Paul Severn talks to John Murray, Chair of the Rovers Trust about the glory years that preceded the more recent decline of his beloved Rovers and that do or die afternoon that saw Forest avoid relegation at the expense of Blackburn back in May
As the final whistle blew at the City Ground on that sunny May afternoon, safety had been secured. Forest fans ran onto the pitch and red smoke signalled that The Reds were staying up and that a disastrous era of ownership had come to end. But as we walked away, we did spare a thought, and much sympathy, for fans of Blackburn Rovers.
Despite a fine win of their own against Brentford, wins for Birmingham and Forest had taken them down. There were tears in the away end – not just caused by relegation – but also because Rovers remained stuck with the Venky’s ownership, which has overseen a dramatic fall in the club’s fortunes during their seven-year tenure.
John Murray, Chair of the Rovers Trust, remembers the day: “There was hope for 20 minutes, but we expected to be relegated.
“Many fans had been absent from home games and attendances were low. Many have said they will not give the owners a penny more of their money. For years, players have been sold for millions of pounds and weren’t replaced properly.
“The owners are intransigent – it seems that they don’t want to sell the club. They are absent from the matches. Yes, Forest went down to League One, but this is more systemic.”
Like Forest, Blackburn have also had their glory years. They are one of only six clubs to win the Premier League in its current incarnation – winning the title in 1995. Under the ownership of Jack Walker, Rovers built a great side, led by the goals of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton.
“It was like a dream,” remembers John. “It was wonderful, just like your Brian Clough years. The stadium was redone, and we had wonderful players. And it continued for a long time. We won the League Cup in 2002 and almost reached the FA Cup Final.
“Mark Hughes kept unearthing jewels. There were players like Roque Santa Cruz and we had Andy Cole for three seasons. Then there was the team with Matt Jansen, David Dunn and Damien Duff.”
Jack Walker died in 2000 and club was then owned by the Walker Trust, but by 2008 the Trust had started looking for a buyer. In 2010, Venky’s London Limited bought the club. The experienced Sam Allardyce was sacked and replaced by the unpopular Steve Kean. As Blackburn’s fortunes declined and Rovers were relegated from the top flight, dissent started to increase, which ultimately led to the formation of the Rovers Trust.
John explains: “The Trust is six years old and was a combination of different groups. There is also an Action Group, but our Trust aims to act as a safety net. Fans have made pledges to fund a stake in the club should the need arise. If the club was to go into administration (which some fans would take if it meant the owners leaving) then we would go into emergency action to try to take a percentage of the club and get a presence on the board.
“In May I was elected Chair of Trust. I’m a third generation fan and went with my grandfather in the late 1950s. I had my first season ticket in 1971 and have been a regular both home and away.
“As Chair I have got to be ready for a change in the ownership situation, but we hear very little. In the meantime I am lobbying the EFL and FA for things like an ownership MOT and yellow and red card for owners – and that the fit and proper test is properly applied.”
The Trust has over 700 members and a mailing list of over 2,000 – a fine achievement considering attendances have dipped under 10,000. John is talent-spotting for local people to get involved.
“We have worked to get Ewood Park and the training ground protected as Assets of Community Value. We are looking at supporting safe standing and we are working with a playwright who is developing a new play, which is a parable about the club’s demise and what that means for people.
“A football club is a community and different to any other organisation I know. Fans are fiercely loyal. Rovers are good for Blackburn, just like Forest are for Nottingham. I’d encourage fans to join their Trust, and if they don’t have one, to start their own, so we can all work together to create a louder voice.”