Sunday, 28 August 2016

Rovers Circus

Following the 4-0 home defeat to Manchester City, the supporter unrest continued to grow, especially when it was announced 9 members of the Fans Forum would be accompanying the team to play a pointless friendly in Pune during the international break.

Many had an opinion on that trip, which must of given the 9 supporters who went the old “Damned if we do, damned if we don’t” scenario, especially as it seemed to be a publicity stunt from the owners.

The truth is no-one could predict how that trip would work out, at the time I was open minded, although after watching the media snippets of the trip, it portrayed the opposite feelings to what was being witnessed in Blackburn. I was quite angry that our own supporters had been put on display like performing monkeys, when some of them had gone with the right intentions, which was to put the supporter’s feelings across to the owners. Having spoken to some of that delegation since, and also read a blog regarding the trip, it seems they came in for some unwarranted criticism and tried their best.

Hot on the heels of this trip was the Venkys Chicken advert which even now makes me cringe when I think about it, as it was like watching a circus, but that circus was my football club.

One of the key parts of that trip, which would come out, was Ian Battersby and Ian Currie both attended the trip which was facilitated by Jerome Anderson (More on him in later blogs). Both met with the family, and part of their discussion was indeed  about those two potentially joining the board of Directors, which backed up Paul Agnew’s claims from a couple of weeks earlier, but also opened up more questions than answers, when the meeting was set up by SEM’s Main protagonist. Both Currie and Battersby are long standing Rovers Fans, But the very nature of how the meeting was set up, had me very suspicious at the time. (I did have a meeting with Battersby a couple of years later, where this meeting was fully covered, I will discuss this in later blog as it important due to Seneca’s interest in the club).

Away from the Pune trip, things were really beginning to evolve in Blackburn with media interest from the papers worldwide, TV, Radio and SKY Coverage as the protest movement continued to grow, with more and more supporters showing their support. However despite the support, things were beginning to turn ugly, especially for Simon and I.

The first sign of real threats started to filter in, with Text Messages, anonymous phone calls, emails and forum/face book post. I remember one in particular which came from a Rovers supporter by the name of Carl Elwell. It’s stated unless protest came to an immediate halt, that my children would feel like they are stood in the centre circle at Turf moor. These threats got more serious with threats of further violence which later in the season would result in me being assaulted at the Wigan away fixture.

Next a large banner was pinned to the Gates of Ewood Park, with the words R.I.P MULLAN, The club left this up all day, despite being notified of it being there, before Rob Crabtree went down to Ewood Park and removed it

All these threats were reported to the Police and club. Eventually Elwell received a restraining order from the Police to not come within 500 metres of me, one which he constantly broke,  it became plain obvious he was working under instruction. He knew when I moved seat, my exact location in around the ground at anytime, he stalked every radio phone in I appeared on, and made various outlandish claims under various user names on rovers supporters forums. Despite this supporter’s action, the club refused to even speak to Elwell about his conduct, for reasons which become clearer further down the line (I will cover more of this in later blogs as it shows how far the club would go to silence supporters). Elwell was not the only person issuing threats and as the months and years went by, these threats become more vicious and more serious.

Not deterred by the threats, the open supporters meeting at Uncle Jacks went ahead, which was the day after the delegation to Pune had returned. A PA, System was set up on a little stage and Simon and I chaired an open discussion with around 60-70 supporters who had turned up for the event.

There was a distinct mixed opinion in the room, and it was the first time I would meet Alan Birdbeck who is widely known as Birdie across the supporter base. Alan has been watching Rovers all his life and organised away travel for the Ewood Blues. Although I had seen him at games over the years, I didn’t know him, or indeed know his stature within the supporter base. He was very critical of the protest movement, and was adamant that the Venky’s and Kean would come good and we need to back the team. Alan had also been across to Pune, at his own expense, as wherever Rovers play, Alan will be there; he never misses a game and has without doubt the largest collection of Blackburn Rovers Memorabilia than any other rover’s supporter I know. His support for the club is unquestionable and in recent times has been used by the club as part of their marketing campaigns including launching kits.

