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

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A new direction for a new season

As the regular readers may have noticed, blog posts have become significantly less frequent over the past year or so and non-existent over the summer.

For a number of reasons, I've been unable to commit the time to producing the materials I love writing and, from the feedback, I know many of you enjoy reading. Family commitments, my wife's wedding planning business and a new role for myself at work which involves more travelling have all contributed to this and when given an opportunity to try something new this summer, I decided it was the right time for me to try and re-invigorate myself and my faithful quill!

Also, as you may have noticed from social media if you're on it, it's actually far harder to generate interest and comment when everything is going quite so bloody well on the pitch! I struggled to come up with a decent end of season review because actually I knew pretty much everyone would just agree with what I said and other than "wasn't that amazing?!", there was actually very little to say! 

Undoubtedly this season will prove more challenging and arguments will recommence on team selection, the 4-4-2 advocates will come back out in force I'm sure, we'll be slating Cotterill for not finding us a 25-goal a season striker or a back up centre-half early enough and normal service will be resumed.

As for the blog, well, things may change but the good news (I hope you'll agree!) is that I'm not closing shop.  However, I won't be committing to weekly posts and reviews as has been the case for most of the last few years, and posts will be - in theory at least - more lengthy, considered, editorial type pieces rather than the recent, often shorter efforts.

I will continue to invite good quality guest bloggers from time to time, when they or I feel there's something worth adding, but my main venture - which I'll continue to promote via these pages so you don't miss anything, is an exciting one for me personally.


Because....drum roll please...as of today, I am trialling as the new guest Bristol City blogger for the Bristol Post. Hopefully some of you who I know boycott/refuse to read anything "that Rovers rag" prints will give a concession for the purposes of reading my new blog! :-)

As a youngster I always wanted to be a sports journalist, and whilst this isn't quite achieving the boyhood ambition, having my words published online by the regional paper I've grown up with is both exciting and a little daunting.

The reason this will put a stop to many of my blog posts is that I'm just not sure I'll have enough time or variation of content to come up with something for the paper and for the blog on a regular basis, so for now I'll be prioritising the Post and coming back here to promote those posts and perhaps for the very occasional, lengthier, more opinionated piece.

This may last a few weeks, it may be years, but I'll enjoy writing it and I hope you - my fabulous readers/fans/supporters - will enjoy reading it as much as you have my blog over the last few years.


For those happy to follow me on my journey, my first piece - on City's summer transfer dealings (or lack of!!), is in it's new home, here: 

http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/BRISTOL-CITY-BLOG-time-pressing-panic-button/story-27498141-detail/story.html 


Thanks you all - as ever I'd appreciate all comments, likes, shares, RTs and whatever else you youngsters do these days on social media. It always makes the writing more worthwhile when I know people are reading and appreciating the effort - even if opinions may differ!

Not long to go now - this is our chance to do the Championship properly.

All that's left to say is, COYR!


The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 1 May 2015

My lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet

It wasn’t Luke Freeman’s skill, Joe Bryan’s crosses, or Aden Flint’s heading. It wasn’t the goals of Aaron Wilbraham or Matt Smith and it wasn’t the agility of Frankie Fielding. It wasn’t even the astute summer purchases, tactical nous and tremendous man management from the gaffer, Steve Cotterill. Hell, it wasn’t even Steve Lansdown’s millions.

Nope, the reason Bristol City have had such an incredible season, such success, is down to my lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet!

Football people are funny folk, “queer as”, they might have said in the olden days, before it became so politically incorrect.

Tales of superstition amongst sportspeople are commonplace, not least with Bristol City’s own manager. Steve Cotterill revealed more than a shade of belief in old gypsy tale style stories in this tremendous Guardian blog http://www.theguardian.com/football/football-league-blog/2014/oct/30/bristol-city-chelsea-steve-cotterill-jose-mourinho-unbeaten and it is clear he is the type to hold great store by these matters.

I grew up in a household where matchday rituals were commonplace. From having to have the same, specific cereal and toast/jam combination on a Saturday morning, to not washing my shirt/jumper/jeans between matches after a win. 

These most essential of actions last for me to this day. Why? Because this is the part I play. How else would your team win if you weren’t playing some part? Indeed, I must apologise to anyone I saw at the title-sealing Coventry home game, for my purple shirt was into its third outing in a warm, excitable, jumping-up-and-down kinda week!

So let me tell you the story of the real reason City have stormed through the season. Why they won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, strolled to promotion and have now won their first title in sixty years.
It goes back all the way to the first day of the season…

Long before the release of the fixture list, with a mouth-watering opening tie away at the biggest club in the league and the bookies favourites, I had committed to a weekend family camping trip in mid-Wales, with seven other households from our street.

