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In a week when Rovers announced the capture of a battle-worn veteran with his best years behind him (and possibly sign Wes Brown as well, perhaps when Mike Cheston has time to devote to football) a musical anecdote from a couple of Sir Elton’s contemporaries sprang to mind.
When the country singer Emmylou Harris was young and up-and-coming, she sought the advice of grizzled, bandana-wearing, pony-tailed veteran Willie Nelson, who even at 40 looked like he had been carved out of Mount Rushmore granite and sounded as if he possessed the very wisdom of Solomon.
“I can sing the words, but not like you, Willie,” the future queen of the genre said, “You convey such emotion, pain and suffering in your voice.”
“Just concentrate on staying in pitch, getting the notes sung right and plucking the right chords,” replied the Nashville stalwart.
“The pain and suffering will come along in due course.”
Surfing the message boards and reading some of the comments on this blog, I do get the feeling that many Rovers fans younger than I (ie most of them) can make all the right noises about how hurt and wounded they are by the club’s situation but in reality have little fresh insight to bestow on me into what’s to come and how bad it could get.
It’s a bit like hearing a teenager go on about getting dumped when you’ve endured the agony, heartbreak and financial ruination of a messy divorce. You think this is bad? Ask PNE fans about playing on Tuesday afternoon to save floodlighting with Mel Tottoh coming from Bae on his bike to go on the bench.
Ask Clarets supporters about getting licked 6-0 at home by Hereford with 1,961 on.
“You’re not boycotting,” “You’re continuing to fund Venkys,” “You’re refusing to stand with other fans in protests, “ they howl in anguish, claiming that anyone who continues to attend Ewood is morally inferior and can’t possibly want Venkys reign to end.
Of course we all do, but I firmly believe that me not spending £279 on a season ticket, not standing outside with banners or leaflets or, almost as ludicrous as that “Back The Badge” BRAG stinker which was mercifully stillborn a few years ago, staying on the Riverside concourse for 18 minutes of a match then walking off a quarter of an hour before the end, would have about as much impact on the time and circumstances of Venkys departure as me walking into my local church, lighting a candle and praying on my knees for it.
A discussion in the pub pre-match on Saturday revealed that of those present, two out of 24 thought the 18-75 thing was a goer and one of them admitted, when it was pointed out that the concourse bars would be shut by that point, he might actually not bother with the second bit after all then.
If ever there was a game to illustrate that actually continuing, despite all the recent history, to go ahead with all your matchday rituals can occasionally still be rewarding, Saturday was it.
I make no apology or concession to any semi-literate shouty shed-head on any forum for continuing to do so. Our 22-year-old has, after years of Uni and Saturday jobs, her first-ever Ewood season ticket, her “32 Conway” shirt and, joyously, her own car which she kindly volunteers to drive to games in! Her enthusiasm is infectious to me and a million bullet points about how much evil-doing has gone on at Ewood will never counter-balance that for me.
I therefore get to have a few pints with friends and family I love dearly and see lifelong pals at the ground whom I’ve shared Championship triumphs and trips to The Shay with.
My granddad regularly helped David Rollo gather his stuff after training on Little Wembley in the late 1910’s . My dad got to know his father after years away fighting in the Second World War by going to Ewood with him post-1945.
The three of us stood together in the 1960’s and 1970’s and while the doom merchants (perhaps we should have booked the Apocalyptic poet Leonard Cohen instead of Elton) tell me “there might not be a club to support by the time this lot go,” while there is I will carry on going as long as we look forward to it as a family.
If it makes you any happier, our youngest “boycotted” the Rotherham game with a party to go to!
As the match got underway on Saturday the lad I sat next to on day one of Secondary School in 1970 and I were discussing ways to arrive in Venice for the first time and ways we’ll avoid getting ripped off for drink if we ever return.
No foul-hearted dark soul of a lout off BRFCS or WordPress is ever going to dictate to me why, when and how I ought to give up those remaining pleasures.
Saturday’s possible single-swallow of a win against Rotherham was immensely enjoyable as an isolated experience, like your first bacon buttie at the end of lent, but the truth of the matter, plain to dreamer or realist alike, is that five points out of every available 24 between now and the end of the season will see us relegated by some distance.
Looking at the immediate fixtures, it’s not easy to see where a sufficient number of points will be accumulated unless some of the promising aspects of the first Coyle victory are maintained while the worrying and lingering bad habits are eliminated.
Anyone who reads this column regularly will know I abhor weak sides being put out in cup competitions (I was incandescent when Paul Lambert picked a sub-strength team at home to West Ham earlier this year) but for once I could sympathise with Rovers’ manager in doing so at Elland Road for the EFL Cup game.
Yes we lostand I’m very disappointed – I’d have loved to see how many “boycotted” a home draw against PNE or Liverpool if nowt else – but priorities are wholly to do with league form at present.
With players injured and cup-tied, a 36-year-old centre-half who’s played every minute of every league game since coming on in the first half of the opener, Corry Evans only just recovering from a set of injuries and Emnes with only three league starts in two seasons for Swansea before his loan move here, it is understandable that a couple were wrapped in cotton wool.
Emnes was certainly outstanding against Rotherham from first minute to last and along with Conway and Gallagher contested a close three-way call for the Man of The Match plaudits.
The fact that all three of those forwards capped their splendid displays with a goal along with a more surprising but no less welcome contribution from Marshall, who improved after the break but has some work to do to win back the hearts of the crowd, illustrated that if the team is improved in other areas, which it rapidly needs to be, we do carry a genuine goal threat to most sides in Championship football.
True Rotherham’s away record was abject but they had scored twice and led in both of their previous home games and I would say that both their goals were a result of good play capitalising on individual mistakes rather than “inability to defend as a team” a phrase you will often see used, but seldom clarified or explained, by people following games on their lap-tops rather than actually sat watching them.
Certainly the midfielder Brown picked a gem of a pass out for the opener. Everyone, it seems these days, gets a cracking player from Chelsea on loan – how come we ended up with Todd Kane?
At that point, the crowd could easily have turned on Coyle and the team but, clearly seeing that it was an avoidable (Evans gormlessly lost the ball with us pressing forward) aberration after a bright beginning rather than the culmination of a slow or poor start, the supporters stayed positive and, yes indeed “got behind the lads.”
