Dalglish: Blackburn Rovers' title triumph was so poignant
KENNY Dalglish will never forget how it felt to win the Premier League title with Blackburn Rovers.
Ask him to list the highlights of that incredible 1994/95 season and he does not need even a split second to think, perhaps to reflect back on that campaign and ponder which games were most significant in Rovers’ rise to glory.
In fact, he needs only one word.
Even down the phone, as he speaks to the Lancashire Telegraph from a holiday in Spain, you can sense the smile that has just flickered across his face and the emotion that still comes with that single word.
As much as there were many great moments that season, for Dalglish that final day of the season at Anfield will always stand so far above all else. There need only be one highlight, so perfect was it.
A Liverpool legend as a player and manager, returning to his old club to achieve one of the most remarkable feats in the recent history of English football.
“It was very poignant,” he reflects.
“Anfield was the second best place to win it. The first would have been at home in front of our fans.”
But, however special it undoubtedly was for the man who managed Rovers to glory, Dalglish will always insist that the greatest joy was not his.
“If it felt special for me and the players, imagine how it felt for those people who had been there for the hard times at the club, the people who had seen everything,” he admits.
“It was about the unsung heroes. Bill Fox unfortunately didn’t live long enough to see it all, but there were other people on the board who had worked so hard for the club.”
Fox passed away in December 1991, just two months after the Rovers chairman had helped to convince Dalglish to become Rovers manager.
The club were starting to make progress following years of financial struggle, which saw them spend five seasons in the third tier in the 1970s.
Much of that progress was down to Jack Walker, the steel magnate whose funds catapulted Rovers to the very top of English football.
Walker died in 2000, but he was at Anfield to see Rovers win the Premier League five years earlier.
Dalglish will always feel honoured to have realised Walker’s ultimate ambition.
“It was a dream for him,” the Scot says. “He had such passion for the club and perhaps more importantly he had a desire to put his hard-earned money into the club.
“He had a willingness to invest in the stadium and the training ground facilities as well.
“It’s easy to go and support the big teams, but he was a Blackburn boy.
“It couldn’t have happened without Jack.”
Dalglish, though, is always keen to qualify that assertion.
Rovers spent money and plenty of it on their way to the Premier League title. That is something he has never denied.
But Dalglish, a man who won three European Cups and eight titles with Liverpool, understands better than most what it takes to achieve success in the game.
Money helps, but you need much more too.
“Yes, we did spend some money but it wasn’t all about the money,” he insists. “It wasn’t about what I did, either. It was about the players.
“They were just a fantastic group of players and there was such a great camaraderie between them.
“In any great team no-one can think they’re above anyone else.
“The players weren’t overpaid like some people said, because there were players at other clubs getting more.
“And even if that hadn’t been the case, they deserved every penny.”
Dalglish made many great signings during his time at Rovers.
Colin Hendry, Mike Newell, Tim Sherwood, Stuart Ripley, Henning Berg, Kevin Gallacher, Graeme Le Saux, David Batty, Tim Flowers, Chris Sutton, the list goes on.
He will not single out any one individual himself, for many perhaps the name of Alan Shearer stands out the most.
“Alan was fantastic for us on and off the pitch and he was an attraction when we brought more players in,” Dalglish says.
“It wasn’t just about goals, although by the way he certainly passed that examination!
“But it was how he was off the field as well, how he spoke to people in the dressing room.
“He was a fantastic player but when he spoke to people he was the same as anyone else.
“He just had this presence, this aura.”
Many have said the same about Dalglish over the years. Greatness inspires more greatness, and so it proved at Rovers.
Promoted to the Premier League in 1992, they did not need long to adapt to the league.
Shearer made his mark instantly with a brace on his debut on the opening day of the season at Crystal Palace, both memorably coming from long range.
“We drew 3-3 at Crystal Palace on the opening day and then beat Arsenal at home,” Dalglish remembers.
“We finished fourth in that first year in the Premier League, then went from fourth to second the second year, which is a massive jump to do that.
“We just ran out of legs in that second season, we had a few injuries and we ran out of legs.
“But it was still a great achievement to finish second.
“Then in the third year our dream was fulfilled.”
Rovers missed out to Manchester United by eight points in 1993/94, but Dalglish insists it was not a case of turning any disappointment the players might have felt into motivation.
“We were never short of motivation,” he says.
“But when we finished second we weren’t far away.”
Rovers were fourth in the table after losing 4-2 at home to Manchester United early in the 1994/95 campaign.
But then came seven straight wins to catapult them to the top of the table, in no small part thanks to the original SAS strike partnership – Shearer and Sutton took the Premier League by storm long before Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge came together at Liverpool.
Shearer’s goal gave Rovers victory at home to Newcastle on the 50th anniversary of VE Day in their penultimate match of the season, putting them two points clear of Manchester United going into the final game of the season.
All was going well when Shearer put Rovers ahead on the last day at Liverpool, before John Barnes equalised.
Rovers anxiously looked to Upton Park for news of Manchester United’s match at West Ham.
A win would have given United the title, but they were drawing 1-1.
Jamie Redknapp’s late free kick put Liverpool 2-1 up, but within moments Rovers were celebrating.
The final whistle had gone at West Ham.
United had failed to secure victory.
Rovers would win the title by one point.
“Between Liverpool scoring and hearing the news, it was seconds, it wasn’t long,” Dalglish remembers.
“Someone said that the other game had finished, but the television people wouldn’t tell us.
“Then we found it had definitely finished – all while our players were still out on the pitch playing.
“For it to happen at Anfield, the end of that game is definitely the moment that stands out for me.
“It doesn’t matter what the margin is, even if it’s a small margin.
“You’ve achieved it.”
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