Thursday 30 March 2017

Fowl play at Ewood Park has nothing to do with Hurricane

Dion Fanning

A friend of mine always describes Blackburn as the town where "Alex Higgins first threatened to kill Dennis Taylor". Blackburn can't take the rap for that. Knowing what we know about Higgins, it is safe to assume that it could have happened anywhere.

But it was Blackburn where it first happened. It was Blackburn where Higgins lived. As Clive Everton recalled in his definitive obituary of Higgins, "he based himself in Blackburn, at one point being successively resident at 9, 11, 13, 15 and 17 Ebony Street, moving along as each house was demolished".

Whether it was the wrecking ball or Higgins, or a combination of both, that demolished the houses has never been clarified and we don't need it clarified. The salient fact is that it was in Blackburn that Higgins based himself as he decided to conquer the snooker world.

Venky's, who now own Blackburn Rovers football club, are probably unaware of the town's place in snooker lore, but they look like the kind of people who would make an effort to find out.

They engaged in widespread consultation among themselves before dismissing Sam Allardyce, a decision with no logical basis but one which many would have hailed simply as it involved the sacking of Sam Allardyce.

In Blackburn, they viewed Allardyce differently and they have been appalled by Venky's behaviour since their arrival and their efforts to turn the club into what is inevitably described as a "laughing stock"

Allardyce, too, has struggled to comprehend how anyone could dispense with his services, much as he struggles to comprehend why he is not manager of Inter Milan or Real Madrid right now.

He can be comforted by the knowledge that, for once, he is not alone in considering Sam Allardyce the victim of an injustice.

In a fireside chat before Christmas, Allardyce, a highly sensitive man, wondered aloud about what had happened to him and who had whispered in the new owner's ears to turn them off Sam and his fabled methods.

Venky's are more interested in the future and they gave a series of interviews last week in which they identified the current caretaker manager Steve Kean as a man of formidable intellect, a man with the mental capacity of Big Sam himself. "He is a thinker," Anuradha Desai said.

The chairwoman -- or chairlady as Kean described her with some old-world charm -- Mrs Desai is not a football person so she might be unaware of the dangers of being viewed as an intellectual in football.

Everybody knows that Graeme Le Saux was ridiculed for his pretensions and subjected to taunts about his sexuality. In later years, as he branched out into television punditry, it would become monotonously clear that he was not as interesting as we had been led to believe by the "boo-boys".

In Why England Lose, the authors tell the story of the player who was mocked for having notions above his station because he showed up with the Daily Mail every morning instead of The Sun.

It is also worth recalling that Ron Atkinson was in the habit of describing Steve Staunton as a "deep thinker" as we weigh up what Kean now has to deal with.

"Thinking," the chairlady said, was Kean's greatest strength and as he stands on the brink of being permanently appointed, nobody can doubt his persuasiveness.

He may have alienated some with his ambitious manner but he has the backing of the doyen of caretaker managers, Tony Parkes (at this stage in his career, he must surely be due a Caretaker Director of Football role somewhere). Parkes was caretaker manager of Blackburn six times and then went on to provide the same service at Blackpool so he speaks with authority, at least on a caretaker basis.

Kean has already demonstrated his ability to convert a caretaker position into something more tangible.

On Friday, he insisted that the move to sign Ronaldinho was "back on!", although, as a deep thinker, he didn't see the need for the exclamation mark. As a shallow man, I added that myself.

Ronaldinho was said to have made a "lifestyle choice" and decided to play his football in Brazil as if choosing Blackburn Rovers would not represent as emphatic a lifestyle choice as any.

Yet if Alex Higgins can live there without actually killing anyone then there should be no reason that Ronaldinho could not find ways to occupy his time without people coming to any harm.

Blackburn have been busy as they attempt to deliver on their promise of a top-five finish with football of the highest calibre.

When she took over, the chairlady announced, "I don't know a thing about football," before insisting she would know "the basics" before the club executives' next visit to India.

She certainly did pick up the basics, firing Allardyce and identifying Kean as a man with the intellectual mettle to take the club forward.

Football is the first item of business for Venky's every day, they revealed, although it could also be viewed as something they do first before moving on to the serious stuff.

They are, of course, extremely serious as their pursuit of Ronaldinho and David Beckham indicates. As they pursue their ambitious plans, Venky's have to deal with the chicken jokes and the mockery of Blackburn itself.

When supporters released a couple of live chickens in protest during a game a couple of weeks ago, the chickens were taken into protective custody at Ewood Park.

These are dangerous times for managers and chickens in Blackburn. But still not as dangerous as when Alex Higgins was home alone.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport