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Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Senior news reporter at the Grimsby Telegraph, UEA History graduate, former BBC Kick Off sports reporter & Lincoln City fan.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The art of the 'fans protest'

It might be counter-productive, but the protest is the only real medium for disillusioned fans to get their voices heard. We shan't 'sit down and shut up'. 

Written by Matt Scrafton
I don't know if you've noticed, but recently Blackburn Rovers have won a few more games than they were doing previously. What a master stroke from the Venky's, keeping Steve Kean in the hot seat, eh? And don't those Rovers fans who protested look silly now?

Don't worry, if you hadn't noticed that introduction was laced with irony. I still think Steve Kean is a limited manager who is completely out of his depth and that the Venky's made a horrific decision in replacing Sam Allardyce with the Glaswegian.

Saying that, Blackburn will probably stay up this season. But given that before the new owners had arrived 'Big Sam' had the Lancashire side sitting in 10th position during the 2009/10 campaign after reaching the semi-final of the League Cup, I can confidently say that "staying up" isn't good enough at all.

And even if they do end up avoiding relegation, let's be honest it's only due to the inadequacy of the teams below them - QPR and Wolves half self-destructed, and Wigan finally look destined for the drop (thank the lord!).

Yet large chunks of the media seem to think Rovers' likely survival vindicates their earlier criticisms of the fans protests. I don't doubt that the players confidence was shot and the protests did little to help that. Again, I don't doubt that there was a hostile atmosphere surrounding the club on match-days when those "Kean out" chants were commonplace at Ewood Park earlier on in the season.

But you have to see it from their point of view. Their club was dragged into a relegation scrap last season, and have been embroiled in one all this season too. This coming after sitting comfortably in mid-table under Allardyce, in fact they were 13th at the time of his sacking. And you have to consider who his replacement was, Steve Kean - an individual with no previous managerial experience whatsoever. I'm putting it out there, if I were a Blackburn fan I'd be pretty peeved too.

A selection of Newcastle United supporters show their displeasure at the ownership of Mike Ashley
However, we're still being told that fans protests do no good. Just yesterday the Lincoln City Board of Directors released an official statement slamming a minority of Imps 'supporters' "a disgrace" for planning to protest before Saturday's BSP fixture with Newport County.

This is a club who have fallen from the heady heights of the League Two play-offs to the cusp of the Conference North in just five years. And that's without going into administration. Sure, the financial mismanagement of the club has been an embarrassment, but it's been on-the-field where the problems have lied.

Here's a little history lesson for you all. Peter Jackon came in, was handed the biggest budget a Lincoln manager had ever been given, proceeded to talk a lot of nonsense, and then was sacked after leaving the Imps languishing at the wrong end of the table. Then there was good old Chris Sutton, y'know the boring one who couldn't score for toffee at Chelsea? No, not Fernando Torres. This was his first job in management, so his terrible reign can just about be forgiven. Once again, Lincoln were involved in the relegation battle,and once again another manager had been given his marching orders.

Then ex-Southend boss Steve Tilson came in, a guy who frankly couldn't care less about his job. As a result, for the first time since 1986, the Imps were back in non-league. He kept his job to begin with, but was sacked just months later after a torrid start to life in the Blue Square Premier. David Holdsworth is now in charge (I use that term loosely), but the Imps are still only heading one way.

Not once have Lincoln fans protested. Sure, there were rumblings, there were boos and there were chants. But for far too long now Lincoln fans have just been too nice. There has to be a time where they think, "y'know what? I'm not taking this crap anymore". I include myself in that, by the way.

That moment of awakening seems to have occurred this week. Lincoln fans aren't going to accept losing to Bath, Kettering, Alfreton and Carshalton Athletic in the same season, and they certainly won't accept plummeting down another division to the Conference North.

New boss David Holdsworth is on a run of just 1 victory in 14 games, which has seen his side drop to 20th in the table
For those of you ignorant of that level, a selection of teams include Solihull Moors, Corby, Hinckley United and Eastwood Town. I'm sorry to pick on you Solihull, but their average attendance for the 2009-10 season was 239. You get the picture.

So what, do the fans just sit patiently until the club finally starts winning some games? An adult ticket at Sincil Bank is still £18 on match-day, are fans still expected to pay that in full knowledge that their team is useless? I don't know how Bob Dorrian and his fellow colleagues in the Board of Directors have the cheek to question the mentality of the Lincoln supporters.

What else should they do? Refuse to go watch? That'll just worsen the problem as the club will be left with less capital than before. Remain positive? I'm not sure how that's possible in a week where Lincoln have lost consecutive games to Alfreton and Bath City. Conserve the boos until the end of the match? They've been doing that for months now, and still nothing has changed.

People need to realise what these fans have been through. This is a very self-indulgent post, but Lincoln and Blackburn are two cases that I know a lot of. This applies to fans of all clubs.

They've tried being patient, they've tried being positive, and they sure as hell have spent a great deal of cash on watching their beloved side play. Journalists only see the negative sides to a protest, they just think it's 'nasty', 'spiteful', and "does no good". That may be a bit of an unfair generalisation of football journalists there, but you get my drift.

I'm not exactly sure what the point in this blog was - I just wanted to defend the right of football fans to protest when they're not satisfied with what their club is serving up. Blackburn fans may have aimed most of their abuse at Steve Kean, but it could just have easily been the Venky's too. The same applies for Lincoln. Sometimes there doesn't need to be a target for their vitriol, they just want people to notice they're aggrieved, to stand up and be heard. They want that special word - change.

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