When Hull City manager David Menzies died in October 1936 it left the club’s board of directors reeling. After a two month search Lancashire-born manager Ernest Blackburn was lured from Division Three North rivals Wrexham to take over the top job at Anlaby Road. Blackburn was an experienced operator who already had twelve years of managerial experience under his belt, which was to prove vital as he took over a club that was already challenging at the top end of the table. Blackburn maintained that momentum but ultimately by the end of the 1936/37 season the Tigers fell short of an immediate promotion back to Division Two, finishing fifth.
Ernest’s Tigers carried momentum into the 1937/38 season, winning six of eight League games played during November and December 1937 to reach second place when Blackburn’s side defeated his former club Wrexham on New Years Day 1938. A 10-1 demolition of Southport a fortnight later saw the Tigers reach the top of the table and City remained in the upper reaches for the rest of the season only to eventually fall three points shy of top spot in third place. The sale of better players during the 1938 close season meant Blackburn’s side were unable to improve further in the 1938/39 season, but the Tigers challenged in the top half of the table practically all season and finished seventh.
After just two games of the 1939/40 season the Football League was abandoned due to the outbreak of World War Two, Blackburn remained with the Tigers and led the side through four seasons of regional wartime leagues. He left the Tigers in February 1946 when the club was reshaped in readiness for recommencement of the Football League in six months time.
Robert Ernest Blackburn was born in the Rossendale Valley village of Crawshawbooth and raised in the nearby town of Rawtenstall, a renowned cotton weaving district to the north of Manchester between Blackburn and Rochdale. His father was a weaver and Ernest himself worked in a cotton mill when he left school. He played local football as a young man before joining the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War One, serving in the battlefields of France for four years. When Ernest was demobilised in the summer of 1919 he became a professional footballer who played at full back, joining Division One side Aston Villa and making 33 appearances in a three year stint. In May 1922 Blackburn transferred to Division Two side Bradford City, where he was signed by manager David Menzies, the man that he would succeed at Hull City fourteen years later. Ernest had two seasons with the Bantams and made 42 first team appearances, however a knee injury forced his retirement from playing at the end of the 1923/24 season.
In July 1924 he took a job as trainer at Division Three North side Accrington Stanley, a club based a few miles north of his Rawtenstall roots. Within four months, in November 1954, Blackburn had been elevated to the secretary-manager role at Accrington and he retained that post for seven years and 326 senior matches, maintaining a position in the middle reaches of the League table and notably reaching the FA Cup Fourth Round in January 1927 only to lose 2-7 to Division Two side Chelsea. In January 1932 Ernest was appointed secretary-manager at Wrexham, another Division Three North side. He led the Robins to several seasons of fine form that reached a pinnacle at the end of the 1932/33 season when Wrexham fell two points shy of top spot, with only Haydn Green’s Hull City side finishing above them and winning promotion to Division Two. Ernest was approaching his five year anniversary at Wrexham when in January 1937 he was approached to take over the manager’s job at Hull City – he led Wrexham for 224 senior matches.
Blackburn left Hull City in February 1946 but by September 1946 he was back in football when he took the role of secretary-manager at Division Three North side Tranmere Rovers. His Prenton Park side twice finished in the top five and in January 1952 his side again reached the FA Cup Fourth Round, dumping out Division One side Huddersfield Town in the Third Round before losing to Division One side Chelsea, the club that eliminated Ernest’s team in the same round 25 years earlier. He celebrated thirty years of near-continuous service as a professional football manager in November 1954 and a year later in December 1955 he stepped down from the manager’s role at Tranmere, reverting to club secretary. He left Tranmere Rovers and took retirement in March 1959 after a long and industrious, though rarely illustrious, career. He remained living in Birkenhead close to Tranmere Rovers’ ground, dying in July 1964.
Date/Place of Birth: 23 April 1893, Crawshawbooth, England
Date/Place of Death: 13 July 1964, Birkenhead, England; 71 years, 81 days old
Appointed by Hull City: 6 January 1937; 43 years, 232 days old
Left Hull City: 18 February 1946; 52 years, 301 days old
Tenure: 3,330 days
Accrington Stanley (1924-1932), Wrexham (1932-1936), Hull City (1936-1946), Tranmere Rovers (1946-1955)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 113, Won 47, Drawn 30, Lost 36, Goals For 210, Goals Against 177
Achievements: 3rd in Division Two, 1937/38 season