Damnit, I thought, that would be a cracker of an opening game, but never mind, family commitments and all that. Plus, we never win at Bramall Lane.

Then Sky, perhaps unsurprisingly, announced they wanted us to kick off the season live on TV. Hmm, we always do quite well live on Sky, perhaps all is not lost…ah well, at least now I’ll be able to catch it somewhere on TV.

The summer had been exciting, if methodical. The summer purchasing strategy will be reviewed elsewhere once the weekend’s celebrations have died down, but City’s season was bubbling before it had started and the prospect of a possible title decider (for the glass half-full brigade) on day one had done little to dampen the excitement.

A few days before the start of the season, rumours began growing of the prospect of a return to the (in)famous purple and lime outfit we wore so successfully 21 seasons earlier, the most striking moment of which was that famous win at Anfield in the F.A. Cup.  A lucky strip for a lucky season? Maybe…

So when it was formally announced that those colours would indeed be chosen as our third strip, to be worn in the couple of necessary matches, the lad who had been 16 years old on that famous night in Liverpool started to wonder if this feelgood factor might help our team out over the next few months.

So it was that on the Friday preceding that season opener, that I travelled with my family, via delightful South Welsh places such as Abercynon and Merthyr Tydfil, en route to the picturesque market town of Builth Wells in the middle of the Principality, thinking little more of it.

For those with children aged between 3 and 13, you may recall this was the summer of the loom band. Where they came from, who knows. Why they became such a hit – I haven’t got a clue. But for 36 hours on this quiet campsite, the half-a-dozen girls from our street developed their own little cottage industry; producing loom band bracelets, necklaces, bag tags and all sorts – for a price of course, with all money donated to a Dog’s Protection charity. The thoughtful little things….either that or savvy, as they realised after the first few that the adults were growing bored of being pestered for money for their output, so they came up with a more enticing angle. Lord Sugar, eat your heart out!

Anyway, to get to the point, after the first one or two I’d been persuaded to part with my fifty pence for, I suggested that they make to order and I’d pay them an extra premium. So for the princely sum of £2, I asked them to make me a purple and lime loom band bracelet, to be worn for luck that lunchtime as I parked myself in a nearby hostelry for the live match and watched my boys wear the purple and lime strip to kick off their season.

So they made it for me.

And I wore it.

And we only went and bloody won at Bramall Lane for the first time in six decades!

The lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet. My faithful companion

That was it. I was hooked. No such happening could have possibly occurred without some sort of outside influence, some supernatural phenomenon, so it must have been because of my lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet.

For the first few weeks I wore it constantly. It felt a bit like the weeks following Glastonbury, where people would look at your tatty, dirty, sweaty access wristband and know where you’d been. It was a bit like a badge of honour, except nobody else really had a clue what significance this bracelet held.

And we kept winning. And winning. And winning. And the team kept wearing purple and lime even when our original away white strip would have been perfectly adequate. And it was all down to my lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet.

As the season moved into October and City went to the top of the league, the importance of this lucky omen became such that I realised the need to nurture and care for it. For those that don’t know, loom bands are like a mini elastic band, that via lessons on YouTube the kids learned to weave together to make larger, wearable bands.  The strain of taking it on and off my wrist was beginning to tell and some of the elastic was starting to look frayed, so I started to only wear it on matchdays.

We went through October without losing a game and had remarkably gone three months into the season without having to deal with a defeat. This was virtually unprecedented; truly incredible – the stuff of dreams…..and lucky loom band bracelets. After all, I had worn it every time City had played. What other factors had possibly coincided to such a degree?

Now the second (of three) truly unfortunate missed games for me came in mid-November. I had a work trip to Cape Town (aaah, tough life I hear you say!), and unfortunately this meant I would miss the increasing crucial top-of-the-table clash at local rivals Swindon.

I arrived in Cape Town on the Saturday morning and started to unpack. The shirts and suits – carefully folded so as to hopefully avoid the inconvenience of ironing – came out. The washbag, the work materials, the flip flops and shorts (it was their early summer).

But where was my lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet?? Mayhem ensued! The case was upturned onto the bed. Pockets were checked and every item of clothing unfolded and checked.

I HAD LEFT MY LUCKY PURPLE AND LIME LOOM BAND BRACELET AT HOME!!!!!

This was it. The end of the season. The joyous outpouring of fun we’d all had would end right here, right now. I was distraught.

There were a few hours between that moment and kick off and, as the time passed, I realised there was little I could do about it. I started to reassure myself it didn’t matter. Of course it didn’t.  It couldn’t, could it?

