Chicken Pluckers: the worst decision Blackburn Rovers ever made

No preamble required for this one. Many thanks to Rovers fan Mikey Delap for writing this brilliant piece for the site. As bad decisions go, this is about as bad as they come.

As a fan of a Venky’s run Blackburn Rovers writing an article on the club’s worst footballing decision you’d imagine it should be a doddle right? I mean, it’s easy when your spoilt for choice right?

Well therein lies the problem. Looking at the timespan of 2010 – 2013 there are probably more poor decisions and cock ups at my club than there were in the other timespan we know of, the good stuff, the stuff we actually enjoyed. Others would call it the years 1875 – November 2010. I suppose we’d call it pre-Venky’s. Since their ill-fated attempt at running a football club came to fruition we’ve seen reputable managers sacked in favour of unknown (and useless) ones, alleged agent involvement at board level, veteran players unceremoniously turfed out of Ewood Park in favour of players you’d struggle to find on Wikipedia, large sums of money being spent on players who are either over the hill or Portuguese and under qualified people being employed, often with job titles no-one has ever heard of before.

Yes, it’s been a bumpy ride and my word there has been some ludicrous decision making but for the worst of the lot you have to go right to the beginning – no not the Garden of Eden bible thing – back when Venky’s first bought Blackburn Rovers.

For smart business people who have a very successful track record in their main line of making a living (chicken and pharmaceuticals) the decision to purchase a football club looked a strange one. Where was the background and the apparent nous? Or at least the connection to the game so that even if they didn’t know what they were playing at then there were people they could trust and hire who did know the game.

As we’re probably aware of by now, an unnamed agent – likes to go on Sky Sports News and shout at Blackburn fans, also a fan of tantric dancing – was the one selling them the deal. He was the one who gave the advice, he was the one who sold them this easy dream of running a football club. But Venky’s were the ones who bought into it without doing the right due diligence, their primary concern was boosting their own brand in an area that had barely heard of them until they came steamrollering into East Lancashire. The rest was merely supposed to be an easy self servicing sports entity. A walk in the park if you will, it would practically run itself.

The simple fact is that was never the case.

Football is a passion and a hobby, not just a business. You need a proper understanding of what makes the proverbial clock tick at a football club, it’s such a niche environment and with customers who are less than forgiving.

No doubt, they’ve improved their brand awareness in this part of the world. Who hasn’t heard of them now? You could argue that it’s been a relentless stream of bad publicity, but anyone who works in marketing and PR will tell you there is no such thing as bad publicity. It’s the pockets where Venky’s have been hit – that port-relegation summer shopping spree on Jordan Rhodes, Leon Best and Dickson Etuhu to name a few has left Rovers losing a reported £2m a month. Who do you think is funding that? Furthermore is there even a way out?

Essentially Venky’s taking over a famous club like Blackburn was a classic case of naivety. It was unquestionably a dreadful decision and as a result the club I love has never been able to look back nor look forward with any enthusiasm since, that the current owners refuse to accept their failings so far and learn from their past mistakes is perhaps as inexplicable as making the worst call possible in the first place.

If you’re not a big fan of Arte et Labore it’s easy to look at Rovers and giggle. But one day it might happen to you and take it from someone that knows – I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Not even Burnley… well OK, maybe Burnley.

Make sure you follow Mikey on twitter @MikeyDelap

Advertisements

Bad timing: the worst decision Arsenal ever made.

Even the best run clubs make bad decisions, and as Gunners fan Andrew Wilkins tells us, Arsenal are no exception. Could letting a player go too early be their worst decisions ever?

Compared to most of the other clubs mentioned on here, Arsenal haven’t made many bad decisions. So I settled for a decision that at the time seemed small but in hindsight set us back some years.

The Arsenal team of 07/08 is widely considered by Gooners to be one of the most, if not the most, talented Arsenal side to have never won the title. Wenger was at his bold and brilliant best in pre-season, selling club captain and legend Thierry Henry and replacing him with relative unknown Eduardo. He also let another icon go in Freddie Ljungberg and signed Bacary Sagna, who is quite possibly the best right back I have seen play for the club.

