[caption id="attachment_1048" align="alignright" width="240" caption="James Douglas, a Scot who joined Rovers in as a right half in 1880 and played in all three of the trio of successive cup wins. Douglas stayed with Rovers for twelve years, long enough to play in the Football League. After retiring Douglas, among other things, took the traditional retired footballer route of becoming a landlord. "][/caption]
As 1884 began, Blackburn enjoyed the status of being national champions at football due to the FA Cup win. Irritatingly for those at the Leamington Street ground, it was Blackburn Olympic rather than Rovers who were the recipient of the applause and admiration of the town. The Olympic team were cheered by crowds at every train station they stopped at on the way home from London. Back in Blackburn a large crowd were there to cheer their procession through the town. A local poet, William Billington, even penned a tribute in verse for them. It wasn’t any good (in fact, like most poetic odes to sport, it was bloody rubbish) yet it was still more than Rovers had written for them. Olympic even went on to play the Scottish cup winners Dumbarton in the first-ever ‘Battle of Britain’ clash. They lost 6-1 though and so I doubt they had quite some reception when they came back to Blackburn after that particular trip...
Presumably the most irritating part of all this celebration from a Rovers point of view was that not only were they unlikely to think of Olympic as the best team in the land, they didn’t especially think they were the best team in Blackburn! In the six months before Olympic won the FA Cup, Rovers had met them on two occasions and beaten them easily on each occasion, by 4-1 and then 3-0. Six weeks after their FA Cup win, Olympic met Rovers in the final of the East Lancashire Charity Cup at the Barley Bank ground in Darwen. Rovers won 6-3. There seemed little doubt as to whom the best side was, yet Olympic had won the games that really mattered. It was about time they turned their dominant local position into national success. In doing so, Blackburn Rovers would become the first ever dominant side in professional football.
Before starting on this period of success how about I introduce the team? Eight of the players would play in all three of the successive FA Cup finals whilst Jimmy Forrest, the left half for Rovers, would go even further by playing in five FA Cup finals and being on the winning side in them all. In goal for Rovers was future England international Herb Arthur, who won seven caps. It wouldn’t be until the arrival of Tim Flowers over a century later that a Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper would be picked more times for England while at the club. The others to appear in all three finals were the full back Fergie Suter, half back Hugh McIntrye, right half James Douglas, and the three ‘J’ forwards: Jimmy Brown, Joe Lofthouse (who would win four winners medals with Rovers but did not play in the 1886 final) and the wonderfully-named Joe Sowerbutts. The backbone to the cup winning sides was the Scottish trio of Suter, Douglas and McIntyre. The goals came from the prolific Sowerbutts, Forrest and Lofthouse. However it was Jimmy Brown who posed the greatest threat to any opposing side, as he proved when scoring in many an FA Cup game and in a final. The Blackburn-born Brown would score an extremely impressive 29 goals in 32 FA Cup games and would also be capped by England.
The Lancashire Cup was retained in 1884, after beating two rivals from their own town in the later stages. It took a replay to beat Witton in the semi final and another replay to beat Blackburn Olympic in the final. As well as friendlies against local sides, they also played Scottish sides such as Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Heart of Midlothian and Glasgow Rangers. They showed some of their local dominance in these games, thrashing Accrington eight nil, Darwen six nil Church 4-0. All of these were sideshows however as the main event was the FA Cup.
[caption id="attachment_1053" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Taken in April 1884, this is the first cup-winning Rovers team. In front of them are the trophies won in the previous twelve months; The FA Cup (left), The East Lancashire Charity Cup (centre) and The Lancashire Cup. They would go on to retain two of the trophies, although Accrington would knock them out of the next Charity Cup a month later."][/caption]
Rovers weren’t the only Blackburn side to challenge for the FA Cup that year, as Olympic reached the semi finals before losing heavily to Queens Park of Scotland 4-1 at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. Rovers began their campaign with some almost embarrassingly easy games. After beating Southport 7-0 at home in the first round they were drawn away to Blackpool South Shore and beat them 7-0 as well. It got more difficult in the next three rounds but not by much, knocking out Padiham (3-0), Staveley (5-1) and Upton Park (3-0) to set up a semi final with Notts County at Aston Lower grounds in Birmingham, their second semi final in three years. Over 100 sides had entered the FA Cup that year (well, 101 to be precise), yet the town of Blackburn had two of the semi finalists. It was an amazing achievement for the town, even if it was over a century ago.
