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Ian Holloway: Bristol City and Bristol Rovers fans must learn from lessons of Johnson and Garner


Let me start the first of my new series of columns by posing a question to Rovers and City fans.

Where do you think your clubs would be now if Ben Garner had remained Rovers manager and Lee Johnson was still in charge at Ashton Gate?

I think the honest answer in both cases is better off. And that’s why at a time when we are all celebrating the return of crowds to our stadiums, I want to issue a message to supporters of both Bristol clubs.

It is to get firmly behind Joey Barton and Nigel Pearson and show a high degree of patience as they perform much-needed rebuilding operations.

I could add ‘be careful what you wish for’. The critics on social media who hounded Garner and Johnson, putting pressure on the respective boards to sack them, should take a look at the current Football League tables.

Ben’s Swindon Town are riding high in League Two, having been relegation candidates last season, while Lee’s Sunderland sit top of the pile in League One.

Early days, I know. But regular readers of this column will know that I am a great believer in stability at professional clubs and I think what has happened since the decisions to dispense with Garner and Johnson bears me out.

Ben was showing the first signs of turning things around at Rovers when he departed. I know what a good coach he is, having worked with him, and given time to adjust to his first job as a manager, I believe he would have succeeded.

Instead, Rovers chose to make a change and then gave Paul Tisdale, a decent appointment, just 12 weeks in charge before sacking him too. Joey Barton could not prevent relegation and now the club I love are having to battle their way out of a lower league.

In City’s case, Johnson had given the club an identity. I was so impressed with the team performance against Manchester City over two legs in the 2017-18 League Cup semi-finals and believe it actually led Premier League clubs to change tactics against Pep Guardiola’s men.

Compare that and the display in knocking Manchester United out of the competition in an earlier round with Championship results in the latter part of last season and it is hard to argue that the Robins have progressed since Lee left.

So come on Rovers and City fans. Enjoy being back supporting your teams and be as positive as you can. There are bound to be setbacks as the current managers bed new players into our teams and you can play a huge role the recovery programmes by understanding that.

Bristol City manager Nigel Pearson.
Bristol City manager Nigel Pearson.

We have had a summer that has seen the best of sport on television, with England’s excellent effort in the Euros, the Olympic Games and the hugely inspiring Paralympics.

Now we can all rejoice in being able to watch our teams and heroes from the stands again. It is a time for relishing that more than ever following the effects of Covid-19.

I have spent a fair amount of my summer in front of the TV set and thrilled to a lot of what I saw. I loved the new events in the Olympics, like the BMX riding and skateboarding.

Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton (Robbie Stephenson/JMP)

Watching the Paralympics, I was held in wonder by how the competitors have overcome huge physical and mental problems that would have floored most of us to take their role on the world sporting stage.

Their courage and skills are attributes we can all learn from. Why not glory in the pleasure of following our teams, rather than forever carping on about their shortcomings?

During my time as manager as Grimsby Town, I was astonished by the levels of ability and commitment that exist even in the bottom flight of the Football League.

There are no easy games in any of the divisions and managers inheriting struggling teams, which is usually the case, cannot be expected to make a transformation overnight.

The wisest fans are those who accept that, but the problem is that the satisfied customers tend to keep quiet, while those with unrealistic expectations are all over social media.

What support means

Today I appeal to the silent majority to take the trouble to write to me at this newspaper with positive thoughts about Joey Barton and Nigel Pearson, both of whom have the experience and ability to put our clubs back where we want them to be.

Let them know that the fans are behind them and ready to endure the inevitable transitional period that must precede success.

We can all learn from the pandemic and change our attitudes, as well as broadening our horizons with new skills. I have been busy renovating the house my wife Kim and I have just moved to, which has involved getting better at DIY.

There was plenty of room for improvement as was proved when I went to make and fit a mezzanine bed for my grandson into his small bedroom on Wednesday.

The walls of his house are a lot thinner than the ones I am used to and the first screw I drilled in went straight through the wall and out the other side.

Now I have to fill in the hole where it shows in the other room. On the other hand, I have built a shed in my new garden, from foundations to finish, which as my woodwork used to leave much to be desired, I take great pride in.

Surely if Covid has taught us anything it is to value life and be as positive as possible. Make the most of your talents and, in the case of following your favourite football club, remember what the word support means.

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