The Demise of Blackburn Rovers – 2011-2012 Part 3 by Dan Eley
Part three looks at the events of December 2011 when the footballing hierarchy decided to turn on Rovers fans for wanting Steve Kean sacked.
December began with a spectacular game at Ewood which briefly lifted some of the gloom surrounding the club. Four goals from the unplayable Yakubu helped Rovers to a 4-2 win over Swansea on the 3rd December. It had still been a game where Rovers had needed to score more than two goals to win, but the victory in of itself was absolutely vital. It was Rovers' first league win since their match against Arsenal back in September, in which they had also scored four goals. Their only other win during this period had been the Carling Cup victory against Newcastle - which had also required four goals. The result lifted Rovers back off the foot of the table, propelling them to 18th and within a point of Wolves in 17th. One particularly notable moment from the match was Yakubu scoring, causing the fans to cheer, only for him to then run over and hug Steve Kean, which brought out a loud chorus of boos. Yakubu responded to this by saying "It’s a shame to see that reaction of the fans. Maybe we can change their minds after winning more games. They should give the manager a chance. It’s a shame to see it even when we’re winning."
Win or not, the BBC noted that "Rovers were ponderous in attack and offered little pace to their ventures when they did get the ball", and it was suggested that the fans were threatening to turn on the team as well as the manager, due to Swansea's "dominance" in the opening twenty minutes. It was also reported that "the home supporters again concentrated their chants towards their beleaguered boss, with around 200 staying behind to register their disapproval in an organised protest". Kean had continued to bait fans by telling the media that the owners were behind him "100%. That has never ebbed or quivered one day. They are fantastically behind everything we are trying to do. The owners are obviously concerned at the position we are in but I think they also understand that the selection process will now be tougher for myself because of the amount of players who are coming back."
Kean himself was in a defiant mood after the match. The Mirror reported that Kean wanted to "invite one or two of the dissident supporters into the dressing room to see the spirit among the players", quoting the manager as saying "We’re going to stay in the league. We have experienced players and I think we’ll be fine. All we can do is keep doing our job every week and maybe things will change. I would think it is unnecessary for fans to boo after we have scored. I prefer to call fans supporters, and supporters support the club through thick and thin, through good times and bad times. I would hate to think there were people in the ground wishing we had been beaten. If that is the case, I don’t think they are supporters. I don’t know if that’s the case, but if when you score, they don’t cheer but boo, it would be disappointing. But I hope with victories and performances, the minority - I don’t think there were 20,000 outside protesting - will get smaller and eventually they will feel too embarrassed."
Kean continued his attack on the protesters, saying: "I was thinking that the supporters support the club and they want it to progress and win and climb the table. I don't know how many are outside protesting, but I would imagine there are not 20,000. I would like the majority to maybe be vocal and say to the protesters, 'give the lads a chance'. We've got a lot of young players in the team and it can certainly affect them if there's a little bit of negativity aimed when you're ahead or when you're playing well, so I hope they can bear that in mind". Kean's comments were typical of his deflection strategy, bringing the players into an argument they were not involved in, whilst also trying to divide the fanbase between "true" supporters and protesters. Many in the media were all too happy to jump on board with this narrative.
BBC journalist Alistair Magowan was highly critical of Rovers' supporters after the match. In a blog, he wrote: "the dissenters calling for the head of Rovers manager Steve Kean seemed to cross a line. Perhaps some of the frustration after a poor run of results was understandable, but on Saturday on a wet and cold afternoon, Blackburn won their second game of the season, and still they booed. Their argument is that they are fully behind the team, not those in charge, but when Yakubu scored a fantastic first goal to give Rovers the lead, the cheers were tarnished by boos when the Nigerian ran over to celebrate with his manager on the touchline. At that point you had to question who they were booing. The evident union between the player and the manager underlines the fact that one cannot exist without the other and whatever the fans' gripes, their clearly-defined agenda is bound to spill over and affect the players. One thing is for sure, however, Blackburn's tactics or performances will not be helped by the continued anger from some supporters, especially if some boo in the midst of celebrating a goal".
Rovers travelled next to the Stadium of Light to face a Sunderland side who were also struggling. Having recently sacked manager Steve Bruce, Martin O'Neill stepped into the hotseat for his first match in charge. Rovers took an early lead through Simon Vukcevic in the 17th minute, but an 84th minute goal from David Vaughan drew things level, before Seb Larsson fired in a free kick in the 92nd minute to condemn Rovers to another late defeat. Injuries continued to prove a problem for the away side, as Gael Givet was taken off in the 22nd minute, and his replacement Martin Olsson was also injured during the first half and had to be replaced in the second period by youngster Adam Henley. Michel Salgado went off with a chest injury in the 51st minute and then Jason Lowe was stretchered off with a head injury at the very end of the match.
The BBC noted that Kean was subject to "the anger of the hardy band of just 316 supporters who travelled from Lancashire to Wearside" as his side slipped to yet another loss. After scoring early on, Rovers sat back for the rest of the match, with the BBC noting the home side's inability to break down the "blue and white wall of defensive resistance" set up by Rovers. Sunderland would ultimately have 12 shots compared to a measly 2 from Rovers, who had scored their single shot on target. Rovers could perhaps feel slightly hard done by when a decision for a second goal was ruled out due to an alleged foul on Sunderland goalkeeper Kieran Westwood by Chris Samba, although replays suggested it had been the keeper who had clattered into Samba, rather than the other way around.
As always, Kean spoke of a hard luck narrative. He told the BBC that "we lost Martin Olsson, we lost Michel Salgado with cracked ribs, we lost Jason Lowe at the end. We thought we could just hang in there and get a point, and we'd probably be disappointed with a point. I felt the work ethic and the work rate that the lads put in at least deserved something". It was revealed by Kean the day after the match that Givet had left the pitch due to heart palpitations: "His heart was pounding out of his neck and the doctor said there was the potential he might collapse. We had to get him off. He has had it before when his heart goes out of sync. If we hadn't done it at that time the doctor said he could have ended up with a much worse situation."
With Rovers still desperately struggling under Kean's stewardship, the national media began reporting that the manager had two games left to save his job. The Daily Mail reported that "Venky’s, the club’s owners, indicated that Kean was ‘unsackable’ when they handed him a long-term contract in January, but they now accept that a change may have to be made in order to retain their Premier League status". Considering Kean had only been handed improved pay terms a month earlier, this seemed highly unlikely, but Rovers' fans had learned that as far as Venky's were concerned anything was possible.
On 17th December, it was announced that official protests would come to a halt in order to fully support the team for two vital home games against West Brom and Bolton. The Daily Mail wrote "There will be no organised protests at Blackburn's next two home games. Organiser Glen Mullan has revealed that communication between protesters and the club have improved and the action will be brought to a temporary halt for the crucial visits of West Brom on Saturday and Bolton on Tuesday.” The paper quoted Mullan as saying "We are in advanced discussions with the club and we are very, very pleased with the progress that has been made. (Ewood Park stadium manager) John Newsham and (Blackburn deputy chief executive) Paul Hunt's attention to detail over the last couple of weeks has been exemplary. There will be no organised protests this weekend before, after or during the game. We are not cancelling the protests, we are postponing them for the next two games, after discussions with the club and with (director of Rovers sponsor WEC Group and Blackburn fan) Wayne Wild as well. We ask everyone to get behind the team for these two very winnable football matches. Six points is the most important thing, while we remain committed to trying to open up lines of communication with the club for the fans that can stay there for a long time. We want a line of communication that will be permanently open".
Despite well over 20,000 fans coming to Ewood Park in resounding support of the team, they were once again treated to a dire display against relegation rivals West Bromwich Albion. The BBC noted that "West Brom dominated possession in the opening period", and said that James Morrison's 52nd minute strike gave West Brom a "well-deserved lead". At this point the BBC reported that "when Morrison scored the anti-Kean T-shirts came out". With Rovers resorting to "route one football" - ironic as this was exactly the type of football Kean had promised would be left behind following Allardyce's departure - Rovers did get back into the game through a play straight out of the Big Sam handbook. A launched ball into the box from Robinson was knocked down by Chris Samba for Scott Dann to steer home in the 72nd minute.
It was the type of moment that would typically galvanise a home side to victory, but the BBC noted that "instead [Rovers] were almost immediately on the back foot as the visitors continued to dominate". An 89th minute winner from Peter Odemwingie handed Rovers another defeat as "boos rung out at Ewood Park" at the final whistle. It was West Brom's first win at Ewood in 20 years. Rovers had dropped 12 points from winning positions in the current season, were 11 points worse off than the same time the previous year under Sam Allardyce, and were still yet to keep a single clean sheet in the current season, having shipped a worrying 36 goals in 16 matches, an average of over 2 goals conceded per game. Rovers remained in 19th position on ten points, having slipped to being four behind Sunderland and Wolves, in 16th and 17th place respectively.
After the match, Kean remained steadfast in his optimistic view. He told the BBC: "When we did get the goal, I felt the momentum of the game changed. If anybody was going to score it was going to be us. Their goal seemed to wake us up, and what we've got to do now is show courage to get on the ball, dictate play and try to make some better clear-cut chances". On the fans reaction, Kean said "the fans are frustrated, the same as the staff and the players inside the dressing room. Next Tuesday's game against Bolton is massive. We'll get back on the training ground tomorrow and prepare. I consider myself a fighter, we have to earn the right and earn the points. The owners are fully behind me, and I've spoken to them extensively, but we look forward to putting points on the table on Tuesday evening".
Pressed in the post match press conference about Rovers' dire position, Kean said: "I need to get points. I'm under no illusions that my job is based on us being in a much better position than where we are now. I think we all feel the same - we want to win at home and get ourselves out of the position we are in, so I can understand why the fans are not happy - nobody is happy. We are disappointed today, but we look forward to playing Bolton because we feel as though we can turn it around. I have a good dressing room and when things are said, they [the players] take it on the chin. They respond, they back each other up, and we'll have to do that on Tuesday. We want to be getting the last-minute goal and going home with everyone happy. But it wasn't to be and we just have to make sure everyone is smiling on Tuesday evening."
Despite Kean's words, the abject performance against West Brom had completely deflated a fanbase that had been expecting much more from a team supposed to be fighting for Premier League survival. Things got worse for Rovers when it was revealed a groin injury suffered by Scott Dann in the defeat to West Brom would keep him out of action for six weeks, meaning he joined Gael Givet, Ryan Nelsen and Michel Salgado in defensive injuries or absences. On Salgado, who had barely been seen in recent times, Kean said "Michel won't be here next season. It is out of respect for the player to give him the heads up that this will be his last season."
Salgado, meanwhile, claimed that he did not want to move and that the club were freezing him out over contractual issues. The Daily Mail published an article quoting Salgado as saying "I want the fans to know all I want to do is help the team and help Blackburn survive in the Premier League, but the owners and manager aren’t allowing me to do this. I'm fit to play but I have been given five days off instead". The article stated that Salgado was "entitled to a new deal if he plays nine more games this season", but "is being left out to save cash".
On the 18th December, the Independent published an article on the aftermath of Rovers' defeat to West Brom. Reporter Tim Rich wrote: "Had Jack Walker been alive, it is likely Kean would have been fired immediately after a defeat that made West Bromwich look like a low-budget version of Barcelona. It was a fate endured by Roy Hodgson in the aftermath of a 1-0 defeat by Southampton in November 1998, and he drove away from Ewood Park in tears. Walker is long dead, John Williams, the chairman who saw Blackburn through the past decade, has been paid off and the club appear paralysed as the freight train bound for the lower divisions thunders on.
"Part of the reason there has been so much anger aimed at the Scot has been his refusal to publicly accept that the club are in a crisis that could wreck them completely. There was a hint of his usual self-delusion afterwards as he mused that he kept feeling Blackburn "were about to go on a long unbeaten run", but there was also an acceptance his time may be up after 37 games and 32 points. Blackburn's only ambition appeared to be to lump the ball up to Yakubu Ayegbeni, a tactic Albion expected and were prepared for. Their goal did come from a Route One ball from Paul Robinson, nodded down by the hulking figure of Chris Samba and turned in by Scott Dann's outstretched leg. However, apart from a desperate flurry near the end, the move for that equaliser was their only serious effort. Albion were altogether better".
In an unusual and controversial move, the typically neutral local paper the Lancashire Telegraph printed an article on their front page on 19th December, two days before the Bolton match, titled "Time To Go Steve". The article was blunt, stating: "Saturday’s humiliating home defeat to West Bromwich Albion was the last straw following a disastrous run of results stretching back months. If Rovers do manage to pull off a positive result against Bolton, in our view, further procrastination could take place and that would be wrong because we believe the club has passed the point of no return. It is now surely clear that Kean has to go and one good result shouldn’t be enough to save him. We are also calling for owners Venky’s to start running the club the way it deserves to be run or to put Blackburn Rovers up for sale if they are not prepared to protect its proud tradition.
"A year ago last weekend, Steve Kean was appointed Rovers boss after Venky’s inexplicably sacked Sam Allardyce. The club has been on a downward spiral ever since. Kean’s record of just seven wins from 37 league games tells its own story and, with managers ultimately judged on results, Venky’s have to take decisive action and change the manager now. Kean’s tenure has just been a symptom of the main problem at the football club and that problem is the inadequacy of Venky’s management. They threw a managerial novice in at the deep end and have systematically failed to provide him with the support, investment and suitable structure, to turn their undoubted gamble into a success. Large sections of Ewood Park once again called for Kean’s sacking after Peter Odemwingie’s late winner on Saturday and it is impossible to see how he would ever now get the crowd back on his side. He needs to go immediately to unite Rovers fans".
Jack Straw, former home secretary and MP for Blackburn, also called for Kean to resign, telling BBC Sport "All of us have been extremely patient with the owners and with Steve Kean, but having been at the game on Saturday and after listened to the one last night I think that there is no option as far as the owners are concerned but to ask Steve Kean to leave".
Henry Winter of the Telegraph responded to the Lancashire Telegraph's proclamation by writing: "The Lancashire Evening Telegraph rules in these parts. That is why the paper’s decision to demand Steve Kean’s sacking as Blackburn Rovers manager is so significant. Local papers value and nurture their relationship with the club at the heart of their community, almost considering them partnerships, and they rarely weigh in with such heavy criticism as Monday’s broadside. Unfortunately for all those clear-eyed people who can see that the only way forward for Rovers is without Kean, Venky’s have shown little appreciation of the calamitous state of affairs engulfing this famous old club. Dressing-room spirit drains away by the match day. Even the captain, Christopher Samba, a tireless servant, admits their belief is shredded. Rovers fans are rebels with a cause, a passionate one, a legitimate one, and Venky’s had better listen on Tuesday night.
