With the investigation under full flow, it was time to try and get some meat behind our campaign by getting Town figure heads on board.
Paul Keogh made the first in roads, into opening up avenues to get the local council involved, when he made contact with Maureen Bateson, who was the Ward Councillor for Ewood. Maureen had been the town’s Mayor when Rovers won the Premier League in 1995 and is a passionate Rovers supporter. Maureen proved to be instrumental in opening doors, which we had previously found closed. Which included getting us meetings with the Mayor and Kate Hollern who is now the current MP for Blackburn. However the biggest door door she opened was getting Jack Straw involved, who we had previously struggled to engage with. I remember meeting Jack with Mark Fish at his offices, as we discussed the up-coming meeting with Richard Scudamore of the Premier League. Jack stated he knew Richard very well, and during his time as Home secretary their paths had crossed many times. He said the Government had a good relationship with the Premier League (You can probably guess the rest). That being said, Jack said he would get a meeting set up with the Sports Minister to look see what government could do regarding the regulation of football.
Other MP’s throwing their weight behind the movement including MP Graham Jones. Graham has always been a big supporter of the BRFC Action Group after Simon Littler initially made contact with him, in the weeks leading up to the 24 hour protest and of all the MP’s has been consistent with not only his support, but also bringing the story of Blackburn Rovers into the public domain, including addressing Parliament.
Jack also made contact with Jake Berry to see if he would accompany both he and Graham Jones, along with the BRFC Action Group to Parliament to speak to the Sports Minister Hugh Robertson.
Meanwhile the BRFC Action Group committee, was now in full flow, with Andy Woods, Graham Reid and Rob Crabtree being instrumental in getting other town dignitaries involved, which included Councillor Mullah and Lord Patel. They knocked on every door as the group seeked help, to try and take the situation which was unfolding at Blackburn Rovers to the highest authorities. In addition to try and gather support, they also had market stands set up, to grow the membership of the group and try and reach out to the members of the supporter base which were perhaps not on social media, or did not have much of an idea about the group, its work and what it was trying to achieve and why. Those guys put in weeks of effort, giving their own time for free, Monday to Sunday , whatever the weather. The dedication they showed back then, they still show today in their quest to protect the long term future of Blackburn Rovers.
The aftermath of all there efforts in getting people to put their efforts behind the supporters, resulted in Maureen Bateson, Sir Bill Taylor, Lord Patel and Wayne Hemingway becoming group Patrons, of which everyone involved in the BRFC Action Group to this day is very proud of.
On the pitch Rovers continued the downward spiral and the BRFC Action Group returned to organising protest. With just a few games to go the following statement was issued.
Blackburn fans are to take to the streets again to stage another protest march ahead of this weekend’s home match against Norwich.
Rovers have lost their last five games, conceding 13 goals, and are three points from safety with just four fixtures remaining.
Back-to-back wins over Wolves and Sunderland last month appeared to have lifted the club out of trouble but their current run has dropped them back in and angry fans are stepping up their campaign with more protests against owners Venky’s and manager Steve Kean.
“To the people of Blackburn, this is no longer just about losing football matches, this is about the very future of the football club and the very fabric of Blackburn,” said a statement from the BRFC Action Group.
“Our football club is a 137-year-old institution which has seen its traditions and values destroyed in less than 18 months.
“It takes only a few hands to bulldoze our club but it will take many hands to rebuild it and the whole community needs to come together to breathe life back into Blackburn Rovers.
“Venkys cannot make us feel inferior if we do not give them our consent.
“Words divide us, actions unite us and if we are unified there is nothing that we cannot achieve.”
The BRFC’s “community march” will leave Blackburn Town Hall at 1.30pm on Saturday and proceed to Ewood Park.
Saturday 21st April 2012 came and 1300 supporters marched that day from the Town hall at Blackburn, after a speech was given by Maureen Bateson. The game itself would be the last time Rovers won a Premier League Match as they beat Norwich 2-0 to end a five game losing run.
