27 May 2013
If there was a single game that defined the anger of Blackburn Rovers fans at what’s happened to our club in the past three years, it’s almost certainly the night in December 2011 when Rovers – my team – lost 2-1 at home to Bolton Wanderers and sank to the bottom of the Premier League.
The contemporary BBC report of that night is linked here and begins: “Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean felt the full fury of Ewood Park again as Bolton Wanderers came out on top in the battle of the Premier League strugglers.
“Bolton moved off the bottom and left Blackburn propping up the table with only their fourth win of the season on a night of naked hostility and passion.”
It is a wholly accurate report: there certainly was fury, hostility, passion.
Kean was on the receiving end but ultimately was not the target. The emotional outpouring that night, intensified by the game being the big local derby, was one of frustration.
Who drew up his contract? Who had the right to sack him or keep him? Who had been identifying and signing players? Who had made cash out of that? Where had it all gone wrong?
Though I’m a Blackburn fan, I’m based in Essex. Until that night I had not really appreciated the rawness among the fans and the bewilderment in the town on a daily basis at what was becoming of our proud old club, Premier League champions not so long ago.
It was a significant night because, in some ways, it was the night that the supporters became widely perceived as the villains. Wrongly, in my view.
How did it come to this? As a film-maker I started making some calls to see what I could find.
Last summer I packed the car and drove around the country speaking to anyone who might shed light on what happened.
The documentary we produced can be seen below, at the foot of this page.
I met the PFA’s chief executive Gordon Taylor, Graham Jones MP, Sir Bill Taylor, Maureen Bateson and others with Rovers in their DNA.
I talked to sponsors, soon to be former sponsors, and the film begins with a local fan and businessmen, Wayne Wild, explaining the disconnect that has eroded ties between club and community.
I spoke to journalists who’d been covering the story, including Nick Harris, who has written about the saga extensively, not least on this site, and Alan Nixon.
There were fans too, and former players: Derek Fazackerley, Simon Garner, Mick Rathbone, Glenn Keeley. And an interview with Shebby Singh, Rovers’ global advisor.
The point of this documentary was not to unearth a ‘smoking gun’. There are investigations ongoing, including by the FA, that might one day provide that – or at least a full and credible explanation about how Venky’s came to own Blackburn, on whose advice, and what happened next.
I met Balaji Rao in August last year and asked who was to blame for what had happened at the club.
He told me: “Stop digging up old graves.”
I was taken aback. For almost two years, by that point, there had been all manner of speculation about Steve Kean, his agent, other agents, transfers, third-party influence, third-party transfers (thwarted) and so much more.
Venky’s had been silent. For whatever reason, they did not want to explain.
Shebby Singh refused too to speak about anything that happened at the club previous to his appointment. This leaves a gap to fill and one that will probably remain ‘unfilled’ for a period of time, hopefully not for ever.
So you won’t find smoking guns in the film, but you will hear fan Glen Mullan recall how Richard Scudamore of the Premier League conceded Rovers had become a ‘basket case’. And you will hear local MP, Graham Jones, detail how appealed to the authorities including the FA for help and information – and how his appeals fell on deaf ears.
Above all you’ll hear Blackburn people, and fans, and players – a community united in concern. A community, no doubt, who will now unite behind our new manager, Gary Bowyer, a popular and capable coach for whom we can only wish good things.
If there is one thing I hope the film shows, it is that the fans have had a real grievance ignored.
This happened to my club. It could happen to yours.