Confessions of a Blackburn Rovers Supporter

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Here we are – the last match of the English Premier League season. The fate of my team has already been determined.

We’re going down.

A season of Championship (fancy name for “not good enough”) football beckons.

I know… this is supposed to be a travel blog, but bear with me through some of my fan boy rants, and I promise you, there’s a point I am trying to make.

My love affair with the Rovers started in 1993. I’d just watched my first Premier League game and I was hooked!

Despite not having any geographical links with East Lancashire (or any parts of England for that matter), I was excited by the club that Jack Walker had built.

Jack Walker (no relation to Johnny)(I think…) was a self-made steel tycoon who decided to put his considerable financial might into the rejuvenation of his home town of Blackburn. He believed that the self confidence of the dreary industrial town could be improved greatly if they have something to cheer for. Something like the revival of the town’s once-great football club. Wouldn’t it be great if a small-town club could challenge for the country’s top honours with legendary clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal?

It sounded like a script right out of an underdog-made-good Hollywood movie, but they were still big words coming from a club that just barely avoided relegation from the Second Division.

Over the next few years, Uncle Jack put his money where his mouth was. He injected millions of his own money into the club he supported since he was a boy. He even managed to persuade ex-Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish into taking over as the club’s manager. Despite the club’s small fan base, top players and promising youngsters started joining the club. The man was playing a real life game of Championship Manager!

I wish I could say I started supporting the Rovers because of the passion of Jack Walker, but 12-year old me was actually more star struck by Kenny Dalglish and his garden-theme squad (We had a goalie called Flowers, a defender called May, a skipper called Sherwood and a star striker called Shearer)(Surely, someone else saw the connection!).

With Walker’s money, the Rovers went from strength to strength. They scraped through promotion to the newly formed Premier League via play offs, and proceeded to finish fourth and second in their first years in the new League.

On the final day of the 94/95 season, Rovers needed a win against Liverpool to secure the league title.

They lost.

In a dramatic turn of events, Manchester United failed to capitalise on Rovers’ loss, and drew at West Ham.

The fairytale was completed! Walker’s Blackburn became the second team to win the Premier League and the only provincial team to finish top since.

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It was an awesome time to be a Blackburn fan!

The next few years were not that great.

Dalglish moved up to become Director of Football. Star players were bought up by richer clubs. A series of bad performances and worse managers meant Blackburn never reached the top again. In a dismal 98/99 season, the team finished in the bottom three of the league and was relegated into the (then) Division One. It was heartbreaking to see Walker’s face as the team played their last game in the Premier League for two years. Walker never saw his beloved team play in the top flight again. He passed away from cancer in 1999.

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Uncle Jack

During this time, Blackburn slowly transformed from a team-money-bought to a team of industrious giant killers. They don’t have the most expensive players, or the most good looking starlets, but they certainly play with a lot of heart. The players would challenge for every ball and go in hard on every tackle (some would say too hard).

It was with this attitude that the team won promotion back to the Premier League. Even though they’ll hover in mid table obscurity throughout their return to the Premier League, they’ll pull off the occasional shock victory, even winning the League Cup through an impossible sequence of results.

It was a difficult time to be a Rovers fan. I had to scour obscure websites to find replays of the Division One matches. There were always taunts from fans of “big clubs” when I proudly announced my support for a team of “hooligans” and “second stringers”, but I was proud of the way the team carried themselves. Of course, the occasional upsets provided great entertainment for me when I could laugh at the “difference in quality” between Rovers and the billion-dollar branded clubs of prima donnas. It was a difficult time to be a Rovers supporter, but it was a good time as well.

Last season, Blackburn was bought over by Indian chicken tycoon, Venky’s. Their reign thus far would be marked by empty promises and their unwavering support to an ineffective manager. Under this regime, the once tight knit Rovers squad turned to shambles. Dedicated servants of the club turned mutinous: refusing to play any more matches until things changed. They were promptly sold off at ridiculously low prices.

Blackburn fans were labelled as hooligans by the national media for heckling the clueless manager who had not managed to earn the respect/love of anyone at the club.

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A round headed buffoon with a head shaped like an orange.... Ricky Gervais' words, not mine...

It was a horrible time to be a Rovers fan. It’s like watching your best friend get into an accident in slow motion and not being able to do anything about it.

I promised a “point” to all this, so here it is:

While watching a match at a friend’s place recently, I was asked: “Why are you supporting this bozo of a team?”

For the first time in almost 20 years, I couldn’t answer.

Blackburn Rovers was in shambles. We have disinterested owners, an incompetent manager and a bunch of players whose hearts do not seem to be in it anymore. We played 90 minutes of football against Tottenham without A SINGLE SHOT AT GOAL! I’m sure Spurs had an impressive defence, but my point was that even a half hearted Nazri Nasir would’ve tried a shot from midfield given half the chance!

So to my friend’s question, I could only manage a half-assed answer of “Loyalty”.

But seriously where do you draw the line between Dedication and Blind Loyalty? I have a feeling that the only reason why I check the Blackburn club page these days was out of pure habit. It was a comfortable habit I have had for the longest time – one that I carried on with even when it doesn’t make sense to do so anymore.

I realize that this applies to many parts of life too. We do anything long enough and it would become a habit. It’s more comfortable to carry on with a bad habit than to break out of it. To break out of the cycle of bad behaviour, we have to first realize it’s not something we want anymore.

And sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: I’ll not be checking in on the Blackburn squad anymore. I’ll still be watching English football but I won’t be supporting any teams. I’m sure I’ll lapse and type in the url for the Blackburn fan page once in a while, but until something drastic happen, they’ll certainly not be in my “favourites”folder anymore.

Arte Et Labore!

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