That’s an exhortation I often find laughably simplistic, even though I was described by one correspondent as “the supreme happy clapper” this week (another called me a “totally negative curmudgeon so I claim I must offer some degree of balance!).
But it was justified and quite the right thing on Saturday as Conway, by sheer force of his currently exuberant and irrepressible personality, bludgeoned us back into the game and transformed the collective confidence of the side.
Emnes’ goal was a delight in its construction and execution and the former Boro man sealed the day by shrugging off his man to give Gallagher his reward with the thing in the balance after Rotherham’s refusal to capsize.
Again, their second goal looked cleverly fashioned after a sloppy pass to me, not the result of any defective tactical set-up. I’d have been chuffed if we’d put together as slick a passage of play to score after nicking possession.
When the fourth went in, it was great to share a hug with my step-daughter, genuinely thrilled (not least as she knows I have a weekly bet on 4-2, the winning of which usually means a takeaway treat tea) and see my mate’s grandson Louis, six, in transports of delight at seeing his first win in his debut season!
Imagine walking off a game as compellingly in-the-balance as that.
As I say, one swallow though, and it will of course be a lot tougher at Derby, despite their abysmal start under much-vaunted Nigel Pearson, and at home to inconsistent but formidable-on-their-day Wednesday next midweek. If results go badly, you’ll have Mr Negative Curmudgeon service resumed as soon as you can say: “Not happy-clapping this week, are you?”
But as overdue starts go, it was welcome and hugely enjoyable to put the pain and suffering on hold if only for one day.
Or at least till you log back on to your lap-top and get the voices of the damned from Ghoul Central…
BLUE EYED BOY
It’s a measure of quite how staggeringly poor Rovers’ start to the season has been that had we hung on for a draw at Elland Road, a return of three points from seven games would genuinely have been acclaimed as the continuation of something of a revival.
But the hardy and admirable fans who travelled to London then paid £35 or a criminal £40 at Leeds had another body-blow saved to the last to reward their efforts.
Another appalling lapse of concentration in the dying minutes meant a fifth league defeat – three to sides lurking around the bottom end (despite meeting a Wigan side “in the form of their lives”) – and even the gossamer-thin veneer of optimism engendered by a worthy draw at Loftus Road three days earlier has dwindled swiftly away. Leeds, Cardiff and Wigan have collected 6 points in 21 games between them other than the ones they helped themselves to against us.
Leeds had been a lucky ground for Rovers in recent seasons after a barren 40-odd years (we never even won there during the Kenny/Shearer era) as has QPR’s Shepherd’s Bush home but this desperate manager and his disparate collection of players could only call on that historical quirk of fortune for half of their week’s awayday assignments.
If you wanted to look hard for positives you could point to a decent display in London – against a side beaten 6-0 at home 72 hours later, mind – and the fact that two strikers have made a mark, albeit neither of them Danny Graham whose pale resemblance to the player he was last season reminds one of nothing so much as the decline of Fred Pickering from the brutish, unstoppable force of nature he was in 1964 to the heavy, injury-ravaged shadow he had become on his sad return in 1971.
More recently Roque Santa Cruz blemished his reputation with an unsatisfactory second spell but the Graham descent from high standards inside a matter of months is alarming indeed and hints at altogether more disconcerting issues. Fitness, training methods, coaching – something is clearly not right under Owen Coyle.
I predicted in my first column of the season that we would be under new management sooner rather than later but the only problem with that is it now just can’t come soon enough. With a fixture against Rotherham at home this weekend which we could well, even in our present dreadful state, contrive to win in similar fashion to last season’s undeserved own-goal stroke of fortune, it is entirely likely that the befuddled minds which appointed the blundering fool might give him a stay of execution.
Eight more games with a similar outcome to even the best-case scenario at five o’clock on Saturday and we are as good as down, make no mistake about that.
There are those who consider the trifle of only a third relegation from the Second Tier of English football in our 141-year history a virtual irrelevance in the overall scheme of it all.
These owners, they probably quite rightly say, will see us in the lower leagues sooner rather than later and the bigger issue is persuading them to part with the club.
That’s all valid, but if it happens it’s not happening for a month or two for sure and I am in agreement with noted Rovers historian Michael Jackman in believing that it is imperative in the meanwhile to maximise our chances of retaining Championship status as long as any residual hope whatsoever remains.
On the occasions of our previous two spells in the old Division Three – a period, note, when dreams of cash injections or a beneficial change of ownership to our financial advantage simply did not exist even in the most fevered of imaginations – we were fortunate to appoint managers who halted the decline and even managed to fire up in particular younger supporters when many of the older end vanished in the ignominy of it all.
Ken Furphy, Gordon Lee and, quite brilliantly, Howard Kendall, all contributed – on peanuts – to restoring pride and faith in a sadly wilting red rose on the badge on the blue halves of those shirts. The former modernised and to some extent re-popularised the club at its very lowest ebb of all time while the other pair built remarkable sides with unmatchable esprit de corps and commonality of purpose to pull off promotions without which we would have undoubtedly emulated all the other Lancashire town clubs along with Wolves, Cardiff, Northampton, Swansea, Bradford City and Sheffield United in falling from top division to bottom during my lifetime.
It might be that in a footballing sense we may have to go one, perhaps even (almost unthinkably) two steps down before going forward.
But there are out-of-work managers who wouldn’t preside over goals like the one Bartley scored for Leeds on Tuesday, or at least if they did it once it wouldn’t happen again.
It’s de rigeur to say no-one in their right mind would take this job but if you don’t ask you don’t find out.
What’s certain is that if Coyle remains we repeat the miserable relegations of 1971 and 1979. In both 1986 and 1991 we came awfully close to slipping down there again but I would argue on both occasions we had a better side and, without fear of contradiction, better managers in Bob Saxton and Don Mackay.
I was talking about those relegated and almost-relegated sides with a few pals the other day.
The 1970-71 campaign was probably the worst I’ve witnessed throughout – we garnered 27 points (two for a win) and though it saw young fellas such as Tony Parkes and Derek Fazackerley make their bow the fact that Bryan Conlon and Eamonn Rogers finished up joint top scorers with six apiece tells you a lot of what you need to know. And that was all with Roger Jones, possibly the best Rovers keeper other than Brad Friedel since 1945!
