The Venky's Reign of Error: Agents, Rovers and Cricket Loving Owners - The Book. Chp 1 & various extracts
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Champions League Dreams.
“I’m Kean to put us in Champions League” read the latest instalment of the comedy hit painfully unfolding down at Ewood Park. The Rovers fan in me tried to picture Xavi and Messi stepping out at the Nou Camp ready to pit their wits against Keith Andrews and Jason Roberts. All I could see was tabloid reading Britain belly laughing into their cornflakes at my club’s expense. There was a kind of innocent charm when Del Boy used to tell Rodney, “This time next yearwe’ll be millionaires, Rodders” and eventually the scriptwriters did make them millionaires but somehow this felt more like the middle-aged village idiot on X-Factor who says he is going tobe a pop star. It had become embarrassing. As my season ticket renewal form sat on top of themicrowave with the rest of my unwanted mail it was becoming more and more difficult to summon up the strength to fill it in. Suddenly a life of DIY began to hold more appeal than the thought of watching another season of the shambles that had become Blackburn Rovers Football Club.
I had witnessed bad times at Rovers - Graham Le Saux rabbit punching David Batty in the head live on ITV, Ashley Ward making Crewe Alexandra’s goalkeeper look like Dino Zoff, George Courtney awarding the most scandalous penalty ever seen to end our play off dreams back in 1989. I am sure fans older than me had witnessed far worse but I was really struggling to remember anything that came close to the catalogue of bad decisions being made by the owners and management at Blackburn Rovers Football Club over the summer of 2011. In the space oflittle over 8 weeks, despite making several big early summer promises, they had sold our best player to Manchester United in what appeared to be a low bid auction; made a laughable bid for global superstar Raul; cancelled a pre-season tour of India; released a number of uninspiring statements about the financial position of the club; unveiled a series of underwhelming new signings; failed in the search for a commercial shirt sponsor and produced an advert for chicken nuggets that almost made Pele’s erectile dysfunction advert seem cool. It was no wonder that our odds for relegation were shortening by the hour and our fans were getting angrier by the minute – and the season hadn’t even started.
I had been very lucky. Having just turned 30, my years supporting Rovers had been filled with unimaginable joy and success. Still one of only four clubs to have won the Premiership (Manchester City have just made it five), we had also won the Worthington Cup, the Full Members Cup, two promotions to the top division, been in countless semi-finals, never lost agame to our nearest rivals Burnley, competed in The Champions League and played numerous times in Europe. If you take in to account both legs of a League Cup semi-final, I counted up that I had been to watch Rovers in ten major domestic semi-final games. To put it in to perspective, when Manchester City got in to the Carling Cup semi-final in January 2010 it was the first time they had been in a major domestic cup semi final for nearly 30 years.
When I first stood in the Blackburn End as a kid towards the end of the 1980’s, the pursuit of major silver ware was the last thing on anybody’s mind. If you wanted trophies, turn on your TV and watch Liverpool. Down at Ewood Park, it was all about getting promotion to the top flightand maybe a big name in the FA Cup. The town almost came to a stand-still when we drew Liverpool in the FA Cup in January 1991. We would have beaten them that day as well if they hadn’t equalised in the last minute. Famously, Jimmy Hill blamed the ball girl for throwing the ball back to Liverpool too quickly. In fairness, it wasn’t the ball girl who stuck one in her ownnet 30 seconds later – that dubious honour had to go to Mark Atkins. We got battered 3-0 in the replay and barring this all-too-brief flirtation with “success” I don’t remember once thinking one day I will be watching Blackburn Rovers challenging and beating the biggest clubs in the world. My love of Rovers and my love of football were like two unrelated things. On reflection, even then, we weren’t actually that bad. We regularly finished towards the top of the old second division and in the main played an exciting brand of good attacking football. I loved the atmosphere down at Ewood Park. It has become a cliché, but the smell of fag smoke and pies will be forever etched in to the memory of every football fan. I didn’t mind being caged in as it meant you could stand on the little wall at the front and hold on to the bars for the best view inthe ground. When someone like Andy Kennedy rocked back to pull the trigger you instinctively knew to jump back on to the floor or the vibrations of the ball striking the fence would zap you to the ground like a fly. I stood and