In full, this is the leaked letter from Blackburn Rover's deputy CEO Paul Hunt, sent to the club's owner Anuradha Desai in December last year following the Premier League defeat to Bolton. Bolded and underlined passages are as they appear in the original letter...
Wednesday 21st December 2011
I have been your senior officer at the club for 6 months now and I feel that I must now write to you to ask you to make some significant changes to save the club, perhaps from relegation but also perhaps from administration.
In twenty years of the Premier League there has been only one side that was bottom of the league at Christmas that has survived relegation at the end of the season. With the bank closing in, I fear that they will look to foreclose and have the potential to implement financial restrictions upon the club that could (as a worst-case scenario) enforce administration.
I have kept quiet for a time now out of utmost respect and I trust that you realise that I am only emailing you now as I want what is only the best for Blackburn Rovers and the owners. I am very much of the opinion that we can save the club and I have always been very supportive and positive towards the owners. Therefore I hope you know that what I am saying is considered, honest, constructive and from the heart.
I ask that we instigate all the changes below in this 10 point plan. If we do, then I guarantee that, come the summer, the club will be in a much stronger position than it is now. This will give the owners the following benefits:
A richer asset in the club as a whole
A happy, strong and valuable playing squad
Peace of mind that it is being run admirably
Protection for the Venky's brand and the BRFC brand
The full backing of the Premier League
Deliver the community a club to be proud of
A devoted team of staff
1. Promotion to CEO
I am aware that that when we met in April, we said we would look at this within the first year. I believe now is the right time to promote me to CEO. The "Deputy" title is confusing to staff, supporters and media. I am confident that I now have the knowledge to be able to deliver strong progress. We have a great club, good team and an excellent range of staff that I feel can take this club forward, given the right support from the owners. Naturally, with extra responsibility I would like extra salary and I would be happy with a relatively modest increase with the promise of a good bonus and increase in salary in the summer that would reflect the improvement in position. I am currently the lowest paid senior club official in the Premier League.
2. Owners to invest in the club
As you are aware Barclays have asked for the owners to put £10m into the business. This needs to happen and I am confident that this could only be a loan as we would increase the value of the club significantly. With all the speculation in the press the playing staff value and overall club value is depreciating on a daily basis. By putting an end to this the owners would be protecting their investment, putting their trust in the executive team and the club. The position with the finances is a cause for grave concern. Auditors KPMG have put as many obstacles as they can in the way of signing off the accounts due to their concerns. We continue to try and work with Barclays but they are very quickly losing patience as we cannot give answers. We have been forced to agree to additional spending against our wishes (Christmas hampers, sponsoring the Princes Trust event etc) and I am fearful that the situation will only get worse.
During January we need additional funding to pay wages etc. Scottish club Hearts did not pay their players in November and have effectively breached their contracts. By law (supported by FIFA) the players can now annul their contracts, seek other clubs and still chase the club for payment of their wages. Clearly, the club will not receive any fee for any transfers. See link http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/football/spl/2011/12/10/hearts-stars-told-they-can-walk-away-from-club-now-over-unpaid-wages-86908-23623969/
You may also be aware that HMRC (tax authorities) have been chasing Portsmouth Football Club for a debt they owe. HMRC have made a technical mistake in law and therefore cannot claim the money they are owed. They will make sure of course that the next football club that falls out of line, won’t be so lucky. We need to make sure that this club is not Blackburn Rovers.
3. Manager to change and report to the CEO
Publicly I have been asked to support the manager and I always have as I personally like Steve. I have supported him from the start and have been desperate for him to do well. However, I am now of the opinion that it isn’t working and he is ready to go. He has lost the crowd and as a result of this evening’s game has lost the dressing room as well – the players no longer want to play for him. It is a shame and disappointing but we must act now to save the club. The board should be asked their opinion in who should be the new manager. The board has over 60 years football experience between them, it would be a travesty not to rely on that experience for the biggest decision the club will make this season. The new manager should now report into the board who then recommend and endorse his wishes to the owners. Allow the board to protect the owners from the media, supporters etc.
4. Trust the executive - bring us in
Give the executive team at Ewood Park, the latitude and authority to run the club. Everything at the club needs to come through either myself, Simon Hunt or Karen Silk – both Karen and Simon are excellent appointments. We have vast experience and with Vineeth as well, I am sure we have a winning team. The owners must learn to trust us. I am enjoying working with Vineeth and although he has little experience in football, he is quickly learning. I am trying to establish him with all the other staff too and am introducing him to the Heads of Department on an ongoing basis. I don’t really think for one minute that the owners will allow this club to go into ruin but without knowing this for
sure, we need to be prudent. However, if we had more information on your plans, strategy and thoughts going forward (after assisting you in formulating that strategy of course) then we can support and deliver growth. Without knowing the plan, we will of course be guarded and suspicious. With our fiduciary responsibilities as directors, if the club goes under, the directors (including Vineeth, Mahesh and Gandhi Babu) are all potentially personally liable for that failing and the courts could take our houses from us. My family do not deserve this.
