Tim Flowers interview: One in eleven – Blackburn legend’s labour of glove
Tim Flowers had been the lionhearted last line of defence as Blackburn Rovers’ 1994/95 cast rode off into the sunset towards immortality. Although Messrs Hendry, Sherwood, Shearer and company were his famous comrades back then, wherever the former England international has gone, music has also been there to count on, like the uncredited feature artist on this timeless favourite of a career.
When the first whistles of the new Vanarama National League season sound out this weekend, Solihull Moors will begin the Tim Flowers era in earnest. The revered former goalkeeper arrived last November with manager Mark Yates to execute a remarkable turnaround, as Moors clambered clear of danger from a seemingly unsalvageable position.
The 11-cap England international took the reins this summer as Yates became Macclesfield Town boss, and it marks a return to management for the one-time Stafford Rangers gaffer. With coaching experience spanning 15 years and several reputable clubs, he is a fair few goal kicks clear of novice status, and in playing terms, he should require little in the way of introduction.
The man between the sticks for Sir Kenny Dalglish’s Premier League-winning Blackburn Rovers, he remains so fondly associated with the Ewood Park club to this day, though it is the Midlands and not Lancashire that the boyhood Coventry City fan hails from. Born and raised in Kenilworth, just outside of Coventry and around 20 miles from Birmingham, Tim explains how his roots have been represented throughout his time in football in the form of another love of his.
“I’ve listened to music all the while. I’ve been in the car that many hours up and down motorways and that’s what I do, I listen to CDs.
“UB40 were always my favourite band; they’re obviously from Birmingham. I started buying vinyl, 45s and 33s, in about 1979.
“In 1980/81 I bought their second one, ‘Present Arms,’ then I bought the first one, ‘Signing Off,’ and then everything they ever released from there on in. I still do now – obviously they split and Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue are one side.
“I must have seen them live 25 times. I’ve seen Ali Campbell live two or three times in the last few years; I think he’s coming over Christmas time so I’ll go to that.
“I love listening to his voice and their music but I love listening to the Jamaican reggae as well. I like a lot of different music – I’ll listen to Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, through to George Michael, through to anything really – but reggae is my main one.”
That’s Tim’s own taste accounted for, but what about the teams he was part of? Having been a starter for Wolves as a teenager, he later became Britain’s most expensive keeper when he joined Blackburn from Southampton in November 1993 for £2.4million (apparently that has been surpassed this summer…).
Before players’ mega-buck headphone endorsements and suchlike, it was the sounds pounding through the stereo speakers of Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ that shook the walls of top-flight dressing rooms. On Tim’s side of it, was music a part of the atmosphere and routine for his teams, and was there ever a resident mixmaster in the ranks?
“At Southampton, I was. We all picked a song sometimes, but I did most of that, and at Blackburn a little bit.
“We had the ghetto blaster if you like, in there, and I’d just buy CDs really. You know what the lads listen to; it’s all upbeat stuff really.
“I don’t think we really listened to too much of it at Leicester actually. The lads at Solihull have an iPod in a tiny little speaker and you think ‘what the hell’s that?’ and then it makes a noise like the biggest speaker in the world.
“I ain’t really having what our boys listen to; I can’t really understand it. I don’t mind a bit of the old-school hip-hop but some of the stuff now, I can’t understand a word they’re saying.
“It’s one of them – you know you’re getting old then I suppose!”
It has become customary for new signings at clubs, or even youngsters stepping up to the first team, to show what they are made of by airing their vocal capabilities before a baying audience of teammates. Singing initiations showcase the weird and occasionally wonderful, and while the name of the club he performed one at evades Tim, the song at least sticks in the mind.
“It’s funny, me and my missus were talking about this; we were watching a programme and Elton John was on. ‘Crocodile Rock’ I did – we played an away game, so the new boy had to stand up at the table and sing a song.
“It’s your worst nightmare; you’re right proper out of your comfort zone.”
To throw off the shackles and blast out a tune in front of your fellow players takes more than a drop of character – something Tim certainly did not lack as he made his way up in the game in an era when the phrase ‘school of hard knocks’ was especially applicable. As a kid, he had idolised Coventry City’s Scottish winger Tommy Hutchison, and when it came to his own playing career, he wanted to implement some of what he remembered being enraptured by on the terraces growing up.
That was players who interacted with their public, who would give a nod and a wink to the crowd and make them feel they weren’t just an invisible part of the spectacle. Tim undoubtedly played with a few of that ilk, and none more so perhaps than England colleague Paul Gascoigne.
As Chris Waddle told on here in 2015, Gazza would try his hand at an Elvis Presley tune from time to time, while another of Tim’s illustrious former counterparts, Alan Shearer, has been known for many years to favour a crack at Lionel Richie’s ‘All Night Long’, as seen during the recent World Cup.
