Monday, 22 August 2016

A Call For Action

11th September 2011, Is a day which will live long in my memory as a Blackburn Rovers supporter, Rovers played Fulham away, After losing their opening three fixtures of the 2011-2012 season. The pressure was on, and in particular on Manager Steve Kean who had carried the previous season’s poor form into the new season.

As a regular visitor to social media, the unrest within sections of our support was setting in, as the calls for the sacking of Steve Kean grew amongst the supporter base. Rovers drew that match 1-1 as we started the season exactly how we have started this season, with three opening defeats and a draw.

That evening as I do most evenings after Rovers have played, I scanned social media to see what the overwhelming reaction to that result was.

Having gone through Facebook, Vital Rovers, BRFCS and Twitter, there appeared to be  unified opinion that Steve Kean should be sacked as Manager. This was not a new opinion and one which had carried on from the season before, which had also seen a protest for his removal after the home Manchester City fixture.

After tweeting a few things myself regarding the result and my fear for the season, a number of supporters tweeted me back stating “The time had come and something needed to be done”. I continued to look around social media, Although many wanted something to be done, there appeared to be no-body actually taking the lead or indeed coming up with idea’s of what that “Something” Should be.

I ended the evening by putting my email address out on twitter asking supporters to email me their concerns regarding the clubs current position.

I woke up early the next morning and had hundreds of emails in my inbox, to say I was astounded was an understatement. These were not three line emails, but full blown emails. I read each and everyone of them, and felt the sentiment and pain each one had been written with. I sat their in my kitchen eating my breakfast racking my brain on what I could actually do about it? What could stop the rot? What needs to be changed? How do I influence change?

Having received all these emails, I knew I had to now do something and not waste the time of those supporters who had emailed me.

I vaguely remembered the protest against Manchester City and the supporters climbing all over the statue of Jack Walker. I knew whatever I did, it could not be allowed to go down the route that did, as that was not only embarrassing, but not the picture I wanted to be tarred with.

I remembered that Everton supporters had recently done a protest march which was peaceful and had got the coverage which perhaps our club needed to help hammer home the message that supporters wanted the Manager Removing.

Having decided I would organise a protest March, I put it out on social media to gauge interest, I remember tweeting it our, and put my tin hat on, waiting for the negative tweets to come flying in my direction. I was pleasantly surprised, that the tweets, messages, emails and comments I received were all positive, with supporters stating they was fully behind me and would support this action.

At this point I contacted a few contacts I had made through social media, these were mainly from Vital Blackburn and BRFCS. I told them I’d like to organise a protest match, At  this time I did not know how to go about it, or indeed the legals behind such a  movement. I was advised that I would need to make contact with the Police. as although protest are legal, it has to follow the protocol set out by the Police when organised. I was also told if I wanted people to attend, I’d need to write a press release. I remember thinking “What the hell is a press release and what does one look like”. I got a bit of advise on how to write one, after my google search did not really give me any further insight, and set about writing one. I still remember now the response I got from the person I sent it to to proof read, he said I’d need to cut it a lot, as the press have not got time to read a 30 Page press release. I set about trimming it, and after hours of playing with it, it was ready to be released to the press.

I spoke to another supporter who had press contacts, and he agreed to forward it to the press ahead of Steve Kean’s press conference regarding the forthcoming Arsenal Fixture.

At this stage, I still did not know how this would pan out, or if anyone would actually turn up?  I also thought that Rovers would probably sack Steve Kean and this protest would never actually happen.

Within minutes of the press release being released, my mobile phone did not stop, calls came flooding in from the BBC, ITV, SKY, Newspapers and Radio Stations asking for interviews. As each call arrived, I got quite scared. I have always been a private person,. who likes to keep himself to himself, suddenly I’m being asked to stand in front of a microphone and TV Camera to tell the world, why I’m organising a protest. This was something I was very uncomfortable with, especially when I tried to find others to share the work load and do these interviews on behalf of supporters.

