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The Dawn Of A New Era

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Published: Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Dawn Of A New Era

by Kamy

Three years after the Walker Trust put the club up for sale and after over six months of intense competition between rival bidders, the takeover of Blackburn Rovers was finally completed on Friday when ownership of the club passed from the Trust to Venky's (Venky's London Limited) of the VH Group of India. BRFCS would like to take this opportunity to welcome the new owners to the Blackburn Rovers family and we hope that as custodians of the club they can take it forward in a manner in keeping with our illustrious club's history and its collective values.

The deal that Venky's have agreed to in the reported £54 million purchase of Rovers involves the acquisition of the 99.9% shareholding of BRFC Investments Limited at a cost of £23 million, which equates to 17.17 pence per share. (BRFCI is indirectly wholly owned by the Jack Walker 1987 Settlement and has been the vehicle for the Trust's management of the club.) An offer to purchase the remaining shares at the above-stated value has been issued to shareholders, who have until the end of this year to cash in their shares. Further, the deal provides for the settlement of the estimated £16 million of debt that the club had and also includes a retainer for the services of the Trust for the next three years. It is not clear at present as to how the debt will be settled, but we expect that this will be clarified in due course. As for retaining the services of the Trust in an advisory capacity, this is surely a wise move by our new owners, ensuring that the club has a degree of stability during the period of transition.

According to the terms of the agreement, Venky's have taken on the ownership of Blackburn Rovers Football and Athletic plc. This means that they now own the club, presumably including its facilities at Ewood Park and the training ground at Brockhall. As part of that agreement, Venky's have undertaken to observe a number of conditions that safeguard the heritage of the club. These are laid out in the Shares Offer statement as follows:

a. the principal activity of Blackburn Rovers will continue at all times to be that of a professional football club;

b. the current President, Vice Presidents and Honorary Vice Presidents of Blackburn Rovers will not be removed from those positions before June 2011 without the prior written consent of those individuals;

c. the statue of Jack Walker outside Ewood Park will be kept in a good state of repair and will not be moved to a different location, obscured or have its prominence diluted without BRFCI’s prior written consent; and

d. the name of the stand at Ewood Park currently known as the Jack Walker Stand will not be changed without BRFCI's prior written consent.

It is positive news that Venky's have agreed to protect the legacy of Jack Walker. In announcing the deal, Paul Egerton-Vernon, chairman of the Jack Walker Settlement Trustees, said:

"We are very pleased to be passing on the Rovers to the Rao family. We have been impressed with their enthusiasm for the club and their plans and ideas for future investment to develop it further as well as their wish and commitment to preserve the legacy of Jack Walker. We are particularly pleased that the club will continue in family ownership and that the existing management team at the Rovers led by John Williams will continue unchanged. We would like to express our gratitude and admiration for the great job John and his team have done for the club whilst it has been part of the Trust."

While acknowledging the tremendous work that John Williams and the management team has done to maintain the Rovers' status as a Premier League club, Mr Egerton-Vernon also recognised the changes that have taken place since the Trust assumed its role as the custodian of Jack Walker's legacy, hinting at the need for the change in ownership: "Over the last 10 years, the global appeal of the Premier League has grown significantly and it is only natural that, as we have seen at other clubs, international ownership and investment should increase."

In taking on the challenge of ownership of the Rovers and continuing Jack's legacy, Venky's have become the first Indian company to own a Premier League football club. Anuradha J Desai, chairperson of Venky's, issued this carefully worded statement following the purchase:

"We are delighted, proud and humbled to be associated with Blackburn Rovers, a team with whom we share many values and ambitions. Going forward we plan to focus on leveraging the global influence in establishing Blackburn Rovers as a truly global brand. We will absolutely respect the Jack Walker legacy and will be actively supporting the organisation to ensure that Blackburn Rovers remains one of the best-run clubs within the Premier League. We are particularly pleased that the deal has the full support of the Walker Trust, the chairman and the management team, who will of course remain in place with our full support.

"Blackburn Rovers is an historic institution that has won the Premier League and we want the fans to embrace us so that we are able to do our best in the interests of the club."

