“In at the sharp end”. Manager Nigel Pearson explained at the weekend that he is yet to get to really know his new CEO but that will come. But he knows where to find him, as Richard Gould joins the club, “at a time which is probably going to be the busiest time for anyone to take over in that role”.
Gould, the former chief executive of Surrey Cricket Club, began officially in BS3 this week, though he has been active in the previous weeks, before taking over at Ashton Gate and replacing the departing Mark Ashton.
The homework has been done, though it will have been a case of brushing up on Bristol City rather than starting afresh, given that Gould worked at the club as commercial director from 2001-2005 and knows the Robins all too well. If Jon Lansdown was not so much on the scene back then, then Steve and previous chairman Colin Sexstone certainly were.
Gould, who was also previously chief executive at Somerset, has spent 10 years at The Kia Oval. In that time the cricket club is widely acknowledged as having undergone an extensive redevelopment, consolidated its position as a powerhouse of the game and enjoyed success on and off the pitch.
The son of Bobby and the brother of former City keeper Jonathan was described recently by a senior source at the club to Bristol Live as a, “very different animal” to Ashton. Will that mark a change in fortune for the Robins whose appointment of Pearson marks a genuine ambition to get up to the top tier?
Pearson was quite clear on Saturday what the remit was.
“Richard is dealing with the stuff that I don’t like dealing with; that is, I don’t deal with agents,” said the manager.
“Mark leaving to go to Ipswich and beyond is a big shift from how we’ve worked before,” he added, going on to explain later that a director of football will not arrive at the Robins as things stand, with the existing recruitment staff able to help the club get to where they want to go. But Gould will be doing the deals and he comes highly recommended.
“He’s quite simply the best administrator I’ve come across in my time covering sport,” says Richard Latham, long-time and highly respected south west sports correspondent. Readers may also know Latham from the SubsBench interviews over the past years, with fellow sports presenter Nigel Turner.
Take it from us, when one of the longest-serving members of the Ashton Gate press box (and many others around our neck of the woods) says that, it carries genuine weight.
“It’s the best appointment the club have made in years,” says Latham. “When he was last at the club I worked in the club’s media department so I know what he’s like to work with.
“The staff will find him very pleasant and he’s very self-effacing and won’t push himself forward. He’s a modest guy who largely stays in the background unless he has to come out of it.
“He’ll sort people out if they’re not doing their job properly but otherwise they’ll find him to be a pleasure to work with,” says Latham.
The role will involve, of course, plenty of negotiation and communication, with Gould having good experience of working with directors of cricket and other sports authorities along the way, as well as that previous stint at City.
Perhaps the biggest compliment given is that he knows his place: the newcomer will cut the deals, administrate and will leave Nigel Pearson to do the football. Just the way it should be.
“His record since he left City is that he went to Somerset [cricket club] and while he was there they built the flats at the ground and the club made more profit in one year than in the rest of their history put together, in every accounts up to then.
“And his reputation at the Oval, from speaking to the club there, is that he’s transformed there making sure that every room is used for making money for the club, and that doesn’t surprise me in the least. City had so many successful concerts that he was involved in.
“He was mightily impressive in everything he did – and one thing he won’t do is give opinions on players. He’s never done that in cricket or football. He just does his job and let’s everybody get on and do their’s. He’ll decide on a business footing.
“I think he’ll work very well with Nigel. His dad has obviously been a football manager and he knows what that’s like,” explains the long-term sports journalist.
Latham isn’t the only person who sees a top piece of recruitment for the club. Perhaps, with the experienced Pearson in situ too, the building blocks are in place for progression into the top six at last.
Adam Baker was employed by Bristol City for almost two decades in the media department, including being head of communications. He left in the summer of 2018 but worked previously with Gould .
“He was commercial director very early on in my time at the club but he has good roots in Bristol with Bobby being his dad and even Jonathan his brother having a spell at the club as well,” explains Baker to Bristol Live. “He was always big on West Country sport.”
