The BFD And Me Part 2
May 23, 2006
We had been trying for the 8th May which was the day after the final home game of the season but we were told that this date would not be possible due to the pitch being worked on in readiness for the rock concerts over the summer. We asked if the BFD could be held pre season but again no date was available. I was in almost constant contact with Tom and Rich who seemed to be doing their best to get a date secured but were having no luck with their club. I personally think that if Steve Lansdown had been informed at this point, he would have helped us out but as it was, the decision seemed to be in the hands of someone that didn’t appear to be aware of the importance of the BFD.
Finally Bristol City FC made a decision. And sadly they decided they’d be unable to stage the match this year. Disaster!! They offered us use of their training ground which although generous, wasn’t really in keeping with the BFD and what it had become over the years. It was felt that in order to keep the event growing and make sure we didn’t let down the charities that were depending on us, the event needed to be staged in the stadium in front of spectators.
Once again the forums were full of negativity but this time directed at Bristol City’s board, and their lack of forward planning and concern for things that were important to the supporters. Public opinion can be a powerful weapon and by the following day, negativity had turned to outrage. City had been having a poor season and several decisions had been made that had angered the fans. Their forum was full of posts saying how disappointed they were at the running of the club and that this decision was the final straw.
It’s a testament to the BFD that so many people were so incensed that the match would not take place that within 24 hours, City had a public relations disaster on their hands. I received an email from Rich saying that Colin Sextone had phoned him to invite us to a meeting at Ashton Gate to see if something could be sorted out.
We arrived at Ashton Gate the following week and over coffee and biscuits in the boardroom, were offered the evening of Thursday April 20th with full use of the stadium to stage the match. Joy!! We were so pleased that the game was on and my utmost respect goes to City for being brave enough to realise a mistake had been made and putting things right so quickly. From that point on, BCFC were absolutely fantastic in their effort and commitment to the cause and I can’t thank them enough.
As April 20th was during the football season there were some strict rules as to who’d be allowed on the pitch. We readily agreed to all the conditions and were delighted that this would be the first time the game would be staged in the evening under floodlights.
Now the date was set, there was a lot to do. Rich Mackinnon had secured sponsorship from Great Bristol Vehicle Leasing in return for re-naming the event The Great Bristol Fans Derby. The Rovers committee had lost a couple of members to other commitments so myself and Rob decided to recruit Mat James to help out. Mat had been organising games against other fans teams on Saturday mornings and has a lot of enthusiasm and energy.
We decided to make it clear that players that wanted to play in the (G)BFD would do their cause no harm by turning out for the forum team in the less glamorous fixtures. This decision would help the team in a number of ways. Firstly it would help to stop us being short of players for games against other fans teams. These games do a great deal to build relations with other football fans. The matches are always played in the best of spirit and when we’ve gone away to play, we’ve always been splendidly looked after and made to feel very welcome. I love rivalry but when it crosses the line into hatred, it’s just ridiculous. Getting to know Tom Ford and Rich Mackinnon from City has taught me a great deal. They’re just like us, people from Bristol who support their local team.
The other main advantage of keeping a squad together for regular games would be to give us a better chance of doing well in the BFD. Bristol City have pretty much kept the same squad for four years. As players retire, new ones are recruited from the forum. Rovers on the other hand got into the habit of holding player trials every year. Whilst this may give as many people as possible a chance of appearing in the game, it put us at a disadvantage on the field. And with the mass retirements we’d had from the 2005 squad (only 4 players remained, and two of them were only just 17 years old), and the strict rules we’d decided upon for selection in the squad, we were in danger of being humiliated in a match we’d worked so hard to play.
Doing it the City way is the sensible way forward and will now become our policy for the future. In reality it’s fairer because players have a whole season to show they have the right attitude, commitment and ability to be in the BFD squad. When we announced this the response on the forum was somewhat negative. You’d think we’d decided to spend the charity money on beer by the remarks from some quarters but living in the past helps no one and the more seriously we take this event, the more seriously others will take it. We were proved right on one point though because from that moment on, we had plenty of players turning up to play in the other games.
Now the work really began. With the date set, we had to get as much publicity as we could. We wrote to the local radio & TV stations, newspapers & websites, telling them the BFD story and the arrangements for this year. Mat and I had a good meeting with Kevin Spencer at the Mem where we arranged for use of the kits and got the promise of some donations from the club for the raffle and to organise a whip-round amongst the 1st team. We also asked for a player to act as linesman in the match as has become the BFD tradition. The other main thing we wanted to ask is if we could secure the services of a celebrity manager for the night. My thinking was that if we could get to half time in the match and still be in the game, it would be vital to have someone with real knowledge on the sidelines to take control in the second half. Someone who could get the best out of the players he’d watched in the first half and maybe spot a weakness in the opposition we could exploit. When Kevin said that Lennie Lawrence might be available as he stays in a hotel in Bristol through the week, we jumped at the chance. Kevin phoned him there and then and Lennie immediately agreed. It was a great coup for us and helped immensely with publicity. It also gave our young squad the message that we’re not messing about. This is a serious event and probably the biggest game of football most of us have ever played. And again, it worked. I noticed the players trying harder and harder in training and the more experienced players we had grew in confidence and stature week by week.