So I stuck on the afore-mentioned shorts and flip flops and wandered down to the gorgeous V&A Waterfront in South Africa’s second city. I had some lunch, had my first Castle lager of the trip and settled into a seat to watch the Springboks take on England at Twickenham – having pre-paid for 24 hours of data roaming on my phone to watch the goals flow in at the County Ground via Twitter.

The game kicked off. Seemed like a feisty start which you’d expect in a big local derby that appeared like it was going to really matter but City sounded well up for it….

DISASTER! RED CARD FOR WADE ELLIOTT.

I couldn’t believe it, did the curse of the loom band really take less than 200 seconds to strike?! The feeling of desperation came flooding back as I realised that this simply wouldn’t have happened if I’d only remembered my lucky charm. Well that’s it, I thought. That’s the unbeaten run gone and we’ll inevitably slide down the table now. The lucky streak had been broken all because of my stupidity.

But then we got to half time and it was still 0-0. Good battling, I thought, but a long 45 minutes to go. Then there was an hour gone, then there was just quarter of an hour to go.  At this point I was chuckling to myself again – the adrenalin was pumping and I was hopping about in my chair as I realised that of course it was nothing to do with my loom band. Actually, we were going to snatch a draw from the most unlikely of circumstances and actually strengthen our position. The relief, the joy I felt as I realised that me forgetting my loom band had nothing to do with……

Bugger.


I didn’t get back until the following Saturday so the loom band was also missing for defeat at home to Preston.  From thereon in that lucky purple and lime loomband has been wrapped in cotton-wool!

Of course, going back to wearing the lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet meant City returned to form after this minor blip, most noticeably the win at Peterborough with our double lucky omen of Sky TV also present again. That combination right there seems to be gold dust!

Although a defeat or two followed through the season, generally success followed success as I preserved my now slightly tatty, well-worn lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet, moving down from wearing it all day on a Saturday to removing it once the result was known. With bands fraying and one or two coming loose, being damaged by the heavy sleeves of winter, I took to just putting it on at lunchtime and wearing it for those crucial few hours.

It was on the night we won at Gillingham, it came to Milton Keynes and Orient with me and it most certainly enjoyed its first visit to Wembley as it notched up its first trophy of a glorious season.
And that was nearly that. We were nearly up and I headed to Preston in optimistic mood, although I noticed that morning the old bracelet was looking particularly unwell. Two of the bands near the s-shaped plastic join (you parents will know what I mean) had frayed to the extent they were hanging off.



Defeat at Preston would have left our opponents within touching distance of us with their game in hand. Surely, having been top for so long we couldn’t miss out on our first title for sixty years? I was really worried that right at the end, just when it really mattered, the chain would be broken and we’d fall away. Promotion was probably safe, but I willed my lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet through for just another few days.

A great game followed, with their keeper in top form before we found ourselves a goal down. I looked down at my wrist for hope and salvation and couldn’t see it. It had gone. Broken. I couldn’t believe it.

I started scrabbling around in my clothing, my pockets and eventually looked to the floor below where I had been sitting and there it was. Finally it had had its day. It was now just one long chain of bands – a bracelet no more. I hastily retrieved it and stuffed it into my pocket. At least I still had it and we salvaged the game. A draw meant that the title was now very much within our grasp, but I wasn’t prepared to take any risk whatsoever!

Normally in the mornings when the family stirs, I take the two kids down for a cup of milk. Pretty ritualistic in itself, but on this Sunday morning there was a far greater priority. As soon as my daughter was up I asked her to repair it for me, to add a couple more purple and lime coloured bands in to the join to make sure it was able to live another day. What on earth might happen at Bradford if I didn’t, I wondered?

She didn’t even question it. The repair was complete within seconds. She gets it already! She even drew a picture for me with the words ‘Come on City’ written on it “to give them luck and make them win, Daddy”.  She’s five years old. My work here is done!

So all was well and we headed together to Bradford on that now-famous Tuesday evening. The rest, as they say, is history.

And do you know what? As much as I wanted to win, I made a very deliberate, conscious choice not to wear it last Saturday for the trip to Chesterfield. I just wanted to test the theory and see what happened. I felt nervous, and a bit worried.

Clearly, the lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet has done its job. The inevitable, fateful unlucky streak simply didn’t materialise as the champions put on a truly befitting display.

It can now be retired. Put away as a memento of this fantastic, incredible season. But I, for one, will never forget the crucial part it played since that very first day of the season.

My lucky purple and lime loom band bracelet. The best £2 I have ever spent.

You can all thank me later.


The Exiled Robin

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