Rovers fans know only too well well that having a strong end to one season does not necessarily portend great things for the one following.
And so it proved in the glam-rock Autumn of 1972 as any optimism engendered towards the end of Ken Furphy’s first campaign all but evaporated.
While Ziggy played guitar, Rovers played abysmally and after flirting with the bottom four a year before, the illustrious name of Blackburn Rovers was for the first time to be found at the foot of the Third Division.
Furphy’s summer transfer acrivity had been limited to the acquisition of Don Hutchins, a left-winger from Plymouth.
Beginning the season with what would become a regular experience, a thrashing at the hands of 1970’s nemesis Bristol Rovers, Furphy’s team, not helped by a glut of injuries, contrived to lose at home to Rochdale and exit the League Cup, then draw against the same neighbours at Ewood in the league three days later, even less turning up for the league match than the cup embarrassment.
A thrashing at Brentford saw Furphy’s eye taken by the Bees’ bustling centre-forward whose name he duly noted.
A win at Oldham brought temporary respite but yet more new faces, Brighton forward Kit Napier, a veteran of Furphy’s 1964 Workington side, and his Albion team-mate, the less gifted midfielder Dave Turner, were unable to make an instant impact as for the second year running Bolton romped it 3-0 at Ewood and Rovers returned to Gay Meadow and came away beaten, if less spectacularly than a year previously.
McNamee, Hutchins, Endean and Stuart Metcalfe all had spells out with injury and Furphy, needing a fresh face to excite the fans and to end a goal famine which had seen Rovers find the net just three times in eight outings, splashed out on the man who had so impressed him at Griffin Park, John O’Mara.
Although Furphy parted with £30,000, a far from inconsiderable amount for the club at that time, and wassaid to have “beaten off competition from clubs in higher divisions” the 6ft 3ins Farnworth-born O’Mara, 25 when he arrived, flattered to deceive initially and the manager’s last-ever cash buy at Ewood went down in history as a costly flop.
Braces for O’Mara in his second and third home games brought comfortable wins against Plymouth and Scunthorpe but after eight away games the team had just a win at Oldham and a draw at Wrexham to show from their travels.
After 14 games, Rovers had won three and drawn three, alarming statistics comparable with Furphy’s debut season when he had at least had the excuse that he was juggling the personnel around.
A run of form was needed to save his job and more importantly, save the Rovers from the ignominy of a famed founder member of the Football League dropping into the abyss of the Fourth Division.
As so often, such a run had modest beginnings as an own goal and a Tony Field strike earned a 2-2 draw before barely 3,000 souls at the Vetch Field, Swansea.
Not many more were turning out at Ewood as enthusiasm was on the wane and Furphy’s always positive and evangelical rhetoric had begun to leave a few wondering if there was any substance behind it.
Less than 6,000 came to see Walsall beaten 2-0 the week after but Rovers were able to gain some momentum in three consecutive home games, O’Mara making it six goals in his first five five Ewood appearances as Charlton too were beaten and Grimsby forced a stalemate.
The elusive second away win came at Plymouth courtesy of an own goal from a future Rovers manager, Bob Saxton, and Rovers continued the run into mid-March, unbeaten in what was then a club record 19 league matches.
Field scored the winner at Spotland as the Rochdale bogey was ended after three consecutive failures to beat the men over T’Owd Betts.
Crewe had put Rovers out of the FA Cup at Ewood in the First Round, former Blue Alan Bradshaw enjoying his return, but there was even an outrageous slice of fortune when Chesterfield, 2-1 winners at Ewood on Boxing Day, were found not to have registered goalkeeper Jim Brown in time. The match was scrubbed from the records and ordered to be replayed.
Field was in imperious goalscoring form and Tony Parkes’ longest run in the side to date saw him firmly establish himself as a vital component of the engine room, making up for a lengthy absence for the cultured captain Garbett and indifferent form and injury for Don Martin who was not an automatic Furphy pick too often.
When Bristol Rovers played out a 0-0 draw at Ewood in February 1973 a healthy 12,378 turned up, the first five-figure home gate since Aston Villa had visited a year previously.
After four successive away wins which had banished all memories of the godforsaken start, Rovers, on the brink of only two promotion places back then, lost at Port Vale then even more painfully contrived to lose the replayed Chesterfield game 1-0 on a midweek night at Ewood, Brown, it goes without saying, outstanding this time legally installed in the Spireites’ number one jersey.
A hammering by John Bond’s Bournemouth made it three losses out of four but within the space of four days in late March, Furphy’s team beat Charlton at The Valley before pulling off an epic 1-0 win at Bolton, Derek Fazackerley’s winner halting the runaway leaders in front of an incredible Burnden Park gate of 33,309.
Careless draws at home to Tranmere and away at Halifax were followed by a revenge win at home over Bournemouth and another Ewood success against Rotherham as Barry Endean, known as “Dumper” after he had appeared in court concerning the ‘borrowing’ of a truck from a building site, finally recaptured the goalscoring form of his Watford glory days.
With three games remaining Rovers really needed to win 24 hours later at Meadow Lane on Easter Saturday to pip Notts Countyto runners-up spot and promotion but despite having chances, the game, which ended goalless before 22,712, is best remembered for one of the greatest saves ever by a Rovers keeper when Roger Jones somehow kept out a Les Bradd header which looked certain to decide the six-pointer.
Two more tame draws ended the season, Rovers and Oldham cancelling each other out on the final day as both hoped to take advantage of any County slip.
It was McNamee’s final appearance and the healthy Ewood gate for what might have been a decisive derby of 14,346 emphasised that Furphy had, as well as piloting the side agonisingly close – third, two points behind Notts – to a return to the Second Division, the charismatic manager had rekindled a good deal of interest among the Blackburn public.
A few days after lamenting the final position of third, it was announced that three would go up automatically in subsequent years!
Did Furphy have the remaining zeal and conviction to claim one of those spots?
Next…Furphy’s final Ewood days