The 1978-79 campaign saw Jim Iley, who had presided over the final four winless games of the previous season, extend that streak to seven without a victory before his only win in his eighth match. Coyle has the opportunity to draw equal with him for most games without a win for a fresh Ewood manager this Saturday but fail to beat The Millers and he will be out on his own.
Looking at those 78-79 names – Hird (for the first half of the season), Bailey, Faz and Parkes experienced hands, Metcalfe (another 1971 veteran), Keeley and Brotherston it was a travesty on paper that side finished bottom but in reality with a languid John Radford and cumbersome Joe Craig leading the line, with tired old stagers like Aston and Birchenall supposedy providing the ammo goalscoring was again the Achilles heel.
Only when a youthful Garner was introduced and the impish Duncan McKenzie was sensationally but all-too-late brought in did we look to have a goal in us and as it was seldom more than one, wins were at a premium.
In 1986, we won a hastily rearranged Monday night final game, following a deluge similar to the Etihad’s this week on the Saturday, to mathematically ensure staying up in 19th spot (actually only a 14-goal home defeat to Grimsby would have sent us down).
Rovers side that night: O’Keefe, Branagan, Keeley, Fazackerley, Rathbone, Miller, Barker, Hamilton, Garner, Thompson. Jimmy Quinn was an unused sub.
We made no pre-season signings in the summer of 1985 and the only player to debut that season was Alan Ainscow, signed on non-contract terms in February after an injury crisis. He had been coaching the kids! The only other players used that season were Gennoe, Brotherston, Lowey and Mail. Not a tattoo or earring to be seen, as someone said, Noel and Maily’s natural curls the only signs of extravagance as no high-fallutin’ agent type would have troubled himself to come within 35 miles of Ewood.
But every one of that side would make a case for inclusion against Rotherham on Saturday. Conway would happen force his way in somewhere. Corry Evans, fit, may nudge in ahead of Hammy. Maybe Steele might hang onto his shirt from O’Keefe. That back four gave six or seven years of sterling and distinguished service, Barker was a class apart from any midfielder seen at Ewood since Tugay.
Five years later the great Garner and Sellars delayed hernia operations cock-up put us on the back foot from the start and only the first manifestations of Jack Walker’s largesse saved the day. Having signed Lee Richardson on the eve of the season for a club record £250,000, we acquired Bobby Mimms for a similar sum in January before Jack bankrolled the captures of Tony Dobson and Steve Livingstone (£450,000 for the striker alone) a couple of weeks later.
If any mitigation is due to Coyle after his appalling start, he’d dearly have loved even that kind of finance this summer. We survived largely on the back of a rather unexpected Chris Sulley winner at Barnsley and the rest is now history. Unfortunately, it really does seem to be history too.
But Coyle has to take some of the blame for scattergun recruitment. Looking at the likes of Hoban, Stokes and Mulgrew on the treatment table I get that told-you-so feeling. Their previous injury, availability and appearance records didn’t take that much scrutinising.
Flagged-up loan guys like Hendrie, Byrne and Samuelsen either aren’t good enough or, more likely, he doesn’t have the faith to throw them in to match his motormouth hyperbole on signing them. Ditto Lenihan, Wharton and Mahoney now largely frozen out by the numbers but probably in no way inferior to the guys they can’t displace. Feeney? Do me a favour.
I really don’t want us to go down again. I don’t want our kids to experience what I did at age 12 , my dad coming up stairs on a school night to break the news we’d lost at QPR and were relegated, or at 18, when I was old enough to be travelling to away games on my own steam and chanting defiantly “When we all go down, we all go down together,” under the Blackburn End roof as a paltry 4,000 watched a meaningless final win against Fulham.
If it was character-formingly painful it was only assuaged by the fact that we came back stronger in reasonable time. Our kids aren’t much different to those ages now.
And who can say that we would go that upward way again rather than the 1980’s route Burnley, PNE, Blackpool and Bolton had to travel if it happened again?
International breaks invariably bore me to tears and this one, even with a transfer window closure in the middle, was hardly an exception.
(Incidentally weren’t these breaks introduced to give national managers unlimited uninterrupted preparation time with their squads, not for players to jet off in the middle of them to seek lucrative new club deals?)
Lucrative new club deals, however, are only relevant at Blackburn Rovers in that Ben Marshall, clearly disinterested and determined to get away for weeks before it emerged that there were no takers, now presumably gets one – i.e. a pay-rise to continue being employed for a club he manifestly had no interest in being at a fortnight ago.
Otherwise with practically £30m worth of players sold since last summer presumably to reduce debt and provide day-to-day working capital, our total close season/August outlay for 2016 has been 250 grand for a left-back who couldn’t get a do with Bristol City.
The question isn’t have we stayed the same or improved slightly, it’s how much further forward exponentially are even the teams we competed with last season who’ve spent considerably more? We know full well that stand still in football and you go backwards.
Replace very decent players with other folk’s cast-offs and unless you have a miracle worker in charge – and we plainly don’t – then the likelihood is that you end up stuck on the platform as sleeker stock rolls well beyond you.
We have a chance to judge that a week on Saturday when Rotherham visit but before that back-to-back away games at venues we haven’t done too badly at in recent years. A couple of points might have been an acceptable return in other circumstances but if this team doesn’t start winning soon all hope is lost.
The deadline day signings of Charlie Mulgrew and Marvin Emnes (a free and a loan, naturally) were hardly acquisitions to get the pulses racing. Mulgrew managed five and eight starts respectively in the league for Celtic in the two last seasons. That though is considerably more than Emnes, who Swansea have long deemed surplus to requirements.
The former Middlesbrough man had a decent Championship season five years ago then sank into that cosy netherworld of sporadic selection, occasional forays as an impact sub and, in terms of goals and overall contribution, notably dwindling marginal returns.
My guess is he will score two or three in his first eight or nine appearances, excite briefly then fade into that nebulous comfort zone of the serial under-achiever.
Mulgrew has undoubted footballing ability but his previous struggle adapting to the demands of the English game at Molineux coupled with injuries largely reducing his Celtic Park role to cameos hardly augurs well for someone Coyle has hinted will become a fulcrum of a midfield which has been our Achilles heel since relegation.
