Flashback: Blackburn’s Champions League misadventureBy: Rob | August 19th, 2010
Its Champions League qualifying week, which means everyone’s eyes are focussed on Europe. Which might be why its good timing for perspective new owner of Blackburn Rovers, Ahsan Ali Syed, to mention that its the Champions League that he is aiming for. He’s got the cash to do it as well – if all he says about how much he has is true, Rovers will apparently be the third richest club in the world.
Viewers of a certain age will remember the last time a Millionare took over Blackburn and promised them European Football and so on. He was Jack Walker, and by goodness, he managed it. Long before Chelsea or Manchester City were accused of buying success, Walker did exactly that for Blackburn, and they won the 1994/5 Premier League title on a thrilling final day.
When they made it to Europe though, things were not quite the dreamland they had envisioned.
They had been in Europe the season before – in the UEFA Cup. They’d finished second in the Premier League, but of course in those quaint days, the Champions League was where the Champions of each country in Europe faced one another. There was even only four groups.
The UEFA Cup “run” though, had been a disaster. They exited the first round at the hands of Trelleborg, a team of Swedish part timers. Pretty embaressing, but they dusted themselves off and won the league, so really that was quickly forgotten.
It was the following season’s Champions League that so marked Blackburn’s fall from grace.
Kenny Dalglish had decided to get out while the going was good, and handed over to Ray Harford. According to Greame Le Saux’s autobiography, divisions started forming in the camp, and players got away with things they previously would not have.
They suffered a pretty poor start to the campaign, a 1-0 home defeat against eventual quarter-finalists Spartak Moscow. They followed that up with an away loss to Rosenborg and an away loss to Legia Warsaw. Three games, three losses. Things were not looking bright.
They managed a draw in their next game, with Warsaw, which meant needing two wins from two games to have absolutely any hope of making the knockout stage. So it was off to Moscow.
Famously, in Moscow, things did not go well. The game is mainly remembered now for a punch thrown by opera-attending Guardian-reading Greame Le Saux on his team mate, the – how do you put this kindly? Well lets just say David Batty probably does not read the Guardian. According to Le Saux’s autobiography, the camp had been split for weeks. Factions had formed. Le Saux and Batty had argued on the pitch alot, and in training Le Saux had nutmugged Batty, and the fiery midfielder “had it out” with the defender at half time during a game.
It was in this circumstance that the two ran into one another chasing a ball in a bitter cold Moscow stadium. The European adventure, was not going well, the changing rooms were a bit rubbish and the players were cold, and so Batty lost it.
It is supposed that Batty shouted some homophobic abuse at Le Saux (who put up with the accusation that he was gay his whole career) though in his book, Le Saux side steps the issue. At any rate, Batty shouted angrily at Le Saux, who punched him, and broke his own hand.
It summed up Blackburn’s fall from grace really. They had quickly turned from League Champions to a bunch of individuals who only wanted to play for themselves, and didn’t actually like each other. There is a life lesson in amongst all this for Man City, or any other club looking to buy a bit of success with a volatile mix of players.
There was bizarrely a happy coda. Already out of the Champions League, Blackburn played Rosenborg at Ewood Park, and finally got their first European win. Mike Newell scored a nine minute hat trick, that is still, despite the best efforts of one Leo Messi, the fastest Hat Trick in the competition’s history.
Its admirable that Ahsan Ali Syed wants to get Blackburn back up and into Europe, but let us hope they have learned the mistakes of last time. He does say in the above linked interview that its easy to repeat history. I know he wasn’t talking about their Champions League run, but it still made me think about all this. I hope he knows about it.
You can follow my sparodic musings on Twitter, its @EPLOffside also you should totally like this on Facebook, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Though maybe that’s the caffeine.