Newspaper photo archives have, in recent times, been littered with PR shots of footballers promoting events run by local councils. Of course, the celebrity culture which obsessed councils wasn’t just restricted to footballers – as demonstrated by a series of Freedom of Information requests over the past 12 months.
If you’re being generous, you could say councils were spending the money on celebrities – often footballers – to attract attention to a cause or project which would otherwise go un-noticed, although it’s also worth bearing in mind that if a project or event needs a celebrity to attend to spark public interest, there needs to be a discussion about whether the project will make a difference in the long run.
Football, especially over the last 15 years, has been the thing many politicians felt they needed to be associated with to be able to connect with voters. Think Tony Blair and his love of Newcastle United. It’s replicated across the country at local government level. Have picture taken with footballer/be a football fan = be a popular councillor.
So, all that taken into account, here’s something a bit refreshing: A council leader happy to have a go at a football club.
Meet Councillor Kate Hollern, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council. She’s decided she’s fed up of the way Blackburn Rovers is being run, some 12 months after it was taken over by Venkys, the chicken farming family based in India.
Rovers are struggling, and the lack of leadership from the owners is bothering many, including Cllr Hollern.
“I am concerned to hear both in the papers and in the media that the club, which used to be one of the best run in the country, appears to have very few senior executives running the club in Blackburn on a day-to-day basis.
“I am sure you are aware of these matters and may be taking steps to address them.
“However…there appears to be serious communication problems between the club and its stakeholders, which are fuelling the frustration that people are feeling.”
Cllr Hollern went further when interviewed on BBC North West Tonight in the follow-up to the Telegraph’s story – saying ‘yes’ when asked if she thought the owners should sell up if they don’t start taking a more active interest in the club.
Relegation for Rovers would cost Blackburn around £40million, according to council estimates – I’m not sure how they come up with that figure, but it would certainly justify the council leader asking some serious questions.
To that end, it’s good to see a council leader who is happy to criticise a football club when needs be. After all, a football club should be for life, not just when they’re doing well.