Daniel Ainsworth talks to former Rovers keeper Brad Friedel about his time in the Blue and White halves.
Friedel made 358 appearances for Rovers in all competitions, scoring one goal. He won the Football League Cup at the Millenium Stadium and gained promotion during his time playing for Blackburn.
He went on to play for Aston Villa and Tottenham, before moving into coaching and management. He became the head coach of the USA Under-19 team, before winning the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship as assistant coach of the U.S. team.
In November 2017, Brad became the head coach of MLS (Major League Soccer) side New England Revolution.
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He’s been labelled by many Rovers fans as the greatest goalkeeper for play for the team, and it was a real honour to be able to interview Brad Friedel.
How would you sum up your time at Rovers?
“A really warm feeling from my time at Blackburn. I thought it was one of the more exceptionally well-run clubs while I was there.
“I think John Williams, Tom Finn, Andrew Pincher and Martin Goodman did an outstanding job with the budget we had. I think we put competitive teams on the field, finished in Europe a few times, won a trophy, and I couldn’t say nicer things about it.
“I’m looking at what’s happened with the club and now, sitting in League One, I hope they can get back up to the Championship, it’s a shame.
“Every time I talk about Blackburn now, to people who might not know about Blackburn themselves, I have to try to prove to them just how good of a club it was.
“[It was] an exceptionally warm part of my career.”
What was the most memorable game of your career in a Rovers shirt and why?
“Probably the cup final, maybe the promotion game at Preston was a big event, but winning against Tottenham was a tremendous experience.
“I also think, although I’d have to look at the record books, that we went many, many years without losing to Manchester United in the league at home. We also had a decent record against some of the other big clubs at home, but probably the cup final win against Tottenham.
Who was the best player you played alongside your time at the club?
“I was there for 8 and a half years. There were so many good players. Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Roque Santa Cruz, Craig Bellamy, Tugay, Ryan Nelsen, Chris Samba, Henning Berg.
“Stig Bjornebye was a really good pal of mine, played left-back so we went over from Liverpool to Blackburn together.
“Damien Duff – what an outstanding player! Matt Jansen, before his motorcycle accident, was a superb player. There’s too many!
“I know I missed a few, obviously, Garry Flitcroft was a great captain. Craig Short, big strong defender. I could probably, if I put my mind to it, remember all the players I played with. We had some really good ‘family run years’ were we really did become a family.”
How gutting was it to go from the elation of scoring your first career goal in the 90th minute away at Charlton, only for them to go up the other end and score an injury-time winner?
“Emotionally, it was enormous, and then they went down and scored at the other end, so it’s always become something I didn’t want to speak about.
“If you score a goal and you get a draw or a win, that’s something. But when you end up losing the game, it’s just similar to talking about an incredible save you made in a game but you came out losing, so I’ve never really wanted to talk about that save.”
What was the spirit like under Graeme Souness and Mark Hughes? How did it differ between the two?
“Graeme [Souness] and Mark [Hughes)] have similar character traits.
“They are both very intense on the field, and they are both very calm off the field.
“Graeme, as far as training and philosophy and things of that nature, was completely different [to Mark Hughes] on how they ran things day-to-day, but the way they want football to be played. Graeme was on the man-management side of things a lot more, straight down the line, if you did things a certain way, he’d like it. He [Souness] was a Rangers man and Liverpool and he played in Italy.
“You see Mark Hughes, the clubs that he played at – Manchester United and he had some time at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea – and even playing at Blackburn under Souness. Mark was a lot more scientific, he was more analytical. Mark would look a lot more into the stats side of it.
“With both of them, if you watched them play, they were very tough tacklers, but they also liked the flair of the game – and they both liked to play football, but not very direct. They liked more in your face, hard tackling.
“They were both very good, and huge influences on my career.”
How did it feel to leave Rovers just a few appearances short of Terry Gennoe’s record of the most appearances for a Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper?
“I’ve respect for any professional, at any club in any league that holds records.
“It’s not easy to break records. I will say that I never knew I was nearing records in my career. The only time I would find out was if people would actually tell me, and I never played to go and get a record. I played to win trophies, and I played because I enjoyed it – and I happened to be pretty good at it!
“Do I wish I’d have broken a record? Well, records are there to be broken, if you can do it, then do it. If not, then Terry has that record for a reason and that’s how I look at it.
“I think during my time, I could’ve broken that record if you see the years I played on after I left Blackburn, but Blackburn was a club that was changing.
“The Walker Trust was selling the club, and it was a club that became a selling club for a lot of players. There’s been a lot of turmoil and I think that if you look back, I feel I made absolutely the correct decision in leaving at the time.
“I’m sure that’s not great news for the Blackburn supporters, but that’s the reality of the situation. I think if John Williams would have told me nothing is changing at the club and we’re still going to be running in the same way things always have, I probably wouldn’t have left.
“But, there was a tremendous amount of change, and it’s great that Terry has the record and I have some other records.
“Every single record that is out there, it can and will eventually be broken. However, this one is hard to break, I’ve played for two decades, and football has changed massively. There’s become a bigger rotation of squads, more influence on youth players and resting players – making it harder.
“Even Alan Shearer’s record will be broken sometime, and when it is, it’ll be tremendous.”
What did it feel like to return to Ewood after leaving?
“I figured I would get a really good reception when I returned, and I did.
“The first time [I returned] was when I was at [Aston] Villa, and it was a tremendous standing ovation when I came out on the field. I never left Ewood with any animosity. Like I said earlier, I felt it was the right time to leave with the club and each time I went back there, I always got a great reception.
“To be honest, I always felt I should. When you leave a club, you never know what the fans will be like. There was never a day that I didn’t work as hard as I could for the club, and I feel I left for the absolute correct reason. It was difficult to leave but I always got a great reception.
“Again, it’s a part of my career and a part of my life that I’ll never forget.”
This interview was originally published in January 2018.