How many times have you heard people say Rovers couldn’t win a raffle? Many years ago they cleared all their debts with one.
Before Blackburn Rovers moved to Ewood Park they played their home games in the Revidge district of Blackburn. These were at East Lancs’ Alexandra Meadows cricket ground, before moving round the corner to their own Leamington Street football ground.
Despite Rovers probably being the most successful football club in the world at the time – they won the FA Cup, or English Cup as it was known then, for the third time in a row in 1886 – there was still the perennial problem then, as now, of paying for it all.
The ingenuity of football fans was as powerful over 130 years ago as it is now and one of the most novel ways ever of raising money for Rovers was put into action. This was raffling a house on New Bank Road, near their Leamington Street ground, in 1886. It became known as The Rovers Cottage and was said to be worth £140.
Tickets would go on sale at 6d each but this was very expensive for some fans. Sixpence 130 years ago would be worth around £25 in today’s money. Supporters would often create their own syndicates to buy tickets. Normally six people would put in a penny each and then hold a draw amongst themselves to decide who would be holder of their raffle entry ticket.
On this occasion five men from Blackburn clubbed together to do this. They had difficulty in persuading a sixth; a 24 year old Blackburn Corporation gas meter inspector from Johnston Street, called John Thomas Barker, to join in with their syndicate. Finally he reluctantly handed over his penny and then won their raffle to hold the ticket.
The draw was made on Wednesday 17 March 1886 at Culleen’s Circus, Blakey Moor, from the same cylinder Blackburn Olympic had used for their prize draw the previous Saturday, ironically the day Rovers beat the Swifts to book their place in their third Cup Final in a row. No doubt the boys from the top of East Park Road would have had some decent prizes, but nothing compared to what was on offer from those boys at the top of West Park Road. The Rovers Cottage was a sensation and created enormous interest, with 4,000 people turning up to watch the draw.
Mr Barker found out that he had won the raffle. This prize was a fortune for most working men at the time. He said he had received two offers for the house of £115 and £120. At today’s prices, these figures could be multiplied nearly a thousand fold.
The Rovers Cottage wasn’t just a great success for its raffle winner, it also helped pay off all of Rovers’ outstanding debts. The icing on their cake came a few weeks later with them winning the FA Cup for a third time in a row. Known as the ‘Thrice’, this is a feat no club has since been able to achieve and means Rovers still hold the longest unbeaten run in the world’s oldest club competition.