"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Friday, 30 December 2011

REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2011

Including the top three moments of the year, as voted by you

2011 has been a difficult year for all concerned at Ashton Gate.  The club started the year trying to edge clear of the relegation zone and ends it in a similar position.  In the intervening 363 days there has been a change in manager, chairman and board, whilst off the field the new stadium at Ashton Vale seems as far away as ever, despite the focus put on it.
The January transfer window is about to open with star striker Nicky Maynard officially up for sale and vultures circling over Ghanaian international winger Albert Adomah.  With losses totalling just shy of £30m over the past three years, there are no guarantees about the immediate future of the club, the squad or the division they’ll be playing in this time next year.

City face a number of key issues as Britain enters a golden year and these are reviewed below, whilst the review then finishes on a positive note, with detail of the three favourite memories of the year past, as voted for by you.

Five Key issues for the year ahead

Staying up: Forget the stadium, the players or anything else for that matter – the most critical issue, driving everything else forward, is survival and retaining the club’s place in the Championship.  Relegation would be a disaster from a financial point of view and from an ability to attract new players in the summer.  It would also put into some doubt the need for a 30,000-seater stadium if crowds were to dip to around 10,000.  No-one should be under any illusion that keeping above water is going to be easy, with any evidence required provided by December’s results that followed the highly promising and exciting resurgence during Derek McInnes’ first few weeks. 

There is an obvious over-reliance on Maynard and Adomah and this is something McInnes has already said he will try to rectify in January.  Too often there is a distinct lack of creativity, with chances few and far between in the last few games.

There is also a lack of cover in key positions. David James is certainly still good enough to provide foundation to a relegation battle but the full back position remains weak on both flanks whilst in the centre, beyond the inspirational (and injured!) Fontaine, the ever-improving Nyatanga and the highly-promising James Wilson there is little else of strength.  Louis Carey is deliberately omitted from this list as injuries are clearly taking their toll and doubts remain as to his ability to make it back at this level.

In midfield there are plenty of wide-men but none other than Adomah create and influence a game as much as they can and should.  Centrally there is a little more on offer, particularly if Stephen Pearson’s loan from Derby County can be extended but as mentioned earlier there is little flair to call upon.  Jon Stead’s return from injury boosts the options up-front and with Brett Pitman chomping at the bit to get his chance there may only need to be one signing to replace Maynard, should he complete a move elsewhere in January.

Keeping the best players (at the right price):  Looking further ahead than the next 31 days, and assuming Maynard departs – hopefully in January for a reasonable fee so the whole issue quickly dissipates – then the focus will move on to Adomah in particular, but also Pitman, Fontaine and Wilson.  It is safe to assume that relegation could cause all of them to depart, whilst Stead, Neil Kilkenny and Marvin Elliott will also be assessing their options.

Summer wheeling and dealing: Regardless of the division City will be playing in, with an incredible 26 players reported to be out of contract in the summer it will be a harsh and immediate test of McInnes’ recruitment and persuasion skills.  The budget will be drastically cut either way and if the core of the side outlined above were to all depart then there could be 8-9 new signings in the first XI setting out in August.

The new stadium:  The bright beacon of hope on the horizon or the millstone around the club’s neck?  Whichever, this needs resolving and with a positive result.  Most of the noises coming from Ashton Gate appear to be positive and indicate the various appeals and hearings are simply hurdles rather than insurmountable barriers.  No-one should be in any doubt that Steve Lansdown is unlikely to hang around for long if the entire project falls through and for that reason alone there should be 100% support behind the plans.


