THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

wsc299 Absent owners and a poor manager have ruined what was once the model of a well run small-town club, says Bruce Wilkinson

When Venky's took control of Blackburn Rovers last November and installed Steve Kean as the Premier League's least likely manager, they repeatedly asked supporters not to pass judgement until they had been in charge for a year. Having reached this anniversary a few weeks ago, fans are now more than able to see that the club is heading in a downward spiral of such terrible proportions that a slide through the divisions and possible bankruptcy are not out of the question. Most followers were prepared to give the new owners time to show their true intentions and, at a stretch, even be persuaded that Kean could be a capable coach.

Now without a chairman or chief executive, most of the directors gone, no shirt sponsors and the team rock bottom of the Premier League, they can see exactly where Rovers are going and are increasingly angry at the club's direction. The real mystery at the heart of Blackburn's current predicament is exactly who is currently running the club. When Venky's took control they were advised by the agent Jerome Anderson – Steve Kean just happened to be one of his clients. This connection might also explain why they signed Myles Anderson, son of Jerome, who had not made the grade at a number of lower League and Scottish clubs. Several newspapers reported that the owners have dispensed with the agent's services but this has not been confirmed and there is no sign that Venky's have a managerial structure in place for the day-to-day running of the club.

Rovers have gone from being a model of how to organise a small-town team with little money to one saddled with mortgages against future earnings in a league from which they will probably soon disappear. A family outfit once renowned for inviting disgruntled fans for a cup of tea with chairman John Williams now refuses to answer fundamental questions about who is in charge or where promised transfer funds have disappeared to. Meanwhile, Kean, who has the worst record of any current Premier League manager, with six wins in 34 matches, has had his contract extended and improved several times.

Rovers' biggest corporate sponsor is the locally owned engineering group WEC, whose owner tried to contact Venky's to express his concerns, but received no formal reply. The Lancashire Telegraph, which is usually too hidebound by the importance of their relationship with the club to be critical, has even questioned how the side is run. The paper's sports editor, Andy Cryer, has sent several open letters about the club's leadership, but has received no response. More fanciful rumours, such as the idea that Venky's are a cover for other, less trustworthy owners, become less easy to dismiss as it is impossible to communicate with them.

Possibly the worst outcome of the way the club has been ran is the divide that has been driven between fans, many of whom, until recently, were prepared to give Kean and Venky's more time. Stewards have separated groups of pro and anti supporters, with violence breaking out. Protests in the ground led to banners being prohibited during matches, which resulted in the hiring of a plane with a "Kean Out" message flying several circuits of Ewood Park.

In an attempt to reassure fans, several were flown out to meet the owners in India. This only increased the divide among supporters bitter about the gap between overblown promises and the reality of the club's finances. So few people now believe the club is run well that fans are finally becoming united in dissent. The rallying cry of protesters has been the singing of "there's only one Jack Walker", but it should not be forgotten that it was the Walker Trust and John Williams who agreed to sell to Venky's. With a reputed buyout from Qatar Petroleum dismissed out of hand by the owners and little sign that Kean will be sacked, the future looks bleak for one of the three Lancashire clubs looking likely relegation candidates.

From WSC 299 January 2012

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