marvelled at the new electronic score board at The Darwen End for at least a season - and I wasn’t alone. Grown men used to wait for the little Space Invaders-style graphic to shoot a goal through the square thing that I think was meant to be a net - and they would cheer louder than the actual goal that had just gone in. It wasn’t that people who lived in Blackburn were simple, it really was fun. Throughout this time, however, in my 8 year old mind there always remained a clear line between the Blackburn Rovers football that I watched in real life and the other type of football I watched good teams play on TV. By the time I was 25, I was sat in a pub in Amsterdam waiting to get a train to Feyenoord to watch the same club compete in Europe for the sixth season in just over a decade (we had onemore final flirtation with Europe the following season) – taking it all for granted really, as if it was just another away day. It showed how far we had come and it all started in the autumn of1991. I remember clearly the buzz around Ewood Park when Kenny Dalglish first rolled in to town on the 12th October 1991. Earlier that year multi-millionaire steel magnate and life-longRovers fan Jack Walker had taken full control of Blackburn Rovers. Jack Walker had a dream to turn Rovers in to the best team around. It is now widely acknowledged that he had been throwing bits of money in to the coffers since the mid-80’s, but only when he lured King Kenny to Ewood did the rest of the football world really sit up and take note. We beat Plymouth Argyle 5-2 that day and all the national press and TV news crews were there to watch. This was to be the start of a four year adventure that didn’t slow down until Dalglish stepped upstairs shortly after we won the league in 1995. It was a great time to be a Rovers fan. When Tina Turner sang out “You’re Simply the Best” after every home game she really meant it. Not only was going to Ewood still a laugh but now we were actually good and not just good – the best. Even people who didn’t like football started turning up at Ewood Park for their fortnightly fix. Forget big away games – you had more chance of finding a ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Everything goes in circles and nobody at Blackburn Rovers expected the heady days of the earlyt o mid-90’s to last forever, and they didn’t. After winning the league in 1995 the next four years were a steady slide, culminating in relegation from the Premiership in 1999. Even the so-called slide was still one of the most successful periods in the club’s history. We continued to regularly feature in the top half of the Premier League and even looked like making another push for the title for a brief spell under Roy Hodgson. None of the managers brought in after 1995 could recreate the Dalglish magic however, and by the time we eventually got relegated in 1999 it had started to look a little bit inevitable.
The saddest thing about our relegation in 1999 was that it was to be the last time Jack Walker would see his beloved Blackburn Rovers play in the top flight of English football. He had taken Rovers on an unbelievable journey – one that anyone who was with him will never forget. Towards the end of the 90’s, as the fair weather fans drifted away and the Premier League winning team of 1995 all moved on, Jack Walker remained as passionate about Blackburn Rovers as the day he first walked in to the club.
I will never accept that our achievements were somehow cheapened because they were funded by Jack Walker’s millions; to me that is just jealously and the self-appointed elite trying to protect their monopoly on success. Don’t kid yourselves that other clubs weren’t spending big at the same time, Rovers were just better at it. The same year that Spurs spent £5 million on Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton; we paid £4.6 for Alan Shearer and Tim Sherwood. Two years later Spurs spent £8.5 million on Jurgen Klinsmann; Gheorghe Popescu, Ilie Dumitrescu and Ronny Rosenthal; they came 7th and some fans hailed it a golden era for the club. We spent the same amount on Chris Sutton and Jeff Kenna and won the league. You can’t just buy success and for certain people to suggest that floating your club on the stock market and selling as many replica kits as you can is the only authentic way to achieve it is laughable. When I see the way some clubs fund their success, or lack of it in the case of Spurs, sorry to gloat, but I think being funded by a life-long proper fan, in it for nothing more than his love ofthe club, is as good as it gets. Jack Walker was truly a one-off. It became common to hear that rival clubs were “searching the world for a Jack Walker”. It makes me laugh. You can find a lot of things down at the bottom of a Middle East Oil well or the trading floor of The New York Stock Exchange but you won’t find a Jack Walker. Blackburn Rovers found Jack Walker in the Blackburn End - shoulder to shoulder with his fellow Rovers fans.
