A BALL had not even been kicked in the never-to-be-forgotten 1994/95 season but Tim Sherwood just knew it would end with Blackburn Rovers being crowned champions of England for the first time in 81 years.
Such was the inspirational captain’s unshakeable belief in his team-mates, in his manager Kenny Dalglish and in Jack Walker, the man he credits above all else for transforming Rovers into the finest team in the land.
There was a question over whether Dalglish’s side, just two seasons after winning promotion from the old Division Two, could go one step further and prevent Manchester United from making it a hat-trick of Premiership titles in a row.
But Sherwood, who was with Rovers every step of the way on their remarkable journey to the pinnacle of English football, insists those on the inside at Ewood Park had no doubts whatsoever.
“The first year in the Premier League we finished fourth,” remembers the former midfielder, who scored 32 goals in 300 appearances for the club between 1992 and 1999.
“It was a good season but I’m not sure we really believed we could go on and win it.
“But we got close in the second year, finishing second behind Manchester United, and from that moment on we knew we could win it. In fact I’d say we expected to win it.
“That was the mentality going into the 94/95 season and everything went swimmingly. Well I say swimmingly but at one point in the season I think were a number of points clear and it looked like we were pulling away.
“Obviously we only just managed to get over the line and in the end it was a massive relief but it was also fully deserved. It was a team full of men. We had a lot of captains in there, a lot of people who have gone on to work in football since then.
“We had a lot of leadership qualities. In fact anyone could have been the captain. Even though I was the captain – and I was very proud to be it – it could easily have been Alan Shearer, Colin Hendry, Henning Berg.
“And if any of them would have been captain I’m sure it wouldn’t change them as it didn’t change me.
“But I was the person who got chosen to do it and I was the first up to lift the trophy, which was a really special moment.”
Sherwood, of course, is talking about what remains arguably the proudest day in Rovers’ rich 139-year history, the day when the team that Walker built were crowned Premiership champions at Anfield against Dalglish’s beloved Liverpool.
The events of Sunday, May 14, 1995 are well told but listening to Sherwood relive them brings back the memories of what a truly dramatic and emotionally draining afternoon it was.
Two points clear of United going into the final game of the season, Rovers looked to be cruising to the championship when top scorer Alan Shearer plundered his 34th league goal of the season to give them a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.
That was the way it stayed until the 64th minute when John Barnes equalised.
Nerves among the thousands of Rovers fans in the away end frayed further when Jamie Redknapp scored an injury-time free kick to put Liverpool – whose supporters desperately wanted Rovers and their hero Dalglish, and not their bitter rivals United, to lift the crown – 2-1 in front.
A win at West Ham United would have given Sir Alex Ferguson’s side the title.
But despite a late barrage of chances United had to settle for a 1-1 draw. Walker’s dream had been realised. Rovers were champions.
“It was horrible day,” laughs Sherwood, who scored six goals in 38 league appearances during the incredible campaign.
“Building up to it, we’d been ahead for so long, and it could have all slipped away, but at least it was in our own hands.
“People were saying Liverpool were not going to try because their supporters didn’t want United to win the league. But we knew that wasn’t going to be the case because they were professional footballers and as a professional footballer you never go out there not to win a game.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game and so it proved to be.
“We just ran out of legs towards the end, we were shot, so we were just pleased to have done enough over the course of the season to have won it.
“And we thoroughly deserved to win it, as any team does that tops the league. It’s not a cup competition, it’s a marathon, and we stood the test of time and managed to get our hands on the trophy. It was just a brilliant achievement.”
Critics have suggested that Rovers, bankrolled by benefactor Walker’s millions, bought the title. But Sherwood, like Dalglish did in the pages of the Lancashire Telegraph last month, emphatically refutes those claims.
“Kenny Dalglish would always argue and I would argue alongside him that we did not buy the title,” said Sherwood, a £500,000 arrival from Norwich City in February 1992.
“Of course we added a few on big fees relative at the time but I came in for hardly anything as did the likes of Alan Wright and Henning Berg.
“Kenny just got the perfect blend of youth and experience, he just knew how to blend it all together.
“He knew how to pick the right characters and the team spirit between the boys was just fantastic, the best I have ever known.
“We wouldn’t let each other get away from anything, we dug each other out as men and didn’t take it personally when we’d have a go at each other.
“We got done what we needed to be done out on the pitch and we did it to make each of us better – and that’s what took us to the title.”
Rovers are this season celebrating the 20th anniversary of the club’s Premiership victory.
And former England international Sherwood, now 45, said: “Twenty years is a long time ago but it still remains fresh in my memory.
“Your football career is so short so you cherish the moments when you were successful.
“And that time, 94/95, will stick in my memory forever because there are not many players out there who have lifted the Premier League trophy.
“And to do it with Blackburn was a pleasure and a privilege.”