four league games, none of which we lost, before Don Mackay took over. Together, we won the Full Members’ Cup in 1987. People don’t recognise it, but for Blackburn that was a big event. We took 27,000 fans to Wembley and it was a fantastic day. We were in and out of the play-offs and with him as manager and me as coach, we did very well. Bobby was more hands on when it came to training, whilst Don left the training more to me. He used to watch and then step in when he had something to say.
You were back at Wembley for the 1992 play-off final and Kenny Dalglish asked you to lead out the team. That must have been a special occasion?
Leading the team out in front of 68,000 fans was a very special and emotional moment for me. Not only did we win, but the league system changed that year and so from Division Two we found ourselves playing Premiership football the following season. Kenny’s arrival at the club and Jack’s growing involvement marked a new chapter in Rovers’ history. What Kenny achieved in those three-and-a-half years was sensational. After gaining promotion, we signed Alan Shearer for a British transfer record fee of £3.3m and finished fourth in the 1992-93 season, we then came second in the 1993-94 season and qualified for Europe for the first time in the club’s history. Then, who can forget the 1994-95 championship-winning season that landed us in the Champions League. We seemed to attract a lot of bad press during those days. A lot of people were jealous of the fact that a small town club had won the Premiership and said it was only down to Jack’s millions. That was unfair. We won because we had a great manager, a good team spirit and we amassed more points that any other team. It was a shame to see Kenny leave the following season, it would have been interesting to see how far he could have taken this club.
Was Kenny the best manager you ever worked with?
The Kenny Dalglish era saw Blackburn Rovers move onto a new level. Because Kenny was such a big name in football, he attracted high-profile players to the club. Winning the Premiership title was just fantastic. He was a great man to work with and those three years with him were probably the most exciting this club has ever seen.
Who is the best player you have ever coached?
It would have to be Alan Shearer. He was a striker who just loved scoring goals and from the day he arrived at the club everyone knew he was going to be a special player. Some strikers who you work with will shoot wide fairly regularly in training, but with Alan it was very rare if you ever saw him miss the target. He was a very single-minded, old-fashioned strike, who wanted wingers to put crosses in for him all day long. He scored over 30 league goals a season for three years running and that kind of record speaks for itself.
Finally, how would you sum up Jack Walker and his contribution to this club?
Jack was a football man and a massive Rovers fan. He said to me one day ‘the only thing I want to see is Blackburn in Europe and to have my own box at Ewood so I can bring my family and my guests’ – he got that wish. He never said that much, but he just wanted what was best for the club. You don’t get that kind of money by being a soft touch and he would spend a lot of money bringing players to the club, but he wanted success. He did wonders for this club and he wonders for the town of Blackburn. He brought a lot of work and publicity to the area and I’m sure the people of Blackburn have got a lot to thank Jack for, because I know that I have. In the space of about three years, Jack built Ewood Park, the training facilities and the Academy at Brockhall and a championship-winning side – something that it takes clubs a lifetime to achieve.