The title-winners that Cotton built, the story of Rovers heroes of 1914
ONE hundred years ago today Blackburn Rovers rounded off their title-winning Division One campaign with a 0-0 draw at Manchester United.
Rovers’ second championship success in three seasons should have marked a sustained period of domination for the club, one to rival its run of three successive FA Cup victories in the 1880s.
However it would prove to be Rovers’ last top-flight crown until 1995.
But although 81 years separate the two title triumphs, the genesis behind both were almost identical.
For Lawrence Cotton in 1913-14, read Jack Walker in 1994-95.
Cotton, like Walker, was a Blackburn-born businessmen whose wealth and ambition transformed Rovers on and off the pitch.
Both redeveloped Ewood Park and both built teams that proved to be the finest in the land.
Cotton, like Walker, was not afraid to break British transfer records and his £2,000 capture of West Ham United’s Danny Shea in January 1913 proved crucial in Rovers reclaiming the First Division championship they had first won in 1911-12.
Just over 79 years later and Walker did the same to sign Alan Shearer from Southampton for £3.3m – to similarly devastating effect.
But whereas Shearer was your archetypal, swashbuckling striker, the same could not be said of Shea.
In fact, Mike Jackman, author of Blackburn Rovers: The Complete Record, believes the 1911-12 and 1913-14 title wins are notable as they were achieved without what he calls ‘an orthodox centre-forward’ in the Shearer mould.
“It does make them interesting,” said Jackman, who has been watching Rovers since 1961.
“It was sort of make do and mend with what they had.
“Cotton had spent a huge amount of money on building the ground and to a certain extent the team came second while he was doing that.
“But when he got the ground to how he wanted it, he started to invest in players, breaking the British record quite a lot – very much in the same way as Jack Walker went on to do.
“The 1913-14 team was more-or-less the same team as the 1911-12 team, which was built on a strong defence. Yes it scored goals but the defence was the key element.
“But what the Rovers had in that second season was a lad called Danny Shea.
“He was the architect of the 13-14 team, he was the leading goalscorer, but he was an inside-right, with Eddie Latheron the established inside-left.
“The Rovers used two players at centre-forward, both of who you might call utility players, in George Chapman and Wattie Aitkenhead.
“They’d been with the Rovers for a while and for most of the season they were the two they employed in the position, even though at the start of the 13-14 campaign Cotton had said the club needed to buy a proper centre-forward after spending a lot of money redeveloping the Riverside Stand, which remained in place right up until the 1980s.
“Money was no object but it was not until February 1914 that they signed Percy Dawson from Hearts for a British record fee of £2,500.
“He actually didn’t contribute a great deal, scoring three goals in eight games, as the championship was more or less nailed on when he arrived.
“He was signed with a view to the future. Sadly, the First World War put a stop to that.”
The Great War also ended Rovers’ chances of dominating English football.
Jackman added: “The following season the team finished third.
“But then the Rovers closed down completely as the directors took the view it would be unpatriotic to encourage people to play and watch football when they should be at the front fighting.
“At the end of that season the directors had a rethink and decided to put out a team again.
“But a lot of the players had joined other clubs or had gone into the services by that stage and, by the end of the war, John Simpson had got injured and never played seriously again while age had caught up with the likes of Robert Crompton, Arthur Cowell, William Bradshaw, Chapman and Aitkenhead.
"And most tragically Latheron, who was young enough to go on, was killed in the war.”
It marked the tragic end of a golden period for Rovers.
But under Walker, a man cut from the same cloth as Cotton, the club would rise again to the summit of English football 81 years later.
Comments are closed on this article.