The first interview I did was with the BBC and Richard Askam, he called when I was on a course in Wigan, I was there that day doing my SIA Door license,We agreed to meet outside at Lunch time. I was met my Richard, who introduced himself, within 2 minutes the camera was rolling and I had to deliver what was happening. I remember thinking, “I bet I sound really stupid and a sandwiches short of a picnic”. People were walking past, then stopping and staring at me, it was an uncomfortable feeling and one I had no training for. It was certainly not like the films, where its take one, take two, take three. It was questions and one chance to deliver.
I did the interview, went back to my course and went home.
The calls continued , more interviews and more request. Radio Lancashire then asked if I could do 7 a.m in the studio the following day, I could not, so I asked Rover23 and OZTHEMAN, This is all I knew them by, as I’d never met either and had only ever engaged with them through social media. Both kindly agreed to do the interview, which I was fortunate to listen to. I remember after the interview Rover23 whose real name is Joe Ainscough saying that Radio Lancashire literally had to take the microphone off OZTHEMAN and throw him out as he was too passionate about the clubs position. I chuckle to myself , when I remember this story as this element shows clearly we was just everyday supporters, who were making it up as we went along as we clearly had no experience or training for any of this.

A few more supporters like Phil Thompson (who is now an active committee member of the BRFC Action Group who I will discuss in more depth in another blog post) came forward to do a few interviews as people shared the load.

The club then made contact, through John Newsome who was the Ground Manager at Ewood Park, his role was to look after all health and safety. He invited me in for a meeting ahead of the protest, which I declined. Mainly because I was scared, scared I could get into trouble, scared I could get banned from the ground, scared that what we was embarking on, could get messy and I could end up in trouble with the law through no fault of my own.

For the rest of that week the protest march was plugged throughout social media and in the papers, As the countdown to the day had begun.

Match day arrived, My brother Russell came around and picked me up, as he had agreed earlier in the week to be by my side, just in case I got lynched by supporters who did not like what I was doing. We parked up near the Brown Cow Public House and made the 15 minute walk to the Havelock Inn, which had been chosen as the starting point for the march, as I felt people may not come if they have to walk up the hill to the Brown Cow, prior to the game. On the way I was wondering if anyone would turn up and by the time I got there, I had convinced myself that 30 or 40 people would be there. As I approached the Havelock I could see hundreds of people stood outside the pub, I could see loads of police and various media outlets with cameras in place. My heart was pounding as I got the entrance of the pub. For a moment the place went silent, everyone’s eyes were on me, I wanted the ground to swallow me up. In all my life, I had never felt so nervous. Everyone was just waiting for me to speak, waiting for instruction.

After getting briefed by the Police, I approached the crowd and along with OZTHEMAN, who thankfully turned up, I gave a speech of why we was there, what the march would entail, and to reiterate this was a peacful march, and the need to support the team during the match. I must of sounded like a mouse to the on-lookers as public speaking, was even harder than doing the media interviews.

The march got underway and 700 supporters or so Marched to Ewood Park, many people watched as the March went by, some joined in as we passed, whilst others clapped as we walked by. We arrived at Ewood and did a lap of the ground before we stopped in outside the Blackburn End. The crowd then formed a horse shoe shape around me and again went silent as they waited for me to deliver a speech. This was even harder as now more people were present, whilst we was outside the ground, with club employees and the owners evidently looking out the windows at the assembled crowd below them. I to this day. can’t remember what I said, but fortunately I lived to tell the tale. The crowd broke away and went into the ground to watch the game.

The game itself proved to be an entertaining match as Rovers beat Arsenal 4-3 in front of the owners and a very supportive crowd. Was this the turning point I remember thinking as I left Ewood after the game, are things now looking up?

Once I returned home and went through social media, I could see another storm had kicked off, this time Steve Kean had claimed after the match that only 1% of the supporter base had an issue, he had also made claims that this section of supporters had fierce opposition from the other 99%. I could not believe my ears or what I was reading.

It was at this point I realised that this was going to be far more than I bargained for.

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