After the hostility of Sheffield United fans last weekend, it was nice to have a friendly chat with a Bristol City fan ahead of this Saturday. I spoke to Simon Mann, who has been a regular commentator on Test Match Special since 1996. Here’s what he had to say:
Hi Simon, firstly I’m going to make you feel old. Google informs you joined the BBC a year before I was born! Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you’ve been doing at the Beeb for most of this time?
I started at Capital Radio in London in 1988. Jonathan Pearce was there at the time and beginning to establish his reputation as a new type of football commentator. I moved to BBC Sport in 1990 and gradually worked my way into the areas I really enjoyed – football reporting and cricket commentary. I like rugby union as well, but a few sports – tennis, boxing, motor racing in particular – leave me cold.
I must admit, I am a solid rugby player/fan and Norwich City nut… I don’t like cricket, as the song goes.
Let’s hear how your love affair with all things Bristol City started. Who did you started going to games with, and what have been the major highs and lows?
Probably the way most people start. My dad and grandad took me to Ashton Gate. I started going in 1970. The first game I remember was a 1-0 win over Cardiff.
Too many matches stick out to list them all but here are a couple: a 1-0 win over Portsmouth in 1976 that took Bristol City into the top league (the old first division) for the first time in 65 years; a League One play-off semi-final second leg against Hartlepool in 2004. Hartlepool led 2-1 on aggregate going into the closing minutes. It was a night of utter frustration. Then two goals arrived. Bedlam. It’s why you put up with all the rubbish, which duly arrived in the final in Cardiff – a 1-0 defeat to Brighton without a single chance created.
I’ve seen Bristol City beat Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal – the only problem is that those matches all happened in the seventies.
The lows? It feels like it’s mostly been lows, but how about being relegated from the first division to the fourth division in successive seasons in the eighties… Is that low enough for you? When I hear the fans of big clubs moaning on football phone-ins, I sometimes feel like saying… well, you can imagine the rest.
Bristol City shares its ground with the rugby club doesn’t it? How does that go down with the football fans? I can imagine huge opposition to the idea of rugby being played on footy pitches, but once the ground share is agreed… seems to kind of work? Reading have been doing it with London Irish for a few years now, and there have been other examples in the EFL.
I’m relaxed about it as long as it doesn’t mess up the pitch, which it doesn’t appear to do. They’ve got one of those hi-tech pitches that seems to resemble a bowling green even after the rugby boys have been trampling on it.
This is part of the Bristol Sports partnership too isn’t it? Can you shed light on what this means? It seems like a good way to use the collective strength of multiple clubs to further a City’s sporting progress.
Multi-millionaire owner Steve Lansdown is the man behind it. I think his idea is to try to put Bristol on the national sporting map. He can’t simply pump millions into the football club because of financial fair play so he spreads the cash around.
When the football results are going poorly, there are the inevitable moans about priorities, but that strikes me as ridiculous. Lansdown has been fantastic for Bristol City – a successful local businessman who’s backed his local club with serious money. Be careful what else you wish for.
Oh, and the redeveloped stadium is an excellent Lansdown legacy.
So off the back of both our sides getting through to the last 16 of the Carabao Cup, we now meet back in the Championship on Saturday. Are you as surprised as other clubs that Bristol City are doing so well?
Yes. The season is only eight matches old though. We won 4-0 at Fulham in September last year. That was the highlight of a fine start to the season. After that, it was grim and the club just survived after another tense, ugly relegation fight, which included a club record eight defeats in a row.
Having said that, the squad looks much stronger now. The team that beat Stoke City on Tuesday showed nine changes from the one that beat Derby 4-1 last Saturday, and it still looked strong enough to compete in the week-by-week grind of the Championship. In fact, it got me thinking about the possibility of having a Tuesday team and a Saturday team to cope with the demands of a Championship season. Injuries, suspensions, and loss of form would probably make it impractical, but it’s worked effectively in the League Cup.
Have you spent a lot of money? You’ve got a very wealthy owner, something a sector of our fans intermittently pine for (me included) but we’ve gone down the continental coach and hidden gems route recently.
Money has been spent, although it’s hard to know precisely how much with the prevalence of the undisclosed fee. Striker Famara Diedhiou was signed for £5million from Angers. That was a club record. Nathan Baker was signed for a fee from Aston Villa, so too was Niclas Eliasson from Swedish football. Some of that was recouped by the sale of Lee Tomlin to Cardiff.
The club has generally switched emphasis though to identifying and signing young talent, and bringing in young Premier League talent on loan. Tammy Abraham was an example of the latter last season. Lee Johnson is hoping Jonathan Leko of West Brom will be this year’s success.
The club also places a lot of emphasis on its academy. Leading scorer Bobby Reid and highly-rated left-back Joe Bryan are both products.
MFW are yet to hear if Bristol City fans love Wilbrahamovic as much as us….Thanks to Simon for his time.