A New Low for Blackburn Rovers
Yesterday evening, as Arsenal were battling bravely to overturn a Champions League deficit in Munich, ESPN viewers and a few gross hardy souls at Ewood Park saw Blackburn Rovers tumble out of the FA Cup. Here, Phil Lloyd scratches his head in befuddlement as to the Lancashire club’s plight. Phil can be followed on twitter here.
Nine years ago to the day, Blackburn Rovers went down to goals by Thierry Henry and Robert Pires in a Premier League fixture against Arsenal at Ewood Park. The team was en route to a ‘disappointing’ 15th place finish in the league but, of course, we didn’t realise that our disappointment watching at the time was as nothing compared with the feelings that would become the norm for a Rovers fan in the decade to come.
In my late 40s at the time, I didn’t realise it at least. A team containing the likes of Friedel, Tugay, Yorke and Cole had added another chapter to the club’s seemingly unending spell at the top table, with an additional UEFA Cup adventure thrown in for good measure. Despite the passing, still recent in the memory, of benefactor Jack Walker, Blackburn Rovers seemed as stable as at any time in its 128-year history, under the Trust set up by ‘Uncle Jack’ and the astute management of respected administrators, John Williams and Tom Finn.
Nine years later, we languish in the lower reaches of the second tier, with a poor squad and abysmal owners, and cannot even muster a crowd of 9,000 for an FA Cup Sixth Round replay with a Wembley date against Wigan the prize.
Our demise should sound a warning to football fans throughout the land. Most teams, like our deserving conquerors Millwall, might offer their supporters a diet of hope followed by despair and cup runs swiftly followed by relegation. Like Millwall’s fans, they would have approached last weekend’s Quarter Final with trepidation, rather than excitement.
But since Blackburn and Venky’s became unhappy bedfellows, this decline has felt somehow different. It has all been documented, sometimes accurately, but at other times with a barely hidden agenda, by media figures who have done themselves no favours: the summary dismissal of Sam Allardyce; the appointment as manager of the hapless Steve Kean; the shadowy involvement of agents guiding clueless owners; the marginalising and subsequent departure of Messrs Williams and Finn, among others; the sale (or, worse still, the unexplained sidelining) of experienced players like Nelsen, Salgado, Samba, Emerton — the list goes on.
Add to this the total breakdown of communication between the club and its fans; the relegation near-miss in 2011 which translated into a deserved demise the following season; the witless managerial merry-go-round that has dogged this Championship season…and the ‘disappointment’now being felt is on a different scale entirely to any we might have felt during a poor Premier League campaign nine short years ago.
I am conscious that penning this at a time when the club has failed to score in six out of the last seven games, has struggled this evening to raise a team (and even then has played at least four players nowhere near match fitness) and has thrown away the chance of a first visit to the new Wembley with another classless display, is unlikely to produce a rose-tinted view of the future for Rovers.
My point is that I fear that the club I was once proud to call ‘my club’ has been so torn apart and pillaged in little more than two years that I cannot see from where an upturn of any description will emerge. Other clubs have suffered at the hands of bad owners and have been pushed to the brink of extinction. Swansea City’s tale and maybe those of Cardiff and Hull may show that glory can be gleaned from unpromising situations and it’s that kind of hope that should keep us going, even in the darkest of days.
But Blackburn’s fall has been so sudden, so spectacular, and so all-encompassing that it is no wonder that fans are staying away, in apathy if not in protest. Some, and this is a sizeable camp, argue that hitting the Rao family in the pocket is the only way to demonstrate to them that they are not welcome and not wanted. Not only are they bad owners, they are absent owners too, which is why even protests feel toothless, because there is no one with any power present to hear and see such protests.
A fan buyout is mooted and pledges continue to be gathered, but the owners to date show no appetite for a sale. And so our decline continues, inexorably, with last night’s feeble FA Cup exit the latest page in the sorry saga.
Good luck to Millwall as they plan for their day (or, who knows, two days?) in the sun at Wembley. Stanley, in his pre-match blog, wisely cautioned Lions’ fans that ‘a fortuitous Cup run and the extra revenue derived from it won’t count for much if we fall back into the 3rd tier.’ Rovers now have no such distractions though – like tonight’s opponents, they badly need more league points. But, also like Millwall, they have a major local derby this weekend.
Most Rovers fans I know would agree that further decline, accelerated by a fleeting extension to this season’s Cup run, would have been a truly poisoned chalice. It is of small consequence outside East Lancashire but it is nearly 33 years and 11 months since Rovers lost in the League to their local claret and blue adversaries. It would be yet another sad sign of how far we have fallen were that record to end. Yes, Burnley at home on Sunday is much more important.