Financial Fair Play:  The losses mentioned throughout simply cannot continue or be ignored.  Losing £11m p.a. over the past two seasons is unsustainable and changes must, and will be made to the playing budget, but a club can only cut so much. 
All of the above issues have repercussions on the financial future state and staying in the Championship is absolutely critical.
All clubs at this level lose, or have to sell, their best players from time to time, it’s a fact of life.  The local rivals from over the bridge are great examples of how you can do that but maintain presence.  Joe Ledley, Aaron Ramsey, Adam Matthews, Jay Bothroyd and Chris Burke are amongst the players to have departed Cardiff in the past few seasons yet they have continued to be a force this season with some shrewd signings.
Whilst long-term there can be no doubt the new stadium is the best way forward for all involved, there is understandable concern amongst some supporters that the short-term success on the pitch has been compromised by the board’s focus on the new site.  However, all businesses must look 5-10 years ahead as a minimum and this is the cornerstone of the master-plan.  Hopefully 2012 can mark a significant milestone in the stadium project with approval and the first land being cleared for building.

Your favourite memories of 2011

To finish on the high note promised, City fans on Twitter and forums were asked to give their favourite memory of the season and these three gems have come out on top:

3) Albert Adomah vs Southampton, Nov 26th:
The visit of league leaders to Ashton Gate came with City on their best run of results of the season and an expectant big crowd packed into the stadium to jeer Rickie Lambert and see if this revitalised City side could compete with the best in the division.

The overall team performance was simply irresistible with Southampton not given a spare second to think.  The number of times the visiting defenders were pushed backwards and forced into passing it along the backline on the edge of their own penalty area signalled the attacking manner and sheer pressure of City’s tactics, whilst in limiting Lallana (named as the best player in the Championship by TheSeventy Two) & ex-Gashead Lambert (also in the Top 25) to just a single half-chance, there was precious little to worry about at the other end.

As good as the team performance was though the individual performance of Albert Adomah was singled out as the truly special memory.  John Salako, reporting for Sky and a winger of considerable note, described Adomah as “unplayable” amongst many other complimentary remarks as time and time again he picked the ball up near on right flank and dribbled and teased his way past defenders.  On occasions he looked to be losing control only to somehow drag the ball back in the opposite direction and find himself back in space.

The goals may have been fortunate that day, with two deflections aiding the 2-0 win, but Adomah’s goal in particular was the richly deserved fruit from the single performance more than any other that has caught the attention of the Premier League scouting network, watching closely following a similarly high quality display at Millwall on Sky the previous weekend.

2) Managerial change, October:
Whilst not wanting to dwell on one man’s misfortune, it was abundantly clear to all at the club that a change was needed after the 5-0 defeat at Blackpool.  The entire club was weighed down with negativity and unrest, whilst attendances were dropping in their hundreds each week.  A number of voters admitted being sad to say it, but Keith Millen leaving the club was such an essential action that it features here.

The challenges facing Derek McInnes & the impact of his arrival have been covered already on this blog, at The Seventy Two and on The HardTackle and many of these issues manifested themselves under first Gary Johnson and then, following Coppell’s brief interlude, his assistant Millen.

The change in the general atmosphere around the club, with seemingly instant positivity and increased support upon McInnes’ appointment showed the right decision was made, probably at the right time.

1)      City v Cardiff, New Year’s Day:
It seems a little unfortunate that the favourite memory of the entire year occurred as the New Year party poppers were still being popped on the Pacific coastline – but it does say a lot about what followed.  City’s 3-0 demolition of Severnside rivals Cardiff last New Year’s Day was voted number one by some distance.

It was partly due to the fact that the previous couple of months had been generally productive with only three defeats in 11, and Millen named manager of the month for November.  This win against bogey side Cardiff catapulted City into mid-table and raised hopes and expectations of a vastly improved second half to the season, perhaps with a possibility of even making a late charge for a play-off position.

It was also partly as Cardiff had maintained an unbeaten record against City for a number of years and fans had often left disappointed from the local derby.  It also helped erase memories of the 6-0 thrashing handed out the previous January – one of the results that ultimately set the ball rolling on Gary Johnson’s departure from Ashton Gate.

Cardiff came into the match near the top of the table and gunning for the title.  Expensive summer loan signings including Craig Bellamy, Jason Koumas and Seyi Olifinjana had boosted a squad already boasting the likes of Michael Chopra, Jay Bothroyd and Peter Whittingham.