It was during this period though that Arsene Wenger made what I believe to be a catastrophic error and it was to do with the captaincy. Not so much who he gave the captaincy to (although it was a mistake in hindsight) but the way he went about it. Gilberto Silva, one of the players of the season from 06/07, and stand in captain for the much injured Thierry Henry was everyone’s favourite to be the captain. No one expected that ex-Chelsea and notoriously temperamental William Gallas who himself had come off of the back of an injury plagued first season at Arsenal would get the armband. The thinking behind the decision was fine, Arsene no doubt saw it as an opportunity to shake things up and Gallas at the time was a top class central defender and one of the first names on the teamsheet. Not that anyone knew this at the time, but Gilberto would barely get a sniff that season due to the form of much maligned Mathieu Flamini (in fact, the Brazilian would only start 12 League games).

As I alluded to earlier, it was the way that Arsene Wenger went about giving William Gallas the captaincy which I consider a mistake. Quite simply, the manager didn’t tell Gilberto that he was making Gallas captain, leaving Gilberto to find out on Arsenal.com. It was even more shocking when you consider that Wenger said this just before he made the decision. “The captain last year was Gilberto and there is no reason to take it away from him,”

It lead to an uncharacteristically furious reaction from Gilberto which led to Wenger having to hold a face to face meeting with him to clear the air, explaining that he couldn’t tell Gilberto as he was away on international duty.

The damage was already done though, with rumours of Gilberto refusing to play in defence in at League Cup game at Sheffield United (he ended up playing in midfield) and with Gilberto later claiming that the Arsenal manager’s treatment had made him feel “totally useless”.

Initially the decision looked like an inspired one. Flamini was in the form of his life and his partnership with Cesc Fabregas seemed to be getting the best out of the Spaniard. Gallas was relishing in his role as captain, scoring some vital goals and defending heroically. Arsenal were playing perhaps some of the best football the club has played. The late August deadline day acquisition of Lassana Diarra meant that we had plenty of depth in central midfield. Gilberto had gone from Arsenal captain to forgotten man in months. One of the Invincibles had become invisible.

So why was it such a bad decision? Well as we all know, the Gallas experiment failed in spectacular fashion, with him being stripped of the captaincy in the autumn of 2008. Mathieu Flamini’s performances earned him a profitable free transfer to AC Milan and Lassana Diarra only lasted six months before he got itchy feet and moved to Portsmouth. Losing two players in that position seemingly opened the door for Gilberto to regain his place, but the damage caused in the summer had been done and he was allowed to leave without a fight to Panathinaikos for an undisclosed fee.

So from having Flamini, Gilberto and Diarra among our central midfielders options we went into 08/09 with only Fabregas, Diaby (a guy whose injury problems have been well documented), Denilson (untried and ultimately a flop) and Song (a relative success, but wasn’t ready yet) as our main midfield options. We went from title challengers to competing with Aston Villa for 4th place in less than a year. It’s dangerous to think ‘what if’, particularly in the unpredictable world of football, but I often think that if the Gilberto situation had been handled better we may have managed to build on the talented but yet unfulfilled Arsenal side on 2007/08.

Follow Andrew on twitter @hesfivefootfour

No title required: the worst decision Huddersfield Town ever made

This is the decision that haunts every Huddersfield Town fan to this day. The greatest “what if” moment in the modern history of the club.
It’s one that every fan of the Terriers will read through their fingers, and one that I would struggle to write without constantly typing “screw Flanders” instead of writing anything.
Fortunately Town fan Pete Anstock tells the story, and does it quite exceptionally.

It all started the on 3 February 1999 with the fireworks display before the FA Cup fourth round replay with Wrexham. Town were sitting comfortably in tenth place in their fourth season in football’s second tier and despite the “Great Escape” of the preceding season, it appeared things were on the up for Huddersfield Town and their manager Peter Jackson.

The fireworks were heralding the takeover of Barry Rubery and as the smoke cleared around the McAlpine Stadium, myself and 15,426 others were probably all thinking that Huddersfield Town were on the verge of something bigger. Little did we know that within less than a year, the fireworks would be remembered as nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
For the short term, the fireworks did their trick and lowly Wrexham were dispatched with goals from Town’s talisman, Marcus Stewart and the enigmatic Ben Thornley, an early season signing, who appeared to be returning to his early form after a series of injuries.

