History In The Making
Blackburn Rovers’ 100 Club was founded over 50 years ago and is still going strong. Michael Hodkinson talks to the people behind it and the work they do
Generally speaking, the early ’70s were not the best of times. The Edward Heath Conservative government was at war with the Trade Unions, there were strikes galore and when the coal miners downed tools, there was a regular threat of black-outs as electricity was in short supply. The Bloody Sunday massacre of 26 unarmed Londonderry civilians reignited the Catholic-Protestant feud in Northern Ireland. This spilled over into England and there was the constant fear of bloodstained streets. The school leaving age was raised to 16, leaving a mass of disgruntled teenagers who had to add 365 to the number of days they were counting before they could earn a wage, although many of the girls scarcely noticed. They were so infatuated by the young Donny Osmond who was topping the charts with Puppy Love.
For local fans, there was little to excite on the football stadia around the Ribble Valley. Both Burnley and Preston North End were languishing in the then Division 2, the second tier down. This however seemed like heaven on earth to the dispirited supporters of Blackburn Rovers, stranded a division lower with seemingly little opportunity to escape. Ewood Park had an aura dating back to pre-war days. The vast majority stood and ground facilities were restricted to an insanitary toilet block and a counter which sold lukewarm drinks, Wagon Wheels and if you were lucky, a pie at half-time. The age of hospitality suites was not even a pipe dream in those days.
It was around this time, in 1971 to be precise, that a group of avid Rovers’ supporters, 14 in all, founded the ‘100 Club’. They wanted a more convivial atmosphere to watch their team and the criteria for entry was an interest in football (Rovers in particular), to be a season ticket holder and the desire to support the club financially. Members had to be proposed and seconded, the club offered them a room below the Secretary’s office in Nuttall Street, basically a terraced house, and an alcohol licence was obtained for a drink prior to and after the game. In return for a membership fee, they were offered four free trips to away games, usually in either the North West, the North East, Yorkshire (not Leeds) or the Midlands. They travelled by luxury coach, were booked in at a decent restaurant for lunch and in true East Lancashire tradition, a glass of Benedictine always completed the meal.
Over 50 years on, the 100 Club continues to provide a service to the Rovers. I spoke at length to David Jennings and Mel Entwistle who regaled me with tales from the past. David has now completed 41 years as secretary, such a tremendous feat of endurance in any organisation as he explained: “Initially, the financial support was aimed at the ground. The 1980s were a difficult time for the club, not so much on the field as financially, and on one occasion I had to dash away from work to co-sign a cheque, which we handed to the then chairman, Bill Fox. This was to pay the electricity bill. Failure to do so would have caused the postponement of a home game and a possible points deduction.”
The arrival of Jack Walker, which brought financial stability to the club, also saw the construction of the magnificent Brockhall Academy, deep in the heart of the Ribble Valley. Subsequently in recent years, the 100 Club has now set its sights on providing funding for the Academy. Until then, around £250k had been donated to the club for ground improvements and in recent times, over £150k has been passed on to improve the facilities at Brockhall. Just a couple of examples are a new mini-bus and the latest type of gym equipment. Parents who are shown round prior to making a decision as to which club their child will join, are blown away by its magnificence and to simply cast an eye over the current Rovers’ 1st X1 is an instant indicator of how the talent has progressed. History will always remember Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘Class of 92’ at Old Trafford, but since then, very few clubs can claim to have matched the production line which stretches from Brockhall to Ewood, as evidenced in their current line-up.
Quite bizarrely, three Davids are now at the helm, David Hembrough (Chairman), Hornby (Treasurer) and of course Jennings (Secretary). As life in England has moved on and improved, so is the case with the 100 Club. They now have the lavish Red Rose Suite on the Blackburn End as their base for every home game, members are allowed to offer Associate Membership to friends and family and there has been much continuity with away visits already pencilled in and the annual end-of-season dinner dance retaining its popularity.
I was a guest at the recent Middlesbrough fixture and was impressed by the organisation as well as the football knowledge of the members. There is no doubt that these are true Roverites, as of course are thousands of others who attend the games to support the blue and white halved shirts.
But what sets apart even a football nut like myself from those in the 100 Club and also makes me quite envious, is that they have access to the Brockhall Academy. If they so wish, they can visit there, watch the training and no doubt from time to time, come into contact with the hierarchy of the club – just one extra reason for enquiring if it is possible to be a member.