In the event the Welsh side were never allowed into the game as a second-minute Brett Pitman goal – his seventh in as many matches – silenced the away fans, already quieter than usual following an early start the morning after the night before.  City never relinquished their control of the match and goals from Lee Johnson and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, the latter particularly sweet with a stunning strike from the player who made his home City debut in the afore-mentioned 6-0 defeat a year previous.


Other chances went astray, notably from Stead and Campbell-Ryce, but in the event a three-goal victory was more than sufficient for around 15,000 fans to go home and sleep off their hangovers in a happy state.


With 2011 nearly over, many will say good riddance.  One could say things couldn’t get much worse next year but there should be some realism that it could.  However, recent performances against Burnley, Millwall, Southampton and Middlesbrough in particular should leave most City fans in good heart and with encouragement that this review next year will be a happier and more positive read.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Best 25 Players in the Championship

One evening during November four fans of different Championship clubs spent a large part of the evening discussing who they thought had claims to be the best players in the league.

An idea was born.  Fast forward a couple of weeks and in a twist to the usual advent calendar format, a series was launched and has spent December working through a different footballer each day, counting through the top 25 players in the second tier.

Written partly by myself, in conjunction with three excellent writers,
Joe Harrison (Cardiff - View from the Ninian);
John Verrall (Peterborough - Standing on the Glebe);
David Bevan (Leicester - and our esteemed host via The Seventy Two)
we initially took views from fans from all clubs via forums and Twitter to come up with a shortlist, with more than 70 names nominated. 

This list was then reduced via voting on Twitter from followers of @the72football, and here it is.  All 25 players, detailed with links so you can peruse at your pleasure.  Please note none of these are in any sort of order, other than the final one - the star voted as the best player in the Championship, and revealed on Christmas Day.  A wise man could do a lot worse than head to the South Coast with offers of gold, frankincense and myrrh!

Lists of this nature are always contentious, there are many players nominated that had strong claims whilst others may appear to be surprise inclusions.  There was even one player on this list who had fans of his own club commenting that he wasn't worthy!

The series has had remarkable success, with record number of views on The Seventy Two so please read, enjoy and share as you wish.

THE BEST 25 PLAYERS IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP - AS VOTED FOR BY YOU

KEVIN MCNAUGHTON - CARDIFF CITY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/01/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-voted-for-by-you-part-1-of-25/

CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH - BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/02/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-%e2%80%93-voted-for-by-you-part-2-of-25/

ALBERT ADOMAH - BRISTOL CITY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/03/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-voted-for-by-you-part-3-of-25/

ANDY KING - LEICESTER CITY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/04/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-voted-for-by-you-part-4-of-25/

GARY TAYLOR-FLETCHER - BLACKPOOL:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/05/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-5-of-25/

CHRIS BURKE - BIRMINGHAM CITY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/06/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-6-of-25/

RICKIE LAMBERT - SOUTHAMPTON:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/07/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-7-of-25/

GRANT MCCANN - PETERBOROUGH UNITED:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/08/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-8-of-25/

NICKY MAYNARD - BRISTOL CITY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/09/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-9-of-25/

ROSS MCCORMACK - LEEDS UNITED:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/10/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-10-of-25/

JIMMY KEBE - READING:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/11/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-11-of-25/

KASPER SCHMEICHEL - LEICESTER CITY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/12/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-12-of-25/

GEORGE BOYD - PETERBOROUGH UNITED:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/13/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-13-of-25/

WILFRIED ZAHA - CRYSTAL PALACE:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/14/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-14-of-25/

JAY RODRIGUEZ - BURNLEY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/15/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-15-of-25/

ROBERT SNODGRASS - LEEDS UNITED:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/16/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-16-of-25/

BILLY SHARP - DONCASTER ROVERS:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/17/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-17-of-25/

JAMES CHESTER - HULL CITY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/18/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-18-of-25/

KEVIN NOLAN - WEST HAM UNITED:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/19/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-19-of-25/