As the season progressed, Barry Rubery made statements about cash pools available for players and how Peter Jackson would be the man to invest in those new players. However, despite the arrival of a couple of players, Town’s season faltered and they ended up finishing 10th; a position they had held since the talks of the takeover had entered the public domain.

The day after that season’s final game at the McAlpine; an uninspiring goalless draw against Crewe; Barry Rubery sacked Peter Jackson. It was a decision which surprised a great number of fans, as Jacko was a popular character. He would ultimately return for a further period of success at the club, albeit under different circumstances, but that is another story. However, the decision to sack Jackson wasn’t the worst decision made under this era; that was still to come.

A little under two weeks after Jacko’s sacking, a billboard sprung up at Shorehead roundabout with the new manager shrouded under a blanket in a pose reminiscent of a heinous villain arriving at court. “Who will it be?” the billboard proclaimed. All was revealed on 25 May 1999 when Steve Bruce was unveiled as the new manager of Huddersfield Town.

The season started well under Bruce, several new signings came in and Town were top of the table in mid-December when Liverpool visited the McAlpine for a televised FA Cup 3rd round tie. Although Town lost 0-2, they were not disgraced and the pundits’ view was that Rubery’s masterplan was working and Town would soon be in this elevated company on a weekly basis.
In the New Year, Steve Bruce decided his priorities lie with Man Utd and their ill-fated trip to Brazil for the World Club Championship (hence the FA Cup tie in mid-December1). Bruce’s dereliction of duty to go fawning over Man Utd coincided with a dip in Town’s fortunes, as they slipped to fifth. Bruce returned, and by the end of January Town appeared to have ridden out their slump with a home win over Tranmere courtesy of a goal by Marcus Stewart, followed by a hard fought point at Selhurst Park, with Stewart scoring a both goals in a draw with Palace. I remember Stewart leaving the pitch that day and applauding the Town fans. Something wasn’t right.

All was revealed on 1st February 2000 when the board announced their crazy decision. This was a decision that would wreck Town’s 1999-2000 campaign, send them spiralling down the Football League, lead to them entering administration within 3 years and spending the next 12 years in the hinterlands of the lower divisions.
That decision was of course to sell leading goalscorer Marcus Stewart to ambitious promotion rivals Ipswich Town, who were 3 points above Town, for a paltry £2.75m.

As Town fans despaired at the board’s stupidity, there was the looming fixture against Ipswich Town 12 days after Stewart’s sale. I’m sure Nostradamus didn’t follow Town, but Town fans were fully prepared for the painful fact that Stewart was destined to score against us. He did. Stewart got the winner in a 2-1 victory that strengthened Ipswich’s position above Town in the playoff chase. 2

There was a lot of anger at the sale of Stewart, and the board countered by naively stating that it was good business for Town as it was the only offer on the table. I never understood that argument. After all, none of the board would have sold their houses for £50k because it was the only offer on the table, so why do it with a prized asset?

Town limped on for the rest of the season, holding onto a playoff place heading into the final game of the season at Craven Cottage against a Fulham side with nothing to play for. The 90 minutes that followed was probably the most insipid performance that I have ever seen by a Town side, as a Lee Clark inspired Fulham ripped Town apart 3-0.

Town finished 8th whilst a Marcus Stewart inspired Ipswich finished 13 points ahead in 3rd and were promoted via the playoffs.

And so it came to pass. The next season was a disaster, Bruce was fired, his assistant Lou Macari took over but failed to stop the rot and Town were relegated at home to Birmingham City on the last day of the season, when the only possible set of results that could send Town down all fell into place, with a little bit of help from Dougie Freedman’s hand.

Meanwhile, Ipswich were the surprise package in the Premier League as Marcus Stewart was the star of Match of the Day as he ran Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink a close second for the Premiership’s golden boot. On the weekend that Town were relegated, Ipswich Town were securing a place in Europe.

Two years later, Rubery and his chairman, Ian Ayre had departed2; Town dropped into the bottom division and then went into administration. This was a chain of events that had been triggered by the unnecessary sale of one key player.