5. PR just from Ewood
Another big issue is the PR and the fact that a lot of it in the past has come from India, without our knowledge. ALL press statements need to come from Ewood Park with me as the spokesman. That way we can control all the output and protect the owners. I will take on an experienced PR consultant who will advise the board/owners. It will be someone who will be aware when any negative stories are about to hit the press. We must now remove the club from being headline news for the wrong reasons. A full PR strategy needs to be instigated from January 1st that re-engages the owners with the supporters – the owners need to trust us in this regard as we know our customers. As owners you are not protected. Use the board (and manager combined) as a buffer zone to the media, the bank, the fans and we will protect you. I want to tell the media that what they are printing is not true but the truth is that I do not know. It is clearly evident that neither yourself, Bala or Venky currently feel comfortable coming to Ewood Park. If we as an executive team had more say, day to day running and authority, we would be able to support you and take all the criticism ourselves. The damaging story in the Mail on Sunday has caused players, staff and the supporters much concern. We need to invest time in stopping leaks leaving the club.
6. Regular visits to India
To be able to understand the strategy and to assist the owners, the executive team of myself, Simon Hunt and Karen Silk must visit India once every two months as a minimum. This way we can be together on all issues and help to craft them with our experience. I am happy for the new manager to be a part of that delegation and would welcome his input. I am very concerned that I have not met with you properly during the six months I have worked at the club. You have asked me to deal with things locally but to be able to do this, as I have asked before, I need a greater understanding of your aspirations so I can deliver on them. If you keep me informed and learn to trust me, I can be your mouthpiece.
7. Regular visits to Blackburn and Premier League games
The owners must attend games in Blackburn as often as possible and I would suggest that at least one of the owners is present for at least a quarter of the games. The staff needs to meet you and get to know you too – whenever I have met the owners, I feel warm and strong and you instil in me the fight to face challenges and win. The supporters also need to meet you and we need to get the message of solidarity out there as quickly as possible.
8. Hire and Fire
The executive team at Blackburn Rovers must be allowed to hire and fire staff. We will of course ask for the owner’s opinion for senior positions but we must
be allowed the latitude in this. In Simon Williams we have someone who is against the owners and spreads the word wherever he can. I am disappointed I was not allowed to remove him from post in the summer, when he and the rest of the staff were expecting it. We must act soon in this regard and look to review other positions and then give the staff great morale.
9. Lost revenue and brand equity
We are losing fans/customers at an alarming rate. I am very concerned that fans are voting with their feet and not attending, not purchasing and not engaging with the club. Research shows that only 5% of ex season ticket holders will ever return. We are losing sponsors and suppliers. I am concerned we will lose Umbro if we continue to manufacture Rovers shirts in India for the RoverStar programme. Their contract specifically disallows this and we are putting at risk £800k of annual revenue. The Blackburn Rovers and Venky’s brands are both suffering terribly. Whilst there are negative goings on such as protests, complaints, media stories, unhappy fans etc, then both brands are losing brand equity and consequently, losing value. I am also concerned that the Premier League will intervene soon as they may take the view that their brand is being tarnished by association too. It is all reparable of course but we must start to act now by building bridges with fans and the media as above.
10. Support is necessary / Final thoughts
I am disappointed that we have not managed to progress as I would have liked over the past 6 months. I for one was very excited to be given the opportunity and wanted to assist the owners in delivering strong progress for the club. However, we have been too busy fire fighting (protests, media intrusion, finance issues) to do this so far. As you know, I like to be proactive but the current climate only allows us to be reactive.
I feel impotent as I am not asked by yourselves about my opinion on matters. I joined the club to make a difference, not to sit by and simply action instructions. I appreciate that my advice will not always be acted upon but I am disappointed that I am not asked. I have a great deal to contribute and have great experience. I won't get it right every time but will always do my best and learn from any mistakes.
My concern is for the staff. They have put up with a lot recently and are still supportive. They live in the community and are being asked questions by their friends and family but cannot answer them. They are also being challenged at the games and when they come into contact with fans. Most are junior or part time staff who are feeling under pressure. I am concerned that they are going to become too stressed and will look to get jobs elsewhere. We have some great staff and cannot afford to lose them.
I may be speaking out of turn here, but I am also concerned that no one reports everything to you, that is, everyone tries to report positive news and are not overly forthcoming when negative news needs to be told. By not having the full details, anyone would find it difficult to make decisions that encompass all the facts, all of the time. I am sure that if you were exposed to the full story, no matter how negative sometimes, that you would do the right thing. I need to be able to report a little more readily to you and on an infinitely more regular basis.
Please don't view this as me questioning the owners unjustly. Please be reassured that I do question things, it means I am doing things right for the club and the owners by not accepting things lightly. This is how I work and how I must continue to work to get the best for Blackburn Rovers. With my experience of Blackburn now and my previous experience at three other prominent clubs, I do feel as though my suggestions come from a position of strength and can make a huge difference to life at Blackburn Rovers.
I would very much appreciate an opportunity to speak with you on these points by invitation to India. Without instigating these points it will get more and more difficult to deliver progress for the club. I call on the owners to act, to play their part in the investment that puts all our minds at rest, and then allows me and the executive team to initiate all of the above points for the greater good of Blackburn Rovers.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
With very best wishes for a bright future,