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Herbie6590

Old Blackburnian's View - Pt 23 - That Was Then, This Is Now

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This week's "Accrington Observer" column...with a few added extras...

That Was Then, This Is Now

Way back in January 2010, the fresh, new decade was ushered in with the New Year’s Day Premier League table showing Blackburn Rovers in a respectable thirteenth; a place and a point above the Owen Coyle-led Burnley. Just one week later, Coyle was to de-camp to the side eighteenth in that table, Bolton Wanderers; continuing his grand management tour of Lancashire, but condemned never again to hit the high watermark of his time at Burnley. 

If only that was the last we were to hear of Mr Coyle...

That season would end with Rovers in tenth and seemingly established as a Premier league club. Our nearest and dearest would suffer relegation in May 2010, whilst Rovers and Bolton would survive the drop until 2012.

It’s fair to say that the last decade has been tumultuous for Rovers. The Walker Trust eventually sold the club late in 2010 to the now infamous Indian chicken conglomerate, Venky’s. The logic of that purchase evaded many at the time and little has emerged subsequently to explain the rationale. What is beyond doubt is that in terms of expensive hobbies, the purchase of Rovers is perhaps second only to Elon Musk’s fixation with outer space. Though in his defence, Musk’s venture can at least boast a record of a successful lift off and delivery of stratospheric expectations;and in his case, lack of atmosphere is a pre-requisite for normal working conditions.

Rovers began the decade led by a rugged former centre-back turned manager, ably assisted by a former full-back, sitting thirteenth in the league. Post-Venky’s, well...there are parallels but clearly, the 2019 vintage doesn’t boast a squad with more than twenty internationals competing effectively in the top division. The question as to when Rovers might again share such an exalted status is one that has vexed supporters now since 2012. 

The last twelve months has served to demonstrate that with a solid, dependable and capable squad, a challenge for the play-offs seems tantalisingly to be within reach but that same squad, on its day, is more than capable of turning in some truly woeful displays. Throughout 2019, form has arrived and departed with all the predictability and reliability of a Northern Rail train. 

The end of December offered up a glorious opportunity to raise the benchmark of expectations with a chance to capitalise on a very tidy unbeaten run with two eminently winnable home fixtures against Wigan and Birmingham, followed by an away trip to struggling Huddersfield. If ever a sequence of results was to capture the year’s frustrations in a microcosm, this was it. 

In a really decent gesture to the wider football family, Rovers donated some complimentary tickets for the Birmingham game to Bury FC fans who have been without a team to support this season thanks to the unseemly demise of their club. After watching the spectacle served up, one can only imagine if some of those supporters re-evaluated their lack of live football and concluded that it was not perhaps as bad a fate as first feared.

The Birmingham game will not go down in the annals of history as one of the great Boxing Day encounters. That it took penalty kicks for each side to score summed up the levels of creativity and attacking verve on display. That penalty kicks were so softly conceded also demonstrated the defensive naivety on display. 

 

A poll on the BRFCS Twitter feed before Christmas voted that the best performance of 2019 was the 2-0 victory away at Bristol City, just twelve days earlier. A side that contained six changes had adapted swiftly to record a notable and stylish victory. Here, a side that also contained six changes struggled for fluency. That same poll on BRFCS voted Bradley Dack as player of 2019, there was no doubt that his guile, cunning and trickery was missed here and will be missed for the most part of 2020 for that matter.

The year and the decade were incomplete however without a visit to Huddersfield. Once more, Mowbray was to ring the changes – five this time - albeit three enforced by injuries. Desperately seeking a formation and tactics to fill a Bradley Dack shaped hole, Graham and Gallagher were selected but it wasn’t easy to discern the formation. It looked like young John Buckley was to take on the mantle of the right-winger in waiting in a 4-4-2. It was not to be a successful experiment and the key feature of this game was the constant tinkering with formations and tactics.

Rovers started brightly, scored early but handed the initiative back to Huddersfield almost immediately. Rovers passing accuracy was appalling. Nobody emerged with credit on this score. Substitutes were thrown on in an attempt to change the game but the month was to end with a whimper; toothless, disorganised and shambolic.

In a delightful display of gallows humour, a Rovers fan on Twitter announced that he had won two tickets to the upcoming Preston game. Quick as a flash the replies rolled in “second prize three tickets...”, “third prize a half season-ticket...”. Glorious!

2019 has at various times threatened a play-off push and then almost immediately, a pivot to relegation form. With the loss of the talismanic Dack, Mowbray’s penchant for playing strikers out wide, Danny Graham’s age catching up with him, the defence struggling with the loss of Cunningham and the potential loss of Adarabioyo; Tony Mowbray currently has more on his plate than Homer Simpson at an “all you can eat buffet”.

The decade therefore ends with Rovers a division lower, crowds down and massive losses being racked up year upon year. What will happen in the next ten weeks frankly is impossible to predict, where the end of 2029 will find Blackburn Rovers is anybody’s guess...but we can (and will) continue to hope...and dream.