And so 12 years on, with Town proudly completing their hard fought journey back to reclaim their place in the second tier of English football. Armed with their new talisman; the prolific Jordan Rhodes, and an ambitious chairman. What could possibly go wrong?

We couldn’t possibly make the same mistake again could we?

1 The FA Cup 3rd round was held in mid-December that year as it was the start of the systematic devaluing of the FA Cup, when the blazers at the FA rescheduled the rounds to cater for Man Utd entering the World Club Championships in Brazil.
2 Ian Ayre remarkably turned up at Liverpool as MD and has been at the helm for what has unsurprisingly been a turbulent period for the Merseysiders

Be sure to follow Pete on twitter @westerhampete

Hornets stung by poor appointments. The worst decision Watford ever made

Managerial appointments are often gambles, and can never be seen as a guaranteed certainty of success. You can though, with time & consideration reduce the chances that your new boss will fail.
However, when faced with replacing their most successful manager of all time, Watford failed, twice.
Hornets fan David Cameron Walker tells the story of the worst decision his club ever made:

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time”

The words of George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Prize winner and co-founder of the London School of Economics.
How does this relate to Watford FC?

Well before I get to what is in my opinion the biggest mistake my club has ever made, let me first take you back to 1987. Graham Taylor, having presided over a decade of extraodinary success at Vicarage Road, which saw The Hornets rise from the 4th Division to the 2nd in the first division and a place in the UEFA Cup, had informed then Chairman Elton John that he would be leaving the club to become the new manager of Aston Villa. It is thought that privately Taylor never really wanted to leave and could probably have been talked round, but instead of coercing his manager into staying put; Elton chose to move fast in replacing him with none other than Wimbledon manager, leader of the Crazy Gang, Dave Bassett.

This was an utterly disastrous appointment. Bassett’s Wimbledon were a bastardised version of Taylor’s Watford. Though they too rose through the divisions, they employed a far cruder version of the high-tempo attacking football Taylor had ruffled feathers with at Vicarage Road. The feeling among almost everyone at the club, bar Elton John, was that he was not the right man for the job, and so it proved to be as Bassett went about dismantling all of Taylor’s hard work almost as swiftly as Elton John had been in appointing him.

The most successful era in Watford’s history came to a shuddering halt. Bassett was out the door within 6 months and the club never recovered, until Taylor waltzed back into Vicarage Road in 1995 to embark on a journey that would again lead this small club into the upper echelons of the English game against all odds.

Fast forward to June 2001. After leading the club to successive promotions from Division Two to the Premier League, Graham Taylor has announced his retirement and once again the club are faced with the task of replacing the man the supporters call God. This time however, rather than search for a poor man’s Taylor as Elton had done with Bassett, the directors appointed a man who could quite readily be described as the antithesis of Graham Taylor. Benvenuto, Gianluca Vialli. The former Chelsea manager and Italy striker was the most unlikely of appointments at Vicarage Road and it has to be said that the same glamour that blinded the board also blinded a large percentage of the fans.

I can vividly remember the excitement at reading the Watford Observer when it became clear Vialli was heading to Vicarage Road.

Watford had money to spend thanks to the double whammy of parachute payments and the new ITV Digital TV deal. No longer would we be forced to build a team around free transfers, loans and bargains from the lower leagues. We could go out and buy premium-quality goods. We were going to, in Vialli’s words, become the “Manchester United of the First Division”. Well, as many of you will know, it didn’t quite turn out like that.

We were stuffed 3-0 by Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City on the opening day of the season in front of the soon-to-be defunct ITV Digital cameras. The blue half of Manchester went on to be champions while Vialli’s Watford went on to finish in a very un-Manchester Utd-esque position of 14th.

Huge money was wasted on big contracts for the likes of Ramon Vega, Patrick Blondeau, Pierre Issa, Stephen Hughes, Stephen Glass, Marcus Gayle, Paul Okon and Fillipo Galli (though I shall refrain from criticising Galli as despite pushing 40 he was exemplary on and off the pitch, in a manner you’d expect from a man who used to partner Franco Baresi at Milan).

Stalwarts of Taylor’s team such as Robert Page, Steve Palmer and Tommy Mooney were discarded in a manner that paid no respect to the blood, sweat and tears they had given the football club. Same goes for club legends Kenny Jackett and Luther Blissett from the coaching staff. Everything that made Watford Watford was once again thrown on the scrapheap.

