Allow me the pleasure, such as it is, of writing about Bristol City, a football club I do not care for, nor have the slightest interest whether they fail or succeed. As a Bristol Rovers supporter, for too many years all we had was schadenfreude, enjoying City’s failure whilst we failed even more. But that they are, yet again, failing this year, I see a pattern and that pattern may start at the top.
City’s billionaire owner Steve Lansdown appears to be presiding over an unprecedented double relegation this season, with one of his prize assets about to tumble out of one Championship and the other, Bristol rugby, about to tumble into it. Where it is all going wrong?
To be honest, I shouldn’t really care too much where it went wrong. But now that it has, it is worth speculating as to why. Bristol City started the season having heavily invested in the first team, under a bright young manager, Lee Johnson. For a while, things looked good, with the team threatening to burst into the play off positions. Now, they are on a grim run which can only lead in one direction: relegation. Lansdown stuck with his manager in the transfer window, allowing him to panic buy to his heart’s content. That he did and the improvement has been negligible. The supporters, from what I can tell, have turned on the manager and want him out.
Johnson’s transfer splurge was to all intents and purposes firefighting and it is obvious that Johnson isn’t any good at it. And why was firefighting necessary in the first place? With a large army of professional staff, did no one notice that the team would struggle this season? Was Johnson simply left to it whilst Lansdown sat in Guernsey with less than half an eye on his beloved football club, counting the extra money he keeps by basing himself there? From a distance, this looks like poor governance at the top. Who was managing the manager?
The rugby club started the season the way they were destined to go on – getting battered by teams that were far better than they were. Did no one tell Lansdown that his head coach Andy Robinson was long past his sell by date and when did this fact dawn on him since everyone else seemed to work this out before the season even started? And when Robinson was sacked, he was replaced by Mark Tainton whose job would be to firefight, even through he had shown little by way of evidence that firefighting was his speciality. The rugby club threw large sums of money at new players in a last desperate effort to remain Premiership status and it has always looked like an effort doomed to failure. Who was managing the manager?
Lansdown is regarded by many as a hero, having used a small amount of his fortune (which would be a large fortune to anyone else) in trying to buy success for the football and rugby clubs he owns. But it hasn’t worked. Both clubs started the season with great optimism but the optimism was built on sand.
You can buy success, particularly when you know what you’re doing. Perhaps Lansdown does know what he is doing and it’s those to whom he has delegated power and decision-making who are making the worst of a bad deal. The likely relegation of both his clubs might be a coincidence but I somehow doubt it. Lansdown’s umbrella group Bristol Sport was set up, so say, to make Bristol proud. He’s done more to make them embarrassed than anything else and you wonder just how such a successful man could be so crap at running a sporting franchise.