"Even if the board still retains some faith in a lame-duck manager, the total breakdown in relations between dug-out and stands means that the manager is already dead man walking. The people have spoken on Kean, loudly, endlessly, even turning up with a banner at a Rovers match in India to take their campaign to Venky’s backyard. That relationship is fractured beyond repair, regardless of what happens tonight. It’s over. It’s not personal. Rovers followers simply believe the inexperienced Kean is out of his depth. Blackburn fans deserve better. It is not as if Kean can fall back on a development in playing style; Scott Dann’s goal against West Brom was as direct as anything produced under Kean’s predecessor, Sam Allardyce. Blackburn are simply a mess, a club lacking in leadership from the boardroom to the manager’s office. The alarm bells should have rung in the Premier League’s Gloucester Place HQ the moment such respected administrators as John Williams and Tom Finn left Ewood. Clubs are crying out for executives of their calibre. So for Blackburn to dispense with their services indicated a club losing its mind and soul. The Premier League can argue that the law of the jungle applies, that all clubs face challenges, particularly in an era of the perfect storm of high player wages and stretched fans’ salaries, yet events at Ewood are embarrassing to the image of English football. What is happening at Blackburn is an affront to the club’s traditions, to Walker’s memory".
Kean would respond by saying he "would never back away" from the task facing him at Ewood Park, telling reporters "When we win I come up and answer questions. If we lose or draw it is not something I would ever run away from. You have to face up to the responsibility. It doesn't keep me awake at night but it is a difficult situation. I won't turn my back on it, though. We had a late goal against us and we're all disappointed but, if [the fans] can stick with us, it can make a massive difference". He also continued to insist the owners were behind him, despite the press reporting that he would be sacked if Rovers were to lose against Bolton. He said: "The owners are concerned with where we are, as everyone is. But they have given me their full backing and given us full backing in the transfer window. We have been speaking about new players that we hope to bring in because it is important that we are active now so as soon as the window opens, we get some players in". Interestingly, the Independent reported that Kean "was joined by his young son at yesterday's press conference", in a move which appeared designed to engender sympathy and force journalists to avoid asking tough questions in fear of upsetting Kean's child.
The day after the Lancashire Telegraph's plea for Kean to resign, the manager would participate in a "Q&A" with the paper. When asked if he would walk away, Kean unsurprisingly said "I will not walk away because I believe I can turn it around. I believe once we can get a couple of wins under our belt, once we get a settled side we can get some wins". Kean rather amusingly claimed "I’m not making excuses because I don’t like to make them" then went straight on to say "we have to look at the injury position we are in and it is tough to get a settled back four out for two games on the bounce. Players are getting injured and accept that as a reason why we are letting in goals. The back four of last season when we were picking up results all over the place, the back four was the same every game". Considering the horrendous form Rovers had suffered during much of the 2010-11 season after Kean had taken charge, this was an incredible statement to make.
When pushed on the owners' silence, Kean said "The backing I have got from the owners is clear. There will be funds available in the window". Despite having taken jabs at the negativity of the supporters affecting players in numerous previous interviews, when asked whether the atmosphere was affecting the players, Kean bafflingly answered "No I don’t think it does. The lads are 100 per cent with me. I think that shows in their play". On the transfer window and the squad being very thin, Kean said "The owners know that and with the transfer window opening soon I am sure we will get players in because we have to, we are thin on the ground", but then admitted "I don’t know the ins and outs of the financial side", despite earlier in the interview saying that funds were available.
The night of December 21st 2011 is one that very few Rovers fans will ever forget. The crunch home fixture against Bolton had an extremely tense atmosphere, but a poor start from Rovers led to a goal being conceded in just five minutes, and after thirty minutes the home side were 2-0 down and looking dead and buried. This unfathomably bad start to such a crucial match led to the mood turning vicious - the BBC calling it "an atmosphere increasingly laced with poison". Henry Winter of the Telegraph wrote that "Apoplexy consumed Blackburn’s fans when Bolton doubled their lead", with the BBC noting that the first goal had been "greeted with chants sweeping around the stadium demanding Kean's removal". Rovers managed a consolation goal through Yakubu, but there was to be no equaliser as Rovers once again lost 2-1 at home to a relegation rival, dumping them to the bottom of the Premier League and keeping them four points from safety.
The Guardian live match feed of the match made for sobering reading, calling Jason Lowe "staggeringly useless" after twelve minutes, it continued with such quotes as "Blackburn can simply not play under these conditions. Their fans are booing anything that moves, chanting against the manager and they're holding up copies of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, the local paper that called for Kean to resign yesterday. Oh, and they're losing 2-0 at home to the bottom side", "Blackburn are cordially invited to join in this match whenever they fancy", "I've watched West Ham under Glenn Roeder and Sam Allardyce but I've never seen fans turn against their manager to such an extent before. You should feel sorry for Kean, but he's so delusional and should have resigned long ago", "This has been utterly morbid", "Blackburn haven't got anything beyond some very ineffective long throws from Pedersen. It's pathetic", " Hoilett doesn't deserve to be on the losing side but he can't do it all on his own".
The BBC wrote that "Steve Kean felt the full fury of Ewood Park. Kean stood alone in his technical area amid periods of sustained abuse and such was the level of personal animosity aimed at the Scot it is hard to see how he can turn the supporters around and survive after 12 torrid months in charge. Noisy protests continued outside Ewood Park after the game as Rovers' position becomes even more perilous". Once the second goal had gone in, the BBC reported "a storm of abuse was directed towards the technical area where Kean stood and one fan was even allowed to advance towards the dug-out while the manager watched". At the final whistle, it was also reported that "a scarf was thrown in the direction of the manager".
Henry Winter reported that "the vilification began early and rarely ebbed, the derision rolling down from the stands like toxic waves, exploding at a final whistle that must have rung out like the Last Post for Kean. Rancour chased him down the tunnel, awaited him outside the main reception where hundreds of protesting fans had gathered and will leap from hostile headlines today", whilst recalling the chants including "stand up if you hate Steve Kean", "we want Kean out", "getting sacked in the morning" and "there's only one Jack Walker". Winter also reflected that "Shamefully, none of the Rao family who run Venky’s were here for such a huge game, a match riddled with all the fear and significance of an end-of-season showdown. Ewood Park seems painfully lacking in direction from dug-out to boardroom. Venky’s should have been at Ewood, should have heard the animosity towards them and towards their controversial choice of manager."
Tim Rich of the Guardian wrote: "There was an element of Macbeth in the way that Steve Kean snatched power at Blackburn Rovers and there was a Shakespearean quality about what was almost certainly his last match as their manager. Sam Allardyce, who was sacked after a 2-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers and felt that his deputy had betrayed him, was at Ewood Park to see Kean's downfall. "Big Sam," yelled the home and away ends at the club's owners, who were thousands of miles away. "You should have kept Big Sam". As Kean and Coyle turned down the tunnel, one received a hug from his chairman, the other had a shirt thrown in his face by a supporter. Kean's wife was among the crowd and she would not have been human had she not wondered if any job was worth this".
After the match, Kean claimed there were "a few choice words" spoken at half time. He said that he had "expected to pick up a couple of points" from the previous few matches, but that the team were "very close" to getting results, before listing various injured defenders. He was not questioned on why young midfielder Jason Lowe was forced to ineptly play at right back whilst Michel Salgado had publicly declared himself fit and ready to play. Kean was uncharacteristically reticent towards the fans, meanwhile, telling the BBC reporter "I can understand. The fans come and they expect, a home game, for us to be getting at Bolton - and we didn't. It's not nice, it's not nice to lose any game irrespective of what the fans are saying. I hate to lose games and so do the players. We'll get a team together and we'll try to be positive. It would be very different for me if I had my full squad available for most of the time. I spoke with the owners before the game, they know the position we're in with the injuries, and I'm sure everybody will stick together and we'll work through it". He would also tell the press "I expect to be here boxing day. I would be completely shocked if they (the owners) decide to replace me."
The fallout from this match was severe, as the footballing world united in condemning Rovers' fans for their treatment of Kean. After the match, Bolton boss Owen Coyle said "'I do not think [Blackburn fans] have given Steve Kean any chance from the outset. They have their own reasons for that and ultimately, those who want to be heard shout the loudest. Steve Kean is a terrific coach and manager. All you want is an opportunity. We have the best league in the world, but we don't have the 20 best managers in the world, someone has to fill the dreaded places where no one wants to be. I hope he is given the time to do that because he is a genuinely nice person".
Everton boss David Moyes, who had attended the game, branded the treatment of Kean "disgusting", quoted as saying: "I walked out at half-time. I couldn't believe the criticism they gave their manager. If they had supported the team as well as they had shouted at their manager I think the team might have got a result in the game. I am a football manager and it could quite easily happen to me. I was disgusted with how football supporters treated Steve. The only way I could show it was by leaving at half-time. Steve stood on the touchline the whole night and took the barracking, never hid from it. He was big enough to stand there and take it and that says a lot about him. The Bolton supporters really got behind their manager and their team. If Blackburn supporters had done that it might have helped them".
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had his say, too. Despite at the time of Kean's appointment being quoted as saying "You’ve got that issue at Blackburn of an agent involved and deciding the future of the club, Jerome Anderson [of the SEM Group], he couldn’t pick his nose. It’s baffling and it’s a serious threat to how clubs get run and how they conduct themselves", Ferguson now apparently considered Rovers' fans concerns over SEM client Kean over the top, telling reporters "I have never seen anything as bad. For goodness sake, give the lad a break. It doesn't say a lot for society. I feel for the lad. I tried to phone him but he probably quite rightly had his phone switched off".
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew echoed many of Ferguson's comments, with Sky Sports quoting him as saying "If [Blackburn fans] want to carry on like they are doing, all they are going to do is harm their own team. I can't see the logic in that. It's a sign of the game. I don't know whether 20, 30 years ago, it would have been quite as vicious to Steve Kean. I know him well - he's a personal friend of mine - so I have great sympathy for the position he is in. There are a lot of factors in why he's receiving that. I don't go along with it and I don't think any member of the LMA (League Managers' Association) would go along with it in their right mind. He's trying to do the best job he can do. He has been given the job to do and that's what he is trying to do. He should be left alone to do that and it will be beneficial to the team if the fans take that view."
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp would also call the fans reaction "horrific", whilst Kean's fellow Scot and Celtic manager Neil Lennon told reporters "For me, it seems like he has never had the chance to do his job properly. For whatever reason, the support have never taken to him. Even when they were winning games like the other week, there was no pleasing supporters then. I know Steve from being on a few coaching courses and I know his assistant Iain Brunskill, who was with me on the Pro Licence. They are good football guys. At the end of the day it is a results-driven business and I just hope they start picking up positive results because there is a danger they could get detached from the rest of the clubs there. But in terms of the treatment, it's not on, it's not fair and I would hate to work in an environment like that". Even former Rovers' title-winning manager and at the time Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish said "Results aren't purely down to what the manager does, he needs support from the players, owners and certainly the crowd".
Former Liverpool and Manchester United striker Michael Owen would write on Twitter: "I get the feeling the Blackburn fans want Bolton to win. This is the side of football I hate. He may or may not be good enough but regardless, nobody deserves the abuse he is getting. He is probably a nice fella, no doubt twice as decent as the so called fans abusing him". The LMA also weighed in with their view of the situation, releasing a statement which said: "the aggression and abuse levelled at Steve over recent weeks has stepped well beyond the mark and is as unacceptable in football as it would be in any other profession. It is to Steve's significant credit that he has shouldered this continued onslaught with dignity and professionalism and has continued to work with his players to try and improve results on the pitch".
Michael Grant also wrote a piece in the Scottish Herald condemning the treatment of Kean. He penned the following incredibly one-eyed analysis of his fellow Scot: "It's gone beyond being just about Blackburn Rovers any more; about goals, misses, tackles and runs. There isn't the impression that it's only about the relegation battle in which they find themselves at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League. How can it be, when there are images of young fans unloading vicious abuse on their manager then looking at each other with broad grins? Something unusual and ugly has taken hold in Lancashire. Desperate managers get hounded all the time, but it's gone way beyond that with what's happening to Steve Kean at Blackburn. What's going on there isn't far removed from bear-baiting. Kean's record is awful and seven victories in 38 games is all ample grounds for him to be sacked. Blackburn supporters are right to expect far better than that, but it's hard to argue that they deserve it for the cruelty many of them have shown to Kean. They're having fun with it.
"There have been banners, chants, demonstrations, even a plane trailing a message. The psychological pressure has become relentless. Stewards and security staff had to repel a mob who tried to get at him at full-time after the defeat by Bolton . If he's a poor manager, fine, but what has Kean done to bring himself to the point of being in physical danger? Before Blackburn, Kean had a reputation as an intelligent and perceptive coach, well-respected within football and with no shortage of job offers. Right now, he is perceived only as a loser and victim being subjected to a long and humiliating execution. There is sympathy for him too, of course, and not least in Scotland given the pride taken in having seven managers from the Glasgow area working in the top flight of English football. But how easy will it be for any club in a few months' time to wheel out Kean as their new manager and try to convince supporters that he is the way ahead?
"Throughout it all he has remained respectful towards the club, supporters and even the media who have trained their guns on him. Even while being kicked from pillar to post, Kean has acted like a decent human being. His mantra has been that the club has been unfortunate with injuries, especially to defenders, and that results would improve when he has more of his best players available. Fans don't buy that. They regard him as an uncritical figurehead and patsy for the Indian owners, Venky's. They've made up their minds that they cannot stand him."
In the wake of this outpouring of support, Kean would respond by saying "My phone's been going hot all week with people phoning with messages saying 'Hang in there'. No disrespect to local MPs or local journalists or ex-players, but when you've got vastly experienced managers that are phoning up and saying under the circumstances you're doing a marvellous job, then I'll listen to them". Kean would also go on to say "It would be silly not to be concerned about where we are but the belief is there that I can lead this team away from trouble without a doubt. I am sure the owners will give me time. I am convinced they will. They understand the injury crisis we have, all in the one position. I can't do any surgery on them. I don't make excuses. It is a fact."
This outraged reaction was to be entirely expected. The football fraternity is well known for banding together when it came to events on this nature, with David Moyes pointing out that other managers in particular had a self-interest in backing Kean - because it could be any of them taking the heat in future. Not only this, but keeping Kean at Rovers was a benefit to other managers as it increased their chances of defeating Rovers in future matches. It wasn't difficult to understand why they were lining up to defend the beleaguered Scot, although it was hard to take anybody who called Kean a "terrific manager" particularly seriously, as his record suggested nothing of the sort. All evidence pointed to Kean being utterly incompetent, regardless of any personal attributes his friends claimed he possessed.