There had been an element of scandal in the cup that year. After drawing 1-1 away to London side Upton Park, Preston North End were accused of being professional. Not only did they admit that they were but they claimed that other than Queens Park every other team from the north and midlands also were professional. Despite the FA knowing this to be true they still made an example of Preston and disqualified them. Luckily for Rovers, Upton Park didn’t complain when they beat them 3-0. In the semi final at Aston Lower Grounds (then home to Aston Villa) Rovers triumphed by the only goal. Joe Lofthouse’s effort was all that was needed to separate the sides. This result, coupled with Olympic losing their semi final, was to lead to an unbridgeable gap between Rovers and all the other local sides. Olympic later lost their only major benefactor and simply could not compete with Rovers.
Queens Park had been in scintillating form on their way to the final, having scored a massive 43 goals in their six games and were installed as the bookies favourites for the cup. The Rovers team that day was Herbie Arthur, Joe Beverley, Fergie Suter, Hugh Mcintyre (captain), Jack Hargreaves, Jimmy Forrest, Joe Lofthouse, Jimmy Douglas, Joe Sowerbutts, John Inglis (a fourth Scot!) and Jimmy Brown.
Despite the bookies belief, it was the English side that took the lead early on when Sowerbutts scored from a tap in from a Brown pass. It had come against the run of play and Rovers were from then on under pressure. A Queens Park goal was disallowed for offside although the Scots were not happy as under the rules they played in Scotland it should have stood. In England however, it was offside. They were not best pleased when Rovers scored a second through Jimmy Forrest which looked clearly offside. They were too gentlemanly to complain which wasn’t the best course of action as the referee, Francis Marandin, said after the game that he had allowed the goal to stand because he was waiting for the Queens Park players to complain! Despite this, it didn’t stop him disallowing two further Rovers ‘goals’ for offside. Queens Park had another goal disallowed that wouldn’t have been offside in England then finally pulled a goal back, even though Rovers complained about that one! It seemed to them (and many there) that Queens Park had been robbed when the game did indeed finish 2-1 to Rovers. They had to watch though as a fellow countryman of theirs, Hugh McIntyre, collected the trophy for Rovers in front of the crowd of over twelve thousand. Man of the match was Rovers’ brilliant playmaker, Jimmy Forrest.
[caption id="attachment_1055" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Blackburn Rovers and England goalkeeper Herbie Arthur who kept goal in three cup finals and seven England games. In two spells with Rovers he managed to –play in 40 league games after joining the club originally in 1880. Arthur retired in 1892 but not before a legendary match in which he took on the Burnley side…all by himself!"][/caption]
That cup final launched a glorious new era for Rovers. It was also to be the last win before the advent of professionalism as the FA bowed to the inevitable and permitted the paying of players. The first openly professional player to represent England was the Rovers playmaker Jimmy Forrest against Scotland in 1885, not that Scotland were happy about it, claiming both sides should be completely amateur. They could complain all they liked as professional football was here to stay.
Another thing here to stay was Rovers as national champions. Before that they regained the Lancashire Cup. Although it must be said, their 1885 win was probably the luckiest they ever had. They lost 5-1 in the semi finals to Bolton Wanderers. The Bolton team however was disqualified for paying players…only a few months before this was legalised by the FA. Rovers went on to the win the final at Deepdale in Preston, beating Blackburn Olympic 2-1 for the second successive year.
