A few miles outside Budapest there’s a statue park where they took all the larger-than-life iconography of the Communist era after the Soviet Union relaxed its icy grip on much of Eastern Europe and itself fragmented.
Last Monday morning I stood gazing in wonder at the astounding sight of the collected huge frozen monoliths and reflected on a Shelley poem I learned in school, “Ozymandias” about a pharoah’s statue found toppled, half-sunk and shattered in the desert, “the sneer of cold command” perfectly preserved in its engraved features but almost become a mockery of itself lying undignified, abandoned and unadored in the sand.
Venkys haven’t had the brass neck to erect statues of themselves outside Ewood yet – and I’m sure we wouldn’t have to wait centuries before they were suitably defaced and damaged if they did – and it is unlikely that anyone will ever consider that Jack Walker’s tribute set in stone outside Ewood needs replacing or improving upon but as I stood snapping away awestruck in the sub-zero Hungarian temperatures it was a reminder that even the most unwelcome and oppressive regimes are usually only temporary in the grand scheme of things.
However oppressive and tyrannical, all things must pass.
Sometimes it’s good to get away to get a perspective on things back home and the suppression and subjugation of half a continent for decades puts a few crap years for your football team into context although in 2017 you’re never really more than a push on the buttons of your phone away from the latest Rovers news.
As we touched down behind what was the iron curtain not long ago on New Year’s Eve, there were two beeps and brief messages from my mate John at Huddersfield on mine:
- 1-0 Graham 81 min
- 1-1 Wells 93 min
So my disappointment was compressed into the ten seconds it took to absorb those stats, rather than magnified by living through the 11 or 12 minutes of desperately hanging on between those goals before the crushing disappointment of conceding a late equaliser.
By Monday afternoon, just an hour or two after the absolute surrealism of Memento Statue Park, I was settled in a downtown Scottish-style pub watching our game against Newcastle with two Geordie couples even more advanced into middle age than myself.
I was particularly proud that our elder daughter back at home took herself off to Ewood despite feeling unwell on the basis that: “If they won, I would have been even more fed up if I’d missed it.”
Despite sharing a virtually otherwise empty row on the Riverside with Old Blackburnian, who did such a fine job supplying this column last week, both were well-rewarded for their blind faith and optimism for turning out in the remote possibility of such an outcome when Mulgrew’s left foot settled the matter, much to the grumpy countenance of my North-Easterly drinking companions and my undisguisable delight.
A peek at the excellent QPR fanzine “Loft For Words” preview of the FA Cup Third Round tie had hinted that the Londoners, with an utterly wretched 20-year record in the tournament, may be there for the taking and so it proved.
I was able to follow the game from a comfy chair in an airport wall-to-wall-footy-on-tv-sports bar instead of being airborne during the most opportune and luxurious 4-hour flight delay I’ve ever experienced.
It sounded like we were well in control from the off. Basically, shaping up like that against a handful of other rubbish Championship sides on a regular basis would keep us up for this season at least.
Of course you’d gladly swap our exit from the cup for the two points we lost at Loftus Road carelessly after a similarly decent display earlier in the season but not for the first time this campaign we’ve shown in the last few games glimpses of a capacity to tighten up and improve.
That will soon be forgotten, as will an excellent home cup draw (my personal preferences boxes: 1 – At home, 2- Not a stupid day or kick-off time, 3 – Opposition we shouldn’t fear, therefore a chance of progress, all neatly ticked) should we lose at Ipswich, who haven’t been pulling any trees up lately.
Some of their supporters have even called for a change of manager, Mick McCarthy not currently everyone’s cup of tea although Rovers fans must still rue the day we failed to approach him (or Sean Dyche) when the big Irishman looked the glaringly obvious candidate four and a bit years ago.
Tom Lawrence has shown flashes of the form he all-too-briefly hinted at during his Ewood spell but at least we are spared the potential humiliation of Luke Varney scoring against us as he’s gone on loan to Burton (and promptly got himself a long-term injury so we’re probably safe there, too).
Coyle has to shuffle what few cards he has to play with – it increasingly looks like Emnes won’t be among them – and bring in a couple who can improve the side at least by the bare minimum margin it needs to clear the bottom three.
