Friday, 2 September 2016

PART 5 – Planes, Dog Food, and a Pint or Two

Following a dramatic 4-3 extra time win in the League cup and a draw at Norwich in the league a home fixture against Chelsea would follow.

Calls for more protest continued, however despite the calls for these it was getting even more difficult to appease the protesting section of the supporter base, as everyone had an idea and it differed from the next person. When lots of people can’t agree on a way forward it gets very disjointed and as organisers you are pretty much,”Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Simon Littler and I were summoned to a meeting at Ewood Park ahead of the Chelsea game for a meeting with the Police and Ground Manager John Newsham. We were told under no certain terms that banners were now banned from Ewood Park, as they were a fire risk.  At first I thought, “Surely you are not being serious?” The lines were now firmly being drawn in the stand, as Paul Hunt wrote to us and stated, until we call a halt on protest, he would not be willing to meet with us, or anyone else involved in the protest movement.

Simon and I went home and spoke on Skype for a few hours; Simon suggested we get a plane, with a “KEAN OUT” Banner Trailing behind it. It seemed a good idea and we ran with it. Simon pretty much had this organised within 24 hours, including setting up a PayPal fund for supporters to donate towards the cost, which was around £1,500,00. Within minutes of the call for funds, they started flowing in, from supporters worldwide, it took around an hour and half for the target to be met, and Simon paid it on his credit card, due to the plane company not being able to take PayPal.

Press releases were issued, and although there was quite an objection from a number of non-protesting supporters, those who had been protesting were in the main fully behind the idea.

Looking back, although it was not our finest hour, what this showed, was supporters could rally together very quickly and we could fight this on all fronts better than we actually gave ourselves credit for.

The day of the game came, and there bang on time the plane circled the ground for a good 10 minutes, Kean famously said he never saw it, but the media attention it captured, showed a defiance against what was looking an unmovable regime at Ewood, which was now opening up far more questions than answers as the conspiracy theories started to flow around the supporter base. Rovers once again lost, and of course the protest movement was blamed.

I started getting random emails and calls from club employee’s, who were genuinely worried about their jobs, and who felt defenceless to what was evolving around them. There were more flies on the wall in Ewood now, than ever before as we looked to stay one step ahead, by calculating what the club would do to try and put stoppers on the movement. 99 times out of 100, Rovers were very predictable, whatever they tried to silence us, we would intercept and chuck them a red heron, to get them running around in circles. More and more stewards were being brought in, whilst the Police operation was growing. The club were desperate to get a reaction from Simon and I, so we would break the law, lose our heads and lose any momentum which was growing.

Rovers would lose to Cardiff in the league cup, when Kean pretty much came out and said he had thrown the game. This infuriated a number of supporters who had travelled down and bought tickets.

Suddenly supporters were now coming to us asking us to put their views to the club. Finally our opportunity would come as Paul Hunt agreed to meet Simon and I.

Simon was quite frustrated when we went into the meeting with Paul Hunt as he still had Kean’s words ringing in his ears. Simon’s opening statement was to tell Paul Hunt “Go and get your cheque book out of your draw and write a cheque for every supporter who went to Cardiff, as they want refunding”. It was not quite the opening exchange I expected, but I respected Simon’s stance of “Say it how it is”.  The meeting then moved on from that exchange as we agreed to call a halt to organised protest for the next 3 home games providing the board agreed to meet with a delegation of supporters. This was agreed in the room and backed up by an email from Paul Hunt. Paul Hunt as a person was quite a nervous type of guy and was quietly spoken. you could see the guy was clearly under pressure and if truth be told, way out of his depth as the man supposed to be the head of the board of Directors at Ewood.

As I left Hunt’s office, I shared a lift (The up and down type) with John Newsham. I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but in that lift, time stood still for a few minutes. Both John and I got very emotional about the whole situation, we was both visually filling up as we spoke. That day was the day I really connected with John and it taught me that there was some really top people at Ewood suffering just like the supporters, they also needed help and whatever we did, would also affect their lives. Although John always remained professional and honorable to his employee’s, John was one who I could genuinely call an Allie.

We broke the news to supporters that a temporary truce had been agreed, which got a mixed reaction. They’re very much a militant element in some sections of the protest group, who wanted things to turn a little nastier. There was accusations that we had sold out and been given a sweetener to call a halt. Whilst those who had got to know us, knew damn well, we was not for sale and supported the decision, despite them being sceptical that it was the right move. I remembered the start of protest, which was requesting answers from the board, so it seemed logical to agree to the truce, if it gave supporters some answers to the growing concerns.

Sadly Paul Hunt did not keep his word, there was no meeting and this didn’t only anger both Simon and I, but also the supporters who wanted Kean and Venkys gone.

With the Bolton home fixture on the horizon, we went to town on the club in the press as the supporter’s message was going global. More supporters were coming forward to muck in regarding organising with Mark Fish now becoming very much part of the organising committee, Rob Crabtree continuing to sell T-shirts, which I must state; the proceeds did not come into the protest committee, as Rob was doing this at cost. Andy Woods, who was marketing the cause all around the town, Phil Thompson who was working in the background trying to get prominent figures to chuck their hat in the ring to support the protest movement, whilst he was also making in-roads in trying to get meetings with the Premier League and Richard Scudamore. Paul Keogh who I remember telling me “He was more of a foot soldier” was also giving invaluable support. Simon’s uncle Graham Reid was also getting involved as a steering committee started to evolve. Other prominent supporters who were there come rain or shine, like Carl Hatch, Jimmy Lonsdale, Mike Counsell, Stuart Wilkinson, Beth Perry and Dan Thompson, were also giving massive support from the front, which lifted a little burden off Simon and I.