Thanks to the legacy that Jack Walker meticulously put in to place prior to his death, the years that followed the turn of the millennium turned to be another great time to be a Rovers fan. Wedidn’t have the open cheque book of the previous decade but what we did have was a great stadium; a state of the art training complex; one of the best academies in football and a regular flow of extra money courtesy of The Walker Trust. The fans expectations were re-tuned to match our financial position and people like chief executive John Williams and managers Graeme Souness and Mark Hughes ensured that these expectations were exceeded and then some. After a decade of being the big money club everyone wanted to take down I enjoyed returning the role of unfashionable overachievers. We quickly got ourselves back in to the top flight and once we were there we set about showing the big talkers that we weren’t just there to make up the numbers. I will never understand the small minority of fans that still allow Graeme Souness’ one bad season to overshadow the three great seasons that preceded it. The fact is he took at team that was struggling in The Championship to a sixth place finish in The Premiership, playing some of the best football I can remember a Rovers team ever playing. There was also the small matter of winning the Worthington Cup in between. Yes, he made some bad buys towards the end but his development of existing talent like David Dunn, Matt Jansen and Damien Duff, plus bargain-buys Brad Friedel, Tugay, David Thompson, Steven Reid, Brett Emerton and Morten Gamst Pedersen more than made up for this in my eyes. By the time Mark Hughes took over from Souness it was time for a new man in charge. Football was changing and, in Hughes we had a manager that could roll with the times. Although we could no longer compete with the big boys in the transfer market, Hughes always made sure no stone was left unturned when it came down to competing where it mattered. Regular qualification for Europe almost became a given.
Burnley fans love to point out our defeat to Swedish part-timers Trelleborgs on our first foray into Europe back in 1994, and yes, our European record isn’t the best. The very fact that Burnley fans judge Rovers by our European record and we judge them by the number of great consolation goals they have scored at Ewood Park best illustrates the gulf between the two clubs. My European trips were limited to Feyenoord and a four-hour coach drive to Glasgow to watch Rovers take on Celtic at Parkhead. More dedicated and financially astute Rovers fans than me have been much further afield - France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Sweden, Turkey. Our record in Europe is pretty ordinary but to see Blackburn Rovers compete in major European competition in all these different countries really was reward enough. Much lamented in the media for our attendances, strangely, there was little reportingof the 5,000 fans we took to Amsterdam for the Feyenoord trip. We might have be en supporting a club that was as unfashionable as a shell suit but there wasn’t a Rovers fan in town who would have swapped the 15 years we had just had.
So when did it all start to go wrong? On the playing side the current downward slide had started as far back as the end of the Hughes days as far as I was concerned. Hughes had performed miracles at Rovers on a shoestring budget but by the end of his reign the Walker Trust cash had been chronically diluted by the massive amounts of money at other clubs and it was getting noticeably more difficult, even for well run clubs such as Blackburn Rovers, to compete for anything more than a mid-table place. Did this play a part in The Walker Trust’s eventual decision to sell up? We gave the 2007-08 campaign everything and still missed out on a European place to richer clubs with bigger squads paying bigger wages. I was pretty philosophical about it all – as we got stronger in the nineties other teams got weaker and now the same thing was happening to us, only in reverse. There was so much money within the top handful of clubs that without major financial investment, barring a good cup run, realistically even that last UEFA Cup place that the smaller clubs had always been able to strive for was starting to look beyond our means. Look at Stoke City; they are considered the epitome of how to run a Premiership club on a tight budget. They have spent a small fortune and are still to finish a Premiership season in the top 10. Combine the fact that the league was getting tougher to the hapless stewardship of Paul Ince and a pretty bleak period of consolidation under Sam Allardyce and I think most Rovers fans were well aware that our Premiership status could nolonger be taken for granted.