Yet, at the same time, the reaction at Ewood on the 21st December should not have been a surprise to anybody following the club closely. This toxic undercurrent of frustration and fury had been building for close to a year, with Rovers' fans forced to endure torrid performances alongside some outrageous spin from a manager who was frighteningly out of his depth. Their desperate pleas for change and engagement had been met with almost total silence and defiance, with Kean happy to point out time after time that the owners were fully behind him and "what we are trying to do here". Venky's absence for huge portions of their tenure thus far had left Kean as the face of the regime, and the only person available to vent frustration at. When his failure was awarded with a pay rise in November 2011, it only further incensed fans who could not dream of getting a pay rise for doing their owns job as badly as Steve Kean was doing his.
By this juncture, almost all Rovers fans equated Kean with Venky's. They were seen as two parts of the same poisonous organism that was sucking the life out of the club. There were deep suspicions over the nature of Kean's appointment, and the influence of Kentaro/SEM within the club. Strange transfers, good players being frozen out, respected backroom and administrative staff suddenly leaving, illogical backing of a patently poor manager and attempts by the club to silence protests had left supporters feeling like their club was being stolen from them - and Kean was a big part of that. He was not solely responsible for what was happening to Rovers, but there was no other visible target to aim at, with the owners being thousands of miles away and refusing to come anywhere near Blackburn.
The vitriol directed at Kean could not be seen as simply a group of fans throwing abuse at a poor manager. It went far beyond this. Kean symbolised the entire disastrous regime which had hijacked a stable, well-run club and dragged it into the fire. He personified everything that was broken and rotten at Blackburn Rovers. The anger thrown at him was a message to Venky's, SEM, Kentaro, Jerome Anderson and all others that had been complicit in Rovers' demise that the fans were not willing to sit idly by and watch their club fall into the abyss. It was a narrative that was simply beyond the majority of observers, whether that was other managers, pundits or fans, who were defending Kean through a combination of friendship, loyalty, agency links and downright ignorance of what was happening at Blackburn Rovers.
Phil McNulty of the BBC wrote a somewhat more balanced article in the aftermath of the Rovers-Bolton clash. McNulty said that Kean was "defying logic" by suggesting he could get the club out of trouble, "as furious protests provided background noise to his words, with hundreds of supporters gathering outside the stadium's reception area demanding his sacking. It is hard to see how Kean can keep his job, not just because of results but as a consequence of the naked hostility and anger directed at him. The vilification started early and continued long after the game as fans waited in the rain to see if their wish to see Kean out of a job had been granted. Such an outcome would seem a merciful release given the treatment he was subjected to from his own support, who turned on him en masse once Davies and Nigel Reo-Coker had given Bolton a lead they never relinquished.
"Kean has become a lightning conductor for the disapproval of Ewood Park since Blackburn's Indian owners Venky's appointed him to succeed Sam Allardyce, a decision taken in haste and one they may now repent at leisure. It is hard to know what reward Kean currently gets from his post. He is being deserted in droves, from his paymasters preferring to watch a live feed in Pune rather than be at his side in his hour of need to calls from his local newspaper and local MP Jack Straw to step away before Blackburn tip over the precipice. No matter what passions are aroused by football, watching Kean stand alone in the dugout with the abuse of thousands ringing in his ears made for an uncomfortable experience.
"Blackburn's supporters have every right to express discontent at a dislocated ownership dictating policy from afar as Kean presides over what appears to be an increasingly dysfunctional club. But it is a hard heart that could not feel for Kean in the poisonous atmosphere that pervaded Ewood Park, not a stadium known for such naked hostility until the Scot was appointed. Blackburn managers did win approval at Ewood Park - but none was Kean. Hughes, linked with a return, received the most vociferous support and even Allardyce, a taste plenty failed to acquire during his time at the club, was flavour of the night for some. From "Stand Up If You Hate Kean" to "You're Getting Sacked In The Morning" (from both sets of fans), to unfurled banners calling for manager and owners to leave town and finally some Rovers colours flung in his direction at the final whistle, it was unrelenting.
"Kean was asked, with genuine concern, in his post-match media inquisition whether it was really all worth it and whether his family - his wife was in attendance - should have to suffer through his own misery. He was unmoved, reeling off the casualty list he feels has caused the crisis, and maintaining that the return of men such as Ryan Nelsen, Martin Olsson, Scott Dann and Gael Givet will add ballast to his squad. Sadly for Kean, though, the statistics stack up against him. Blackburn are 11 points down on their total after 17 games last season and have failed to keep a clean sheet since beating Bolton in April - their worst sequence in the top flight for 80 years. He remains convinced he will be in the technical area at Anfield on Boxing Day. The coming days will determine whether his apparently endless reserves of optimism are misplaced".
Undeterred by the hysterical media criticism, on the 23rd December a group of fans protested outside Rovers' training ground. The BBC reported Glen Mullan as saying "It is aimed at the mismanagement of the club by the owners". Other fans were quoted, calling the current situation "an absolute scandal" and saying that they were "desperate", facing a scenario where "we obviously have a manager in place that shouldn't be there". The article also noted that the protest had the backing of the Lancashire Telegraph, which was quoted as saying "The supporters simply don't deserve to be witnessing the awful, and growing, chaos at their beloved Rovers. That's why their protests are now so right - and so justified".
The rumour mill, meanwhile, was in overdrive. In between the continuous stream of quotes condemning Rovers' fans, journalists speculated that Kean would surely be fired after losing both home matches against West Brom and Bolton. General consensus was that former manager Mark Hughes was being sounded out to replace Kean and save Rovers from what was becoming an inevitable drop out of the Premier League. The Telegraph reported that "Kean is understood to retain the backing of Venky’s chairman Anuradha Desai. However, Desai is being urged by advisers and associates to make a swift change and bolster moves to tempt Mark Hughes to return to the club for a second spell in charge. Dave Jones and Avram Grant are also being considered by influential figures close to Venky’s".
This article also suggested that the administrative staff at Rovers were struggling to do their jobs effectively, reporting: "Venky’s continue to be absentee owners, with deputy chief executive Paul Hunt and sporting director Simon Hunt the most senior figures based at Ewood Park, yet all decisions are made in India, with club personnel regularly bemoaning the inability to contact the Venky’s hierarchy or act without their prior authority. John Williams, the widely respected former chairman, left his post in February after being marginalised by Venky’s to the point where he was left to order the club’s training kit. Williams has since been recruited by Manchester City. The club’s transfer policy has also led to bewilderment and confusion. Having promised substantial funds to previous manager Sam Allardyce prior to his dismissal last December, money has been slow to trickle down from Venky’s to the transfer pot. Under Venky’s, Blackburn have raised £22.8million from player sales and spent £19 million, ensuring a surplus of £3.8 million. Of greater concern to supporters, however, is the club owing at least £21million to Barclays Bank. Fans voiced fears that Blackburn could be heading for the same kind of financial meltdown experienced by Leeds United after the emergence of documents that revealed that money had been borrowed from Barclays and secured against future Premier League earnings".
Steve Kean's prediction that he would be in charge of Rovers on boxing day to face Liverpool at Anfield turned out to be correct. Venky's did not move to get rid of the manager, and Rovers battled to a 1-1 draw at Anfield. Liverpool had struggled at home under Kenny Dalglish, having won just three of nine matches at home, whilst failing to score more than a single goal at home since September. They had drawn matches to Sunderland, Norwich and Swansea at Anfield, but even with that in mind, failing to beat Steve Kean's Blackburn Rovers at home was a devastating setback for the Reds. Liverpool's 28 shots to Rovers 5 made it clear who the better team was, but unusually for Rovers, their defence held strong and picked up a much needed point. Rovers remained bottom of the table on eleven points, still four points away from safety.
As expected, Kean was extremely happy after the match. He told the BBC "I'm proud of the lads, because we're quite thin on the ground. We've got so many defenders injured, and five of the team today played in the reserve cup final last year. We showed that we can come to places like this, and if we can keep our discipline, then we can go and dig results out. Overall I thought Liverpool probably edged it. You come to a place like this, you get a good performance and a result, considering where we are on the injury front, with all the defenders that are injured..." - Kean would keep coming back to injuries and the young age of the team, which was strange considering his insistence that he never used excuses. It also suggested that perhaps he had not been as well backed by the owners as he had claimed in numerous interviews beforehand, but journalists appeared unwilling to press him on that point.
Mark Bunn would also speak to the press after this match and claim that the players were behind the manager, saying: "There is definitely togetherness. We have been together all season and obviously we have not been getting the results we would like but we are behind Steve Kean. He has given most of us our chance and we have to start repaying him and moving up the league. It is hard when you change your back line as often as we have, but the young lads have come in and done really well. We can only take that as a positive".
Rovers club legend Tony Parkes was not swayed by the result against Liverpool, however. Just a day after the match, he called for Kean to leave. The Mirror quoted Parkes echoing many Rovers' fans thoughts: "Steve Kean will never turn the fans in his favour. That chance went a long time ago. The fans are the people who ultimately get managers the sack, so surely that has to happen with Steve Kean? It's all very well saying, 'It's only a minority who are against him', but it isn't. As a Blackburn Rovers fan through and through, it is very difficult to see the club in this situation. You wonder what is going to happen at the end of all this. We have people running the club who know nothing about football and have got rid of all the people who could have helped them. It beggars belief how people who know nothing about this football club have come in and taken apart everything that was good about it. Venky's have to get real. They may like the manager, but he is going to take the football club down.
"There are three groups of people to blame for the situation the club are in - the manager, Venky's and the Walker Trust. It has to be remembered the Walker Trust were the people who brought them [Venky's] in. They wanted to get out and were taking anyone's money to do that. All three have a lot to answer for. It's now about the next 20 games and Venky's proving themselves as owners. Are we going to have enough quality to win enough games to stay up? This is the big test for Venky's. We need new players. I'm not talking about players worth £500,000 or £1million - we have already signed them - we now need three of four players of real quality and they cost [a lot of money]. Venky's have to start putting their money into it. If they are going to back Steve Kean, which I fear they are going to, then they need to back him with money. They have yet to show they are prepared to do that."
The final day of 2011 would see an even more unbelievable result. Rovers travelled to Old Trafford in a match nobody gave them a chance of getting anything out of. Due to injuries, Rovers lined up with reserve keeper Mark Bunn, 17 year old left back Adam Henley, 19 year old centre back Grant Hanley, 19 year old midfielder (shoehorned into right back) Jason Lowe, and 20 year old midfield Ruben Rochina in the starting eleven. Misfits Mauro Formica and Radosav Petrovic also started the match, with Rovers' bench including youngsters Josh Morris, Jake Kean, Jordan Slew and Nick Blackman. It was an incredibly weak Rovers team that Manchester United should have absolutely wiped the floor with.
But Alex Ferguson was evidently feeling generous on his 70th birthday. United were dealing with injuries of their own, but rather than give highly-rated youth prospect Paul Pogba a chance in midfield, Ferguson inexplicably opted to play Brazilian right-back Rafael and South Korean winger Ji-Sung Park in the centre of midfield. This decision enraged Pogba and pushed him firmly towards the Old Trafford exit, with Pogba stating afterwards in an interview "It was the match against Blackburn in December 2011 at Old Trafford. Paul Scholes had retired, Darren Fletcher was injured. There was no one left to play in midfield. And I was training and I was beginning to get better bit by bit and the coach never stopped telling me, 'You're this far'. And I didn't understand. This far away from what? Playing? From having some playing time? From getting on the field? Or what? And there was Rafael in midfield and I was disgusted. I was disgusted and I didn't get on either."
Wayne Rooney, Darron Gibson and Jonny Evans were also missing from United's team due to ill-discipline relating to an unauthorised night out, but even with all of the above in mind, United could still call upon the talents of David De Gea, Patrice Evra, former Rover Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. The match should not even have been a contest, but for whatever reason United failed to impose themselves on a Rovers side that had taken some confidence and belief from their 1-1 draw at Anfield a few days prior.
Yakubu opened the scoring on 16 minutes after Berbatov had fouled Chris Samba in the United box, resulting in a penalty. The BBC noted that "Rovers would have been expecting to weather a storm from the restart, but there was no storm". Rovers held onto the lead until half time, and then amazingly doubled their lead on 51 minutes, with Yakubu striking again. This goal finally sparked Manchester United to life, and two goals from Berbatov in the 52nd and 62nd minute set up what appeared to be an expected comeback from the home side against a fragile, inexperienced Rovers team with a manager who had become well known for being unable or unwilling to make changes during a match that could positively affect the outcome.
But then the unthinkable happened. Ten minutes from time Grant Hanley headed in from a Rovers corner to put the away side back into the lead. Despite pressure from United at the end, Rovers held firm to give Steve Kean's side an extraordinary victory against the current champions. The BBC noted that the odds had been 28-1 on a Rovers win pre-match, and called this result "arguably the greatest victory of [Kean's] managerial career". This unexpected result lifted Rovers off the foot of the table, moving them ahead of Bolton and up into 19th, three points behind QPR with a superior goal difference. What had appeared to be a hopeless situation had suddenly changed completely within the span of two matches which had yielded four points from a possible six.
Speaking after the match, Grant Hanley told reporters "the boys worked hard. We got the organisation and our shape right, and in the end we probably deserved the result. The boys are up to the task, you see today we put a great effort in. All season our performances have been brilliant, we've just been unlucky with results". Steve Kean praised the younger players, saying that they "played with courage" and the way the team "passed their way out of defence" was a lesson learned from the defeat to Sunderland in December. Few would have been surprised at Kean's assertion that "the best form of defence is attack". Kean insisted that the club was still in a "transition period", and predicted that the club would "come through it and be stronger" and that developing young players would be "the backbone of this club for years to come".
On 28th December 2011, before the Manchester United game, the Telegraph produced a 'year in review' for Blackburn Rovers. The article stated that 2011 would be remembered "As an unmitigated disaster and, potentially, the year that Blackburn Rovers supporters will look back on the one which sparked the club’s sad decline into meltdown". It continued: "Steve Kean’s appointment as manager in Dec 2010 appeared a bewildering move by the club’s Indian owners, Venky’s, but the fears of Rovers fans on day one of Kean’s reign have been realised and then some. The Scot now ranks alongside the likes of Ian Branfoot (Southampton), Alan Ball (Manchester City) and Roy Hodgson (Liverpool) as the most unpopular club manager of the Premier League era. During the 2-1 defeat against Bolton earlier this week, the vitriol and hatred heaped onto Kean surpassed acceptable levels and the mood at Ewood Park is now rancorous and far removed from the family spirit that has always been the club’s badge of honour."