As interested as they were in being the local champions, it was the FA Cup that meant glamour and worth to them. Rovers began the campaign with what remains today as their biggest ever win in a major competition. Fecitt scored four and Barton got a hat trick as they humiliated Rossendale 11-0. They wouldn’t ever win a game in a major competition by that wide a margin again but they came close two months later in the fourth round of the same competition when they beat Romford 8-0. Sandwiched in between those games they had beaten local rivals Blackburn 3-2 and Witton 5-1. After this, a 2-0 quarter final victory over West Bromwich Albion set up a semi final with the Old Carthusians. Rovers beat them 5-1 in a game played at Nottingham and this was the end of any serious ex-public schoolboy or university team challenge for the FA Cup. Their opponents in the final would be Queens Park and it would once again take place at the Kennington Oval.
Since the birth of the FA Cup there has only ever been one occasion that the same sides played each other in two successive finals and this was it, the second England v Scotland clash in a row and for the last time in an FA Cup final. The Blackburn side included eight players from the previous final. They lined up as; Arthur, Turner, Suter, Haworth, McIntyre, Sowerbutts, Lofthouse, Douglas, Jimmy Brown as captain and Fecitt. The crowd was even larger than last year, around 13,000 which was a huge figure for the time. Haworth was actually on loan from Accrington, or at least was allowed to play for Rovers for a while. Queens Park remained resolutely amateur, as they continue to do so to the present day. Although modern times have seen them thrown around the Scottish leagues, they continue to be amateur and continue to play at Hampden Park. They can’t have been too happy at having Mandarin referee the game after his handling of the final of the previous year but they were too gentlemanly to think of complaining.
Nor would it have mattered as Rovers simply dominated the game. The first half was a very open affair and Queens Park did have their chances but Rovers led 1-0 at half time after Jimmy Forrest scored in his second FA Cup final after a close range shot on fourteen minutes. Despite having chances, the Scots didn’t really know what to do with them which may explain why Herbie Arthur did not handle the ball with his hands in the entire first half. The second half was simply all Rovers. Very soon after Arthur handled the ball for the first time, Fecitt ran down the left wing and squared it for Jimmy Brown to make it 2-0 and finish off the game. There were over twenty minutes left in the game yet Queens Park never threatened to get a consolation goal never mind an equaliser and Rovers were FA Cup champions once again. Queens Park would enter the FA Cup twice more but would not reach another final. The Scottish FA then banned any of its member clubs entering the competition and the days of ‘Battles of Britain’ were over or at least for a very long time.
[caption id="attachment_1057" align="alignright" width="240" caption="The Rovers half back Joseph Heyes, who played for the club between 1885 and 1888, including winning an FA Cup medal in 1886, although he only played in the first game as he was dropped for Nat Walton in the replay."][/caption]
Blackburn Rovers were now the kings of the cups and only one team in the land could ever claim bragging rights over them and that was the awesome Corinthians side. Their constitution meant they refused to enter competitions (this was changed but not some decades) and so Rovers could only meet them in friendlies. They probably wished they hadn’t bothered. In 1884 the Corinthians beat them 8-1. In 1885 the Corinthians beat them 2-1 at their Leamington Street home and then later in the year beat them 6-0. In 1886 the Corinthians beat them 3-2. In fact, Rovers didn’t even beat them until 1888 and before that had needed to put a brave face on a 6-1 loss. The rise of the Football League would lessen the force of this majestic Corinthians side but they would still have one last sting in the tail left for Rovers when they would meet for one last time in the 1920s.
Thankfully, they posed no opposition in the FA Cup and so Rovers marched on. In the Lancashire Cup, Rovers had had another amazing semi final escape. For the second successive year they lost at that stage, this time to Preston North End and yet once again their victors was chucked out the competition, this time for fielding ineligible players. It wasn’t to be quite so much of a fairytale though as Bolton Wanderers beat 1-0 in the final played at Deepdale. They gained some consolation by beating Accrington to win the East Lancashire Charity Cup and followed it up with yet another FA Cup win. Rovers had added a half back to their team in Joseph Heyes and also brought the forward, local boy ‘Tot’ Strachan back into the team. ‘Tot’ had played in the losing 1882 final side but been unlucky not to have been selected for the 1884 or 1885 finals.
