Newcastle fans expecting a Manchester City-style transformation of their club might see their wish granted in the coming days.
Before they dream of title challenges and European runs, however, they might cast a cautionary glance towards another once-great northern club.
Blackburn Rovers are one of the oldest football teams in the world. They’ve been champions of England three times and winners of the FA Cup on six occasions. Newcastle United boast a similar record but, unlike the Magpies, Blackburn have enjoyed success in living memory.
In fact, Blackburn are the oldest club to win the English title in the Premier League era. Their 1995 victory came in an era when it took millions – not the billions of today – to fund success and was thanks to Jack Walker, steel magnate and lifelong Rovers fan.
Ten years ago Blackburn had their own foreign takeover by eastern billionaires, Venky’s of India. The new owners arrived with some fanfare and their chairperson, Anuradha J. Desai, promised that their aim was “establishing Blackburn Rovers as a truly global brand.”
Desai sought to allay concerns about foreign owners destroying the fabric of a family club and the heart of a small northern community: “We will absolutely respect the Jack Walker legacy and will be actively supporting the organisation to ensure that Blackburn Rovers remain one of the best-run clubs within the Premier League,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
Venky’s quickly dispensed with a very competent manager in Sam Allardyce, replacing him with the club’s first-team coach, Steve Kean.
Kean’s tenure as manager was disastrous and he came to be loathed by fans. Not only did he oversee the team’s relegation but, after being charged with driving at 90mph with almost twice the legally permitted level of alcohol in his bloodstream, Kean suggested in his defence that he had been spiked by bitter Blackburn fans while he drank with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Arguably even more loathed than Kean himself was his agent, Jerome Anderson. Anderson’s influence seemed to pervade every aspect of the club for a time, from facilitating the Venky’s takeover to dictating Rovers’ transfer policy.
The club signed a great many journeymen, has-been and never-would-be players. Fans cried foul play when it transpired that most of the players were also represented by Anderson. Such fears now seem founded because many would never even make a first-time appearance for the club.
In matters unrelated to Blackburn Rovers, Anderson has since been forced to pay £1.2m to HMRC after being found to have avoided tax.
Steve Keane’s career after leaving Blackburn has consisted of managing in the league of Brunei, where his side won almost half their games and overseeing the Brunei national team for four matches. His spell as national manager saw him lose all four games against the lowest-ranked teams in South East Asia.
Venky’s shambolic reign at Blackburn continues to this day. The team have been relegated twice and appear to have settled in the lower echelons of the Championship. To the pain of their fans, they look no closer to escaping the second tier than they do to becoming “a truly global brand”.
Blackburn Rovers, a club at the heart of a proud northern mill town, has had its guts ripped out like one of the chickens in Venky’s slaughterhouses.
Newcastle fans must hope the same fate does not befall them but they are unlikely to receive any support from the FA or the press if things go wrong.
The Premier League’s ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test’ has been exposed as a sham. Only convicted criminals and those who have already destroyed two football clubs need not apply.
More sinister still is the way Blackburn fans were demonised by the media when they pressed for answers from their owners. Contrast this with the more positive coverage given to Arsenal fans’ protests against their owner and the most successful manager in the club’s history.
Which protest was more brattish? It seems fan power is fine so long as the dissenting voices are not northern and working-class.
Newcastle fans will hope they have no cause to stand up against their new Saudi owners.