Owner Steve Lansdown and Chief Executive John Pelling gamely fielded questions in front of a festive, and at times, noisy packed bar in Crewe. The seventh such event around the country organised by the Supporters Club & Trust came with an opening reminder of how unique this situation is, setting Bristol City Football Club apart from many.
Steve opened with his own assertion that this football club has the potential and ambition to be one of the biggest in the country. In response to the direct question about strengthening in the near future to fuel the promotion push, he said that would happen if that was the requirement from the Manager and also reminded us of the loan window option that closes at the end of March. Later he was asked if it is a conscious decision to run with a smaller squad. He acknowledged that it probably was, with support for Frankie needed in the goalkeeping department required, which would take it from 23 to 24. The under 21’s are seen as the immediate replacements for the first team supported by the other age groups. We are not quite there yet, as all age groups are having to play up a level at times.
John Pelling got to grips with questions about the current stadium re-development challenges and planning for the future. Maybe small things for some, but important to others, like match day programmes for the Johnstone Paint Trophy games only being one page, the car parking situation and current usage of all seats in the Dolman stand. The traditional Supporters Club bar will shortly become unusable due to the redevelopment and there is a strong lobby to accommodate them elsewhere in the ground. John dealt with all these issues with a mixture of “the transition is always going to be difficult, we will look at some things and sorry where people feel short-changed”. A serious point about the football club paying a living wage to its employees was raised. All employee contracts are being reviewed in a planned way, particularly in the light of the extra work that the rugby brings to the stadium.
The more forward looking stadium points revolved around the name, the pitch, museums, train stations and ticket prices. The stadium is going to be called Ashton Gate or “The Gate” sometimes for promotional purposes. The museum will be for all Bristol Sport (minus the blue few) and was inspired by a visit to Barcelona’s museum, where all sports were represented. The desso pitch manufacture and fitting has a long lead time and not many are done in any given year. We pipped Paris St Germain to getting our order completed first! Will ticket prices for the South Stand come at a premium for fans? We’ll have to wait until February/March before those are decided. It was announced last week that a new train station is not part of the first phase of the rail development programme, but hopeful for the second phase.
Which is more important, the league or the two cup games coming up against Gillingham? All 3 says Steve. Wembley would be a great day out and we must continue our promotion push. Would rugby ever over shadow football at Ashton Gate? Unlikely, but the sports are becoming complimentary and it is no coincidence that both are top of their respective leagues. Does Steve have a good working relationship with Steve Cotterill? Yes, “when he can get a word in edgeways”. He is a breath of fresh air and has brought enthusiasm and discipline to the club. What will happen to the Ashton Vale site? “How about a gypsy site?” joked Steve. Will the Robin re-appear on the club badge? Not the badge, but used in other ways. Can a pre-season trip to Willem ii be arranged? Possibly, an official approach needs to be made if it fits with the management side. Botswana, for all its success in team bonding, won’t be repeated next season. Does the local media do enough to support the club? Just about, given their budgetary restraints. Bristol Sport will be able to influence this with its own media too.
There was a reminder of the journey Steve took to becoming a supporter of the club, albeit via “the other lot” until his son persuaded him otherwise. He reflected that a year ago he got back from a trip to Africa and was disappointed that we all had accepted coming back from 2-0 down to draw with Leyton Orient was OK. It wasn’t and he set about trying to do something about it. A supporter got control of the microphone to thank Steve and remind everyone that he could be anywhere in the world today, but here is at Crewe watching Bristol City. Steve replied by saying that this is where he would rather be.
As always, not a verbatim write up of all that was said, some things are best left in the pub. Thanks to Steve and John for taking the time to speak to fans. It is appreciated.