Tim recalls another of worthy mention – a striker from his days down at The Dell.
“I’ll tell you who was a good singer, a lad called Nicky Banger at Southampton. He was a good-looking kid, he had the jet-black hair with a bit of gel in it, and he could sing Elvis.
“He looked a little bit like him back in the day and you’d say ‘go on, do one of the songs’ and he’d be shy and go ‘nah, I ain’t doing it.’ You’d go ‘go on, do it’ and he would.”
Taking former teammates out of the equation, what if Tim could organise his own gig or festival, with his pick of any bands or artists from all-time? Who would he go above and beyond to get on the bill?
“Bob Marley and the Wailers; I never saw them live, so I’d love to. Probably Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones.
“I’ve seen a few; I’ve seen U2, I saw Oasis when they were together, because they played at the City of Manchester (Stadium). Bruce Springsteen, I’d like to see him.
“I like rock music as well, I like blues music. I’m listening to B.B. King in the car at the minute.
“I like all sorts but I’d have loved to have seen Bob Marley.”
From fan culture to the dressing room, music is layered into the camaraderie of football clubs. Someone who understood the sense of community football should never be allowed to lose was Blackburn Rovers’ late hometown owner Jack Walker.
After Walker’s 1991 takeover of the club, Sir Kenny Dalglish took over as manager before the end of the year, with Rovers promoted to the top tier as play-off winners that season. It meant they were one of the founder clubs of the new FA Premier League, and with Alan Shearer on board for a British record fee (reported at around £3.5million), they finished in 4th place.
“No one was wearing headphones in them days or got their heads stuck in a phone, so it was mickey-taking more than anything…”
Having been runners-up and eight points shy of Manchester United in 1993/94, the league’s third season would belong all to them. Shearer topped the scoring charts and Rovers topped the tree, with their title sealed on that final day against Liverpool.
The whistle being blown at Anfield and Dalglish hearing that United had been held at West Ham, making Blackburn’s 2-1 loss irrelevant, is an enduring image. It is perhaps ironic really that Tim’s crowning moment as a player was on a ground where he never really enjoyed much success!
It was the final 42-game season of the division, with a traditional ‘family club,’ as many have described it, the champions of England. Is that the vibe Tim associates with his time there?
“Yeah, without a doubt, we were very close. Shearer, myself, Micky Newell lived down Southport way, Formby and Southport, and then quite a lot of the lads lived round the Ribble Valley, Clitheroe, Whalley, outside of Blackburn.
“Some lived towards the Manchester way, but fairly close radius to the club, and yeah, we were tight. It was quite a raucous dressing room; no one was wearing headphones in them days or got their heads stuck in a phone, so it was mickey-taking more than anything, and people winding each other up.
“It was a noisy place to be; it was great. We enjoyed each other’s company; lads got in early and went home later, because they enjoyed being around each other.
“That came from the top as well; Jack Walker – God rest him – fantastic man, would come in the dressing room before and after a game, win, lose or draw. He’d always sit and have a chat with you and wouldn’t hold it against you if you’d lost, didn’t get over-excited if we’d won.
“Pre-season, he’d put a meal on for the lads and come and say hello to them. The manager and the staff were good at cultivating it; it was a Liverpool adage with Kenny really.
“Never got carried away or looked beyond the next game or above yourself, just stayed humble, got your head down and worked hard.”
There was, however, a night before the title was won when they could have been forgiven for cranking up the giddiness a little bit at least. On May 8th 1995, Oasis’ ‘Some Might Say’ was number one in the UK, OJ Simpson’s trial rumbled on, and English football tuned in as 30,545 packed into Ewood Park for a Monday night game of monumental importance.
In the penultimate league game of the season, Blackburn knew that a win over Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United would put them on the brink of glory. A Magpies icon of the future in Alan Shearer headed Rovers into a 29th-minute lead, and that would prove enough, as Dalglish’s charges pulled it out of the bag on the big night.
“…I think it was Sir Alex in one of the morning papers, because they played the following night to our game, against Southampton, and he questioned our bottle…”
In goal, Tim was unbeatable, notably thwarting Rob Lee, Ruel Fox, Peter Beardsley and perhaps most impressively, John Beresford, on the way to a diamond-encrusted clean sheet. There was nothing especially outrageous about his post-match interview for TV, but it was a raw, superbly unfiltered reaction from a player who was rightly regarded as one of the best domestic keepers around at that time, but with an ‘everyman’ quality that fans still identify with today.
It featured the line ‘don’t talk to me about bottle, don’t talk to me about bottling it,’ plus one or two more ‘bottle’ mentions before he had finished, as he responded defiantly to questioning of his team’s championship credentials from a certain Manchester United manager. It was a fitting example of an era just before elite-level players would become media-trained to within an inch of their lives, and it is fondly remembered by neutrals to this day (well, most of them anyway…).
