Bristol City Football Club, nicknamed "The Robins", is one of two league football teams based in Bristol, with their rivals being Bristol Rovers. Since their foundation they have had a colourful history in which they have occupied both the highest and lowest positions in the league. Their reputation marks them generally as one of the less successful teams in English football, but with their recent performance and success it looks like this characteristic may change. They have a particularly strong fan base, who hail mainly from Bristol, who highly revere all past successful managers and frequently come to watch them play at their home ground located in Ashton Gate.
The Early Years
In 1894 Bristol South End Football Club was formed. Their games were all based at St. John’s Lane, Bedminster, but in 1897 the club decided to turn professional and changed their name. This was when Bristol City FC was officially formed. The first decision that was made by the professional club was to appoint a manager, and the title went to Sam Hollis who was originally the manager of Woolwich Arsenal.
Hollis did not stay with the club for long though, and his position was taken over by Bob Campbell in 1899. Bedminster FC had always been the club’s rivals, but in 1900 the two clubs decided to merge, keeping the name Bristol City, and in 1901 they joined the football league after Hollis returned for another turn at being in charge. Their first ever league game was against Blackpool, when Billy Jones won the first cap for the team. The club had been moving between St. John’s Lane and Ashton Gate for their home games, so in 1904 a decision was made that Bristol City would officially adopt Ashton Gate as their home ground. Their introduction to the league was a good one, and by 1906 they had entered the First Division after becoming Second Division Champions.
The new manager Harry Thickett had much to do with this success, and during his first season as manager (1905/1906) the club had an outstanding 30 consecutive wins. Due to their initial success they became known as the “Bristol Babes”, which was a name that stuck with them for the next thirty years. Their successes kept coming, and in 1909 they had reached the FA Cup Final which was a great feat for the newcomers, but unfortunately lost out on any silverware to Manchester United. However, this glory did not last for long, and by 1911 they had already been relegated back to the Second Division. Until recently, Bristol City were never able to repeat this success, and for the next 65 years they did not even return to the top flight.
Harry Thickett was sacked as manager in 1910, and Frank Bacon was temporarily brought in to try and improve the club’s performance. After their relegation in 1911, Sam Hollis returned for a third and final turn at managing Bristol City, but even his skills could not bring the club higher in the league than Division Two.
An era of Two Halves
By 1920 things were looking up again for the club, and they managed to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup. However, only two years later they were relegated all the way to Division Three, and for the rest of the decade they yo-yoed between here and Division Two. However, in 1930 they sunk to Division Three and did not climb back up the league until after the Second World War. 1934 saw their biggest ever defeat, a 0-9 loss to Coventry City on 28th April.
In 1949 Harry Dolman became chairman of Bristol City, and remained in this position for the next 30 years. Due to his contacts, floodlights were put into Ashton Gate Stadium, which was a great advance for the time. The late 1950s were a much better period for the club, with them holding a five year stay in Division Two.
They did drop back down to Division Three once more, but only briefly in 1965, when they also managed to become Division Three Champions, again moving them up in the league. The following year, player John Atyeo left the club after he had managed to set a club record of 597 appearances for Bristol City. In 1967 Alan Dicks was appointed manager and this saw the start of great improvements for them. In 1971 the Robins reached the semi-finals of the Football League Cup, which they unfortunately lost. This, however, was a sign of greater things to come, and in 1976 they were moved up to Division One once more, after 65 years away.
This improvement in game was mainly due to some of the star players that were part of the team, including Tom Ritchie, Clive Whitehead, Trevor Tainton and Gerry Gow. In 1978 they were winners of the Anglo-Scottish Cup, but this success did not last as they were relegated to Division Two a few years later.
Times of Distress
As well as being relegated back to the Second Division, the club also started to see some financial problems. The Robins’ debts started piling up and their losses increased. To add to this, in 1982 they were relegated to the lowest place they had ever occupied in the Football League: Fourth Division. The same year the club pronounced themselves bankrupt, but a new company, BCFC plc, was formed to ensure that they would be able to continue playing.
Eight of the senior leading, highly-paid players, referred to as the Ashton Gate Eight, also agreed to accept redundancy which helped further secure the club’s position. These players were David Rodger, Geoff Merrick, Julian Marshall, Chris Garland, Jimmy Mann, Peter Aitken, Trevor Tainton and Gerry Sweeny.
Bristol City spent two seasons in the Fourth Division until they were promoted up the league in 1984, due to the efforts of their new manager who was also one of the players, Terry Cooper. The same year also marked Terry Cooper as being the oldest player to appear for the club, at the ripe old age of 40. Two years later they won the Freight Rovers Trophy against Bolton Wanderers, and the following year lost out to regaining the title to Mansfield Town. The end of the decade saw a slight improvement for the team, as they reached the semi-finals of the Football League Cup for the second time, which they lost to Nottingham Forrest.
