Sam Allardyce as the saviour of football is a difficult concept to accept. But judging from the media reaction to his sacking, it would seem the new owners of Blackburn have committed a crime that would be beyond Herod.

They have not only sacked a manager, bad enough, but done it after consulting an agent, Jerome Anderson, and a firm based in Switzerland. To make it worse, the owners themselves are foreign, an Indian group whose business is poultry, and their spokesman confesses she has no knowledge of football.

Can it get any worse? Can anybody disagree with Sir Alex Ferguson when he said, “I’ve never heard of such a stupid decision in all my life. I don’t know what they’re doing up there, but deary me. It confounds common sense. Absolutely ridiculous.”

Ferguson is an old friend of Allardyce, but the world’s sudden love for a man whose football, both as a player or manager, has always been hard to love, is not just misplaced. It betrays a fundamental failure to understand how the modern game works in this country. For the problem at Blackburn is not that Allardyce has been sacked.

New owners have taken over a club and they have a right to decide who they want in charge. The question is whether the new owners are going to be like Manchester City’s Thaksin Shinawatra, or more like Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour, revolutionising clubs with their money. When you create a free-for-all market and allow anyone to come in and buy your football clubs, one of the results is they will make changes as they see fit. To moan about it is like moaning about the English weather.

Let us get certain things in perspective. Blackburn may have been one of the founding clubs of the old Football League, but in those days Blackburn was at the heart of the Lancashire cotton kingdom that ruled the world. Those days of glory have long gone and will not return. Ironically, it was another, rather more famous Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, who played a part in king cotton’s demise and ensured Blackburn’s decline as a great Lancashire cotton town. His drive to free India from British rule was built round convincing Indians that they should not use cloth made in Lancashire towns like Blackburn, but use home spun cotton. That was meant to show they had something of their own to cherish, rather than always worshipping everything their English masters produced.

Back in the 30s, on a visit to England, Gandhi had even visited Lancashire towns explaining why his campaign against Lancashire cotton was necessary to free India. If Gandhi was still alive, he would have been astounded that nearly a century later a modern generation of Indians have returned to the same part of the world to buy a football club. More so, as he had no interest or knowledge in football.

So the question to ask is why have the Rao family, who own Venkys, the poultry firm, decided they need a Premier League club? It is clear they have been told this is an English brand they can rescue and profit from. England may have no friends in FIFA, but Premier League status as football’s greatest brand is not in doubt. In their own country, the owners of Venkys would have only to turn on their television set on to discover that. Even as 24 hour news rolled along the bottom of their screens, there would be scores of Premier League matches. Indians probably watch more live Premiership football, including the 3pm Saturday kickoffs, than most of us do in this country.

This makes owning a Premiership club a great status symbol, and that is of some importance to the Raos. They are in not quite in the Premiership class of the Indian rich, the top ten rich Indian families. This makes their purchase of Blackburn all the more interesting. Before they emerged, some from the top ten Indian families were linked with a purchase of a Premiership club, particularly the Ambanis, who head the list of the top ten rich Indian families. But while they looked at several clubs including Liverpool, they did not open their cheque books. The Raos, who, apart from their poultry business, have extensive property holdings in India, did.

It is clear they see the purchase as promoting themselves into the Premiership of the Indian rich. But even if their acquisition of the Lancashire club has made the Raos famous in India, can they take Blackburn back to the giddy heights the club reached in 1995?

Jack Walker with Alan Shearer in 1995. Image courtesy of

Blackburn would have been sold to them as the club that won the Premiership in 1995, one of only four clubs to win the Premiership since its inception. What would have made the sale even more attractive is that the club would have been seen as tremendously undervalued, a total enterprise value of £45 million, which includes around £20 million of debt, half of what Real Madrid paid for Ronaldo and not much more than a few years wages for Wayne Rooney.

Nothing attracts a businessman to a deal then the feeling he is getting a jewel rather cheap. And a club that shares glory that only Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have managed in 20 years is surely such a jewel? The fact that there is a large Asian population round in Blackburn, which could be tapped into, was also a factor.

But to bring all this together is not going to be easy. Remember Blackburn was on sale for many years before the Raos emerged. Also, that Premiership victory in 1995 needs to be qualified. Then, everything went right for the club – the Premier League was young and television riches had not started to flow in and distort the top players salaries. The Bosman effect, that has revolutionised the game in Europe, was still to be really felt. Bosman happened the season Blackburn won, and Walker’s lavish spending did the rest. In that championship year, Blackburn’s wages were a 105 per cent of its total income, thanks to Walker.

Kenny Dalglish also deserves much credit for engineering that win over his old rival Ferguson. It is interesting, though, to see how little Dalglish himself cares for this achievement. In his recently published book, he dismisses that episode in his life in an eight page chapter called Exile, and there are only two mentions of Jack Walker. One of them was when he had a row with Walker when the Blackburn owner tried to muscle in on a player Dalglish wanted to buy. Player buying is my responsibility, thundered Dalglish and threatened to walk out. He stayed to win Blackburn its moment of glory, but it clearly meant little to the Scot.

It must also be said that as generous as Walker was, the money he lavished on his home town club then would hardly buy a couple of decent players now, let alone construct a winning side.

What we do not know is if Blackburn’s new owners have understood all that. In the long term, their sacking of Allardyce will be seen as a sideshow. However, if they have not understood where the game stands, and how much it has changed since 1995, the fuss over the Allardyce removal would only be the first of their problems, and the least.


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