CHENNAI: When Leicester City won the Premier League title in May, another name, long-forgotten by fans of the English game here, made its way back to the pages of Indian newspapers. When was the last time someone apart from the Manchester clubs, Arsenal or Chelsea won the title? Blackburn Rovers in 1995 was the answer. Nobody asked where the Rovers are now or why they are in their current state.
To the Indian football fan too young to remember a young Alan Shearer, Blackburn Rovers will evoke images of Mark Hughes and Morten Gamst Pederson. They will also remember a picture of two Indians smiling and waving at the Ewood Park before a game against Aston Villa. Venkatesh and Balaji Rao, owners of poultry giants Venky’s, had just agreed to take over one of England’s oldest clubs. For pre-ISL India, that was the closest to footballing relevance. What followed was a different ball game.
Ronaldinho was promised but it was TV pundit Shebby Singh who came. Current England manager Sam Allardyce was sacked almost immediately and replaced by Steve Kean, whose agent Jerome Anderson had advised Venky’s during the takeover. In less than two years, Blackburn — a stable club which had finished 10th the season before — was relegated from the PL. They disappeared into the same footballing black hole that the likes of Portsmouth and Leeds United have. But come January, Rovers will make a comeback in to the Indian consciousness when their fans stage a protest on the sidelines of a cricket match between India and England.
The club currently are languishing in the bottom of the second tier, playing with free transfers and loan signings. According to a recent article by The Times, Rovers posted a pre-tax loss of £17.2 million and a net debt of £104.2 million. But now long-suffering protesters, who’ve been trying to get Venky’s to budge, are taking the fight to India. “Our view is that we want to take this to India,” Rovers Trust chairman Wayne Wild told the Lancashire Telegraph. “One target date we have is January 15. England play India in an ODI in Pune. We think it could give us a lot of exposure.”
The protesters come armed with a bagful of leaked documents that reveal the astonishing ineptitude with which the club was handled over the last two years. In one, an exasperated board writes to Anuradha Desai, one of the owners, that they should also be kept in the loop when she decides to fire managers and hire players. In another, former global advisor Shebby Singh wonders why two agents were paid in the purchase of one player. “We just want them to sell the club or engage with people that might invest,” Dan Thomson, a fan involved with the protests, told Express. “But they just ignore any advances of communication. When we call, they just ignore us because they know we are from UK.”
But when cameras zoom in on ‘Venky’s cluck out’ posters during an international cricket match, ignoring may no longer be an option for the owners.