After their win over Wasps over the weekend, Exeter Chiefs made the whole South-West proud by becoming rugby union club champions of both England and Europe.
But an arguably bigger prize could soon be on the horizon for sport in the South West of England – and that would be a place in the Premier League for a Bristol-based team. This city has never managed to boast a club in the Premier League. Indeed, it is the largest English city by population never to have done so, with Blackburn (120,000), Barnsley (81,000) and Burney (73,000) all having enjoyed stints in the top division since 1992.
The closest Bristol (population: 463,000) has got in that time was a trip to the play-off final in 2008, when Gary Johnson and his men were beaten by Hull City.
Could next year see the this rather sad hoodoo come to a close? Well, so far, the signs seem promising.
After 8 games, Bristol City lie sixth in the EFL Championship, which would qualify them for the play-offs at the end of the season, should they stay there.
What are the chances of Bristol City going up? As of 25th October, the sports betting markets price the Robins at a reasonable 5/1 to be promoted this season, representing a 16% probability of promotion. Given that they were only given a 1% chance at the start of the season, Bristol City clearly has a fighting chance.
What are some lessons that the club can learn from the successful promotion campaigns of rival clubs in recent years? We have identified 3 of them.
Firstly, the 46-game Championship is a marathon, not a sprint. In recent years, early leaders such as Sheffield Wednesday (2019-20), Leeds United (2018-19), and Brighton (2015-16) fell away at the end of their title pushes, ultimately failing in the playoffs. At this early stage, there is no need to be top of the table. It’s merely important that the Robins stay in the chasing pack, aiming to peak around Easter time.
Secondly, Bristol City need to be careful not to pick up too many injuries. Part of the reason why Leeds failed so miserably after a strong start two seasons ago was a lengthy injury list after New Year. This was partly due to coach Bielsa’s high physical demands on his players, but also can be attributed to the thinness of the Leeds squad. In contrast, Bristol City’s roster looks relatively strong, with decent back-ups in every position. Will it be enough for the remaining 39 games (plus play-offs)? It should, unless the club go on a lengthy run in the cup competitions, which takes us to the third lesson from failed promotion pushes from the past.
That third (and final) lesson that the Robins need to learn is to focus as much as possible on the league, and side-line the cup competitions. Bristol City has already been knocked out of the EFL Cup, which augurs well for them, especially since promotion rivals Brentford and Stoke City now have to negotiate tough quarterfinals against Premier League opponents. Now all the club needs is an early elimination from the FA Cup. It is notable that of the last 10 Championship sides which got as far as the FA Cup Sixth round, not one of them were promoted in that season. Although fans love a good cup run, the reality is that these detract from the league performance.
We would love to see Premier League football at Ashton Gate next season. If the Robins can steer clear of injuries, avoid a long cup run, and reach peak conditioning by the spring, they have a good chance of welcoming the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United to Bristol in 2020-21. We wish Dean Holden and the boys well for the rest of the season and hope they can make the South West even prouder of their sporting heritage.