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

Wednesday, 28 March 2012



Keep going - we're still in the top three so CAN WIN THIS!!

OK, so this nPower competition seems to have some traction and I've spent the last couple of days on Twitter doing my best to galvanise and get people tweeting. 

This seems to have helped us rise from 5th to 3rd in the league standings but a number of people still don't seem to know much about what it all is, so I thought I'd explain, along with links to all the relevant bits - THERE IS SOME REALLY REALLY CRITICAL SIGN UP INFORMATION.

nPower are running the competition, and the idea is to reward the winning club with upto £30,000.

Details from City's offical site here: http://www.bcfc.co.uk/page/NewsDetail/0,,10327~2693634,00.html

There are two ways to win money:
Firstly (for £10,000): 'Grab a Seat' via Facebook and get everyone you know to do the same.  First club to 'fill' their stadium wins

Secondly (for £20,000): Following sign up, update on Facebook or Tweet as much as possible!!

This goes up until 1st June so this is a long game but would be a great one to win!


1) YOU MUST Sign up via Facebook - the link is here: http://www.facebook.com/npowerfootballleague

2) Like the Page

3) Go through the 'Grab your Seat' process and get to the end of the details screens
  - Ensure you select Bristol City as your team
  - You must allow the Fanpower App
  - You must give your details but OPT-OUT of notifications from nPower if you don't want junk mail: this doesn't affect the way you can help

4) To register and count via Twitter you MUST do all of the above & then also allow Twitter access.  I have done this and haven't noted any specific differences/problems with doing so

5) Once you'e done all of that simply mention any of the following in a Facebook Status Update or on Twitter (incl hashtag #fanpowerstadium - watch out, a few seem to be using an extra 's' - FanSpowerstadium - by accident)
 a) The surname of a player in your registered club's first team squad
 b) The surname of the manager of your registered club
 c) The name of your registered club's stadium
 d) Your registered club's name or nickname

So for example - "Get following Bristol City and help us win #fanpowerstadium"

Points are given per mention so do it at every opportunity. One way to stop it annoying everyone on your timeline by looking like Spam is to just include a mention on a standard tweet/Facebook update,

i.e. "Unbelievable skill from Messi there, Barca are amazing #fanpowerstadium Bristol City"
or more naturally
"Looking forward to going to Ashton Gate this weekend - big six-pointer #fanpowerstadium"

Some tricks of the trade to consider:
 >>> Include those associated with City with biggest following - @bean_head @scotty_murray @bcfctweets etc - if they RT your message gets read by a few thousand more people and multiplies the opportunity for others to RT, each time adding points to our total.

>>> Remember to include the name in full (i.e. Bristol City, Ashton Gate, McInnes) and use the hashtag in as many updates/tweets as possible, even if it's not fully relevant

>>> Particularly on Twitter if you're in conversations with other City fans about anything, get both of you/all of you doing it and you'll add points each time!

And keep it up!  Good luck everyone!

Remember - Tweets are NOT COUNTED unless you sign up via Facebook as above and allow Twitter the relevant accesses.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Ephraim, Bikey & Keinan: City's White Knights ride to the rescue

Amidst an ever-foreboding aura of gloom and despair surrounding Ashton Gate, Thursday evening’s creaking shut of the loan transfer window proved considerably more exciting from a Bristol City point of view than the permanent equivalent in January.  True, we didn’t have our top scorer and main headline-grabber leaving us for a couple of million quid, but that was all a bit of an anti-climax anyway for us in the West Country.

This time, taking prominence instead of Maynard’s departure was the arrival of three players in a move that looks certain to be boss Derek McInnes’ final gamble.  With an incessant series of injuries and suspensions in defence – which will be exacerbated again following the credible point at Middlesbrough being earned despite McGivern’s sending off – contributing to a run of form as bad as many can remember, this could be seen as the tough Paisley-man’s equivalent of putting the house on black (or red, for City of course).

A more in-depth analysis of the players brought in certainly proffers the suggestion of dice-rolling with a typically enigmatic creative spark, an ever-so-slightly crazy defender and another who hasn’t started a league match in nearly a year.
Although the defence was the area weakest in terms of personnel, City remain the lowest scorers in the football league despite Jon Stead and Brett Pitman’s best efforts.  Teams have found City are depressingly easy to nullify if they double-up on Albert Adomah, and the severe lack of creativity anywhere in the squad has clearly been identified by McInnes as an area to strengthen, so it was with a some expectation that the first signing was revealed…

HOGAN EPHRAIM by JawadLaouira, passionate QPR fan
“Hogan has been at QPR for over 4 years now and in that time he's shown glimpses of real quality. He believes his best position is playing just off the striker but he has rarely been used in that position. He's been mainly used as a left winger, having the freedom to cut in on his right foot.