Coyle now numbers his squad at 27 in serious contention for first team action and set out on paper you can make a case for it being a balanced assortment with at least two for every position.
Some have argued, though I would have to disagree vehemently, that it’s a better squad than we began or ended last season with.
Whatever, it’s a squad that, by what I would consider a conservative estimate to be on an average of £8k per week, would cost £216,000 a week in wages. That’s 11 and a quarter million pounds a year, almost a million a month.
Add in directors’ remuneration (by no means negligible even for the skeleton board of buffoons we employ) manager and coaching staff, general running costs and paying the rank and file office/matchday staff, you can reckon £20 million per annum needed just to open up every other Saturday morning and put a match on then run the offices all fortnight.
Those who clamour for Venkys to sell need to consider who would likely buy the operation with those kind of costs. Remember the Seneca lads only wanted a half-stake.
“Mystery foreign investor” has become almost as feted a mythological beast on Rovers fan message boards as “pacy striker” but remains as woolly a concept as Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil until Venkys a) decide to divest themselves and b) find a bidder answering to their terms.
Their unpopularity and unsuitability for stewarding a football club has been obvious to all for six years but with no sign of them shipping out, campaigns to force or embarrass them to into doing so have stepped up and been given a little more prominence than usual in a traditionally slow news fortnight.
But the futility of the multiplying howls of despair is only illustrated by some of the chaotic attempts at mobilisation and proposed shows of dissent put forward.
I personally have no interest in attending fans’ meetings (as one pal said “I can’t think of anything worse”) and even less in who chairs or speaks at them. I realise that will bring half-formed, ignorant cries of: “Oh, so you’re prepared to sit back and let the club die then.”
At my age and in my state of health I admit perhaps I’m not as motivated as I was in the days I was putting my employment on the line by selling Ken Beamish’s scratch-off cards to a depot full of just-got-paid fitters in works time and I choose not to follow or join in with anything I’ve seen put forward so far.
My mitigation for choosing not to is the same as that I put forward for not being a boycotter: I don’t believe the energy or input I would have for such gatherings or money not spent on tickets et al would make a damned bit of difference as to when billionaires on a distant continent decide they’ve had enough of a mild costly irritant and tip out.
A newly-formed umbrella “organisation” to unite “four leading fan groups” (25 people daily trading fantasies, jibes and insults on a message board constitutes a “leading fan group”?) had within 12 hours generated 12 web pages of falling out and unseemly accusations and taunts.
If that’s unification, I’ll remain an independent, thanks. Those with messianic delusions or who fancy themselves as men of the people can get together with those who feel they need some kind of leadership or guidance as a supporter and I wish them every happiness and success in their endeavours.
But I think you’ll need to come up with better than blowing a few whistles or handing out leaflets.
“Fans will fly to India to seek a meeting.” “The One Day Cricket international in Pune will be targeted for publicity.” “There’’ll be an ‘1875’ based protest whereby fans will stay in the concourse until the 18th minute of the televised home game against Wolves on a Saturday teatime in October, leaving their seats again in the 75th minute.” (Given the entertainment served up so far this season those fans participating may rue the fact that we weren’t formed in 1922 or something.)
I have to admit I’m actually away on holiday that day but thank goodness. Nothing annoys me more than these shows of grief or defiance in the this-or-that minute and if I was at the game I would be taking my seat from kick-off to final whistle as usual.
Do those intent on flying to Pune really think they’ll be granted access that the local paper or mighty Sky TV haven’t managed in five years?
And it rather sums the muddled strategies up that people would contemplate spending time and money on making an impact at an event which the very existence of is beholden to the weather!
The campaign to place well-researched and written pieces in the Indian press seems a more cogent strategy and I’ve made my own attempt to contact possibly the best-known and respected Indian sports journalist.
But if bad press close to home got rid of owners, the Glazers, Cellino and Karl Oyston wouldn’t still be in situ. Venkys appear to be on a par with Donald Trump, Nick Griffin, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson …they’re the unembarrassable.
Two tough away games this week are my immediate concern. Don’t win either and we really do have one foot in League one.
And with a loss-making third-tier dud on their hands, Venkys may look to liquidate rather than search for non-existent sugar daddies.
If dreams come true once in your life you’re lucky, twice is asking a bit.
Testimonials from last week….
Not sure I was cut out for willy-measuring contests but here goes…
“The only thing giving a bad manager more time does is make things worse,” said Johnny Giles once wisely, although having been partly responsible for the hasty departure of Brian Clough from Elland Road he was possibly the last person to expect such sage counsel from.
If only Owen Coyle’s reign had been terminated as swiftly by whatever means, dark or light, a move suggested by some who have proved much smarter than me from the off but which a perennial cynic such as myself considered a bit harsh and extreme at the time.
Another guileless trudge of a home performance was given its inevitable crushing denouement when Tom Cairney, capping a fine performance in a midfield which was everything ours is not, addressed Fulham’s one failing in lacking a final pass to an able striker, by collecting a feeble attempt at a clearance and burying it himself with an elan which is but a fading memory to the Ewood faithful.
The sight of Scott Parker, seven years older than Danny Guthrie and 11 senior to Hope Akpan, running the show with crisp passing, speed of thought and deed, and an energy belying his seniority, served only to stress that whatever combination we try in there, it’s like waiting for a snail race to get going.
The speedy Neeskens Kabano, only introduced to his colleagues on Friday dinnertime, looked a potent threat. Seeing the quality of player teams we once considered ourselves well beyond can bring in is hurtful.
Almost as if to emphasise his blatant cluelessness and paucity of options, Coyle, with a couple of creative midfielders he himself signed on the bench (young Samuelson he described as one of the best youngsters around on capturing him), introduced the defensive-minded Lenihan and sparkless Liam Feeney with no more ambition than to see the draw out rather than win the game.
The very fact that Rovers supporters were partly encouraged by the slight overall improvement in performance and quite understandably gave the team a rousing round of sustained applause was touching in a way but masked a sad back-story. Here was a team being clapped off for nearly holding out for a nil-nil at home. After 3 home games.