The unrest that has subsequently boiled over at Ewood Park is not the result of a collective fear of relegation however. Any Rovers fan over eighteen has experienced The Championship, any Rovers fan over thirty has experienced the prospect of long term non-achievement; any fan overforty has probably watched us play league games against Halifax Town. If we were just in it for the glory we could all be at Old Trafford in forty minutes. No fan at Blackburn Rovers thinks they are too good to watch football outside of the Premiership and the prospect of going down has never been the thread with which true fans hang their support. The problems Rovers fans have been crying out about run deeper than dropping down a division. The majority of Rovers fans I know were brought up on Second Division football and good times they were too. The real problems for Rovers fans started on the eve of the 2010/11 season. By this stage the club had been for sale for over two years and there had been little talk of anyone willing to meet theowner’s £25 million asking price. When Bahrain-based businessman Ahsan Ali Syed came inwith a high profile take over attempt it was clear that whatever happened next, times were about to change forever at Ewood Park. Syed’s takeover was ultimately unsuccessful but reports were that other interested parties waiting in the wings. On 19th November 2010, Venky’sLondon Limited completed their purchase of Blackburn Rovers Football Club. I certainly hadnever heard of Venky’s prior to their involvement at Blackburn Rovers but in fairness I had never heard of Roman Abramovich before he got involved at Chelsea so not a great deal could be gauged from that. Rovers’ fans everywhere rushed to the internet to see what we could findout about our new owners. A quick scan of the World Wide Web painted an interesting picture. Since setting out back in the seventies, the Venky family had become quite a force in the Indian poultry market. They didn’t appear to be billionaires, not in pounds anyway, and their website wasn’t really what I would expect of a multi-million pound international company but there was little to suggest that Venky’s didn’t have more than enough money to keep things ticking over nicely at Ewood Park. Established in 1976 by Dr B. V. Rao, control of the Venky empirehad since passed down to his children - Venky chairwoman Anuradha Desai and managing directors Venkatesh Rao and Balaji Rao. Mrs Desai is the one that looks like a female version of brother Venkatesh and Balaji is the one that looks more like 1970’s Walrus of Love Barry Whitethan either of his siblings. It wasn’t entirely clear why a family from India with no obvious passion for football had bought our club and Rovers fans had to accept that this was more likely a business transaction than a labour of love. Mrs. Desai told the Indian Express shortly after thetakeover, “I had never watched a single football match in my life. Cricket, yes; hockey,sometimes; but never football.” I didn’t expect the new owners to be lifelong Rovers fans but I did find Mrs. Desai’s comments slightly disturbing. Understandably there were doubts but all the noises coming from The Walker Trust and the Rovers board were positive. Rovers’ fans had little reason not to back the outgoing owner’s judgement. Venky’s were welcomed to Ewood Park as warmly as any new manager or big signing. The fans wanted Venky’s to succeed and it was all about what they could now do for Blackburn Rovers Football Club; not what people feared or thought they might do.
Two decades earlier Jack Walker had made the football world sit up and take note by replacing unknown Don MacKay with big name Kenny Dalglish. Venky’s decided to do it the other way round – out went Sam Allardyce and in came Steve Kean. The majority of the Blackburn Rovers board soon followed Allardyce out of the door. A combination of questionable early personnel changes and cringeworthy declarations to the media ensured that Venky’s enjoyed a lively start to life in The Premiership. “Yes, we were trying to get Beckham much earlier. Then we went laxon it as we were pursuing Ronaldinho” Balaji Rao told The Times of India. Add Venky’spenchant for a cringe worthy sound bite to the fact that they had made their fortune in the Indian poultry market and seemingly overnight their involvement with Blackburn Rovers had become a tabloid writer’s dream. The constant chicken references in the media were lost on me. Everyone has to make their money somehow. After the initial chuckle that Venky’s had made their money by breeding and deep frying chickens I didn’t really see why chickens were that much funnier than steel or oil or however else people decided to make their fortune. I seemed to be in a minority of one on that one though, and chicken jokes have become part of the furniture at Ewood Park. One fan even came to a game with a live chicken stuffed up his jacket. He waited for a quiet passage in play and then just released it on to the pitch. Why? I really don’tknow. I just dread to think what he had in his pocket for the West Ham game.