Our results in the warm up games were mixed. We didn’t lose very often but shipped a lot of goals. This was mainly due to the fact that we had lost two very talented centre halves in Ian Chappell and Paul Richards. Rob and myself were the most experienced players in the squad so usually ended up filling the roles, although neither of us would have picked centre back as our ideal position. Kier Underhill at full back was improving by the game and the emergence of Rich Gregory also at full back and James Goodlet anywhere across the back-four gave us some hope of mending the leaky defence. We desperately needed a ball-winning centre back who was strong and could win the ball in the air. Rob is a great tackler and passer of the ball but I’m sure he’ll be the first to admit that his not the most mobile of players. I have always been pretty quick and difficult to get past but never very good at heading the ball at all. Then up stepped Ricky Creed. He was fast, strong, could tackle, hold the line AND he could head the ball! He played for us away at Oxford then again at Eastville against Cat & Wheel and we finally seemed to be getting organised at the back. Then disaster struck when Ricky limped off with a hamstring injury. It didn’t seem that bad at first, he even came back on again for a while but it was obvious something was wrong. With no improvement in the following week or two, specialist advice was sought but the diagnosis was not good, even though we still had about 3 weeks until the match, it didn’t look like he would have enough time to get fit.
Selecting the squad was extremely difficult. The trial night was abandoned after a torrential downpour nearly gave us all pneumonia so we decided to just select the squad from what we already knew. I had been writing different permutations on scraps of paper for weeks and had settled on my 16 players. At the next meeting I compared notes with Rob and Mat and we all pretty much had the same names.
As the big day approached, final details had to be sorted. I contacted Tony Monks, who refereed last years match and he readily agreed to brandish the whistle again. I booked the official Bristol Rovers FC photographer Jeff Davis to photograph the event and asked Screen Soccer to cover the match and produce DVD’s. For the commentary they needed a squad list with photographs and information about each player. As well as this, items and articles were needed for the match day program, supporters clubs, official websites, unofficial websites, newspapers, radio and TV. I had been trying to get Soccer Night to cover the match but as the game and the program were both on a Thursday night, production limitations and budget constraints prevented anything elaborate but Jed Pitman did promise to do what he could to help.
One thing that I didn’t get done was to secure the services of Nick Day. It had been missed off of my ‘To Do’ list in error and by the time I realised, Nick had a previous commitment and was unavailable. The only other person that I could think of to do the job was Twerton legend Keith Valle. I had not seen or heard of him in years and didn’t hold out much hope of tracking him down. I asked Kevin Spencer on the off chance and he said that Keith had just arranged to be our guest MC for the home game with Boston, two days after the BFD. I got his number and phoned him up. The years rolled back when I heard his voice and I was absolutely delighted when he agreed to do the BFD. We had a funny five minutes as I tried to give him the web site address. I don’t know how many W’s he ended up with but I think we got there in the end!
I’d still had no luck with securing the services of a Rovers player for linesman. The problem was the fact that being a Thursday night, the first team squad were under their pre match 48 hour curfew so weren’t allowed out and the reserves had a game the night before, so until that was played, Lennie wouldn’t know who would be available.
Rob and Mat appeared on the Geoff Twentyman show with two City players to promote the event and the whole squad appeared on the Bristol City Supporters Trust ‘Crossbar Challenge’ video. Our deliberately useless attempts were all part of our masterplan to lull City into a false sense of security. Every time I spoke to Rich Mackinnon, I played down our chances and told him that we were just hoping to keep the score respectable and maybe if we were lucky we might fluke a draw. He didn’t need me telling him though, he could usually be found checking us out whenever we had a game and knew pretty well what our strengths and weaknesses were.
In general we had a terrific midfield and front line with lots of pace and skill. With Dave White, Ben Wiltshire, Ben Williams, Aaron Watts, Adam Craig, Gareth Ball and Mike Greenhill all competing for a midfield slot, there was fantastic competition for places. Up front we had a perfect combination with the strength, skill and arial ability of John Filliter and the pace, movement and deadly finishing of our longest serving player and newly appointed captain, Chris Watkins.
While I’d been getting my end of things arranged, Rob had been busy writing to literally hundreds of companies and organisations requesting sponsorship or items to raffle. He did a fantastic job and got some brilliant raffle prizes and a lot of money. I, on the other hand, was spending so much time on the arrangements and details that I’d raised hardly any money at all! I had managed to get a bottle of nice champagne from my local Co-op for the man of the match award and a £90 meal at Babington House Hotel. I used my music contacts to get The Wurzels to send us some signed cd’s and stuff but in terms of actual sponsorship, I only just scraped past the £100 that I had been so instrumental in setting as the minimum amount! We had hoped to do a bucket collection at the Mem at a 1st team fixture but were unable to as they had to be booked in advance and no slots were available. Something I didn’t know and is a lesson learned for next year. That mistake cost the charity hundreds of pounds and wont be repeated.