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03/04: Reports:

Carling Cup Second Round, 23/09/03, 7.45pm
Bristol City
By "Big H"

What I do understand a little bit about is money - making it, not stealing it. There are many that say that football club directors know nothing about the game of football. However, rarely do those that do understand the game express such a view, though largely because they can't afford to. Now, although not a football club director, I know roughly the same about the game as they do.

So why am I giving up a glorious afternoon in southern Germany constructing this preview? (The better question might be why are you reading it, given my self-confessed limitations.)

When anticipating a forthcoming fixture, I want to know who the next opponents are. Not because I am interested in them. I'm not. I simply want to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing when someone asks. Of course I care if it's a big team, or a close rival. But actually I go to watch Watford - the lads - the 'orns. I never take much notice of the opposition, including during the match. Their role is to just make up the numbers - and, if they want some fleeting appreciation from me, they can be plucky losers. But if we win - it's us. If we lose - it's us. It's never because the other team played well, or better, or worse.

When I was at school, we had this teacher, Don Salter, who was trying to teach we illiterate scientists and mathematicians something about books. Not maths or physics books, but reading books - you know, about life and stuff. Well, the only good it ever did me was to help me appreciate the nature of 'indifference'. We talked about it. Thirty years ago. To say that you are indifferent to someone is just about the worst thing you can say about them. To love evokes strong feelings of attachment and affection; to hate evokes equally strong feelings of hostility and disgust. But to say that you are indifferent to someone means that, as they have striven to carve out their niche, they have evoked - well...nothing, zippo, zilch. Not even a splat on the windscreen of existence.

So what about Bristol City? Indifference is such an insult really. I don't want to insult them. I don't hate them, or even dislike them. Come to that, I don't particularly like them either. I'm sort of...well, you know.... Mustn't say that. How about 'ambivalent'? No, that implies mixed feelings. I have none.

But when I think on it, I am persistently impressed that they never say things like 'we are a big club from a big city. We deserve success'. It never occurred to them I suppose. Is that really to their credit, does it make them better people? I'm quite indifferent to that too.

They have also had an indifferent start to the season. They float about midway up the Second Division. They have been losing lately too; most recently going down to Port Vale, surrendering a record fifteen match unbeaten home spell in the process. They were without their favourite, Lee Peacock, who was injured. He was replaced in attack by Lee Matthews, but he did so well, he was taken off with a third of the game to go. There is something interesting about the team. They are all called Lee. Apart from the goalkeeper who is called Steve. Phillips. He is said by fans to flap a lot. And there is the newcomer, Australian (Lee) Wilkshire, confined largely to the subs' bench last time out. He, nevertheless, impresses those that know. City do not travel well, with several losses, but now they have lost at home Did Danny Wilson not like that! Actually, there is something else of interest. Danny Wilson. Well-known nice chap. But - don't love him. Don't hate him.

He's all they've got really, so far as I can make out. But like I said, what do I know, or care. He's getting stick from some of the fans, and fighting back. And they are an indifferent halfway up the table.

What does that say for us? That we have had a very indifferent start to the season? How can indifference be 'very' anything, fool! And it's not indifference that has us placed where we are. It doesn't feel like anyone at the club is indifferent. We appear to have a team of players who really want to play for the club. Our club has talent - both young talent and experienced talent. The beauty of young talent is that it develops apace. And the board are treading that tightrope between ambition and financial prudence, making some key acquisitions. Time and results will tell.

Diamond Danny has yet to dazzle this campaign. He wants to play here, and fans appreciate that. They will be patient, as he gets it all back together again. Not that his play appears shabby, even now! Paul Devlin looks like a great acquisition as we threaten to emphasise width in the Watford game. And Brucie's back! They do, however, clearly miss HH. Watched him against Germany. Certainly caused them a few problems, not least when he went head to head with the otherwise indomitable Olly Kahn, refusing to be intimidated. Well, he would, wouldn't he?

And we have also had to rebuild the midfield.

They say in business that success comes to those who can listen. I am grateful that Mahon wasn't listening - particularly to the boo boys, who got it wrong again. He has had a good start to the season. And Nelly Ardley too. Micah Hyde, recovering from injury, has yet to delight.

Marcus and Robbo and Coxie at the back. Bags of experience and not one ounce of indifference between them.

They all provide support and learning to the 'Comers'. Tomorrow's stars. Hand, Cook, Fitzgerald, Doyles, Macca. Ashley Young - look away from him, pretend you haven't noticed. Stare and he'll get self-conscious.

(Aside: now be honest, isn't it more interesting and doesn't it evoke stronger reactions when you read reviews and opinions about a team you care about?) (Perhaps limited scope for such an assessment twice a week tho? - ed)

Not one ounce of indifference, bags of talent but holding up most of the division.

It did seem to me that there was little enjoyment, amongst the team playing football. True, players laughed and smiled against Millwall when goals went in. But have you noticed how joyously winning teams play. Winning teams have fun (apart from Revie's Leeds and Arsenal under George Graham, but who needs success at that price)

This game is not actually about Bristol City. It is all about Watford. One hundred percent. It's about how we cope with our talents and our inability to feel indifferent, and how successfully the team can put aside its sorrows and enjoy playing together, whether or not goals go in. Of course you know they will go in. They must. It looks like a banker to me Ray. Come on lads. It's time to party.

Another confession! I've only watched two games this season. Millwall and Gillingham. So in my perception, Watford is unbeaten. By my rules, the matches I haven't seen are cold statistics, and I'm indifferent to them. Not even a splat on the windscreen. Since I cannot be at this match either, it is hard to claim that I am viewing the game with eager anticipation. But if by some fluke we lose, don't blame me.