(Astonishingly only 9 teams in 29 league and cup games since August 2015 have been beaten at what was laughably dubbed Fortress Ewood at one earlier point this year.)
An improved defensive show, aided and abetted by some Arsenal-like Fulham over-elaboration but significantly brought about on the day a couple of reasonably-seasoned campaigners at this level were introduced to the defence, spared us the indignities of conceding two or three early doors for fun.
Hoban and Williams did little wrong between them on a day possession was largely conceded to the stylish visitors. At least they have experience at this level, a worrying omission on the CV’s of many of Coyle’s recruits.
But we are clutching at very thin straws indeed in these times. Coyle’s claims that we “deserved more from the game” were apparently based on the fact that over the course of 97 minutes on our own midden we had fashioned two half-chances (both falling to Graham who looks like a watered down tribute act to the standout talisman he became last season. “Graham Daniel?”).
The manifestly mind-elsewhere Marshall, presented with a bonus free-kick opportunity after an unconvincing Graham tumble, stroked a virtual back-pass into the foot of the wall from a perfect position.
Few will lament his departure if he goes.
As they say, sometimes you feel you’ve made more effort getting there than one or two are putting in on the field.
Even my pre-teen daughter had groaned when the six minutes went up for extra time, saying : “We’ll never hang on here.” Coyle even made reference to it after: what other manager wouldn’t see a few minutes extra as an opportunity to win a game at home?
Coyle has made 10 signings up to press. On Saturday four of his swiftly-acclaimed first five (”Owen Coyle showing why he was the right choice,” Mike Cheston trumpeted proudly but prematurely to the compliant Lancs Telegraph) weren’t in the starting XI. One wasn’t even on the bench.
If his muddled thinking wasn’t clear enough, the fact that Guthrie, selected on Saturday ahead of Lenihan and two of his prestige Premier League loan acquisitions, subsequently revealed that he has more or less been told to find another club, suggested that he has lost the plot altogether.
Of course he has had to provide replacements for departed pair Duffy (a sad but inevitabble exit for the terrace hero of Griffin Park just a few weeks earlier, not to mention his gobby kin) and Hanley but with Stokes, Feeney, Byrne and Hendrie all struggling to justify a start, the manager is effectively making signings to replace his earlier signings who aren’t now considered good enough.
An admission (if any were needed), in effect that for all the “we’re ready mentally and physically” talk that he now clearly doesn’t believe the squad he chose to begin the season with was equipped for purpose.
Most will sympathise that he isn’t getting a decent financial hand to play with but the departure of his predecessor told any likely applicant that that would be the case as did the fact that nobody thought or undertook to open negotiations with the out-of-contract “big two”.
For that first few weeks of careless preparation alone he deserves to go. We are playing catch up before the end of August. Nobody seriously expects any serious investment on deadline day other than on journeymen such as Helan but a summer of structured team-building by a practitioner used to a budget would have made frantic last-minute panic buys/loans unnecessary.
Those who say: “Who would want the job? Who would come?” have a good point but it is also impossible to believe that there isn’t an out of work manager who could organise even this inadequate collection of players a little better.
And, yes, I am currently regarding a managerial change as a more immediate priority even than any hoped-for alteration of our ownership. While I accept it may have to happen, I don’t believe in throwing the towel in this early in a relegation battle.
You can turn a season around in no time if you know what you’re doing as the likes of Warnock and Lee Johnson showed last season. David Warner breezed into bottom four Huddersfield, kept them up and has transformed the club.
All of them of course work for dedicated and passionately supportive wealthy owners but even at thousands of miles remove with a couple of patsies going back and forth running messages, Cheston and the Rao family ought to be able to get their heads together and nip Coyle’s insane lemming-like dash for the precipice in the bud.
A public meeting this week will attempt to unite different factions and clans of Rovers’ support into some commonality of purpose and deed. I can’t be there but wish them well.
I’ve been to a lot of these things and know that passionate fans will get up, some will speak brilliantly, others will display a fire their choice of words can’t match, calm heads will call for unity and everyone will feel a whole lot better for airing their ire and sharing it with fellow fans.
I would take some convincing that any material effect will follow and as that opinion seems to find disfavour with many, I contacted a pal who describes himself as a”long time supporter, but sadly a non-renewer this season.”
He tells me this season is the first time someone else has had what he has considered “his seat” in the Riverside since the terraces closed.
He nabbed it when the Walkersteel opened, even though he lived in London at the time, maintained it through 15 years living in Birmingham and subsequently almost a decade in Sheffield.
But as he told me he “simply couldn’t bear watching them self-destruct this season week in week out.”
Here’s what he had to say: ” What to do about Venky’s ?
“On such an issue, there will undoubtedly be a spectrum of opinion, and on that spectrum, a distribution curve reflecting die-hards at either end and varying shades of grey; maybe even 50 of them (!) in the middle.
“It’s not a binary issue. I firmly believe that it is possible to be anti-Venky’s yet still want to support your club and equally, it’s possible to remain a supporter yet not want to give any money to Venky’s.
” The secret to ultimate success, in my opinion, is to build consensus and unity, not to fall foul of “divide & rule”.
“I believe it is possible to align behind a principle, yet support different methodologies that are aligned to achieve that ultimate goal.
” How ? I think that to be truly effective, a campaign needs to be strategised, sophisticated and collective. The Charlton Athletic C.A.R.D. protests have been very clever – that is the model for me.
” Where am I on the spectrum ?
” I only want talks about an orderly withdrawal of Venky’s from the club.
“I don’t care about their plans; they have demonstrated at best a brittle bond with Blackburn Rovers, the town, its fans and its heritage. I believe that they need to be replaced – but that’s where it gets tricky.
“A multi-layered campaign giving people the opportunity to contribute at many levels, in their own way is what I’d suggest, in order to unite behind a single compelling vision.
“For example, season ticket holders move to being ad-hoc, game-by-game ticket buyers; anyone attending any home match – don’t buy ANYTHING in the ground – pies, pints, programmes, shirts….NOTHING.
“There will always be people who want to go & that is their privilege but if they want Venky’s out, they can still contribute to the overall aim in other ways and cheer the team on if that’s their wish.
“The key is to consolidate support to a campaign, not to splinter. Give everyone a chance to make a difference.
