In the first episode of the brilliant TV series, Mad Dogs, Philip Glenister’s character, Quinn, explains to friends the details of his recent divorce from his long-term wife, ‘The tragedy really wasn’t in breaking up, it was in staying together for as long as we did.’
On Sunday afternoon, Blackburn Rovers were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time since the 1979 season. The tragedy didn’t occur on Sunday, more the tragedy lay in the crushing inevitability of it all; the prolonged way in which we battled, ultimately in vain, for Championship survival.
It has been a long, drawn-out process for the fans, not just this season but over the past seven years since Venky’s completed their takeover of the club. A 3-1 victory away at Brentford was not enough to stave off relegation on the final day of the season, with Rovers eventually ending up in the bottom three on goal difference. In truth, we have not been higher than 20th place in the league table all season.
Rare highlights included an enjoyable FA Cup run ultimately ended by Manchester United and collecting 6 points from eventual champions Newcastle. These were the irregular highpoints in an otherwise wretched season.
Looking further back than this season though, the tide turned long ago. It has been discussed at great length by some of football’s leading pundits, but the ‘fit and proper person test’ of potential owners’ credentials is an unforgiveable farce. If the Rao family can in any way be deemed ‘fit and proper’ owners of a football club, then what exactly is the criteria based on? There are only a couple of examples of people known to have fallen foul to the test, including Dennis Coleman at Rotherham United. In contrast, since the ‘fit and proper person test’ was introduced in 2004, 28 British clubs have filed for administration, incurring penalties and point deductions as a result.
Why are the authorities not intervening further in this process? What is being done to prevent financial skullduggery and fraudulent activities taking place at football clubs across the country?
In Rovers’ case, the ineptitude of Venky’s ownership has been well-documented – asset-stripping by consistently selling our best players without re-investing, the tyrannical and vulture-like reign of agent Jerome Anderson, and the increasing lack of communication from the owners.
The last seven years have brought with it a systematic dismantling of the team, accounts have been window-dressed to pump other business losses through the club, and key players, one after the next, have left for pastures new. Fast-forward to this season and it would be difficult to deny that the starting line-up against Brentford on Sunday looked like anything other than a League One outfit.
Contrary to popular belief, for most Rovers fans, this is not about an entitlement from a set of fans who have recently witnessed their club win the Premier League. We all knew that was an anomaly, and nobody took it for granted. Since then though, we have had consistent top 10 Premier League finishes and several European campaigns.
There’s a pragmatism surrounding the club, a trait which is so engrained in the population of the town. I have said for many years that most Rovers fans would happily take being at the foot of League Two if it meant that we had renewed, stable ownership. The notion of having our destiny in our own hands, with the possibility of building up the club again and rising through the lower leagues.
Of course, there are a few silver linings to this. Staying up on the final game of this season would have covered up the cracks in a very poor season. While it still appears to be anybody’s guess as to if or when Venky’s will ever sell the club, it would be more likely for them to do so, paradoxically, if we are in the lower leagues with fewer resources and inexpensive assets. And then there is the potential to actually win more games, a refreshing respite from consistently poor results. The fans can also visit a whole host of new stadia, including games against clubs such as Fleetwood Town, Bury and AFC Wimbledon.
Next season provides the opportunity of a match-up with League Two champions, Portsmouth – a proud club on a very similar narrative arc to Blackburn, having also been steadily disassembled by inept owners. Portsmouth appear to have turned a corner though, the club now owned by its fans, and their recent upturn in fortune is an optimistic blueprint for other clubs currently in peril of administration.
These factors will provide little solace to a fanbase which has exhausted countless avenues to communicate with the ownership throughout their tenure. Since 2010, various trust organisations have tried and failed to engage with Venky’s to agree a better approach for the future, even flying out to India on several occasions to meet them face-to-face. Nothing has worked so far – it’s a silent scream. The feeling of helplessness surrounding the club continues unabated.
The relationship between Blackburn Rovers and Venky’s has felt like a long-lasting, drawn-out divorce. I hope that one day, when we are free of their incompetent and immoral ownership, there is an admission from them that the tragedy really was in staying together for as long as we did.
Chris Henderson – follow me on Twitter here