Hard times had returned to Blackburn Rovers. Venky’s disastrous appointment of Steve Kean led to its inevitable conclusion. Relegation to the Championship brought the anticipated fall in gates, coupled with many fans refusing to return while the absentee landlords still owned their beloved football club.
Rovers’ Indian owners began to worry about the impact a less than half-full Ewood Park was having on their global corporate image. Last thing they wanted was armchair TV fans across the world seeing an empty stadium, with large swaithes of unoccupied seats. This made their Global Advisor, Shebby Singh, decide to try a strange idea. After calling the fans stupid and treating them like stuffed dummies, why not fill the ground with several thousand dummies of his own?
Shebby’s plan was to fill every unoccupied seat in the ground with an inflatable dummy. After all, what could be a better way to advertise Venky’s chicken products than a perfectly docile inflatable model. They could be wearing tee shirts with the Venky logo printed. Some could hold plastic chicken legs, or burgers, in their hands and have happy smiles painted on their rubber faces.
Every upturned empty seat would have a flat dummy taped inside and connected to a tube, leading to a central compressed air pump. At the throw of a switch, compressed air would be pumped through the seat tubes into the waiting dummies. As if by magic, they would start to inflate and could even be made to stand up in a similar way to the earlier giant dummies which used to celebrate Rovers scoring goals at Ewood Park some years ago. Clever use of the compressor could even make them bounce up and down, like other varieties of blow-up toys.
So it was decided to try a secret ‘dummy run’ behind closed doors. This took place one afternoon in the close season. A few thousand volunteers were sworn to silence and sat in various positions around Ewood Park with bicycle tyre repair kits in their pockets. The switch was thrown and a pumping sound started. A strange sight followed, seats began opening as the slowly inflating dummies began to emerge.
Unfortunately, all didn’t go to plan. While compressed air was still being pumped, some of the dummies appeared to come to life. They started hissing, squealing and farting. A few of them jumped into the air and flew all over the place, before landing on the pitch. It wasn’t just the dummies who were deflated. There was panic amongst the Venkys. Memories of protests and pitch invasions soon came to mind. They decided to give up on Shebby’s dummy idea.
Shebby decided to put a brave face on the situation. He had to go back to the drawing board, following a severe dressing down from his employers in India. His biggest problem was what to do with all the inflatable dummies, left over from his failed experiment. Maybe there was a hidden opportunity here to boost season ticket sales for some fans. Shebby, decided not to take advice from Rovers fans over what he should do with them. They said this time he spat out his dummy once too often.