It's gone beyond being just about Blackburn Rovers any more; about goals, misses, tackles and runs. There isn't the impression that it's only about the relegation battle in which they find themselves at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League. How can it be, when there are images of young fans unloading vicious abuse on their manager then looking at each other with broad grins?
Something unusual and ugly has taken hold in Lancashire. Desperate managers get hounded all the time, but it's gone way beyond that with what's happening to Steve Kean at Blackburn. What's going on there isn't far removed from bear-baiting. Kean's record is awful and seven victories in 38 games is all ample grounds for him to be sacked. Blackburn supporters are right to expect far better than that, but it's hard to argue that they deserve it for the cruelty many of them have shown to Kean. They're having fun with it.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Harry Redknapp. The Tottenham Hotspur manager called it horrific. England's League Managers' Association said in a statement: "The aggression and abuse levelled at Steve over recent weeks has stepped well beyond the mark and is as unacceptable in football as it would be in any other profession. It is to Steve's significant credit that he has shouldered this continued onslaught with dignity and professionalism and has continued to work with his players to try and improve results on the pitch."
Fans chanted mercilessly for Kean's sacking during the Bolton Wanderers game on Tuesday, even after they had pulled a goal back to make it 2-1. "Ho-ho-ho, Kean Must Go" proclaimed one banner carried by fans whose anger hadn't stopped them dressing as Santa. One fan threw a shirt at him at full-time. Around 500 gathered outside the ground calling for his dismissal.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to all Blackburn fans. Sadly Steve Kean was found alive and well this morning," said one guy on Twitter yesterday. "Watching Blackburn fans kick off about Steve Kean is top class entertainment," said another. Not for Kean, his wife, who was in the stand at the game on Tuesday night, or their family.
There have been banners, chants, demonstrations, even a plane trailing a message. The psychological pressure has become relentless. Stewards and security staff had to repel a mob who tried to get at him at full-time after the defeat by Bolton . If he's a poor manager, fine, but what has Kean done to bring himself to the point of being in physical danger?
The issue for the 44-year-old in his first managerial job isn't about whether he survives at Blackburn – he can't – but whether what's happening in this unfolding torture is doing irreversible damage to his chances of resurrecting a career anywhere else. Before Blackburn, Kean had a reputation as an intelligent and perceptive coach, well-respected within football and with no shortage of job offers. Right now, he is perceived only as a loser and victim being subjected to a long and humiliating execution. There is sympathy for him too, of course, and not least in Scotland given the pride taken in having seven managers from the Glasgow area working in the top flight of English football. But how easy will it be for any club in a few months' time to wheel out Kean as their new manager and try to convince supporters that he is the way ahead?
Throughout it all he has remained respectful towards the club, supporters and even the media who have trained their guns on him. Blackburn MP Jack Straw has said he should be replaced and the Lancashire Telegraph gauged the mood of its readership and called for Kean to leave the club on Monday's front page. A local paper crosses the Rubicon when it does that and even if the editorial decision made sense – it would have looked out of touch with its audience if it had not – it still could have made life difficult for the writers who have to deal with Kean and get a story out of him almost every day.
How did he react? He was civil and courteous to the paper's reporter the next time he turned up at a press conference and even granted him an individual Q&A session which the newspaper gratefully printed. One of their questions was: "Do you not think it would be better if you weren't here?" Even while being kicked from pillar to post, Kean has acted like a decent human being.
His mantra has been that the club has been unfortunate with injuries, especially to defenders, and that results would improve when he has more of his best players available. Fans don't buy that. They regard him as an uncritical figurehead and patsy for the Indian owners, Venky's. They've made up their minds that they cannot stand him.
The suspicion is that he has refused to resign as it would cost him the lucrative payout he would receive if he was dismissed. Venky's, deeply unimpressive when they sacked Sam Allardyce with the club 13th in the table and gave the job to the untested Kean, may be trying the same trick in reverse: if they simply leave their man to take all the heat, he will eventually buckle and resign without them having to sign a big compensation cheque. The next two games are away to Liverpool and Manchester United . . . something will give soon enough.
The owners watched the Bolton game on a live feed in Pune rather than being with their man on Tuesday. Many reckon they've never been there for him in any sense, starving him of the funds he needed to make a fist of the league this season. After the Bolton game, Kean said he would be "100% shocked" if he was dismissed. Venky's have been unpredictable from the start, although the odds are shortening on Kean going soon and being replaced by Mark Hughes. Steve Bruce's name is also being mentioned.
Kean was appointed manager a year ago today. He has gone to his house in London, but there won't be any happy anniversary cards waiting for him.