MARVIN EMNES - MIDDLESBROUGH:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/20/the-best-25-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-by-you-part-20-of-25/

LEE CAMP - NOTTINGHAM FOREST:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/21/the-best-25-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-by-you-part-21-of-25/

PETER WHITTINGHAM - CARDIFF CITY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/22/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-22-of-25/

JACOB BUTTERFIELD - BARNSLEY:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/23/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-23-of-25/

MARK NOBLE - WEST HAM:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/24/the-25-best-players-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you-part-24-of-25/

ADAM LALLANA - SOUTHAMPTON
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/25/the-best-player-in-the-championship-as-voted-for-by-you/

AND FINALLY....a summary of the series, from the72:
http://theseventytwo.com/football-league/championship/2011/12/11/the-best-players-in-the-championship-a-rare-celebration/

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Interview with a Forest blogger

My latest article from Bristol City's matchday programme, Red Alert: Nottingham Forest, Dec 19th


This week I’m pleased to welcome Forest obsessive Pat Riddell to ‘On the Social’. Pat writes an excellent blog called Seat Pitch covering all things relating to twice European Champions, Nottingham Forest.  The website can be found here:  www.seatpitch.co.uk
It’s safe to say you’ve had plenty to write about in the past nine months, with play-off disappointment, the appointment of a former England boss as manager, the resignation of said former England boss and the subsequent resignation of your Chairman. Can you quickly summarise your view of the recent club history?
Billy Davies’ ongoing battles with the board saw his departure in June after two unsuccessful play-off campaigns — something which fans were seemingly split about (even more so now). He was swiftly replaced by Steve McClaren who proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Clearly he hadn’t done his homework and there was a suggestion that he’d have substantial transfer fund but his tactics were woeful, his man-management appalling and it didn’t take long for him to resign. Chairman Nigel Doughty followed, aware of the discontent among fans, appeared to be disenchanted with life as chairman and apologetic that he’d been responsible for the McClaren fiasco. The appointment of ex-player and manager Frank Clark as chairman proved popular but we’ve gone from a club with promotion aspirations to a cost-cutting set-up hoping for survival within six months.
Until a couple of years ago bloggers were fairly niche, known to each other in quite a small world, but Twitter has allowed some fairly major-scale expansion and PR. Would you agree and how have you used Twitter to benefit your site?
Three or four years ago I don't think I'd even read a blog let alone written one. The subsequent growth of Twitter has opened the door to a world that existed but few knew how to navigate; there's clearly been a proliferation of blogs at the same time but word-of-mouth travels a long way online so it's quite easy to find recommendations and sites that suit your interests. Twitter was very important when I started and remains so, for different reasons, now – it's a fantastic way of keeping up to date with transfers, opinions and rumours as well as engaging and interacting.
Do you feel forums, blogs and Twitter have influenced the 'instant success' requirement we see at many clubs?
In many ways it's the reverse I think. Being exposed to a variety of opinions and viewpoints, as well as information you were unlikely to have been privy to, from fans of your team means you're more likely to understand the issues concerning the club. Of course, if opinions are only going one way then it's often possible find yourself being carried that way... A healthy cynicism regarding rumours is required.
Your outgoing Chairman Nigel Doughty was one of the few Chairman to use Twitter and I thought he used it very well to communicate with fans and repel certain stories, especially around the transfer window and spending plans.  He hasn’t used it since disappointing results on the pitch have caused consternation amongst the fans – do you see this as a sensible step or him backing away from the criticism?
Forest haven't exactly had a great record of communicating with the fans over recent years and it was a breath of fresh air when Doughty popped up on Twitter in the summer. Sidestepping some of the inevitable abuse, while attempting to address some concerns, it was clear he was a fan like the rest of us and it humanised him... until the season began. It was, however, no surprise when he disappeared and, in the aftermath, the underlying feeling is that it was an exercise in selling Financial Fair Play to the fans rather than any altruistic gesture.
Can, and should, the clubs do more to embrace this still relatively new world of communications?
Clubs can do a whole lot more... whether they should or not is dependent on having a strategy on using social media. Many simply use it as another medium to communicate news. But engaging with the 'social' aspect is a very different beast; making decisions that fans aren't happy about, a run of bad results, dealing with complaints – where do you draw the line?
What's the best thing about Twitter?
The immediacy; the constant news feed; the links to features, blogs and opinions you'd never find otherwise; the views of other fans, both home and away; the humour; the engagement with like-minded (and not) individuals.
There are an increasing number of footballers on Twitter, not without controversy.  Do you think they will still be allowed to tweet in two or three years?
Steve Cotterill has banned Forest players from football-related tweets so what's left isn't quite as interesting before. When players do actually have views or insight it's quite revelatory but they're still quite rare – Joey Barton included.
Who are your favourite football-related 'follows' on Twitter?
Invariably I'll read almost anything Jonathan Wilson (@jonawils) or Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) has written, their analysis of tactics is unsurpassed. I'm also a sucker for Surreal Football (@SurrealFootball) and The Seventy Two (@The72football) generally has some of the best Football League writing around.
And finally, back onto football matters: you’ve had a highly disappointing season so far when many expected you to be challenging near the top.  New boss Steve Cotterill looked to be instilling some trademark discipline and organisation into the side until the recent reverse at home to Leeds.  How has he started off in your eyes & what lies ahead?
Steve Cotterill initially impressed with a back-to-basics approach following the confused tactics and man-management of McClaren. The honeymoon ended with the 4-0 home defeat by Leeds United but we followed up with a sprightly performance against Brighton, despite losing again. It's hard to judge him until he can reshuffle the squad – we have a glut of strikers and central midfielders but little cover in defence and wide positions. On paper the squad’s good enough to be challenging for the top half of the table, as long as Cotterill can instill the type of confidence Davies gave the players we should be ok.
Lewis McGugan normally impresses me, is he the man City should be looking out for today and what do you think the score will be?
McGugan is quite clearly one of our most talented, attacking players on his day. He hasn't hit the highs of last season and, while we're not dependent on him, it clearly makes a difference to our performances – when he's on the pitch. It's difficult to know which Forest team will turn up this season and on recent results we'd probably be happy with a draw away from home. That said, I'll take a late winner for 1-0.
Follow Seat Pitch on Twitter @SeatPitch

