If this is where this current chapter ends, at Griffin Park with 1,650 travelling fans roaring angrily in defiance, then it’s easy to see where it started. Seven years ago the Venky family took over Blackburn Rovers and the rest is history, the darkest period in the history of a famous old football club.
Relegations, hapless managers, fan boycotts and supporter protests, court cases, chickens on the pitch and broken promise after broken promise. On Sunday the latest miserable episode of this Football League founder member unfolded – relegation to the third tier for the first time in 37 years. Many knew it was coming but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
To their credit the players gave it everything. Goals from Charlie Mulgrew, Danny Guthrie and Craig Conway earned a well-deserved win over Brentford. But it was ultimately for nothing with Nottingham Forest’s victory over Ipswich and the three points Birmingham earned at Bristol City meaning Rovers followed Wigan and Rotherham down into League One, the first Premier League champions in history to drop into the third tier.
Rovers fans, with their team in the bottom three at kick-off, knew their fate was out of their hands and could only watch on through their hands as news of goals at Bristol and Forest ensured the only way was down for the champions of 1995. Many of them would have been in the balmy May sunshine at Anfield 22 years ago but while the weather was much the same in west London this afternoon the forecast for Rovers, crippled by debt and absent owners, looks far bleaker with supporters now facing the grim reality of relegation out of the Championship.
Some two hours earlier it all looked far brighter, Rovers starting like a team who knew goal difference could well become key to how the battle at the bottom would play out and they took the lead in the 10th minute through a goal belying their lowly league position. Elliott Bennett, a constant threat between the lines all afternoon, was fouled in the inside right channel and Mulgrew stepped up and curled an inch-perfect free-kick into the top corner leaving Darren Bentley no chance in the home goal.
Rovers’ tails were up, roared on by the travelling support, and their lead was doubled a matter of moments later. Sam Gallagher, the visitors’ standout player, beat two to get to the byline before pulling a ball back that was cleared but only to Guthrie who fired in a deflected shot which wrongfooted Bentley at nestled in the net. It was Guthrie’s first in Rovers colours and no less than the visitors deserved after a lightning start.
Brentford responded but were restricted to efforts from range with Gallagher going the closest to adding the next goal, sliding in at the back post from a wonderful Bennett cross but his stretching effort was too high. The home side were improved with the impressive Sergi Canos causing problems cutting in off both flanks, the Spaniard forcing fellow countryman David Raya into a fine one-handed reflex stop after his rasping shot came through a collection of legs.
News of Forest’s opener left Rovers in need of goals and their increased attacking intensions inevitably led to more gaps at the other end. The Bees came into the game having won five of their last eight and their quality told with a goal back within minutes of the break. They pressed down the right and Blackburn failed to deal with the ball in from the right with Lasse Vibe getting on the end of it to guide it home past Raya.
With Forest scoring again and staying up attentions turned to Ashton Gate, but no one told the Rovers side out on the pitch who continued to pour forwards in hope of grabbing the goals needed to stay up on goal difference. Chances came and went, Danny Graham the most guilty, blazing over when he really should have hit the target from 18 yards.
But on Rovers pushed and thought they had earned a penalty when substitute Conway appeared to be tripped by Harlee Dean but referee Tony Harrington waived away their appeals. He had no choice five minutes later though when another second half addition, Marvin Emnes, sprinted through only to be hauled down by the Brentford skipper in the box. Dean was dismissed and Conway made no mistake from the spot to secure the win and the three points needed to give themselves a chance.
The final whistle blew and fans could do nothing but wait but as Rovers players, left on their knees spent from their tireless afternoon’s efforts, watched on with them longing for positive news from Ashton Gate as the six minutes of added time ebbed away. But it never came and with it the last drop of hope faded and the nightmare of life out of the Championship became the grimmest of realities. This chapter is over but Blackburn Rovers’ ever-darkening story continues.
Brentford: Bentley, Clarke, Dean, Barbet, Field (Bjelland), Yennaris, Kerschbaumer (McCormack 65), Jota, Sawyers, Canos, Vibe.
Substitutes not used: Hofmann, Egan, Bonham, Westbrooke.
Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Lenihan, Ward (Lucas Joao 66), Mulgrew, Nyambe, Lowe, Guthrie (Conway 58), Williams, Bennett, Graham (Emnes 72), Gallagher.
Substitutes not used: Steele, Hoban, Feeney, Akpan.
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland)
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies