4000 Holes

THE ONE CLUB MEN OF BLACKBURN ROVERS

Friday, 24 June 2022
By  
Michael J Hodkinson

With Darragh Lenihan heading for Middlesbrough and Ryan Nyambe on his way out of Ewood this summer; also lost is the possibility of those players spending their whole careers with Rovers. 

The two defenders have made 252 and 201 appearances respectively for the club, although Lenihan also had a short loan spell with Burton Albion in 2014/15, which arguably would have excluded him from a true one-club list anyway. Lewis Travis will lead the way next season on 154 appearances in terms of remaining potential “one-club men”.

In the eyes of the truly dedicated supporters, the one-club man is probably the most revered. It is the ultimate Badge of Honour, combining loyalty and longevity bonded together with a huge slice of talent. In fact, this rare breed is a mirror image of the best type of supporter, always there through thick and thin, in sickness and health etc. 

So having decided to research what I assumed would be a substantial number of players fitting this category, I sat down with pen and a new notepad. Hours later, I realised that the back of a postage stamp could have easily replaced the pad because only one name was written down. And that had slightly dubious legitimacy, although he is arguably the greatest name in the history of this great club.

I had originally set the bar for a one club man at joining from school, playing for a whole career and retiring, having completed a couple of hundred or so games at minimum. Bob Crompton joined the club at 16, played 530 games and apart from the 1915-16 season where he captained Blackpool because the Rovers opted not to play in the Wartime Regional League, he never played anywhere else as an adult. Fortunately wartime games are classified as unofficial, so he is the one certainty.

Prior to studying the facts and figures, I thought the likes of Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas would have immediately qualified, but I forgot the former played for Morecambe and then Great Harwood on release from the Rovers and Duggie also turned out at Harwood. 

I even suspected that the likes of Derek Fazackerley and Stuart Metcalfe would have been there, again forgetting that Faz had played as a pro at Chester City, York City and Bury with even a stint at Kuusankosken Kumu in Finland’s Premier League, adding another 113 games to his gargantuan record-shattering haul of 596 in Blackburn. It had also slipped my mind that Mecky had played a season at Carlisle United on first leaving the Rovers at the age of 30. 

And surely the great Jimmy Forrest, England’s first ever professional international, a Blackburner through and through, must never have left his beloved club for another. But not so, he played his final season at Darwen in Division 2. 

I then decided to change the criteria for inclusion. Now it is never having played a game for a professional club prior to joining, starting at least 100 games (the total being lowered to accommodate those from the early years when there were far fewer games per season) and only playing non-league football or retiring from the game on being released. 

Name

Dates

From 

To

Games 

Goals 

Caps

Nat Walton

1884–93

Witton

Nelson

110

37

1

Harry Chippendale

1891–97

Nelson

Retired

134

50

1

Bob Crompton

1896–1920

Local Football

Retired

529

14

41

Sam McClure

1899–1906

Black Diamonds

Died

144

12

-

Arnold Whittaker

1899–1908

Accrington Stanley

Accrington Stanley

250

57

-

Billy Bradshaw

1903–20

Accrington Stanley

Rochdale

386

36

4

Arthur Cowell

1905–20

Nelson

Retired

279

0

1

Eddie Latheron

1906–17

Grangetown Athletic

Killed

256

94

2

Harry Healless

1915–33

Local football

Retired 

360

12

2

Arnold Whiteside

1932–49

Junior football

Wigan Athletic

218

3

-

Eric Bell

1945–57

Blythe Shipyard

Retired

323

9

-

Bill Eckersley

1947–61

Local football

Retired

406

20

17

Ronnie Clayton

1949–69

School

Morecambe

581

15

35

Ken Taylor

1950–64

North Shields

Morecambe

200

0

-

Bryan Douglas

1952–69

Ground Staff

Gt Harwood

438

101

36

Tony Parkes

1970–82

Buxton Town

Retired

350

38

-

 

The list contains some famous names in terms of post-war English football at Ewood Park. Douglas and Clayton are the stand-out Rovers players since the Second World War (along with Alan Shearer). Other English internationals are three one-cap men who all coincidentally achieved the honour against Ireland, the inside forward Walton, the goalscoring right winger Chippendale, and Crompton’s full back partner Cowell. 

Bradshaw, an attacking wing half, was a member of the two title winning sides of 1912 and 1914 alongside Latheron, a fluent inside forward who was killed at the peak of his career at the battle of Passchendaele. Harry Healless captained the 1928 FA Cup winning side from right half and Bill Eckersley was England’s regular international full back, a member of the 1950 World Cup squad. The Cumbrian-born centre half Sam McClure never played international football but he died tragically. An ear infection spread to his brain, causing his death at the age of 28. 

The remaining five may go down in the annals of football history as journeymen professionals, but they all made massive contributions to the club. Whittaker, who was at the then non-league Accrington Stanley pre- and post-Rovers, was a right winger who loved to score goals and Whiteside, who finally moved on to the top Lancashire Combination side Wigan Athletic, was an integral part of blue and white line-ups at wing half for so long in a career massively interrupted by World War 2. Bell was also a wing half, a Northumbrian who came south to carve out a long and successful career. There was always competition for the right back slot throughout the fifties and early sixties from the likes of Gray, Suart, Smith, Bray, Whelan and Newton, but Taylor, another with a Geordie accent, hung around long enough to make 200 appearances.

Finally, what do I say about Tony Parkes. He arrived from Buxton in the Northern Prem as a goalscoring inside forward, but made his name as Metcalfe’s midfield partner throughout the seventies. A master of keeping possession of the ball, he then became one of the country’s greatest temporary managers. It speaks volumes that in spite of rescuing the club on six separate occasions, he was always overlooked when a permanent appointment was made. He finally left the Rovers 34 years after arriving, when Mark Hughes brought in his own backroom staff in 2004/05.

It is 40 years since Tony was forced to retire from playing because of a career-ending injury and since that time there has been no other one-club man at Ewood Park. The reasons are multivarious. Much more social mobility, often caused by car ownership and improved transport systems generally have impacted on all areas of life since then. There are footballing reasons such as the increased size of squads, industrial legislation such as the Bosman Ruling, much shorter contracts and loans and let us not forget the greed of agents. Each time one of their clients makes a move, their bank balance increases. 

 

  • Michael Hodkinson is the author of the book ‘No Nay Never’, celebrating the Rovers v Burnley rivalry.

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