Fans revel in Rovers' return

Dave Hadfield on last night's big party for Blackburn at Ewood Park
Click to follow
The vast majority of Blackburn Rovers supporters got their first sight last night of something most of them thought they would never see, when the Premiership trophy was paraded around a packed Ewood Park.

Only 3,000 Rovers fans had been able to turn out at Anfield when the prize was won on Sunday. More than 10 times that number began to flock to the ground at four o'clock yesterday, with thousands more locked out, walking home disconsolately or climbing the hillsides behind the Walkersteel stand in the hope of a glimpse of the spoils.

At ten to nine they saw what all the fuss has been about, when, after a celebrity match featuring some skilful touches from one Kenny Dalglish, the successor to the old First Division trophy Blackburn last won before the First World War was placed carefully on a dias just outside the centre circle.

When, following a delay for Dalglish to change into his street clothes, it was handed to Tim Sherwood 15 minutes later, they could have heard the uproar on the other side of Darwen.

When Alan Shearer took his turn to lift a cup that makes up in significance for what it lacks in aesthetic appeal, the decibel count went through the roof, to be exceeded only by the reception for Dalglish and Jack Walker.

Mind you, the 30,500 at Ewood last night were in such a beneficient mood that they even cheered the Carling and Premier League big wigs, who made the presentations, as though they were old favourites.

At the stadium he built, it was a night Walker thought he would never see. The Blackburn president and bankroller admitted to having a tear in his eye as he said: "I waited a lifetime for this. Other people have lived a lifetime and never seen it. It's a great party, a fantastic night. It's wonderful for the town and it means a lot to me that these people have turned out."

Counting those locked out, well over a third of the 105,000 population of Blackburn - making it the smallest centre of population in the Premier League - was in or around Ewood last night.

This feeling of a town celebrating a League championship is something which has been lost to the game for three decades, with Ipswich in 1962 the last non-city team to win the title.

The town will host the best in European football next season, starting with the preliminary round in early August, because Rovers' heroics have not earned them a seeding in the European Champions' League.

No one at Ewood last night was in the slightest doubt that they will acquit themselves infinitely better, than in the Uefa Cup this season when they were put out by the Swedish part-timers of Trelleborgs in their first European tie.

That was a low point that now seems part of a different season of football altogether. There are some who have been left with painful memories even in Rovers' hour of triumph, however.

Dr Tom George at Blackburn Royal Infirmary said that 85 casualty cases had been treated the previous night, all of which could be classified as title related. "It was like New Year's Eve without the malice," he said. They ranged from the effects of too much to drink to falling into the path of cars.

They could, in theory, have had a different sort of celebration last night by taking the trophy on a motorcade around Blackburn. But the remarkable nature of what has happened here this season was brought home by one simple fact acknowledged by those who live here - Blackburn does not have streets big enough to take the crush.