In the late 1960’s it was apparent that there was a growing demand for organised Sunday football in this area. The local authority was reluctant to acknowledge it – the proposal was rejected by Blackburn Council-and the Blackburn Combination (the main league at that time) was worried about and hoped it would fade away.
The fact though was that hundreds of players were turning out on Sunday mornings in the town. They were playing on Corporation pitches-without paying ground fees- and became known as “pitch pirates”.
The move to organise this pirate football came during the early part of 1970. Meetings were held with the authorities who eventually gave their approval and the first Sunday League Committee was formed.
Initially, the Sunday League was allowed the use of nine pitches. Therefore the first season was made up of 18 teams, playing each other just once per season on a league basis.
Peter White, the “Lancashire Evening Telegraph” Ewood Park correspondent, at that time writing for the “Blackburn Times”, on their Junior Sport column, wrote in December 1970:
“One of the most important events of the year saw the Blackburn Sunday League kick-off officially in September...the League is obviously prospering.”
What amazed people at the time was the tremendous number of spectators on Sunday mornings, bringing the problem of a shortage of parking spaces for players and spectators cars. That problem still exists today. In the years to come, the demand for organised Sunday soccer increased. By the mid 1970’s the number of clubs in our league had risen to thirty-simply because we had managed to persuade the Town Hall that there was a need for more pitches to be allocated to us. In the summer of 1976 we had 18 applications for one available place, and despite the emergence of another Sunday League in neighbouring Hyndburn, the demand to join our League is still very much there. The difference nowadays is that the applicants are usually established and successful clubs playing in other leagues.
Among our current clubs there are none of the eighteen founder members- the average lifespan of a club at our level is about ten years. We have had just over 100 clubs in membership since 1970 and about 50 name changes, brought about by the seemingly constant search for a new club sponsor. One of our present clubs, which has been in existence for ten years has had five different names.
There’s also the story of Darwen Jaguars. They found a sponsor- Slingers, the local butchers. The club duly applied for a name change. It was to be Slingers Meats Jaguars. The name was rejected by the League Committee.!
On the subject of the Committee, I must mention a couple of men who have served the League with distinction. The late John Barlow made a huge contribution to the League during the 1970’s. He was extremely capable, a good organiser, and most of all a great ambassador for the League.
Secondly, John Howarth, currently President. Among his many talents was his determined campaigning, principally for an improvement in the standard of pitches in Blackburn. The end result- hundreds of thousands of pounds spent in providing the town with eight sand-based pitches which are amongst the best in Lancashire.
Players of note- I’ll mention only three. They played regularly in our League before going on to higher things. Peter Devine went into the professional game as did Dave Hargreaves. Jimmy Khan represented his fathers country of birth when he played in the World Cup qualifiers for Pakistan.
Referees- such an important part of any league- I’ll mention just a few by name. They were all regulars in our League before officiating on the Football league, Peter Hargreaves, David Clarke and more recently, Tony Leake.
Finally, the clubs. I’ll restrict myself to two-the most successful and the least successful (in my opinion).
In 1972, Witton Inn were admitted to the Second Division as a new club. Their honours include a Division Two title, 7 Division One championships and runners up on 6 occasions. winners of the
Blue & White Rosebowl (the Leagues knock out cup) four times and in 1960 they won the Lancashire Sunday Trophy.
The least successful club? This story also comes under the category of “The League Committee’s biggest blunder”. In September 1988, a couple of weeks into the season, one of our Division One clubs had to disband. Rather than leave the division a team short, we hurriedly contacted a late applicant, Rossendale Transport for league membership. They said their side was built around four or five North West Counties League players, so they were put straight into Division One.
Their playing record was:
P W D L F A Pts
8 0 0 8 0 155 0
They were pressured into resigning from the League well before Christmas of the same year-but they were reluctant. It appeared that they really enjoyed their Sunday football.
Compiled by John Haydock in 1996
Since this was compiled by John Haydock in 1996 John has sadly passed away and one team has dominated since joining the league in 1996, Kings Inn/Mill Hill have secured 11 league titles, won the Blue & White Rosebowl 7 times, they also have won the Lancashire Sunday Trophy twice and in 2012 made Sunday League history by winning the treble of League, Cup and Sunday Trophy in the same season.