The Exiled Robin (@TheExiledRobin)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Interview with a Middlesboro blogger

My latest article from Bristol City's matchday programme, Red Alert:
Middlesboro, Dec 3rd

This is the full version of the interview, which was edited for the programme due to space constraints
This week I’m delighted to welcome Middlesbrough fan Steve Welsh to ‘On the Social’.  You may have heard of “Fly Me to the Moon” as one of the better-known club fanzines – it was started 23 years ago and in its time saw distribution peak at more than 3,000 copies.

So, where does Steve come in? Well, amongst a series of ‘Boro related articles and interviews on his blog, Steve has undertaken the quite remarkable task of trying to bridge the gap between paper fanzine and electronic writing by archiving the first 100 editions of FMTTM onto his blog – www.miniboro.com

Steve, I think the first question has to be: Why?!
I'd toyed with the idea for about 7 years but it just felt like the time was right. There had been so much apathy under Southgate and Strachan that people were harking back to days gone by, as tends to happen in times of adversity. So I wanted to give an authentic view of those times and see how much of it had been watered down, forgotten about or rose-tinted over the years.

The first 100 issues had been sat on top of my wardrobe for about 20 years and one day I decided to have a bit of a thumb through them, before I knew it I had lost about 4 or 5 hours.

It was incredibly absorbing; the thing that struck me most was not just the quality of the writing but also the parallels that could be drawn from then and now. There were some genuinely important issues and historical events, racism, Hillsborough, ID Cards, all-seater stadiums etc, a really important time not only for the Boro but football in general.

