Roker Report: Thanks for speaking with us again, Shahan. We hope you’re keeping well. Another Championship season is underway and once again Bristol City are one of the favourites for promotion. Do you and other fans hope or expect to win the league?
Shahan Miah: Thanks, hope you are too! Compared to last season, we have a much better chance to do so. With Liverpool out of the league with their talent & resources, there’s no one “big” team to look out for. The team have the advantage of & confidence from playing in the Championship last season, with players & staff mostly intact from then.
RR: Many fans will have seen Lionesses legend Anita Asante join the backroom staff at City over the summer. What’s her role and is her influence apparent?
SM: At first, I was surprised by her appointment! However, she is now based in south Wales with her partner (journalist Beth Fisher), so to join a nearby club makes sense. Her role is first team coach and she works alongside head coach Lauren Smith & assistant head coach Jennifer Foster.
Both City men’s & women’s teams have appointed first team coaches over the summer (with former ‘Boro player Jason Euell joining the men’s team) and have made strong starts to the season.
I can assume that Asante’s experience will be greatly appreciated by the team, plus it will be interesting to see some of her former Villa teammates have a different working relationship with her now!
RR: Speaking of which... the recruitment over the summer seems to have focused on bringing in players with WSL experience. Do you think the club have brought in the players to take the squad to the next level?
SM: It’s been a mixture of WSL & non-WSL experience. The new arrivals from Villa being Shania Hayles, Jodie Hutton & Emily Syme (who returns having been part of the academy) have settled in; and have since scored goals or have created great chances. Syme has been impressive in the midfield; purely vital when captain Aimee Palmer was still out injured. Elysia Boddy was previously with Leicester City but only spent a few months with them - she probably has the best song that fans have come up with (think of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”).
Chloe Mustaki & Vicky Bruce have extensive experience internationally. It was great for the club to secure the services of Fran Bentley on a permanent basis (she probably wouldn’t get any game time at Man Utd given Mary Earps’ form!) and see her run of clean sheets already extend into this season.
RR: As Sunderland fans we often look at Bristol City, another Barclay’s Women’s Championship team backed by an EFL Championship side, as an example of how to do things right in terms of fan engagement and promotion. Would you agree that, compared to teams like us and Blackburn, your side gets a lot more backing, and if so, why do you think this is?
SM: I think it’s all down to being part of the Bristol Sport group; which includes Bristol Bears rugby’s men’s & women’s teams - and all teams are fully professional. With various platforms to promote; as well as the marketing & resources working on all teams; the engagement has indeed increased over the years. City Women players are often seen at the men’s home games (posting on their Instagram stories); and I often see players & staff from City men at the RHPC.
City men’s manager Nigel Pearson has spoken out on his support for the women & is often seen at their games - in my years following City, I had never noticed previous men’s managers evidently be present at or discuss the women’s games.
And given that Sunderland & Blackburn - two former Premier League teams - have the fanbases that they do, I am surprised that the exposure is not the same for the women’s teams. I think it’s improving though.
RR: Who do you see as the biggest threats to City in the league this year?
SM: I feel that the other teams that could push for promotion are Crystal Palace, London City Lionesses & Charlton Athletic. I think Birmingham City will have a season like we did where they won’t expect promotion back straightaway
RR: What would be an acceptable result for the Robins on Sunday?
SM: I’d say 2-0 to Bristol City. Sunderland fans won’t have to worry about conceding a goal from Melissa Johnson (who scored in both fixtures last season) though...as she’s now at Charlton Athletic!