We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Stuart Metcalfe on Thursday 6th August 2020, at the age of 69.
There will always be a special place in hearts of supporters of a certain generation for Stuart Metcalfe. A product of Blackburn schoolboy football, Stuart remained close to his Mill Hill roots throughout his life.
He signed schoolboy forms with the club in March 1964, and after serving his apprenticeship he signed professional forms in March 1964. Originally a winger in the Bryan Douglas mould, Stuart possessed close control, a deceptive body swerve and a few flicks and tricks to bamboozle full backs.
‘Meccy’, as he was popularly known, made his debut at the age of seventeen against Cardiff City, at Ewood Park, on 27th April 1968. He featured in the remaining couple of games that season and shortly afterwards Mike Ferguson was sold to Aston Villa, with Stuart being given the unenviable task of replacing the popular ‘Fergie’.
Manager Eddie Quigley put his faith in the young winger and Stuart quickly repaid that faith with a string of displays that underlined the immense talent that he possessed. Although he played as an orthodox winger, Stuart was one who relied on intricate footwork rather than outright pace to beat his opponent. He was predominately right-footed and would turn in a complete circle to get the ball on his favoured foot – a trait that became well known to supporters.
Despite his slight frame, Stuart wouldn’t allow himself to be bullied by a more physical opponent. He was a competitive character with a fiery nature who wasn’t frightened of getting involved in a battle with a defender. Indeed, his competitive nature could sometimes boil over and led to him incurring the wrath of many a referee.
Quigley, who had been noted for his passing ability in his own playing days, recognised that Stuart had the qualities required for the ideal playmaker. He switched him into a central midfield role and Stuart responded in his normal confident fashion. Indeed, he became not only a creative playmaker, but one who was able to withstand some of the more rugged tackling of that era.
Whilst Stuart’s star was on the rise, sadly the club’s fortunes were on the wane as the Rovers slipped into the Third Division at the end of the 1970-71 season. The arrival of Ken Furphy as manager provided the first setback in Stuart’s upward trajectory. The new manager was unconvinced that Stuart was the type of player suited to the physical demands of Third Division football and he spent much of the season playing with the reserves.
The following season Stuart gradually forced his way back into the side to become a regular in the centre of midfield and he retained his place when Gordon Lee succeeded Furphy. Lee discovered that in Stuart and Tony Parkes he had the ideal midfield engine to drive the team to promotion.
In many ways the 1974-75 Third Division Championship winning season saw Stuart at the peak of his powers at Ewood Park. He was a key component of a side that provided the Ewood faithful with so many wonderful memories. The stunning 5-2 win over Plymouth Argyle at Ewood, saw him in the thick of the action. He calmed nerves with a penalty conversion on the day Rovers clinched promotion with a 2-0 win over Chesterfield at Ewood and who could forget his contribution in the memorable 4-1 win at Port Vale in the penultimate game of the season.
Following the departure of Lee, new manager Jim Smith quickly realised that Stuart would be an integral part of his attack minded side. Smith’s emphasis on attacking play allowed Stuart’s creative abilities to flourish to the full. He was awarded a testimonial in 1978 but in the summer of 1979 the appointment of Howard Kendall as player-manager proved to be the beginning of the end of his time at Ewood. Another relegation to the Third Division had led to Kendall’s appointment, himself a renowned midfielder with England and Everton, and he duly became the dominant force in midfield, and as a result, Stuart often had to settle for a peripheral role of substitute or filling in whenever needed. He was restricted to just 18 League appearances as Kendall led the club to promotion at the first attempt.
With his first team place no longer assured, Stuart joined Carlisle United at Brunton Park in July 1980, where he stayed for a season before sampling football in the United States playing under Rodney Marsh for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He also played indoor football for Baltimore Blast, being signed by Kenny Cooper who had been a goalkeeper at Ewood Park in the 1960s.
Stuart returned to Blackburn and a chance encounter with Tony Parkes, then first team coach at Ewood, led to him re-joining Rovers in October 1982 on a non-contract basis. He had a brief stint with Crewe Alexandra at the start of 1983 but returned to Ewood to make his final appearance for the Rovers at Newcastle United on 9th April 1983, when he scored a fairly spectacular own goal.
After leaving football, Stuart pursued a career as a psychiatric nurse and also helped out coaching at a number of local amateur clubs. He was also an excellent contributor to Radio Rovers, the club’s radio station, and his informed and honest views were given with the same refreshing style that he played his football.
The Blackburn Rovers Former Players Association wish to express their deepest sympathy to Stuart’s family and friends at this sad time. Meccy was one of us, born and bred in Blackburn, who had captured his dream by playing almost all of his career for his hometown club. He continued to watch the Rovers whenever he could until very recently and will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him.