Rover actually lost 8 of their last 9 fixtures, during the 2011-2012 season, with our relegation being confirmed with a home loss to Wigan Athletic. I remember that night like it was yesterday. The numbness, the disbelief. I recall after the game leaving my seat in the Darwen End and moving across to the Blackburn End as supporters stayed behind and protested. The tears in the stands that night, I still picture and see. I recall one gentleman who I spoke to, who said in the last 7 days, he had lost his job, his home and long term partner, he stated this is all he had left and even the joy of his football club, has been torn from him. Some may think, its only football, but to so many its much much more than that.
How Rovers managed to get to the end of the season with Steve Kean still being the Manager was now a deep deep concern.
As a group we could not dwell, we needed to get all the information we had gathered, and get ready to meet the Premier League, and in particular Richard Scudamore. The meeting was held in Doncaster. Rob Crabtree, drove that day and Took Mark and I, whilst Phil Thompson made his own way there, and in true Phil fashion was lastminute,com. We met with Philip Lingard an hour before the meeting at a little cafe, and went through what we would discuss and the angle we would adopt. It was I agreed I would present the Action Groups findings, whilst Philip would present the things he had found out. All of the things mentioned in the previous parts of this blog were discussed, along with us wanting to understand the “fit and proper test”. However one of the biggest revelations to come out of the meeting was the money trail, which got Scudamore in a deep sweat. He was physically uncomfortable as Philip played a blinder. Through contacts, which I have agreed to not to mention, Philip started to go back through the steps, of where the money which purchased Rovers actually came from. One by one , he named them, step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4, In amazement Scudamore as each step was read, was nodding his head saying “Yes that is correct” until Philip got to Step 5, at which point Scudamore stated “Hang on, we only track transactions for four steps under the fit and proper test and how we regulate payment transfers”. He had already agreed step 1-4 was accurate, which you certainly couldn’t guess, or find it lurking on the internet. Suddenly we had something which was looking like a break through. Philip then continued in the calmest of voices, Step 5 step 6 and finally step 7, which was the place the money which purchased Rovers has allegedly come from. A money trail which had been to India, Been to the Cayman Islands, Been to Brunei , had actually originated from a Western Union account out of Bradford.
The room fell silent, Scudamore the Chief of the Premier League was stunned, he was on the back foot and suddenly he was throwing out olive branches. He admitted that something was not right at Blackburn Rovers, however although he had sympathy, it was beyond his control and we needed to be speaking to the FA. Scuadamore, stated he had seen and heard enough that day, that he would personally recommend to the FA That they should meet with us. The meeting concluded.
We came out of that meeting, shocked, but at the same time proud, that we had gone eye to eye with one of the most powerful men in football and had run rings around him, so much so, he had not fast tracked the meeting we wanted with the FA. When I look back now, it was that day that I realised that, if enough people care about something, then its worth fighting for even if there is only 1% chance of success.
Next up Rob Crabtree, Mark Fish and I was on our travels down to London, for a meeting with the FA and a meeting at Parliament with the Sports Minister. This was quite a surreal experience, as we were not politicians and I don’t think any of us even imagined we would end up taking the plight of our club to every governing body in the UK,
Our visit to London would last 2 days, we had agreed to meet Rishi Sikka who was in the throws of putting together a documentary regarding the Fall of our club under the stewardship of the Rao Family. We also agreed to meet with Nick Harris, who I had been in constant contact with, regarding the goings on at the club. He was carrying out his own investigation, but many of his findings to date, he had struggled to put out in the public domain due to legal threats from SEM Kentaro’s legal team. Philip Lingard was also part of the delegation.
We caught the tube down to Parliament, which was an experience in itself, we was certainly not use to getting from train to train, and then moving like a hoard of wild boars. If you stopped for a second or actually slowed the pace of your walk, you would no doubt get knocked down and everyone would walk straight over you.