As far as 2012 was concerned, the Telegraph predicted: "Relegation, financial problems and dwindling crowds. Unless the current situation is arrested quickly, the doomsday scenario looms large for Blackburn. With one of the lowest average attendances in the Premier League, the loss of TV money and a drop in crowds would leave the club dangerously exposed in the Championship. But with the likes of Junior Hoilett and Chris Samba likely to leave in January and no sign of quality replacements on the horizon, there is little hope to cling on to. The only hope is for Venky’s to realise the peril that the club is in and throw money at new players in January. If they don’t, they will have a Championship club on their hands next year and they will quickly discover there will no little resale value on Blackburn Rovers in that situation."
After a largely horrendous 2011, the year had ended on an unexpected high note. Rovers were still entrenched in the relegation zone, but big results against two top teams had given a section of the supporters some optimism that they could still get out of the mire. Major issues had not been addressed, though, and supporters knew that fluke results against big clubs would not be enough if the club could not beat their relegation rivals in the months ahead. Despite the final two results of 2011, most fans still believed Steve Kean needed to leave if Rovers were to have any chance of playing Premier League football in the 2012-13 season.
Rovers have confirmed that they have completed the signing of Peter Whittingham. The versatile midfielder has signed a 2 year deal and joins on a free transfer from Cardiff City.
This manager Tony Mowbray's first piece of business of the summer transfer window and he has already stated that he hopes to bring in more players as Rovers prepare for life in League 1.
I am delighted to announce a new series of the famous BRFCS podcasts, they will not be weekly as before but will be regular and we will try and feature different guests every episode.
Episode one is below, it will be available on itunes etc soon. It features Mikey Delap, Duncan Miller, Ian Herbert and of course Josh Boswell. Massive thanks to all that took part and particular thanks to Josh for producing and editing it for us.
Enjoy and please do leave your feedback:
Rovers head coach Tony Mowbray has signed a new 2 year deal which will keep at the club until 2019. The deal comes on the back of talks that Mowbray had with owners Venky's in Pune last months.
Talking to the official website Mowbray said
“I think it's a fantastic football club, with a fantastic infrastructure. The job is to bounce back straight away and I needed some reassurances that we wouldn't be selling all of our players and that we had some budget to try and strengthen the team if we could, having lost 12 players through either loans going back or people out of contract.
“I'm looking forward to the opportunity of trying to build a team that the fans can be proud of and enjoy and hopefully we can win plenty of games. The only target is to try and bounce back at the first opportunity.”
Mowbray is also looking at getting out of League 1 at the first time of asking and then to try and push the club towards the Premier League
“I think it's important to state from the outset that League One is a difficult league, League One is a hard, attritional, physical league, but our aim has to be to win promotion in season one.
“I know how difficult that's going to be, because there's some pretty big teams still in League One – the likes of Charlton, Portsmouth, Wigan, Bradford etc – so there's going to be plenty of competition and we need to make sure we’re at our best in every game, but the bigger goal isn't League One.
“The bigger goal is to push on past the Championship if we can. We have to first and foremost re-establish ourselves back in the Championship if we can get the job done next season and then to aim for the Premier League.
“It seems a long way away at the moment, but if we can achieve our first target, which is what we have to concentrate and focus on, and I a bit uncomfortable talking about future goals, because the only goal at the moment is to try and build a successful team in this league and then we'll deal with the one above, but ultimately the longer-term goals are to build a strong team for the Championship that can compete to get out of that division.”
The Demise of Blackburn Rovers under Venky’s – 2011-2012 season Part 2 by Dan Eley
Part 2 covers the period from September until end of November.
Rovers' first match after the closing of the transfer window was away to Fulham at Craven Cottage. In a fairly even match, Ruben Rochina's incredible opening strike was quickly cancelled out by a Bobby Zamora equaliser. The game ended 1-1, giving Rovers their first point of the season, albeit at a cost. Chris Samba, David Dunn and Junior Hoilett all suffered injuries. After the match, Kean told the BBC: "I'm very close to the owners, and the dressing room showed what we're all about today. The tightness and togetherness that I've got with the dressing room. I've been with the owners last week, they're happy with the way the lads are trying to play, and they're happy with the way things are shaping up. I've got the confidence of the owners, and I'm just wanting the fans to back the players and back myself, and then we'll be in the top half - no doubt about that."
Kean's plea for support would not resonate with all of the fanbase, though. On 17th September Rovers would face a daunting home match against Arsenal, but before the match began a section of fans would stage their first protest against Steve Kean and Venky's - who were at the match in the form of Balaji Rao, Venkatesh Rao and their entourage. Unfortunately, a combination of poor weather and general supporter apathy meant that turnout was not as high as expected, with the Lancashire Telegraph reporting that "Around 250 Blackburn Rovers fans staged a protest against manager Steve Kean today. Organisers had hoped up to 1000 fans might take part". http://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/9257409.Blackburn_Rovers_fans_stage_Kean_protest_march/
The day before the protest, Venkatesh Rao was interviewed by ESPN. When asked about whether he was concerned by the welcome, they would receive, Venkatesh responded: "No I'm not worried about the welcome tomorrow, I'm more worried for the results. We've been unlucky in the last few matches. I think we will come out of this". On the protests, he said "I'm not worried. They have the right. It's the fans who own the club also. We are a family, and in a family if the father gets angry at you, you're not angry. For them, this club runs. We have to listen to them."
The ESPN reporter pressed on whether Steve Kean would be removed, to which Venkatesh replied: "It's not so easy to just put somebody in and out, in and out. Particularly management. We have to give time, and keep calm, and we'll produce results. I'm sure about it". On Kean's job, Ventatesh said "he's very much safe. There's no problem with Steve. He's a nice man, and I'm sure he'll deliver the goods. We've had bad luck in the last few matches. Higher management has no idea of changing anybody out here."
Venky's also released a public statement regarding the planned protests, telling fans: "We understand there is a sense of disappointment and anger amongst our fans at the recent performance of our team, which was not up to the expectation of fans. We fully understand your feelings and share your disappointment. At times like this, when the team is going through a bad patch, they need all the support and encouragement they can get from the fans to boost their morale and enable them to perform at their best. This is the time when fans can make a difference by lending their full support and to cheer the team on more vigorously than ever, and help the players renew the confidence in themselves. On behalf of Venky's, we would like to reassure the fans that we are fully aware of our responsibilities towards them, and the club and to football."
Irish paper The National ran a critical article of Steve Kean pre-match, saying: "Kean continues to insist that it is only a minority who want him out - although, according to one newspaper poll last week, 81 per cent of supporters do - which is part of his problem. Too often his rhetoric does not stand up to analysis. Asserting, for instance, that Blackburn dominated in the second half of their 3-1 defeat at Aston Villa, when the consensus is that Rovers were utterly abject, merely adds to the impression that he is management's version of an ostrich, head buried in the sand and oblivious to what others see. A club that was a model of quiet over-achievement is now being mocked, while mixed messages emanate from the club's high command.
"Their quest for a galactico was an embarrassing failure - Ronaldinho, Raul and David Beckham proving somehow able to resist the entreaties from East Lancashire - and the closest they have come to finding a big name is Yakubu, the striker who was utterly unwanted at Everton. For all the promises of investment, Rovers made a transfer-market profit in the summer. While seven players arrived, two of the departures may be more significant. When Blackburn took seven points from the final three games to stay up last season, two of the catalysts were Phil Jones, now turning in similarly important performances for Manchester United, and Brett Emerton, who has returned to his native Australia with Sydney FC. The third, Christopher Samba, eyed the exit and appears disenchanted."
The match itself would be as crazy as the atmosphere surrounding it. Arsenal would ultimately contrive to defeat themselves. Despite largely dominating the match, the Gunners found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-3 loss. Own goals from Alex Song and Laurent Koscielny helped Rovers on their way, with Yakubu scoring two goals to complete the scoring for the home side. The BBC called it "an end-to-end encounter in which defending appeared to be a lost art for long periods". Perhaps because of this result, the BBC noted that "a rumoured post-match protest from some of Blackburn's fans never materialised". Meanwhile, Sky's coverage of the match ended with Steve Kean walking off the pitch, exchanging thumbs up gestures with an ecstatic Balaji and Venkatesh sitting high above.
After the match, Steve Kean told the BBC: "I think today we showed what we're all about. We've got character, team-spirit, determination. I think results are important, but I think performances are equally important. I know there was a little bit of a protest today, I think a couple of hundred people, which is 1% of what's in the stadium. So I'm happy that there's 99% that are happy, and hopefully the other 1% will go home happy as well". He also clarified that the owners were behind him "100% - you only have to read their statements."
With Kean now in a buoyant mood, the Daily Mail quoted him as saying "I'm happy to meet any supporter and to be open about what we are trying to do at the club. But the thing that disappoints me (about the criticism) is that we've been playing well. It's been disappointing to get a bit of stick but you take it on the chin. I don't feel as though I'm under pressure, not when you have the backing of the dressing room, the backing of the owners and I think we've turned a few of the 500 or 600 (protesters) and sent them home happy". On Venky's, Kean insisted "They're not just here for a couple of years. They're here for the long haul, they've got a feel for this club. I've been on record saying we want European football, but that's not this year. It's a four-year programme. On deadline day we were one of the clubs that were spending. Any time I've ever asked the owners to produce the cash to get someone I want they have always done it."
After defeating Leyton Orient 3-2 in the Carling Cup, Rovers returned to league action against Newcastle at St. James's Park on the 24th September. Normal service was resumed, as Rovers succumbed to a 3-1 defeat. Martin Olsson would be sent off for picking up two yellow cards, as Demba Ba netted his first hat-trick in English football. Newcastle had total control of the match, with 19 shots to Rovers 4. Post match, Kean complained that Newcastle's third goal shouldn't have been given due to a foul on Scott Dann, and said that the third goal was "a big turning point", despite Rovers never seriously being in the game.
Just five days later, on the 29th September, John Jensen was relieved of his duties as assistant manager - having only signed a contract extension in May. The club released a very short statement reading "The club would like to thank John for his efforts over the past nine months and wish him all the best for the future." Jensen, meanwhile, revealed his bemusement over the decision, telling the media: "You expect to get an explanation but there has been no explanation from the club. One day we might get to know the truth. The firing was a shock for me. I still don't know why I was fired but the main reason must be the results. When you don't get good results it's a risk that you'll get sacked". Considering Kean had crowed about the need for "loyalty" upon Jensen's appointment, this seemed like a callous move from a man looking to blame anybody but himself for things going badly.
Rovers began October with a 4-0 trouncing at home to Manchester City, which saw a sit-in protest staged against Steve Kean. Rovers had held off City for 55 minutes, but Adam Johnson struck in the 56th minute and from there the floodgates opened. Loud, angry chants from the home crowd were directed against the manager once Samir Nasri put City three ahead. It was the club's worst home result in three years. This result kept Rovers second from bottom, having managed just four points from their opening seven matches, with a goal difference of -9. New signings Petrovic, Yakubu and Goodwillie played, but were utterly ineffective.
Post-match, Steve Kean was defiant. He told reporters at the post match press conference that he was "100% per cent" committed to seeing the job through, commenting that "If the fans want to vent [their frustration] I'd rather they vent it at me than the team. I told the lads I will battle on for my players. Even the ones I didn't bring to the club I consider my players. I'll take the criticism on my shoulders and take it away from them. A couple of weeks ago it was very buoyant dressing room. Obviously we're disappointed with the manner of the goals because I felt in the first half our game plan was working well. A couple of weeks ago we played Arsenal and got a fantastic result and most of the fans went home very, very happy. We've lost today and the fans are not happy, nor are the players, nor am I. But I think we have to put it in perspective. For the first 55 minutes the shape of our team was good and we minimised the chances of Manchester City, and it has taken a very good goal. We reacted by feeling a little bit sorry for ourselves and conceded another goal. It is certainly not something I am enjoying but I can take it on the chin."
An international break followed this match, but rather than using the time to reflect on the team's issues, Rovers were flown out to Pune in the middle of the season to play an exhibition match against Pune FC. This match was supposed to be played during pre-season, but due to terror attacks in Mumbai the initial fixture was called off and rescheduled during the season instead. Sportskeeda noted that "ticket sales were dull because of the exorbitant prices (which wasn’t the case for the game scheduled in July)". Barely 6000 supporters turned up for the match, in a stadium that could hold up to 14,000, and NDTV added that there was further embarrassment for the organisers "when the ball had to be changed after just two minutes because it had not been fully pumped up".
On the mid-season tour of India, the Guardian wrote: "Steve Kean leads Blackburn on a brief tour of India this week arguing that, far from being disruptive and bizarrely timed, it might help bring a struggling side together. He insisted that, despite the calls for his dismissal that echoed around Ewood Park, he still has the backing of the club's owners, Venky's, who fired his assistant, John Jensen, on Wednesday night. Kean said he bore no responsibility for the sacking of Jensen. Kean has averaged less than a point a game since succeeding Sam Allardyce 10 months ago, although he argued that despite a sequence of results that has seen them beat only Arsenal with the help of two own-goals, he retains the support of the owners, if not the fans".
Unsurprisingly, Kean effusively praised the owners, quoted as saying: "The owners are very strong. I spoke with one of the owners [Anuradha Desai] first thing [on Saturday morning] and she said there were going to be demonstrations and that I should not let it bother me and I won't. The owners are in it for the long term and they have backed me to the hilt". Kean also claimed that the players "disapproved" of the protests against him, telling reporters: "They said in the dressing room that it was very unfair. I told them not to worry because I can take it. When we beat Arsenal I gave all the praise to them and when there's stick I will take it."
It was also during this trip that a select group of Rovers' fans were invited to India by the owners to engage with the higher management structure at Venky's and experience a taste of India. Cynics noted that this seemed like nothing more than a PR stunt by Venky's to appease growing unrest across the supporter base, but Secretary of the Fans Forum John Wareing was optimistic, telling the Lancashire Telegraph: "We are delighted to be able to accept this invitation by the owners. It is rare indeed that owners of a football club would go to these lengths". This would be the only time Rovers' fans were ever invited to India, and it would become clear in the coming months that nothing the supporters told the owners had any effect on their perception of how the club should be run.
The match itself was historical, being the first game played between a top division English team and an Indian club. As expected, Rovers won the match comfortably, with a 3-0 victory. The BBC noted that "a 'Kean out' banner which appeared in the stands in the first half was removed by organisers". Glen Mullan, of the recently formed protest entity Blackburn Rovers Action Group, told the media "Over the last week or so, myself and the fellow organisers of the recent protests have been working hard on what we should do next following the ridiculous comments coming out of the club. The numbers are expected to be much larger than the previous march as more and more supporters have joined the protest campaign."
