By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
8 May 2012
An extraordinary letter written in late December by Blackburn Rovers’ deputy CEO Paul Hunt to the club’s owner, Anuradha Desai, has laid bare the crisis that has been gripping the club all season. READ THE LETTER IN FULL on our Facebook page
The 2,500-word document, dated 21 December 2011 and written just hours after Rovers had lost 2-1 at home to Bolton on 20 December, details financial problems then afflicting the club, hints at a massive rift between the owners and other executives over the future of manager Steve Kean, and implores Mrs Desai to allow people she had appointed – Hunt included – to run the club.
Blackburn have never appointed a CEO to replace John Williams and so Hunt has been in de facto control at Blackburn since his own appointment last year. What the letter clearly shows, however, is that ultimately control has always rested in India.
Sportingintelligence, which has authenticated the letter as genuine, has had sight of the letter and understands it is in circulation and is likely to published in full imminently.
Hunt begins by writing: “I have been your senior officer at the club for six months now and I feel that I must now write to you to ask you to make some significant changes to save the club, perhaps from relegation but also perhaps from administration.
“In 20 years of the Premier League there has been only one side that was bottom of the league at Christmas that has survived relegation at the end of the season.
“With the bank closing in, I fear that they will look to foreclose and have the potential to implement financial restrictions upon the club that could (as a worst-case scenario) enforce administration.
“I have kept quiet for a time now out of utmost respect and I trust that you realise that I am only emailing you now as I want what is only the best for Blackburn Rovers and the owners.
“I am very much of the opinion that we can save the club and I have always been very supportive and positive towards the owners. Therefore I hope you know that what I am saying is considered, honest, constructive and from the heart.
“I ask that we instigate all the changes below in this 10 point plan.”
Regular readers of Sportingintelligence will know many of the key development’s in Blackburn’s story under Venky’s. AN ARCHIVE OF STORIES IS LINKED HERE.
Paul Hunt’s 10 point plan to save Blackburn appears to be the last throw of the dice by an executive deeply concerned about turning around a troubled ship.
Unfortunately for fans – who saw their club’s relegation confirmed last night – he was ignored.
The 10-point plan seeks clarity on Hunt’s own position, and then moves on “Owners to invest in the club”.
That section says: “As you are aware Barclays have asked for the owners to put £10m into the business. This needs to happen and I am confident that this could only be a loan as we would increase the value of the club significantly. With all the speculation in the press the playing staff value and overall club value is depreciating on a daily basis.
“By putting an end to this the owners would be protecting their investment, putting their trust in the executive team and the club. The position with the finances is a cause for grave concern.
“Auditors KPMG have put as many obstacles as they can in the way of signing off the accounts due to their concerns. We continue to try and work with Barclays but they are very quickly losing patience as we cannot give answers. We have been forced to agree to additional spending against our wishes (Christmas hampers, sponsoring the Princes Trust event etc) and I am fearful that the situation will only get worse.
“During January we need additional funding to pay wages etc.”
Point 3 of the 10-point plan is extraordinary and says Kean had not only lost the crowd but also the dressing room.
It says: “Publicly I have been asked to support the manager and I always have as I personally like Steve. I have supported him from the start and have been desperate for him to do well. However, I am now of the opinion that it isn’t working and he is ready to go.
“He has lost the crowd and as a result of this evening’s game has lost the dressing room as well – the players no longer want to play for him. It is a shame and disappointing but we must act now to save the club. The board should be asked their opinion in who should be the new manager.”
Point four asks Mrs Desai to allow her executives at Ewood to run the club, point five calls for a more cohesive PR strategy, point six calls for more trips by Ewood executives to meet the stayaway owners, point seven asks the owners to visit the club more and point eight asks for the Ewood executives to hire and fire – rather than Mrs Desai making these decisions.
Point nine says: “We are losing fans/customers at an alarming rate. I am very concerned that fans are voting with their feet and not attending, not purchasing and not engaging with the club.
“Research shows that only 5% of ex season ticket holders will ever return. We are losing sponsors and suppliers. I am concerned we will lose Umbro if we continue to manufacture Rovers shirts in India for the RoverStar programme. Their contract specifically disallows this and we are putting at risk £800k of annual revenue.
“The Blackburn Rovers and Venky’s brands are both suffering terribly. Whilst there are negative goings on such as protests, complaints, media stories, unhappy fans etc, then both brands are losing brand equity and consequently, losing value.
“I am also concerned that the Premier League will intervene soon as they may take the view that their brand is being tarnished by association too. It is all reparable of course but we must start to act now by building bridges with fans and the media as above.”
The letter finishes with point 10, essentially a drawn out message of regret that the owners have not allowed the club to be run properly from Blackburn. It ends: “I look forward to hearing your thoughts. With very best wishes for a bright future, Paul.”