Have Venkys Stopped Caring?/Farewell Coley

A season during which you come back with three points from Old Trafford and twice return from Merseyside unbeaten – all within the space of a few weeks – oughtn’t to be beset with relegation fears.
Many of those visiting fans exiting Goodison on Saturday might have thought that a fourth excellent result in five league games finally signified a turning of the corner.
A point away from home is never to be sniffed at and Rovers remained out of the bottom three after drawing, perhaps a little disappointingly, with a depleted Everton.
Rovers were probably slightly the better of two painfully limited sides and had early chances to go ahead before falling behind to an opener hat should certainly not have stood. If Fellaini had had a biro handy he could have autographed the ball before cobbing it to Cahill.
But once again, my main man Goodwillie demonstrated that there is no finer finisher in world football with his midriff from six inches out! Perhaps he will justify my faith in him yet!
Everton were nearer to winning it at the end but that would have sealed one of the most unmerited “doubles” of all time.
So walking away it was almost possible for a Blackburn Rovers supporter to imagine that not everything which lies ahead may necessarily be negative. Almost.
But stark reality hit home within minutes, really, as Bolton cantered into a two-goal lead against a woeful Liverpool side who never threatened to do us a favour.
Back into the relegation zone we slumped as QPR and Bolton sneaked out. It is worrying that those two could both continue to gather momentum at a greater rate than we are capable of doing.
Wednesday’s home game against Newcastle should tell us much about how genuine, serious and sustained our own battle for survival is going to be.
The Magpies have been vulnerable on the road of late, hammered at Norwich, Liverpool and Fulham, and are presumably without Ba and Tiotte, their star turns this season, both on African Nations duty. However Senegal have been eliminated after two games and Ba and recent signing Cisse may engineer a route home which enables them to miss the meaningless final group fixture and return to the Newcastle squad for the Ewood match.
The protest organisers continue to express their dissent but predictably are now focussing almost solely on the owners as the asperity vented at Kean has had no tangible effect.
I am utterly bewildered by the sheer volume of “Press Releases” (usually about ten times too long for any busy news outlet to consider), blogs, lists of grievances and “questions we want to put to the owners,” coming from any confusing number of fan websites, organisations etc.
One of the more outlandish calls-to-arms I saw this week suggested that “20,000 Rovers fans could each put £1,000 in to buy the club for £20m.” Goodness – imagine the committee meetings then! This for a club that can hardly raise 15,000 season ticket holders at less than £250 a throw!
It looks unlikely we are going to have any “ready to hit the ground running” recruits in our line-up and the continuing lack of funds – coupled with the seeming desperation to offload players, Formica the latest – hints at the greater gloom enveloping the organisation.
With the maelstrom of wrath that was unleashed at Steve Kean slightly evaporating, it is inarguable that performances since the nadir of the Bolton game have improved.
But my gut instinct tells me it is all going to be too little, too late.
Things happen, or more pointedly don’t happen, on so many layers or levels at Ewood these days that it’s perfectly possible that results on the field are only mildly relevant.
If Kean briefly looks like he may conjure a revival, he may find the rug pulled from under his feet if the squad isn’t bolstered significantly.
We are assured Hoilett and Samba will not be allowed to leave but if there is any change of heart on that, better t’were done quickly than mess around until half past eleven on deadline night with no prospect of replacements.
But while we juggle conventional footballing pros and cons there are well-founded and chilling fears that the club as we have known it may not continue to function as it has in any long, medium or even short term.
The lamentable saga of Venkys’ unmitigatedly disasatrous ownership was at least imparted in the most scornful manner imaginable to their compatriots this week when the flagship EconomicTimes Of India published a lengthy front-cover seven-page article caricaturing, lampooning and documenting the folly of their embarrassing and irresponsible tenure.
It was a credit to the well-informed sources over here who must have provided much of the detail but whether being briefly identified as wealthy but clueless dabblers in a sport no-one on the sub-continent cares a fig about will have the slightest effect on the cussedly obstinate Mrs Desai or her newly-invisible siblings is another matter.
The softening of the fury towards Kean, unabsolved as Venkys dutiful mouthpiece in passing on unfeasible pledges and promises over the same period, has focussed most of the ire on the chicken plutocrats whose latest insult and outrage has been to appoint the Brazilian bloke who feeds the hens in Sao Paolo as chief transfer fixer for the remaining duration of the window!
Kean’s once-frequent summonses to Pune appear not to have been as regular of late. It would be nice to think he has actually told them he has a big enough job on without them, but I suspect that the Rao brothers and their sister have just totally lost interest.
