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|It is Friday, just after 10am, but Ashton Gate is alive and kicking. Lee Johnson and his backroom staff are among those gearing up for the following day’s FA Cup tie at Watford and Tuesday’s trip to Manchester City in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-finals. Mark Ashton, meanwhile, has an eye on the January transfer window. “It is a bizarre time of the year – my phone’s in my pocket and in a minute it will just http://www.authenticmagicproshop.com/authentic-2-elfrid-payton-jersey.html buzz, buzz, buzz,” Bristol City’s chief executive officer says. “I’ll have three or four people on hold, chasing me or after information.” He is awaiting confirmation that midfielder Liam Walsh has joined from Everton.
Outside Ashton’s office are the Latin words ductus exemplo – lead by example – and a print of a flock of geese. Inside the conversation moves to the club’s motto, born from a discussion between Ashton and Johnson last summer, that hangs in the tunnel on match-day and at the training ground: relentless in the pursuit of excellence. The motto can also be found in the red leather players’ handbook, a bible of sorts given to each squad member, so that “everybody knows who’s who in the zoo”. In it there is an introduction from Steve Lansdown, the billionaire owner, plus every detail imaginable: club contacts, player welfare, social media policies as well as player-derived club fines. “It brings a no-excuses culture,” Ashton says, whereby, “for the first time, everyone knows the rules.”
Bristol City is a fun place to be, though, and a hungry learning environment as is evident during a fascinating day Bart Starr Jersey behind the scenes at one of the Championship’s most exciting clubs, led by one of the brightest young managers, empowered by a rare owner. “Not only do we have UK ownership … but we have Bristolian ownership, who care about the football club and are looking to build sustainable success,” Ashton says. There is a robust philosophy and a thirst to improve, to share ideas and practices – such as the use of drones at training or a bespoke app – between coaches under the Bristol Sport umbrella, from Johnson to Pat Lam, the Bristol Rugby head coach, or Andreas Kapoulas of Bristol Flyers, who will take England’s basketball team to the Commonwealth Games in April. “We have a WhatsApp group between us all,” Ashton says. “And the first person who messages after a football win is Pat, and vice-versa.”
This time last year the Robins had lost nine of their previous 10 league matches and were three points above the relegation zone. Now they are two points off second and in the last four of a national cup competition after beating Manchester United in the quarter-finals. The match-winner that delirious December night, Korey Smith, reveals that one family placed a picture of him at the top of their Christmas tree. Jaden Neale, the 10-year-old ballboy whose celebration with Johnson became the defining image of that win, will be at the Etihad Stadium with his family as Manchester City’s special guest.
“We probably ran before we could walk,” Johnson says, reflecting on last season’s struggles. “Maybe we didn’t set the rules within the squad. We thought we had but maybe we didn’t.” A frank debrief last summer proved the bedrock for this season. “We probably did more work, believe it or not, on the culture over the summer than we did on transfers – that’s how important we felt it was,” Johnson says, crediting the human resources “general superhero” Sara Sainsbury. “It’s Gandhi; you have to be http://www.officialpatriotsfootballproshop.com/SUPER-BOWL-BRANDIN-COOKS-JERSEY the creature you want to create.”
Forensic player recruitment has also been key to City’s “partial-success”, as Johnson puts it. Ashton has a hefty in-house dossier, reviewing the previous transfer Authentic Martellus Bennett Jersey window, that makes a thud as it lands on the desk. “It takes in all the business that has taken place across all divisions, to understand the market as it moves. It helps us value our own players and those we might be looking at.”
There is a weekly recruitment meeting, where usually 10 staff will talk targets and analyse core data against tailor-made technical specifications. There is also the due diligence and personality profiling that includes taking a look at a prospective signing’s tweets. “First and foremost we try and recruit great people,” Johnson says. There is an equal emphasis on developing players through the club’s academy, the source of enormous pride and several first-team players, including the key pair Bobby Reid and Joe Bryan. “We had another real watershed moment,” Gary Davenport, the academy assistant manager, says, “when Lloyd [Kelly] scored against Reading on Boxing Day. He runs to the corner and the first two on the scene to celebrate with him are Joe and Bobby. That image says so much.”
Two further academy players – Opi Edwards and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans – made their full debuts at Vicarage Road on Saturday. Eight have been handed first-team debuts in the past two years, including Shawn McCoulsky, the 21-year-old on loan at Newport County who scored the winner against Leeds United on Sunday. A relatively clear pathway helps.