His best spell at the club came at the beginning of last season when he was linking up superbly with Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie, playing in a 3 behind Helguson. One particular game stands out when he scored a cracking goal against Middlesbrough at home.
He has superb feet and is technically very good however he can be accused of being a bit too weak on the ball.

He was very unfortunate to miss out on a place in our 25-man squad at the start of the season, especially as the man who took his place, Jason Puncheon hardly featured. He made a Premier League appearance back in August at Goodison Park, came on when we were 1-0 up and showed fantastic spirit and determination to help the team protect their lead.
He's just been awarded a new one year contract extension so this loan spell at Bristol City will be crucial if he has ambitions of forcing his way into the squad for next season.  He could prove to be a very shrewd deadline day signing for City.”

If nothing else is achieved between now and May then at least Ephraim’s goal has yielded a point at Middlesbrough that appeared highly unlikely just a few days ago, and this signing suggests City might now have a chance of scoring enough goals to keep their heads above water.

The second announcement baffled and confused many when initially made, when it was announced that Andre Amougou of Burnley was joining for one month.  A rapid scramble on Google and Wikipedia revealed the new man to be ex-Reading player ‘The artist formerly known as Bikey’, one of Steve Coppell’s many ‘hits’ during his highly successful tenure in Berkshire.

The Tilehurst End, leading Reading blog and fansite, contributed on one of their former Premier League stars:
“Have seen him mark Cristiano Ronaldo out of a game but also have 'mares”
Rob Langham, The Two Unfortunates

“That sums it up perfectly.
Andre Bikey was one of the most skilful defenders we've had at the Madejski Stadium. Unfortunately this aspect of his game was so often undermined by moments of madness that redefined face-palm!
Having earned himself a trial with us during our Premier League days, his first impression was to get sent off in a pre-season tour game in Sweden for head-butting a player, while his last action for Reading was giving away a last minute penalty and getting sent off in the play-off semi-final at Burnley that resulted him literally throwing his shirt to the floor and storming off.


In between all that was another moment of madness where he pushed a stretcher bearer at the African Cup of Nations....
It was quite surprising to see Burnley splash a reported £3.5m to take him to Lancashire and he doesn't seem to have ever lived up to it.

While with Reading he was mostly a centre back but at Burnley he seemed to play more centre midfield, perhaps because he's prone to give the ball away and he can do less damage giving it away in the middle!

Despite his weaknesses he is decent in the air and happy with the ball at his feet and is a very decent player at this level if he keeps his head screwed on.  He's quite quick and if you partner him with somebody big and strong that can marshall the defence he'll thrive.”

As mentioned above, Bikey was identified by Burnley as the sort of player to help them survive in the top-flight and James Bird, co-creator of the simply fabulous independent blog platformfor Burnley FC, No Nay Never added these words on their big-money signing, largely confirming precisely those comments above.
“In the player formerly known as Andre Bikey, Bristol City are acquiring the world's biggest enigma. On his day he is one of the best central defenders in this division and good enough for the step up to the Premiership but some days you wouldn't even let him near your Sunday league side.
He has an uncanny ability to switch between being calm and composed on the ball to being completely lackadaisical. He has incredible strength, evident in his sheer stature, and possesses a neat turn of pace that allows him to match even the quickest of centre forwards. Versatile - he can play at the back or as part of a midfield three as he was used at times during our spell in the Premier League. Yet his biggest weakness is his personality, known to be regularly late to training and games and this inability to care occasionally spilled over onto the pitch.

The biggest highlight in his Burnley career was his goal against Aston Villa in the Premiership and his low point came recently as he consistently didn't perform as we all know he could, was subbed early in games before being omitted from our match day squads altogether.
If he can get his act together he'll be a reliable, strong defender as the Robins battle relegation, if he can't he may just get them relegated.”

Ominous words indeed and the gamble being taken is evident in all of the above.

Cardiff City’s Dekel Keinan was undoubtedly the least-known of the three names but the Israeli international comes highly regarded from across the Severn Bridge.  A productive second half to last season from Keinan helped the Bluebirds into the play-off picture once more, but disappointment was again stumbled upon at the final hurdle.  This led to the departure of Dave Jones and new manager Malky Mackay has tended to stick with his favoured squad members, with those on the fringes struggling to get a chance to stake a claim.

Ben Dudley, writer of the excellent My Only Cardiff offered me this opinion on a promising, if less exciting, sounding signing.
“Keinan joined in the transfer window in January last season and quickly became one of our key players in the race for the top two. As well as solid defending he also offered a goal threat from corners, managing to get on the score-sheet on a couple of occasions.  Of course, we narrowly missed out on promotion (again), a cause not helped by a penalty in the playoffs given away after a reckless foul by Keinan.