We had comprehensively failed to take even a cursory glance at our own history and we’d made the same mistake as we had in 1987. When replacing someone who had such a profound effect on a football club as Graham Taylor did, twice, at Watford you have to get it right. You have to take your time and make sure you get the right man. It’s not easy so perhaps the first time can be forgiven, but the second time, can most certainly not.

Instead of taking advantage of the miracles Taylor had performed to secure the future of the club they gambled its very existence.
ITV Digital would infamously go on to collapse, Vialli’s bunch of unmotivated, overpaid misfits would serve up largely tepid football and Luca, with many of his expensively recruited failures, left after just a season in charge.

Reserve team boss Ray Lewington, and director Graham Simpson, came to the rescue as they assumed the positions of manager and chairman respectively.
Captain Neil Cox had to convince the playing staff to take a 12% wage deferral in order to save the club from administration. We had to sell our ground, a move which many a club will tell you is one to avoid at all costs, and a little while later we were relying on Elton John playing a concert at Vicarage Road to raise funds so we could actually buy a player.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and maybe I’m being harsh on the board here, some may credit the ambition, some may say that a new direction was needed if we were to step out of the shadow of Taylor. However, I cannot help feel that they were guilty of rushing the whole thing. In a move that only served to undermine the retirement of the greatest manager the club had ever seen, Vialli was appointed before Taylor’s last game. They simply couldn’t wait. They didn’t take the necessary time and care over what was an absolutely vital decision.

With our Premier League parachute payments and strong nucleus of a squad we should have been able to absorb the ITV Digital collapse and could have been in a strong position to bounce back in the manner of Bolton and West Brom, clubs who were in a similar position to Watford back then but have both since gone on to enjoy prolonged spells of Premier League stability.

It simply wasn’t necessary to hand Vialli the keys to the safe, and we nearly paid the ultimate price for our recklessness.
We went from riches to rags in the space of a year. And it was all because the people entrusted with the upkeep of this proud club, a genuine family club, failed to show an appreciation of where it had come from, what it stood for and what it had got wrong before.

Be sure to follow David at @D_C_W and also download the We are going up podcast which he co-presents.

The “boo” tham boys get their way. The worst decision York City ever made.

When the perceived smaller clubs make bad decisions, they tend to have devastating consequences. They are the clubs who cannot afford to make poor choices, and often suffer the consequences for years to come.
York City fan John Dobson talks us through the worst decision they ever made.
As you’ll see it’s a decision that not only one that could have horrible short term decisions, but also one that takes away the identity & reputation that the club had started to establish.

The true measure of a bad decision lies in the consequences. Sometimes, this is apparent quite quickly, other times it takes a long time to work through.

Replacing the successful and popular Denis Smith with Bobby Saxton in 1987 was my first brush with some of the notoriously bad decisions made at York City. That is one of a string of managerial changes that were simply never going to work. The other two involved players getting promoted to the job. Neil Thompson took over from Allan Little in 1999 and that was bad, but nowhere near as bad as handing the job to the then 27-year old Chris Brass in 2003. Hopelessly out of his depth, he oversaw a run of twenty games without a win which ended with relegation from the Football League, 82 years after election.

The backdrop to Brass’s appointment was the off-field turmoil the club found itself in, courtesy of two of the worst boardroom decisions in the club’s history. For a long time, Douglas Craig seemed a reasonable chairman after he took over from the sainted Rev Michael Sinclair. Sinclair made no profit on his shares – he believed it would have been immoral to do such a thing. Craig made sure he got his pound of flesh. It’s a familiar tale: Craig set up a holding company into which was transferred ownership of Bootham Crescent. In the property boom of the early 2000s, land value in York soared and Craig negotiated a price for the land which the stadium stands on with Persimmon Homes. Having done so, he announced the intention to resign the club’s position in the league, effectively spelling the end for the club.

While that was bad enough, the supposed white knight that rode to the rescue was John Batchelor. Now you can’t defame the dead, so it’s perfectly valid to call him a liar, a fantasist and a thief. That the club is not dead after all that is testament to the work of the Supporters Trust and the current board, more of whom later.

