Last night saw the sorry demise of Blackburn Rovers as a Premiership team complete; their 1-0 home defeat to neighbours Wigan Athletic confirmed their fate, relegation to the Championship, the second tier of English football.
What has made this demise all the more sorrowful is the acrimonious manner in which the club coach (manager) and owners (Venkys of India) have interacted with the supporters over the course of the season.
If ever there was a display of the impact of fans, this has to have been it. Throughout the season home matches have been marked by protests against the manager and the owners, even right back into the first couple of home matches.
Usually this game lasts a very short period of time. Fans protest, club owners sack manager, things move on (although results don’t necessarily improve). However, either through incompetence or otherwise, Venkys stuck with the manager, Steve Kean, throughout the season, despite terrible evenings such as the 2-1 home defeat to other local rivals, Bolton Wanderers.
The counterfactual, of course, is lacking, and hence one cannot be certain. However, it seems hard to believe that had Blackburn been able to rely on the support of 24,000 spectators each week, instead of the spectators barracking the manager and owners throughout games, things wouldn’t have been different. Fans are a fickle bunch it’s generally said, and had results turned around perhaps the protests would have stopped – but then supporters arguably play a role in whether or not results can turn around.
Listening to the interview with Bradley Orr after the match (somewhat summarised here), it seems clear some kind of siege mentality set in at the club – those with the manager, and those not (the fans and players that left during the season – Jason Roberts and Chrisophe Samba), with obvious unsatisfactory outcomes.
The whole episode appears to me to display the power fans have, to shoot themselves in the foot if they want to in order to make a point. Even when it became clear the owners would stick with the manager, the fans didn’t decide to be pragmatic and stop protesting and instead support the team, they instead switched target to the owners. It seemed they preferred the idea of getting their way, and were prepared to suffer greatly in order to achieve that (although it’s still not clear Kean will leave or the Venky’s sell up – see the last link). I’m sure there’s some interesting game theory model in here somewhere…