The Telegraph made note of the protest banners at the Indian game, reporting that "the sight of ‘Kean Out’ messages in the home city of Venky’s will prove embarrassing for Kean, who was the subject of a fans’ demonstration following last Saturday’s 4-0 home defeat against Manchester City". The paper also quoted Balaji Rao as stating: "We know that a few people have been generating thousands of emails demanding the ousting of Steve Kean, who is a brilliant manager. The team is in the relegation zone right now, but it is going to come up I am sure of that. We know the team is going in the right direction and we are very positive about the way the team is performing and the way it is going. On the whole the goal of playing in Europe over the next four to five years is a realistic one."
On the 14th October, the day before Rovers were scheduled to play QPR at Loftus Road, it was announced that future Derby County and Swansea City manager Paul Clement would be replacing John Jensen as assistant to Steve Kean. Clement told the media: "I'm excited to be here at a big club like Blackburn Rovers and am really looking forward to the challenge. It's great to be linking up with Steve again and I can't wait to get started". Kean was similarly positive, saying that he was "delighted that Paul has agreed to join us. He is someone I know well and respect as a coach and will be on the bench with me at QPR. I go back to 2000 when I first met him at Fulham and saw him progress through the age groups before he was head-hunted to go back to Chelsea. He worked closely with Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti, with whom he managed to win the double. We've got someone who has a habit of winning games and working at a very detailed and high level and that can only help the whole club."
Rovers could only manage a 1-1 draw at Loftus Road, with Bolton's 2-1 victory over Wigan on the same day meaning Rovers sank to the bottom of the table. QPR had been beaten 6-0 by Fulham in their previous match, but Kean's miserable winning record continued, meaning he had only picked up 27 points from a possible 87 since taking charge in December 2010. The BBC noted that the game featured "atrocious defending", which was becoming a common criticism under Kean, whilst Rovers' manager suggested that he was "happy enough with a point" and insisted that "The point gets the momentum moving again, which is important".
On 23rd October, Rovers would go on the record another home loss, this time beaten 2-1 by Tottenham. Rovers had not kept a clean sheet in the league since their 1-0 victory over Bolton on April 30th, and the BBC reported that "numerous Blackburn fans marched towards Ewood Park armed with a variety of banners, placards and posters all demanding the exit of Kean, who was presiding over his 30th match in charge but remains with only six victories". Despite this, Kean claimed in his post-match interview "we're going to play worse than that and win", and added that "each supporter is allowed an opinion and I respect that but they were fully behind the team. I've got broad enough shoulders and I'll protect my players, we'll organise, get back out there again and win games."
In the post-match press conference, Kean stated that "There’s a manner in which you can lose, and I think we lost today trying to win. The crowd should stick with us because of way we played. We grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck". When questioned on the escalating protests against his management of the club, Kean fired back by saying "I don’t know if it’s a large section and I’m not paying attention to anyone who’s staying behind. When you’re down in the position we are, there are going to be supporters … but the majority of them are with us. The performance of the players and application of players show that we’re together as a group. I’ve got the full backing of the owners so we’ll grind through it and when we do we’ll say that we played ourselves out of it".
Three days later Rovers would defeat Newcastle 4-3 in a Carling Cup match. The defending was once again terrible but on this occasion, Rovers managed to outscore the opposition. The match was notable for a reported bust-up between Rovers' backroom staff and some fans pitchside. The Sun reported that "Rovers No 2 Paul Clement, Kean’s chauffeur Matt Hockin and assistant Iain Brunskill were alleged to have rowed with punters during the extra-time thriller at Ewood Park."
An eyewitness said: “One member of staff in a red jacket started squaring up to the fans. He was giving it out. He was swearing and looked like he wanted a fight. He was dragged away by a head steward. There were insults flying backwards and forwards. This sort of behaviour by officials from a club sums up my feelings of dejection with the club at the moment.” Another fan claimed he heard a Rovers official telling a fan to ‘shut the f*** up’ after he had shouted something at Kean. The boss said: “I was not aware of that but I will certainly investigate it. If anything occurred I will certainly investigate it and speak with our stadium safety officer.”"
On 29th October, Rovers would travel to Carrow Road to face Norwich. More horrendous defending saw the match end 3-3. Rovers had been 3-1 ahead, but a last gasp penalty from Grant Holt after a harsh handball decision against Steven N'Zonzi condemned Rovers to another league match without a win. The result lifted Rovers to 18th, two points behind 17th placed Wolves having still only accrued six points from their opening ten games. Kean was quick to use the controversial penalty as an excuse, telling reporters "If the referee sees it again then I'm sure he will admit he was wrong to award it. We've just got to keep going. It's tough but we've got to move on."
Writing on his online blog, Morten Gamst Pedersen said "It was hard to swallow that we didn’t get three points from the match against Norwich. I and the rest of the team was extremely disappointed and we were left with a bitter feeling afterwards. I’m not going to blame other than ourselves". Pedersen's blog during this period is notable for its total lack of mentioning Steve Kean. He mainly focuses on the failings of the players, diplomatically ignoring the situation surrounding the manager.
Rovers went into the match on 5th November at home to Chelsea with Kean now officially the second worst manager the club had employed since 1992. He was only beaten to the accolade of worst manager by Paul Ince, but it's worth remembering that Ince had only been at the club for around five months. Kean, on the other hand, was approaching twelve months as manager and had dragged the club down every step of the way.
Prior to the match against Chelsea, Rovers implemented some draconian laws by outright banning any protest banners. The Independent wrote that "A fourth successive demonstration is planned at Ewood Park, but the club will not allow any banners into the ground until after the final whistle. Rovers will, however, allow fans to stage their protest after the match with banners which have been handed over to stewards prior to entry". Protest leaders, after meeting with the club, said that Rovers had claimed "there may be a counter protest against the demonstration and they wanted to reduce the chances of conflict inside the ground". Glen Mullan told the media "Although disappointed, we respect the club's decision to impose a banner ban in the interest of public safety".
If the club thought they had gotten one over on the protesters, though, they had underestimated the creativity and determination of those involved. The Lancashire Telegraph reported on the 4th November that "fans had donated around £1,000 to fund a plane and visual protest message" to fly over the ground during the match. After the match, the Metro reported that "The plane circled Ewood during the first half of the match against Chelsea, with the message – reading simply ‘Steve Kean Out’ – bumping along behind it. As well as the plane, fans held a protest outside the ground before kick-off, and organised ‘human banners’ made up of lines of supporters all wearing matching T-shirts."
Predictably, Rovers would once again lose a home match, this time by a solitary goal scored by Frank Lampard. Chelsea were poor, but Rovers couldn't capitalise and also lost Chris Samba to a suspected hamstring injury. This match was Chelsea's first clean sheet since the first match of the season. Kean continued to be ridiculously optimistic, telling reporters "We're not far from going on a really good run. We created a lot of good chances and but had a lot of bad luck. We're convinced with the run of games coming up that we will put lots of points on the board". In the post-match press conference, Kean claimed he hadn't seen the protest plane and didn't know what the banner said - despite pictorial evidence showing him looking directly up at the plane as it flew over. He also started to place a portion of blame onto the protesters for results, saying "If we weren't playing well or working hard, then OK. But we are, and the players aren't enjoying the ¬negativity".
Disappointingly, former Rovers manager Howard Kendall wrote an article in the Liverpool Echo calling out the supporters for demanding Kean's sacking. He wrote: "The criticism Blackburn Rovers’ manager Steve Kean is receiving from sections of the support is totally wrong. Kean has not really had much time and I recall in the early 80s when there were leaflets going around Goodison Park calling for me to be sacked. Calls for the manager to be sacked at Blackburn should not be heeded. I’ve seen Rovers a few times this season and I think they have been slightly unfortunate – similar in many ways to what Everton have been forced to deal with. Kean deserves more time because you can only go on what the players are putting in on the pitch and Blackburn can not be faulted for effort. Of course some fans will point to the fact that he’s not done that particular job before and say he lacks experience but when I watch them play I say that does not come through at all."
An international break followed the Chelsea match. With protests having largely been ignored, fans were beginning to turn their anger on Venky's as well as Steve Kean. Hopes were raised when the Lancashire Telegraph reported that "A Qatar oil giant could be set to launch a shock takeover bid for Blackburn Rovers. The Lancashire Telegraph understand the company is preparing to offer £25m for the club to under fire owners Venky's as well as taking on and clearing the club's debt. The company, who do not want to be named at this stage, would want a quick resolution to their move in order to implement the changes they feel are needed for the club to thrive in the Premier League."
Unfortunately, these hopes were hastily dashed by Venky's, who released a statement on the official Rovers website on 15th November. It read: "There have been reports that someone from the Royal Family of Qatar was in India to meet us and discuss the possibility of buying the club. We would like to clarify that there is absolutely no truth in these reports. No-one from Qatar - or anywhere else - visited us. We have no intention of selling and are totally committed to the club. There is no possibility of us selling the club."
The Daily Record ran an article on Rovers on 17th November, noting that when talking to Steve Kean "you'd think he was the manager of table-topping Manchester City. The Blackburn boss is the ultimate glass half full kind of guy and insists, with the straightest of faces, he can keep his job, guide Rovers to a top-10 finish and win the mutinous supporters over". The article quoted Kean as saying "I don't look at this season in terms of trying to salvage something. I think we have a good enough squad to be in the top 10. You always have to take a longer view. Seasons don't last 10 games. The owners can see we've added value to the squad and brought in some good young players. They have a lot to look forward to when they see the age of the team. In one of our last games it was the youngest Blackburn team since 1996. So the future is bright and I think the owners know that. I would hope the educated fan can understand it's a transitional period for the club". Kean was apparently not asked to clarify how these stats about Rovers having the youngest team since 1996 and creating future value was going to help them survive, let alone reach the top ten.
Rovers' next match was on the 19th November at the DW Stadium, against Wigan Athletic, who were at the time bottom of the table. Balaji and Venkatesh Rao decided to pay a visit, reportedly there to both show solidarity with Steve Kean and also discuss transfer funds with him the next day. Supporters, incensed by Venky's unwavering support for Steve Kean, made their visit an unpleasant one. Venky's surprised many when they decided to leave at half time. The Daily Mail reported that: "Blackburn's players may believe in sticking at it until the final whistle, but it is a measure of the chaos engulfing Ewood Park that others evidently do not. The club’s owners, for instance. "Evidently ‘spooked’ by a barrage of abuse from fans who spotted them entering the ground, they failed to reappear for the second half, leaving a row of directors’ box seats conspicuously empty for the remainder of their side’s desperate battle to prevent Wigan overtaking them at the foot of the table. The Venky's party had been seen filing out of the main entrance and into their fleet of limousines, with Kean’s half-time team talk barely underway. How owners of a club could go to the trouble and expense of travelling halfway round the world for a game, and decide to clear off after 45 minutes, takes some working out. In their absence, Kean had to contend with chants for his, and their departure".
The match itself was the usual goal-fest, with embarrassing defending and a general lack of discipline. Rovers were already 2-1 down when David Dunn was sent off in the 48th minute for two bookable offences. Junior Hoilett would equalise for Rovers after Morten Gamst Pedersen appeared to cheat by dribbling the ball straight from a corner, but Rovers found themselves 3-2 down after conceding in the 88th minute. Luck would shine on them, though, as Yakubu slotted home a 99th minute penalty to ensure another high-scoring draw. Morten Gamst Pedersen was frank on his online blog, stating "we don’t defend good enough as a team to win matches like this".
The draw didn't do much for Rovers, leaving them in 19th, a point above 20th placed Wigan but now four points behind Wolves in 17th. Although goalkeeper Paul Robinson called it "a point gained" with circumstances taken into account, the Mirror noted that "While Rovers’ spirit could not be faulted, their performance could and they would have lost if Wigan had not been so wasteful in front of goal. They also got two big breaks thanks to referee Andre Marriner’s failure to award Wigan a penalty for Morten Gamst Pedersen’s blatant foul on Victor Moses and not spotting that Yakubu didn’t touch the ball for the corner which led to Blackburn’s first equaliser. But they defended poorly and despite Steve Kean portraying the result as a point gained, drawing at the DW Stadium won’t be enough to fulfil his confident promise that they will stay up". The paper also noted that Venky's half-time disappearing act was "a fitting way to mark their first controversial year in charge at Ewood Park".
It was around this time that Kean came out with another quote that made fans press their palms firmly against their faces. Talking to reporters, Kean boldly insisted "We won't get relegated, absolutely no chance. We just need to keep plugging away. I think the owners and the majority of our fans can see that we are in a false position at the moment. We feel we should have six or seven more points and be sitting halfway up the league. It's not as if we are getting battered, not playing well and we're on the ropes". Kean continued to defend his horrendous record, resorting to the 'what if' league table to prove his point: "You look back on the games, were we good enough for a point against Chelsea? Yes. Should we have got three against Norwich? Yes. Should we have got a point against Tottenham? Yes. You add up all those points and we’re sitting halfway up the league".
As was becoming normal, he then turned his ire on the protesters, insisting "the genuine fans who go every week, the ones who go week in week out home and away, can see how we’re playing and they know we’re not in a nice position at the moment. I think we know as well, as players and staff, that we should be a bit higher. We would have rather been in a top 10 position now but I think our performances have merited being in that position. The travelling fans have been excellent, there has been a very small section at home who have been a bit negative. But we speak to people in the village (Brockhall) and around the training ground, and it’s nothing but compliments, ‘Stick with it, it’s getting better, we can see massive signs, it’s the best we’ve played in years’. I think it’s a small section. I think the fans who are totally with what we’re trying to do are getting a bit fed up with those who are having a pop, to be honest. I think for the other fans there is a genuine feeling that, ‘Come on now, okay, you’ve had your protests, you’ve had a march, you’ve done whatever you’ve done, you’ve written an article, let’s now everybody get behind the team because we’re in a position where the signs are good, let’s turn some performances into points and let’s grab some momentum and get everybody pulling together and push us up the table’". Kean reportedly said all of this with a straight face.
The manager meanwhile continued to praise the owners, telling the media "I think with the owners they’re very strong people and they’re here for the long term. We are changing things, we’re trying to develop a brand new young team and sometimes with a young team you might have less experience and points slip away from you. But these young players are all getting better and I think the owners know as well that there’s now a squad of players that has got a very big value. If you added up the value of the squad now, then what it was 12 months ago, I think we’ve got a much more valuable squad."
