As Blackburn Rovers prepare to play Brighton and Hove Albion, hopefully Rovers fans with longer memories will have some respect for the rise of their opponents in recent years, but a glimpse too of the depths some clubs can fall. Through it all though, some solace can be taken from how a connection between club and fans can play such a critical role in bouncing back.
I remember playing Albion at the Goldstone Ground in the 1991-92 season, when Rovers were eventually promoted to the Premier League under Kenny Dalglish’s skillful and well funded guidance. The game ended in a pitch invasion by angry Albion fans. The future looked bleak for them – indeed it proved to be – with their ground sold, years of exile and near oblivion, followed.
That’s a future I fear for Rovers. Like most Rovers fans I’m staying away this season. I’ve been to a few away games, I didn't go much last season - three times in fact - I managed more than that in 1988-1989 when I lived in Australia from September. Last season's stayaway wasn't a boycott as such, partly it was because of the toxic atmosphere that the angry fans had created, but frankly, I just wasn't enjoying it anymore. Now, it's more straightforward. I refuse to give the club a penny of my money while Venky's are in charge.
I'm not a glory hunter, who will only go to Premier League games. My first season as a regular was 1977-1978 and Rovers were a mid-table Second Division side with an average crowd of about 7,000. We were in the same division as Blackpool, Burnley and Bolton. Preston were in the division below. I chose this. I made a conscious decision to support a local team instead of Manchester United, Leeds or Liverpool. All the good times were a bonus, an unexpected gift from a rich fan who helped this club do great things. Without him, well, we'd be in the Second Division, on a level with the rest of our Lancashire rivals. So no, I'm a realist and I'm not a spoilt child, but what the Venky's are doing is as poor a job at running down an institution as football has ever seen.
Other fans look at Blackburn and think – get over it, you got relegated, you hounded that poor dignified Steve Kean – tough. I remember Brighton manager Barry Lloyd railing at the disgraceful behavior of Albion fans in 1992 and thinking it seemed to signify a poor judge of their mood.
But for a passionate account of what has really gone on then Michael Blackburn’s book Agents, Rovers and Cricket Loving Owners pretty much nails it, as much as the libel laws of this country allow. I don’t think we’ve heard the half of what has gone on yet.
Personally I never ranted and raved at Kean, I always saw him as a symptom of the appalling ownership by Venky’s and the malign influence of agent Jerome Anderson. I thought the targeting of Kean was a tactical mistake by fans who allowed Venky’s to get off the hook for dismantling a professionally run club, person by person.
The only serious option is for all Rovers fans to get behind a serious and concerted effort to rid the club of these idiots and pursue a supporter ownership model. It won't get us back to the top of the Premier League, it won't attract top talent, but it will restore dignity where currently there is only our very own Comical Ali – Shebby Singh. Blissfully, he appears to have been silenced in recent weeks, which has coincided with an upturn in form under the fifth manager of the season – Michael Appleton.
As for the match against Albion, well anything can happen. Jordan Rhodes is possibly the best striker we’ve had since Simon Garner, he’s on fire at the moment and his goals have lifted the team to the top half of the table. But Appleton has inherited a lob-sided team stuffed full of players signed for the wrong reasons. The squad is bloated – not just on the chicken they’re forced to eat for a Venky’s advert – but looks overpaid and often disinterested. If he can turn it round and get into the play offs then it will be a minor miracle, but he has the odds stacked against him.