This will resonate with Rovers' fans and may go some way to placate the anxiety felt in some quarters over the approach that Venky's might have to ownership of the club. Venky's are already committed to fulfilling a number of conditions in regard to their activities as owners, which recognise the value of continuity as well as the need for progress. As outlined in the Shares Offer statement,

The Venky's Board has given assurances to BRFCI that Venky's:

a. will commit funds on a consistent and systematic basis to future transfer and/or loan activity;

b. intends to continue to support the existing management team and staff, and that it is committed to the future development of, and investment in, the Club’s academy and youth infrastructure;

c. will continue to support, promote and extend the Club’s local community and CSR activities (VH and its subsidiaries have their own trust engaged in significant charitable work);

d. will seek to extend the Blackburn Rovers name and brand into India, the rest of south-east Asia and beyond;

e. will seek to develop and improve commercial performance across sponsorship, the Club's kit deal and general merchandising activity;

f. will seek to enhance the fan experience at Ewood Park itself on match days (and non match days) and to maximise season ticket sales and any remaining match day ticket sales; and

g. intends to improve the Club’s media platforms (for example the Club's TV channel) and to become more active in the social media space).

Over the weekend, Ms Desai gave an indication of how the new owners might go about developing the club commercially when she outlined Venky's plans to the Indian media: "We need to improve the brand Blackburn Rovers. The management thus far has done a good job but has not been proactive enough. We are looking to change that." And, she noted, "Arsenal named their stadium 'The Emirates' after their main sponsors. Our stadium could be called the Venky's Stadium or could adopt the name of another sponsor. We are looking to spread the name of Blackburn Rovers wherever we can. India is our major target."

Our new owners also plan to create a lasting relationship between Blackburn and football in India. "We will take a look at their calendar and, when it is convenient for them, we will arrange exhibition matches in India," Ms Desai said. Venky's also intend to run training camps for promising young Indian footballers and may bring Blackburn's training staff to India, with the ultimate aim of sending an Indian player to Blackburn: "We are also looking to start workshops where we fly down coaches of the Blackburn academy and arrange training sessions for kids in India. Our aim is to have an Indian footballer in the team, and we will work along these lines."

So what does all of this mean for the future of Blackburn Rovers? At the moment it is difficult to say because the new owners have not fully revealed their plans, with Sam Allardyce indicating after the victory over Aston Villa that he is looking forward to sitting down with the new owners to discuss their plans for the club in detail. Of course, the talk of renaming Ewood Park has caused concern among fans and those concerns are fully understandable. If it helps to bring in additional funds that are pumped into the team, and if that brings success on the field, perhaps it will not be regarded as such a bad thing. In the end, it is down to personal opinion and some people will be in favour while others won't be. Regardless of whether the stadium is renamed, however, it will always be known as Ewood Park to fans and the people of the town.

As for matters on the pitch, the club got off to a good start under its new ownership, with the win over Villa putting us in a more respectable mid-table position. The indications are that Sam will have around £5 million to spend during the January transfer window, which, while not a huge amount of money, is a lot more than what he has had over the last 18 months. The takeover also should mean that Rovers no longer need to sell players in order to balance the books.

So, after a long-drawn-out process, the takeover is finally complete, and the next few weeks will be very interesting as our new owners reveal their plans for the future of our great club. It is a huge positive that John Williams and his management team remain at the club; the owners will be well advised to listen to them. Over the last 10 years since the passing of Jack Walker, John Williams and his team have managed the club in a fantastic way. They have worked with the Trust and have ensured that Rovers remain a Premier League Team despite often being at a huge disadvantage when facing rivals who have far greater spending power. For its part, the Trust is to be thanked for its role in ensuring that the club has managed to maintain its top-flight status since the passing of Jack in the face of an increasingly difficult and hostile financial environment and, we hope, for ensuring that Jack's legacy has the best chance of surviving through the conditions laid down in the sale agreement and its continuing role in guiding the club through a period of transition.

Thus, as a new chapter opens, one of the most glorious chapters in the history of Blackburn Rovers closes - that of Jack Walker. Jack took over the club at the start of the 1990s when the team was flirting with relegation to the old Third Division. Within 5 years he had not only got the club promoted but had also managed to bring the Premier League title to his beloved club. Jack was a one-off, a fan just like us who wanted to push the club to the next level. He decided to do that and take us on the journey with him. He was forward-thinking, ambitious and knew where he wanted to take the club. Jack's main interest was the betterment of Rovers, but not only did he regenerate the Rovers, he regenerated the whole town. The town of Blackburn owes Jack a huge debt of gratitude. No matter what happens from here on, one thing is for sure: Jack Walker is and will always remain Rovers' number one and greatest fan. Thanks for the memories, Jack. If our new owners can do justice to your memory, that would be quite some achievement.


The Shares Offer statement quoted in this article is available from the official Rovers.co.uk site.


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