He has not featured at all this season aside from one League Cup game, but what has stood out is his professionalism, hard work and commitment. He has trained harder than anyone and should be a big success now he’s being given the chance to play on a regular basis. He could become the key to your survival this season if he reaches his best.”

McInnes’ signings to date have been mixed to say the least so the next few weeks will be intriguing.  If nothing else it will act as a pointer to next season where, with the majority of the old squad out of contract, there is a good chance that almost all of the first 16 named in August will have been signed on the Scotsman’s watch.
There were doubts raised as to the need for the signing of Chris Wood at the time when Jon Stead hadn’t been given a chance this season and these have been borne out a little with the popular Yorkshireman currently keeping the young Kiwi out of the side following a series of typically hard-working displays and an upturn in the team's general goal threat. 

Ricky Foster has much still to prove and is perhaps unlucky that his arrival aligned itself with a horrendous run of defensive performances.  Nevertheless, the constant switching of position (he has played in both full-back positions and on both flanks in just two months) may have been seen as a key attraction initially but points to a manager unclear of his best position, despite shelling out a significant six-figure fee in January.
Stephen Pearson has looked most at home but there have been times where his role is uncertain.  Not tough enough or hard-working enough to strengthen the defensive aspect of the team, nor creative enough to spark the side into action, Pearson has at least contributed with a handful of goals and assists and often looks the most likely to get the team moving to a position on the pitch where they can do some damage.

The names of Andre and Hogan were prominent in WWF a couple of decades ago and City’s newest signings are being thrown into the Championship’s very own Survivor Series, hoping to ensure the Robins aren’t facing the likes of this season’s cup conquerors Swindon and Crawley again in a few months time.
Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Monday, 12 March 2012

Interview with Kevin Smith, Bristol City Commercial Director

As an exclusive for my column on social media in football for Bristol City matchday programme ‘Red Alert’, I recently asked for and got the opportunity to interview Commercial Director Kevin Smith. What followed was an enjoyable and informative hour on topics ranging from cider to Twitter, and Wembley to ticket pricing.

The surroundings are not as glamorous as you might expect for the Commercial Director of a Championship football club. Standing outside the main entrance of the club on my arrival, I was surprised by a tap on the shoulder from behind me and even more so when I was led to the portacabin in permanent situ across the staff car-park.

This is the man responsible for generating every penny of revenue for the football club (excluding transfer fees), yet at the back of a compact but bustling commercial headquarters is Kevin Smith’s working home, an office barely bigger than a dugout, but serving its purpose as he surveys the desks and telephones of a busy team of willing and committed fans.

And that’s what they are, fans. In this office the majority of employees were season-ticket holders before they got their jobs. Or they were club legends. Scott Murray is a constant presence, breezing in and out, constantly on his mobile phone as his ongoing dedication to his adopted club continues apace.

The Commercial Director is different however. On the wall are the predictable items of football memorabilia, although sadly they are not yet in the red and white of the Robins. A signed Birmingham City Carling Cup Final shirt gestures towards the high point of his time at the other BCFC, whilst a Matt le Tissier signed Southampton shirt must be the ultimate big-game prize for this Saints fan.