On the playing side, we’ve had a few shockers too. York is a small club and the record transfer in remains the £140,000 paid to Burnley for Adrian Randall in 1995. 32 games later, he was back in Lancashire with Bury. The hundred grand for Barry Conlon, the second highest fee paid, was hardly value and neither were the £90k for Rob Matthews or the £85k a pop for Rodney Rowe and David Rush. The moral here is that the club are not good with money.

So far, so terrible, but all of that tale of misery and woe pales into insignificance in light of events of recent weeks and months.

Since Chris Brass and relegation to the Conference, things have largely been positive. The current board engineered a controversial takeover of 75% plus one share of the club. With a small fan base, the Supporters Trust was finding it difficult to keep asking the same people for money. While it wasn’t handled terrifically well, it was something that probably had to happen. Managerial appointments were made and changed at the right time and for the right reasons up to the point at which we ended up with Gary Mills in charge.

Mills is an adherent to a particular style which revolves around getting the ball down and passing it. This is revolutionary thinking at that sort of level. Very quickly, we became good to watch for the first time since the Denis Smith days. At the second time of asking, it was a style that got us to two Wembley finals, the second of which was for promotion back to the league we’d departed eight years previously. York and Luton played out a terrific game on the Wembley sward with City edging it thanks to Matty Blair’s head and an unobservant linesman. Promotion. Validation. Joy. Relief.

This season was all about consolidating at a higher level and, despite a run of eleven winless games, this was very much on the cards. It was absolutely right that the players who got the club promoted had first crack at league football, many for the first time. Perhaps some were finding it tougher than expected. Perhaps the wider availability of match footage compared to the Conference means other teams have had time to work us out. Whatever the reasons, the football was still pretty and looked like it wasn’t too far away from clicking. Certainly with games at the back end of the season against the division’s strugglers, it remained very much in City’s own hands. Maybe we needed a couple of full-backs to get beyond and provide some width, create some chances. Maybe we needed a bit more competition for the centre-backs and goalkeeper. What we didn’t need was a wholesale abandonment of the way we’ve gone about our football for two-and-a-half years. We were creating an identity, something to be proud of, something you could point to and say “that’s York City” rather than just being another small, shit, northern club.

Of course, not all change is bad. There was an intangible element missing from City’s play since 2012 waved a fond goodbye, but the fundamentals remained strong. If it was to be a managerial change that was required, then it had to be a continuation of the ideas already in place, much like Swansea have done over the last few years with Jackett, Martinez, Sousa, Rodgers and Laudrup. Instead, we’ve thrown all these theories of possession-based football in a skip out the back and reverted to hoofing it downfield at the earliest opportunity. It is soul-sappingly boring, which would be forgiveable – to an extent – if it was getting results, but it isn’t. Even seemingly positive substitutions, like replacing a centre-back with a winger, somehow make the team more negative, which is kind of admirable in a way. Players who have been coached to play one way are suddenly, with a handful of games remaining, being asked to do something that’s been anathema to them. Instead of retaining the ball and building, it’s low-percentage long balls which inevitably end with the ball coming back towards us with interest. It’s horrible to watch, it doesn’t work for these players and at current rate and trajectory, it’s taking us down.

Never before has a team promoted from the Conference gone straight back down. We look like being history-makers in that regard, but the wider consequences of a quick return to non-league football are a lot more significant than merely plotting new postcodes into the sat-nav for next season. We overspent on getting up and those debts will need to be repaid. Once again, the running of the youth system will not be centrally funded while TV revenue drops to a fraction even of that available to League Two clubs. Crowds will inevitably drop back to the 2500 mark – on a good day – which we were told was the break-even point last time we were in the Conference. Losses have been mounting, but set against the sale of Bootham Crescent when the newt-delayed new stadium is complete. That’s not a bottomless barrel. Another lost decade outside the football league places the long-term future of the club into jeopardy.

Put simply, I’m worried and that worry can be traced to one knee-jerk decision – the wrong change at the wrong time for the wrong new manager. And in the history of this club, for that to be the major decision to stand out, well it’s kind of impressive.

As I’m sure you can see, John knows his stuff so follow him on twitter @johnnydobbo