” What is the end game ?
“There needs to be a clear and consensual end game and for me (Clive..) it’s benevolent, community ownership; but I accept that might have a high price associated.
“It might even have to be non-league alongside FC United of Manchester for instance.
“I’m not sure that viewpoint would necessarily be shared by a majority….or even a significant minority, but it’s how I feel for what it’s worth.
“Venky’s have killed my match day experience and I struggle to forgive them their naive dalliance.
“Some believe Venky’s is best hope of the return of the highest grade football, but I don’t care about that, I want the ownership resolving, I’m prepared to pay the price on the pitch.
“However, I don’t for a minute expect unanimous support of that opinion & that’s where it gets tricky. What is the consensual end game ? How do we identify it and unite behind it ?
“Another opinion here, not a fact for the avoidance of doubt; I suggest strongly avoiding the “something must be done, this is something, let’s do it” trap.
“That might just lead to fragmentation and disdain – see BRAG’s well-intentioned protests in the Steve Kean days. Align action to a strategic objective.
“Ultimately, I believe that money talks. Venky’s will pay attention if their Profit & Loss is hit (And I don’t mean just Rovers’ Profit & Loss, their overall group).
“Who are Venky’s main suppliers ? Who are their main customers ? Who are the other stakeholders in their chicken business ? How can their PR be impacted ?
“THAT’s where I’d focus attention.
“Here’s a link to the CARD campaign referenced earlier.”
I differ slightly in my opinion from our eloquent friend’s (something which responses to my blog and @jimwilkz twitter feed demonstrate is simply beyond the ken of many of the inevitable lunatic fringe), in that I firmly believe the Venkys will exit precisely when they feel like it no matter how concerted, creative or clever the efforts to unseat or humiliate them.
Although I thought long and hard about it – especially as a tight bugger and they went up in price! – I was unwilling to penalise myself by not buying season-tickets which would save me money knowing I will attend at least 15/16 home games or more with my kids.
I even pre-paid for a season’s programmes at a bargain £50 as my daughter collects them (I personally didn’t buy one for 10 years while a certain ex-employee was involved in their production.)
Yes, I have and will spend on kits and merchandise for the girls – how do you tell a 12-year-old who loves the new away kit that she isn’t allowed to have one? – and I’m sure I’ll get asked for a couple of quid for a bag of chips on occasion even if on quality grounds alone I wouldn’t touch the food or gassy keg ale at Ewood.
I do refute, however, suggestions that this column has played no part in attempting to disrupt the Venkys tenure or accusations that I’m “prepared to sit and do nothing.”
Some of those who have maybe read the last two week’s columns want to read the stuff I was writing about Kean and Venkys when, five days before he resigned, the LT Rovers correspondent ran a piece entitled: “It’s time to Get Over Kean Obssession” on the basis that it was obvious Kean was leading us to promotion!
I’ve continued to try to express what many fans feel and often, as above, have sought out guest opinions on weeks where one inevitably feels our Groundhog Day existence has led to repetition and recurrent themes.
This isn’t supposed to be a factual column, most weeks it’s one bloke’s opinion and I’m pretty proud that on a good week it gets more readers than Rovers will be getting for home league games before long.
The Hades-like Stygian misery of BRFCS message board and its vortex of twisted hatred and vitriol (see above) are not for me, I choose only to go on there for a look occasionally and never post; but I will ask for anything libellous to be removed, and believe me as someone who still occasionally gets asked to guest-lecture students on journalism and the law, I’m clued up on what is and isn’t.
For every negative reaction to this column I get a dozen or more well-wishers and endorsements, many from much better and better-known writers than me (I’m constantly amazed how many folk on the forums claim to know what a well-structured, well-written column consists of yet choose to express it by almost proving the complete contrary in a clumsy, misspelt, un-punctuated jumble).
The Accy Observer, to whom I’ve remained loyal having written my first Rovers column on the week of the Trelleborgs game, has a braver editorial policy than you will find in Rovers coverage anywhere else in the local and I’ve never been asked by the editor or sports team to amend a single corruscating word in years of sometime searing and criticism.
I and we will continue to give our opinions without fear or favour.
Enjoy the international break one and all.
Even in the act of throwing us the mildly comforting trinket of a League Cup win at home to a Fourth Division outfit, Owen Coyle’s Rovers insisted on causing maximum discomfort and embarrassment to the pitiful handful of fans who could be bothered to pay to see the dismal spectacle as they comprehensively displayed most of the faults and weaknesses that have made them cannon fodder for all and sundry thus far this woebegone campaign.
“Nowhere near as completely awful as I feared but nowhere near the standard we’d need to be to survive,” said one mate who, like me, had managed to miss the horrors of the defeats to Norwich, Wigan and Cardiff as we emerged from our first look at Coyle’s work-in-not-much-progress, the 2-2 draw at home to Burton on Saturday which left Rovers rooted to the foot of the Championship table.
That was a desperately disappointing outcome featuring the concession of a late goal while leading, a failing which would return to blemish Tuesday’s cup tie.
After the league match which both managers claimed their sides should have won, both with a sliver of justification if little conviction, there were more causes for concern than shafts of light from the end of the tunnel.
The repeated habit of conceding, failure to see out a matter of minutes with a precious lead, disjointed square-peg-round-hole selection, the usual lack of dynamism or mobility in central midfield were only partly compensated for by a fine debut from a local lad who looks calm and measured beyond his years in an important position, a belter of a goal from the oft messed-around but rightly restored Conway and a decent full debut and first goal for Gallagher, raw and unpolished but the one loan signing showing signs of making a significant impact.
It’s difficult to credit the fact that both Lambert and Coyle opened their respective tenures by signing what they surely considered replacements for Conway. What on earth they perceived Bennett or Feeney have to offer that the Scotsman hasn’t remains a mystery. Yes he has dips in form but it would be an insult if he wasn’t one of the first names on the teamsheet at the moment.
Otherwise Burton, forcing the best save of the day from Steele, hitting the bar with a spectacular effort and going close on another couple of occasions were well worth their point, not an encouraging state of affairs when they began the season as most people’s tip for the drop and most Rovers fans’ hopes to occupy one of the bottom three spots which avoiding is starting to look more and more unlikely.
