Anyone who watched fans of Blackburn Rovers verbally abuse their manager during their defeat to Bolton on Tuesday must have felt immensely sorry for the beleaguered Steve Kean.
From the moment Mark Davies handed Wanderers the lead after five minutes, the Scot was faced with almost permanent calls for his immediate dismissal on a scale greater than almost any I have seen in football before. The future of a manager is generally an issue that divides opinion, but there seems to be a reasonable consensus amongst Blackburn fans on this one.
Kean has had to put up with the jeers of supporters for months now, but this week they have reached new heights following three consecutive defeats. On Monday, the Lancashire Telegraph took the extremely rare step of calling for the manger’s sacking in a front page editorial. The relationship between a football club and local newspaper is a vital one and most papers will always try to maintain a good rapport with club’s hierarchy. But to break so markedly from the official club line shows just how fractured the relationship between club and fans is at this moment in time. After all, the paper has a duty to the fans above all else and was merely reflecting the mood of its readers.
It is clear, then, that the vast majority of supporters want Kean out, evidenced by the singing of his predecessor Sam Allardyce’s name during the match, but is Kean really to blame? I’m not so sure.
Yes, he is among the worst managers in the Premier League but that does not necessarily make him the awful boss he is made out to be. First, he deserves credit for conducting himself with a certain level of dignity and decorum in a situation that has reduced Blackburn Rovers to a laughing stock. He has made some decent signings and at times brought the best out of Blackburn’s flair players (the likes of Junior Hoilett and Mauro Formica) in a way that Allardyce’s style of play did not. It could be said that Blackburn under Allardyce would at least be solid, if rarely spectacular, whilst Kean’s team is often neither, but I think there are other factors involved.
The LMA today issued a statement calling the fans’ abuse and aggression towards Kean “unacceptable”, and quite rightly so. Of course, fans have the right to air their views – they are loyal, paying customers after all. But, to my mind, the remonstrations that have been seen at so many Rovers matches this season should be saved for another time and place. Booing and protesting during a match may earn them the most publicity, but it harms the team and, in my opinion, when your team is out there playing a match you should give them the support and encouragement they need.
But this criticism is merely a sideshow compared to that which I, and many others, reserve for the club’s owners – Indian poultry magnates Venky’s. At a time when owners and chairmen are so often criticised for being detached from reality, never mind the fans, Venky’s have taken it to a whole new level. They have become as despised as Malcolm Glazer, Mike Ashley, and perhaps even Hicks and Gillett ever were, and that takes some doing. But Glazer and Ashley have been able to divert much of the vitriol levelled at them by producing results on the pitch, whereas Hicks and Gillett at least knew when it was time to leave Liverpool (eventually) – there are no signs of either happening at Ewood Park. Embarrassment, as much as anger, seems to be the overriding emotion for many Rovers fans.
Upon arrival, they promised vast funds for transfers, pledging to sign Ronaldinho, David Beckham and more, but the money has hardly been seen. They sacked Allardyce when the club was stable and probably doing as well as could be hoped, replacing him with a man with no managerial experience of his own. They constantly profess their love for Blackburn, yet ignore the fans at every opportunity. Truly, they embody just about everything that can go wrong in the modern world of football ownership – a company can buy a club, promise the world, deliver nothing, and leave nothing but disarray.
True, they have invested some money, most notably in Scott Dann, but that would be eclipsed and more by the financial and emotional pitfalls that accompany relegation – a fate that seems more inevitable with each passing game. And that would be a sad end for a club that is among a very exclusive group to have won the Premier League since its inception in 1992. That title-winning side of 1994-95 included the likes of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton at the peak of their powers, and was bankrolled by a dedicated, life-long supporter in the form of Jack Walker, the polar opposite to the current regime.
It has been a dramatic fall from grace since then, and it looks set to worsen regardless of whether Kean and Venky’s remain – and they are adamant that they will. Kean could easily be sacked in the near future, but would Blackburn be able to attract a manager capable of lifting them out of danger in their current state? The squad may well be good enough to play Premier League football but, with events off the pitch dominating proceedings at the minute, it is hard to see anything other than Championship football next season. Indeed, they look set to follow in the footsteps of Leeds, West Ham, Portsmouth and other top-flight regulars beset by problems in the boardroom.
Whatever happens and whether Kean stays or not, it can only be hoped that the owners can build some kind of a relationship with the fans and restore some semblance of order and dignity to Ewood Park.