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Blackburn fans fight back to reclaim their club

November 27, 2011

On the surface of it,  it can be hard not to feel sorry for Steve Kean, the manager of Blackburn Rovers, who is facing a rebellion against him remaining in his job. He hasn’t  seem to have said or done anything particularly offensive, he appears the embodiment of bland, really.

But while watching Stoke vs Blackburn it is clear that there is something very wrong at the club. Individually, it is clear that Blackburn has some really talented players (I think Paul Robinson is a walking disaster zone, however. He needs to be replaced.) . Junior Howlett, for instance, has talent to burn. Rubén Rochina produced two sublime bits of skill that you would find hard to see replicated anywhere else. Yakubu can look dangerous as well.  Stoke could have and maybe should have been put to the sword but still Blackburn lost  3 – 1. Not only that, Blackburn never looked like they would win in a million years.

Instead, they looked miserable. Stephen N’Zonzi looked like he was on the verge of killing someone and he played like it too. Junior Howlett screamed at his team mates as they didn’t pass him the ball. Beyond that, despite their individual talent, they couldn’t string five passes together and their collective defending performance, particularly for the third goal was downright pathetic.  Both of these skills is what breaks down when morale in a team is low. It seems almost inevitable that unless there is change, Blackburn will be relegated.

How did it get to this stage, though?  Since being promoted in 2001, Blackburn have mostly performed well, twice they have come sixth, they’ve won the league cup and in the 2009-10 season they finished in tenth. So, when Venky, an Indian company who specialises in Chicken products and pharmaceuticals for both humans and chickens, took over the club, it was, officially, seen as a dawn of a new era.

Paul Egerton-Vernon, chairman of the Jack Walker Settlement Trustees, who sold the club to Venky said “We have been very impressed with their enthusiasm for the club and their plans and ideas for future investment to develop it further as well ”

However, even then there were signs even then that things weren’t all they seemed. In the six months preceding the takeover, Venky had made a profit of Aus$14.3 million dollars.  Yet at the time when Blackburn were struggling and the manager was calling for new investment, Venky promised only $A8 million in spending on new players. Compare this to Manchester City, who in three seasons invested A$ 647.8 million dollars.

The chairman of Venky admitted they were buying the club to improve its image overseas and said they didn’t need to buy players, when they could just lease them.

Less than a month after taking over, Venky sacked Blackburn manager, Sam Allardyce, when the team was coming 13th. It seems obvious now, that the decision was made because Allardyce was publically calling on the new owners to invest.

Alex Ferguson said of the sacking  “I’ve never heard of such a stupid decision in all my life”, while club captain “”What he picked up when he took over was a club in diabolical trouble, he’s turned it round into an efficient streamlined club that’s spent no money and done extremely well – it’s the world we live in, but I just feel absolutely gutted for the man.”  An online poll found 76% were opposed to the decision.

They appointed Steve Kean, a first team coach, initially as caretaker, then given a contract till the end of the year, then given a three-year contract. All of which occurred in just over a month. This was his first job as manager.

Venky, true to form, didn’t put in money into transfers and Blackburn struggled.  After Kean took over, they only won six out of  twenty-three and just avoided relegation.

However, from the very beginning, Venky’s mismanagement has been met with resistance. The citizen reported on December 16, 2010, just three days after Kean was appointed

“Supporters have launched an online campaign through Twitter and Facebook, while the Facebook page of new owners’ Venky’s has been inundated with angry messages.

Fans involved appear to be unhappy at both the sacking of Sam Allardyce and some of the comments from Venky’s outlining their reasons for the decision.”

The club banned fans from being in banners of protests at games and began to eject vocal fans, so in April fans brought in protest balloons, where people were encourage to write protest messages on.

Organiser Glen Mullan said: about the protest “While it’s a protest, it is hoped it will add to the atmosphere to try and spur Rovers on to victory.”

Venky refused to change anything, in fact they proceeded to  escalate anger, by not reinvesting the Aus$26.3 million made from the sale of talented young player Phil Jones back into the club.

This only brought about a more determined resolve from the fans, who turned to street protests to make their point publicly. While some of the press have tried to portray it as just against manager Kean, Organisers have made it clear it is about the ownership and future of the club, as well as Kean.

Organisers  of the protests Glen Mullan and Simon Littler said

“We have tried and tried again to open a communication channel to have our serious concerns raised and to date the club has failed to listen to these pleas.

“They have tried to turn supporter onto supporter, whilst continuing to let our club be steered with no leadership and direction.

“More and more supporters are voting with their feet as attendances dwindle, whilst frustration and worry is now at boiling point as the anger rages.

“Supporters do not like being used and their allegiance is very firmly behind the removal of Venky’s from Blackburn Rovers.”

Their protests have been innovative, with banners being banned during games, fans hired a plan to fly their message over the ground when the game was on.

They have called for a week of mourning. They have also printed thousands of yellow T-shirts bearing the slogan “100% Rovers, 0% Venky’s and Kean”. They are not just the 99% but rather the 100%. Every home game is now being met with protests.

With the arrogance that corporate power usually exhibits have responded to the escalation by offering Kean a new contract with a pay increase.  Kean, initially said “I have told the owners that this is an inappropriate time to conclude any new contract discussions,”

A week later he reneged and signed the new deal.

This is on top of arrogant comments, which have only determined the resolve of supporters.  He said “we believe it’s the majority of fans we should hear, and the majority of the fans are supporting the side and myself – so the minority, the fact that they can’t bring any banners in is great.”, while he also said “The players are probably becoming a bit disappointed with it all because they are putting so much effort into trying to win games.”

Blackburn fans are quite aware where the status quo is leading, relegation and  more importantly, a club completely disconnected from its fans. So far from deescalating protests, in the face of corporate arrogance, fans are escalating them and are planning a mass walkout at the next home game against Swansea. The football equivalent of a general strike. Fans  say that they will not stop demonstrating until Kean is sacked and the club is run “in the way it deserves”.

While it certainly clear that Venky cannot run the club in the way the fans deserves, the next discussion will be about how to get a club run in the ay that fans deserves. The burgeoning fan ownership model in football,  where fans are taking control and running their clubs shows what is possible and is the model that will ensure that the type of management Venky has provided cannot be repeated.

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