Any remaining half-full glasses were of course tipped unceremoniously netherwards and emptied within 40 minutes against Crewe as our modest EFL Cup opposition galloped into a two-goal lead, even by this stage of the season an apparent first-half inevitability against Rovers, which you could hardly argue they didn’t fully merit.
Their scouting report proved their undoing however. Surely they had bargained that, as for the last four years, Jason Lowe wouldn’t move forward and pick out a pass or that no Rovers player would have the wherewithal to saunter into the penalty area to try and get on the end of such a move and when Hope Akpan defied club policy to do just that, the confusion and disbelief in the visitors’ ranks was plain for all to see.
Must be worth trying again an odd time, no?
Even then, only a flurry of fine saves from Raya, making up for a sorry but all-too-predictable earlier howler (“He’d have expected to save it on another day,” said the manager rather unhelpfully) and the woodwork saved Coyle’s men from falling even more humiliatingly behind as Crewe threatened to run riot.
Having then established some kind of territorial superiority, mainly after withdrawing jury-out pair Byrne and Stokes, subs Guthrie and Graham bringing some coherence, the Championship side finally set about their business to take the initiative, including a joyous first goal for the eye-catching Wharton and another fine Conway effort; that ought to have been that until a blunder by another who has done little to impress, Hendrie, gave the excellent Alex Kiwomya (nephew of a doughty adversary from years past) the opportunity to set up Dagnall, a prolific and clinical veteran marksman.
While Rovers always looked the likelier extra time winners, particularly with set-pieces, Kiwomya looked exactly the kind of player we should have been looking to loan in – busy, quick-witted, bright and inventive right up to minute 120. Credit to Crewe who launched their first long ball of the game with two hours up on the clock.
It was inevitable that the winner would come from a corner and almost as certain that it would come from Duffy, a big bloke who is pretty good at heading. Lazy “from zero to hero” headlines of course ensued but in truth, a senior defender who has been part of a unit which shipped three in 90 minutes to a League Two side ought to be looking at more than replays of a scrambled goal as he analyses his performance.
Not that he will spend too much time over it, I imagine as a move to Brighton now looks inevitable.
A reliable source told me that 7,400 was the number through the turnstiles on Saturday rather than the 10,000 officially given out so it stands to reason that a glamour-free cup tie would be similarly woefully attended. If season ticket sales and league attendances are at their lowest for 20-odd years, ditto for the most prosaic of all-pay games.
Talk of a “boycott” seems a little romanticised in my view. I might well not have bothered myself but for a last-minute decision but I don’t really class opting not to bother as some form of righteous insurrection against Venkys.
One or two cerebrally-challenged Twitterati were rueing an “opportunity missed” on the basis that a complete no-show by any home fans at all would have generated humiliating publicity for Venkys. I’ve got news for you – it will NEVER, NEVER happen that no-one goes through the gate no matter how much post-Uncle Jack Citizen Smith “I’m Rovers Till There’s No Prospect Of Spending Loads of Money and Being Successful” types sloganeer and hashtag themselves into a frenzy of high dudgeon over those who continue to need their fix, however painful.
And secondly, Mrs Desai and the Raos plainly do not give the smallest portion of a monkey’s what new indignity is visited on the club. A few semi-literate half-informed “man of the people” social media soundbites from the likes of Robbie Savage and Stan Collymore may sustain the type of dissidents who think an empty Ewood would provide a historic turning of the tide but in the overall scheme of this continuing psychodrama, it’s futile tokenism.
Whatever the misdeeds or perceived crimes of the owners are, I’m personally happy that I and a few more were there to cheer young Wharton’s first goal and encourage him and other young players caught in this maelstrom of rancour through no fault of theirs.
Reports of fans harassing Coyle’s family in the stand are extremely disturbing. If Rovers fans are keen that the media portray their war on Venkys in a positive light, be aware that any news editor worth his salt will also jump on and highlight that kind of behaviour without a second thought.
I’ve even had some mild aggression directed at me on Twitter. After describing fans hoping for a blanket boycott at Ewood as ”feeble-minded fantasists” (on the inarguable basis that it is no more than a fantasy) one testosterone –fuelled numpty asked: “Would you come and say that in a pub full of fans?”
Presumably there are pubs where resolute non-attenders gather? Most of the people in pubs packed with fans near Ewood are actually still going to the game so quite why they’d take umbrage is somewhat of a mystery.
As I said last week, please don’t try to impose on any fan anything he or she is uncomfortable with. Gates will drop naturally enough to an even more alarming level if fortunes and standards don’t improve.
One wonders if Coyle can harness what miniscule positivism he found in Tuesday’s win and convert it to tangible motivation into a home game against Fulham who have made a fine start.
A small chink in the London side’s armour emerged at weekend when their manager complained subtly that a stats guru had veto’d a couple of likely signings, Ben Marshall among those Jokanovic coveted but has been refused the go-ahead to sign.
On this season’s displays, you have to say the stats guy might be spot on, and the Cottagers have instead recruited James Wilson and Ragnar Sigurdsson this week with talk of a couple more to come. My main hope is that they continue their spree and field 11 guys who haven’t been introduced to each other before Saturday lunchtime.
One wonders in what obscure bargain-basement markets Coyle will look to bolster a squad which is plainly and painfully inadequate with days of the window to go. Callum MacManaman and Jack Cork would be worthwhile considering but I can’t be the only one having sleepless nights over the prospect of a pretty raw 6ft 7ins French centre half being chucked into our predicament.
One hopes we don’t get a painful reminder on Saturday of the prowess of Tom Cairney, whose sale out of the blue last summer effectively signalled the point at which we threw the towel in on trying to build a play-off side.
The descent since has been more vertiginous than many imagined but little surprise to those who lived through five years of a top-flight side being dismantled, good players sold off one by one, from 1966 to 1971 – with the inevitable consequences which now look set to condemn those who fail to learn from Rovers history to repeat them.
Footnote: I thoroughly enjoyed a first visit as a home season-ticket holder to the new Rovers Under-23 team base at Leyland’s LFA ground. Whether it will appeal as much in drizzly November or freezing February is debatable but David Dunn and Damien Johnson’s young, well organised and industrious side grew into a tough game against a useful Middlesbrough side and possibly finished the 0-0 draw the stronger on a shirt-sleeve night before just over 300 souls.
