November, 2010. You’re Blackburn Rovers; you’re 14th in the league after a solid start to the campaign, coming off the back of a tenth-place finish the previous season, and Sam Allardyce is your manager. You might not be about to storm the European positions, but there isn’t a punter in the land who’s betting on you to get relegated.
Such tedium must feel like a dream now, over a year since Indian poultry giants Venky’s took the reins of the football club. With relegation looming, fans remain suspicious of their new owners’ true intentions and worried that their manager is well out of his depth. That is one swift transformation; one which would rouse the ire of any club’s fans up and down the country.
The panellists, pundits and ‘personalities’ enjoyed a few weeks of the drama which the protest provided, before eventually losing interest, and with it their empathy. As the saga has dragged on, Rovers fans have been told to pipe down and support their team – that their efforts are futile and only damaging the club further. Regardless of whether these barely-informed critics have the right to tell a fan how to support his or her football club, there are real grounds for concern in this case that have been repeatedly glossed over.
Venky’s originally stated that the purchase of Blackburn Rovers was an attempt to improve its own image overseas; they arrived short on immediate contribution but long on promise of expanding the club’s brand in the global Premier League market. There was talk of a marquee signing (who remembers that brief Ronaldinho fantasy?) and a new, big-name manager to replace the ever-unfashionable Allardyce. Now, if you hatched a plan to remove your Allardyce safety net then you they would have to make sure to carry that plan through.
Unfortunately, it appears that here Venky’s faltered. And if they didn’t – if the plan all along was to pluck a bright spark rookie from the wilderness of the backroom staff – then that is surely an even more grave signal of their unsuitability for ownership of a football club.
History should teach fans not to accept their lot without question; many clubs have sleepwalked to relegation, or worse, because supporters have fallen for false promises. Others have earned a reprieve through such direct action as Rovers fans are currently employing. Sure, booing your team mid-match only perpetuates the negativity, but for how long can you watch a eleven disparate duffers turn in hopeless performances before voicing the terrible conclusions you’ve reached about both the players and the coach who is marshalling them?
The fans’ demands are not so outlandish either; they have made a request to open dialogue with the distant owners, but have been ignored. That small step alone would probably serve to allay a great many fears. Ultimately, as Newcastle United fans might testify, results are the key to everybody’s happiness. Chairman Mike Ashley may well have taken the Toon down but he brought them straight back up again, and it is difficult to argue with their progress since then – wrestle as the fans might with their original contempt for the man. It is certainly no coincidence that the unpopular decision to rename Newcastle’s St James’ Park ground was taken with the team placed handily in the top six.
The Blackburn managerial situation requires speedy resolution – at least as speedy as its initial deterioration. Either Kean starts to truly show his worth, or somebody else will have to. Then, if the team’s form improves long-term, perhaps the virtue of Venky’s need never be tested and a cordial relationship can be established between fans and owners. Until then, though, Rovers fans have every right to take care of their own football club in whatever way they see fit.