Blackburn Rovers
Ewood Park

Ground No. 24 (return visit)
Visited - Saturday 12th September 2009
Result - Blackburn Rovers 3-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Competition - Barclays Premier League
Attendance - 24,845

When Blackburn won the Premier League title in 1994/95, probably few at the time thought it would be the last occasion that a smaller, more traditional club would top England’s elite league, yet bankrolled by Jack Walker’s millions, perhaps Rovers were a sign of things to come in an age now where only money and who has the most of it matters. Purchasing his home town club in 1991, the steel magnate from Little Harwood set about transforming them, which despite a proud history that included being one of the 12 founder members of the Football League, had seen the club sitting outside the top flight for some 26 years, including a spell in the old (old) Third Division during the 70s. A ‘kings ransom’ of over £25m was spent (not enough to buy a decent defender these days) and with Kenny Dalglish persuaded to come out of retirement, then the dream of becoming champions for the first time since the outbreak of Word War 1 was accomplished after an exciting race with Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, which had gone right down to the last day of the season, United only managing a 1-1 draw at West Ham to finish just a single point behind Rovers. Despite effectively buying the title, it had been the result the nation wanted and unlike for example Chelsea under Abramovich, then something of a novelty seeing a high spending, star studded side, but with Dalglish moving upstairs in the summer, then the team were eventually broken up and the success destined never to be repeated. But despite this, Walker continued to plough money in, rebuilding the ground and stabilising the club to ensure their future as a top flight side.

Whilst all this was going on, further south in the Midlands, another benefactor, Sir Jack Hayward, had been attempting to bring back the glory days to his own hometown club, another of the great, traditional English sides fallen on hard times in the form of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Despite the transformation of Molineux, his attempts had been somewhat less successful, the club never quite taking that final step into the Premier League, until Dave Jones took the managerial hotseat in 2001 and guided the men in old gold and black back into the top flight thanks to a famous play-off victory at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. For all the talk of summer signings following promotion, Jones was sold short, with the money never quite materialising, Hayward eventually putting the club up for sale when funds were needed most, and so hopes were mixed on the opening day of the season where the fixtures computer had paired two clubs who had had such similar prospects at the start of the 1990s, with Wolves heading north to Ewood Park to meet a Blackburn side managed by another ex-Liverpool Scot in Graeme Souness. The subsequent 5-1 defeat was a sign of things to come, Wolves going straight back down at the end of the season, albeit not disgraced after Jones had garnered team spirit to bounce back from a difficult start, with only an away defeat to Everton being the difference between them and the Toffeemen swapping places for the following campaign. It wasn’t to be though and six years later, under a new leadership with a new backer in the form of Steve Morgan, Wolves were back and I was looking forward to heading northwards to exorcise some ghosts!

At the start of the season, this was one of the fixtures I’d circled to go to, yet through my own fault I’d still managed to miss out on tickets, dilly-dallying instead of getting them as soon as they went on sale. Fortunately I’d been able to get a spare one off a forum, so the day was rescued, and I set off early in a good mood, heading first to Manchester to save a bit of money on the trains instead of the more direct route via Preston. Last time I’d arrived a bit late, so took the chance to look around the town before finding a pub near the station called the Adelphi, prior to making my way down to the ground. Situated towards the edge of town, instead of relocating like many would, Jack Walker insisted on remaining on the site they’d occupied since 1890, purchasing 61 of the houses and a factory that hemmed it in on three sides. Opened in 1907, the former Nuttall Street Stand was once the pride of the ground, with its famous oak-panelled boardroom, and large crank that once again draws comparisons with Wolves, and our own Leitch-designed Waterloo Road Stand that was similarly angled to the shape of the street behind. Whilst Molineux’s architects opted to keep the sightlines during rebuild, in place of its predecessor sits the new Jack Walker Stand, a more conventional shape, towering over the surrounding streets with, it has to be said, a rather unimaginative brick and glass exterior. The other two new stands are much the same, with the main point of note outside the ground being a statue of Walker himself situated behind the Blackburn End near the clubshop. Alongside him is another nice touch, a stone sign with ‘Rovers FC’ etched on, which whilst looking quite modern, actually dates back to 1906, having formerly sat above the Blackburn End turnstiles, as can be seen on Stuart Clarke’s Homes of Football site. Finally, on the far side is the River Darwen, barely a stream at this point, but enough to give the Riverside Stand its name.

As with last time, Wolves fans were situated in the upper tier of the Darwen Stand, having been refused a request for extra tickets in the lower tier after selling out the 3000 allocation within a few days, so after having had a look round, then I made my way in, hiking up the seemingly endless number of staircases to get to the concourse. Built in the mid-90s, both end stands mirror each other with a large lower tier and smaller upper tier separated by executive boxes, whilst the Jack Walker Stand has a smaller lower tier and bigger upper, again both separated with executive boxes in the middle. The Riverside Stand on the far side was the only part of the ground not to have been redeveloped by Jack Walker, although he did play a part in its construction, which is far more recent than many assume, having been opened in 1988 with the steelwork being donated by the soon-to-be Rovers chairman. Despite only being 20 years old, the design does appear to be dated, even for the 80s, with a single tier partly covered to the rear by a pitched roof with supporting pillars. It’s been muted that it could be replaced to mirror the Jack Walker Stand, but with attendances rarely hitting capacity, then this seems unlikely in the short term.

Going into the game, Wolves sat higher in the table than Rovers, the Lancashire side still to have won in the early stages of the season, and from the off both sides looked fairly even, the game very much end-to-end with Berra and Keogh missing chances to take the lead. Pederson had a chance for Rovers early on, before a poor back pass from Karl Henry was pounced upon by everyone’s favourite footballer, El-Hadji Diouf, who raced away to poke the ball home past Wayne Hennessey in the 19th minute. From that, the home side never looked back and Hennessey was busy all afternoon called into action to make many a save, but in the second half he couldn’t do anything to stop Blackburn increasing their lead in the 56th minute, poor marking at a corner allowing Gael Givet to head home, Jason Roberts claiming to have got a touch on the way. Yet more poor defending was punished 8 minutes later, and it was game over when David Dunn strolled in to make it 3-0, the only cheer of the afternoon from the away end coming when debutant beanpole Stefan Maierhofer got a consolation with two minutes left to make the scoreline slightly more respectable on an afternoon that the result never really looked in doubt.

After leaving I met up with a friend and we made our way back to the Adelphi for a few pints and the first half of Spurs-Man Utd before heading home, arriving back in good time, again via Manchester.

Despite the result, it hadn’t been too bad a day out. The ground is nicely situated with the surrounding Lancashire hills providing a pleasant backdrop to the Riverside Stand, and whilst the ghosts of that 2003 result still haunt, then I’d be happy to go back again, perhaps then it will be third time lucky, although I won’t hold my breath knowing Wolves! 

Welcome to Ewood Park

Rear of the Darwen End

Rear of the Jack Walker Stand

Rear of the Blackburn End

The Jack Walker Statue

Rovers FC Sign
(as it originally looked)

Entrances to the RIverside Stand

The Riverside Stand

The Blackburn End

The Jack Walker Stand

The Jack Walker Stand

The Blackburn End

The Riverside Stand

Ewood Park Panoramic 1

Ewood Park Panoramic 2

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