There is no escaping the fact that the last few months have been a difficult time for everyone at Bristol City Football Club.
The heady days of the two wins against table-topping Cardiff City and Crystal Palace, and the crucial win at Peterborough United seem like a distant memory. After the spirited performance at home to Blackpool and the brilliant win at Middlesbrough, it seemed as if we had turned a corner, but we were all brought crashing back to earth by last Saturday’s performance and result against Wolves.
It’s no wonder fans get despondent after a run of results like we've had recently, and my inbox and twitter feed over the weekend certainly bore testimony to how downhearted everyone is feeling at the moment. I also spent some time immediately after the game on Saturday listening to the grievances of a variety of disgruntled fans, and I promise you those views are passed on.
At times like this, it can be very difficult to see positives. As a fan myself, I have only truly enjoyed one Saturday night since August 25th, and it makes coming in to work at the start of the week all the more challenging.
There have been murmurings of the club being “like a rudderless ship”, and of a “growing disconnect between club and fans”. As your supporter liaison I have to take this very seriously, as does everyone who works at our club.
Although it may not seem like it, there are some very important things happening behind the scenes at the moment, and I thought it might be useful to consider the bigger picture.
The last couple of years have seen a period of massive change at the football club. We have seen a new chairman and board of directors, a new manager, the launch of the Community Trust, a substantial revamp of the Academy and significant changes in both the structure and staff on both the football and non-football side. A while ago there was some criticism that there was a ‘jobs for the boys’ mentality behind the scenes at Ashton Gate. I think that such talk has now gone away.
Why have these changes happened?
Our latest annual accounts show an annual loss of over £14 million. They also show a debt of £41m, £35m of which is owed to Steve Lansdown. He has repeatedly reiterated that he has no intention of calling in that debt, and with his son on the board of directors it seems clear that he has no intention of walking away and given his financial commitment has certainly not “lost interest” either.
Steve remains fully committed to supporting the board in developing this club and helping us realise our ambitions to be the west of England’s prime sporting club, playing at the highest possible level in the best possible surroundings, as well as pushing for the club to stand on its own two feet.
But we clearly can’t carry on recording annual losses like this, thanks in no short measure to the impending implementation of the Football League’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. The rules are fairly complex, but essentially they will seriously restrict the amount of turnover which clubs can spend on players. The idea is to make sure all clubs compete on a more level financial playing field. In my view, if properly implemented, they can only be good for the game as a whole – and hence why Bristol City voted in favour of the proposals some time ago.
To get a flavour of the range and scope of FFP, I recommend reading this website.
FFP has already had an impact on our playing budget, and will continue to do so in the future. It’s important supporters understand this and the impact that it has already had on the manager’s ability to wheel and deal in the transfer market.
The stadium side of things has clearly not gone as well as had been hoped. We should have been moving in at the start of the next season, but with the enquiry on the Town and Village Green having been deferred again, there is still no end in sight to this long-running saga. In the meantime we will continue to make the necessary investment into Ashton Gate, but the uncertainty doesn’t help us in our long-term facilities planning.
What else has changed?
The launch of the Community Trust has been a great success, as part of our plans to root the club firmly in its community. Clearly this won’t be achieved overnight, but Amy Kington and her team are achieving some fantastic things in and around Bristol with a new range of activities and courses for young and old. The launch of the Community Park has brought a new buzz to matchdays, and you only had to witness the smiles on youngsters’ faces when they were able to play five-a-side football with Martyn Woolford and Jon Stead on Saturday to see the benefits.
The Academy has also been completely revamped, with a significant financial investment geared towards them gaining level 2 status, putting our youth operation on a par with many Premier League teams. This week they moved into brand new premises at Filton which will be significantly developed over the coming years. As with our work in the community, the benefits of this may not be seen for a while, but it is our stated intention to produce homegrown players who are good enough to play for the first team. It has been recognised we haven’t done enough of this in the past, and again the need for it has been driven by FFP.
The training ground at Failand is also undergoing significant change, with new gym and medical facilities under construction. The coaching, sports science and physiotherapy departments have been totally revamped, with some highly qualified experts in their own field being brought in at every level.
All of this hasn’t just happened overnight. It has taken a huge amount of planning and investment and is part of an ongoing project which will continue to be implemented over the next few years.
Central to all this re-organisation has been Derek McInnes, who has worked closely with the board to drive the necessary internal changes, while at the same time trying to revamp the squad and produce a team capable of competing and improving in the npower Championship.
No-one, least of all Derek, wants us to be in the bottom three. The recent run has been disappointing and everyone at the club is aware of that. But I assure you, no-one will work harder than Derek and his staff to bring about the success which this club deserves.
These are testing times. By seeing the bigger picture and uniting together as a whole club: board, management, staff, players and supporters, we stand a great chance of finally getting this club to the level to which we all aspire.
We are one club and that needs demonstrating now, more than ever.
Drop me a line if you’re interested.
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E-mail questions, requests and dedications for David to firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively write to Ashton Gate Stadium, Ashton Road, Ashton, Bristol, BS3 2EJ.