15 years ago today Blackburn Rovers lost their most famous supporter, the man affectionately known to supporters as Uncle Jack. Upon his official arrival in 1992 Jack Walker set about re-structuring the club he loved and making it into one the town could be proud of once again and one that challenged the very best in the country.
He brought in Kenny Dalglish and within 3 years the club went from the old Division 2 to become Premier League Champions. That remarkable story is one that is rightly retold with affection by many but what is left today?
Jack Walker’s legacy is not just that amazing feat, it is in the very foundations of the club, for this was no ‘quick fix’, Jack rebuilt an ageing stadium into a 31,000 all seater that is still in excellent condition and with facilities that still rank among the finest in the country. Walker’s statue still proudly stands outside the Blackburn End and surveys the ‘New Ewood’.
Uncle Jack wanted the club to be the best in every department, he built a training ground that to this day impresses all those who visit. Sitting in the heart of the Ribble Valley amongst breathtaking views, yet only 15 minutes from Ewood Park, Brockhall allows Blackburn to attract the players that otherwise they may struggle to.
The Academy came next and a string of talent has flourished since then, from the early days and the likes of David Dunn, Shay Given and Damien Duff to the current Manchester United and England Centre Half Phil Jones as well as the club’s current crop, four of whom were in the starting XI for Saturday’s trip to Huddersfield – David Raya, Adam Henley, Grant Hanley and Jason Lowe.
Whilst current owners Venkys may not be popular with supporters, one thing they have managed to do is maintain and build upon the bricks and mortar foundations Walker put in place. The owners have spent significant sums on the pitch, ground and in particular the Academy to ensure it gained and maintains Category 1 status.
Walker’s legacy is not only wrapped up in the 1995 story, it is still tangible around Ewood Park. It is in the very fabric of everything that the club is. It is in the memories of the supporters as well as ex players and staff. It is in the fact that playing football in the Premier League is where the club truly belongs. It is in the comments of new signings who praise the facilities. It is in the words of the poem read out at Ewood Park on the day the club said goodbye to their most passionate and number one supporter:
“Hendry, Sutton, Batty, Shearer, the names roll off the tongue, but ‘There’s Only One Jack Walker’, is still the Rovers’ song”
It can be heard at every Rovers’ fixture and no doubt always will be, the man that never forgot his roots will never be forgotten.