Vital Blackburn talks to BRAG
Earlier this week I posed some questions to Mark Fish of the Blackburn Rovers Action Group committee about several topics, including the Rovers Trust, BRAG as a group, and the role Blackburn Rovers can help the community.
Here is what he had to say.
1. Many see BRAG as the group which wanted to get 'Kean Out'. What happens now for the group? How do you move forward?
Whilst the protest movement itself had the purpose of removing the manager and indeed the protests were organised by the group, the BRFC Action Group`s primary goal has always been for a well run football club. From day one the group has always sought open, honest and transparent communication with the club and for this to be maintained.
The manager has now gone and the way in which the club is being run is in complete contrast to last season. The group is pro Blackburn Rovers Football Club and seeks to do what it can to help achieve on the field success for the team whilst at the same time trying to safeguard the rights of our members. The group has changed along with the football club and the group now has regular contact with the clubs administration and passes on concerns on behalf of its members.
In addition to some great community work the club is heavily involved in, the group also actively helps supporters and supporters groups when requested, for instance at the start of the season the group contacted the club regarding funding for the clubs ladies football team and helped secure a figure of £35,000 towards their costs, the group upon request, are currently involved in helping an established supporters group resolve a long standing issue and we receive a constant stream of correspondence from supporters from all walks of life and seek to immediately resolve these with the relevant department.
The group very much has supporter and club relations at the forefront of its mind and we will be announcing some big news next week which will open up even more opportunities for supporters to convey their thoughts to the club.
2. The BRAG committee seem to put a lot of hours into the running of the group. Is it more than you expected, and would you like more people to get involved to share the workload?
Certainly upon the formation of the groups committee some of us were already aware of the amount time being put it in by the organisers of the protests. Even in the early days I could quite regularly go all night without sleep. I think the committee members who were elected once the group was established, were surprised at how much actually happens on a day to day basis. All of the committee are in dialogue with each other throughout the day, every day, we need to be.
On an average week we have several meetings with various bodies and organisations which various committee members attend and our committee meetings when done by conference call can run through the night, they regularly begin at 8pm and I can still be in the same call 12 hours later. For instance on Friday night due to a series of meetings escalating rather quickly, myself and the groups chairman needed urgent discussions and I eventually left this call the following morning at 8am to prepare to travel down to Peterborough for Saturdays game, so without doubt I can safely say the hours going into the group are far more than anyone expected.
We are though very fortunate as a committee, in that we have some dedicated members of the group who are always on hand and willing to offer any support and help they can. I am asked on a daily basis by members if there is anything they can do to help, so one thing we are not short of is people willing to become involved. However one thing the group will be looking at in the New Year is to extend the committee back to at least its original number of 8 committee members, as there are many initiatives planned for 2013 which will require a lot of people`s time and commitment.
3. Blackburn Rovers plays a major part in the community of the town. What are BRAG doing to help build on this?
The group was very quick to point out to Shebby in the early days of his arrival at the club that the relationship between Blackburn Rovers and the community was fractured and needed a lot of work to ensure the rebuilding of those bridges. During Shebby`s time at the club, the BRFC Action Group have introduced him to many prominent community figureheads, such as the Mayor Zamir Khan, Council Leader Kate Hollern and Sir Bill Taylor.
The BRFC Action Group initiated a steering committee which will see the group propose community projects which can then be developed and implemented, Shebby was very keen to become involved in this initiative and meetings between the group, our honorary patron Maureen Bateson MBE, Shebby and the Council Leader are regular to ensure the full benefit of these projects are achieved.
In recent weeks the group proposed that the Council should select a group of 44 deserving children to attend Ewood Park for a home fixture, the group then liaised with Shebby Singh to incorporate a day of activities into this visit, including refreshments, quizzes, a ground tour, a half time penalty shoot-out and a chance to meet a Rovers star in addition to watching the game from the Ronnie Clayton Blackburn End.
The group have also organised and funded a trip to Blackpool illuminations for a group of children in October, in addition to donating 45 tickets to the Christmas pantomime at King Georges Hall for children to attend during their Christmas party organised by the Brown Cow Inn, as well as having many more community initiatives due to be announced in the coming weeks.
Community projects play a pivotal role in what the group is trying to achieve and by organising steering committees which bring together the club and the community the BRFC Action Group are certainly leading the way in repairing what was a fractured relationship.
I would like to thank Mark on behalf of Vital Blackburn for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak to the website.
4. Do the BRFC Action Group support the Rovers Trust? And what are the reasons for that decision?
The BRFC Action Group is not currently in a position to endorse, nor reject the Rovers Trust. As a democratic supporters group with a wide array of opinions among our membership base it wouldn`t be right for the committee to make such a decision on behalf of our members.
Our role as elected committee members is to act in the interest of our members and on issues such as this, only those members can make the decision. It has been said that we should take the decision as a committee, however that goes against the grain of the group and despite having many BRFC Action Group members on the Rovers Trust steering committee, we have to listen to a wider range of members and give each of them an opportunity to be heard.
The group has allowed Rovers Trust to advertise within our membership packs but the groups official stance will remain impartial until the members of the group have been balloted.