 

Footnote :- just as I was finishing this column, the Venky's London accounts were published and have been analysed on their own thread on here but it brings into sharp focus the extent of the dilemma facing the owners of Championship clubs confronted with FFP regulations but a desire to chase the dream of Premier League football.

Rovers are entirely in hock to Venky's. They pay the bills, they cover our losses and without them, to stay solvent, we would have to hack our wage bill so dramatically that we would be looking at Accrington Stanley as our natural local rivals.

With crowd numbers largely stagnant, TV money helpful but nowhere near PL levels, the only other realistic source of income for Rovers is the sale of players. We are back to the pre-Jack model for the club. The strong rumour circulating is that Dack was likely to be sold in January for a tidy sum, but we all know why that is off the table, so the club now has to plug a further income hole off the pitch and more importantly, on the pitch.

It could get a bit rocky over the next 3/4 months as there seems to be little headroom for spending in January based on these latest numbers. Those promising academy prospects like Buckley, Rankin-Costello, Magloire and Wharton are the future - whether as on-field contributors, or a means of bringing in transfer fees...ideally of course, both.

Hold on to your hats folks...

 

Happy New Year everyone ! 

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Yeah a "respectable" 13th in 2010 which could have been higher had the club not been starved of all funding. The decline is pre 2010 though yes what's happened since was needless, idiotic and ignorant.

Accrington Stanley as natural rivals? What a stupid comment.

Edited by Vinjay

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Just now, Vinjay said:

Yeah a "respectable" 13th in 2010 which could have been higher had the club not been starved of all funding. The decline is pre 2010 though yes what's happened since was needless, idiotic and ignorant.

Accrington Stanley as natural rivals? What a stupid comment.

What "decline" pre 2010; we were usually in the top half of the table and frequently in the later stages of cup competitions.

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4 hours ago, Leonard Venkhater said:

Enjoyed that. Well done. 10 years of self-inflicted decline. So needless!

9 teams in that 1st Jan 2010 PL table are now elsewhere.

That does not excuse those in Pune for the shitfest they have orchestrated.

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1 hour ago, Mashed Potatoes said:

What "decline" pre 2010; we were usually in the top half of the table and frequently in the later stages of cup competitions.

In fairness it could be argued our decline started when the Trust pulled almost all funding around 2008 and decided they no longer wanted the club. Mark Hughes became frustrated after not being allowed to spend (I think it might have been Diarra that was the straw that broke the camel's back?) and so he departed, and Paul Ince arrived to nearly relegate us. We then made a smart move in bringing in Sam Allardyce (albeit six months late) but it was a sticking plaster on a growing problem of funds drying up. The Trust's final act, further twisting the knife into the back of the club, was selling to Venky's and ushering in the true decline which we still very much feel the effects of today. 

Venky's are the ultimate villains of the piece but IMV the Trust aren't far behind. 

Edited by DE.

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Just now, DE. said:

In fairness it could be argued our decline started when the Trust pulled almost all funding around 2008 and decided they no longer wanted the club. Mark Hughes became frustrated after not being allowed to spend (I think it might have been Diarra that was the straw that broke the camel's back?) and so he departed, and Paul Ince arrived to nearly relegate us. We then made a smart move in bringing in Sam Allardyce (albeit six months late) but it was a sticking plaster on a growing problem of funds drying up. The Trust's final act, further twisting the knife into the back of the club, was selling to Venky's and ushering in the true decline which we still very much feel the effects of today. 

Venky's are the ultimate villains in the piece but IMV the Trust aren't far behind. 

You are right that the sale to Venky's was a disaster - but personally I don't blame the Trust who had proven to be decent owners letting John Williams to get on with things. The problem was that the financial crash in 2008 put some of the Trust businesses in difficulty and they wanted out of the club but found buyers hard to find - some of the names that were put forward either did not seem to have the money or ended up being hunted by Interpol ! In the circumstances wealthy buyers from India looked like a decent bet.

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1 hour ago, Vinjay said:

Yeah a "respectable" 13th in 2010 which could have been higher had the club not been starved of all funding. The decline is pre 2010 though yes what's happened since was needless, idiotic and ignorant.

Accrington Stanley as natural rivals? What a stupid comment.

Stupid ? Really...? 

They are one division below us. We were in that division two years ago with a substantial wage bill. Are you seriously suggesting we could cut the wage bill by c.£15m p.a (so as to breakeven) and NOT get relegated ? Because if you are, apply for a job at Ewood because your expertise would be warmly welcomed. 

Now explain to me again why my analysis is "stupid"...preferably using facts....

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Just now, Mashed Potatoes said:

You are right that the sale to Venky's was a disaster - but personally I don't blame the Trust who had proven to be decent owners letting John Williams to get on with things. The problem was that the financial crash in 2008 put some of the Trust businesses in difficulty and they wanted out of the club but found buyers hard to find - some of the names that were put forward either did not seem to have the money or ended up being hunted by Interpol ! In the circumstances wealthy buyers from India looked like a decent bet.