Once again, the progress to the semi finals was mostly straight forward. Wins over Church (2-0), Oswaldtwistle Rovers (a surprisingly close 1-0), Darwen Old Wanderers (6-1, they were not linked to main Darwen club), Staveley (7-1) and Brentwood (3-1) to set up a semi final date in Derby to play Swifts. Swifts were from Slough in the south and were surprise semi finalists. They had reached the semis once before but that had been a decade back in 1876. Despite this they provided tough opposition and it required goals from Nat Walton and Strachan to secure a nervy 2-1 win.
Yet again the final was played at Kennington Oval. The opponents were West Bromwich Albion in what was the first final between two future Football League sides. The Rovers team was Arthur, Turner, Suter, Heyes, McIntyre, Strachan, Douglas, Forrest, Fecitt, Brown and Sowerbutts. The game was on the same day as the Oxford – Cambridge boat race. In 1873 the final had been moved to another time but this time it was played at the usual time of half two in the afternoon (traditional kick- off time then). Although the fans and West Bromwich Albion were only interested in the football, the Rovers players had their intention firmly on seeing the rowing. This they did and it was believed it almost cost them the cup!
The boat race was watched in cold conditions and Rovers barely reached their changing rooms with ten minutes to spare, undressing as they ran into their room. The awful preparation seemed to tell as Rovers battled out a 0-0 draw despite being heavy favourites. They could actually have won the game at the death but Fecitt’s shot went just wide of the post. There was no extra time as Albion didn’t fancy holding Rovers for another half hour and didn’t realise that the Blackburn players were shattered.
A replay was hastily arranged for a week later at The Racecourse Ground in Derby, which is now the home of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, the first ever occasion that an FA Cup final was played outside the capital. This made obvious sense for a team involving a Lancashire side and one from the Midlands. The crowd was certainly slightly larger than at the first match. Those assembled saw Rovers win their third cup. A now defunct team, The Wanderers, had won it three times in succession in the 1870s yet they won what was patently a regional competition. By the time of the third Rovers win, the FA Cup attracted teams from not only all over the country but from Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well.
The game itself saw Nat Walton replace Joe Heyes. The game was played in freezing conditions and there had been worries that the game would be postponed due to unseasonably heavy snow. After a lunchtime pitch inspection, the game was allowed to happen. The man of the match was possibly the WBA keeper as Rovers ran riot. Sowerbutts and Brown both scored a goal in a second final and the 2-0 scoreline flattered the team from the midlands as they were utterly outclassed. Jimmy Brown, captain for the second year, discussed the achievement of his side with Major Mandarin, representing the FA. Rovers were told that although they would not be able to keep the cup, something would be done to honour their achievement. In the summer of 1886 a special silver shield was presented to Rovers by the FA and that remains to this day in the oak-panelled boardroom at Ewood Park. The FA Cup they could not keep was actually stolen in 1896 from a Birmingham shop window (Aston Villa where then the holders). When its replacement was replaced in 1911 the FA almost gave it to Rovers to keep but instead decided to reward Lord Kinnaird, who played in a record number of finals including against Blackburn Rovers and then Blackburn Olympic for the Old Etonians side.
Regardless of what was or not kept, the achievement of Blackburn Rovers remains to be equalled ever since. In fact there have only been five instances since of a team winning the FA Cup twice in succession and one of those was Rovers themselves. The closest any side has come to repeating the feat of Rovers was when Arsenal won the cup twice in succession and then reached the semi final the year after in 2004, where they lost to Manchester United. The three wins in succession remain unequalled since. The town of Blackburn had provided FA Cup finalists for an amazing five years in a row. With the rise of professionalism and the birth of the Football League there would be only room for one major team in Blackburn. That would have to be Rovers, although the two years before the League started would be very disappointing ones for Rovers and simply awful compared to their own stunningly high standards
This page is part of the BRFCS History Project written by and (C) Copyright FourLaneBlue and can not be edited, or reproduced without his explicit consent
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