Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer were an unstoppable force in the 1994-95 season. Shearer, a young England prospect who had just arrived from Southampton for an English record fee of £3.3 million (stop laughing) tore up the league, with the more experienced Sutton pummelling defences and dictating tempo high up the field. Graeme LeSaux and Colin Hendry were a wall at the back and Tim Sherwood’s captaincy certainly helped the cause. Those Halcyon days seem very far away now however, with the Lancashire outfit playing their football in League 1 in the 2017/18 season.
The rot started in 2010, when Indian outfit V H Group, known as Venkys London bought Blackburn for £23 million. Then manager Sam Allardyce had a track record in the North West and hadn’t quite proven himself at Ewood Park, but the new owners ousted him immediately. Steve Kean arrived, who ultimately turned out to be a damp squib, failing to both keep Blackburn in the Premiership and get them straight back up following their demotion to the Championship in 2012.
The Venkys have had the entire farce nailed squarely upon them, with many fans questioning not only their business acumen but also their most basic knowledge of English football, and rightly so. Kean, who was deeply unpopular with fans, was given far too long to try and turn the club around and there was plenty of controversy with his appointment in the first place, with agent Jerome Anderson providing advice to the Venkys as they lined up their acquisition of the club.
Fast forward to the final day of the 2016/17 season and 5 years after their relegation to the Championship and the situation was just as bad. After a couple of dreadful seasons, the lack of investment and business leadership saw a poor team battling for their Championship credentials in their last game of the season. Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest did them no favours however, even though Blackburn managed a win against Brentford and their status was confirmed at the final whistle.
With League 1 beckoning, how have Blackburn ended up in such a bad situation?
1. Clueless owners
The Venkys may have made their fortune through poultry products, but it seems they have become headless chickens themselves in the management of the club. Not seeking the right advice, not plugging gaps and having a terrible hold on finances (The club made an £18 million loss the season they arrived) goes to show the outcome of having owners that don’t understand the business of football.
2.Awful manager choices
We’ve already highlighted that Steve Kean was given too long in the hotseat, but the string of managers since then reads like a who’s who of football failures and nobodies. They have had just the 8 managers (the writer’s head almost exploded when he had to look that up) since 2012, with highlights including Henning Berg and Eric Black, who both lasted about a month, and Michael Appleton who made it all the way from January to March in 2013. This severe lack of commitment and consistency with managers is simply shocking.
3. Poor financial management
Blackburn weren’t exactly a tiny club when Venkys took over, with a solid fan base and iconic English football ground in Ewood Park. What they have managed since 2011 is quite incredible, taking a then mid-table Premier League club with history, a decent balance book and a Premier League TV deal and effectively treating it like a credit card. The club has lost £83 million of shareholder investment since 2011.
4. A shocking transfer policy
In a league where players like Troy Deeney, pre-Villa Ross McCormack and Dwight Gayle were the opposition over the last 5 years, Blackburn have had a team of nobodies for a long time. Although they had Charlie Mulgrew this year, their overall approach to transfers has been frankly catastrophic, with not only a lack of scouting talent but a seemingly bargain basement approach to getting players over the line. The squad is now worth £12.5 million. That’s the same value as one of Paul Pogba’s hands.
5. A complete lack of football culture
It’s distressing to see one of the oldest clubs in England in such dire straits. Blackburn have ridden high for a long time, becoming a household name with a great history. Now, with an average turnout of about 10,000 per game last season and an aura of abandonment at the club, it seems that the life and soul has been sucked out of Ewood Park. Previous owner and local entrepreneur Jack Walker certainly understood what it meant to the people of Blackburn to have an illustrious club and strove to make it happen. Maybe the Venkys can’t see it, with a vision of raking in pie sales and gate receipts whilst fiddling around with the money available from TV rights instead of building a long term strategy for the club. Blackburn need a hero to buy them and get that culture back, but it isn’t an exciting prospect to any investor, with diminishing ticket sales and debts of around £106 million to contend with.
Not many are backing Blackburn to come straight back up based on recent performances but that makes the odds with 888sport very tempting, with new manager Tony Mowbray hoping to grab the bull by the horns before it’s too late. He isn’t the most glamorous of football managers but he understands the lower leagues of English football. Let’s hope the owners give him the space, support and money he needs to ensure Blackburn don’t completely disappear into obscurity.