I find the stories, letter and content in printed fanzines often now seem dated due to printing deadlines.  With so many people now using forums or Twitter to communicate with each other about their team, do you feel the days of the fanzine are numbered?
I recently interviewed Middlesbrough journalist and FSF Award nominee Anthony Vickers and asked him a very similar question, his answer probably sums things up better than I could (see below):

“They (fanzines) have lost their political edge as the game has been sanitised, packaged and sold off. They have also lost the underground feel that gave them a sense of cultural rebellion. They went from a culture of literal cut and paste and sneaked use of the office Gestetner machine to virtual cut and paste and desk top publishing. Some are glossy lifestyle magazines now. Some are a business. Some are very close to their clubs. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it does change the entire ethos, strategy and voice. More importantly I think they have lost their old role as a focus for dissent. The internet forums mean a political hot potato is deconstructed and discussed to death for days or weeks on-line long before the next issue of a paper fanzine. By the time a fanzine comes out the issue is dead. I think a lot of fanzines now are ghost ships looking for a role.”

Without meaning to disrespect your considerable writing ability, the most eye-catching feature of your blog are the simply wonderful illustrations, which have featured amongst the great and the good of online football blogs, including ‘Surreal Football’ and ‘In Bed with Maradona’. So how did that come about and have they taken over from the writing a little?
The main problem I had was that transcribing each fanzine by hand was a very laborious and time consuming task. To make matters worse, people naturally wanted the content to change regularly to keep their interest in the site going. So I decided I would need to include a couple of extra sections to keep people happy while I worked chronologically through the back catalogue. I began a series of interviews with ex-players and also started to test the water with a couple of my own Boro-centric illustrations.

It was at that point the lads over at In Bed With Maradona got in touch and asked if I’d consider turning my attentions to some of the bigger names in world football, Cruyff, Maradona, Pele etc with a view to creating a gallery on their site. Once that gallery went live things really started to snowball. Unfortunately by this time the illustrations and interviews were starting to take precedent over the fanzine archive.

I do intend to return to the fanzine archive (currently standing at 27 issues), but it occurred to me that once all 100 issues had been documented, I would have to take the site in another direction anyway, so I decided to plough on with the illustrations and just add the odd back issue of FMTTM here and there.

You have an impressive list of interviews on your site, including the likes of Craig Hignett and Bernie Slaven.  How do you go about getting these interviews and how did you feel speaking with your heroes?
Gaining access to players has been a very hit and miss process. It’s been a mixture of introductions, patience and simply being in the right place at the right time. I had no real game plan and a lot of it was down to luck, Craig Hignett offered this insight when I played against him in a recent charity match at the Riverside “you sounded fairly normal, so I thought yeah why not”. That’s pretty much the way I’ve played it, I try not to be too formal but not too familiar either. I see if they have the time to do it and then choose my questions carefully.

The thing that has surprised me most is how receptive most of the players have been. In the majority of cases they simply want to tell their story and are happy to share their memories with the fans. I think it’s a definite advantage if you are speaking to ex-pros, since they can be a little bit more relaxed with their answers. All the media training and years of giving no-committal answers to bland questions must take its toll. So I try to make things as interesting as possible for the player and at least try to uphold my end of the bargain by doing a bit of research.

It’s often been a fine line between asking challenging questions and not over stepping the mark, but I’m pleased to say that no one has refused to answer anything yet. A good example was when I asked Bernie Slaven what the source of friction was between himself and ex-boss Lennie Lawrence, he replied “It was a clash of personalities… he didn’t have one” (Ed - City fans should appreciate that one!).  So it’s been great when players are as open and as forthcoming as that, to be honest each interview I’ve done has been a bit of a treat for me too.

Until a couple of years ago bloggers were fairly niche, known to each other in quite a small world, but Twitter has allowed some fairly major-scale expansion and PR. Would you agree and how have you used Twitter to benefit your site?
I started my site in April this year and to begin with I didn’t really “get” Twitter. It just seemed like Facebook Lite to me. But as time went on I thought I’d give it a go and see what all the fuss was about. I was immediately struck by the general ‘mood’ or ‘feel’ of Twitter, people are genuinely trying to help each other out on there. If you need something there will invariably be someone else on there who can help you out, or at least point you in the right direction.

