Venky brothers of India
THE INDIAN owners of relegated Premier League club Blackburn Rovers, chicken farm operators Venky’s, ducked the media on Tuesday (May 8) amid a storm of criticism of their disastrous 18-month management.
British press reports slammed the absence of the Venky’s family at the club’s make-or-break Monday (April 30) night clash with Wigan which saw the club lose 1-0 and confirm their drop from England’s money-spinning top division.
Fans, who have vented their anger at Venky’s and hapless manager Steve Kean all season, released a chicken onto the pitch during the game wrapped in a Blackburn flag with a one-word message for the owners: “Out.”
The rain-soaked evening featured chants calling for Venky’s to sell the club. One banner held by a fan standing on the pitch after the final whistle decried the management and owners as “Cowboys & Indians”.
Arvind Chauhan, spokesman for the company based in Pune which paid £23m ($37m) for Blackburn in November 2010, declined to comment when contacted by reporters.
Reaction in the Indian media was muted, with pundits saying Venky’s had failed to generate any excitement in their home market despite interest in the English Premier League (EPL) taking off.
Their main promotional effort was in October last year when Blackburn travelled to the subcontinent for an exhibition match, becoming the first EPL team to play in the vast market of 1.2 billion people.
But barely 6,000 fans turned out for the game against a local side, and the trip was noted mostly for an advertising campaign that featured leading players eating fried chicken in the dressing room.
“There was really no Indian connection with Blackburn,” India’s best-known football writer Novy Kapadia told reporters. “Venky’s ownership did not help our football in any way.
“I am not surprised Venky’s are not popular in England. Their biggest mistake was to remove Sam Allardyce as manager as soon as they took over the club.”
Allardyce said he was “very shocked and disappointed” after his ousting in December 2010 when the club stood in 13th position in the league, while Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson described the sacking as “stupid”.
Venkateshwara Hatcheries, better known as Venky’s, was established in 1971 by “King of the Coop” BV Rao and is the flagship company of the $290m (£180.20m) VH Group now run by his children out of their Pune base.
Rao’s daughter and VH Group chairwoman Anuradha J Desai said at the time of the takeover that owning Blackburn Rovers would help diversify the company, best known in India for its frozen chicken nuggets and smoked chicken sausages.
“Football is a global craze and as the VH Group globalises, setting up feed plants and hatcheries around the world, we believe we can benefit from being owners of a major football club,” she said.
But few saw the synergies between poultry and football, or the business logic for the acquisition from a relatively small company without the financial clout of other foreign owners such as those at Chelsea and Manchester City.
Desai had said that $8m (£4.97m) would be made available to bolster the Blackburn squad - barely enough to sign one middling player.
Jaydeep Basu, football correspondent of the Kolkata-based Telegraph newspaper, said Blackburn’s relegation had gone almost unnoticed in India.
“Venky’s never tried to promote the club in India,” Basu told reporters. “Forget an Indian player, they did not even hire a dressing room attendant from here.”
News website FirstPost.com forecast a sale of Blackburn. “There's little doubt that Venky’s will have to cut their losses and end this horrific nightmare,” it said.
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