Whilst Venky’s media appearances quickly became a source of great mirth for anyone outside of Blackburn I still remained pretty confident that it wouldn’t be long before someone at the club just pulled them to one side and told them to cool it with the interviews and that would beproblem solved. Of more concern at this time were stories about the increasing involvement of football super-agent Jerome Anderson at the club. The media flocked round Ewood Park like seagulls round the proverbial trawler and reporting football matters wasn’t always their priority. Towards the end of the 2010/11 season as media speculation grew the problem for Rovers fans’ was that we had started to get sucked in to a relegation battle. Despite unhappy murmurings from large sections of Rovers’ support it was widely acknowledged that any public protests were likely to seriously compromise our Premiership safety. Football fans are fed on rumours and half stories and the truth is unless we are there or know somebody that is the information we get is all just Chinese whispers. Such was the media battering of Rovers off field activities at the time it was difficult to know if some of it wasn’t motivated by other clubs trying to see off one of their relegation rivals. A fear of affecting performances on the pitch andfeelings of paranoia towards the media possibly saved Venky’s a much tougher ride duringtheir first six months. We managed to avoid relegation that first season but within the space ofsix months following Blackburn Rovers had become like watching a soap opera. Everybody seemed to love it except Rovers fans. I don’t like soap operas and I have no real interest in the world of business. If I did I would just plough all my season ticket money in to shares and sit and read the Financial Times every Saturday at 3 o’clock.
When the time did eventually come to fill in my season ticket renewal form, I did it, but in truth it felt like I was handing over my soul. Like I said, I had no superiority complex about dropping down to The Championship or a fear of losing games I just struggled to come to terms with the sudden transformation from football club to business. Football used to be a laugh. It used to be about more than just profit and loss; chasing contracts and the pursuit of individual gain. In September 2011 Steve Kean said, “You can measure results in different ways – your points, your improvement, or the price that everyone is worth. And we have a squad worth more money than it was six months ago.” This wasn’t the sort of thing I wanted to be hearing. Money may have played a significant part at the club for twenty years but the primary function of Jack Walker’s money hadn’t been to make individuals rich; it had been used to make our club great. I didn’t mind Alan Shearer getting rich from football or even hard-working professionals churning out a comfortable living from the game, but do people really deserve to become rich for being around to facilitate the transfer of a mid-table squad player? I wasn’t so naive to think that football’s hopeless addiction to money had just happened overnight but at least the previous regime kept it out of your face and used a large part of any incoming money to keep things ticking over on the field. I no longer recognised the club I had followed from being a boy. It got worse during Venky’s first full season in charge. I used to wake up at 4 am the night before Tranmere away because I was too excited to sleep and that is when I was twenty years old. There were times during the 2011/12 season where I could barely muster the enthusiasm to make the fifteen minute walk from my house to Ewood Park to watch some of the best players in the world - such was the detachment I felt from Blackburn Rovers Football Club and the parallel world of Premiership football. Friends would talk about their weekend watching Accrington Stanley and I would be secretly jealous. Stanley have their fair share of off-field dramas and I don’t want to sound like the lottery winner that decided he wanted his old life back but Stanley seemed to have something that had been lost from the money-chasing wacky race world of the Premiership. There were times when I contemplated giving Ewood Park a wide berth and going off to watch Darwen play non-league football but why should I? Blackburn Rovers is my club. Why should Rovers fans lose out? There may not be millions of us and those fans that we have are strangely attacked for the fans we don’t have. We are not customers to a business we are members of a club and this is where we needed to show it. Following Rovers had never been about getting in to The Champions League for me. Nor had it been about playing cheerleader to millionaires. The more I thought about it, following Rovers hadn’t even been about success. Yes, I will never forget singing “Rocking All Over The World” at The Millennium Stadium or sitting on a phone box to get a view of the play off winners outside Blackburn Town Hall but by the same token I will never forget standing outside a Working Men’s Club having a laugh on the way to Charlton; stopping off in Thirsk on the way to Middlesbrough; four-man pitch invasions at Stockport County or twenty man pile-ups at the front of the Walkersteel Stand. These were the times that made following my club great. So much has changed in the town of Blackburn even in my lifetime and not always for the better. I do sometimes wonder whether there will be anything left of the town except for houses and pound shops by the time my son turns eighteen. Rovers’ fans have shown a great spirit throughout Venky’s controversial reign. There are clubs that can fill their ground twice overevery league game; there are clubs that need to re-stock the club shop on the hour every hour. Blackburn Rovers is not one of those clubs but that doesn’t mean that we are a club that is voidof spirit and passion - far from it.