There were plenty of people at the time who had reservations about the sale to Venky's though. Dave Whelan being a notable one saying something about the deal not looking or sounding right. The Trust were also due to sell us to Ali Syed, a total fraudster, until he was rumbled by a BBC investigation. As far as I can see they wanted out and were willing to sell to anybody willing to stump up the cash, the club that Jack loved be damned - and damned we have been. It's not like we were bleeding huge amounts of money at the time either - within the Trust's overall portfolio Rovers couldn't have been anywhere close to the biggest money drain. Weren't we operating at a loss of something like £3m or less a season with the taps turned off?

With prudent financial management and continuing letting Williams and co get on with things the Trust could have made a lot out of Rovers once the PL TV deals went through the roof - and with Allardyce at the helm I think it's highly likely we would have stayed in the division at least until then. They were very short-sighted in retrospect, selling the club for a relative pittance just to be rid of it despite huge potential being on the horizon. Hindsight is 20/20 and all the rest of it, but I don't think I'll ever really forgive them for what they've inflicted on the club and its fans by selling to our current owners. 

Edited by DE.

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51 minutes ago, DE. said:

In fairness it could be argued our decline started when the Trust pulled almost all funding around 2008 and decided they no longer wanted the club. Mark Hughes became frustrated after not being allowed to spend (I think it might have been Diarra that was the straw that broke the camel's back?) and so he departed, and Paul Ince arrived to nearly relegate us. We then made a smart move in bringing in Sam Allardyce (albeit six months late) but it was a sticking plaster on a growing problem of funds drying up. The Trust's final act, further twisting the knife into the back of the club, was selling to Venky's and ushering in the true decline which we still very much feel the effects of today. 

Venky's are the ultimate villains of the piece but IMV the Trust aren't far behind. 

Yeah and we know who wasn't far behind the "trust".

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2 hours ago, Herbie6590 said:

Stupid ? Really...? 

They are one division below us. We were in that division two years ago with a substantial wage bill. Are you seriously suggesting we could cut the wage bill by c.£15m p.a (so as to breakeven) and NOT get relegated ? Because if you are, apply for a job at Ewood because your expertise would be warmly welcomed. 

Now explain to me again why my analysis is "stupid"...preferably using facts....

So lets hypothetically say Rovers had to start again from the very bottom of the league pyramid. I guess that would make Darwen natural rivals then?

 

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12 hours ago, Vinjay said:

So lets hypothetically say Rovers had to start again from the very bottom of the league pyramid. I guess that would make Darwen natural rivals then?

 

Consider the case of Bradford Park Avenue. Their cross city rivals for almost 60 years clearly were Bradford City. After losing a re-election vote, in 1970 they dropped into non-league from whence they have yet to emerge.
These days, BPA’s local rivals are Guiseley, with very little chance of their paths crossing with Bradford City any time soon.

With 50 years passing since their last encounter, whole generations will not have seen BPA play Bradford City.

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12 hours ago, Vinjay said:

So lets hypothetically say Rovers had to start again from the very bottom of the league pyramid. I guess that would make Darwen natural rivals then?

 

Historically speaking you are correct Vinjay.  Darwen were the main rivals - and it was a bitter rivalry - during the early history of the club - long before the Burnley rivalry kicked in.

 

Just now, Herbie6590 said:

Consider the case of Bradford Park Avenue. Their cross city rivals for almost 60 years clearly were Bradford City. After losing a re-election vote, in 1970 they dropped into non-league from whence they have yet to emerge.
These days, BPA’s local rivals are Guiseley, with very little chance of their paths crossing with Bradford City any time soon.

With 50 years passing since their last encounter, whole generations will not have seen BPA play Bradford City.

So very true.  And an excellent article which was a very enjoyable, if painful, read when one thinks back to our position in 2010.

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40 minutes ago, Parsonblue said:

Historically speaking you are correct Vinjay.  Darwen were the main rivals - and it was a bitter rivalry - during the early history of the club - long before the Burnley rivalry kicked in.

 

So very true.  And an excellent article which was a very enjoyable, if painful, read when one thinks back to our position in 2010.

That's right. Darwen reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1881 and then were in the old First Division for one season in 1891-92 before they were relegated, got back up for one season in 1893-94 before being relegated again and then left the Football League in 1899. Despite only being in the top flight for two seasons they hold the record for the joint highest defeat in the top flight losing 12-0 to West Brom.

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20 hours ago, Parsonblue said:

Historically speaking you are correct Vinjay.  Darwen were the main rivals - and it was a bitter rivalry - during the early history of the club

Absolutely. There were crowd disturbances in the very early days of football not just when the "organised" hooligan element kicked in. The name Fergie Suter comes to mind as well.

Of course you can bring up Accrington from that time also. The key phrase however is "that time".

Edited by Vinjay

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