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Has the tide turned in East Lancashire?

There is an atmosphere of sombreness that has clouded over Blackburn this week. Despite the country’s pleasant outbreak of sunshine there still lingers a hurtful air of gloom that began yesterday when Burnley defeated Rovers at Ewood Park in the Cotton Mill derby. It was their first win over Blackburn Rovers in 35 long years.

The Clarets are on their way to the top flight and are now 23 points ahead of their closest rivals. Let me first say that as a Blackburn Rovers fan, congratulations to Burnley, because their success has been hard earned and I know many Claret fans who will feel a sense of vindication.

To be quite frank the question in the title is painfully easy to answer, it has and it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

I’ve been supporting Blackburn Rovers since 1997. Almost 15 years on, from my childhood it never crossed my mind that the club could ever be second best in East Lancashire. Of course as a 23 year old now, I would be ignorant and foolish to accept that perception into adulthood. Times change, club’s progress, club’s decline, that is football. But in no uncertain terms, and this is the first and last time I will place blame on anyone in this article, I have no doubt in my mind that Sunday’s loss would not have happened had the Rao family not sacked Sam Allardyce back in December 2010. In fact the game most likely would not have taken place, because Blackburn would still be a Premier League club.

Independent - Sam Allardyce
Independent – Sam Allardyce

Shoddy journalism, inaccuracies and blatant PR spin had fans all around the country believe that Blackburn would have been relegated soon enough anyway. Where is the evidence to suggest that? The club, since being promoted in 2001, spent 11 years consecutively in the Premier League. In 10 out of those 11 years, the team finished 15th place or above. The one season they didn’t? They were relegated. Our final year in the top flight (11/12) was a shambles and the team that took to the field against Wigan, the day we were relegated, was a shadow of the team that Graeme Souness, Mark Hughes and Sam Allardyce had built.

The following year was even more disastrous with the club only finishing four points above relegation to League 1. A series of sackings, comical misgivings, and overpaid signings all contributed to an alarming deterioration of a club that five years ago was one of the best run in the country. Blackburn fans could talk all day about the abundance of errors that have been made over the past three or so years but it would just bring up painful memories and a yearning for past glories through nostalgia. Tugay anyone?

So where do we go from here? I’ve seen calls on message boards and Twitter for Venky’s to leave and even Gary Bowyer to be sacked. There needs to be a sense of perspective. The Indian poultry family will not be leaving anytime soon and have made some dramatic improvements this year in their running of the club. Derek Shaw, despite his appalling start has gained respect this season with his business and the club have sensibly appointed a secretary, finance director and most recently a well-respected Head of Communication as the club make efforts to regain fans trust. There’s also been the ironically quiet disappearance of ‘Global Advisor’ Shebby Singh. – Gary Bowyer

As for Gary Bowyer, irritated Blackburn fans should take a look at the wider picture. Not only did he save Blackburn from relegation last year, he has completely revamped an aging overpaid team into a young, hungry one in less than a year. One thing that stood out on Sunday was the two team’s line-up, although Burnley fans will not agree, there was nothing to suggest that Burnley’s team was any better than Blackburn’s. Their success has come from consistency, they are a team whom the majority have played together for years and it is no coincidence that the only team above them in the league, Leicester, have exactly the same blueprint. It is naïve to think that we should be challenging for promotion when you consider the upheaval this last year. No team has that right in this league, that is something to be earned.

Should Blackburn continue in the same vein, whether it be next year or the one after, the club will soon enough be challenging for promotion back to the Premier League. For now we shall remain in mediocrity, remembering the heydays of the John Williams era as our comfort of what we once were, as the Venky’s group continue their slow process of trying to re-create those times we perhaps took for granted.

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