The thing is, it’s done with no ulterior motive or agenda, it just like-minded people helping each other out and that’s what I loved most about it. I’ve had so much exposure to products, websites and people that I wouldn’t have known existed. Shared knowledge and shared experiences is what it’s all about as far as I’m concerned. It’s very much a give and take mentality, if you show people you have something to offer and can demonstrate ‘why’ you are worth talking to, you will soon find yourself having a huge number of very interesting conversations.

Do you feel forums, blogs and Twitter have influenced the 'instant success' requirement we see at many clubs?
Not really, if anything it’s given fans a more balanced view on things. We now have a variety of sources to go to and are not just spoon-fed from the National / Local Press. It gives people the opportunity to explore things from a variety of angles and moves away from the knee-jerk ‘Sack the Board’ mob mentality that was prevalent in the 80s/90s. I’m not saying every fan tries to, or even wants to see things from an alternative perspective, but to have the opportunity to do so is important I feel.

What's the best thing about Twitter?
People are always ready to give you honest constructive feedback, the fact it’s not said to your face makes for some very candid responses at times. If you are thick skinned enough to take criticism and more importantly you are prepared to act upon it, then Twitter can be a very powerful tool in the creative process.

Who are your favourite football-related 'follows' on Twitter?
Far too many to choose from really, there’s the obvious big hitters like @inbedwimaradona and @surrealfootball. There are sites with huge back catalogues that I can happily spend hours sifting through like @DannyLast and @ghostgoal. There are site from other clubs (other than Boro) that still capture my imagination like @AFC_Collective and finally there are the hidden gems you discover like @500RTLF and @foospaper.

And finally, quickly onto football matters: you’ve had a great start to the season, probably better than most expected.  What’s been the secret behind the success and who should City look out for?
It has all been down to one man and that’s Tony Mowbray. I can’t speak highly enough of him; the turnaround has been nothing short of miraculous. He hasn’t just changed our playing style he’s had an influence on every single facet of the club. Many Boro fans have long thought it was his destiny to manage our club and he has surpassed all expectations. We’d already had one former captain sully his good name through an unsuccessful stint as manger (Southgate) so there was real fear that lightening might strike twice.

Thankfully that’s not been the case and there is a feeling Mogga is building something quite special. I think the following quote sums things up best “Mowbray is a confident, principled man with a commitment to improving performances and footballers, as well as results".

In terms of who you should look out for today, that’s difficult because a lot of our success has been built on team work and a willingness to work for one another. That said, Nicky Bailey is about due a goal I reckon, he’s been playing in a more defensive role than when he was at Charlton, but if you see him bursting through from midfield today don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Follow Steve on Twitter @miniboro_dotcom
The Exiled Robin (@TheExiledRobin)


Thursday, 1 December 2011

GUEST POST: City are back!

As the Bristol City fans’ bubble of belief continues, and the unbeaten run under McInnes’ leadership extends to six games, Stuart Radnedge takes a look at why the resurgence of luck for the club has come at a perfect time:


They all count.

Tap ins, rockets from 30 yards, deflections, cross come shots that result in a goal – and yes, O.Gs as well.

At 2 nil down, and half time looming, my prayers were answered when we clawed a well worked goal back just before the break.

Everyone knows scoring minutes before half-time can make the scoring team feel like they are playing with 12 men.  And just 24 seconds into the second-half City’s twelfth man, Adrian Mariappa, passed back to Watford stopper Scoot Loach who allowed the pass to roll into his net and level the scores.

Magician McInnes, who makes Paul Daniels quake in his tiny size 4 boots, has cast his best revival spell which has resulted in the Robins floating out of the relegation zone.

With belief back in the squad, with players being quoted saying everyone is “walking around smiling”, and with 1700 fans attending Tuesday night’s match versus the Hornets – will a surge up the table follow?