“He would engage everyone, canvass opinion from everyone, and was always very sociable with supporters as well.
“I think he’ll be a different dynamic to Mark Ashton. I think you’ll see him around the ground talking to fans a lot more and the good thing now is that he’s done his apprenticeship at City before getting the gig at Somerset and then Surrey – and doing a fantastic job there. Now he can come in as a rounded individual having come the whole circle.”
Gould may be seen in the board room more than in the dressing room or with the players, as Ashton was (though to be fair to the former CEO he was an ex-pro player himself).
The new man returns to a much changed Ashton Gate Stadium however since the days of the portacabins in the Williams Stand car park.
“He’ll remember the plans to redevelop the Wedlock Stand as it was back then. He was very much at the forefront of that,” explains Baker. “It’s quite a different kettle of fish now.”
Gould was part of the commercial team when the Bristol City badge was mooted for being updated. It didn’t happen back then in the early 2000s but of course it has been modernised in 2019, with the robin returning and a slick minimal design incorporated.
That may have grated with some supporters originally – under Gould’s watch – but the then commercial director was able to recognise what wasn’t working and adjust accordingly.
“He didn’t ride roughshod over the fanbase and say ‘this is what we’re going to do’. He listened and canvassed opinion and then rowed back from it,” explains Baker. “I think that’s an important part of leadership as well: being able to hold your hand up and say ‘okay, that’s not what we want, no problem’.
“That’s not a bad thing to have in the locker. That’s part of his experience.”
Gould, a former Bristol Grammar School pupil, promoted Baker from the club’s then-website team, during his tenure as commercial director, and the new CEO was much involved in the initial website back then, overseeing the early stages of the Football League deal in the days before social media.
Communication is always important for leaders. Ashton explained on BBC Radio Bristol last January that “we can always communicate better” – and City fans will hope for that.
Gould rates well here, and he has been unafraid to speak out on the big issues. The 51-year-old has been a vocal critic of new competition the Hundred and he was also a key figure in the founding of the Professional Game Group (PGG), which is said to have given the county game more power and independence.
Sign up for our City newsletter
All the latest news, views, interviews, gossip and analysis concerning Bristol City, delivered straight to your inbox, every day at 12:00.
It’s completely free and you can sign up HERE
“With the communications side of things, he always felt that was very important. And Bristol City fans will probably like that,” explains Baker.
“Fans may see a difference in communication. And we’ve seen even at the cricket, he helped put Somerset on the map as he spoke out on the national game when needed. I think he was earmarked for a national role but he wasn’t afraid to put his head above the parapet and criticise people at the ECB [England and Wales Cricket board] if he didn’t feel it was right.”
Integrity is another tick in the box then. And it sounds promising on performing the nuts and bolts of the day-to-day role too.
Gould has previously pledged to spend wisely when in charge of an aspiring team’s budget. That bodes well in the impoverished EFL where spending, without parachute payments, is hard to come by.
From a cricketing perspective, his former side won the County Championship, almost doubled its membership and is credited with producing numerous England players. Surrey are said to have set the standard in terms of ticket sales for both domestic and international games at the same time, as a measure of their commercial success during the same period.
Now the aim is to shoot for the Premier League, for the former Tank Commander of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, who has also spent time at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. The Lansdowns know what they are getting and vice-versa.
“The resources are available and we were £200,000 below the wage cap of £1.8m,” said Gould previously. “We want every pound to be well spent.
“Money isn’t flying around for anyone at the moment and any players we bring in will need to have the ambition which matches ours rather than thinking they have made it.”
That was at Surrey back in 2013. But it could well apply to now too. The new CEO looks a good fit back in BS3.
“It feels the perfect time for him to come back. It’s probably the right appointment at the right time and has just worked out perfectly for everybody,” says Baker.
Prescient? Time at the Gate will soon tell.