Friday, 1 May 2015
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……
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.
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Monday, 13 April 2015
April 14th, 2015.
Could this be the day? The moment of crowning glory this team has worked so hard for all season? The maths are now simple. A win at Bradford on Tuesday night will mean Bristol City become the first team in the country to gain promotion this season. That in itself is a mark of the success we’ve had, and I’m pretty certain this success-ravenous manager City somewhat stumbled across will be drilling this into his players in the dressing-room before the match.
This is another chance to make headlines as ‘winners’, a chance to get our club’s names and their own names up in lights at the same time.
The accolades will follow as and when promotion is achieved, but I think it’s fair representation of our season, and of our approach, that most fans are travelling up to Yorkshire in expectation rather than hope. Cotterill seems to have created a team of winners across the club and even the fans are now turning up with a a more positive mindset than at any previous time I can recollect.
But it won’t be easy. As explained below, Bradford are another dangerous team in desperate need for points to get anything out of their season. Just as Oldham and Barnsley have proven recently, games against teams scrabbling for those final positions aren’t straight-forward, and especially so away to a team that has already beaten MK Dons twice, Preston, and, of course, the Champions of England-elect, Chelsea.
“Come full time on Tuesday night, you guys could clinch promotion and our slim play-off chance could be over.
For Bristol City, it's a case of nearly job done. Reading snippets of your great blog, I get the impression that this promotion has been two years in the waiting. Once completed (hopefully not on Tuesday...) the promotion and JPT Trophy double achievement will be fully deserved.
For the Bantams, I personally see this season as a major step towards our long-term goal of promotion to the Championship.
We still have a mathematical chance of a play-off spot, but with seven points to overhaul in just five games, it's a huge ask. Some will see this as a missed opportunity to make the play-offs, however I can't help but feel proud of our League achievements.
Pre-season saw a massive squad overhaul. Many of the League Cup Final/Play Off winners of 2013 departed and there was uncertainty about the team assembled. Fortunately for us Bradfordians, this current class has gelled quickly and performed very well. We've been in and around the mix all season and have had some great wins including a double over the Franchise, and a late winner away to Preston. At times we've shown we can mix it with the best in the league.
Unfortunately, it has been our inability to see out games that has hampered our progress. We've conceded several late goals and have dropped 13 points from winning positions.
The success in the FA Cup has once again propelled us into the mainstream media and further enhanced fans expectations. The victories over Chelsea and Sunderland were crowing moments, however the catalyst for the season was in the less glamorous First Round tie against Halifax. Losing by a goal at half-time, a second half turnaround saw us grind out a 2-1 win, which kicked off a seven game unbeaten run in the league.
Jon Stead started the revival that day and he has been influential this season. Similarly to his days at Ashton Gate, Stead has gained a cult following with the Valley Parade faithful (if you haven't seen it, he did an "Aden Flint" in a Sky Sports interview in January http://youtu.be/57eCm6xZ88E).
Stead has been vitally important but I still believe manager Phil Parkinson is the key to this club’s success. He has changed the entire mood and ethos around the club during his four year tenure. He has made us proud of our club and city again!
Hopefully with funds from this year’s cup run, he'll be able to add this squad and mount a real promotion push next season.
Or, he could knock off the seven point deficit and take us up this year.
Sounds crazy I know but so was thinking we'd come from two down at Stamford Bridge. And we all know what happened there...”
Despite Mesh’s optimism, I believe this is our time. Championship here we come.
The Exiled Robin
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