Something about an Italian City taking a while to build…
Two unrelated stories that I’ll try to bind together afterwards into a bigger point.
I’ve lived in Bedford for 17 years and in the south since I was 12. You don’t see much City related content here clearly. I occasionally see a bloke in colours at the train station if we’re away in London (hello random Bedford City fan if you’re reading) but that’s about it.
So, one day around 2018 when I was popping to the shops in the Black Tom area of the town and I saw a bloke in a city training top from around 2013ish, I was somewhat surprised. This is my recollection of the dialogue that day.
Me “Bloody hell mate, you don’t see that very often”
Random Apparel Wearer “Oh, erm, no, I guess you don’t”
Me “You a City fan? From Hull?”
RAW “Erm, yeh, yeh from Hull… yeh sure…”
(His accent confirmed he was)
Me “Ah ok, you been much this season?”
RAW “Erm… no… no mate, I erm… I’ll be honest mate I only really went when we were in the Prem you know? Under Bruce”
It was at this exact point in the conversation that I’d have hit the ejector seat if I had one. But here I was, stuck outside Londis with a now embarrassed looking man who was looking for positive confirmation that I really couldn’t give him.
Me “Oh. Ok”
RAW “Do you still go then?”
Me “Yeh mate, I’ve been going since 1983 really, mainly away…”
RAW “Really? Even when we were in Div. 4?” (RAW looks amazed)
Me “Yeh, to be honest some of them times were really good to be fair”
RAW “Yeh I just loved Bruce you know”
*Second awkward silence*
Me “He did get a lot of money, but yeh, we did have some really good players in that era”
RAW “Yes. But we were so much better then. Big games, against big clubs, all gone now. Anyway, nice to meet you”
Me-“Erm, yeh see you”
And quicker than I could say “fair weather fan” he hot footed it off. Since then every time I’ve seen him since he looks a bit more furtive and nervier, and it’s hard not to think negatively. He knows he’s plastic, I know he is and it’s really awkward, probably more for him to be honest. Maybe I was naïve for thinking not many people like this existed.
I went for a beer pre-Peterborough away at that pub on the barge near the ground and met a City mate that I’ve known a while. He knows quite a bit that’s going on within the club and is always a good conversation. He was talking about the Barnsley game with the two-pound tickets in a broader conversation about increasing the attendances.
Now we were dire that night, even in a season when that’s not been unusual, but the next part of the conversation still shocked me. He said he was in the pub afterwards with multiple people who came with two-pound tickets that said they won’t return.
I was flabbergasted and I know I’m really opinionated but two quid??!! And you won’t return? How is that anything other than an awful fan? How dare you expect instantaneous success and entertainment? You go to football to support your team and if it’s good or you win or it’s ace that’s the bonus. You don’t expect it and certainly not overnight…
These were all phrases I used more or less, perhaps with more swearing.
My mate, a lot more even tempered and eloquent than me then concluded that perhaps therefore the new owners aim needs to be to find new fans to add to the 13-14k who have always gone or returned and realise that the 5-7k that have gone are probably not coming back no matter what and then we had a good conversation based around ways of engaging new fans. He slowly led me away from my state of indignation like a bouncer walking a harmless drunk out of a pub.
So, what was my point? Well, unpopular opinion but we do have a not insignificant minority of some wishy washy, picky, results-based fans. Sure, a similar number have put their money where their mouth is and have returned to watch the team under new ownership but their stand has been undermined a little by those who simply were coming because we were in and around the Prem. The rest of us need to be patient, supportive and realise it might not realistically get much better before next season if we can stay up.
The new ownership has done more than their fair share in a short time to prove their worth…
· Ticket offers
· Chillo stand
· Clear, regular and enthusiastic press interaction
· Backing the squad improvement in January with very little time to go
· Listening and interacting with supporters’ groups, not least the Supporter’s Trust
· Looking to meet with the Rugby club to establish a better relationship but also not just giving them whatever they want
· Opening the WSU for the next home game
If you’re being picky you might say a couple of Acun’s statements are a little 2022 Don Robinson (We are going to buy a striker like a great NBA basketball player for example) but he’s still not mentioned playing in outer space or ridden a horse around the KCom yet so he’s second in the list of all-time eccentric chairmen. You might also say the McCann decision was ill-timed although even if you didn’t agree you’d be hard pushed to listen to the owner’s explanation and not at least respect it.
On the pitch it’s been C+ at best, a couple of bright spots in the Swansea home and Peterborough away game, and some battle at Sheff U and QPR, but then a ton of dross in several others. However, this was never a great squad. It has some very promising talent with some really battlers and the odd bit of experience, but not a great deal more. This situation is not down to the current owners as we know and will take some time to turn around.
As will the crowds. During my Pre-Peterborough chat the point was made that if a child is now 10 years old from Hull, the last really strong City team he knew was when he was 5 and he couldn’t get concessions to go and watch then. We do have a huge catchment and we do have a lot of young fans who are ready to be attracted into watching the new dawn of the club rise again, hopefully.
I’m always drawn to what the Cowley brothers did at Lincoln as a positive example. When they arrived, they saw the kids in Lincoln wore Man Yoo and Liverpool shirts and they were averaging around 2500 fans. They then visited all schools within a 10-mile radius of the ground twice a season with players, took assemblies, did training sessions, gave away match day tickets and shirts and three years later they averaged 9000 fans. Incredible. If that can be done with a smaller catchment and smaller club than us, playing a lower level. It can be done with City.
Rome wasn’t built in a day as we know. The signs are good that the new owners are listening, ambitious and want to work together. Let’s stay patient, get behind the team and keep the faith. We might have established during the last decade that we have really got quite a strong following of about thirteen thousand fans when we are all on the same page, but that can grow again with new fans. Even I’d rather my random apparel wearing Bedford-based City fan still stays away. The meff.