BRFCS member Neal was one of the many fans who travelled down to Cardiff last week hoping to see the Rovers get through to yet another Cup semi-final. In the aftermath of defeat and a very poor performance, manager Steve Kean made the ill-advised statement that Rovers had forfeited the match. Like many other fans, Neal was enraged by this comment and took action by contacting the club to make his complaint heard. The result was a conversation with Rovers deputy chief executive Paul Hunt that went beyond the Cardiff game, covering a wide range of issues that concern many Rovers fans today. Here is his account of that conversation.
Following the dismal performance and defeat to Cardiff City in the Carling Cup Quarter-Final, Rovers manager Steve Kean made the mistake of explaining to the fans that he chose to "forfeit" the match. Like many of the supporters who attended this game, I was bitterly disappointed to hear this, especially as It came at great cost to myself to make the journey and also meant time off work. Many of the fans were rightly puzzled by the contrast between two consecutively published Lancashire Telegraph stories, one implying that the manager had every intention to go and win the game and the next stating that he "forfeited" the match, the like of which is something no manager should ever say under any circumstances, as it is disrespectful not only to the supporters of that club but also to the deserving winners.
After a 14-hour round trip I awoke the following morning to these remarks and felt so passionate about the manager's disregard for our travelling fans that I made my way to Ewood Park to speak to the club and ask if they had any intention of refunding the fans who attended the "forfeited" match. I asked to speak to deputy chief executive Paul Hunt about this matter, someone who I knew had a role in the day-to-day operations at the club. After leaving my details along with a message asking him to contact me to discuss the matter, I eventually received a call on Saturday. I also took this opportunity to ask some burning questions on behalf of many of you. I appreciate that I may have forgotten to discuss some important points, but the timing of the phone call took me by surprise â€” thinking maybe I had been snubbed. I wish I'd had a little time to prepare and perhaps written down most of what was exactly said, so I shall keep quotes to a minimum.
To begin, I asked Mr Hunt if I was correct in presuming that he was deputy CEO at the club, which he confirmed. I then asked who was CEO and his reply was: "There isn't one". Puzzled by this, I asked if the club had any intention of appointing a chairman, to which I was told that there were no current plans to do this. I explained that many of the fans are deeply worried that a man such as John Williams has not been replaced and that appointing someone that fans could look to would certainly help restore some faith in the club among supporters. I made a point of remarking on how Mr Williams was a critical link between the club and the fans â€” something that obviously is currently missing. Mr Hunt stated that he was aware of the legacy Mr Williams has left behind and the job that he did following the departure of Jack Walker but confirmed that there were "no immediate plans to try and replace Mr Williams".
After explaining that Rovers fans are used to a more traditional way of operating â€” e.g., Allardyce/Hughes and Williams/Finn â€” we then discussed whether manager Steve Kean has to answer to a board of directors or only to the owners themselves. He explained to me that the set-up we have is "something of a hybrid". I asked for clarification as to who made up our current board and, from what I could gather, it is made up of himself, Vineeth Rao, Simon Hunt and Karen Silk, although the official website suggests there may be more members on the board of directors than discussed. I again questioned the issue of having no chairman and asked if someone had unofficially taken up the role at the club or if someone â€” i.e., the owners â€” had that position in mind for themselves but, for whatever reason, hasn't take up the responsibility. He stated that is not the case and again said that the club "has no immediate plans to appoint a chairman".
The Cardiff game and refunds
I reiterated the feelings of the many Rovers fans who travelled to the Cardiff game â€” the disappointment in the performance, the team selection and, most of all, the manager's post-match comments and the fact that many Rovers fans feel that this is one of the darkest times at our football club. I stated that the fans were fully expecting the retraction of Steve Kean's statement that was released by the club, in view of the fans' fury regarding the matter. I expressed my opinion that the fans feel the club owe it to them to refund the admission costs or to offer them something else in return (something which I know Glen Mullan and Simon Littler have also put to him), but Mr Hunt stated the club had no intentions of doing this, which, given my efforts, I can't help but be disappointed by. Mr Hunt conceded that Steve Kean "chose the wrong words" and the use of the word "prioritise" would have been more fitting. I questioned the contrast between the two Lancashire Telegraph articles, and Mr Hunt stated the club felt that the team selected was capable of winning the game and that many had previously been picked to start in the competition. He also stated that the club intentionally pushed through the Steven Nzonzi suspension so the Cardiff game was included and also withdrew Junior Hoilett to prioritise for the next league game.
We discussed at length the lack of communication between the club, the owners, Steve Kean and the fans. Mr Hunt conceded that it was "something we need to work on and that I understand the frustration of the fans on this matter, but we want that to change and we intend to do so". I again explained that many fans feel that whilst there is no intention to try to replace Mr Williams, which the club will find difficult, our relationship with the owners and Steve Kean is at a point where we feel it can't be repaired. Mr Hunt stated that he hopes constant communications with the fans â€” e.g., Glen, Simon, etc. â€” will change supporters' perception regarding how the club communicates and reiterated his understanding of the need for change in this matter.
The reported Qatari interest
I asked Paul if he could confirm to me if there had been definite interest from a Qatari consortium to buy the club, to which he replied: "That is something that I have no knowledge of. The word from the owners remains the same on this matter â€” that they have no interest in selling the club".
I put to Mr Hunt the recent allegations being made on social networking sites regarding agents buying into the club â€” e.g., SEM/Kentaro â€” and Steve Kean being involved with certain people. He was forthcoming in stating: "I have seen the recent rumours you refer to and all I can say to you is that I can't believe there is any truth in this". The conversation stayed on this matter for a few minutes during which he further made a point of categorically denying the allegations.
I pretty much got the answer I was expecting on this subject when I asked: "Is Steve Kean's position as Blackburn Rovers manager under consideration?". Mr Hunt replied: "I could not possibly comment on this matter".
Of course, I am disappointed with the club's decision not to refund the fans as this was something that I feel would have restored a little faith in my club â€” something that I genuinely feel that Steve Kean, the owners and Blackburn Rovers F.C. owe to the supporters, but it appears they feel differently on the matter. It will certainly not help the club's efforts to get the fans back on side either. I want you to know that I was as up front with Mr Hunt as I could possibly be and by relaying this back to you I hope the club will reconsider this decision. I also want you to know that Mr Hunt was also as up front with me as he could possibly be with regard to the questions I asked. I would like to thank Paul for taking the time to talk with me, but I again urge the club to reconsider this decision.