🕵️‍♂️ Football League Focus: Bristol City

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OneFootball

Alex Mott

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Welcome to our latest series here at OneFootball where we’re shining a light on one Football League club each week.

It’s our chance to go in-depth on sides that don’t normally attract our attention and hold up a magnifying glass to the plethora of brilliant stories outside the Premier League.

So far we have looked at:

This week we’re off to the home of trip-hop, Skins and brilliant cider: it’s Bristol.


Can you tell me a bit about the club?

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A mecca for free-thinkers and people on the edges of society, Bristol has always been where the weird and the wonderful go to do their thing and has recently reinvented itself as one Britain’s creative hubs, as well as being consistently voted as one of the greenest cities in the world.

The city harbours a dark past though. Bristol has a slave trade history with an estimated 500,000 people having been cruelly transported to the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries.

It made the relatively small south-west city into one of the most important in the British Empire and helped grow Bristol into, at one point, England’s largest port.

It took a relatively long time for football to take hold in the city however, with rugby union its first love.

There are plenty of diehard Bristolians at Ashton Gate however, longing for their return to the top flight of English football.


Any great moments from their history?

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Founded in 1894, Bristol City joined the Football League in 1901 and the early years were full of success.

As only the third club south of Birmingham – after Woolwich Arsenal and Luton – to be admitted into the Football League, the Robins took the Second Division by storm, becoming champions in 1905/06 with a record points total and going on a 14-game winning run that wouldn’t be beaten until 2018.

In their inaugural First Division campaign, City finished as runners up to champions Newcastle and became the only southern side to end the season in the top two positions before the first world war.

City were one of the most feared sides in the country and were just 90 minutes away from claiming the FA Cup in 1909, only to be beaten by Manchester United.

We’d love to say that the good times kept on rolling at Ashton Gate but that would be a lie.

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Just two years later they were relegated back to the Second Division and wouldn’t return for another 65 years.

In the interim there was a run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1920 and, remarkably, a Welsh Cup win in 1934 as City beat Tranmere Rovers in the final.

It really wasn’t until the hiring of Alan Dicks in 1967 though, that the Robins gradually began climb their way back towards the pinnacle of English football.

After eight years in the job, Dicks finally got Bristol City back into the First Division, finishing three points behind champions Sunderland with club legend Geoff Merrick his leader on the pitch.

They would end up enjoying a four-year stint in the top flight with 13th being their highest position in 1979 before one of English football’s most dramatic falls.

Bristol City have yet to taste First Division football since then but in more recent times have been incredibly close, failing on the final day of the 2018/19 season, slipping out of the play-off places in the final minute as Derby County took the spot Lee Johnson’s side had held for almost the entire campaign.


And surely there must be some lows as well?

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After the highs of their first 20 years, Bristol City would get into a familiar routine of bouncing between the Second and Third Divisions.

Their first taste of relegation came in 1911 but by the 1920s the Ashton Gate outfit were old hands at yo-yoing between the leagues.

Another slide down the table followed in the 1930s though and by 1934, Bristol City were considered the whipping boys of the Third Division South. The Robins would suffer their heaviest ever defeat that year, going down 9-0 to Coventry City and four years later would see half of Ashton Gate destroyed by a German air raid.

Harry Dolman would take over as chairman in 1947 and that would herald the start of a more stable period in Bristol City’s history however his departure 30 years later was the start of a slippery slope which eventually ended in the club ceasing to exist.

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After relegation from the top flight in 1980, debts began to mount and financial losses increased, leading to Bristol City suffering a further two relegations and by 1982 were in the Fourth Division and officially declared bankrupt.

The club however were saved by Julian Marshall, Chris Garland, Jimmy Mann, Peter Aitken, Geoff Merrick, David Rodgers, Gerry Sweeney and Trevor Tainton – senior players who tore up their contracts in order to see City survive.

The Ashton Gate Eight have since gone down in Robins folklore and were instrumental in their eventually rise back up the divisions by the end of the decade.

The 1990s were bleak for the Robins with Tony Pulis presiding over a particularly dreadful side later on in that decade while Sweden’s Benny Lennartsson became their first non-British coach – to disastrous effect.


Who are the club legends?

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John Atyeo is the club’s all-time leading goalscorer and has a statue of himself outside Ashton Gate.

Geoff Merrick was one of the Ashton Gate Eight and helped the club back into the top flight in 1976.

Billy Wedlock was a part of City’s success in the early 1900s and won 22 England caps during his time at Ashton Gate – a club record.


What about the current squad? Any players to look out for?

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Antoine Semenyo is a 20-year-old striker who came through the club’s academy system and has finally become a regular this time around. A strong, pacy forward with an eye for goal, Semenyo has a bright future ahead of him.

Zak Vyner and Taylor Moore are quietly becoming the Vidic and Ferdinand of the Championship this season, forming a stunning central defensive partnership that could see the Robins finally grab their place in the Premier League.


Is the manager any good?

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Dean Holden was former boss Lee Johnson’s assistant for four years before taking the head coach position early this year.

That sense of continuity seems to have worked so far this term with City currently sitting in fifth place in the Championship having lost just three games out of 11.

There’s the underlying sense that this might be a step too far for the former lower league defender, but in this crazy, congested season who knows what might happen.


Finally, how are things looking this season?

So far so good, although if recent history is anything to go by, Bristol City fans won’t be getting too excited just yet.

Six wins from 11 games is a pretty decent return but when you look at the teams City have lost to – Middlesbrough, Norwich, Bournemouth – it’s clear to see that the better sides are finding a way past them.