5. Do you personally think the Rovers Trust is a good idea? What are the reasons for that decision?
I personally actively supported the initial BRSIT proposal as it was being sold to supporters at the time and this was to use their own words 'a disaster plan' which would come into place in the event the club hit the rocks and an alternative to Venkys was needed to rescue the club and maintain its existence. This concept is no longer a disaster plan.
As somebody who pledged to BRSIT myself, I also find it concerning that two parties merged and an entire concept was rewritten without consultation with those who had pledged into the scheme, if decisions like this can be taken without consultation it worries me on how much of an impact in decision making the members will have long term.
In addition to this, I am of the firm belief that for Rovers Trust to gather the required interest they would need to attract support from a wide variety of supporters. It concerns many including myself that there are people in key executive positions on the steering committee of the trust who have vociferously insulted and belittled the clubs supporters for not attending matches, whether it be for geographical reasons or financial restrictions. I am of the strong opinion that all supporters in the family that is Blackburn Rovers are equal and each is as important to the club as the next.
Words and insults cannot always be taken back and if supporter ownership is to ever become a reality at Blackburn Rovers, it can never involve those who don`t value over 95% of the fan base and consider them to be untrue supporters.
6. Will the Rovers Trust have any affect on the communication the fans currently have with the club?
The issue most supporters held over the previous two years was the lack of communication and transparency coming from the club. Steve Kean appeared to be above the board of directors in the food chain whilst being universally hated by the supporter base and the board of directors simply weren`t allowed to make key day to day decisions.
Today we have Henning Berg, a board of directors who are communicating with supporters, a representative of the owners who is actively interacting with various supporter organisations and has become a part of a number of steering committees within the community, whilst many of the supporters concerns have now been communicated back to India.
There is still much work to be done, however Venkys appear to be willing at the moment and any sort of movement from supporters at this stage may very well see them shut up shop in what is a crucial season for the club.
7. At a time when Rovers fans seem to finally be pulling in the same direction - supporting the team and manager - will the Rovers Trust cause more divide amongst fans?
It is a difficult question, it`s most certainly going to strongly divide opinion at the very least. A lot of supporters I have spoken to have particularly taken issue with the timing of it.
For 18 months supporters have waited for a supporters trust to take off the ground. When the idea of BRST was first mooted in the spring of 2011, I think the vast majority of supporters saw this potentially as a good thing. The same as when BRSIT originally launched in April 2012, it was at a time when supporter concern was at its greatest and the very future of the club was a concern.
However to launch or re-launch when the club has just begun its rebuilding process does not make any sense, after 18 months the pain and anguish among the supporters is finally easing, so why now? I think this will be one of the key questions on everybody`s lips this weekend.
8. This summer we have seen Rovers splash out, not only on transfer fees, but also on big wages. Do you think the trust could provide the same backing?
If a supporter`s trust had taken control of Blackburn Rovers in the summer just gone, we wouldn`t have seen the money spent on players to make the team competitive this season. The money simply would not be there to bring in a Jordan Rhodes or to sustain the wages of a Nuno Gomes.
For over a decade we were ran by John Williams, believed by many to be one of the best chairmen in the game. He ran a tight ship and we gained the tag of a selling club and regularly made massive losses in the transfer windows to manage the clubs growing debts. It`s difficult to see how a club like Blackburn Rovers could become self financing and the worry under a supporters trust would be on what level the club would need to drop down to before it became remotely possible to achieve this.
9. Do you think there are any better ways in which the club could incorporate the fans?
I think the club are doing it right at the moment. Two of the newly appointed directors, Derek Shaw and Paul Agnew are both talking to supporters` representation regularly and are actively seeking ways to push on and move the club forward. The owners are now working with both the club and the community via Shebby Singh who is instrumental in many of the projects currently in place.
Many of the towns figureheads from the Mayor of the borough to the Council are delighted with the progress made since the summer, the communication lines between club and community are back open and are beginning to bear fruits.
We as a group are taking part in many steering committees within the community and the Owners are inviting the group to take the lead in many projects which will be of benefit to the community.
There are still big strides to be made, however the progress around the club over the last 4 months has been encouraging, a breath of fresh air and the commitment shown by those currently involved at Ewood Park who are working towards building the bridges can only be commended.
10. Even if Rovers Trust could find the sort of money to buy a stake in the club, do you think Venkys would sell?
No, Venkys have never really given any indication that they are in this for anything other than the long haul, and indeed on many occasions have stated exactly this, so certainly no full sale is on the horizon. From my personal dialogue with the clubs key officials I can state with complete confidence that the owners would not even consider selling even a small stake to this entity.
I think the investment into the team over the summer, together with the investment being put into the academy to achieve category one status, suggests the owners are planning for the long term.
I am of the opinion that should the owners have a dramatic change of heart and decide to sell tomorrow, then better options should be sought. There was a takeover package put in place by Seneca in the latter stages of last season, this take over package was prepared quickly, quietly and professionally in the event an opportunity arises. This option has far more football experience and financial clout with investors on board to ensure that the clubs financial future is not jeopardised.