Things began to improve with the onset of the 1990s. Joe Jordan took over from Cooper and managed to steer the team to winning Third Division runners-up in 1990, but Jordan’s initial management of the club only lasted for a short period, and Jimmy Lumsden was appointed manager later that same year.
He was only in charge for 18 months before Denis Smith took over. Under Smith’s reign, striker Andy Cole was bought from Arsenal. He was extremely successful in the team making him a great hit with the fans, but he only stayed with the club for a short while and was later sold to Newcastle in 1993. After the creation of the new Premier Division in 1992, Bristol City now found themselves in Division One. Smith left the club in 1993 to move to Oxford United and was replaced by Russell Osman.
Osman was incredibly unpopular with the fans though, and was sacked within a year of being appointed. Despite his unpopularity he did manage to lead the club to some successes, including getting them to the third round of the FA Cup, after a shock win over Liverpool. However, Jordan was brought back to the helm in 1994, but this did not prevent the club from unfortunately being relegated to the Second Division.
An Era of Numerous Managers
Jordan tried throughout his second stint with the club to get them back into Division One, but after failing to do this he left Bristol City in 1997. The year before this, Scott Davidson took over as chairman of the club and a new Board was introduced. John Ward, originally a Bristol Rovers manager, took over from Jordan and immediately led the team to becoming runners-up of Division Two in 1998. Once in this division, they struggled slightly, so Benny Lennartsson was brought in to take over from Ward.
Lennartsson did not prove to be able to do much for the team though, so he was soon replaced by Tony Pulis. Again Pulis did not live up to expectations and only spent six months with the club. Many fans thought that the team created under his management was the worst that Bristol City had ever had. One of these players happened to be the youngest who had made an appearance for the club: Marvin Brown who was aged only 16 years old.
The coach, Tony Fawthrop, briefly took over whilst a new manager was found: Danny Wilson. Wilson proved to be a great manager, bringing City back to a standard they had not achieved since Denis Smith was at the helm. More changes were also seen elsewhere in the club, as John Laycock took over as chairman from Scott Davidson. With Wilson as their manager, Bristol City remained firmly in the Second Division, although a number of injuries meant that they only finished ninth in the division in 2001.
The following year saw a slight improvement, with them finishing seventh. 2003 was a greatly entertaining year for the club, when they managed to score 106 goals in one season. But their greatest glory came in 2004 when they managed to reach the final of the Division Two playoff, but lost this to Brighton and Hove Albion. This led to Wilson being sacked within days after the match, and an old player, Brian Tinnion, took over his position.
In 2005, Tinnion’s first year as manager, Bristol City were heavily defeated in a match against Swansea (7-1), meaning they did not reach the playoffs which cost Tinnion his job. Although the club had some high profile players, such as Marcus Stewart and Michael Bridges, their performance on the pitch was the weakest it had been for years. Gary Johnson, ex Yeovil manager, was given leadership in order to try and restore the team.
When Johnson first arrived, the club saw a few successes. However, within the first year, the team fell further and further down the division after a succession of defeats which resulted in them falling to the bottom of the First Division. Johnson managed to revive things after this, with the Robins only losing 3 out of 16 of their next games, with one of the highlights being a spectacular win over Gillingham (6-1).
This was their greatest win since 1969, but they did not manage to make the playoffs in the same year (2005). The following season was a good one for the club. They started at the bottom of Division One, but soon were raised to the top after 11 consecutive wins. They were famously knocked out of the fourth round of the FA Cup by Middlesbrough, who were a Premiership side. The same year they managed to reach the Southern Area Final of The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, but lost out on the title to their city rivals, Bristol Rovers.
A number of signings were made to the team which made a great improvement to their performance. These included Lee Trundle, Ivan Spoule, Marvin Elliott and Stephen Henderson. Bristol City had a good start to 2006/2007 and at last they officially made the Championship on the very last game of the season, when they beat Rotherham 3-1.
This win made them runners-up of the First Division, thus giving them automatic entry into the Premier Division. The season of 2007/2008 has seen Bristol City playing at a position in the English Football League which they have never previously been able to secure. They have managed to win against Premiership clubs, which would never have been thought possible before the management of Gary Johnson.
For details of all Bristol City’s statistics, including information about managers, players and league tables, and the opportunity to search for information by date or score see The Bristol City Stats website.
Information regarding players, past and present, can also be found on The Bristol City website. This site also lists match fixtures and gives up-to-date information about issues regarding the club.