That would be the ultimate insult – our club owned by people who no longer care what happens to it, as if it was a failing investment in a hatchery in Venezuela or somewhere.
There was a timely evocation this week of what can happen when a football club descends into financial chaos when Portsmouth were issued with a winding-up order.
A succession of empty-promises owners, frauds, charlatans and idiots have sashayed through Fratton Park along the road to ruination. And remember this was a club which initially did fulfil promises to lash money about signing big name players and managers and making cup finals.
So while it is currently difficult to imagine anything more cursed and calamitous than Venkys’ reign at Ewood, don’t for a minute think it isn’t a possibility.

• The memory blurs with passing years and I can’t remember the exact date I took over as Sports Editor on the Accrington Observer. I would occasionally deputise for my predecessor Chris Lloyd and pitch up at places like Buxton or Burscough to watch teams managed by the likes of Leighton James, Billy Rodaway, Tony Greenwood and Wayne Harrison.
And what I can tell you is that never-ending succession was all within a three-year period!
Much as I enjoyed the occasional weekend or midweek racking up a few quid in mileage and earning a Friday off, Stanley, if not quite a club going nowhere, were taking their time and a rather circuitous route if they were they heading anywhere of note.
A bewildering succession of coaches and managers had failed to really progress the club from its status as local also-rans who were simply glad to be in existence at all after the traumas of the 1960’s.
As Stanley floundered after their 1968 rebirth, the likes of Altrincham, Southport, Morecambe, Chorley, Great Harwood, Rossendale United and Colne Dynamoes and yes, even little Bamber Bridge vied for the title of the area’s leading Non-League club although none could ever make the step up to the Football League.
I think it was one Boxing Day, maybe 1998, when I saw Stanley go down 5-0 at home to Bamber Bridge. The prospects couldn’t have seemed much dimmer than they did that day as the faithful few trooped home, their Festive Goodwill evaporated.
And Stanley certainly weren’t in the greatest of shape when I saw them slip into the Unibond First Division in the Spring of 1999.
Later that summer, Chairman Eric Whalley appointed as his next manager a burly, rumbustious centre-forward I had first seen play for Morecambe – and score – in the very first game I ever got sent to cover for a paper, the Chorley Guardian, the 1995 Lancashire Cup Final against Bamber Bridge at Deepdale.
Coleman had more than 400 senior non-league goals under his belt and I knew he played like a man who’d knock his own gran’s wheel-chair over if it meant scrambling one over the line from a yard out.
But his fledgling managerial career had rather floundered at Ashton United and no-one, not even man-with-a-mission Mr Whalley could have fantasised that Coleman would still be Stanley manager more than 12 years later with the club firmly established in the upper half of Football League Two, the “Who Are They?” gags a tired old line.
The first week John was in the job, a photo I had taken at the Crown Ground somehow summed up his future modus operandi. He was captured with four of his first signings alongside him and inseparable number two Jimmy Bell: they were, from memory, Robbie Williams, Mark Brennan, Peter Cavanagh and Jay Flannery. These were his faithful, trusted troops from Ashton and from Merseyside local football, surely the most fiercely-competitive in the UK.
All clad in training kit and shorts, boss and assistant and new signings, it summed up the no-nonsense, hands-on work ethic, the loyalty and comradeship which was to take Stanley into the relative stratosphere.
More and more incomings followed, Payne, Shirley, Ceraolo, Burns…priority number one to get out of this division and back to the Unibond Premier League.
It didn’t get off to the best of starts – Stanley lost 1-0 away to Lincoln United. But a few more weeks into the Autumn they announced how they were gelling and improving by beating the same opposition 10-1 at home. The revolution had begun.
Nobody now was complaining about a Stanley gaffer “signing his Scouser mates” as they had with Rodaway. Symbollically and importantly, they trained locally in the Hyndburn area despite the oft-documented problems with getting decent facilities, even though talisman centre-half Jonathan Smith was practically the only player based around here.
My greatest memory of that era watching Reds was a Bank Holiday Monday afternoon game at Radcliffe Borough as Stanley had gone on a fine run and were straining every sinew to catch up in the promotion race.
They were two down, even though Paul Mullin, later such an integral cog in Coleman’s plan but then playing for the home side, had missed a host of chances.
Coleman made a rare appearance from the bench and he and Bell, a starter, by sheer force of will and personality physically dragged their team-mates back into the match and summoned a herculean response from every man-jack to win 3-2.
There was no stopping them then and they went on to clinch the title on a day a draw would have seen them miss out even on promotion, beating Farsley 3-0 before an exuberant – and sadly seldom-bettered – crowd of 2,468.
