“I said: “I’m so happy, I could die,”
“She said: “Drop dead,” then left with another guy.
(Elvis Costello, “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” 1977)
Relegation, when it comes, is almost never unseen, unexpected, unconsidered.
It’s been on your mind for days, weeks, months, like that crushingly inevitable moment when you get the phone call or face-to-face harsh truth from a lover (text message or tweet these days maybe, I guess) confirming that a relationship you cherished and desperately wanted to remain in is over.
You’ve known things have been on the skids a little while, aren’t the way they once were but cling to the few scraps, the few bright moments when it all seems like the best of the old times knowing in your heart of hearts deep down you’re soon to be dumped and consigned to history.
There’ve been too many bad days, sneaking suspicions, awkward situations, poor decisions to go back to where it was good. Past the point of no return.
Gee, I even went to Mass on Sunday morning, exactly the kind of thing you do in a dire situation looking for help when you know you’re beyond being able to sort things out yourself.
Sometimes, miraculously, the old passions and feelings seem to be momentarily rekindled, just like when Rovers went two up in exactly the kind of dream start you’d want to an idyllic sunny afternoon on which you’ve set your hopes of sorting everything out.
But after the good stuff, the dark clouds and doubts and mistrust gather again. The realisation hits home that there’s someone else whose prospects are a little more attractive than yours and you suddenly feel small and diminished again.
Damn, newly-flash and showy Forest could even afford to squander a penalty and broaden the goal difference factor; Birmingham predictably found Bristol City less intense about commitment than you’d expect and all that’s left is to drag the last date out as long as you can…
My dad, unlike me a man of few words but all of them wise, only ever gave me one sentence of advice about affairs of the heart.
“If somebody’s let you down, hurt you and made a fool of you once, don’t go running back and let them do it all over again,” he counselled sagely.
This was my sixth relegation! We never learn and we can’t stop ourselves going back for more pain.
With Venky’s the tragic-comic added factor, we even got the cursory Dear John letter a colleague at work clearly made up for them the day after and we can look forward to months of pleas to hear us out and phone calls going ignored and unanswered.
If it hurries along their departure, all well and good, but even in this abyss it seems a long shot; knights on silver chargers carrying £130m of spare cash to clear the debt are hard to imagine and they seem perversely willing to brazen it out knowing what hurt they are causing but able to ignore it like a depressed debtor pretending everything’s normal and refusing to pick the mail off the mat and see the damage.
We’ve flirted and skirted with disaster in truth from the very first season down in 2012-13 when only Jordan Rhodes’ goals kept us from successive relegations despite eye-watering transfer expenditure and wages that first failed-manager-strewn year.
Although in both of Gary Bowyer’s full seasons we were never in the bottom half after the turn of the year.
Perhaps Bowyer’s tenure will be one day re-evaluated as a comparative golden era in the way that Bob Saxton’s belatedly and genuinely and deservedly has. Better the devil you know and all that..
Your gran might have wisely counselled: “You’d have been better off sticking with that nice quiet one..”
I don’t personally subscribe to the theory that Bowyer’s squad was 24-carat promotion potential material which another coach would have done that much better with.
We finished pretty much where we deserved both times in my opinion and the sale of Cairney heralded that the “going-for-it” years were summarily and abruptly terminated.
Since then the policy has been clear. Sell anything of value and try to make a do on the cheap. It can actually be done if the kids and the bargains are good enough and expertly coached and managed but that’s unlikely with a succession of oafs running the show up above.
The subsequent Bowyer/Lambert campaign gave all the indications that relationships were on the rocks and long periods of awkward, grumpy not-speaking-to-each-other silences were the order of the day.
And you can’t keep getting away with it. Coyle’s appointment was an affront to the fans, not because of his Burnley connections – if Mowbray quit who wouldn’t welcome say, Steve Cotterill? – but because his record since a fairly flukey play-off success with the Clarets was dire beyond mitigation.
Not every one of his acquisitions was an abject failure (Gallagher, Williams and Mulgrew almost unqualified plusses) but by January – and he shouldn’t have made it to anywhere near Christmas – there was every reason for new Director of Football Paul Senior not to be convinced that his targets would improve matters.
Trouble was, for all his talk of signing 150 great players for Wednesday and Charlton, the impasse between Senior and Coyle engendered only inertia when major surgery was needed.
