Blackburn Rovers have paid a fitting tribute to club legend Fergus Suter on the 135th anniversary of his historic hat-trick of FA Cup final triumphs – a move which has received widespread acclaim from the people behind ‘The English Game’.
After teaming up with Jacqueline McAleese, who resides within Blackburn Old Cemetery, the club have completely regenerated the local hero’s grave, with his existing headstone re-erected and a new memorial stone, with the inscription ‘A pioneer and influential player at the start of our story’, introduced.
Widely recognised as the first ever professional footballer, Suter joined Rovers from Darwen in 1880 and collected three successive FA Cup winners’ medals – with the third final against West Bromwich Albion taking place on April 3rd 1886.
The Scottish full-back spent nine years with Rovers, scoring three goals in 38 FA Cup appearances and making one league appearance – also against West Brom – in the inaugural season of the Football League in 1888-89.
He passed away in July 1916, at the age of 58, having written his name into Rovers’ and footballing folklore.
Suter’s remarkable story was really brought to life last year in the hit Netflix mini-series The English Game, which inspired Jacqueline to contact the club and set her restoration mission in motion.
“I’ve lived within the Cemetery gates for the past 20 years and the Cemetery is quite precious to me,” she said.
“There are a lot of people in the Cemetery who were the great and good of Blackburn when it was at its best.
“When I learned that Fergus Suter was buried here, I found that his gravestone had fallen over and his grave was just a mound of grass, so after watching The English Game, I was really quite upset.
“For everything that he went through and the massive difference he’s made to football as we know it today, the condition of his final resting place was really very sad and I just wanted to sort it out … so I did!
“I dug it all out to the point where you could actually see his grave, I then wrote a letter to Blackburn Rovers’ CEO Steve Waggott, telling him the story and asking if he would be interested in enhancing its condition and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Seeing it now, it just looks so beautiful – it’s magical! I know he’s not a relative and actually is nothing to do with me, but his story touched my heart and I became so passionate about it. I’m just so proud of everything that’s been achieved.”
Eddie Charlton, Originator and Executive Producer of The English Game, said: “I would personally like to thank Blackburn Rovers Football Club for the wonderful job that they have done in restoring Fergus Suter’s grave so magnificently – a fitting tribute to a true footballing legend.
“The Old Etonian Association Football Club, founded by Fergus Suter’s great rival, FA President Arthur Kinnaird, is this year celebrating its 150th anniversary and they join me in congratulating Blackburn Rovers, remembering the friendship that has existed between our two great clubs since their famous meeting in the FA Cup final at the Oval in 1882.”
Julian Fellowes, Creator and Writer of The English Game, added: “The truth is that millions upon millions of people around the world owe a great debt to Fergus Suter and to the other founders of modern football, and it seems to me a wonderful thing that, thanks to Jacqueline, many of them will now have the chance to pay their respects at his grave. I am flattered and moved that our series should have triggered her desire to do this marvellous thing.”
Rory Aitken, Exec Producer and Partner at The English Game production company, 42, added: “We were delighted to bring Fergus’s story to the wider world’s attention with The English Game, to highlight his place in the footballing and social history of Britain and the world.
“To hear that Jacqueline was inspired by the show to restore his grave, supported by Blackburn Rovers, is amazing. We’re so happy to hear that Fergus is being honoured in the manner he deserves, as one of football’s greatest heroes.”