Tim laughs as he describes whether he was amused by the slight fascination with the interview thereafter, or if it ever got annoying.
“No, it’s quite funny! It’s the reaction of someone in one of the biggest games of their life in terms of what the result meant to Blackburn; I came off and I was interviewed a minute later.
“It was just a gut reaction to I think it was Sir Alex in one of the morning papers, because they played the following night to our game, against Southampton, and he questioned our bottle, basically, so that was what it was aimed at. Kenny and Sir Alex had a few little mind games if you like throughout that season, but it was just a mixture of everything: relief, the massive will to win what we thought we deserved to win anyway, and all that came out.
“It was a reaction to what I’d read in the morning before the game. I do get reminded of it, and that’s fine.
“It’s great; it’s part of Blackburn’s history and my history.”
Along with the players who can light a fire within their team when they need it the most, the ones who know just how to lighten the mood at certain moments are equally invaluable. At Blackburn, their number 11 did more than just supply the chances.
“Jason Wilcox at Blackburn was a very funny man. He could be in a new player or coach’s company for about five minutes and be able to mimic them, walk like them and all that.
“He’s actually an outstanding young coach up at Man City at the moment. There were a few at Leicester as well, in different ways; dry or loud.
“Neil Lennon, Garry Parker – Parks was loud and lively and funny. Stuart Ripley at Blackburn, he was one who didn’t say a lot but sometimes he’d say something and it’d be hilarious.
“It’d be dry and you’d think ‘where’s that come from?’”
May 1995 was a sensational peak that Blackburn have sadly never since come close to scaling again. In the season of their title defence, the team (by now with Dalglish’s former assistant Ray Harford in charge) finished 7th.
The following campaign brought a 13th-place finish and a brush with relegation, before an enjoyable top-six berth in Roy Hodgson’s only full season at the helm, in 1997/98. The champions of just four years previous were then relegated in 1999, with Tim, who had played over 200 games for the club, featuring just 15 times in total and starting only ten in the league.
We have seen some meek title defences in recent Premier League history, with Chelsea and Leicester City finishing 10th and 12th respectively in 2016 and 2017. When it came to Blackburn starting again ahead of the 95/96 season, could Tim sense anything different around the place, and why does he believe they fell away to such an extent?
“Well it was definitely a disappointment, for sure. The year prior to us winning the league, we’d finished second and we’d came from about four back, and about 12/13 points adrift.
“We got back to about three towards the end of the season, so we had an incredible run. We were a very, very good team that year as well, and we came so close to certainly taking it to the last day, so we knew we were good enough.
“After that, the news about Kenny (becoming Director of Football) came out quite late really; it wasn’t announced at the end of the season, it seemed to come out when we were almost back in pre-season. So your manager – and a very popular and successful manager – going upstairs, if you like, was different, but Ray (Harford) was a fantastic coach, God rest him, and a fantastic man.
“All the lads adored him, he had a great personality. As a player, they usually go to the assistant and say something they daren’t say to the manager.
“The lads loved him and so there was no question about anything and nothing changed in terms of how we played. Maybe that was the crux of it; we didn’t really recruit.
“When you look at United or Liverpool, they tend to bring in two or three big hitters in the summer, and we didn’t really do that. What was brought in was more squad players than players who were going to get in the team.
“I think that might have been a mistake, looking back. Again, everybody’s a year wiser and has had chance to study you; everyone wanted to beat us because we were the champions, so there’s a lot of factors.”
Blackburn did end that season in high spirits, however. Rovers won four and drew one of their final five league games, the first of which was the Graham Fenton-inspired 2-1 victory which left lasting damage on Newcastle’s title bid.
Then there was Euro ’96 to look forward to, the first of two consecutive tournaments Tim was selected for by England. Much like what the country has witnessed this summer, a wave of euphoria and strength of feeling for the national team gradually began to build up again from the public as the competition progressed.
“We were stationed at Burnham Beeches (Hotel) so we’d train at Bisham Abbey, which was a ten-minute bus ride. Terry Venables was brilliant to be around; fantastic football brain but also a funny, charismatic man.
“His staff had huge experience; Don Howe, Mike Kelly, and down to the lads who scouted and the physios. They were good lads, they were football people, and when you’re stuck in a hotel with each other and no one else there, you played cards, there was a snooker table, things like that.
“You didn’t have those games rooms then. There were no cliques, there were no egos bouncing round the place, but some top, top players, and we were very close.
“I didn’t play a game but I was part of the squad and it’s up to you to make sure you’re upbeat and there for the lads that are playing. In my case, if they wanted to practice shooting, I was in there throwing myself around.
