How Times Have Changed
In an age when there is so much discussion about the fitness and lifestyles of modern Bristol City players, a fan who was once an apprentice at Ashton Gate give us the inside track on what it was like as a young player trying to make the grade during the 1970s.
The author doesn't want his identity revealed, as he'd much rather it was made a guessing game on the forum, but we'd like to extend our sincerest thanks to him for providing such a fascinating read and, to show our gratitude, he will be receiving Lee Miller's signed, match-worn shirt from last season.
Read on and enjoy…
I recently came across some old football stuff (had to have a clear out following a flood at home). Some of it was lost in the flood, but some was salvaged and related to my time as an apprentice professional at BCFC when Alan Dicks was manager. It got me thinking about the old days and how things have changed at the Gate over the years. Not just the ground itself, which had only two stands up to 1970 – I used to stand with my dad in the East End and later with my mates, but also the way the club is run, which appears to be much more professional and commercial, and the players now seem to be much fitter than I remember and seem to be more professional in how they approach their “work” – believe it or not !
Perhaps the biggest difference though is, understandably, the money. I was on £6 a week as an apprentice in the early 70's and the top earners at the time I was there were probably Bobby Kellard and Chris Garland, who were on about £120 a week in what is now the Championship. I guess that was easily surpassed a few seasons later when City got promoted to what is now the Premiership.
At that time, players were still either getting to the ground in second hand cars or on the bus – motorbikes and scooters were banned. I used to get a lift to the ground with the club captain of the time, Gordon Parr. He lived in Brentry or Henbury and used to stop off in Southmead to pick me up in his Austin A40 (or something very similar). He also used to give a lift to the commercial manager (Chris – can't remember his surname), and a girl called Geraldine who must have been a bit tonto as she didn't seem interested in my sophisticated advances (well, I was from Southmead). Gordon used to open his shops on the way in down Gloucester Road , one was a gas and electric fire showroom type place and the other was, I think, a sports shop.
Us apprentices had to be in by 9.30 and the pros in by 10.00 and I was nearly always late which meant a couple of extra laps of the pitch or press ups or something. John Sillett was in charge of the apprentices at that time and he was a hard bugger. I didn't really respond to his methods, but he was quite successful in bringing the kids through to the first team – and there were plenty that went on to play in the “premiership”. Such as Gary Collier, David Rodgers, Ray Cashley, Kevin Mabbutt, Trevor Tainton, Geoff Merrick, Keith Fear and Chris Garland – all local lads, and all quality players who would be good enough for today's premiership.
Add to that lot the likes of Tom Ritchie, Gerry Gow, Gerry Sweeney, Clive Whitehead, Don Gillies and later on Norman Hunter, Joe Royle and Peter Cormack and, looking back, what a squad of players we had.
But I also remember the lads who were in the side before that lot, like Dickie Rookes (what a hard sod he was and smoked like a chimney), John Galley who scored goals for fun and was surprisingly skilful, Jantzen Derrick who was probably the most talented player along with Keith Fear at that time. Bobby Kellard – another hard player, was one to steer clear of in training. Gerry Gow had a reputation as being a hard man, but the hardest of the lot was Trevor Tainton who took no prisoners in training, 5-a-side or first team, and a quality midfielder too. We could do with him now.
On the management side, Alan Dicks was approachable and was a hands on manager/coach with the first team squad. John Sillett was with the kids and apprentices, Ken Wimshurst went from a player to coach and Les Bardsley was the physio (although I remember him doing just about everything at the club – including getting me my first BCFC boots from a shop in Bedminster). Jock Rae was chief scout (lovely bloke) and Cliff Morgan was also a scout and he looked after me and the likes of Gary Collier, Martyn Rogers (now Tiverton manager) and other local lads from the age of 9 or 10. He was much respected by everyone including me and my dad, who reckoned he used to be a great player.
But, as I mentioned earlier, the club is more commercially run these days, with real “football men” who put the game first now dying out – how many Bobby Robson's are left ? All about money now.
The training and fitness levels are also better with state of the art facilities even at league one level. We used to have mainly fitness training in the morning and some ball work and coaching in the afternoon, sometimes vice versa. But a lot of time was taken up in doing chores like painting the railings around the pitch, painting turnstile doors etc. I can still remember listening to Mungo Jerry on the radio in a hut in the car park while fitting together the seats for the new Dolman stand. And then fitting them into the stand. Slave labour and nothing to do with football – see what I mean about the professional bit? I sit on the buggers now, and most of them are the originals from that time – about time they got round to changing ‘em !
Another “job” was the half time tea for the first team at home games, although I didn't do that too often. A couple of the players used to have a fag at half time too – professional again! Officially, the players were not allowed to smoke in the ground, but a couple of senior pros would ignore that. Cleaning the first teamers' boots was another one – although some, like Chris Garland, would do their own.
Us apprentices used to play in the old Western League which seemed to be a retirement home for ex-pro's who just about had the energy to hack down 15 – 17 year old kids for fun. I learnt a lot playing against that lot – mainly how to avoid getting badly hurt.
Eventually, I left the club as I became disillusioned with just about everything and got a job on £9 a week (50% more than playing for City) and played part time football. I carried on with this for years until I had to give up, but still supported City throughout. Now I watch and support City and I am much more content supporting the club than I ever was playing for it – even though we seem to have more ups and downs and dramas than most other clubs!