I began to resent the fact that the only way of defending the reputation of the club I had supported from a boy was futile exchanges on internet message boards. I don’t have the time in my life to sit on the internet for hours every time a television expert decides to stick the boot in. Everybody in the story seemed to have a voice – the owners had a voice, the manager had avoice, the players had a voice, ex-pros, pundits, journalists, reporters - even agents suddenly had a viable forum to publicly express their views. You can say the protest gave the fans a voice but it was so poorly reported that in the end it became no more than a tool for the TV sofa monkeys. For me the final straw came when a concerned Rovers fan called Jason Roberts on Five Live following Rovers’ shambolic surrender to Wolves on the opening day of the 2011/12season. The caller made a lot of sense but I felt that Roberts and co-presenter Darren Fletcher were actually quite dismissive towards a man who made a number of valid points about the state of the club. Rovers’ fans deserve a voice in this story. Jason Roberts has already made his money and gone and the rest will soon follow. Rovers’ fans will be here until the end. I don’t claim to speak for every Rovers fan. I am sure there are those that will disagree with my views on Allardyce, Williams, The Walker Trust, Kean and the many other names that feature in this story. Just because we are part of a club doesn’t mean we all have to think the same about everything but when all is said and done, the one thing we do all agree on is that we want thebest for our football club. Events at Blackburn Rovers over the last eighteen months have actually been quite sad and I feel that the media coverage of what has been happening hasn’t always been particularly well balanced or indeed very accurate. Blackburn Rovers Football Club is more than just a business to its thousands of followers and after eighteen months of listening to everyone else’s version of events I feel that it is important to redress the balance.
Further extract from book...
Shortly after Kean’s 19th league defeat of 2011, David Anderson of the Daily Mirrorwrote a story under the headline “Why Blackburn boss Steve Kean doesn't need enemies with 'fans' like these." In the article David Anderson slammed Rovers fans and even posed the question, “How many of the points Blackburn have dropped this season are directly related to their own fans?” I found it hard to imagine this sort of stuff being thrown at the Liverpool fans who had wanted Roy Hodgson removed or the Bolton fans who had hounded out Gary Megson. Little effort was made by David Anderson to acknowledge why the fans were so angry; nor did he do anything to point out Kean’s contribution to 12 months of failure. Considering some of the provocation that was coming from Kean (see most of the previous 16 chapters for details) I genuinely do believe that he would have faced far worse at many other clubs. I will accept that some fans did cross the line during the Bolton game but for every Rovers fan with a vein popping out of their neck there were easily a thousand others that the story makers chose to ignore. It felt as though the story had already been written and Rovers fans were just providing the pictures. Not only have the media tricked people into believing that Newcastle fans somehow love a goal scorer more than the fans of any other club; and that big attendances equal more passion but it was quickly becoming “common knowledge” that Steve Kean was a very nice man and Rovers fans were the lowest of the low. Some of the articles appearing in the paper at the time may have only been throwaway comment pieces because Rovers was the latest hot topic on the conveyor belt, but I am not sure how much consideration was actually being taken about how damaging these comments were. It wasn’t the 20 fans shouting a little louder than is socially acceptable who were the problem here and it only made all Rovers fans even angrier when they continued to be wrongly portrayed.
