THEY packed out the Windsor Suite at King George’s Hall, worried for the future of Blackburn Rovers.
Only time will tell whether the Blackburn Rovers Supporters Investment Trust will one day be able to persuade Venky’s to part with the club.
But the fact that close to 500 people gave up their time on a perfect summer’s morning on Saturday said much about the depth of feeling within the town right now, the concern about the direction in which Rovers are currently heading.
An open fans’ meeting had been called by the BRSIT to discuss their plans to put the club into the hands of the community.
Wayne Wild, co-founder of the trust and group director of Rovers’ main sponsor WEC, spoke at length about his ambitions for the scheme.
Perhaps significantly, he was joined on the stage by former Rovers stars Simon Garner and Glenn Keeley, who have both offered their support for the plans.
The duo spoke from the heart when they addressed the audience.
It was clear that their love for the club was such that they felt they had to make a stand.
As was the case for those in audience.
Many had questions to be answered, as they pondered whether to sign up to the BRSIT, who are offering shares at £1,000 should they complete a takeover of the club in the future.
But all were clearly dissatisfied with the current state of affairs at Ewood Park.
The meeting lasted around 90 minutes as a wide range of issues were discussed, and those involved in the trust were heartened by the turn-out.
“I am very encouraged,” said co-founder Dan Grabko, a Rovers fan and American finance expert who flew in from his home in Sweden on Saturday morning.
“We didn’t know whether we were going to get 10 or 1,000 people, but we filled the room.”
‘One pride, one passion, 100 per cent Rovers,’ said the banner on stage, with merchandise for the trust also on sale at the back of the room.
It was revealed that just short of 1,200 people had already pledged money to the scheme, two months after its launch, taking the trust near to the £2m mark.
They aim to raise £10m before approaching Venky’s over a potential offer.
Their hope was simply to be ready for the day when the Indian poultry giants do decide to step away from the club.
“Our model is to get anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 supporters on board to raise the money we need,” Grabko said.
“After two months we are at 1,200 – a hair’s breadth away from £2m.
“We have a lot of momentum and I think it is definitely possible to raise £10m. Even if we stayed at the rate at the moment it would take 10 months to raise £10m.
“If we can increase that pace, which I think we have gone a long way towards with the meeting, I think we can do it in well less than half that – hopefully before September.
“Ninety per cent in the room said they hadn’t pledged yet and by the end nobody had their hand up saying they weren’t going to pledge.”
If successful in a takeover, Wild said the plan would be to employ experienced football people to run the club on a break-even basis unless further investment was to materialise.
He had, however, been unable to contact Rovers’ Indian owners so far.
Wild wrote to them in October as a concerned fan and club sponsor but has yet to receive a reply.
He revealed that in November, before the BRSIT had been set up, he was offered a meeting with Venky’s in London at less than 24 hours’ notice but was unable to travel for family reasons – only to find that the Rao brothers had actually made the trip to Wigan for Rovers’ Premier League match at the DW Stadium a day later.
The details of the trust’s scheme were outlined for those present.
Pledges are current being taken by the trust.
Fans do not yet have to pay for their shares, although the BRSIT have been advised to turn their £2m of pledges into cash reasonably soon to aid their chances of success.
The trust are taking advice from Supporters Direct, a group who have previously helped a number of clubs owned by fans – including the likes of FC United, AFC Wimbledon and Exeter.
Fans have also been offered the chance to group together to buy one share if necessary, with financial assistance also on offer to those who may struggle to pay the £1,000 required. A membership card system was also outlined, potentially giving all purchasers of a share their £1,000 within 20 years.
Asked whether he supported a boycott of matches under Venky’s rule, Wild stressed that the trust were keen to steer clear of advising fans on such issues.
But there was criticism of the club and current boss Steve Kean from Keeley, a Rovers defender between 1976 and 1987, bringing applause and brief chants of ‘Kean out’ from the audience.
“Even Burnley wouldn’t take him now,” Keeley quipped.
“I’ve seen Kenny Dalglish get sacked at Liverpool recently but you compare the two managers and there’s no comparison really at all.”
Garner also received applause as he spoke of his desire to help Rovers, where he still holds the club’s all-time goalscoring record.
“I thought it was a great turn-out,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I first got there but it was very encouraging.
“We’re all after the same thing, we’ve all got the club at heart and hopefully the people that were there will speak to other fans and it will keep progressing and mushrooming.
“It shows that fans care about the football club and that’s what every club in the country needs.
“It’s a very important moment for the club.
“Fans are worried about what is going to happen to the football club.
“We get nothing out of Venky’s and we’d just like to speak to them and see what their plans are for the football club.
“If they speak to us great, if they speak to the fans at the same time it would be even better.”
Asked about the trust’s share plan, Garner added: “All people have got to do is pledge.
“They don’t have to give the money over straight away, if they just pledge they will be spporting the cause.
“When I played at Wycombe it was owned by the fans and everybody had a share. It worked perfectly, we got promotion two seasons running.
“I know it’s a smaller club but a team like Blackburn, who are a bigger club, it could be the start of something big for the football club.
“I think it is achievable, it’s just down to Venky’s and whether they will talk to us. To me that is the only stumbling block.
“The trust are trying all the time to get in touch with Venky’s.
“We either need a spokesperson for Venky’s or Venky’s themselves to get in touch with the turst and say we’ll have a meeting with you and we’ll have a chat with you.
“We’re not trying to force Venky’s out of the club, we’re prepared to work with them and talk to them. “That’s all we want to do.”
Rovers fans have secured meetings with key figures to express their concerns over events at the club, with the Blackburn Rovers Action Group – chaired by Glen Mullan – due to meet Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore in Doncaster on Wednesday
The BRAG and the BRSIT – with the aid of Blackburn MP and former Home Secretary Jack Straw, who has offered his support to the trust – will both meet the Government’s sports minister Hugh Robertson on June 13.
“Partly it’s to give us some sort of official backing,” Wild said.
“What we need is that the owners can see that we’re backed by official bodies, hence why Supporters Direct are very important to what we are doing.
“If the sports minister can in any way come out and give us some positivity that can only be good for what we’re doing.”
The BRSIT plan to hold another meeting soon and have also appealed for volunteers to help the running of the trust.
Supporters were offered the chance to sign up for a share at the end of Saturday’s gathering, as well as being informed that they could pledge online at www.brsit.co.uk or by texting ECTGA followed by their pledge to 60777.