Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Curious Case of Blackburn Rovers

Put bluntly, Blackburn Rovers is a circus. A gruesome circus where in the early days the audience yelped but nobody listened.  The critics derided the fans but ignored the ringmasters. For over two years the Ewood Park outfit has seen more twists and turns than Eastenders and most would suggest that Peggy Mitchell could do a better job than 'Global Advisor', Shebby Singh.

Now I like fried chicken as much as the next person but chicken farmers should not be running a football club. They took over Rovers promising the Champions League and David Beckham but fans ended up with the Championship and David Goodwillie. The nightmare began with the nonsensical  sacking of Sam Allardyce. A manager that had the respect of the players and fans, regarded as one of the safest pair of hands to keep a club in the Premier League. Why sack such a manager and why replace him with the first team coach, Steve Kean?

Kean came in and found moderate success in the early stages. Sadly, John Williams, Tom Finn and several others of the highly respected staff members left the club. Dangerously, these people have never been properly replaced.  Despite later press reports fans got behind the manager but as the season came to crunch time, Rovers found themselves in a relegation battle. The signs were worrying but the Lancashire club managed to stay up thanks largely to the points amassed earlier in the season under Allardyce.

The nightmare really kicked in the following season and Kean remained in charge. The Scot compared various signings to top quality players: David Goodwillie was a young Wayne Rooney, Bruno Ribeiro was Dennis Irwin and Myles Anderson (now playing for Exeter) was the next Chris Smalling. Anderson had previously played just once for Aberdeen and in the end never played for Rovers. Fans could only laugh at Kean's comparisons but it didn't end there. The season started badly yet the Venkys couldn't see the need to replace the struggling Kean. A routine appeared where the team would lose several games and then a win would come along papering over the cracks. Fans could see what was happening, they shouted and no one listened. There was only one way Rovers were going. They protested and many in the media laughed. It wasn't until the Bolton game in December that the frustrations of Rovers fans bubbled over perhaps too much when Kean was barraged with abuse. Finally, the media took notice. They ignored the ridiculous owners and the hapless Kean, they chastised the fans. Kean became the victim and Blackburn fans the villains. Other Premier League managers rallied around Kean, berating the fans.

This was a nightmare where you shout for help but nobody can hear you. It seemed everyone was against the fans because of that one game.  A few national journalists could see the fans' plight. Admirably, the Lancashire Telegraph, made the bold move to call for Kean's sacking on their front page. They stood up for the fans, they could see what was happening. It was clear those who followed Rovers closely could see disaster unfolding but too many on Sky Sports and in the national press cherry picked incidents to criticise Rovers' fans but ignore the bigger picture of Venkys and Kean. Arguably, by sympathising with Kean it kept him in a job and contributed to Rovers relegation in May 2012. One interview in January 2012 Kean suggested he was getting 500 letters a day of support, had the support of other managers and told the concerned MP, Jack Straw, to focus on gritting the roads. He blindly chose to ignore the fans, a community. He was commended for his dignity but the dignified thing would have been to resign.

Blackburn aren't a fashionable club and they certainly aren't media darlings. For many of these fans, football is their lives, their hard earned wages go on season tickets and travel to away games. Kean was termed 'unsackable', fans felt helpless, hopeless and tired. They had spent so long shouting about the threat of relegation and their fears' were realised. On a rainy evening at Ewood Park, the former Premier League winners lost to Wigan and dropped into the Championship. Kean stood on the touchline, a lonely figure who had brunted both protests against him and his bosses. Could it get much worse?

Shebby Singh, a Malaysian pundit,  arrived in the summer after a relegation under the title 'Global Advisor'. He wasn't a fan of Steve Kean and this was most prominent in a Q & A with Rovers' fans. One fan joked:
'I'm a liar. I'm a suck up. I know nothing about football and I'm half Scottish. Can I have a job?' 
Singh replied,
'I'm very sorry that position has been filled.'

He clearly wanted to become popular with the fans and achieved this to an extent with the ousting of Kean and the signing of Jordan Rhodes. Nonetheless, these two positives are completely overshadowed with Singh's ineptitude. His interviews are embarrassing, his opinion of himself is inflated and the way he has disposed of the many managers has been cowardly and tactless.  You then have to combine his relationship with  two other board members, Derek Shaw and Paul Agnew. The latter has been a firm feature since the Indian takeover, the man that oversaw many PR disasters and an ally of Kean, was also weirdly promoted to board level. A boardroom battle: Shebby versus Shaw and Agnew has contributed significantly to the chaos at the Ewood circus. It seems like a pathetic competition between the two sides on who can win the affection of the Venkys.

This infighting has lead to the chop for several managers and has seen Rovers plummet into a second successive relegation fight. It now looks likely that they will stay up but three years ago Rovers' fans would never have imagined they'd be celebrating just missing the drop into League One. The club needs a complete clear out from top to bottom. Singh, Shaw and Agnew need to leave and experienced football administrators need put at the top to run the club. Is this really likely to happen though? Very few decisions Venkys have made make sense.  The best thing for Blackburn Rovers, a football league founder, would be to rid themselves of Venkys completely.

Fans are fighting for their club with the action group working hard to reveal the real truth behind the madness. This is a time for fans to be unified, to come together to save Blackburn Rovers. Fan ownership is one option with the creation of the Rovers Trust. The question that begs to be answered is will Venkys ever listen and will they want to sell? Singh stupidly suggested that those interested in purchasing the club couldn't even run a bar never mind a football club.  Another silly comment.

There are so many stories regarding Rovers that I haven't touched on including agents, transfers, players and also the role of the FA. Is the fit and proper persons test purely financial? Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that I wouldn't wish the disaster at Rovers on any football club. When will the circus leave town?

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