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Arrest in Blackburn decline fails to mask deep seated issues – opposition focus
Thursday, 5th Dec 2013 21:21 by Clive Whittingham

Blackburn’s plummet down the Football League ladder may have been halted, but the boardroom situation at Ewood Park remains a shame of the sport in this country.

Overview

Few football club takeovers have made a mockery of the FA’s “fit and proper person” legislation quite as much as the Venky’s buyout of Blackburn Rovers in 2010.

For a start, even if they’d done a good job with the club, the motives of a group of Indian poultry farmers for getting involved in the first place were reprehensible. Blackburn Rovers, like most other professional clubs in Britain, are an asset to its community, full of history and tradition. In this country we list buildings at the drop of a hat, sometimes preserving structures most people would like to see pulled down and replaced. We stand in the way of progress and development to preserve some manky block of flats with rising damp because it’s an example of classic 1970s architecture. But we allow our football clubs to be sold to just about anybody that wants them, and then stand idly by while, for example, Coventry City are moved to play in Northampton. Blackburn Rovers is not something that should be used to further the European brand, and therefore the profits, of some Indian-based chicken farm.

The problem with the ‘fit and proper’ person test is that we’re not in Germany, where the ownership of the nation’s football clubs is strictly protected by rules and regulations that prevent any one nutcase taking whole ownership of Bayern, or Dortmund, or Leverkusen, or anybody else. There, a percentage is held back for the fans/members and the rich remedials who come along cannot take a wholly owned stake. Here, without such rules, Britain finds it legally difficult to turn away anybody who can write a cheque large enough to buy a football club because their intentions for it aren’t sound or, in the case of Blackburn, because they know nothing about football and are clearly three slates short of a full roof.

But Blackburn – along with Coventry and MK Dons – stand as a living, breathing example of why the alleged presence of the rule at all is an insult to people’s intelligence. Any right-thinking individual knows it is wholly inappropriate for Coventry City to be playing matches in front of 1,500 people in Northampton because the hedge fund that owns them is trying to leverage a better rental deal for a soulless, out of town, empty bowl of nothing on the edge of their home city – but the league does nothing. Everybody knows that solving the Wimbledon issue by allowing a music entrepreneur to move the club 70 miles north in order to secure planning permission for a big Asda, while bypassing the league’s promotion and relegation structure, was reprehensible – but the league voted it through. And everybody knows that taking an old club like Blackburn and turning it into a branding vehicle for cheap Indian chicken is pathetically piss poor – but here they are. And, while we’re here, probably worth holding our hands up and saying that while Tony Fernandes seems like a decent bloke who is trying his best for QPR, our own Rangers are little more than a marketing expense of the Tune Group these days.

But having allowed the Venky’s in, what happened next should surely have broken some rules, and invited intervention from the game’s governors, at some point. After all, we very diligently make all the clubs reveal, once a year, how much money they’ve paid to football agents over the previous 12 months – while, perversely, allowing them to declare the actual transfers of players as “undisclosed fee”. That suggests somebody somewhere is concerned at the influence of agents in the English game, and wants the money they’re making from a sport that charges extortionate ticket prices to be transparent. But they do not care enough to intervene when the Venky’s, advised by football agent Jerome Anderson, sack manager Sam Allardyce, replace him with one of Anderson’s clients Steve Kean – a man with zero management experience – and then set about signing a number of Anderson’s clients, including his own son, as players. Agent advising the board, agent representing the manager, agent representing most of the new signings – zero action taken.

Anderson first came to attention in this country when Thaksin Shinawatra bought Manchester City and appointed Sven Goran Eriksson as manager. A dodgier trio of people to have involved in your football club you’d struggle to find. It was Anderson who advised the appointment of Eriksson in place of Stuart Pearce and then set about engineering the transfer of eight players from all four corners of Europe into the City of Manchester Stadium at massive prices – Rolando Bianchi for £8.8m for example, Valeri Bojinov for £6m and so on.

Of course as we now know Shinawatra had one or two too many human rights and corruption issues hanging over his head in his homeland (which didn’t stop him passing the fit and proper owner test in the first place incidentally) and Man City was quickly sold on to Sheikh Mansour.