As we walked through the office (this was 1pm on the day of the Leeds match) there was a tangible sense of excitement that a big match-day brings. The overnight freeze had led to a large-scale postponement of local football matches so the ticket office phone-lines had been buzzing all morning with fans wanting to guarantee their place. One of the team reveals she’s turned down ticket requests by a Stag party from Leeds. Understandably, not every penny is critical it seems. The best estimate is that the crowd will be the second-highest of the season at between 15,200 and 15,300 (at 15,257 it was almost exactly midway). There was a sense that this was a team in every sense of the word.
"Let's just say the cider isn't too much of a shock to the system!"
My first question, with Kevin being an ‘outsider’, was how well he had settled in the West Country?
“Very well! I’m very lucky as I grew up in Cornwall, my family are all from the South West and I went to university in Exeter between 1997 and 2001 so I love the place. Let’s just say the cider isn’t too much of a shock to the system!”
Kevin officially works for Ashton Gate Limited and reports into Chief Executive Guy Price, although his role is not a board position. I identified early on that the three main income streams are tickets, advertising/sponsorship (including hospitality) and retail.
Kevin expanded “We’re really careful not to use the words‘brand’ or ‘customer’ as football’s different, but essentially my role is to maximise the income from those streams and make Ashton Gate as good a business as it can be.”
Kevin Smith, an important cog in the club's fortunes
When you consider the club has accumulated losses of nigh on £30m over the past three years, it is clear Kevin and his team play a critical role, but even for a football fan, is this just another commercial job, largely detached from the goings on of the football side?
“I talk to my team about controlling the controllables. No, we can’t affect results but everything we do has a direct influence on Derek (McInnes) and the board’s spending power and their ability to do more in the transfer market, pay higher wages and attract better players. I encourage my staff to get involved in everything, and via tools like Twitter, ensure everyone’s a part of the Bristol City family.”
"I spent three days at Silverstone but didn’t see a car,
all that time at Ascot but I didn’t see a horse"
On the morning of the interview I’d spotted one fan tweet Kevin with a question about working for the football club and it occurred to me that this would be many fans’ ideal job. Kevin has worked for his boyhood team, Southampton, so how exactly did he end up working in sport?
"My advice for anyone is to mean it. Immerse yourself in anything you can to do with sport. No-one’s going to phone you out of the blue and say “You like football don’t you? Here’s a job”. At university I positioned myself everywhere I could. I fried bacon at Silverstone, worked behind the bar at Exeter racecourse and worked at Cheltenham and Ascot too. All of it went on my cv but it wasn’t at all glamorous – I spent three days at Silverstone but didn’t see a car, all that time at Ascot but I didn’t see a horse. When the Commonwealth Games came around in Manchester in 2002 I just had to be a part of it so I spent three days at the company that is now Ticketmaster stuffing envelopes.
Then when I left university the father of a good friend of mine set up a business that effectively took corporate hospitality space from sporting venues and sold it on. For three years we did anything and everything: Twickenham, Lord’s, the Ryder Cup. We worked all hours as we had no clients, no black book but grew by flicking through the Yellow Pages and building tailor-made hospitality packages. This was when we started getting to go to the best sporting events in the country. Even if it was peering around a pillar, craning our necks, we got to go and it was great!
One of the companies we helped was Southampton FC for the 2003 Cup Final at the Millennium stadium – this was something on a scale they didn’t know how to handle so we helped them out with tickets, transport and that sort of thing. This was how I gained some contacts at St.Mary’s and when an offer came my way to work for the Saints it was probably one of only two jobs I’d have left the business for (the other being green-keeper at Augusta National golf course).
After a while there I took some time out of football at the Rose Bowl (the home of Hampshire cricket) It was very much an up and coming venue; the stadium development and the ultimate aim of hosting test and one-day international cricket meant it was an exciting opportunity. Although it was hard as a fan to leave St.Mary’s, from a career point of view the club was on a downward spiral, League One was around the corner and I knew it was a move I had to make professionally if I wanted to maintain my presence in the world of sport."
This hard-nosed acumen would serve any commercial director well, not least in the world of football where passion and runaway emotion can so often lead to the heart ruling the head on crucial matters, and perhaps demonstrates why Kevin has been so successful in his relatively short career to date. When the next big opportunity came around – to join Carson Yeung’s new team in the Premier League at St. Andrews, it was another easy decision. As Head of Commercial Operations at the highest level, Kevin got an insight into what it means to be in the Premier League, with last season’s visit to Wembley an obvious highlight.
“For the Carling Cup final we sold 68 boxes and 2,500 hospitality tickets. It was something I learned a lot from in terms of forecasting extremes as the club had never known anything like it”
To try and get a feel for where City stand, I suggested that the set up at Birmingham – recently relegated from the top flight, must have notable differences.
“Not really”, Kevin said,“We’re certainly not years behind. During David Sullivan and Karren Brady’s time they probably were commercially advanced, they used the whole city to generate income and publicity, something we haven’t really done successfully. However, in terms of the set-up the operation is now of similar size and even financially, there’s not a massive difference in income generation.
But it’s tough out there. The days of picking up the phone to local businesses and flogging advertising hoardings for a couple of grand, just like that, have gone. Everyone’s looking for what they’re getting for their money, everyone needs value – and rightly so. The big advantage City have, certainly over clubs like Birmingham, is the lack of a serious commercial rival. They had Villa obviously, Wolves, (West Bromwich) Albion, Coventry just up the road. We have no-one in our league in this area so the potential is massive if we can get it right."
That word we’ve all heard so often before, ‘potential’. Luckily Kevin didn’t throw ‘Sleeping Giant’ into the conversation but the talk naturally turned to the hoped-for new stadium at Ashton Vale. We’ve all been told at every opportunity that Ashton Vale is essential to bring in additional revenue, so what specifically is the Commercial Director planning for if – hopefully when – the club finally makes its move?
“First of all there’s the new stadium factor. There will be a general increase in attention and noise and, as a direct result, attendances. Brighton is an oft-quoted example but very few clubs will match their phenomenal increase. Typically a club can expect a 30-40% increase and that would be a great start.
Some rudimentary mathematics means this would equate to approximately £2m per annum on tickets alone.
The possible move to Ashton Vale would transform the club's earning potential
Kevin continued “It would reinvigorate the support. New facilities enable us to offer a better match-day experience. Fans come to the ground earlier as we can put more on for them. We can make sure there are enough kiosks and toilets for Mum’s and Dad’s to bring their kids, and their kids’ friends.”
"If someone has a choice between going to the toilet
and buying a pie, then nature calls!"
I interjected by suggesting that naturally, the earlier they arrive, the more money they spend.
“Exactly”, replied Kevin, “It’s the little things. If you haven’t got the facilities or the ability to shrink queues then at half-time, if someone has a choice between going to the toilet and buying a pie, then nature calls! If facilities aren’t good enough you do the first and don’t buy the pie. It also has to be good value. If your experience is a good one you’re likely to do it again. If you get chucked a cold pie by a grumpy server who grunts at you, you’re likely to think twice.
These are the important things we’ve got to get right at Ashton Gate over the next two years and then if we get the approvals we can take those learnings across to Ashton Vale. We need to understand behaviours and if we can get the processes and philosophies right now, the move will be even better.”
Whilst at Birmingham, the club had what Kevin believes was the first Social Media manager in football and said the need for a structured approach to this new method of communications has become clear to all. Many companies feel the need to justify spending on social media with a return on that investment, but Kevin acknowledges it’s not something you can necessarily monetise, or should try to.
“It’s just another way of engaging, a great new communication tool. As Commercial Director I can talk on a 1-to-1 basis with fans and get genuine feedback on what we’re trying to do.
Five years ago email was king – the club bombarded everyone with everything. We’ve made great strides over the past few months to be more specific and targeted. If you’re a season-ticket holder we don’t send you emails offering membership or tickets any more.
What we can do –should be doing – is targeting season-ticket holders with special offers, making them feel special and adding value."
Despite the stated need for structure, City don’t have their own Social Media manager, instead preferring to share out the responsibility for the Facebook and Twitter accounts amongst key personnel, whilst many individuals use Twitter extensively. So how is this controlled at Ashton Gate?

