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Ask The Chairman - Review

Following last Saturday's Q&A session with Steve Lansdown, arranged by the Trust, in collaboration with City's chairman, specifically to enable exiled fans to ask their questions and hear his answers, Brendan Amesbury, an exiled City fan from Sussex, gives us his view of the meeting and reports on some of the main topics discussed...

Steve Lansdown at the Trust Q&A
"I always expect to win" … was Steve Lansdown’s answer to “What will the result be today?” – the last question of the day at the Ask The Chairman session for exiled City fans held in London on the morning of the Crystal Palace game. It sums up the feeling of all those there – everyone was in a positive frame of mind. And the result on the day? Simply you can’t win them all.

A man of action
The last time I was face-to-face with the chairman it was with the man-of-plans Scott Davidson. The difference with Steve is that he’s a man-of-action, and that brings out the best in every one else. The meeting was in the cellar of a typical central London pub just behind Victoria station. Around 80 to 100 City fans gathered with Steve and some members of the Bristol City Supporters Trust and the hour long Q & A session was enjoyed by all.

A broad range of topics were discussed – and as most of us had travelled to London by train it seemed right that the first question was about a possible train station adjacent to the proposed new stadium. Could there be one included in the plans? Yes, thought Steve – as there is a train line running close by it’s quite possible. It could be called Bristol Parkway South … or maybe Bristol International! Steve sees the new plans as perhaps being the catalyst to a re-development of South Bristol, but the focus has to be on a stadium and making it work hard to produce revenue to fund the team. Something like a concert arena could only be possible if it supported the football club. 

New stadium identity
A new stadium for our team needs to have an identity people will know is Bristol City, not just another new soccer stadium. People spoke of Coventry’s new stadium (full of happy memories for us!) as having a good feel. Also Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. Mosaics of identifying Bristol landmarks and murals of our celebrated players were suggested.

Foreign investment
Discussion took place around the risks and benefits of people coming in from abroad with vast new funds and buying up English soccer clubs. The good news was that Steve indicated we are able to go forward as we are – but that success and a higher placing in the table does always bring more interest from potential investors. 

Standing room only in the cellar bar
Such money could provide the resources to pay for a new stadium – but would have some negative consequences too. Hence one question to Steve was about the newly acquired land. He confirmed that this had now been bought and that this involved the provision for the stadium development. He was asked who would own the stadium and said it was anticipated that this would be Ashton Gate Limited and therefore part of the existing group and owned by the existing shareholders.

7/10 probability for new stadium go-ahead
How likely is the new stadium to become a reality? Steve thought 7-8 out of 10 – so a good chance. But what could be done to enhance Ashton Gate in the next 3 or 4 years? Temporary seating in the corners could be a possibility – especially if promotion to the Premier League is achieved.

Promotion bonus
Promotion - yes: that was really talked about! And it does look possible. A question was posed around the infrastructure required to support a Premier League team. Steve felt that the basic building blocks are in place and, if needed, could be quickly built on. It is staggering to be told the wage bill has gone from £2½m to £6m on the back of promotion to the championship – no-one asked what the impact of the Premier League would be. Rewards to players are important and of course fans are interested in the incentives. Suggestions were made that players should receive bonuses for promotion – or for staying in the new league … or should it be both? The 1982 problem of players on first division wages in the third division was raised. Steve felt such a thing was unlikely in the future as contracts are different now to those given out in the heady days of 1979. Reassuring.

Steve feels that as our team is playing good football we would have a reasonable chance of surviving in the Premier League – this was contrasted with Derby’s current struggles and a different style of play. It’s great to see a City team playing mainly a passing game, and the current coaching is paying dividends.

Appropriately enough for a meeting aimed at exiled City fans questions were asked about access to tickets for games for those of us who live too far away to use the ticket office, particularly for tickets selling immediately before games. The value of the internet comes into play here and whilst reasonable, Steve is aware improvements could be made. Ticket pricing for exiles was also discussed – could there be a season ticket for people who live far away and can only get to say half the home games?

East End and Dolman early leavers
Some of the difficulties with Ashton Gate were considered. The perennial question of the East End. Usually the balance falls on the risk of poor behaviour from a handful of people – and therefore mostly there will not be access to the East End. The issue of early leavers from the Dolman was also discussed – very disruptive at the Middlesbrough game. The intention is continue to ensure those who want to leave early do actually leave, and not just get in everyone else’s way.

What happens if...
Steve was asked about succession-planning for the inevitable time when Gary moves on. An interesting thought during a period of success … clearly a hard question to answer. Gary is loyal to his players and when bringing in new people part of the attraction is to work with him. An encouraging way to look at it. A lot of the backroom staff are City through and through but also some would reasonably be expected to move on at the same time. A good question – and answer – currently succession planning is more for businesses than soccer clubs in the present “must succeed” climate.

Season ticket price freeze?
More on tickets. Steve suggested that if promotion was achieved season ticket prices would not rise! Although there would be less games, so each game would cost more. Might even get me in Sussex to become a season ticket holder as demand would be high.

So, a mix of topics: new stadium, promotion and other things. It was really good to be involved, and so positive. Keep it up Steve, Gary and the lads!

Brendan Amesbury
Arundel, West Sussex

The Trust would like to thank Steve Lansdown for taking time out to come and talk so openly to the assembled fans and Brendan for compiling this comprehensive report.

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