Cup successes and respectable finishes built the momentum over the next couple of seasons.
By April 2003, when I stepped down from the job to move to Nottingham, they were on their way to another promotion, to the Conference this time, and the rest is history. Crucially, Eric and his successors in the hot seat showed patience when progress wasn’t quite as meteoric and left the pair to it, demonstrating faith that they would always turn a bad run around. Other football people take note!
I would be talking with 20-20 hindsight if I said I always knew that John Coleman was a special manager who would chalk up an incredible record unlikely ever to be equalled – never finishing a season in a lower position than the previous one for more than a decade – but I have to say that though I long ago lost my enthusiasm for sitting in press rooms listening to the same old tat week in, week out, that he was very much a cut above your average manager.
Possibly because he missed out on a full-time playing career and had to make his way in the real world – he gave up a flourishing teaching career when Stanley went full-time – he seemed to cherish every moment in the game, every value of the sport but with a grip on the man-on-the-terrace’s perception of it.
Of course he could have a moan about a referee or a disputed goal but John Coleman was never less than compulsive listening when talking about the game, either the one his side had just played or the wider subject in general. I always looked forward to his perceptive insights and unique take on matters in a world where you could predict the content of most interviews without actually talking to the subject.
There was an absence of clichés and platitudes which I always felt gave our readers great value from interviews, and he and Jimmy’s passions were so manifest at times that a couple of documentary TV series inevitably came calling – scoffed-at by some but invaluable publicity for an outfit struggling to attract the gates their managerial duo’s understanding of the sport as a working-class spectacle, as theatre for the people, deserved.
Although craftily edited footage might have suggested two madmen were in charge of the team, John was a profound thinker and able to articulate his opinions brilliantly – I’ll always remember his wonderful penalty shoot-out analogy as being akin to a man being asked to walk across a wooden bar which was at first close to the floor but gradually raised in height making a fall more and more dangerous should the relatively simple task be messed up.
But the thing I admire him most for – even more than getting Stanley their Football League status back, and keeping them there on a shoestring – is the way he gave careers in the professional game to lads who no-one else would have believed in, taken a gamble on.
The likes of Paul Mullin, Pete Cavanagh, Robbie Williams and Andy Proctor – I bet they would have waited forever and a day for a break had Coleman not believed in them. They have him to thank for what fame and fortune the game brought them. Perhaps he saw something of himself in them and gave them the opportunity that never came for him.
And ever since those non-league days, Coleman has continually unearthed nuggets and diamonds no-one else recognised or wanted to keep Stanley thriving, initially unwanted elsewhere, but eventually coveted by richer clubs and unable to be held onto.
He has practically had to rebuild his side annually and every single time, he’s pulled the rabbits out of the hat.
I’m amazed, with respect to a lovely, friendly club like Rochdale, that a bigger club hasn’t come in for him. PNE appointed a guy with no better pedigree last week and might live to rue not going for the option that was under their nose all the time.
It felt like a last connection with my time on the Observer had gone when Procter, the last playing link from my time there, moved to Preston last week.
Now that John and Jimmy have left, the chain’s well and truly broken.
Of course I wish the dynamic duo and both clubs well. I hope Rochdale retain their long-awaited League One status and Stanley make a good appointment who will keep them competitive and push for better.
But I know two things. Unless there’s a miracle Stanley won’t find another manager who has an unbroken 13-year run of success.
And John and Jimmy won’t be at Spotland for the next 13 years.
Because if they repeat the formula they’ve patented so far, even the hard-to-convince football cognoscenti higher up the food chain won’t be able to ignore them much longer.
* One date and anniversary I do remember was chalked up early this week. It’s 10 years since my wife Lesley and I got in touch after not seeing each other for…oh, probably a little matter of about 21 years!
What a change that speculative exchange of e-mails brought!
I’d probably still be at The Accy Ob (or more likely redundancied off), living in Church on my tod, nipping onto the cricket and up to The Bull opposite Immanuel CC….quite the most unspectacular bachelor lifestyle.
Instead I have a step-daughter turns 18 on Saturday, a daughter seven going on 18, a nine-year-old Springer Spaniel who’s as daft and loyal and lovely as ever and the greatest partner and friend any man could wish for in Lesley.
We might not exactly be the Beckhams but we’re happy with our lot!
We actually first met up again a few weeks later, in February, just after the Worthington Cup win in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
So, what with Millie’s 18th and these significant dates, we have a lot to celebrate in the weeks to come.
And even Rovers aren’t gonna spoil that!

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