Other notable people that attended that evening was Mark Fish, Current BRFC Action Group Chairman and Robert Crabtree, who would become an integral part of organising the protest.

The meeting had many mixed views, but the meeting was ended with an open call for people to put their names forward to be part of a group who could meet with the club, if we could organise a direct meeting with them, so that protest could be halted and a direct communication line to the owners could be opened. Around 10 people put their names and numbers down, and we promised we would ensure any meeting organised with the club, they would be on the invite list.

I also met Wayne Wild for the first time that evening. Wayne is the Group Commercial Director of the WEC Group and at the time of this meeting, WEC was the Darwen End Stand sponsor. As a main club sponsor Wayne had become disillusioned that there was no communication from the owners, despite him personally writing to them. He did not want to go public, or indeed end the sponsorship with the club, but felt the effort was one sided and he wanted answers regarding the club’s direction. I spoke to Wayne for around 10 minutes where he asked questions about me, i.e. what my background was. I told him I had once applied for a job at WEC, As a Project Engineer, but had not got the position. He told me, they are always looking for people and there would be other opportunities and send my CV across to him.

I came away from the open supporters meeting, even more determined to get a communication chain opened with the club, so supporter concerns could be put across open and transparently and without prejudice.

Before I continue I thought I’d give a little background to me, as my background caused me a lot of issues during the early years especially with those out to discredit my intentions.

I was born in Queens Park hospital on the 1st May 1978, and was brought up on Fosse Close, on the Roman Road estate, I went to Roman Road County primary school, however moved to Bamber Bridge in 1989 when the company my Mum worked for relocated from Great Harwood after a fire burnt their factory down. My uncle Stuart, who lived in Darwen, would take me to Rovers each week whilst I was a child. In 1998 my Brother Lee, who like all our family was an avid Rovers fan, died on the 28th October aged just 24, after suffering an asthma attack in his sleep. Lee was buried in Blackburn in his full Rover’s kit and would be turning in his grave, at what has happened to the club he loved,  Lee’s death significantly changed my life, to the extent I moved to Wigan to restart me life. I continued to watch Rovers, but would drive in, watch the game then go straight home. I never really mingled with anybody at the games and more than often would attend games with my eldest brother Russell. Not really knowing anyone locally, did give people the angle to say, who is this person? Is he really a rovers fan? I actually now live in a BB code but still very much keep myself to myself socially and tend to go out of town to drink or have a night out, with friends I have made over the years who live away from Blackburn.

During the week leading up to the away fixture at QPR, Various correspondence from myself to Paul Hunt was exchanged requesting a meeting with the Board of Directors, each request was denied and we was offered a meeting with John Newsham instead. Simon and I contacted all the names of the people who had put their name down to attend, during the open supporters meeting. I did not know any of them, but each and every one of them was important and had different concerns and opinions to the next supporter.

The meeting went ahead and again was attended by the Police. John Newsham was always professional and of all the people I have met at the club over the years, stands out as being the most consistent and genuine of the lot of them. A number of things were put across to John regarding the supporter unrest and things which we had heard regarding Steve Kean’s appointment and Jerome Anderson’s involvement with the club.  I also broached the subject of Paul Agnew and all the things said in that room did not seem to surprise John. He was in fairness keen to listen and also keen to get the board of Directors to speak with the supporters. He said during his visit to India, all Rovers employee’s had to bow, to the owners like they was royalty, which made me sick. John felt the owners were honourable people, which to this day I think he strongly believed.  The meeting was ended, with John promising to escalate the discussions further up the chain, whilst he would continue to facilitate peaceful organised protest, which he made a point in saying was at a big financial cost to the club due to extra stewarding and Police charges.

