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Football people say nothing surprises them but I can honestly say the last person Steve Cotterill expected to see turning up at a Bristol City pre-match press conference was me. On the day it happened earlier this year, form was a bit sketchy. He walked in, clearly deep in thought, looked up and said “bloody hell, hello mate”. It lightened the mood, not significantly, but unexpectedly. I, for once, had trumped him, and it doesn’t happen very often.

I had interviewed Steve as long ago as 1997 when he appointed as manager at Cheltenham, then a Southern League club. I suggested as a man born in the town, and a former player, to manage the team to promotion was Roy of the Rovers material. “Steady on, I’ve just come back to help” was the reply. He hasn’t changed much, always listening intently to any question put to him so he gets the tone of his reply right in his own mind. I’ve known one or two reporters fall foul of him, notably a TV interviewer who at a live game asked before the match “Steve, why are you failing ?” There was a long pause before he got an answer…..

First and foremost of course, a manager is employed to win matches. Previously, when he’s worked without the support network he has at Ashton Gate, Steve told me how he would sometimes get to a Saturday – the day when a manager needs to be at his sharpest – exhausted by everything else he’d tried to do. He gives everything and expects those around him to do the same.

My first City commentary of the season was the Sunday win at Notts County, a game won with a late penalty by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Coolness personified, he ambled towards the ball and steered home the spot kick, having sent the goalkeeper the wrong way. Was Cotterill nervous at this languid approach ? Apparently not, believing – as “JET” did – that the later you leave any decision over where the ball is going, the less time the goalkeeper has to react.

With Wolves now in the Championship, City are one of the bigger fish in League One along with Sheffield United and, following their return to the Ricoh Arena, Coventry City. Last season saw the equivalent in horse racing terms of a driving finish, with City staying on well having been at the back of the field early on. As a player, Cotterill was a forward. He likes to be at the front of things. That’s where he’ll want City to be too.

Photograph : Copyright http://www.footballleagueworld.co.uk

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