I don’t exactly go to bed dreaming of Giles Barnes or French defenders I’ve never heard of but if that’s the market we’re restricted to now, I’ll back anyone however limited or cut-price who can pop four or five vital goals in between now and May or stop a few going in at the other end regardless.
If things have improved marginally on the pitch since New Year’s Eve, it wouldn’t of course be Blackburn Rovers without doomy tidings off the field to provide an ominous tipping of the scales.
The appointment of a “football director” (whatever that is) Paul Senior has enraged some and invoked all manner of tantrums, not to mention unleashing the usual stream of theories over past jobs, links, connections and so on.
I have no idea who he is, what he’s done or what he is charged to do so until I find out in more detail I can’t really comment on the real or imagined familial or marital links with agents and their like, or assess his likely performance or impact other than to express my usual cynical curiosity and disdain over these kind of positions and the opportunists who convince clubs that they need them.
Far more worrying was the publication of the Venkys London accounts, showing, effectively that bar for being able to sell a couple of players to “Championship rivals” we’d be talking losses even more catastrophic.
If there’s a different end to all this than the club going into administration at some point in the not-too-distant future, I really can’t see it.
About the only indignity which hasn’t been visited upon us is failing to pay the staff and players’ wages on time.
One wonders just what kind of numbers of employees will remain on the organisation’s books for the payroll clerk to find a wage for on day one, morning one after they pull out.
But for a more considered view from one far more able than I to peruse a balance sheet and set of accounts I turned to Old Blackburnian, who summed his own thoughts up as follows:
“I had a quick gander at the accounts over the weekend – main points I took :-
1. They’ve slashed & burned all they can on the field which has brought in substantial one-off income – i.e. Sold family silver
2. They’ve reduced running costs – but not sufficient to overcome the downturn in turnover – “We’ve closed shops & laid off sales staff but we seem to be selling less…”
3. They’ve had to convert loans into share capital – suggests to me that banks won’t lend any more
4. Despite all this – still losing money
5. How do you turn it around ?
a. Buy assets low, improve them, sell high – property renovation technique – so you bring through loads of young talent & hope you sell it at large enough profit to cover running costs of academy & losses in main operations
b. Look for other one-off asset disposals to cover shortfall – fixed asset sales e.g. Tesco closing stores & selling land for development….er Brockhall ?
c. Massively improve turnover – sell stuff that people want & are willing to pay loads of money for…the “Apple solution” – which in reality is promotion to PL to access TV money. Currently, their only hope is that the pies prove to be addictive & people will pay £50 each for ’em & need at least 100 a week to indulge their craving…mmm, not especially likely !
6. So why continue ? Group tax shelter might mean that losses of £25-30m are reduced significantly in real terms if you have clever accountants, which means that it’s only a £15-20m p.a. hobby. In the context of their group profitability – not the end of the world.
7. What might change ? They become bored, the negative associations outweigh any positive spin their PR guys can apply, their accountants say: “I’ve got a better idea as to what you could do with this £25m p.a……”
8. Exit route – no buyer will give them their money back – they’d be nuts to do so. The philanthropic exit has them write off the debt & present the club to, say, the Trust & say: “You have a go…”. The vindictive option sees them place it in Administration, a firm of accountants runs it for a few days, maybe weeks, to try & find “a buyer” probably for a notional £1 consideration…over to the Trust again. If no buyer, then it’s full liquidation a la Bradford Bulls, all assets sold, creditors get 1p in the £ or similar & the club ceases to exist. Trust then starts a Phoenix club in the Blackburn Combination…bit like AFC Wimbledon perhaps ?
Somebody somewhere though has to fund the working capital. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that the wages that could be paid on 5,000 gates means lower league football as we’d be in a worse position than even Stanley who at least have an owner prepared to invest.
9. My prediction ? Eventual administration after the club has suffered two relegations into League Two, seeks funders, establishes budget for non-league, another relegation, gates of 2,500…then it depends how many fans stay loyal & how good the management structure is…do we do an AFC Wimbledon or a Stockport County ?
It’s not pretty is it ?????”
It certainly isn’t when you say it like that. As Percy Bysshe Shelley might have put it:
“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”