The 2014/15 season - five years later
The official Bristol City channels have been spending the lockdown pumping out vintage content. Much of it lovely (the Donowa derby, the Taylor/Turner FA Cup win over Chelsea – interesting old games I was either too young for or only dimly remember). But much of it – more than half perhaps - centred around the League One-winning 2015/15 season. And to be perfectly honest about it I’m getting a bit fed up of hearing about that season.
Our fanbase can sometimes work itself up into a frenzy about whether other clubs are ‘smalltime’ or not. Your own definition of ‘smalltime’ may vary. Mine would quite possibly include getting worked up about a season in which we beat a bunch of League One (and Two). If the other lot lionised their season in non-league because, after all, they beat a lot of other non-league teams (who could forget that historic day they completed the league double over Nuneaton Town?), we’d justifiably take the piss. But it would amount to largely the same thing as celebrating 14/15; a season in which we may have landed a lot of blows, but largely because we were punching considerably below our weight.
2014/15 was a season in which we finished 45th out of 92 clubs. We’ve done better than that in 62 of our 108 seasons in the Football League. It comes just below mid-table in our all-time league positions; it’s the Crystal Palace of seasons. The Burnley. Fine, respectable, nowhere near the worst. But nowhere near the best either.
And the thing is, we probably were the 45th best team in the country, there or thereabouts. The same squad and the same manager had a good old go in the tier above, and it was looking like a disaster until Cotterill got the boot and Johnson came in. That side couldn’t compete in the top half of the Football League. Call me peculiar but my favourite Bristol City teams all could.
It was capable of not just competing in League One of course, but winning it. Great, best way to go up. But you know what? Damn right we won it. We bloody should have done. We outspent that division, we looked around at the other clubs and chucked money their best players. Korey, Luke Freeman, Mark Little – yoink, we’ll have them. And quite right too! We were operating on a different financial level to most of that tier. Why shouldn’t we have exploited that advantage? (The real mistake of course was convincing ourselves that Little at right wing-back and Freeman at number 10 would be able to prosper at the level above.)
Even at the time though I found wage-bill victories hard to get excited about. Oh look, we’ve beaten Rochdale who have a quarter of our wage budget 1-0 with a late winner. Good-o. Football’s about the breakage of tension; goals and victories are sweetest when they’ve been hard-fought and were in doubt. Jeopardy, anxiety, surprise. There was very little of that in 14/15, just a series of exercises in flat-track bullying to come top of a division we should have been too good for. What’s the value of a triumph if it doesn’t cost a single fingernail?
I’m not making the case that it wasn’t diverting, that it wasn’t fun; but its place in the pantheon deserves a bit of a review. It’s built up of course by the slightly spurious claim that it’s a ‘double winning’ season. I was there at Wembley, of course I was, and a winning day out at Wembley’s never not enjoyable, but there’s a limit to how much delight you can take from winning a cup which all being well you’d want to avoid entering in the first place, combined with a league which should only ever be transient for a club built the way ours is, a league we should leave with relief more than joy.
Nah. Let’s have retrospectives of some of our really entertaining 21st century seasons: 08/09 maybe, when we bounced back from the playoff final defeat to become a solid, consistent hardworking team who punched way above their weight and didn’t lose at home between Christmas and the end of the season.
Or what about 11/12? Maddest season in modern times, 11/12 – David James! Steve Coppell! For two matches! Millen steps up, we look like we’re snookered, we fight our way clear by the skin of our teeth, and the euphoria I got from those back to back Easter wins over Forest and Coventry beat anything 14/15 had to offer. Yeah, we lost a hell of a lot of games too but that’s a factor of playing in a division that’s worth playing in.
Or, for that matter, 15/16; a total change in football philosophy, a mid-season squad overhaul, unexpected players turn up at the club (Peter Odemwingie anyone?) and we survive in fine style; Tomlin at Fulham, 6-0 against Bolton, 4-0 against Huddersfield…
Championship seasons in which we didn’t get relegated. Seasons with a bit of warp and weft; with a bit of narrative. All, therefore, better than 14/15 by definition – our successes were hard-fought and came against teams that were… well, teams that were good. Those are the seasons we should be valorising. Not a season in a division we don’t want to be in. We at Bristol City know that success is relative. But some successes are more relative than others.
Oh and our manager was a cock.