Crisis at Blackburn Rovers FC revealed in damning leaked letter
A leaked letter from the CEO of Blackburn Rovers FC to club owner Anuradha Desai has revealed the full extent of financial turmoil, internal disputes and doubts over the manager at Ewood Park this season.
The letter, leaked today by Sporting Intelligence was written on 21 December 2011, hours after Blackburn had lost 2-1 to Bolton and emerges the day after Blackburn’s confirmed relegation from the Premier League.
Blackburn Rovers is owned by Venky’s, an Indian company which specialises in chicken processing and pharmaceutical products for human and poultry usage. They purchased the club in 2010 for £23 million and made quick work of sacking manager Sam Allardyce, replacing him with first team coach Steve Kean.
The club has since been plagued with financial upset, and in December 2011, the same month in which this letter was written, Blackburn published a pre-tax loss of £18.6 million for the year ending 30 June 2011.
This season has seen demands from fans that manager Steve Kean be sacked, and over 500 supporters protested outside of Ewood Park calling for his firing and Venky’s to leave the club.
Today’s leaked letter, sent by Blackburn Rovers CEO Paul Hunt, fully reveals the crisis that has been brewing behind the scenes at the club and indicates a lack of support for Kean that ran deeper than merely the fans. He had also lost the support of his players and the executives that ran the club.
Hunt had been in the position of CEO (though unofficially) for six months before sending this letter, after replacing John Williams.
Hunt says that “publicly I have been asked to support the manager and I always have as I personally like Steve. I have supported him from the start and have been desperate for him to do well”, but then asks for his sacking. In a damning sentence, he says that Kean had not only lost the support from his fans, he had lost the support of his players as well: “He has lost the crowd and as a result of this evening’s game has lost the dressing room as well – the players no longer want to play for him.”
Hunt appears all to aware of the financial crisis Blackburn was facing and asks for Venky’s to inject a further £10 million. He says: “The position with the finances is a cause for grave concern. Auditors KPMG have put as many obstacles as they can in the way of signing off the accounts due to their concerns. We continue to try and work with Barclays but they are very quickly losing patience as we cannot give answers. We have been forced to agree to additional spending against our wishes (Christmas hampers, sponsoring the Princes Trust event etc) and I am fearful that the situation will only get worse. ”
He says that only 5% of ex-season ticket holders would return to the club and that they are losing supporters and crucially, sponsors. “I am concerned we will lose Umbro if we continue to manufacture Rovers shirts in India for the RoverStar programme. Their contract specifically disallows this and we are putting at risk £800k of annual revenue.”
He even has concerns that the Premier League were losing patience with Blackburn and said: “I am also concerned that the Premier League will intervene soon as they may take the view that their brand is being tarnished by association too.”
Hunt says in the letter to owner Anuradha Desai: “I have kept quiet for a time now out of utmost respect and I trust that you realise that I am only emailing you now as I want what is only the best for Blackburn Rovers and the owners. I am very much of the opinion that we can save the club and I have always been very supportive and positive towards the owners. Therefore I hope you know that what I am saying is considered, honest, constructive and from the heart.” His letter outlines his 10-point plan for the club going forward.
His letter demonstrates unrest and confusion in the managing of the club. Hunt at the time was referred to as a ‘Deputy’ and believed he should be promoted officially to ‘CEO’, since “The “Deputy” title is confusing to staff, supporters and media.” He also points out that he has the lowest salary of all senior staff working in the Premier League.
He asks that the owners be willing to trust the executives they had chosen, and give them the authority to actually run the club. “Everything at the club needs to come through either myself, Simon Hunt or Karen Silk – both Karen and Simon are excellent appointments. We have vast experience and with Vineeth as well, I am sure we have a winning team. The owners must learn to trust us.”
His report shows a lack of awareness of what Venky’s plans for the club were, and asks for the executives to be given “information on your plans, strategy and thoughts going forward”. He asks also that these executives be given the power to hire and fire. “In Simon Williams we have someone who is against the owners and spreads the word wherever he can. I am disappointed I was not allowed to remove him from post in the summer, when he and the rest of the staff were expecting it. We must act soon in this regard and look to review other positions and then give the staff great morale. ”
Communication appears to be a concern for Hunt, and he asks that from now on, all press statements should come from Ewood Park and not India. He wished to hire a PR consultant to help protect the image of the club – and its owners. He also requests the executive team regularly visit India to consult with the owners, and that the owners attend Blackburn matches. Hunt says: “I am very concerned that I have not met with you properly during the six months I have worked at the club. You have asked me to deal with things locally but to be able to do this, as I have asked before, I need a greater understanding of your aspirations so I can deliver on them. If you keep me informed and learn to trust me, I can be your mouthpiece. ”
Hunt clearly believed that the owners were not even fully aware of everything happening at the club: “I may be speaking out of turn here, but I am also concerned that no one reports everything to you, that is, everyone tries to report positive news and are not overly forthcoming when negative news needs to be told. By not having the full details, anyone would find it difficult to make decisions that encompass all the facts, all of the time. I am sure that if you were exposed to the full story, no matter how negative sometimes, that you would do the right thing. I need to be able to report a little more readily to you and on an infinitely more regular basis.”
This letter has leaked at the worst possible time for Blackburn Rovers, and demonstrates what the fans appear to have already known – that Kean should no longer have been manager and that Venky’s were running a club with enormous financial problems and a lack of trust in their senior staff.
Blackburn must surely be facing the biggest crisis in its footballing history, and the support and trust of the fans has been all but destroyed. This letter will only anger them further, as it further demonstrates a growing crisis behind the scenes at Ewood Park.