Football: Davidson wants to put City's name up in lights

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The Independent Online
BRISTOL is the largest English city not to have a Premiership club, yet the footballing fortunes of its two teams are on the up. Today's local derby pits the Reds (City) against the Gas (Rovers) with both sides being the top scorers in the Second Division.

City's improved fortunes are linked to the ascendancy to the chairmanship of Scott Davidson, which has finalised a close link between "star" supporters and local showbiz. Celebrity fans range from the sublime (3D and Grant from Massive Attack) to the "ridiculous" (Tony "Baldrick" Robinson) and Channel 5's Jonathan Pearce.

Davidson was previously a session musician with Eighties popsters Bros and the Pet Shop Boys, before setting up a profitable Loot-style trade paper and selling up two years ago for a tasty sum. This enabled him to fulfil a lifelong dream of close involvement with City, and his fierce ambition and desire for a "culture of success" shines through the club that has always been regarded as a "sleeping giant".

He has had a crash course in hands-on chairmanship in the last two years - negotiating a buy-out of the rump of the old Board; dealing with the aftermath of the crowd invasion in the Sky televised Bristol derby match in December 1996; the "easing out" of the previous manager, Joe Jordan; and preparation for a successful promotion campaign in a Centenary 97- 98 season.

Jordan's replacement, John Ward, has continued a tradition in recent years of former Rovers managers making an impact at Ashton Gate. The former Leeds and England full-back, Terry Cooper, took City out of the old Fourth Division and to a successful Wembley appearance in the Freight Rover Trophy final in 1986.

This season, after a shaky start, Ward has put together a winning and entertaining blend of youth and experience. There has been a heartening influx of local lads into the team - the pint-sized bundle of determination, Tom Doherty, the classy centre-back, Louis Carey, and mercurial midfielder, Matt Hewlett - who have made a major impact.

These and other youngsters waiting in the wings have reflected the board's emphasis on youth, and the appointment last season of David Burnside, the former FA youth director, set out that commitment. From this promising beginning it looks as if City will be the only club in the South-west to have "Academy" status.

City also have a creative Caribbean connection in top scorer and Bermudan, Shaun Goater, and the mazy dribbling skills of Barbadian, Gregory Goodridge (via Torquay and QPR). These two players have been the best crowd-pleasers for several years since the dazzling and much loved Pole, "Jackie" Dziekanowski, and the lightning pace and predatory goal poaching of Andy Cole combined sweetly up front.

We also have the most appropriately named physio in football, Buster Footman. This man is a legend, from his ever-ready good humour, to his unbelievable ability to survive sub-zero temperatures wearing a short- sleeved T-shirt. His exploits have been so keenly watched that he has been granted his own column in the match day programme.

The Robins' top position and near certain promotion gives the club a great chance to build for the future. It is a far cry from the sad statistics of three consecutive relegations in the early Eighties, which brought City close to bankruptcy and put it in the limelight only for negative reasons. This time around it looks as if Davidson and his colleagues are hitting the right notes.