However the more people got involved on the front end, the more disagreements and clash of personalities began to occur. Every day someone had something to say about someone. You have to remember, this was just a bunch of supporters. With football, comes a few; pints and with a few pints, some get a little excited.

Group Skype meetings on a Sunday night, were comedy gold, with lines going dead, if someone didn’t agree, as one or two would have a skinful of pints and either pass out during the meeting or forget to attend. Mark and I would usually be the last men standing in these meetings and it was not unusual for us two to still be on Skype as the sun came up at 6a.m

Mark and I were really starting to connect, we carried the same passion and same values and he is a very intelligent guy. His memory is photographic and will remember dates, incidents like they happened 2 minutes ago. Many of our conversations on the phone or Skype were spent having to deal with the constant falling out from members of the steering committee. It was not unusual for most to be at each other’s throats, which was making things difficult as I always felt like piggy in the middle, and I did not want to get involved in the politics.

Still living in Wigan, made it hard, as I was being used as a pawn for people jockeying for position, Often I found myself facing questions about my intentions, whilst some just thought I had all the answers and I was going to expose what was going on in the club. The truth was at this stage, I had been told things, from employee’s, done some research on the internet, and taken calls from other supporters who had information but not documented evidence to back it up. It was like building a house, but putting the roof on before the foundations were in, as it was snippets and pieces of a bigger jigsaw. I certainly did not know the full picture at this stage, so could offer no real comfort that the end was near and the club would go back to normal.

Four hours before the Bolton Fixture, I called Paul Hunt and again asked him when is Kean being removed? This time the conversation was very different as Hunt stated that the wheels were now in motion, he indicated regardless of the result against Bolton, Kean was set to be removed, Hunt had spoken to Mark Hughes advisors and he was likely to be his replacement. This was the first bit of good news I had heard, I skipped up to the Brown Cow and told a few of the steering committee, that Kean was going whatever the result against Bolton.

That match saw a massive turning point, in the protest movement. The whole ground went wild as all four sides of the ground called for Kean’s head. We of course lost again, however the press turned on the supporters as many Managers spoke out in Kean’s defence, including David Moyes and Owen Coyle who was an SEM Kentaro client. Rover’s supporters were branded as a mob as it was stated they had never witnessed so much vitriol against a Manager. Kean was spoken about in the press like he was some sort of messiah.  Now we had a real fight on our hands, as the press had been our avenue of communicating the message worldwide, The Rao family were still missing in action and the rot showed no signs of coming to an end.

Other protest were organised including a 24 hour protest at Ewood where a number of supporters battled sub-zero temperatures for the whole 24 hours, This was one of the protest I could not do for much more than a couple of hours. I felt guilty at the time and still do, as some of the best people I have ever met, stood shoulder to shoulder that night outside an empty Ewood, as the group galvanised itself for the next round of trying to get Kean and Venkys out of our club.

The SEM Kentaro bandwagon was now firmly on the move, as articles were appearing all over the press from Jerome Anderson as the sympathy for Kean continued to pour in from other Managers and the media. This is when they played the card “Kean feared for his safety and the safety of his family”. You have to remember, none of the protesters had ever been arrested and no laws had ever been broke, but the man who must feed his gold fish “Dog food” was playing the victim card, as he appointed Philip Moulton as his round the clock body guard.

Next up was the training ground protest, which was done just before the Xmas period. I have many memories of this, including John Riley (RIP Big man) laying a Venkys out egg live on SKY TV. Only around 40 people attended the training ground protest, and it was the same faces who we all knew by name. We waited all day and saw our future star fullback Myles Anderson, training hard as his mission for the day, was to load into the back of every players car, a Xmas Harrods hamper. He was at that for hours as the rest of the squad trained. There were a couple of guards on the gates at Brockhole, who were courteous and polite for the 10 hours or so we stayed up there.

Fraser Dainton from SKY Sports came to see us mid afternoon he had attended the press conference with Kean.  Fraser was very confused and showed us the recording of Kean, who claimed he got hundreds of letters per week from in and around the village, telling him what a great job he was doing. Kean was obviously in denial and the press room was in shock with the tripe coming out of that guy’s mouth.

We waited until about 6.30pm for Kean to come out, but he refused. Instead he sent out Matt Hocking (More on him in later blogs) who was the player liaison officer. Matt told us Kean would come out until we left. Eventually we decided to have a pint in the pub as we had made our point. Kean was driven out of the training ground very quickly, sat in the back of a jaguar.

Going into the Christmas period I read an article, which was an interview with Jerome Anderson, (Steve Kean’s agent) and Chief orchestrator of all things Rovers from his SEM Kentaro empire, He spoke about the protest, how well organised they were, how it was too good to not have some underlying factor which points to dark forces at work?  I didn’t quite know how to take that, was that a compliment aimed my way? That a football supporter, who had learned his art of tactics in the welding fabrication industry, was suddenly a match for these multi millionaires? My other thought was the buggar had stumbled upon my Star Wars Collection and was claiming to Luke Skywalker, which must mean I was Darth Vader? I found it all very strange, as the dark forces I was witnessing were definitely coming from the club and those who were pulling the strings!!

In my next blog, I’m going to cover Kean’s finest day and his world-wide Media lap of honour, there will be a lot more on Jerome Anderson and that crew around him, a visit to Chorley FC and The BRFC Action Group forming a democratic committee to move into the realms of being a supporters group

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