League Cup


Thursday 6 October 2022

Rovers played in a first major cup final for 42 years on Sunday 24th February 2002 and Graeme Souness led the club to a memorable victory. Here are 20 pieces of trivia about the League Cup triumph 20 years on.

1. Luck is an essential ingredient for any cup success and Rovers were given good fortune by being drawn at home in the first four rounds of the competition. The semi-final draw then saw us picked to play against First Division Sheffield Wednesday, while Spurs obliterated Chelsea in the all-Premiership tie, also winning 6–3 on aggregate.

2. Henning Berg is the only man to have won Premier League and League Cup medals with Rovers, but another player contributed to both successes. Jeff Kenna made a surprise appearance at left back in the quarter-final against Arsenal, playing in his only match of the season – and indeed the final game of his Rovers career – before heading to Birmingham City permanently.

3. Other names to have played their small part in early rounds include John Filan, Egil Ostenstad, Ciccio Grabbi, Darren Dunning and Gordon Greer. Dunning scored in the second round against Oldham Athletic, when Greer made his last Rovers appearance… for 15 years.

4. The Sheffield Wednesday tie was a replica of the 1993 semi-final, when Wednesday won 4–2 at Ewood and 2–1 at Hillsborough. The identical scores at the same grounds in 2002 gave another 6–3 aggregate, but this time Rovers had won both matches. We had a lucky mascot who was taller than our captain for the semi-final first leg at Hillsborough. Then 15-year-old Glenn Entwistle tells his tale in this superb 4,000 Holes article.

5. Rovers were drawn as the ‘home’ side for the final – meaning that the famous blue and white halves would be on show for this memorable occasion. We would also be the team who would take the ‘lucky’ north changing room, which had hosted seven consecutive winning teams after major finals were moved to the Millennium Stadium while Wembley was being rebuilt.

6. Rovers supporters were allocated 29,852 tickets in the North End. Adult ticket prices were set at £60, £49, £39 and £29… which ticket band did you pick? There was a lot of rain when fans got to Cardiff and the decision had been taken to close the roof of the stadium. It was the first major British final to be played under cover as 72,500 watched on.

7. Despite already facing Rovers at Ewood in their pale blue change kit at the start of the season, Spurs were instructed by the Football League to produce a special third kit to improve the colour contrast. They remodelled a yellow 1999-2000 away kit just for the final as this Museum of Jerseys article explains. If Spurs had won, they would’ve changed from yellow into their home shirts for the trophy presentation (just like Rovers in the play-offs 10 years earlier!)

8. Reserve goalkeeper Alan Kelly picked up an injury on international duty for Ireland and therefore Alan Miller was urgently recalled from his loan spell at St Johnstone to take a place on the bench. Miller is the first of the Class of 2002 we have lost, having very sadly passed away last year at the age of just 51.

9. Three big names were suspended. Tugay was banned after picking up three bookings in successive games before the final. Craig Short received his third red card of the season against Fulham and faced a long suspension. Curiously, Rovers could have got Garry Flitcroft onto the pitch with some dark arts by engineering an FA Cup replay. Rovers travelled to Millwall for the 4th Round immediately after the Sheffield Wednesday match in which Flitcroft had got his stupid red card. Had we drawn the Millwall tie and won the replay, his three-match suspension would have been completed before Cardiff due to the extra game. A goalless draw looked likely… but Andy Cole headed a winner in the 87th minute and unwittingly sidelined Flitcroft.

10. Lucas Neill could consider himself very unlucky to be cup-tied in the one season when Rovers reached the League Cup final. A regular at full back throughout 2001/02 and then for the next five years, which included three further cup semi-finals, he would surely have started had he not played for Millwall in Round 1 back in August, just two weeks before signing for Rovers. John Curtis was also sad to miss out after being a key part of the squad for 18 months. Martin Taylor was preferred as a makeshift right back. Alan Mahon joined Curtis as an unused sub, while Nils-Eric Johansson and Stig Inge Bjørnebye made up the back up four with Berg.

11. Spurs were seen as strong favourites to stroll to victory due to the form book and Rovers’ absentees. Sitting in the top half of the Premiership, Spurs had recorded three consecutive wins before the final, whereas Rovers had lost four on the spin and were third bottom in the league, four points from safety.

12. “Are you not entertained?!” Competition top-scorer Matt Jansen fired in the opener after pouncing on a Keith Gillespie miscue. Jansen joined Alan Shearer on a record 6 goals in a season in the League Cup for Rovers. However, his 8 in total for the club didn’t come close to Shearer’s record of 14.

13. A minute later, David Dunn did one of his trademark “no-look” passes to set up Damien Duff, who forced a save from Neil Sullivan. However, not long after, Christian Ziege equalised for Spurs.

14. When one door closes, another opens. The absence of Flitcroft and Tugay did at least allow a fairytale to emerge. Mark Hughes was the somewhat surprising choice to slot into centre midfield. The 38-year-old with retirement on the horizon had barely played all season, but he lasted the full 90 minutes, memorably tackling and overhead kicking his way through the match. A final bit of silverware to cap a glittering career at the home stadium of the international team you’re currently managing? You really can’t write stories better than that.

15. Given Sir Alex Ferguson’s penchant for playing his second string in League Cup ties, it was a blessing that Andy Cole was not cup-tied after to transferring to Rovers from Manchester United in late December. Cole was wearing “revolutionary” Mercurial Vapor boots for the first time (weighing just 194g each), which Nike claimed were “10 per cent faster over 50 metres than a conventional boot”. However, after Jansen had caught Ledley King dithering, it was Cole’s pure goalscoring instinct which won the match with an ingenious deft shot which trickled into the corner of the net.

16. Craig Hignett lost two major cup finals with Middlesbrough in 1996/97, but finally got his hands on a winners’ medal. He was perhaps unfortunate to just be a substitute on the day, given that he had started the year in blistering form with five goals in January, including important ones in both semi-final legs. Hignett came on for Gillespie in the 75th minute.

17. Jorge González Díaz, better known as Yordi, made his Rovers debut as a late substitute after a loan move from Real Zaragoza earlier in the week. The first Díaz to ever play for the club picked up a League Cup winners' medal after just 20 minutes of action in English football. Andy Cole sarcastically patted him on the back for this achievement, much to the amusement of John Curtis.  

18. Brad Friedel became the first goalkeeper to win the Alan Hardaker Trophy, awarded to the Man of the Match. Les Ferdinand had been one English football’s best strikers for ten years, but he was denied by the American when presented with gilt-edged chances – a point-blank save from a late header being the highlight. Friedel was awarded a rare 10/10 rating by the Lancashire Evening Telegraph.

19. Captain for the day Henning Berg lifted the trophy with Garry Flitcroft, and Blackburn Rovers became the first – and to date only – English club to have won a major trophy in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Aston Villa, Everton, Preston, Sunderland, Wolves and the two Sheffield clubs have 78 years left to match the feat. Tick tock.

20. Graeme Souness pushed Mark Hughes to the front of the queue to pick up a medal alongside Tony Parkes, despite Sparky’s reluctance to step forward. And while Souness, Cole, Hughes et al were crucial in this historic achievement, let’s leave this rundown with two of the club’s greatest: Tony Parkes, who had led the team out à la Wembley ‘92, holding aloft an image of Jack Walker.

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