"All staff are actively encouraged to be on Twitter, but there’s a very clear policy across the club, be it staff or players and that’s very important. QPR have found that out to their cost with Mr.Barton.

The official account is exactly that. A few people have access but usage policy is clear. However we want to dispel secrecy – Scotty Murray is great for it as he has so many followers and if there’s an important message he can get it out there but critically we don’t want to be pushy. It’s important to use for changes to kick-off times, pitch inspections and that sort of thing and it can’t be too commercial.

“In the old days it was very simple.  Put a message on the
website and people would pick it up from there”.
This was important on a day like the Leeds match last month when forecast snow meant a number of queries about the match going ahead, and plans were in place to cover as many fans as possible via various methods of communication.

“In the old days it was very simple. Put a message on the website and people would pick it up from there”.

I chuckled to myself at this. Kevin is very much part of a new breed of commercial people (and a similar age to myself) to whom a basic website is ‘the good old days’, just old hat, and the exciting modern world has so many more opportunities.

“Now we know more about the fans we also use the phones, Facebook, Twitter, BBM, SMS – anything that helps spread the message wider. However, we can’t assume that everyone has access to these methods. I went to a Senior Reds lunch recently and I can be pretty certain Facebook and Twitter weren’t mentioned once! These are people who still like to receive a letter through the post, and even if they’ve got a mobile phone and an email address, chances are they don’t ever switch them on! We’ve got to be careful not to exclude anyone.
40% of season-ticket holders haven’t provided an email address. With new fans we get new data – nearly 99% of new names on our database have an email address and a mobile phone number on record because it’s just automatic to ask, and give, now."

Bearing in mind the best players ultimately would have more Twitter followers than anyone else at the club, surely it would make sense for the club to encourage all the playing staff to partake, allowing messages to spread more widely and more quickly. Interestingly, as the man who would potentially have most to gain, Kevin disagrees.

“It’s an interesting one. I follow a lot of footballers and their lives aren’t particularly interesting! They get up, they train, they go to Nando’s, they go home and watch football and go to bed. If we had 30 players all saying the same thing it would get very boring, very quickly.

With regard the rest of the players I’d hate it to all become faceless, corporate messaging where they’re told what to write. There’s a thin line between forcing and pushing it too far and losing followers.

At the moment it’s relatively free for those that are on Twitter although there are obviously restrictions on things like controversy, confidentiality, team selection – that sort of thing. The last thing anyone would want is a total Twitter black-out.

This is something that was until recently the case at Leeds, where Simon Grayson had banned all use. Tellingly, within hours of his recent sacking, a number of players were immediately active again – indicating that the exercise is one restriction too far. Kevin understands what Grayson was trying to do, but feels it’s a narrow line of thinking.

“Grayson was ultimately managing risk – that’s all it is. He chose to manage his risks in that way. Here at City everyone is clear what Derek (McInnes) expects, and that’s not just on Twitter, it’s general behaviour. We’re all club ambassadors and of we do anything to harm the club’s reputation we’d expect to be disciplined. If someone wearing a club tie in the car-park is rude to someone, that’s no different to writing something you shouldn’t on Twitter.”