Rovers played QPR and drew 1-1 as the poor start to the season continued, and with that came the plans to organise another protest march against Spurs the following week. By this time, other people were now getting involved with the planning, including Mark Fish, Rob Crabtree who was also selling the yellow Kean out T-shirts, Phil Thompson, Carl Hatch, Andy Woods and Paul Keogh. Simon and I had also come up with a name for the protest group going forwards, as we had received a number of complaints that we don’t represent a number of supporters. This is when the BRFC Action Group was born, formed by Simon and me, with the intention that at some point it would have an elected committee to be voted in by its members, to represent its members.

It was decided that the Protest March would run from the Brown Cow Public House. This was run by Wayne and Alyson. I had known Wayne for near on 20 Years, after having my season ticket with him during the mid 90’s.  Things were in full swing, for this protest, with the legal’s put in place with the Police and the club, when disaster struck me on the Sunday before the march.

I was playing a cup quarter final Sunday league game, against the team top of the league, we were winning 1-0, when I went up for a header and landed badly. I remember the pain now, as I had never screamed so loud before. I crawled off the pitch as I did not want the game abandoning as there was 10 minutes left and I wanted us to win the match so badly. The game finished 1-0.  After the game I went to casualty and my worst fears were realised, I had snapped my ankle in four places and it was a bad break. I was immediately placed in plaster and sent on my way. I phoned Simon and told him I was noq going to struggle with these protest as I’m in plaster. A few days went by, and I started to get frustrated with the plaster, and stupidly (I know), I cut off the plaster and never had it replaced. 5 Years on and I’m really feeling the effects of that stupid decision. I actually returned to playing just 4 weeks later and came on a substitute and scored within 5 minutes of entering the fray, but I knew that day, my amateur football career was over and that proved to be my final game as an amateur player.

In the week leading up to the Protest March against Spurs, I recall SKY Coming to my house to carry out an interview regarding the protest. The interviewer that day was Alan Myers, who years later would become a Director at Rovers. I recall him asking as he entered my home “Can we do the interview in a different room?” I had never felt so insulted, i thought to myself, you cheeky sod, whats wrong with my living room, I’ve just decorated and had new carpets, whilst this is my home, sorry I;m not a millionaire, In the end we agreed if I put my fire on, the interview could take place in the living room.

The day of the March came and more supporters attended, than had attended the Arsenal March. I remember going to the Bar pre-match, it was the first time I met “Chicken Head”. He was the person whose picture went global, what I didn’t know until weeks later, was the man behind the mask was an elderly gentleman in his 60’s names John Riley. John Riley was a very popular member of the BRFC Action Group who sadly died of cancer a couple of years back. His memory lives on amongst the members and many people have some great tales of John. He was a real gentleman and has a brick on the Walker Fame at Ewood in his Memory.

John epitomised what the protest symbolised, so many supporters from the age of 50 upwards, attending these protest and are even today very active members of the BRFC Action Group

The march itself had around 1000 supporters take part, sadly on the pitch there was no improvement Rovers lost 2-1 to Spurs as our season started to get real desperate, yet there was no sign of the Manager getting sacked, in fact it was now being rumoured he was about to sign a new contract to the dismay of the rovers supporters. Anger was now reaching new heights, but despite the poor start, there was still a growing section of supporters, who were strongly against protest and were making their feelings known within the ground as supporters started to clash. This was making things really difficult, as a team of organisers, as we was under pressure to organise things from a large section of supporters, but was also being berated from another section. It would of been easy to give up, as surely no grief is worth all this effort? However as more people were now supporting us both here and abroad, we had entered the realms of no return, because if we walked away, we would be disappointing those who had put their faith i us, and chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, on the fight to protect the long term future of Blackburn Rover Football club. The Ex Pats element of the supporter base, has throughout the last 5 years been one of the most supportive, with supporters as far as Australia, constantly helping in the back ground, whilst they have also donated funds to help obtain information tom put together an investigation into the running of Blackburn  Rovers, which will be part of future blogs.

During my next blog, I will cover the training ground protest, 24 hour protest and Jerome Anderson’s Sky interview.

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