“It’s character building, supporting a team like Blackburn Rovers”, I used to tell my two children in the 1980s when they were young and we were bobbing about the old Second Division. “So much better than supporting a glory team. With Rovers you’ll learn about life, its disappointments, as well as its triumphs.”
Their faith was rewarded. Jack Walker bought the club. Kenny Dalglish was appointed Manager. Four years later, in 1995, we won the Premiership.
We’ve never repeated that wonderful, ecstatic moment of glory, when in the final game of the season we lost to Liverpool, but won the prize that mattered thanks to Harry Rednapp’s West Ham holding Man U to a draw. We dropped into the Championship in 1999, Jack Walker died in 2000. But we got back into the Premiership, and stayed there for 11 years.
Apart from the League Cup, which we won in 2002, top-flight success eluded us – as it did many “town” clubs, without the financial backing of the big city clubs. But players, staff, and supporters alike had pride, and confidence in the club. Pride about the Club’s history, as a founder member of the Football League, which had done much better than most clubs in comparable areas; and confidence, that whatever the set-backs on the field, Rovers was by common consent one of the best run football clubs in the whole of the professional game.
We all knew that the trustees of Jack Walker’s estate, who had owned the club since Jack’s death, were bound to sell it at some stage. When the Indian company Venkys purchased the club in November 2010 for £23 million there was great goodwill for the new owners.
Tragically, it did not last long. After the team had lost 7 -1 at Old Trafford to United manager Sam Allardyce was fired. I was at that game. Rovers’ fans just regarded a pasting by United as one of those things. There was no demand for Allardyce to go – far from it.
His removal was followed by the single greatest error of Venky’s – to fire both the Executive Chairman John Williams, and the MD Tom Finn. They were the reason for Rovers’ survival. It was a crazy thing to do.
With Venky’s main business being poultry, metaphors about headless chickens are best avoided. But that’s how it feels. There’s no sense of grip by the owners or the board. We’ve now had more managers this season than we’ve won away games. Yes, Sunday’s critical derby against Burnley sent all the fans – my family and me included – into a near clinical depression until David Dunn scored the equaliser five minutes into extra time. But there were no cries for Appleton to go. It’s too serious for that. We’re only four points above the drop, with nine games to go.
It’s the financial eccentricity of the decisions which is the most puzzling. Once gifted, but (in football terms) elderly players like Nuno Gomes (38), and Danny Murphy (36) on two-year contracts. Expensive disputes with the sacked managers. It’s now nigh-impossible to discern anything resembling a business plan being pursued by the owners. The fans’ fear is that our fate will be a fire sale, or worse.
Rovers’ predicament now is sad, and senseless. It could have been avoided, first, if Venky’s had understood that in purchasing the club they were not buying some soulless franchise, but buying into a loyal and committed community; and second, if our football authorities had tougher rules – and standards – on ownership. When will they wake up?