Bowyer brings pride
After three years of suffering under Venkys, Blackburn fans finally have a team in which to believe again. Under Gary Bowyer, there are flashes of light at the end of a long tunnel, writes Matt Stanger
By Matt Stanger
Last Updated: 07/03/14 9:49am
Life has not been easy for Blackburn Rovers fans over the past few years. While the hapless Steve Kean eventually resigned in September 2012 following enormous pressure from supporters and relegation to the Championship, the manager's departure only led to more instability. Henning Berg lasted 57 days in charge and Michael Appleton only ten more as a second successive demotion loomed. There was no end in sight to the chaos of the Venkys' reign.
And yet, between those failed appointments last season, the promotion of reserve team manager Gary Bowyer offered brief periods of calm. An impressive record during two spells as caretaker boss earned the 42-year-old his first permanent role in the summer and, after guiding Blackburn to safety, he has taken the team into play-off contention in the current campaign.
As Rovers prepare for Sunday's East Lancashire derby against high-flying Burnley, you would expect there to be cause for envy and resentment among supporters. But surprisingly, these are not the strongest emotions. The relief of last year's survival has given way to renewed optimism under Bowyer and after seeing the club sink to its lowest point in 22 years, fans have been encouraged by the manager's start.
Bowyer's achievements have been made all the more admirable by coinciding with the club being forced to cut costs to comply with the Football League's Financial Fair Play rules. Six first-team players departed in the summer, including long-serving duo Morten Gamst Pedersen and Gael Givet, while Rovers' promotion hopes took another blow when captain Scott Dann left for Crystal Palace in January. A further eight members of the squad have left on loan in an attempt to ease debts of £54m, with the signings of ousted 'global advisor' Shebby Singh accounting for most of the departures.
However, Bowyer has acted shrewdly to plug the gaps in the squad, and he has built a tightly knit group that have shown the sort of spirit to reunite the team with a disillusioned fanbase. A hard-fought 1-1 draw against Manchester City in the FA Cup emphasised the belief that has returned to Ewood Park, with three of Bowyer's recruits - Tom Cairney, Rudy Gestede and Ben Marshall - all starring in a battling Rovers performance.
Blackburn fans are never happy to see Burnley above them in the league, and it won't be easy to stop the Clarets when they continue their hunt for automatic promotion on Sunday. But the occasion affords Rovers supporters with a chance to reflect on how far the club has come in the past 12 months. The same fixture last March saw Blackburn rely on a last-minute strike from David Dunn to snatch a draw as a desperate performance was punctured only by the introduction of a chicken onto the Ewood Park pitch. The protests hadn't disappeared and neither had Venkys' drastic decision making - two days later Appleton was sacked.
But this year there will be no chickens. The anger towards Venkys is subsiding as under the guidance of Bowyer it is now possible to separate supporting the team from backing the regime. Bowyer has restored a sense of pride strong enough to withstand even a 4-0 defeat to Bolton last week.
Bowyer's defensive options at Bolton were hampered by a growing injury list, whereas Kean would have attempted to shrug off that performance, Bowyer held the team fully accountable. "There are no excuses," he said. "We demanded passion but I don't think we got enough from the players on that."
Rovers will be aiming to put things right against Burnley to maintain an unbeaten record against their rivals that stretches back 35 years. Back-to-back Lancashire derby defeats would be difficult to stomach, but Bowyer has earned the supporters' patience. After three years of suffering, Blackburn fans can finally start looking forward to a brighter future again.