#11 Bristol City and Chest Thumping


teve Cotterill’s a belligerent man and if I were a Bristol City player he’d scare me. His belligerency came to the fore in the aftermath of Bristol City’s 1-0 defeat to Swindon, ending his side’s unbeaten start to the current campaign. Unimpressed by the manner of Swindon’s victory (see 1min 25 secs into the YouTube footage below), Cotterill opined “even with ten men they didn’t deserve to beat us; they couldn’t open us up”. An interesting take. Cotterill was particularly riled by the red card received by Bristol City’s Wade Elliott in the first few minutes of the game for an apparent elbow in the face of Swindon’s Jack Stephens. A red card seemed harsh, and it was a moment of good fortune for Swindon. It was a shame, in a way, as it spoiled the game as a contest turning it into a high octane training ground exercise of attack versus defence. Whether it was a red card doesn’t really matter. Over the season most teams get a fair share of misfortune. Swindon have already received two unjust red cards this season. Cotterill, with the red mist descending, seemed to forget that Bristol City have had plenty of good fortune already in having had very few injuries and the luxury to select virtually the same starting XI in the opening 17 games of the season. A bit of bad fortune was, arguably, due. Some might counsel Cotterill ‘to deal with it’, rather like Lee Power did.

Wade Elliott’s red card, the celebrations of Swindon’s Nathan Thompson and Rossi Branco in front of the Bristol City fans, and Bristol City’s Aaron Wilbraham’s and Cotterill’s post-match comments, have changed what was previously a fairly vanilla local derby into a fixture brimming with enmity between both sets of fans and, to a lesser extent, the players. Steve Cotterill, throwing his hat into the ring for a UN peace envoy post, said that Swindon should expect a “red hot” encounter in the return fixture at Ashton Gate.

To give you a sense of the ill feeling, here are the thoughts of a Bristol City fan posted on the Bristol City Fans’ Forum on 16th November:

“I for one don't mind losing it was going to happen but to lose by being cheated to get our played red carded was slightly annoying indeed. I think we played well first half. Second half it was clear and obvious they were going to gain an advantage from having one more player and it showed! God knows how we only lost one nil ! Christ swindon were shite and to think they are third in the leage we have nothing to worry about or no team to fear on our day we will beat anyone 11v11. The way they celebrated was embarrsing to say the least what a bunch of sad acts to say the least ! Makes for the return match even better. For the ground wow that is all I can say first time I've been there what a shit hole absolute shithole makes Ashton gate looks like a palace. So to cut it short they deserved the win on the basis it was 10v11 let them milk it for all they can it won't last long before we make our gap grow bigger ...... Imbred and round abouts”.

Nice man. The riposte of plenty of Swindon fans is to refer to Bristol City as “Bristol Shitty”. I’m not too sure that quite merits the use of the word, touché!

I suppose my comments above would rile some Bristol City supporters as they might suggest that there is a rivalry between Bristol City and Swindon which some Bristol City fans would dispute as Swindon is not on the same level as the juggernaut, Hargreaves Lansdown owner backed, Bristol City. Of course, they’re right to a degree: Bristol City is a bigger club both in support and finances. Why this is something to crow about, however, I find a little perplexing. Surely the fact that Swindon are going toe to toe with Bristol City in league table terms is a matter in which Bristol City fans should feel moderately sheepish about given the vast disparities in resources (that is if you intertwine morality and virtue with supporting a football club – a topic for another article)?

The post-match celebrations of Nathan Thompson and Rossi Branco in front of the Bristol City supporters have largely been shrugged off by Swindon fans and, of course, vehemently criticised by Bristol City fans. Clearly, had the roles been reversed I imagine that Swindon fans would have been equally peeved, although I like to think that they would not have reported a footballer to the police for ‘inciting violence’ as a few Bristol City fans did with Nathan Thompson. I don’t think jumping up and down with your arms aloft bellowing ‘get in there’ or ‘YEESSSSSS’ or ‘come on’ in front of opposing fans merits a custodial sentence. Nathan Thompson’s actions were quite surprising as he comes across as moderate, polite and undemonstrative when interviewed. His actions slightly diminished my affections for him, but only slightly. I think that his decision to sign a contract extension until June 2017 for less money than he could have received elsewhere was a more welcome manifestation of his commitment to and fondness for Swindon Town than goading Bristol City fans. Conversely, and rather contradictory, my fondness for Rossi Branco increased after the game owing to his celebrations in front of the Swindon fans in the Don Rogers Stand (see the YouTube footage below). His celebrations were unco-ordinated, exuberant and almost child-like. I’m not fond of badge kissing or chest thumping, but when Rossi-Branco did the latter, it seemed sincere and whole hearted, not calculated for effect. As one of the most poorly paid players in the squad, he gives a lot and takes very little. The chest thumping was not an empty gesture. The Club’s reported offer of a contract extension for him is thoroughly deserved.

The game itself was not particularly noteworthy from a footballing perspective. Swindon were not at their fluent best. They kept possession well but did not offer their typical incision, which Kasim and Luongo, away on international duty, would have added. Jack Stephens was probably Swindon’s best player in his new holding midfield role, looking more comfortable than he does as a right sided defender in a back three where his lack of pace can be exposed. He offers a welcome alternative to Kasim as the Club’s deep lying central midfielder. If Cooper wishes to shift the emphasis on to defence and compactness, particularly in away games or games against promotion rivals, he might be inclined to play Stephens in central midfield possibly in tandem with Kasim. Cooper also demonstrated his tactical adroitness in the game by moving Nathan Byrne from right-wing back to an attacking central midfield berth midway through the second half which gave Swindon greater penetration. It was a move that helped Swindon win the game and led to Michael Smith’s goal.

If I was being particularly pretentious I could say that my blog charts Swindon’s ‘story’, ‘journey’ through the 2014/15 campaign and that the Bristol City game was a pivotal moment in binding the players together, heightening the team spirit and cementing the players’ loyalties and affections for the Club. Perhaps this is the case. Most of the current crop of players will not probably end their careers at Swindon, moving on to bigger clubs higher up the football ladder. However, hopefully, they will still have a residual fondness for Swindon Town – in many cases, the Club which gave them their first experience of senior league football (rather like Mark Lawrenson’s feelings towards Preston North End) and the camaraderie (heightened by playing in a team of a similar age profile) – which might benefit the Club in some unforeseen way in the years to come.

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