Dejphon Chansiri's Sheffield Wednesday legacy can be rescued with change... look at Blackburn Rovers
A decade ago, Blackburn Rovers was on the turn. And the protests were bubbling under.
There was disgust at performances on the field and anger at decisions that had been made off it to lead them to that point. The stands at Ewood Park were full of dissenting voices and within months the ‘Venky’s Out’ protests that dominated national radio phone-ins and Sky Sports bulletins were in full swing.
£1.5bn Indian conglomerate VH Group, shorthanded as Venky’s, had bought the club the year before. By their own admission, they knew little of football and were very hands-on. In a flurry of publicity, they had promised the signing of Ronaldinho and instead got Mauro Formica.
Sam Allardyce was sacked with the owners briefing that they were going after Diego Maradona. They instead got Allardyce assistant Steve Kean, a crony of football agent Jerome Anderson, whose ‘worrying’ hold on the club had become so strong their long-time chairman John Williams felt the need to resign.
Blackburn Rovers, for over a decade a solid Premier League staple who had played in Europe just four seasons earlier, had imploded. And the vitriol was toxic.
They were relegated to the Championship with a whimper in 2012 and amid further widespread accusations of mismanagement were relegated to League One in 2017. The owners have not stepped foot in Ewood Park since.
With no supporters in stadiums, it is difficult to gauge whether widespread feeling towards the boardroom at Sheffield Wednesday is being fairly reflected on social media, which at the best of times feels highly charged.
But as the Owls stare into the abyss of League One, there are perhaps one or two parallels to be squinted at. And it’s no exaggeration to suggest that once he and supporters are allowed back into stadiums, owner Dejphon Chansiri may well experience a very different welcome to the one he enjoyed in his last visits to Hillsborough.
With relations as they are, and you can expect them to worsen as and when relegation is confirmed, it’s perhaps a little difficult to see a way back for the relationship between the Owls owner and his detractors.
But fast forward 10 years from the outset of anti-Venkys sentiment and a poll of Rovers fans by local media outlet Lancashire Live showed that only five per cent would not welcome Venky’s back.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround prompted by a change in approach from upstairs.
Anderson is long gone and in the months either side of relegation to League One, they appointed experienced manager Tony Mowbray and a CEO in Steve Waggott. Two Suhails, Pasha and Shaikh, act as advisors and the link between Blackburn and Pune, where Venky’s are stationed.
“They’ve taken a step back and have people working for them that they can trust, they advise them and know their way in football,” said Jaquob Crooke, a Blackburn Rovers reporter for Lancashire Live.
“There were always concerns about the motives of some of the people in and around the club, people trying to squeeze certain things out of the club.
“The owners now sit back and they’re consistently pumping in money to keep the club going.
“I think, on the whole, the fans are beginning to appreciate that. There has been hostility and anger, but now through Mowbray there has been a bridge. He has advised Venky’s on things, where investment is needed, and they’ve been happy to take it.”
It’s a point of view shared by Scott Sumner, editor of Rovers fanzine 4,000 Holes, who agrees the drop to the third tier saw a momentum shift in how Venky’s ran the club.
Accounts in recent season show the owners are pumping between £15m and £20m per year into the club and have made huge investments in the club’s academy and recruitment infrastructure, on the advice of the new set-up.
Venky’s are happy, it seems, to be guided.
“The Mowbray era has seen things become more stable and things have looked better on the field,” Sumner said. “And when that happens, there is less reason to shout at the ownership.
“We appreciate the fact that they’re the ones putting in that cash, but ultimately they’re the ones that got us in this position in the first place.
“It was their decisions, their appointments of the wrong people, they trusted the wrong agents, which caused us to drop down the leagues. There are mixed feelings.
“10 years is a long time and some of the youngsters that are now adults didn’t live through where the club had been in the 1990s, dropping out of the Premier League and so on. Maybe some of them didn’t feel the relegation as much as the people who were there at that time, perhaps.
“Being in League One was a cathartic experience, winning games and it seemed to turn around from there.”
Whether the same pattern is there for Wednesday to follow remains to be seen. In Darren Moore the club have signed a talented, highly-respected young manager who knows League One and appears to have the respect of the changing room.
A drop to League One will be painful, but can perhaps spark a change in approach at S6 and go some way to repairing the feeling around the club.
Like Moore, Mowbray, now under pressure for his job as a nightmare 2021 has seen the wheels come off their playoff bid, was brought in in the last months of Rovers’ relegation season.
“They were advised badly, they put their faith in people that they shouldn’t have and everything that followed, followed,” Crooke reflected on the Venky’s pre-League One years.
“But a structure was brought in. It’s taken time to build up [the relationship between fans and owners], but every time the accounts come out there is a growing realisation that they club would be screwed without them.”
More positive parallels between Blackburn and Wednesday to squint at? Maybe one day.