With all of the immediate channels for comment such as forums and Twitter, I asked Kevin if he felt this had influenced the instant success requirement often seen in modern football?

“Possibly. I know from my experiences from when I was at Saints in 2005 and we got relegated, the Commercial Director spent half his time on the forums. We all advised him to be careful as there are some very passionate people on there but also many who can claim to be hard-core fans but might not be.

I prefer to operate like this (face-to-face). If someone wants to chat about something, or feels like we’ve made a mistake, feel free to come and have a chat. It’s a far more productive way of managing things. Unfortunately few actually do and it’s easy to be a keyboard warrior, tapping away at midnight and being confrontational.

Forums must remain independent, but if well controlled can aid the club’s view on things as they provide a great snapshot as to the feeling out there, and we can all learn from that - as long as you don’t try and run the club based on forums or Twitter. I read, but don’t contribute – I don’t want to get drawn into arguments.”

Whilst touching on the subject of learning, our opponents on the day of the interview, Leeds United, are facing huge discontent at their season-ticket renewal prices and fans are staying away. So are there lessons to learn with this situation and just how difficult is it to set the right price?

“Almost impossible! Partly because our product changes all the time. The product we have to offer now is a different one to the one we had in January after our good run and a difference again to the one we had in October when we were bottom of the league and manager-less.

Does that mean had we put them on sale five months ago the prices should have been set lower than they would be now? No, it’s not as simple as that as all the other outgoings are the same. Our revenue targets are the same.

What the club has to do is always try to make the right decisions for the right reasons. You can’t make your decisions just based on cashflow, people just aren’t willing to part with the cash so easily any more. We try to get as much information and feedback as we can and make the best call for everyone at the right time, and not just because we did it that way last year.”

The Ashton Gate Eight played an essential role in securing the club's future

One thing that has often struck me is the lack of focus on the club's history by and large. It’s been thirty years since the Ashton Gate Eight tore up their contracts and helped the club survive and the lack of promotion of these events clearly rankles with Kevin.

“We’ve got a lot of history and heritage but you're right, we don’t do enough with it. Steps are being taken to address this and the whole club is keen to embrace its past. We’re setting up a Former Player’s Association, which Scotty (Murray) will chair. We’re not in a position as yet to have all of the Ashton Gate Eight here as the relationship between the club has with one or two isn’t great. We’re all working hard to correct that and hope to be in a position soon to have a proper and deserved celebration.

We’ve got to use our past to mould our future. People get hooked on football because of moments. Those moments in time, whatever they are, give fans goosebumps and our job is to get association back to those memories.

The current crop of players struggle to gain the same affinity as those before, fans feel they can’t relate to the driver of the white Bentley GT whizzing out of the car-park, yet Twitter proves that these guys are just normal blokes. They get up, enjoy eating and watching sport– they like having banter with their mates.

We’re very, very open to using the history of the football club, trying to recreate that passion and link to glorious days gone by."

And finally, I just had to ask Kevin how he felt, as a lifelong Southampton fan, when City did the double over his beloved Saints this season.

“Ha ha! I’ll show you a text my Mum sent me after the game at St.Mary’s – it sums it up for me.
“If we had to lose to anyone….”.

I think the key thing is that if Saints win I’m happy for half an hour on a Saturday night. When City win we’re all buzzing for the whole week so it makes a real difference to the job.

I was delighted for Derek both times, they were big games for him and important ones. My whole family came down for the game at Ashton Gate and were full of praise. Marvin Elliott was ‘marauding’ that day, Cox and Hammond barely got a kick in the middle of the pitch whilst Rickie Lambert – our goal machine –didn’t have a sniff. Albert destroyed them, they just didn’t know what to do with him.
As City scored the second I jumped up to celebrate and got the look of death from my Mum!”
Many thanks to Kevin for giving me an hour of his time ahead of a key home match. The impression gained was one of a commercially shrewd operator in full control over what he wants to do, and you sense opportunities won’t be missed as they maybe have been in the past.
One thing is for sure, he would like nothing better than to celebrate a substantial success by replacing that framed Birmingham shirt with a City version. Even if the Le Tissier shirt survives for a little while yet.

Kevin can be followed on Twitter: @kev_a_smith

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Singing the Blues: A Cardiff view of today's defeat

Bearing in mind I’ve just returned home to my CF post-code after watching three City players put the ball in the net in the Severnside derby, yet am still facing work on Monday morning after a 2-1 defeat, this is one of those nights where the feeling of a need to write overwhelms.