“Everybody contributed their bit and it was one of those periods in time where the public fell back in love with the team. We didn’t really get much of a gist about what was going on outside, because we were in there, but there’d be bits on the news and you’d watch it, with the fans going crackers in the streets or in the bars watching the game, and we knew they were making people happy.”
As much as Paul Gascoigne – a player Tim describes as ‘the nearest thing to a genius that I’ve ever been around’ – takes the most enjoyably iconic English image of that tournament for his Scotland goal, Stuart Pearce can’t be too far behind for his quarter-final penalty shootout celebration against Spain. It was of course the veteran defender’s glorious redemption for his spot-kick heartbreak in the World Cup semi-final with West Germany six years earlier, and as well as being there to witness that one, Tim was on Pearce’s coaching staff at Manchester City and Nottingham Forest in later years.
‘Psycho’ cropped up here when Tim was asked which teammate from his career he would choose if he ever recorded a song cover – and with intriguing reason!
“I’ll go Stuart Pearce; I’ll have him lead singer. I’ve been to a gig with him; my wife came with me and we met him in Birmingham watching The Stranglers.
“He loves his punk and Sex Pistols, stuff like that. He was half a legend – all the old punks knew him!
“They’d give him the nod and the grunt. So yeah, I’d have Pearcey on the vocals.
“Stuart was right into his music, was always at concerts, liked all these old bands like Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, things like that. That harder sort of music, he was right into it.
“After one game, I think it was at Forest, the bass player of The Stranglers came in the dressing room before the game, so he knew a lot of them.”
By now, there is no doubting the value of music in Tim’s life, and while he is attacking this challenge as Solihull Moors boss with characteristically unabashed dedication, he has seemingly come up with a contingency plan to keep him in rhythm, should he need it!
“I’ve got vinyl records upstairs. I went in a record shop the other day and some that I’ve got are about £40, so if I get sacked at Solihull I might flog a few of them!
“That’ll keep me going.”
This season brings new feats to achieve for Tim, who can already look back with a beaming smile at a Premier League crown, a League Cup, two international tournaments, Champions League and UEFA Cup football, and a coaching career in which he has represented footballing institutions like Leicester City, Nottingham Forest and Manchester City. Former caretaker boss at Northampton Town, he returned ‘home’ to Coventry as assistant to his old Southampton roommate Iain Dowie in 2007, having achieved a boyhood dream of playing for the club on loan in 2002.
“I worked ‘til the cows came home and I loved it.”
He has been there, done it, bought the t-shirt, and got it suitably muddy out on the training field. Last season was a reminder that the improbable is worth chasing after, as Moors went from three wins from their first 19, to only five losses in the next 26 to give the club another season in the National League.
It is all about to start again for Tim and the club, so with the first-day excitement bubbling once more, he stops for a moment to reflect on it all up to now. He also considers whether he still gets the same buzz as he always did when he wakes up for a day of football.
“What I’ve been is what I’ve been and we aren’t gonna live forever. I’m 51 and I’ve enjoyed my football career to date immensely.
“Was I the best player? No.
“Did I do better than I ever thought I would? Yeah.
“I was a grafter; that’s why I’ve got two new hips. I worked ‘til the cows came home and I loved it.
“I enjoyed diving around, trying to better myself, and whatever level I got to, wasn’t through luck. I’ve been out of work loads of times, for long periods of time as well; 18 months twice.
“I’ve always got things to do, I’ve got different hobbies – I like gardening, I’ll go fishing, things like that – but in the end, I love sometimes when you get that sweat on, coaching, with a goalie, thinking ‘you could do this’ or ‘I could help you as a centre-half; if I was playing behind you I’d have you doing this.’
“That’s what I’ve done since I was 16, since I left school, and before that, Sunday league since I was nine. That’s what I do, and when I pack in football, I probably won’t be doing anything else, that’ll be me.
“I’ll be digging weeds out of the garden and that’s it!”
It’s time for one last contribution from the shot-stopper-turned-shot-caller. His team have a date with Eastleigh this Saturday, but we end with the chance to call in some legendary ringers for this regular final question.
The scene is a simple 5-a-side game, with Tim in goal, and four teammates of his choice from any time in his career to complete the line-up. As with every interviewee on the site, there are no rules on picking a ‘best four’, but this is certainly one ‘sample selection’ that would be worth coming out to see.
“Matt Elliott, centre-half. Alan Shearer.
“Matt Le Tissier. I’ll pick one from every team, let me think.
“Shearer’s got to be in. It’s a tough one really, there’s that many.
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For much more on Tim’s coaching outlook, stories and Solihull Moors, you can find a separate feature from this extended interview at NonLeagueDaily.com.