And here we are with it all crumbled around us, wreckage.
In football though, there aren’t “plenty more fish in the sea.”
We’re not allowed to contemplate divorce and transferring our affections elsewhere.
All that’s left are the “where did it all go wrong?” post-mortems.
Looking back on the season I will admit I owe a couple of message board posters a (kind of) apology.
I never want Rovers to lose and habitually abhor supporters taking to social media to wish defeat on us even if it’s genuinely hoped that it will hasten the departure of a detested manager.
But if you were to ask me the worst thing that happened all season to seal our fate I’d have to take you back to New Year’s Day. The “I hope we get stuffed today” lot might have had a point.
I was sat in a Budapest “Scottish-themed” pub (disappointingly there wasn’t an unintelligible sweary bloke sat on his own at the end of the bar cursing unspecifically) with two Geordie couples in their late 60’s watching us play Newcastle.
I didn’t go mad or taunt the superannuated Mags as Charlie Mulgrew’s added-time winner hit the net as surely as I knew that free-kick at Brentford was finding the target as soon as I saw him spot it and weigh the top corner up, cold-eyed and calculating like Nicklaus in his pomp.
I was delighted of course, seeing us turn 3% possession or whatever we had into three precious points but as I reflected with my urbane, multi-lingual pal Peterjon, a footballing travel writer of continents far and wide who was polite enough to enquire what I made of the outcome of a game he had no particular interest in but had indulged me by watching with me, for an hour or so after, the realisation hit me that the result had undoubtedly bought Owen Coyle an undeserved further few weeks we could ill afford him to be granted.
A 4 -0 home defeat that day and we may have had a new manager in with the chance to reshape the squad in the window.
A meaningless, cosmetic cup win followed and only one narrow defeat in the rest of January ensued as Senior – appointed days after the Newcastle win – allowed the man whose relationship with fans had become fractured in a squalid and unseemly denouement to a Christmas defeat at Barnsley to stay in the job but simultaneously undermined any residual slither of authority Coyle clung onto by vetoing his attempts to bolster the squad, allowing him to persist in squawking his inane but baseless optimistic gobbledegook and presenting him only with all-too-infrequently energised boulevardiers Marvin Emnes and Lucas Joao.
Ironically, the team that Tony Mowbray, appointed too late to truly assemble and shape his own squad, settled on by the end of the season, the one which beat admittedly dismal Villa and shell-shocked Brentford as they looked to add a carnival flourish to a good season, was pretty much available to Coyle all the time from the end of August, injuries notwithstanding.
There can’t only have been me on Sunday who watched that performance and thought that if that XI had been established as the week-in-week-out side – and I still firmly believe any club should have an unmistakeable first-choice XI identified however much they rotate – or was starting the season again now we would survive with some comfort.
The three central defenders, two mobile full-backs pushing on and an industriously honest trio in midfield seemed far more structured than our wasteful months attempting 4-4-2 and whatever other doomed confections.
Elliott Bennett, possibly fourth choice winger with the execrable like of Feeney ahead of him at times, has found a new lease of life as a snapper and harrier in midfield while Guthrie probed and Lowe gamely, if seldom constructively, toiled and while Gallagher and Graham have never had the supply from wide they would dream of, the organisation and discipline of the side in the 46th game was a distant galaxy from the shambolic rabble which began the campaign in jaw-droppingly incompetent disarray hosting Norwich.
Not that it could save us of course. Mowbray deserves enormous credit for restoring some pride, going so close to salvation and for statistically obtaining a points per game ratio which would do nicely over a season if mid-table was the aim.
I’m not as carried away as some and totally sold on him – the horror shows at home to Barnsley and Bristol City and away at Wolves, the points squandered late on in games and the repeated tendency to concede the first goal of the game in the first half were all faults for which his predecessor would have been crucified.
That “he got 1.5 points per game” stuff is just that, a reasonably interesting stat, to me. I never yet saw a final league table in Rothmans with anybody’s standing averaged out on the performance of a manager over the first or last 15 matches.
But he carried himself with sufficient dignity, common sense and likeability to stand out like a beacon as the very best that Blackburn Rovers 2017 could expect or deserve.
There are any number of unfathomables and wild cards to manifest themselves before Mowbray agrees to continue – and the pervading sense of chaos and insanity was merely compounded by the departure of the oddly unlovable Senior this week.