The one veteran Wes Brown looked eminently comfortable in the 62 minutes or so he played and as Coyle obviously regards him highly, it seems inevitable he’ll be offered a contract – provided Coyle is here this time next week!
Deadlines demand that I write this before Rovers’ result at Cardiff is known.
Hopefully, you will all be reading it after we have pulled off an unlikely win but with Cardiff without a goal before we breezed into town , one rather feared the contrary on the back of another alarming capitulation at the DW Stadium, where, as I predicted last week, games between ourselves and Wigan are often eventful and laden with powerful sub-plots.
Our previous visit had seen Rudy Gestede left out for that one game (he was back the following week scoring against Swansea in the FA Cup) as his “head wasn’t right.” I’m not wholly sympathetic to that kind of apologetic football parlance but given surely the least surprising news for some time that Ben Marshall and Shane Duffy have turned down recent contract upgrades, one is left to wonder if Rovers had even four or five on the field with their minds on the job.
The hapless Henley at left-back, the equally ill-fitting Lowe on the other side, a centre half and winger who want away, two kids in the engine room and Danny Graham looking increasingly as if he’s kicking himself for not waiting for a more ambitious suitor did not suggest a unified and focussed camp and, with a goalkeeper still yet to fully convince, thus it unfolded.
As with Norwich at Ewood a week before, Wigan didn’t have to do much to get their passing game going and stretch us all over the shop and there are only so many times you can gift the opposition a two-goal start and repair the damage. This does not appear to be a side with the required substance or character to put up even that degree of fight occassionally.
The vaguest flicker of a revival was snuffed out by another slick Wigan build-up capped off by Duffy’s inevitable tragic-comic contribution. The pitiful subsequent sideshow of this serially moronic tweeter shutting his Twitter account down while family members railed at the club for dragging him down merely served to emphasise the unwise and fatuous nature of players taking to social media to have their already colossal egos stroked.
Almost as despicable is people celebrating Henley’s hamstring injury which mercifully takes a struggling young player being asked to do a job for which he is ill-equipped out of the firing line. If you’re one of those who’s expressed delight at his misfortune, please don’t ever tell me the media portrays Rovers fans in an unfavourable light.
And as for the pondlife taunting Coyle’s 19-year-old son about the possibility of his dad getting the sack, you really need to have a good long look at yourself and your suitability to interact on social media with other human beings, @reggers3101 I’m talking to you. Cowardly and despicable stuff.
Although not the only Championship side to have started dismally, inevitably at a club where hysteria is never far from the surface, all manner of overwrought opprobrium has been unleashed and focus has shifted onto the perceived crimes and manifest failings of our absentee hands-off, non-management owners as distant and detatched as ever from what is quickly becoming a potentially catastrophic footballing plight.
While I’m as convinced as anyone that the brothers and sisters in Pune have had their pants royally pulled down throughout their reign, I’m not sure that becoming hysterical about stuff we all know happened five years ago is anything other than a waste of energy.
Getting to the top of the hashtag charts won’t convert into points to propel us up the Championship table and while we know that some outrageous stuff went on in the early Venkys years, quite what was illegal or in contravention of any rules – it’s not a criminal offence to be greedy, or an idiot – remains as vague as ever.
A lot of this stuff has a kind of “Occupy the refectory!” feel about it. Actually, that might not be a bad idea, especially as the Blues Bar has Sky and shows the home matches live on a big screen.
I’m not yet at the stage here I feel I need to support any boycott which centres on non-attendance. Having missed one home game, I need some value for my season ticket outlay and at my age in my state of health I don’t have the luxury a 23 or 35 year old has of deciding to do something else and come back when success looks a possibility.
What I would ask is that no fan puts pressure on any other to do anything he/she is uncomfortable with.
I‘m personally more concerned and intrigued about how Coyle landed the job than how much Steve Kean could have been in theory paid in bonuses if eventualities A, B and C had occurred or what Colin Hendry earned. A cursory search of “Gael Givet” and “contract” (throw in “lingerie” for a real laugh), not to mention the memory of Corrado Grabbi being purchased for £7.5m, may point to a possibility that nefarious dealings are not unique to Venkys tenure.
There is nothing about how the club conducts its PR can surprise me. After working briefly for someone who later was responsible for it, then as editor for an official Rovers magazine I once got a call off a long departed and forgotten Ewood marketing bod complaining that I’d failed to put any kind of positive spin on Alan Shearer’s departure. Idiocy wasn’t invented in 2010 any more than football was created in 1992.
Priority for me now is the next half dozen games. Carry on like this and it’s from winning at Arsenal to Highbury, Fleetwood in 25 years, never mind promotion and Mike Newell popping one in at the Mural End.
Our immediate decline on the field needs arresting before we can even think about the very nature of the ownership of the institution changing.
While I have no great liking for the slightly nauseating, sneering gamesmanship-heavy manner and methods of Neil Warnock, I’d be paying Coyle and the three amigos he inevitably shipped in up and sending someone to get down on their knees and beg him to save us.
Talk was when he expressed interest in the job in summer, he wanted his own staff to handle training early in the week and turn up about Thursday till matchday. This of course was a problem when the job spec specified working with Irvine, Kelly and the tubby goalkeeping coach whose name eludes me after an eminently forgettable contribution.
(All three of course were gone within eight weeks, as anyone who vaguely knows that it’s a football truism that managers surround themselves with their regular cohorts, knew they would be.)
While I understood the reasons that a bloke spending two or three days a week managing us from Cornwall could be perceived as unacceptable, it does actually beat leaving a court jester in charge full-time.
Whatever the result at Cardiff last night – and we’d all shake on a dour nowt apiece as I write this – we have a triple bill of home games coming up which could either kick-start the campaign or further embarrass us. Burton and Crewe will surely have no fears about coming here on the back of some decent performances while Fulham , a team I’ve fancied but been spectacularly wrong about for two seasons, look in ominous form.
I’d usually agree with those who say give a manager a dozen games or so – check out Howard Kendall’s early months.
But five more games like we’ve just seen and there’s virtually no saving this situation.
That, not historical malpractice, is what wants addressing without delay.