It could see City ‘doing a Blackpool’ and sneaking into a playoff place towards the end of the season – using their run of form to reach the Premier League?

Maybe – just maybe.

But one thing it could, more importantly, accomplish is to enable the club to keep key players.  Maynard has hinted he may stay, Adomah has “dreamed of playing in the Premier League”.

But with a resurgence of the form and luck that escaped us early in the season, supporters could be flocking back as well.

1700 fans making the trip to Watford could be an indication that Ashton Gate may be filled with half-season-ticket holders now the discount initiative has been launched.

And that, in turn, could work for the benefit of City’s financial situation and work to reduce THAT cash flow announcement at the beginning of the week…

Follow Stuart on Twitter here:

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Twit on Twitter? Sepp Blatter & Rio Ferdinand's public spat

My latest article from Bristol City's matchday programme, Red Alert:
Southampton, Nov 26th


The last ‘On the Social’ focused on unknown individuals hiding behind a Twitter shield to racially abuse players (this is a trend that unfortunately shows few signs of abating with James Vaughan and Fraizer Campbell the latest ‘victims’ reporting abuse to the police).  This article will remain focused on the main topic but will feature two far more recognisable names and their use of Twitter.

With Anton Ferdinand being one of the key figures at the centre of the row, it should come as no surprise that brother – and serial tweeter – Rio (@rioferdy5) should wade in to the discussion.  Although Rio was very careful not to talk specifics – he is one of the more professional Twitter users and typically knows where the boundaries lie – he jumped in with two feet as soon as an interview with FIFA president Sepp Blatter was aired.

Blatter’s widely publicised comments provoked an immediate response from Rio, with a general tweet “Tell me I have just read Sepp Blatter's comments on racism in football wrong....if not then I am astonished”.  However, this didn’t seem to let off enough steam and his next question to his 1.6million followers – asking whether Blatter was on Twitter (he is) – was answered in the affirmative by hundreds who were starting to smell a ‘Twitter-fight’ brewing!

Ferdinand immediately set about confronting Blatter via Twitter, tweeting him directly with “your comments on racism are so condescending its almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok?

He followed this by responding to a photo FIFA – clearly sensing a PR disaster – had placed on their website’s homepage of Blatter with South African Tokyo Sexwale, a former inmate of Robben Island and now a sitting member of FIFA’s fair play committee, intimating they should be embarrassed at such a token effort at negating the row.

This is when Blatter reacted, accusing Ferdinand of patronising Sexwale and being ignorant of both Sexwale’s importance in the fight against racism and the huge strides Blatter himself has helped nurture as President in recent years.  He then tweeted several more general statements to defend himself and try to put himself back on an even keel, although essentially repeating the initial statement that caused the furore in the first place: “Racism and discrimination of any kind have no place in football. I have said this many times before, and I will say it again and again…However, and it is not an excuse - sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things are said and done on the field of play which are wrong

Ferdinand retorted with a series of tweets left unanswered by Blatter “to say what you said about racism in football spoke volumes of your ignorance to the subject….. If we want 2 stamp out racism in society a football pitch is a good place to start - loved by billions of people around the world”

And that was that.  So, why the fuss?  When you take a step back and think about this, this was the president of the game’s ruling body getting involved in a tit-for-tat bicker with one of the game’s most famous players – and all in the public domain. 

If you work for any medium-to-large sized company, just imagine for a second your Chief Executive getting involved in an argument with a senior manager on emails being sent to ‘All Users’.  Then multiply that by about a million to take into account football’s media and popularity status.  I had a mental image of Blatter’s advisors man-handling him and dragging him away from his desk whilst he clung on with his fingernails, desperately trying to write more!

This was without doubt the most high profile ‘conversation’ in the football world since Twitter came into being and once again Twitter was actually providing the news.  TV and written press alike led on this story for the following 24 hours and this whole episode simply couldn’t have come to the fore in quite the same way a few years ago. 

If you’re not yet on Twitter then you’re missing out!

The Exiled Robin (@TheExiledRobin)

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