As Rovers fans prepared to lay flowers at Jack Walker's statue as another protest to signify the death of the club he loved so dearly, Venkatesh Rao reaffirmed Venky's commitment to the club by telling the media: "We are here to stay with the club. We’re not interested in giving it to anybody. It’s like our baby. Money isn’t everything to us. The passion is there and we don’t want to let the fans down. We’ve had no offer. God willing, we’ll be here for a long time. It’s very nice to have such a prestigious football club but you have to be sure of your results also, which I’m sure will come off later". There had also been rumours that Venky's were preparing to offer Steve Kean a new contract, which had further ignited absolute rage across the fanbase. On this, Rao said "It's very early to talk about something like that. At present there is nothing, to tell you very honestly. I don’t know how the news has come out but it is nothing like that, nothing has been signed."
Steve Kean would contradict Venkatesh on the 22nd November by claiming Venky's had approached him about a new contract, but that he had told them "this is an inappropriate time to conclude any new contract discussions. Instead, the real issue is for me and everyone else to concentrate on the games". Incredibly, just one day later, the club announced that Kean had secured a pay rise and a new contract - which was worded as an amendment to his existing contract. The Guardian reported that "Kean held talks with Venky and Balaji Rao, the brothers who co-own Blackburn, in London on Sunday. A report on Tuesday claimed the under-fire Scot had been handed a two-year extension to his deal – which is due to expire in 2013 – but Rovers have instead increased his salary to about £1.5m a year". The Mirror claimed that Kean "also won his battle to have a clause removed that made him easier to sack".
The news that Kean had been given a pay rise - in spite of Rovers' terrible form, poor transfer signings, inability to defend and the manager's overwhelming lack of popularity with the fans - understandably infuriated an increasingly despairing fanbase. Kean's claim that "the vast majority of the fans can see that our performances deserve to be six or seven points better off and halfway up the table" was met with widespread derision and contempt, with the manager having long lost any credibility with the majority of supporters. The Mirror meanwhile reported that the contract extension was " a surprise after the Venky's team discovered the depth of bad feeling towards them and their boss on a flying visit" - referring to Balaji and Venkatesh's brief appearance during the Wigan match - and claimed that "Blackburn's Indian owners are even planning to stay away from future games because of the hostile reception of the fans. The Rao brothers were shaken by the level of abuse aimed at them and Kean in the relegation crunch with Wigan".
Rovers' next match was against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on the 26th November. Stoke had been on a poor run of four defeats before this match, but easily put hapless Rovers to the sword with a 3-1 victory. The BBC noted that "While a record of six wins in 33 league games would get many football managers the sack, at Blackburn it earned Kean a revised contract", but also claimed that "it was impressive to see the visitors clearly playing for their manager". Despite this observation, the BBC also noted that Rovers did not have a shot on goal until the 45th minute. Their match report also noted that Mauro Formica - who Kean had likened to Gabriel Batistuta - managed to "completely miss contact with the ball six yards out with the goal gaping". The match report concluded with "a heavy defeat was little more than Blackburn deserved in the end and Kean must only expect further protests from the club's supporters should Rovers fail to get anything from their next few matches against Swansea, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Bolton".
Kean, predictably, had an entirely different point of view. He told reporters "I don't think we played that badly today", then explained "What we've got to do now is work on the training ground at shutting the door at the back. There are some good things happening here but at the moment our play is not getting the rewards it deserves". It was an astonishingly deluded set of remarks from a man who had seen his team lose eight of their opening thirteen games. This loss once again left Rovers bottom of the table, now two points behind Wigan and Bolton directly above them, and five points behind Wolves - who were still in 17th place.
Rovers' ill-discipline meanwhile would continue to cost them. Steven N'Zonzi was banned for three matches for throwing an elbow at Ryan Shawcross in the aforementioned match against Stoke, an incident that occurred in just the 9th minute of the match. The referee had not seen this action, but it had been caught on camera and N'Zonzi was retrospectively punished. Rovers released a statement which read: "The Rovers midfielder has accepted the FA charge and his ban will start immediately, making him unavailable for Blackburn's Carling Cup quarter-final at Cardiff and the two upcoming league games at home to Swansea and away to Sunderland".
The Carling Cup match against Cardiff would be another flashpoint for Kean and the Supporters, in what had become a truly toxic situation. Championship Cardiff dispatched of Rovers by a 2-0 scoreline, but it wasn't so much the defeat that concerned fans. Under Kean there was an acceptance that most matches would end in a loss, even against poorer opposition, but Kean's post match comments served to ignite further fury.
The BBC reported Kean as saying, post-match: "We are in a position where we have forfeited going through and having the chance to reach a cup final. We have games against sides within touching distance of us in the league. We need to treat those games as cup finals". The BBC noted that "Kean made five changes to his side for the trip to south Wales, electing not to risk the defensive trio of Christopher Samba, Martin Olsson and Michel Salgado, who have all had hamstring injuries" and Kean confirmed "They could have played at a push and if we had been in a slightly different position in the league. We have Swansea coming up so I made five changes and left those lads behind."
Suffice to say, Kean's comments did not go down well. The Telegraph reported that fans who went to the game were demanding their money back over the comments, with many on message boards and twitter posting a link to a Lancashire Telegraph article where Kean appeared to contradict his post-match comments by telling the local media before the match: "We’ve said all along that we’d like to go all the way and get to the final and try to win the competition. I wouldn’t say the side that’s going to play against Cardiff will be the side that played the last league game or will be the side that starts against Swansea, but it will still be a strong side that we think can progress in the tournament. Why can we not get through? Then you get yourselves into the semi finals and over two legs see who you get. But let’s make sure we’re in that draw first."
Realising he had made an error of judgement - caught up in an increasingly intricate web of paradoxical statements - Kean claimed that his comments about forfeiting were "taken out of context", telling the club's official website that "There is absolutely no way that we would ever consciously forfeit a game, quite the opposite. If my explanation or wording was vague or unclear then I regret that. I want to stress that both the major knockout competitions are massively important to us, but the Premier League will always be our primary objective. I am a big fan of the Carling Cup and I refute in the strongest possible terms any suggestion we didn't treat the competition with due respect."
Around this time, troubling reports began to surface about Rovers' finances. The Telegraph reported on the 30th November that Barclays were demanding a reduction in the club's debt, writing "The club owe at least £21 million to Barclays, and it is understood that Venky’s - which is owned by the Rao family - agreed to reduce the debt when they took control at Ewood Park. A year later that has not happened though, prompting the bank to demand more security against its loans as the club face possible relegation. Barclays’ concern is understandable given the club’s perilous league position and the increasingly risk-averse position of lenders in the current financial climate.
"Venky’s initially offered the club’s stadium and property assets, as well their shares in Blackburn, as security. The security is detailed in documents filed by the club’s holding company, Venky’s London Ltd, on the day of the takeover, Nov 19 2010. Barclays’ concerns will heighten worries over Venky’s’ stewardship of what was once a stable, if loss-making, club. They have certainly not delivered on the expectation of the club board and the Walker Trust, which agreed to sell this time last year. The club have just a league single win this season and manager Steve Kean is under huge pressure from disgruntled supporters unconvinced at his ability to steer the club out of its current predicament.
"Venkys did invest £10 million in equity last January for transfers, but despite a welter of promises, the investment in star names never materialised. Since then they have made a net profit on transfers and the club’s best player, Phil Jones, was sold to Manchester United for what already looks like a bargain £16.5 million. With pressure from the bank to reduce debts, it is unclear what, if any, funding Venky’s are willing to make available to Kean for signings in the forthcoming January transfer window. They are also likely to come under pressure to sell their remaining valuable players including Christopher Samba, likely to be a target for Tottenham and Arsenal among others. A spokesman for Venky’s did not respond to a request for comment. A Blackburn Rovers spokesman said the club were unable to respond to questions about the nature of their financial arrangements with Barclays."
On the 10th December, the Daily Mail also published an article by Nick Harris on Rovers' financial concerns, speculating that "Premier League strugglers Blackburn are heading for a financial crisis that threatens the future of the club after their bankers, Barclays, handed them a £10million ultimatum. Coaching and scouting departments at Ewood Park were told last week that budget cuts and possible job losses are on the way as the club face the threat of financial meltdown in the New Year. The crisis is the result of Barclays running out of patience with the failure of Venky’s, the Indian poultry conglomerate who own the club, to honour contractual obligations made when they bought Rovers in November last year. "Barclays say the club must deposit £10m in their account by New Year’s Eve or the bank will refuse to extend the credit needed to pay the players’ wages beyond January. Mrs Desai, the matriarch of the Rao family who own Venky’s, is adamant that they will not pay the money, believing Blackburn can fund themselves without fresh cash from India. She has the final say at Rovers and if her stance on funding is maintained, the club’s overdraft at Barclays, currently around £6m, could burst beyond its agreed limit on January 23, when wages totalling £4m-5m are due to be paid. The club could then face meltdown within a month. If the overdraft limit is exceeded and there is no sign of a cash injection, Barclays can stop funding the club, which could then technically become insolvent. Barclays and Mrs Desai both declined to comment."
The Daily Mail also reported on a poll organised on an online fan website, which "saw just one fan out of 500 vote in favour of keeping [Kean] in charge at Ewood Park. Kean recently responded to a series of protests and demonstrations by suggesting that only ‘one per cent’ of supporters wanted him out. But by lunchtime on Wednesday, 482 fans had voted online in favour of sacking Kean with just one backing the beleaguered Scot whose team are bottom of the Premier League and went out of the Carling Cup at Cardiff on Tuesday night". The story also noted that Kate Hollern, leader of Blackburn Council, had sent a concerned letter to Venky's, of which they quoted Hollern as writing: "I am concerned to hear both in the papers and in the media that the club, which used to be one of the best run in the country, appears to have very few senior executives running the club in Blackburn on a day-to-day basis. There appears to be serious communication problems between the club and its stakeholders, which are fuelling the frustration that people are feeling."
In the next part we head into December and a traumatic month which seemed to be the footballing elite turning on Rovers fan for wanting Steve Kean sacked…………
Rovers have confirmed that Mark Venus will be the new assistant manager. Venus has previously worked with Tony Mowbray at a number of clubs.
Venus said that he was delighted to join Rovers and was looking forward to the challenge "It's a great challenge, it's a great football club, the training ground facilities are in place, we just have to try and put a team on the pitch which plays the way we want to play, but still wins lots and lots of games along the way. I think it's a massive club with a lot of footballing history and it's going to be a great challenge to try and bring it back to where it should be. It's something that I'm really looking forward to, I have to say. Everything about the club since I've come to have a look around it has been really good, really professional and I just hope that we can give back what it deserves."
There is no news on the futures of David Dunn and David Lowe who were part of Mowbray's backroom team last season. Rovers players are due to report back for pre-season training later this month as the club prepares for the start of the league 1 season.
The Demise of Blackburn Rovers Under Venky's – 2011-2012 Season Part 1 – By Dan Ely
Dan Ely (@DE.) continues his look back at the demise of Rovers under Venky’s. We move onto Venky’s first full season incharge of the club. Due to the many events that happened during that season we will be splitting this into a few smaller parts to make it easier reading. So without further-ado part one of the 2011-2012 season. May 2011 to end of August 2011.
Blackburn Rovers had ended the 2010-11 season on a relatively high note. Having spent most of the second half of the season desperately battling relegation under new manager Steve Kean, Rovers secured survival on the final day of the campaign, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 at Molineux. The final whistle brought huge relief, a light at the end of what had seemed like a long tunnel. Little did Rovers fans know that they were about to enter a much longer, much darker tunnel which would ultimately become the club's sarcophagus.
The dust had barely settled on the 2010-11 season before the first piece of bad news hit the club. On 31st May 2011, just nine days after Rovers had secured Premier League survival for another season, Managing Director Tom Finn resigned from his position at the club. It had been heavily rumoured that Finn would vacate his role for some time, particularly after John Williams left the club, but it was still a jarring blow to a fanbase that was still recovering from the previous season's turbulent end.
Much like John Williams, Finn was diplomatic upon leaving, saying "The owners are putting in place their plans for how the club is to operate going forward, such as the appointment of Paul Hunt who joins the club this week. I have told Paul that he is joining a special football club that is an integral part of its local community. Blackburn Rovers might not enjoy the fan base of some of its Premier League rivals, but no one should doubt the supporters' passion and commitment to their club. I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of that for the past 15 years, have had fantastic support from the staff at Ewood Park and Brockhall and wish the owners and everyone associated with Blackburn Rovers all success in the future."
On 8th June, the Lancashire Telegraph reported on Steve Kean's first appearance in court over a drink driving offence from earlier in May. Kean pleaded not guilty, with his defence gearing up to try and prove the Scot had his drink spiked. The LT wrote that the allegation against Kean was that he "registered 65 microgrammes of alcohol in 100millilitres of breath at a roadside test. The legal limit is 35", making him nearly twice the legal limit. Kean was represented by Freemans Solicitors, who the LT noted "specialises in helping celebrities and figures from the sporting world fight motoring offence allegations". Another notable quote appeared when the LT reported: "Kean was asked when the new season started and replied ‘August 22’." - the season actually began on August 13, suggesting that Kean was unaware of when the Premier League was set to begin. As a result his trial was set for 15th August, two days after the first match of the season.
On 15th August, Kean would be convicted of drink driving and had his driving license suspended for 18 months, as well as being fined £1,800. Kean had eventually opted to plead guilty, but applied for extenuating circumstances due to the claim that his drink had been spiked. The BBC reported that "Kean admitted drinking two-and-a-half glasses of red wine with Sir Alex Ferguson after the game, and later a bottle of Budweiser at a pub in Blackburn. Mr Harrison [Kean's lawyer] argued that one of his drinks must have been spiked. Rejecting Kean's case, Judge Sanders said: "There is no direct evidence of lacing of drinks or tampering of drinks. There is another possible explanation and that is that he had more to drink than he has admitted today".
Further to the above, the Guardian noted "The 43-year-old initially told the police he had not drunk any alcohol that day", a lie which would undoubtedly have had a bearing on the court's perception of Kean's defence. As Judge Sanders himself said in court: "It is perhaps relevant that when he was stopped by the police and asked whether he had had anything to drink he replied 'no' and that was clearly not true". Despite the public embarrassment suffered by Rovers as a result of this incident, there was no suggestion that this tawdry episode would have any bearing on Kean's position at the club.
Meanwhile, things were getting no better on the transfer front. Phil Jones, Rovers' 19 year-old defensive “wonderkid”, had attracted interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Jones had only signed a new five year deal in May 2010, but it soon came to light that he had a £16m release clause, and that Man United had triggered this clause. It was then reported that Rovers were kicking up a fuss, with the Daily Mail claiming that "Venky’s believe the clause allows clubs to talk to the 19-year-old if they offer in excess of £16m, but does not force Blackburn to accept the bid". The paper also claimed that Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool met Jones' release clause, but the player opted for Manchester United.
