Blackburn braced for the post-Walker era

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There is uncertainty over Rovers' financial future after the death of the club's benefactor

There is uncertainty over Rovers' financial future after the death of the club's benefactor

Jack Walker carved the stuff of fantasy into reality for supporters of Blackburn Rovers, but the implications for the club following his death on Thursday night at the age of 70, after a brief struggle against cancer, are huge.

In the darker days of the club's history, when a once mighty force languished in the lower divisions of the Football League for a quarter of a century, the promised land of the top flight was but a dream.

They were a nearly club, held dear by supporters of all hues, a living metaphor for the shift of sustainable power and success in football from the traditional working-class heartlands to the major conurbations of Liverpool, Manchester and London.

A succession of now household-name managers used the club as a springboard for loftier ambitions. The likes of Gordon Lee, Jim Smith and Howard Kendall each took the club to a higher level on the pitch, but off it the tales of rationing the teabags were not merely stories from the depths of folklore.

Under Don Mackay in the 1980s, Blackburn competed in three consecutive promotion play-offs, failing each time. And then came Jack Walker. Rumours abounded that he had, at the very least, contributed towards the audacious signings of Osvaldo Ardiles and Steve Archibald in the mid 1980s, but only when Walker sold the family business, Walkersteel, did he emerge from the shadows.

Kenny Dalglish was coaxed from the golf course after walking out on Liverpool, and Blackburn started to spend the proceeds of the steel stockholding business to achieve Walker's ambition of seeing the club he had watched from the terraces as a boy join the élite.

Big names arrived, old warhorses were put out to pasture; the crumbling edifice of Ewood Park was transformed into an example of the way forward. The crowning glory came in 1995 when Blackburn took the Championship by employing values Walker would have admired - endeavour, determination and, with the likes of Alan Shearer on board, a measured flair. The borough of Blackburn's motto, shared by the club, is Arte et Labore - through skill and hard work.

Throughout even these glory days, on a domestic level at least, as Blackburn's European forays were little short of disastrous, Walker was keen to stress that while he had laid the foundations it was for others, as it were, to complete the house that Jack had built.

In calls through the media and, occasionally, from the pitch, Walker demanded the fans get behind the club vocally and by passing through the turnstiles.

On one such occasion, with Blackburn needing a result to qualify for the Uefa Cup under manager Roy Hodgson, he told the crowd the Walkersteel stand would be re-developed to complete the quadrant of the new-look stadium. The result was secured, but the works never began. For a town the size of Blackburn, a 30,000 capacity stadium was surely always going to be enough.

On a commercial level, too, the club moved into uncharted areas. It was the first in England to launch a dedicated radio station and, at director level, business brains were brought in to take the club forward.

Now, though, there is some uncertainty and details on the club's financial future will not be released until after the funeral. However, Walker himself gave some indicators.

This April, when his illness was confirmed, he said: "A number of years ago I put in place a family trust structure to ensure continuity of management and provide the necessary financial support for all my businesses. I have made known my wishes to colleagues, who I am confident will carry forward the policies necessary to promote and enlarge all my business interests."

But as to the day-to-day operations, details are more scant. Paul Egerton-Vernon, Walker's Jersey-based solicitor, is the nominated head of a trust which will administer funds, but the football club is not singled out for special treatment.

As far back as 1993, during Blackburn's first season in the Premier League, Walker said: "There's no trust been put there [Blackburn Rovers] for an annual income." He did, however, add: "It's no use going into a major project like this, then something happening to me leaving the club up in the air."

Club followers will hope the trustees of Walker's estate share the benefactor's enthusiasm, if not his romanticism.