No. 4 in an occasional series.
Blackburn Rovers has an FA Cup record about which any club and its fans would be rightly proud. Six times FA Cup winners and twice runners-up makes Blackburn Rovers the eighth best team in FA Cup history. The club is also the last side to date to win the trophy in three successive seasons, a feat only achieved by one other club, the long since defunct The Wanderers side. The problem for current Blackburn Rovers fans is that all this Cup glory happened before any of them were even born, and their last appearance in the Final itself is so long ago that there would only be a handful of septuagenarians and older who might have first-hand recollection of it.
Blackburn Rovers was formed in 1875 and five years later entered the FA Cup for the first ever time, along with 19 other clubs including another FA Cup trailblazer, Aston Villa. The Rovers won their first ever FA Cup match 5-1 at home to a club called Tyne Association in the First Round of the 1879/80 competition, before beating Darwen 3-1 in Round Two and then losing 6-0 at Nottingham Forest in Round Three. Just two seasons later, though, the club made it all the way through to the Final itself beating Blackburn Park Road, Bolton Wanderers, Darwen, Wednesbury Old Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday on the way. Blackburn Rovers was the first Northern club to make the final where they faced FA Cup stalwarts and previous winners, Old Etonians. On this occasion the old school won through 1-0 courtesy of a Reginald Macauley goal, but glory for the North and for Blackburn Rovers would not be far away.
A now defunct fellow Blackburn side, Blackburn Olympic, beat Old Etonians in the following year’s Cup Final, but then it was Blackburn Rovers turn, and for a while it appeared they would be FA Cup winners for evermore. From a 7-1 win over Southport Central in 1883 through to a 2-0 replay defeat at home to Scottish club Renton in 1887, Rovers won through 24 Rounds in the FA Cup, scored 87 goals, and won the FA Cup three times, twice beating Scottish amateurs Queen’s Park, and once beating West Bromwich Albion after a replay, the first FA Cup final not to contain a Southern amateur club. Those three FA Cup wins were quickly added to with two more consecutive triumphs in 1890 and 1891, thrashing The Wednesday 6-1 in the former and beating Notts County in the latter. This fifth win equalled the highest number of times any team had won the competition, and for the next 25 years Blackburn Rovers would hold the record as the best team of the FA Cup.
However, aside from five Semi-Final appearances, the club never came close to adding to their tally for almost 30 years during which time their great FA Cup rivals Aston Villa had secured the mantle of best FA Cup team. But that was all about to change in the 1927-28 season when once again Rovers would taste FA Cup glory. Blackburn were, at best, a mid-table Division One side whilst recent FA Cup runs had been chequered, and despite a healthy 4-1 Third Round win over Newcastle United, who had won the competition four seasons earlier and were reigning League Champions, only the most ardent of supporters would have expected the club to go on to win the Trophy. And that glory day at Wembley would have felt even further away after the club’s Fourth Round 2-2 draw at Third Division South side Exeter City. The lower league Devon side held their Division One opponents to a 1-1 draw after ninety minutes in the replay and only finally succumbed 3-1 after extra time.
A Fifth Round draw at home to Port Vale from Division Two should have been more straightforward than the 2-1 victory suggests, but Rovers had a more comfortable 2-0 victory at home to Division One strugglers Manchester United in the Quarter Finals thanks to a Syd Puddefoot brace. Blackburn Rovers were in the Semi Final again and now starting to believe the glory days would return. But ahead of them lay Arsenal, the previous season’s surprise beaten finalists, and a club on the cusp of their first period of dominance. The Semi-Final was played at Filbert Street in Leicester and Jack Roscamp scored the only goal of the game to see Rovers into their first FA Cup final for 37 years. In the Final they were to face the ‘Team of the 20s’ in the shape of Huddersfield Town who’d only just set their own record of three successive League Championships. But Blackburn took the game to Huddersfield with Roscamp scoring what was at the time the fastest goal scored in a Wembley Final after just 55 seconds to set up the 3-1 victory. Blackburn Rovers won the FA Cup for the sixth time, matching their rivals Aston Villa, and looked forward to more Cup success in the imminent future.
But that success was not forthcoming. FA Cup disappointment would quickly be followed by League disappointment as the club were relegated out of the top flight for the first time in their history at the end of the 1947-48 season. Bizarrely, the club did make the FA Cup Semi Finals twice whilst languishing as a Second Division club losing 2-1 to Newcastle United after a replay in 1952 and by the same score to Bolton Wanderers in 1958. Rovers didn’t let their Cup exploits distract them during that 1957/58 season and by the end of the year the club had secured its place back into Division One. And within two years of their return they would find themselves at Wembley once again.
A Third Round tie against fallen giants Sunderland, now playing in Division Two for the first time in their history, was won 4-1 after the two sides drew 1-1 at Roker Park. In Round Four fellow Division One side Blackpool were also beaten after a 1-1 draw, this time Rovers winning 3-0 at Bloomfield Road. Rovers were then drawn away at up-and-coming Tottenham Hotspur, a side on the verge of dominating both League and Cup the following season. However, Blackburn progressed without the need of a replay winning the tie 3-1 to set up a Quarter Final tie against Burnley who would go on to win the League Championship at the end of the season. An entertaining 3-3 draw at Turf Moor brought the two teams back to Ewood Park where Blackburn triumphed 2-0 to take the side into the Semi Finals for the third time in eight seasons.
In the Semi Final they faced Sheffield Wednesday at Maine Road in Manchester where a Derek Dougan double saw Rovers win the tie 2-0 and return to Wembley for the first time in 32 years. In the Final they faced arguably the best team in the land at the time. Wolverhampton Wanderers had won the League Championship in each of the previous two seasons and had only just missed out on a treble being pipped at the post by a point to the title by Burnley, and so it was no real surprise when Wolves ran out comfortable 3-0 winners on the day, Blackburn’s cause not helped by being reduced to ten men owing to Dave Whelan breaking his leg.
But this Cup Final appearance wasn’t to lead to another golden age for Blackburn Rovers and the club has never yet appeared in the Final again, with just two Semi-Final appearances in the first ten years of the Twenty-first Century the closest the club has come to repeating former glories.