It's probably safe to say that when Jon Stead signed for Bristol City, fans were excited about the prospect of a 'big' name joining us and boosting our strike force, but there was undoubtedly an element of concern at the prospect of another journeyman footballer turning up, someone whose career appeared to be on a downward trajectory and of whom the main memories were long barren, goal-less runs of games in the Premier League for Blackburn and Sunderland.Thankfully, he leaves us three years later as one of the most popular players to have pulled on a red shirt in recent memory. If you want a 25-goal a season striker, then Stead isn't your man. That's partly because he's not as adept at sniffing out opportunities as, say, Jermaine Defoe, but it's mainly due to the fact that he does most of his good work in the build up to the chance, working the pitch to its limits and stretching defences wide.He really announced himself to City fans with a stunning long range strike live on Sky against QPR, but the most telling moment of Stead's stay came at the end of the 2011/12 season, when he was carried shoulder-high from the pitch having spent much of the previous two months metaphorically doing the same for many of his team-mates, driving us clear of a desperate relegation scrap with an immense effort, dedication and no little skill.He was named Player of the Season that year. Not surprising you may think having read the above? However, what was remarkable about that award was that until the last few days of February he had only played six hours of football, having missed most of the first three-quarters of the season with injury or just by being out-of-favour. 14 wholly committed appearances were enough to win the vote by a landslide, as reviewed in my end of season review for that season - http://exiledrobin.
Perhaps this past season the desire for more of a goal threat blinded then-manager Derek McInnes to Stead's natural attributes, as the big name summer signings were Sam Baldock and Steven Davies. Stead still managed to oust them fairly regularly, but didn't get into a run of games until it was too late.His obvious love of the club and the local area, regularly portrayed via his ever-expanding use of Twitter, instilled even more support and popularity for the man, and his touching words upon leaving were said with a level of sincerity and grace too few modern footballers seem capable of grasping.Very few players leave a club without a notorious minority saying good riddance, or castigating said player for their desertion. However in Stead's case, across hundreds and hundreds of tweets and forum posts, there was not a single dissenting voice with many echoing similar words, generalised into something along the lines of:"Thanks for all the effort Jon, I just wish more in our team had your commitment, heart and desire - we don't see many players like you in today's game"And I think that's all you really need to know.