As I tuned in to Blackburn Rovers' "Date with Destiny" on Monday night I couldn't help but find myself shocked and even appalled at the vitriol pouring from the stands even in the early stages of a must-win game from the home fans. Upon the full time whistle my immediate reaction was one of condemnation and a distinct lack of sympathy. However having thought about the situation a little more, I had somewhat of a change of heart...
At the heart of it, Blackburn are a modest side who have been holding their own, if not punching above their weight, for some time now. The day's of Jack Walker's investment which secured them the Premier League title are but a proud memory, yet the club has done well to remain in the top flight once the Walker Trust funds dried up. Then came the Venky's. The Indian poulty firm bartered a £43m deal which saw them become the first Indian-owned Premier League club and involved £23m worth of shares and the also the £20m worth of debt that the club found themselves in.
Alarm bells began to ring almost immediately following the takeover. Whilst Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour brought immediate success to their respective clubs, there seemed to be nothing but ludicrous pipe dreams and, frankly, ridiculous transfer targets set by the new hierarchy at Ewood Park. Anuradha Desai went on to promise the Blackburn faithful; "good football, good players and fourth or fifth in the league, if not better" as they moved quickly to shift Sam Allardyce out of the club's managerial hotseat. Whilst Allardyce may divide opinion more than a vegetable-based spread, it would be hard to argue that, in hindsight at least, it was a knee-jerk reaction, one more than likely based purely on Sam's reputation for "playing the percentages".
Then came Steve Kean, initially installed as caretaker manager, his contract was swiftly upgraded to one of two-years, a frankly remarkable decision given Kean's inexperience. Then came Venky's transfer targets for that January window. Need I remind you of how we heard that David Beckham could be expected to be next seen at Ewood Park or, my personal favourite, that they had offered Ronaldinho a deal worth over £20m over three years? Rovers quickly became a figure of fun but their fans were not laughing.
It was easy as an outsider to criticise the Blackburn fans for their abuse which was directed, seemingly, solely at the man in the dugout. It seemed that the fans had got the wrong end of the stick, surely their vitriol only deserved to land on the Venky's doorstep? Then that was when it dawned on me. The Venky's had no doorstep. The Blackburn fans could camp out side the ground and demand answers and more from their owners but they simply weren't around to hear the cries.
As a Sunderland fan I should have known better than to criticise fans based upon the word of the press and the media without knowing the true story. This is something we too have felt hard done by this season. Cast your mind back to the infamous defeat to Wigan late last year. The choruses from the terraces were initially blown out of all proportion, the press would have had you believe that every single fan in attendance was spitting their venom down upon the dugout rather than the pockets of fans that it actually was. We then had to endure the media queuing up to tell us that we were wrong, that Bruce deserved more time and things weren't that bad. It is only of late that they are beginning to see that we were in the right all along and a change was desperately required. I dread to think where we may have found ourselves should Steve had been given the time he craved - probably joining Blackburn in the Championship.
The topic of fans protest is an intriguing one and my stance on the right to boo etc probably explains my initial feelings on the Blackburn Rovers fans' actions this season. I quite simply don't agree with protesting during the game. I believe it to be wholely counterproductive to the teams performance on the pitch given the atmosphere it generates. However once that fulltime whistle goes, do your worst if you so wish. You can boo, chant, garishly daub a bedsheet with spelling mistakes ala the Mags, whatever you like - that is your right, just try not to influence the players on the field of play. As Sunderland fans we have seen all to often how a negative atmosphere can greatly affect the squad. How many times during the dark days a few years back have we seen a player misplace a pass, only to be greeted with jeers from the stands and then go missing for the rest of the game? Countless times.
So therefore when I first heard the "Kean Out" chants emanate from the Ewood Park stands when their must win game was barely a few minutes old it was hard for me to sympathise with them come the final whistle. However, on reflection, the Blackburn Rovers situation is an incredible scenario and one where if the shoe had been on the other foot and the Venkys had rocked up on Wearside I probably would have thrown all my principles out of the window too and done all I could to save my club from such tyranny.