Captured on camera looking bilious as the whistle sounded at Brentford, he resembled a jewel-encrusted rival moonshiner in Boardwalk Empire who’s just been rumbled and is staring down the barrel of the shotgun held by Nookie Thompson’s half-masked assassin.
We are so used to feeding on scraps that even with no apparent chain of command above or below, if the upshot was Mowbray’s retention it would provide a major and heartening boost at a time when the job looks as attractive as the Sheriff’s gig in Blazing Saddles.
Entirely predictably, the media big-hitters looking for the story-of-the-day, Thursdays chip paper, have seized on our demise to garner a few likes, retweets and “Well said Henry/Olivers” and such for basically saying: “Rubbish football owners are horrible and nasty and they should come out on the stage and say sorry.”
Thanks, lads, you’ve really put our dilemma in the global spotlight there. I imagine Balaji has summoned a camera crew for his wholly humble heart “mea culpa” apologia pro vita sua now you lot are onto him for ten minutes.
A couple even seemed to spectacularly miss the glaringly obvious fact that the “Message From The Owners” presented on Rovers’ website was clearly the work of the club’s beleaguered press department, who earlier ludicrously fancified a Senior “on the record” statement which was anything but and contained not a single direct quote, making a mockery of the definition as far as I or any other trained journalist would understand it.
Even a few 2011-12 pieces were resurrected.
What that tells you is there’s nothing new. No new interviews. No new clips. No new soundbites. No new allowing Granada or BBC NW to come and film the splendour of their surroundings and extol their magnaminity to the local poor.
In short, they’ve finished with us. They’ve found something new. Dumped us. Chucked us.
All that remains is they bring the solicitors in, formalise it and put a restraining order on us going near them.
Let’s hope someone like Ian Battersby, who always sounds eminently sensible, common-sense and practical, gets the chance to pick up whatever pieces can be glued together with whoever can be persuaded to inherit this car crash.
I’ve no idea if he or his associates possess the wealth to take it on – and the picture painted on Radio Lancs’ Battersby/Alan Nixon special was gruesome indeed – or if there are consortia out there who would be reckless/foolish/daft/ambitious (delete the three you consider least appropriate) to finance such an undertaking but Battersby, with his metaphor of “understanding the club and town’s DNA” hits home with locals as no fly-by-night mercenary has done under Venkys’ tenure.
Rovers fans of course won’t jump at the first new suitor who flashes a square of thigh and will insist on a lengthy period of due diligence and fit-and-proper research won’t they?
Of course they won’t. Just as when Venkys were initially welcomed as cash-chucking Bollywood billionaires, anyone with a sharp suit and a line in sweet talk will be jumped into bed with!
We’d all be exhorting the FA and Football League to get the deal done a quarter of an hour after anyone registered the merest interest.
In the meantime, Division Three as we used to call it. A league below PNE for the first time since 1980, two divisions below Burnley for the first time in 42 years.
At our house we’ll renew our tickets and join the 6,000 or whatever decide to stick it out. Not out of any feeling of virtue or superiority. We just don’t think we’d enjoy not going more. Even when it’s crap.
“Funding Venkys”? Sorry, mates, you won’t make me feel any guiltier on that basis than suggesting subscribing to Sky is supporting evil. It’s as natural as renewing my cricket club subs.
I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t – I know how this works going down two divisions in five years and I know the gates dwindle accordingly – but at my time of life not going ain’t an option. I’m chuffed our girls have said they’re going again next season too.
If I decided to boycott, protest or whatever then they won three out of the first five or whatever early doors I’d be back anyway so what’s the point pretending you don’t fancy them!
I recall the first season we spent outside the top two divisions. Although I’d only briefly seen us play in the top flight at a very young age, we’d done what we’ve done now – first tier to third in five years.
Believe me, Plainmoor, The Shay and Spotland were even more of a culture shock for older fans then than Fleetwood and Gigg Lane will be next season.
Allowed to travel away on the coach with my mates for the first time we’d arrive at grounds – the description “stadia” would have been heartily guffawed at, I can say without fear of contradiction – two hours before kick-off, and, pre pub age like the big lads, we’d pay and go on as the first turnstile opened.
Largely unsegregated, we’d wander around three or all four sides of scruffy, tumbleweed and crumbling terraced grounds largely untroubled as time passed slowly, before the partisan and hostile home contingent steadily grew. Nervous moments followed. Where the hell are our lot? When will they leave the pub and get here?