However, I feel my words may be tainted by disappointment – with the result, with the way luck seemed to fall, with some of the decisions made by the apparently top-class officials and most certainly with some of the so-called City fans who have decided to react to their own frustration already, via twitter, in abusing one of our players.  I also figured most from the West Country who’ll read this will have already been poring over the forums and Twitter and have a gist of the outlook of their companion fans.

So, instead here’s something a bit different.  Seeing as I’m based t’other side of the bridge and take a higher-than-average interest in the goings-on in the nation’s capital, I follow a handful of Cardiff fans on Twitter – largely those who write a bit themselves and can count themselves amongst the more normal, rational and, dare I say, educated of supporters.

I thought I’d share insight from a number of them into tonight’s game, with a kinda retrospective commentary on the match – and the result – from the Bluebirds camp.  The cast, in no particular order are:

·         Barrie McAuliffe, Cardiff City Press officer (@BeanHead’s other half)

·         Ben Dudley, a die-hard travel-anywhere fan who writes www.myonlycardiff.com

·         Joe Harrison, newly appointed co-editor of The Seventy Two

·         Matthew Gabb, prominent member of Cardiff’s 1927 club

·         Phil Stead (no relation), author of the multiple award-winning Ffwtbol website
(Cardiff fans, I know it grates some of you, but in this narrative you will be identified as Cardiff, whilst mentions of ‘City’ are obviously referring to the Bristol version.  At least when you’re called Cardiff you know people are talking about you!).

Pre-match discussion naturally centred on the team selection, with the general consensus being one that many outside Cardiff would probably share – a mixture of surprise and disappointment that Robert Earnshaw wasn’t even in the squad.

JH: Pissed off. No changes from Cardiff, again. No Earnie on the bench, again.

This perhaps looked like it was going to come back to haunt Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay later in the game as it drifted towards a 1-1 draw, with both Joe and Phil making light of the lack of perhaps the most natural goal-scorer as an option.

PS: Get Earnie on....oh ok....erm Darcy Blake.
JH: Now would be a good time to make a change up front...oh wait.

Once the game got underway the first-half included a decent opening quarter of an hour and a strong penalty appeal for City but this was followed by little and was largely underwhelming.

MG: Very typical of our games this season especially away from home. Tight and scrappy
BM: We're almost 15 mins into a game which Cardiff dominated early stages.  After some nice early spells getting forward our creativity tap has been turned off here. Spark needed.

The handball incident looked a shoo-in penalty from the stands, and when the other club’s official media manager says this, I think it says all you need to know…..
BM: The call on Turner's handball could be read either way. He was looking forward with (admittedly) arms out, the ball landing on his fingers
So.  It should have been a penalty!

One aspect that will probably come as a surprise to many followers who feel that City are often too soft, their more physical approach gained some comment:
PS: Some poor challenges from Bristol here. Whittingham targeted.
PS again, later on: Bristol City getting away with a lot of fouls.

The half was summed up perfectly on 45 minutes.
BM: Expect around three to four extra minutes added at the end of what has been a less than exciting first half.

There were three minutes, apparently…
BM: Mason!!! What a time to score!!! The goal was credited as a McManus own goal.. I really don't mind either way. A great way to end a half that lacked excitement. HT 0-1 City

Half-time chat generally centred on the low quality of the first half generated views on both teams and also hinted at the slightly fortunate nature of the opening goal.
JH: Well that's a pleasant surprise. Our league games on TV all seem to be dreadful this season. Bristol City are awful & we've been just as bad.  Still, I think winning tonight is more important than the performance...which is just as well, really
PS: Joe, our league games have mostly been crap from what I've seen. We're a lucky side.
JH: Don't think we're particularly lucky. I think we're a solid team that's slightly better than most in the league, but not much else.  We're pretty dire away from home mind, as is reflected in our away record.

The attendance also proved a talking-point, with fewer than one thousand away fans in an overall total of around 12,500.  What is for certain is that when a game is on TV, especially on Saturday tea-time, many fans – understandably – make the decision to save anything from £50 to £250 (depending on size of family and distance to travel) and make themselves comfortable on the sofa.
If that wasn’t all enough, roll the voucher exchange required (by an unnecessarily early time) for away fans to travel into the mix and it is hardly surprising so few fans are choosing to attend in person.  This match should be the highlight of each of these team’s seasons, yet City took 2,000 to both West Ham and Southampton for an evening match, even though they could barely muster 750 for the 45 minute journey over the bridge on a Saturday.
So I agree with both Phil and Matthew, who ‘argued’/reminisced on taking 4,000 away fans to Hereford in the old Division 4 whilst countering with the fact it was a lot of money and hassle just two weeks after an expensive Wembley weekend.
It’s hard to argue with having some sort of additional control for these matches.  If restrictions were lifted it’s unfortunately certain that trouble would swiftly follow, with each city’s less than favourable sections of the support taking up the opportunity to once again cross swords. 
However, with the voucher exchange system there is no doubt these match ups will continue to somewhat disappoint with regard atmosphere and apparent importance.