That left Anderson hunting for a new project and unfortunately for Blackburn, they’re it. Anderson advised Venky’s on the takeover – the family had previously expressed no interest in football and admit they know little about it but quickly promised Champions League football and Ronaldinho (among other outlandish nonsense).

The team started to falter badly on the pitch, quickly relegated from a position midtable security just 18 months prior, at the end of the 2011/12 season. The board stood behind Kean, who seemed much more masterful at networking and buttering his bread on the right side than picking and motivating a team, despite storms of protest from what few long suffering Blackburn fans remained. Incredibly, there was at least as much criticism of the atmosphere created at home games, and the perceived negative impact of it, as there was the scandalous way the club was being run. How, exactly, were the Blackburn fans supposed to behave while their club was being run like this?

The nadir was arguably the two year contract to Myles Anderson, a 20-year-old who had previously managed just one solitary substitute appearance for Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League, which we all know is a hotbed of quality footballers and extremely hard to break into. Just for reference, players who made more appearances for a dreadful Aberdeen side than Myles Anderson last season include Yoann Folly (previously released by Plymouth), Jerel Ifil (released by Swindon and Kettering), and Zander Diamond (since released by Oldham).

Kean described Anderson as a “late bloomer” blaming his lack of any first team experience anywhere on his extended time in full time education. He was only forced to comment on the transfer at all because Myles is in fact Jerome Anderson’s son. Still, the authorities did nothing.

Anderson made zero appearances for Blackburn, five sub appearances during a loan spell with Aldershot and was released on a free to Exeter in January this year. They released him in August after one sub appearance and he's now, according to Soccerbase at least, playing for Monza in the Italian regional leagues. Late bloomer indeed.

Once the inevitable relegation was confirmed Blackburn started last season with Kean in charge, only for him to finally resign under the weight of protest two months in. Having point blanky refused to sack an underperforming manager for so long, Rovers then went a bit trigger happy by appointing first Henning Berg, then Michael Appleton, and sacking both after less than two months in charge. The board’s message to a disgruntled public is delivered by Shebby Singh, who was widely derided as a clown in his previous job as an Asian television pundit.

What Rovers have now is Gary Bowyer. A man with the club at heart, who almost certainly should have been given the job last season before the dalliances with the dull and uninspiring Berg, and the terminally overrated Appleton. But they still have the Venky’s, and despite possessing the outstanding forward outside the Premier League – Jordan Rhodes – they now bask in the murky waters of the Championship’s lower half. A shadow of their former selves, a shell of the club they were even a few short years ago. And the people that run our game do nothing about it.

When these people, whose motives were questionable from the very beginning, are deemed legally “fit and proper” to be in charge of a community asset like Blackburn Rovers, you have to wonder who on earth those rules are there to actually stop.

Interview

Managed to snare a couple of Blackburn fans from the Twitter this week, so we thank Anna-Louise Adams and Russell Adams for their input…

Start in the obvious place - what is the ownership situation at Blackburn currently? Are the Venky's/Shebby Singh still in place and are they still mental? Has supporter protest cooled, or do we just hear less about it now you're not in the Prem? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

ALA: The owners are still here. Despite the financial pressures on the club, the Venky's have been fairly sensible (we're still on our first manager of the season which is a positive.) Supporter protest has cooled - the protests were predominantly throughout the Steve Kean era. While the Venky's aren't good for the club, Steve Kean was even worse. It's hard to say whether there's light. The financial situation is very worrying so I wouldn't be surprised if we see some of our assets being sold at the end of the season if we remain in the Championship.

Russ: Unfortuntely, Venky’s are still on the scene. They aren't as involved as they were last season but they are still ripping the heart and soul out of our once proud club. The debt they have run up is shocking and they have no excuses for it. The only good thing they have done in recent months is not let Shebby Singh near the club. Whether that is their decision or the home office / passport control, it is still welcomed by fans. Fan protest seem to have ended now some stability is back after Gary Bowyer’s appointment in the summer. We want to be back in the Premier League but I don't think it will happen anytime soon.

What on earth happened last season, particularly with Michael Appleton? Having refused to sack Steve Kean for so long you then went through four managers in double quick time?

