30 years of the Premier League: How 'left field' Rovers made their mark

·7-min read
The Premier League marked the long-service award of four Rovers employees this week
The Premier League marked the long-service award of four Rovers employees this week

Times were a-changing in football, both locally and domestically, in the early 1990s.

Jack Walker was beginning to make his presence felt at Rovers, whose promotion via the Division Two play-offs in 1992 led to them being a founder member of the Premier League.

It would have been easy to view Rovers as the new boys or upstarts, but with the vision and investment of Walker, they were anything but.

Today marks 30 years of the first Premier League match, with Alan Shearer, who would go on to be the division’s all-time record scorer with 260, scoring twice for Rovers in a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace.

Yet without the vision and backing of ‘Uncle Jack’, who had already brought in Kenny Dalglish as manager, as well as promotion in 1992, the signing of Shearer would never have materialised.

It was to be the start of a golden era for Rovers, but a step forward for the game, with the Premier League having since grown into the biggest, and most-watched, league in the world.

Rovers director Rob Coar, who served as chairman from 1991 to 2005, recalls those early meetings.

“It was a fascinating period,” he said.

“Going to the first Premier League meeting in London, meeting new people. We knew quite a lot of them, but those were Football League meetings, we’d never been to a Premier League meeting.

“It was all new for them and us.

“There were certain conditions and parameters but the whole thing grew organically. It wasn’t the case that it was all just there on the Monday having not been there on Sunday.

“Over two or three years the whole thing evolved into what it is today.”

There was an element of secrecy to the initial Premier League launch talks, with the rest of the Football League clubs, of which Rovers were at the time, kept in the dark.

When the plan became known however, they were as keen as anyone to be a part of it, achieving their promotion mission with a 1-0 win over Leicester City in the 1991/92 play-off final at Wembley.

So how were Rovers viewed in those early meetings?

“I think there was an element of, not upstarts, but coming in from left-field,” Coar explained.

“Everyone knew that Jack was serious but then we brought Kenny in and then he signed Alan Shearer which Manchester United tried to do and by the time the season kicked off I think teams were looking over their shoulders and wondering ‘what was going on here?’

“I don’t think anyone could quite imagine what was to happen though.”

The first discussions centred around a deal with Sky television, the broadcaster having since become a huge part of the rise of the division given their level of investment.

Rovers would go on to become the second club to lift the Premier League trophy with their success in 1994/95, and they remain one of only seven teams to be crowned champions within the last 30 years.

The trophy was at Ewood Park last week, where the Premier League celebrated the achievements of four members of club staff, including Coar, who have clocked up a combined service of around 140 years.

Barbara Magee, who has had 35 years at the club she has supported for 62, now works as part of the Commercial Sales, Administration and Charity Department.

She says the feeling of winning the Premier League remains ‘surreal’ and celebrations are in the works for the 30th anniversary in 2025.

Barbara’s role expanded from not just organising away coach travel for supporters to domestic games, but European too, on the back of Rovers’ title-winning success.

Juliana Preugschat began working for Rovers in 1990, a time when ‘we had to buy our own pens!’

Working initially within the ticketing department, she remembers the disappointment of supporters with every match being sold-out, but mostly about the close-knit nature of the club.

While they were embarking on an era that would take them to the heights of the Premier League title, she said the spirit of the club is what led them to that success.

Now an administration assistant at the club, she said: “The memories that you make, you don’t realise at the time because you’re just doing your job.

“It’s only now at this age you look back.

“You celebrate it at the time but I look back and think ‘where have the years gone?’ and what fantastic times we had.

“The togetherness of the staff, the players. We didn’t have a training ground so all the players joined in with everything we did and that had a lot to do with us being a bonded club.”

With 260 goals, of which 112 came in Rovers’ famous blue and white halves, Shearer remains the Premier League’s all-time record scorer.

One of Juliana’s tasks, and an extensive one at that, was to go through the letters and requests, from heartfelt to bizarre, that Shearer received throughout his four years at Rovers.

“I had to do my job in the morning and then I’d start going through all the fan mail that was piled up and reply to everyone,” she explained.

“Alan used to come in after training and sign thousands of cards, and we’d go through everything and then send them off to the fans that wrote in.

“Everyone loved Alan Shearer. There was a lot of envy with clubs that wanted him.

“Alan is an all-rounder, he had a charisma that everyone liked and you’ll never see a player like Alan again.”

The Premier League was a game-changer in terms of revenue and exposure, but also placed demands on clubs who quickly had to adjust staffing levels.

Yet for those at the club, they could never foresee what a juggernaut the Premier League would become.

Head groundsman Trevor Wilkin is approaching 40 years at the club having arrived in 1982, and could never imagine what was around the corner.

“I remember when it first started it was all new, so different to football as we knew it. There were dancing girls, fireworks, cheerleaders, there was some American razzmatazz, it was all a bit surreal,” he said of the Premier League’s inception.

“When I started in ’82 we were a relatively small second division club. You would never have thought of anything like the Premier League.”

While there is no denying the impact of the Premier League, for Rovers there is one man they owe an even bigger gratitude to.

“If it wasn’t for Jack (Walker) then I’ve no doubt we wouldn’t be in this position and I don’t think anyone could argue that,” Wilkin added.

Rovers have now spent 10 years outside of the top flight. They won promotion to the Premier League in 1992, before winning it in 1994/95.

They were relegated in 1998/99 before winning promotion again in 2000/01.

Having since been relegated again, in 2011/12, and even dropping into the third tier, their task is to get back to the heights of yesteryear.

It is one Coar says will remain increasingly difficult until the restructuring of the parachute payments is done.

Recalling the early years of the league, he added: “I think you deal with where you are at that particular time.

“We’d have a few play-off campaigns in the late 1980s where we hadn’t quite managed to get across the line.

“Whether we’d have been able to stay in the old First Division as it was then, who knows?

“The way it evolved, my business life changed, I became virtually full-time here looking after what was going on here.

“But virtually ever other club in the land was doing the same, the amount of staff they had increased dramatically as the money came in, commercially it unfolded infront of everyone.”

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