Back to the match and thankfully the second half offered more in terms of end-to-end action and excitement.
BM: Cardiff opening the second half with more quality shown than in the opening 45+2 mins...Bristol can however counter if Cardiff push too far forward... find the balance lads.
JH: This is much, much better.
The balance wasn’t found in time if you’re of Bluebird persuasion…
JH: Bollocks.
BM: Stead AGAIN.... and in Brizzle's first break of note he takes the finish well. This is what can happen. #BristolCity 1-1 #CardiffCity
MG: Stead's obligatory goal against us. ffs city.  Why does Stead always look good against us?

There was a lot of positivity for my personal man of the match (and not the home team selection) Joe Mason.  I remember being quite envious when Cardiff signed Mason in the summer, having seen him a couple of times for Plymouth and the Irish under-21’s, I felt his awareness and movement looked to be years beyond his slender age, and he now looks to have established himself as a Championship player.
Other Tweeters were also busy talking about Mason being one of the best young players in the Championship, and certainly seems one to keep an eye on.
Following Stead’s equaliser the game was largely controlled, albeit at a fairly pedestrian pace, by Cardiff’s midfield maestro Peter Whittingham, whilst 74-year-old Kevin McNaughton looked dangerous down the right flank.  However, City continued to come closer to a second goal…
BM: We're pretty much living in the Brizzle half. but doing nothing with it. Then they make a rare break and Stead VERY nearly makes it 2-1
BM: David Marshall AGAIN as Bristol break... phew!! #BristolCity 1-1 #CardiffCity
Despite the chances, Phil put a positive spin on what was unfolding.  Perhaps ultimately it was just a brilliant bit of insight…
PS: This game is still there for Cardiff.

Then, when the game looked to be heading towards a probably fair 1-1 draw, a second critical deflection gave Cardiff a win their possession possibly deserved, but for overall play was harsh on City.
The comments from these fans at the time of the goal and post-match indicate that those City fans claiming bad luck are not necessarily viewing all matters through rose-tinted spectacles.
BM: Mason maybe... own goal? I really can't see much from the greenhouse at the back.. #BristolCity 1-2 #CardiffCity
JH: We've really gotten away with it today. Good movement from Mason, great pass by Whittingham, huge slice of luck with the finish.  Mason scuffed shot/cross deflected off the heel of Cissé. Very lucky, but who cares?!
PS: Another sublime pass from Whittingham in the build up.
BM: FULL TIME: #BristolCity 1-2 #CardiffCity .... not quite sure how we got that, but will take it EVERY DAY!!! Come on City!!
JH: Great result. Very, very lucky tonight but really needed that win.
MG: Great if rather fortunate win in the end. Amazed we are still in contention for the play offs. Three home games to come.
Ben meanwhile clearly decides to concentrate on the match (and singing if his appearance on Sky is anything to go by) and reserved his comments for post-match.  If you look between the gloating you’ll find some crumbs of comfort….
BD: We came, we saw, we conquered. 2-1 in your cup final.
“We'll win and not score, we'll win and not scoooore, we're Cardiff City, we'll win and not score...”
And finally, a message to #BristolCityTwitterFamily founder @MelissaSpencerx
“You're perhaps the only Wurzel I feel sorry for. Should stay up playing like that.”

Before I call it a wrap, a mention has to go to Martyn Woolford.  A surprise starter this evening and one which instantly had many (admittedly including myself) doubting the ability of the team line-up before we’d even started.  Woolford has largely disappointed since joining from Scunthorpe and this evening was no better, but no worse, than many of the preceeding appearances.

As befitting the style of this post, I’ll paraphrase my own tweet from earlier this evening.
“Do I think he’s good enough? Unfortunately, no.  Do I feel the need to tell him and abuse him directly?  No, certainly not.  Why would I?!”
Sadly some feel this is indeed the most appropriate way to be spending their time this Saturday evening and it’s been especially vindictive and personal. 
Part of the appeal of Twitter is that you can get an insight into the lives of celebrities – however minor they may be – and get to know what they’re thinking, how they react to what life throws at them.  If they all have to put up with the kind of comments Woolford has received from a minority of fans tonight, no-one could blame them if they never logged on again.  And, for that, we’d all be poorer. 
As with hooliganism, it’s a shame the minority have to ruin things for the majority.  Just ask those Cardiff fans who embarked on the coach four hours ahead of kick-off this afternoon and were already in the ground when I left my Cardiff base.  Just ask those City fans who live 10 minutes from the Cardiff City Stadium (as I do), yet have to exchange vouchers two hours ahead of kick-off.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

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