Russ: Power struggles last season were the problem: Derek Shaw v Shebby Singh v Steve Kean v Jerome Anderson v Paul Agnew. Too many chiefs trying to run one position to impress Venky’s. In the end, Venky’s just fired everyone when results weren't going the right way. Last season will be long remembered as a joke for many fans. Berg didnt stand a chance and Michael Appleton was hard done by. So far, Gary Bowyer has shown he can manage the team without the boardroom on his back.

ALA: Fans can't explain what happened as we have no idea why either. I think fans received a lot of criticism but the question people need to ask is whether they would have stood for it themselves had it been their club. Michael Appleton was very one dimensional tactically and liked to play defensively with counter attacks at home which isn't a good idea. Nobody knows why Steve Kean was in the job so long and I don't think people want to know why either.

And how has Gary Bowyer done so far this season?

ALA: Given the circumstances Gary has done a decent job. He was under immense pressure to cut the wage bill down and he has done. He has also signed some key players such as Tom Cairney and Tommy Spurr.

Russ: Gary has done well considering the shambles he took over in the summer. Yes results aren't going the way the fans want, but he has brought fans back to Ewood and stability back into the team. We need a rebuilding season after our relegation from the Premier League (which should have been last season) and this season will be it. If Venky’s leave him alone, I do believe he will get it right in time.

Where is the team strong and where is it weak? Who are the key men and who should QPR be targeting?

Russ: At the moment we are blowing hot and cold. When our frontline is on fire, we are unstoppable but when we are vulnerable, anyone can beat us, including Burnley. Jake Kean has had a few nightmares this season already so I am glad Paul Robinson is back training. Jordan Rhodes went on a quiet spell for a month but I am hoping his goal against Ipswich has helped his confidence again. Rhodes, Dann and Hanley are key at the moment, Tommy Spurr and David Dunn have been playing well too. As long as Junior Hoilett or Charlie Austin don't score against us, I'll be happy.

ALA: I think compared to previous seasons we look a lot stronger in all areas. We have a strong defence most of the time and the midfield has improved. I'm pretty sure QPR already know who the man to target is.

What are your realistic hopes, ambitions and aims in the short, medium and long term?

ALA: In the short term the hope is to keep players like Jordan Rhodes and sign Cairney on a more permanent deal. Obviously long term the aim is to get back into the league we belong in, and to increase attendances back at Ewood Park. I think the Venky's will be sticking around - they really need to focus on their communications with the club if the aims are to be met.

Russ: Short term, stability and belief back in the side to win matches this season. Medium term, get into top six by New Year and long term, be promoted back within the next season. All very realistic if the team can get a run going of decent results. We are approaching the 20th anniversary of our Premier League victory, it would be nice to be back up there for it.

Links >>> Official Website >>> Blackburn Supporters Message Board >>> Blackburn Mad Forum >>> Vital Blackburn >>> Wild Rover Blog

Tweet @loftforwords, @BlackburnNoise, @annalouiseadams

Pictures – Action Images

Photo: Action Images



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TacticalR added 22:46 - Dec 5
Thanks for your oppo report and to Anna-Louise and Russell.

It's hard to think of anything to say about Blackburn that hasn't already been said, but it's been an unholy mess since the Venky’s buyout. I agree with Anna-Louise's point that the fans came in for unfair criticism for trying to defend their club as best they could.
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dixiedean added 11:34 - Dec 6
Great insight into how not to run a football club ( as if we hadn't seen that at first hand ourselves under Briatore !) Sadly football clubs are now businesses and when profit becomes the main motive we all know what happens. Sooner or later one of these owners is going to systematically run a club into the ground and asset-strip it into oblivion while the football authorities stand idly ( and probably powerless) by
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N12Hoop added 21:21 - Dec 6
I had no idea about the signing of Jerome Anderson's son. Wow!
One other thing to mention is that most people probably don't even remember the way they bought themselves the league title some time back but at least they enjoyed success, the likes of which we shall never know. When you look at how the one time Champions have slipped to where they are now however, it gives me great hope that the Scum could go the same way one day.
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