I saw Rishi, drive by with Camera’s and things hanging out of his windows, it was like a scene out of National Lampoon’s vacation, as he was obviously finding somewhere to park. Where he actually ended up, I have never asked him, as we was very pressed for time.
We met up with the MP’S Jack Straw, Jake Berry and Jack Straw, I remember Jack’s words as he looked over to me and said “We will be your wing men, you deliver the presentation and we will be on hand to support you”. I was quite nervous, as I walked through Parliament, seeing different people pass us in the corridors, like Nick Clegg who I’m use to seeing on News at 10. As we got close to chambers of the Sports Minister, Jack then stated that not all of us could actually go in. This was a really awkward moment. I knew, I needed Philip in there and I knew I needed Mark in there, but having to tell Nick Harris and Rob Crabtree, that they could’nt come in, was not my idea of fun. I know Rob was quite upset about it, but a swift decision needed to be made. So Mark, Philip and I accompanied the MP’s into the Chambers with a representative from the Rovers Trust, who you must forgive me, I cannot for the life of me remember his name.
Hugh Robertson was very well spoken and appeared to take on board what we had to say. The approach in this meeting was how the game was actually being regulated. We could actually say a lot more in this meeting under parliamentary privilege. There was a number of theories put forward by Philip Lingard, which were around betting markets, but they were no more than theories as there was nothing physical to back these claims up. After a good hour in the chambers, the sports minister agreed that a number of questions could be presented to Parliament, of which they would then present the case to the FA and Premier League to seek clarification, into who owned Blackburn Rovers, and if any rules were being broken. We agreed to draw up a list of questions and forward them to Jack Straw who would present them in the correct format.
After the meeting it was quite weird, Jack and Jake made for the exits, whilst Graham Jones took us up to the Bar in Parliament were the MP’s go, we was then pretty much left to our own devices in the houses of Parliament, in which people must of been thinking who are these guys?
We hung around for a couple of hours and then made our way into town for some much needed food, and to gather our thoughts ahead of our meeting with the compliance team at the FA the following day.
The next day came and Rob, Mark and I made our way over the Wembley, We had agreed to meet Savio Matthias who was a Rovers supporters and regular poster on the BRFCS Website forums. We had never met Savio before, but as we approached the entrance to the stadium he was there waiting for us.
Of all the meetings we attended, this for me, was the most important one, whilst it was also the one where I felt we best delivered our case. I tore pieces out of the FA, they could not handle the line of questioning, the evidence we was presenting or indeed the bigger picture, of what was actually in Pandora’s box. I found them arrogant, and very dismissive of anything being put forward. They claimed they had no budget to do anything with what we had given them, they claimed we would need to carry out the investigation ourselves and present an open and shut case. They blamed the Premier League, and said our beef should be with them. They attempted at every opportunity to deflect the blame to everyone but themselves. Eventually they conceded they had called Karen Silk (Rovers then Finance Director) in for meeting just days earlier, who had also presented information which they planned on following up as it may open the doors to a full investigation. They was anything but consistent as it became very clear, there was a major cover up going on, as between the FA and Premier League, they had not only allowed the Raos’ to buy the club, but their own rules had been broken, by Agent involvement at the Blackburn Rovers. This must of also been a national embarrassment to them, especially as Kentaro were a major sponsor of the National Team. The “Fit and Proper Test” Was now being publicly called out for what it actually is, “Not worth the paper it is written on”.
We left the meeting knowing we had delivered a polished performance in the manner, Most Rovers supporters would of hoped for. We did not beat about the bush and was clear and precise in our claims, whilst we backed these claims up with documented evidence. We certainly gave them food for thought, whilst also making it clear, we was a problem which was not just going to disappear.
During my next Blog, I will cover the Football league Meeting and the beginning of the Supporter comeback in terms of gathering the truth