What a relief as the first beery Rovers chants were blown in on the breeze and you knew our tanked-up travelling army were on their way!
Then when they trapped up, noisy and full of ale-fuelled bravado, we’d discreetly join them and stand in the middle of the big lads chanting and waving our hitherto hidden scarves like we owned the place, as if nothing had intimidated us all along.
But it was a muddled, complicated road back to the Second Tier. Imagine if we’d all jacked it in after a few setbacks. Three wins in the first 15 games we had.
Proudly, there was never a Division Three gate in the four patchy years under Furphy and Lee it took to get back up less than the disaffected and disillusioned 3,971 who had watched what, for all anyone knew, could have been our last ever Division Two game against Bristol City in May 1971.
I’m trying to imagine Gordon Lee’s likely welcome to a “Director of Football” suggesting transfer targets. He got it sorted and we all loved the ride.
Roll forward to ’79 and I’m on the cusp of manhood, just passed my driving test and started work about a month before as we plummet down into Division Three. I’ll be honest, there haven’t been many seasons that live longer in the memory than the one that saw us promoted back immediately.
Another dreadful start for Howard Kendall. He certainly wouldn’t have survived today.after three wins in 14 games we stood 21st, bottom four. We were still 20th into November.
Imagine the barrage on social media and messageboards for a rookie gaffer with those stats.
I turned 21 on a day we won 3-0 at home to Wimbledon, then went straight down town and up the New Inns.
We’d begun that mid-January day in 14th place and little did I know that it was the second win in a run of 14 out of 15 games (the other was a draw) which took us back up.
I met my wife for the first time on a bus to Exeter in the middle of that run, and generally loved every minute of the very special camaraderie we had on the away match coaches as Kendall’s teams held sway.
A sing-song that went on for hours in a sun-kissed beer garden opposite Oxford’s Manor Ground is one of my fondest Rovers memories, it was very heaven to be there that day. I would have to wait 20-odd years to marry the red-head in a red shirt and blue pants I was desperately hoping to impress all that day.
Great days, knowing nothing of what was to come in the rest of the 1980’s or the incredible decade that followed, caring only nominally for what had been before, living only for the weekend and the game.
Thick as thieves, us. Just kids. Enough money for a few pints and in love with our team.
It’s difficult to imagine the world, or at least our world, being so simple again isn’t it? At least the grounds will be fit for human habitation these days.
Fleetwood will be a novelty alright, Rochdale, Oldham, Bury, Wigan, maybe even Carlisle or Blackpool, Bradford possibly more familiar Northern opponents of the not-that-distant past .
I doubt you’ll interest my wife in a trip to Wimbledon after seven hours broke down opposite Wormwood Scrubs on an Aspens Coach on the occasion of her last visit in 1979.
Glamorous it will not be. I went on a Fleetwood v Great Harwood game in January 2001, merely to rack up mileage and night assignment cash expenses, and a more desolate, godforsaken evening you cannot imagine. It was impossible to conceive that we would one day start on the same divisional fixture list. Mercifully, their Highbury stadium is an altogether different beast to the creaky, crumbling, rainswept relic I and 37 others braved the elements in to watch the game that night.
I’ll bet not many Rovers fans have been on a ground with a Workingman’s Club backing onto half of one side!
But that’s football .
A lot of what has happened and will happen soon will be hard to swallow.
Even as I write this managers, directors, players may be plotting their departure from Blackburn Rovers and rendering my musings hopelessly outdated.
For a certain generation though who lived through the bleak years of the past, love and fidelity are unconditional however badly we’re treated.
I used to cover Golden Weddings in my early days at the Accy Observer.
Old couples who’d stayed together for 50 years – exactly how long I’ve been an Ewood regular now – would time and again give the same replies to the same question about what the secret of their loyalty and togetherness was.
“You’ve got to give and take, have a laugh and never go to bed on an argument,” they’d always say.
Supporting a football team is mostly giving, giving, giving year in year out with not a lot of taking anything back, currently very few laughs and you more often than not go to bed with a totally frustrated and unsatisfied heart.
But as the old couples would often say “No point swapping now ….it’s too late to train another bugger.”
BLUE EYED BOY
L to R Bloggers Blue Eyed Boy, Old Blackburnian, Riversider23 and MarpleLeaf