Inevitably, the player got his wish and joined Manchester United. Confusion still reigned over the fee paid, though. The Telegraph reported that "Blackburn are adamant that United were forced to increase their original offer of £16.5 million after the club’s owners, the Venky’s poultry group, sought legal advice to prevent the Old Trafford side signing the player for the value of a release clause inserted into his contract earlier this year", with Steve Kean quoted as claiming "With all the bits and pieces, all the games he will play it will go above £20 million". United, meanwhile, insisted they had paid no more than the £16.5m stipulated in Jones' contract.
With Rovers fans concerned by the sale of one of the team's star players, Steve Kean was eager to stress that Rovers had let Jones go reluctantly, telling reporters: "We gave it a real good fight and made a fantastic offer. We offered him the biggest contract in the history of Blackburn to stay here. It was a staggering offer for a 19 year-old but Phil wanted to play Champions League football". Jones, meanwhile, simply stated "I’ve loved my time at Blackburn and I will always be a huge fan".
The next departure was Andrew Pincher, who had been employed by the club as Secretary for six years. His name might not be well known to the casual fan, but according to the Daily Mail, when contacted by the FA in March 2011 and asked about the running of Rovers: "Andrew Pincher wrote to the FA's head of integrity, David Newton, to disclose the Kentaro contract. Pincher also confided to the FA that Venky's received consultancy services on their takeover from Brunei-based firm Crescendo Sports Limited. He wrote: 'An officer of SEM Limited, Jerome Anderson, has a connection with Crescendo". Pincher was replaced by Everton's assistant secretary Anthony Bloch, who at 27 years old became the youngest secretary in the Premier League.
The steady exodus of backroom staff continued throughout July. Academy doctor Chris Mowbray, club doctor Phil Batty and club physio Adrian Lamb all left the club before the month was over. Towards the end of July, Rovers appointed former army medic Duncan Robertson as new club doctor. Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph, Robertson said "I turned down a couple of job offers just to come for the interview here, that’s how important this opportunity was to me. My career journey has taught me that it is always the quality of the people you work with which I value most, not the fanciness of any surroundings – and I know I am joining a great and highly-respected team. After everything that went on at Aston Villa, I knew I wanted to give it another shot, and I am confident that it’s going to be a very different kettle of fish here at Rovers, working with Steve Kean".
On the 28th July Rovers found themselves being laughed at once again by the footballing world. Venky's enlisted the players to star in a cringeworthy advert for their chicken franchise, with the likes of David Dunn, Ryan Nelsen, Michel Salgado, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Jason Roberts appearing in this brief clip. At a time when the club were already considered a joke for their handling of Sam Allardyce's sacking, Steve Kean's continued employment, various ridiculous statements and the general chaos surrounding the club, this did nothing to change perceptions.
As far as transfers were concerned, there was little activity during this period. Various players would leave the club due to contracts ending. Zurab Khizanishvili, Jason Brown, Michael Potts, Maceo Rigters, Toni Vastic, Benjani and Aaron Doran all left the club in July. Either for minimal fees or simply released. The Sunday People, however, reported that Steve Kean had a "£50M warchest" at his disposal stating "Steve Kean is ready to launch the biggest Blackburn transfer spree since the moneybags days of Jack Walker – and sign SIX top targets". The paper then went on to link Rovers with an incredible amount of players, including Robbie Keane, Papiss Cisse, Pablo Piatti, Jose Rondon, Miranda, Marko Marin, Alexander Anyukov and former loanee Jermaine Jones. The paper also claimed Rovers had sealed a deal for 16 year-old Paraguayan starlet Rodrigo Baez. None of these players would make the move to Ewood Park.
The People's article also claimed that Venky's "‘man in Brazil’, Joao Souza, has been at Ewood Park to help land players". This would not be the last time that Souza, who according to the Independent was "manager of their Brazilian division, Venky's do Brasil Ltda", would be linked to transfers at Rovers. At no point would he appear to have any major influence on incoming transfers, but it was concerning that, a man seemingly completely inexperienced in English football (or football at any serious level) was being consulted on transfer policy. As July came and went without any signings being announced, Rovers' fans began to fear the worst. Kean had said just before the final match of the previous season "It was important to know what type of budget we had and it's very healthy. The wage bill won't be cut, there will be funds available. It's a very competitive budget. Miles bigger than Rovers have had in the past. It was all positive and most enlightening for me to hear what they want to do next season and the season after" - but these quotes were beginning to look like little more than hot air.
In the midst of what appeared to be rather sensational reporting, Andy Cryer at the Lancashire Telegraph cautioned on 8th July "Fiction can easily be turned into fact at this time of the summer, as the national tabloids feed on the fans’ hunger for transfer activity by linking every player under the sun with a move to their club. What has to be remembered is not all these players are targets, have never been targets and probably never will be targets". Cryer bucked against the concerns of the fans by suggesting that the club were just "biding their time", and that "there is still more than a month remaining for Rovers to get their squad sorted. A major shake up isn’t needed, just a few additions here and there."
However, as July came to a close, Rovers appeared no closer to signing anybody. The Guardian posted an article on 26th July, quoting Steve Kean as saying: "We'll be spending. We've got a very good budget and we're looking to recruit and strengthen in areas where we've seen we have to improve from last season. It's no secret that we're looking for a striker, and we lost Jermaine, who went back to Schalke, as well so we're trying to get a central midfielder in. And we need a centre-half to replace Phil Jones. We have a fixed budget to spend but it's one that is competitive which will bring in players of good quality."
Kean continued: "The owners and the fans should be excited about what we're doing here. Trying to deliver European football in three or four years for this club is achievable. We're not going to say we'll get it next year but, if we can get a foothold in the top half of the table, that's a realistic goal". The Guardian noted that "Kean must convince his current key players to remain at the club if progress is to be made", quoting the manager as claiming "Any time we have a bid accepted for a player and we can get in front of them and speak to them, we can get across how exciting a period this is for the club. Sure, it's difficult recruiting players who are at clubs already playing European football, who are used to playing at that level, but if we can take them from different leagues or areas of the world and show them what we're trying to do, we're not a hard sell."
In an opinion piece, again posted by the Guardian just a day afterwards, journalist Paul Wilson reflected that "Kean was responding to questions at a press conference, not posting a mission statement on the club website, but even so it is unusual to see a Premier League club go about its transfer business in that way. Most clubs and most managers prefer to do the business first and the talk later. Presumably Kean was seeking to reassure Blackburn fans that the club is not content merely to supply others but has some ambitions of its own, but if ever there was a case of actions speaking louder than words, the modern way of doing summer transfer business is the area to watch. When you have let more than half the window go past with no signings, just departures, it hardly strikes the necessary confident note when you speak, from a distant country, of signings you are still hopeful of making and areas in which you would like to strengthen.
"This is not to say that Venky's, the club's owner, is keeping a damagingly tight control of Kean's budget, or that Rovers will not astound the world in August with a quartet of nifty captures that no one saw coming, but at the moment it does not look like that and time is beginning to slip away. In an ideal world Kean would like to make a statement signing, and present it as a fait accompli. Not Ronaldinho or David Beckham, or any of the other daft marquee projects with which the club has been loosely linked, just a building block such as Shaun Wright-Phillips or Matt Jarvis. At the moment Rovers look as if they will have another season of struggle and good players are leaving rather than joining, so the club will always find it hard to sell itself to targets who may prefer to join someone more obviously upwardly mobile. Kean is talking of a top-half finish, though that ambition is patently at odds with what has happened so far in the window."
As Kean spoke of grand targets, the club were facing a fight to keep talismanic captain Chris Samba. The Congo international had made it clear when Sam Allardyce had been sacked that he had wanted to leave, and he continued to push for a move during the summer of 2011. With reputed interest from Arsenal, Samba told Sky Sports in June: "For four-and-a-half years I have been at Blackburn and fought against relegation. If a good opportunity presents itself, I want to take it. I hope the club will understand if I want to make the step up and not prevent a deal". Having just sold Phil Jones and yet to make a single signing, this was not good for the club.
According to goal.com, Anuradha Desai was aware of Samba's ambitions, but had told the Daily Mail: "We don't want to let Chris go. I'm confident that we can keep him and I hope he'll stay. I know he has an ambition to play for Arsenal but I hope we can keep him for another year at least and prove our own ambition". The article also stated that Venky's had considered legal action over Manchester United's signing of Phil Jones, but had ultimately decided against it because, according to Desai, "we concluded that the person who would be most damaged by a delay and legal action was Phil. That wasn't fair on him. We wish Phil well". Samba would ultimately not leave Rovers in the summer window, but this difficult situation would rear its head again in January.
One player who had succeeded on getting a move was misfit striker Nikola Kalinic. The Mirror reported on the 26th July that Kalinic had been spotted in Croatia, suggesting that "The Croatian refused to fly with Rovers to the Asia Cup, as Mirror Sport revealed, and he also spurned Steve Kean’s attempt to bring him to Hong Kong for today’s Aston Villa game". Kalinic had been frustrated towards the end of the previous season as Kean froze him out of the squad, and from that point onwrads his departure seemed an inevitability. The Mirror noted that "Rovers are still holding out for £8million, but look set to agree a compromise figure to let the striker go and give boss Kean funds for a couple of signings". Kalinic would eventually sign for Dnipro on the 11th August 2011 for an undisclosed fee, believed to be around £6m.
Rovers finally made their first signing of the transfer window, bringing in Scottish international striker David Goodwillie from Dundee United. The fee was reported by the BBC to be "£2m plus £800,000 in potential add-ons", with Rovers having outbid Rangers to get their man. Goodwillie had been voted young player of the year in the previous Scottish Premier League season, and on the surface appeared to be a decent if not spectacular signing. Steve Kean would later invite ridicule, however, by telling journalists "David has always been put on a parallel with a young Wayne Rooney and you can see that when you see him play. He can score all types of goals, not just nice build ups and a tap in. He can create a goal for himself, score from outside the box, he can chip them in, pass them in, smash them in. We don’t mind how they go in because that is what we need at the club, a natural finisher, and that is something he is."
Rovers' second signing of the summer was confirmed soon afterwards. On the 9th August it was confirmed that 22 year-old Serbian international midfielder Radosav Petrovic had joined the club on a four year deal from Partizan Belgrade. Steve Kean was quoted as saying: "Many European clubs were interested and we consider signing him a major coup. His record to date speaks for itself and he is exactly the sort of player we have been looking to recruit". The BBC noted that "Blackburn face a race against time to make sure Petrovic is eligible for Saturday's Premier League opener against Wolves at home", which was just four days away.
As the first team squad continued to change, so too did staff behind-the-scenes. Martin Goodman, a Rovers director and Company Secretary, resigned from the club in early August. The Business Desk, running an article on the story, noted that "Goodman’s departure means the only director remaining from the Walker-era board is ex-chairman Robert Coar", referencing the departures of John Williams, Tom Finn and Richard Mathewman - the son-in-law of Jack Walker, who had stepped down from a non-executive director role in June.
With Crown Paints having decided to end their relationship with Rovers' the previous season, it wasn't until the 11th August 2011 - two days before the Premier League began - that Rovers announced a replacement. The Princes' Trust charity were to be sponsors for the season, meaning that the club would not get a penny from primary shirt sponsorship. Balaji Rao commented on this, saying "Helping young people is very much at the forefront of our community work in India and this partnership is a perfect way for us to support charities and worthy causes through football over here". Whilst on the surface this seemed like a generous and worthy gesture, supporters couldn't help but wonder if the club was already so toxic that no serious company would pay money to appear on Rovers' shirts.
It was reported on the 10th August that Rovers were set to appoint Simon Hunt as Sporting Director. Hunt was a former player who had spent most of his career in Sweden. After retiring he held primarily scouting roles at various clubs, and had a brief stint as Sporting Director at West Brom. The Mirror reported that Hunt was at the club to "help out manager Steve Kean" and noted that he was "a close ally of George Burley".
The day of the opening Premier League match of the season, Rovers would make another signing. Secured by Venky's "man in Brazil", 28 year-old right-back Bruno Ribeiro signed for the club on a free transfer. Ribeiro, who had never been capped by his country, had spent his entire career in Brazil and both the decision to grant him a work permit and a three year contract baffled Rovers' fans. Kean would once again display his penchant for making ridiculous comparisons when he told reporters just before the signing was officially announced "Bruno, or Denis after Denis Irwin the boys call him because he never gives the ball away, will fill in that position and that is great for us". Ribeiro would not be seen again for the entirely of the 2011/12 campaign.
The bizarre budget signing of Ribeiro made a little more sense when an article published by the Guardian on the 11th August stated that Steve Kean's transfer budget "may have diminished due to a restructuring of the club's debt". Kean was quoted as saying "the actual money that is available I don't know because the banks are involved in that and there is a restructuring taking place on the debt at the club. There are more qualified people than me at the club to answer that". It was a significant climb-down from earlier comments he had made, claiming Rovers would have the biggest transfer budget ever seen in the club's history. Nonetheless, Kean set a rather optimistic target for the season, telling reporters: "We want to be in the top half of the table this season, two good cup runs and to assemble a squad capable of pursuing all three targets."
Finally, after a lot of off-field nonsense, the first day of the Premier League season began. Just over 21,000 supporters turned up at Ewood Park to watch the opening game of Rovers' season - against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the team they had beaten on the final day of the previous season to ensure survival. Rovers had been hit with defensive injuries - Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen were never in contention to play this match, but on the eve of the game Gael Givet suddenly fell ill and was not available for selection either.
With Phil Jones now plying his trade at Manchester United, and no money as of yet spent on a replacement, Rovers lined up with midfielder Steven N'Zonzi and 19 year-old central defensive youth prospect Grant Hanley at the heart of their defence. Of the 18 players that had been a part of the match day squad in the final game of the previous season, only 10 were available for selection in the first match of the 2011-12 campaign. Chris Samba and Gael Givet were out due to injury and illness respectively. Phil Jones had been sold to Manchester United. Jermaine Jones and Roque Santa Cruz had returned to their parent clubs. Keith Andrews had been loaned out, whilst El-Hadji Diouf had been frozen out and would soon be released.
This match also saw the much-anticipated debut of the man Steve Kean had dubbed "a young Batistuta" - Mauro Formica. The Argentine briefly lived up to that comparison by opening the scoring on twenty minutes. That was as good as it got, though. Wolves equalised within two minutes and scored again on 47 minutes to sink Rovers. Not even the introduction of "young Wayne Rooney" David Goodwillie could rescue a point for Rovers. After the match, Steve Kean bemoaned his squad depth, stating "11 players have left the club and we've had three in. We need to strengthen in different areas and make sure we have a competitive squad."
