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Agnew: Blackburn Rovers must learn from mistakes
3:00pm Monday 9th July 2012 in Blackburn Rovers & Premier League Table & Results
THERE has been plenty of boardroom change at Blackburn Rovers this summer, and new operations director Paul Agnew tells Andy Cryer how the club intends to win back the hearts of Rovers fans after a turbulent spell under Venky’s ownership.
Q: Firstly your new title, operations director, can you tell the fans what that consists of?
A: I am challenged with the responsibility of directing the operations at BRFC on a day-to-day basis.
Mrs Desai has outlined the roles and responsibilities she wants me to take on – basically, it is all embracive.
I am very clear, working alongside Derek Shaw (Managing Director) on the business side with the combined goal of getting the club in a much stronger position in the shortest possible time.
Q: Do you think after the last 18 months this is a chance to really put things right?
A: Very much so. It would be foolish to say that everything has been okay – that can never be the case after a club has been relegated.
Clearly, there have been mistakes and misjudgements. Now it is how we all deal with the situation. I believe you have got to recognise where things went wrong, address the areas of concern, learn from mistakes and move on.
But you must not slip into the trap of focussing too hard on the past. It is imperative that we do not get bogged down with what has been and gone.
Relegation was a very hurtful experience for many, many people; fans, management, owners, staff... everybody. Personally, I felt the level of hostility that got through to the pitch crossed the line on what might be considered acceptable.
I have supported Rovers for 50 years and would never do anything that would affect my team’s chances of doing well. I do understand spontaneous unrest – that’s quite different – but some of what we witnessed shook me and I know, talking to other people at other clubs – officials and supporters – that it shook football as a whole.
We are kidding ourselves if we feel we can open the doors and everyone will simply come running back; slowly but surely we have to win everyone back.
Q: Take away the protests and there are still a lot of people saying they are not going back to Ewood Park, do you understand why they are saying that?
A: I understand it, but I am hoping we can change minds. Relegation always brings a negative reaction and I have seen more than one relegation here.
I recall back in the ‘60s when the chant was ‘Sack the Board – we’re not coming back’ and the club tumbled and tumbled down to the third division.
Coming up to date, we had been hovering around the bottom end of the Premier League table for a while There had been a danger of relegation for three of the last five seasons.
Going down was hard for us all to swallow but we must try to make it one step back to take a couple forward.
I have not got a magic wand in my briefcase, but I have got a tremendous passion and desire. I also feel I understand this place, what it is all about and what it is capable of. With solid support from everyone – inside and outside – success is achievable, no doubt about that.
Q: A lot of fans are still saying Steve Kean has not proven himself and won’t come back until he is fired. Can you see where they are coming from?
A: Football is an opinions game and that is how it should be. The facts are that Steve is the Rovers’ manager and he has the backing of the owners as we all strive to make tomorrow better than yesterday.
Money is available, our early signings have shown everyone that we mean business and Steve is fully aware of the need to get a winning team out on the pitch. We also want to get the club in a stronger position off the field as well in terms of the general running, the way it is portrayed and the overall profile.
I am very keen that we are genuinely transparent. It frustrated me at times in my previous role, that the manager had to take on responsibilities beyond what is usually expected of a manager.
At press conferences he was often put in a very difficult position as many of the questions were non football and applied to other areas.
There were times when the answer should have come from an official, but little was forthcoming. Now I have got a level authority I hope I can help take some of that load.
Q: A lot of people are frustrated it is happening now and not six or 18 months ago?
A: Again, I think it important to try to look forward rather than keep harping on what might have been.
Look at Newcastle and the situation there three years ago, the struggles and difficulties the owners faced.
Look at them now. I was recently speaking to a Southampton fan who told me they had successive relegations, were in danger of liquidation, with fans up in arms and nobody expected to renew their season tickets.
I think they are going to start next season with 32,000 seats sold. It can turn around – that’s clear from those examples.
In my working lifetime I have been professionally in and outside the game of football in one capacity or another for 38 years.
I feel I know what is expected and needed, I have been a chief executive, a fan, a press officer, sat on management committees, attended board meetings, being heavily involved in some massive decisions.
Someone once told me during my time as CEO at Preston North End when I sat down for the first game of a season, ‘Sit and watch Paul, this is the only thing you cannot directly control and the only thing that really matters’.
He added: ‘what other business in a million pound environment would have that sort of risk riding on it’.
I believe that if the team is good and off the pitch is poor, off the pitch is considered to be good. Also, if the team is poor but off the pitch is good then off the pitch is considered to be poor. It is as simple as that.
You don’t get many complaints – pies are cold, seats are grubby, etc, when you win 4-0. Lose 0-4 and stand by!
Our club has become something of a public punch bag over recent times – much has been said and written, some of the criticism justified, some not.
I feel it is time for us to get everyone united again.
Q: You and Derek Shaw have both run businesses and know the East Lancashire environment, is Shebby Singh going to be more the football side of things?
A: Yes, we have very defined roles and Shebby has come in as the global advisor with his own responsibilities.
He is clearly an experienced man in terms of both sport and business; an enthusiast with a lot of charisma.
Shebby will bring another style and has taken up a role as supporter liaison. He has already met with various supporter groups and I know he is keen to carry on with that valuable work.
We are there to help one another. It is not about who is seen to do this and who is seen to do that – I am a firm believer in a working party environment where we utilise whatever talents we have within our management group to gain the best outcome for the club.
Q: On the business side, now the club looks to be spending the money and paying the wages, some are saying ‘Can we afford this’? Is there any reassurance about that you can give the fans?
A: There are two separate things if you like, direct football costs and club costs.
Several players left the club at the end of last season and we were able to make some savings, freeing up money to then help recruit – a process which is now well under way.
Investment is being made into the playing squad and that is great, although obviously there is always a balancing act to be struck.
On the club side, we have been told that there is no need for wholesale redundancies, as can often happen after a club has been relegated.
We do, however, want to be as efficient as we possibly can and sometimes too many cooks can affect that objective.
We want to apply a proper work ethic and make things as business-like as we can with everything we do. There will be changes, that is inevitable.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Championship?
A: We cannot disguise that we have lost the Uniteds and the Liverpools from our fixture list, but we do have some potential crackers against Burnley, Blackpool, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday – the list goes on and on.
There are some tasty local and Lancashire-Yorkshire derbies which we have not seen for a while.
So I think it will be exciting, compelling and very watchable.
We want to see the team winning and the fans cheering – everything we do is geared towards that goal.
When the manager hands in his team-sheet in on match days we want it to strike fear and nervousness into the opposition.
Q: Finally, you guys know you have a battle on your hands, you have people to convince so Ewood probably will not be as full as we would hope for the first day?
A: As I said earlier, we must be realistic at all times. Yes, we will have to win people back to Ewood.
To try to do that before a ball is kicked is going to be difficult for whatever we say and do between now and August 18, everything ultimately rests on results from that afternoon and beyond.
But our supporters can rest assured that the owners and the management involved behind the scenes are totally committed to the cause.
We want Rovers to bounce back in the shortest possible time frame and an awful lot of effort is going in to make that happen.
We can’t change what happened; we’re all sorry about relegation, but please help us to get things back on track.