Days Gone By | Rovers and Bluebirds
It’s been eleven years since Blackburn Rovers were last in the top-flight of English football. As one of only seven clubs to lift the Premier League trophy since the competition’s inception in 1992, that wait has been far too long for the Ewood Park faithful.
Ahead of City’s New Year’s Day clash with Rovers, join us for a brief foray down memory lane to see how the two clubs’ paths have been forged and, at times, intertwined over the past 30 years. We’ll start in 1992 and check in at ten-year junctures…
1992/93 Season (The Nineties)
The landscape of English football changed forever ahead of the 1992 season with the creation of the Premier League. Blackburn Rovers were one of 22 teams that played in the inaugural 1992/93 campaign having just been promoted via the Play-Offs under the leadership of Kenny Dalglish.
Indeed, the Lancashire side was on its way to the very top of the English game and would win the Premier League (then Premiership) within three seasons.
With record signing Alan Shearer leading the line having signed from Southampton in the summer, Rovers would finish fourth in ‘92/93, second in ‘93/94 and as Champions at the end of ‘94/95, pipping the irrepressible Manchester United team of that era to first place on the final day.
The 1992/93 season was also a significant year for Cardiff City of course, as Eddie May’s Barmy Army marched onto divisional and cup triumphs.
The Bluebirds lifted the old Fourth Division title at the end of the season, beating Wrexham to it by three points, before vanquishing Rhyl 5-0 at the old National Stadium and setting up another European adventure. Tougher times for City and Rovers would come later in the decade.
2002/03 Season (The Noughties)
Over the subsequent decade, the fortunes of the two clubs were gradually starting to head in opposite directions. In 1999, just four years since lifting the biggest prize, Rovers were relegated to the second tier; Dalglish had moved on after lifting the trophy in June 1995 and disastrous spells under Roy Hodgson, Ray Harford and Brian Kidd sealed Blackburn’s ignominious fate at the end of the 1998/99 campaign.
Blackburn would spend just two years in the second tier before returning to the top-flight in 2001 under the tutelage of Graeme Souness. They finished sixth in the 2002/03 season, their best finish since 1998 and one they would again replicate in 2006. Discernibly, throughout the noughties, Blackburn had re-asserted themselves as a serious Premier League entity.
In South Wales, there was still little talk of top-flight ambitions over the course of the decade. Famously, City soared in to the Championship in 2003 and despite a difficult 2004/05 campaign, began to build towards an FA Cup Final appearance in 2008 and consistent Play-Off pushes.
Having not met since a 1985 Division Two fixture, the two sides faced off twice in 2004/05 in an FA Cup Third Round tie. Alan Lee scored in a 1-1 draw at Ninian Park, before Rovers overcame City 3-2 at Ewood Park in the replay.
In 2011, they met again in League Cup competition, this time with the Bluebirds triumphing 2-0 at Cardiff City Stadium as they marched towards a Wembley Final showdown with Dalglish’s Liverpool.
2012/13 Season (The Tens)
Imagine a line graph, showing Blackburn’s journey in white and City’s journey in blue. It’s at this point that the two lines cross.
There was no better side than Cardiff City outside of the Premier League during the 2012/13 season. From the moment Mark Hudson forced an injury time winner past Huddersfield Town on opening night to the lifting of the trophy in the early-May sunshine, City were irrepressible, deserving of their ascension to the promised land for the first time in 51 years.
As for Blackburn, they’d been relegated to the Championship ahead of this season, after four years of flirting with the drop under Sam Allardyce and, ultimately, Steve Kean.
Rovers really struggled at the lower level, too, sacking Kean in the September and then his replacement, Henning Berg, in December after just one win for the Norwegian in ten games in charge. They finished 17th in the Championship that term and haven’t come close to a Premier League return since.
Indeed, things had to get worse before they got better for Blackburn, as they sank to the third tier for the first time since 1973. Tony Mowbray had been unable to keep the side up following a disastrous spell in charge earlier that year by Owen Coyle; Mowbray did, however, ensure Blackburn were back in the Championship within a year after securing a second-placed automatic League One promotion in spring 2018.
With Rovers currently third in this year’s table, they’re as well placed as any time to challenge for a top-flight return since they dropped out of the division over a decade ago.