Not long after this, Rovers were once again back in the transfer headlines. On the 16th August 2011 it was announced that the club had put an official bid in for legendary 34 year-old Spanish striker Raul, who was under contract at German club Schalke - reportedly on a £100k per week contract. It fitted Venky's vision of a marquee signing - high wages and past their prime - but this one actually had a degree of validity to it, due to Raul's former Real Madrid team-mate Michel Salgado being employed by Rovers at the time. Nonetheless, it took Raul less than a day to decide against the move. Schalke's general manager, Horst Heldt, stated rather bluntly that "Raul does not want to go to Blackburn".
Bizarrely, Kean had a different take on things, claiming "We had the funds in place to make the transfer happen and we knew what it would cost. We were willing to pay it and Raúl was desperate to come, but he’s under contract at Schalke. We got the feeling speaking to Michel that he fancies it, though. We had the impression it was do-able, but we just needed the final piece, that Schalke would let him go. We thought they would, but we got a strong fax back from them saying he wasn’t available at any price. He was anxious to give us a go and we were delighted with that. We felt it would fall into place and we were told that he was disappointed not to come". Nonetheless, Kean insisted "The big name will happen. We’ll be making funding available and we’ll be willing to get the players who demand these kind of salaries".
Seven days after being beaten at home by Wolves, Rovers again found themselves coming away from a match with zero points. A resounding 3-1 away defeat to Aston Villa suggested that without reinforcements Rovers were in for a very difficult season. After the match, Kean told the BBC: "I thought we started the game positive. Then we found ourselves 2-0 down. We were in Villa's box 36 times, the same as they were in ours. There was nothing in the game," adding at the end of the interview that "I'm sure that by the end of the window we'll have a competitive squad", essentially admitting that Rovers had gone into the season without a team capable of competing. The BBC had a distinctly different take on the match, with their analysis stating: "Frankly over the course of the match Blackburn didn't do enough. I think if Steve Kean cannot be given the resources to strengthen before deadline day then they may struggle this season".
Three days later, attacking midfielder Simon Vukcevic was signed from Sporting Lisbon for an undisclosed fee, believed to have been in the £2m range. Vukcevic was given a three year deal. Steve Kean commented: "He is an exciting player who can play wide on either side. As a character, when you meet him, he is a very focused guy – takes his football very seriously. He likes to take people on, to be the guy who makes a difference, a bit of a match-winner. He is a very good player with lots of international games for a country in the top 20, so he has performed at that level at a consistent basis. He will give us a different dimension. if you can get the ball out wide to him and he can isolate a full-back, then it will be hard for anyone to stop him when he is on the run. That's exactly the type of player we have been after."
Another player Kean confirmed that Rovers were interested in was George John, a defender who played in the MLS for FC Dallas. The fee was reported to have been around £1.2m, with Kean telling reporters: "All the paperwork with the MLS has been agreed, the player has travelled to Greece to get his passport, and hopefully he will be in the country either tonight or tomorrow". This strange transfer never happened, with FC Dallas releasing a statement to confirm the deal had broken down: "Blackburn had significant interest in acquiring George; however, for the time being, they decided not to finalize the deal".
The final match of August saw Rovers lose their third match in a row, going down 1-0 at Ewood Park to a controversial last minute penalty against Everton. Incredibly, Rovers contrived to miss two penalties before Mikel Arteta converted Everton's spot kick. Hoilett's first penalty in the 46th minute was saved by Tim Howard, whilst Mauro Formica hit the post with his penalty on the 77th minute. Chris Samba and Gael Givet returning to the first team, meanwhile, was tempered by early injuries to David Dunn and Morten Gamst Pedersen. This defeat consigned Rovers to their worst start to a league campaign in sixty years.
This would be Brett Emerton's last match for the club, after eight seasons of service. The 32 year-old's contract was mutually terminated a year early so that he could join hometown club Sydney FC. It was a difficult decision for fans to understand, especially considering how thin the squad already was. Australia's The Age noted that Emerton was "the first player to exchange the English Premier League for the A-League", and claimed that "Emerton has been contemplating a move to the A-League for more than 12 months and a deal could have been struck before now if Blackburn Rovers had not avoided relegation on the final day of last season."
After the Everton match, Kean was in damage control mode. The Guardian wrote: "Steve Kean's fondness for a flattering figure is a constant in his rhetoric. For a manager who averages under a point a game, has won two league games since January and has overseen his club's poorest start to a season since Clement Attlee occupied 10 Downing Street, it can require a selective and imaginative interpretation of the facts. "I look at the stats from a half-full point of view," he said, citing 21 attempts at the Everton goal and, improbably, 60 penalty‑box entries – something that Barcelona may struggle to accomplish – before reluctantly accepting that not since 1951 had Rovers begun so badly. "If it's our worst start in 60 years then stats don't lie," Kean said. "But when you're dominating games and missing penalties, I don't know if we could have done any more." The facetious response would have involved the word "score".
"Summer signing [David Goodwillie] hit the bar. David Dunn, too, had struck wood, with Kean making the strange suggestion that, if the grass had more zip, the midfielder would have scored, rather than clipped the post. Two spurned spot-kicks provided an example of the blend of misfortune and mistakes that may sum up Kean's tenure. For him, it amounted to another hard‑luck story. "There were very few deciding factors in the Wolves game, in the Villa game we dominated in the second half. We dominated the whole of this one," he said. And while Rovers were in the ascendant in a second period that culminated in Mikel Arteta pilfering the points for Everton with the game's third and most dubious penalty, his judgments jar with those of onlookers; no one controlled a dire first half. Such analysis can be branded one-eyed."
Kean's positive spin was already being derided in the media, but was usually accompanied by the admission that he required backing from the owners if he was going to have any chance of keeping the club in the Premier League. Rovers' threadbare squad badly needed additions, but the club only managed two significant additions on transfer deadline day. Scott Dann arrived from recently relegated Birmingham City as the answer to Phil Jones' departure. This was arguably the first permanent transfer of the Venky's era that actually made some sense. Dann was considered a good defender, despite Birmingham's relegation, was only 24 years old and had experience of the Premier League. Rovers left it extremely late, but the deal was done for a reported £6m which could potentially rise to £7.5m with add-ons.
Dann commented: "I heard of Blackburn's interest a couple of days ago and it has all happened quickly and I was delighted to get it all sorted last night. From a personal point of view I would have liked it to have been done sooner so I could have got straight in with my new team-mates but it hasn't worked out that way". He also somewhat bizarrely said "with the new owners (Venky’s) it’s a good time to come to the club", a sentiment which would not have been echoed by many supporters. His new manager Steve Kean was delighted with the transfer, calling Dann "a fantastic leader and a top player".
Rovers' other "big" signing on deadline day was Everton striker Yakubu, who joined the club for a fee of around £1.5m. In truth this was somewhat of a let down for the supporters, who had seen the club linked strongly with the likes of Vedad Ibisevic and Mounir El Hamdaoui. Rather than playing in top European leagues, Yakubu had spent the previous half of the previous season playing with Leicester City in the Championship.
The man known as "the Yak" had a decent Premier League scoring record but it left fans feeling a sense of caution rather that disappointment with the transfer window. The club had signed a number of players who had the potential to become stars but apart Yakubu the majority of players signed had little or no experience of the Premier League.
With youngster Jordan Slew also joining Rovers for £1m on deadline day, Rovers had brought Myles Anderson, David Goodwillie, Radosav Petrovic, Simon Vukcevic, Yakubu, Scott Dann and Jordan Slew to the club during the summer for a combined cost of around £15m. Meanwhile Zurab Khizanishvili, Jason Brown, Phil Jones, Maceo Rigters, Toni Vastic, Benjani, Aaron Doran, Nikola Kalinic, Brett Emerton and El-Hadji Diouf had been sold or released, making Rovers around £21m in transfer fees. Rovers' outlay in this transfer window was almost certainly in negative figures, just as it had been under the Trust.
Nonetheless, Steve Kean told reporters that he was delighted with the business he had done during the transfer window, quoted by the Lancashire Telegraph as saying: "I think I’ve always said judge us at the end of the window. It was slow trying to get quality in but we’ve done that. I’m delighted for the owners and the fans that we could assemble a squad as strong as we have. I think the transfer window has been very good, very positive. There was always speculation that some of our quality was going to be leaving the club. That’s not happened, we’ve managed to keep the majority of the squad together and we’ve managed to add lots of quality on the last day – and the other business earlier in the window has all been excellent. Scott (Dann), Yakubu, Goodwillie, Petrovic, Vukcevic, we’ve made some marvellous signings. We’ve got another couple of young ones, Myles Anderson and the young lad from Sheffield (Slew). These are ones that will be for the future."
Kean insisted that now was the time to judge his Rovers team, continuing: "When you look at the first couple of games it was difficult because we had most of our defenders injured. Starting now I think we can genuinely put a team on the pitch with people that are fit and ready to really hit the ground running. I do think we should have the points on the board. If we play as well as we did against Everton, together with the additions we’ve now got and the lads coming back from injury, then I think we’ll be climbing the table very, very soon."
Whilst Kean was talking positive, the mood across Rovers' fanbase was growing increasingly negative. Having watched Kean nearly relegate them the season before, Rovers' fans felt that a return of zero points from the first nine available signalled that Kean had not learnt from the previous season and was actually worsening the team as time went by. Although some still said Kean needed time, plenty were now of the opinion that Kean needed to leave if Rovers were to have any chance of survival.
In August an open letter had been sent to Venky's pleading for change. When this was ignored, the national press picked up and printed the story. On the 8th September 2011, Henry Winter of the Telegraph wrote: "How much the fans’ letter represents the majority view is unclear, although the sounds of dissatisfaction at Ewood have been heard. Blackburn fans are not known for any militancy and clearly Venky’s have many questions to answer about the operation of the team and club".
The letter itself included the following: "The fans were willing to give Steve Kean a chance and were very open-minded about an appointment of a very inexperienced manager, somebody who had never managed a professional football team in his life. The sense that any game was winnable under Mark Hughes has been replaced by the sense of expecting defeat against any team either home or away that now exists under Kean. There are odd team line-ups where under-performing players such as Jason Roberts and Michel Salgado continue to play whereas goalscorers Mauro Formica and David Goodwillie drop to the bench. A very real fear for the future is now setting on Rovers fans. Numbers speak louder than words. More than 1,000 season tickets down on last season? There is a growing frustration that the fans don’t believe they have been listened to by the owners. As you can tell, we are passionate football fans. We love our club. Some fans are angry, some are depressed about the current situation and some are desperate for change. Listen to our words, our chants, our unhappiness."
In response to this letter, Steve Kean reacted nonchalantly, telling the press: "It doesn’t make me feel bad at all, I’ve got a great relationship with the owners. I think if you actually speak with the fans, the way we’re playing I don’t think we could have done too much more in the last game. I think maybe there’s a minority of the fans who are frustrated. The top half is certainly achievable. One win takes you halfway up the table."
The LT noted that "A YouGov survey has also revealed this week that 81 per cent of Rovers supporters polled would like the club to have a new boss", but Kean was again undeterred, saying "I can understand people’s frustrations with results. We’re three games in and we don’t have any points on the board. I’m frustrated myself that we’ve not got at least four points. But we’ve now got our squad. Now I think our season certainly starts but that’s not because we’ve not got any points, that’s because this is our group and our group is a strong group. I honestly think the squad’s stronger than it was last year."
Kean confirmed that he was happy with the summer's transfer business, claiming he had been backed by the owners and that to spend "in excess of £10m" proved that Venky's were behind him. There was also a suggestion that Venky's were going to be at games more often, with the LT confirming they were more able to travel locally "after buying Gary Neville’s house near Bolton", a purchase which was rumoured to have cost them around £5m.
Another issue facing Kean was the expiring contract of Junior Hoilett. The young winger had been one of very few players to shine under Kean, scoring vital goals and terrorising opposition defences with his pace and direct play. On the 10th September Kean told the media that Hoilett's new deal "will be done in the next couple of days", claiming that "there are only a couple of little technicalities in it, the broad base of it’s agreed. That took quite a while to get there but the boy seems happy and we just want to get it put to bed and get him focused now."
Nine days later, with Hoilett still yet to sign a new contract, Kean again reiterated that "We are getting there very slowly. I believe the term has been agreed and his base salary has been agreed. It is the smaller detail which can be slow but the main things have been agreed". Despite Kean's constant assurances that Hoilett would sign a new deal, this would continue to rumble on well into 2012 with no resolution in sight.
Part 2 will look at what happened between September and December of the 2011-2012 season.
Rovers boss Tony Mowbray has told the Lancashire Telegraph that despite Connor Mahoney being offered a new deal he expects that the youngster will reject the deal and sign for another club. Mowbray said “I have sat opposite and spoke with him two or three times and tried to advise him on his career.
“For me he should stay and play 100 games for this club over the next two seasons and if his talent dictates that he outgrows us and he has an offer from the Premier League, and we’re stuck in the Championship in two years time, then I wouldn’t stand in his way. Personally I have told him that the most important thing is that he plays football.
“If he goes and gets a better contract offer but is sat on the bench then they would be wasted years for him. It does not look like that advice has been heeded, it looks as though he is going to test the market, but all I can do is advise him to think about football and then his talent will decide everything else.”
Due to Mahoney being under 24 and having been offered a deal Rovers would be due compensation. This can be either mutually agreed with the club he signs for or be set by a tribunal. However the money that Rovers will eventually receive will be well below Mahoney's market value.
Tony Mowbray has confirmed that following talks with Venky's in Pune he will remain as Rovers manager. Talking to the club's official website he said "I'm very happy with the discussions that I have had, I've met the owners, I've met the people that I am working for, and I am very happy to move forward. Whilst we were all disappointed with the end of last season I see it as an opportunity to now move the club in the right direction and grasp this opportunity whilst it is there for us. The owners were supportive of my ideas and plans, and they have assured me of their financial commitment to help achieve our targets. It was all very positive."
Rovers boss Tony Mowbray is expected to arrive in Pune today to hold talks with Venky's.
Mowbray has been keen to hold talks with Venky's in order to establish their what their future vision for the club and has suggested that he would decide on his own future after holding talks with the owners “I will have some talks in the next week or two with the people who matter at this football club, Whether the journey for me continues or not. Let’s see. If it does, I can only see it being really strong if we can keep the right players."
Rovers face squad faces a big overhaul as 9 players were released last week this included club captain Jason Lowe, Danny Guthrie, Hope Akpan, Wes Brown and Adam Henley. It is looking increasingly likely that Connor Mahoney will reject the new contract that has been offered to him and reports in the national press have suggested that Lenihan and Mulgrew are also considering their futures.