The Daily Mail’s Matt Lawton did an interview with Kean shortly in to 2012 that was so nauseatingly rose-tinted that I will forever struggle to take Lawton seriously. The interview read like a cross between an episode of This Is Your Life and a victim’s account of a serious crime. When I read the headline “Unable to walk down the street for fear of attack from his own fans, Steve Kean is... under siege” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Was Kean frightened he was going to get slapped with a handbag or attacked with a school satchel? Or were we were talking assassination attempts here? Some Rovers fans did start to raise questions about whether certain journalists actually believed in what they were writing or whether a PR campaign was now underway to rebuild the reputation of Kean and Venky’s. The same words were being bandied about every time. It was almost as if you weren’t allowed to mention fans without saying “vitriol” or make reference to Kean without saying “dignity”. Personally, I started to wonder what sort of idiots were actually buying this rubbish. Then special friend to the stars of ITV2 Piers Morgan decided to get involved. I don’t know if these people genuinely didn’t understand what was going on at Rovers or they were just being deliberately provocative but the problem is, for every person who will take the time to read a balanced, well researched, thoughtful article by The Guardian’s David Conn there will be hundreds more who are hanging on Piers Morgan’s every Tweet.
If anything, the pro-Kean/anti-fans articles became more regular throughout the season and there was almost an infantile “Ha, told you so!” element to some of them in the end. It was actually slightly embarrassing. When Rovers managed to pick up seven points from three games in March 2012 Martin Hardy of The Independent did a full page spread on Kean that I wouldn’t eat my chips off. Testament to how powerful the words of the media can be were these comments left by a fan of another club underneath the article, “Blackburn really don't deserve Steve Kean. I think we're all agreed on that! I hope Blackburn have got the common decency to pay up his contract in full at the end of the season, and to release him from the living hell in which he finds himself so that he can go and get a job that is more appropriate for a man of his skill and expertise.”
When I read it a second time I realised that the guy was serious. Had this fan missed the point here? Rovers’ fans had been campaigning for Kean’s contract to be paid up for the majority of the season. The same week, The Guardian’s Paul Wilson and the Daily Mirror’s Brian Reade claimed that Kean should be named Manager of the Year. It was a strange thing to say considering Kean’s awful record and the fact that there were 19 better managers than him in the Premier League (even Terry Connor)! I am prepared to forgive Paul Wilson because in fairness he has written a number of good articles about Rovers. I am not so sure about Brian Reade. There aren’t too many examples I can find of Reade actually writing about the situation at Rovers so why wait until this point to unleash his wisdom?
“If Steve Kean keeps Blackburn up but doesn't win Manager of the Year, there is only one course of action open to the man who does. Decline it, on the grounds that the adversity Kean has overcome, and the manner in which he has overcome it, has done more for their profession's reputation than one man winning any amount of trophies could ever achieve. I can't remember a manager in this country having to endure the sustained level of abuse Kean has faced this season. Before Christmas, it reached its ugly nadir when Blackburn lost 2-1 to Bolton. Thousands of fans held up copies of the local paper's front page editorial which told him to go, their voices and faces riddled with hate for a man who was simply trying his best.”
Whether he kept us up or not there was absolutely no way on earth Kean should be considered for the title of Manager of the Year. What was most disappointing in the case of Reade is that this is a man who has written a book about the damage owners can do to your football club. To me it just echoed the contempt certain sections of the media had for the 99% of Rovers fans who felt Kean was not up to the job. It also showed remarkably poor judgment considering the likelihood that Rovers would be relegated. I emailed Reade about his comments and the reply came back that it is a game about opinions.
Personally I can’t help but feel that some of these journalists would be best advised to stick to writing about the “Big Four” until they were ready to move on to more complex subjects - like one of the other 88 clubs that help make up the top four divisions – but that’s just my opinion. Or even better, rather than taking misguided cheap shots at good honest fans, why didn’t they write us a story about who attended the meetings Kean travelled to Pune for every month.