Well, what a year that`s been!
Sacked from the matchday programme after six years and now sacked from the Green Un after six weeks. Who`s going to sack me next?
If you are looking for a matchday report in this first column you will be sadly disappointed. In fact, you may be disappointed anyway, so start of reading this article with low expectations. It might not seem too bad then!
I started writing for ‘The Pirate` at the invitation of the editor Keith Brookman back in 2001. In fact, my first piece appeared on 2nd May 2001, the day we were relegated to the bottom flight in English football. I was fired from it halfway through the season in which we were promoted, so our miserable years were obviously my fault.
It was a great honour to be asked to write and within a couple of years I was doing a whole lot more than merely writing. I was Keith`s recruiting sergeant and many of the new writers came to the programme on my recommendation.
I was still writing, always on time, mostly about the Rovers, when the boardroom split occurred in 2006.
I took the side of the directors who resigned. I believed – and still believe – there is a better way to run our club than on the basis of luck and chemistry.
Once I had sided with those directors, who were vilified in the media I knew my time on ‘The Pirate` was limited. It was not if, it was when; and what excuse they might come up with!
And it was no surprise when I got a call from Keith who wanted to meet me, and three other programme contributors, on Saturday 2 December.
The story he had been told to give us was priceless. We had to be sacked to make way for new features on the new stadium! Yeah, right!
I thanked Keith for his honesty because he at least had the guts to tell us to our faces, especially as the decision was made by those at the top of the club, and not by him.
It was so utterly transparent but so utterly Rovers.
Six years ended, just like that, without a word of thanks. (It goes without saying that I never had a word of praise from any of the directors who remain in all the years I wrote for the programme but again that`s the Rovers for you.)
I asked the laughably named fans director Ken Masters to take up my case. After three months, he sent a feeble reply, full of platitudes and slogans, saying he had been acting on my behalf – I was born yesterday, you see, so I believed him, obviously – but it later transpired that he turned out to be my replacement!
The other fans director, David Brain, then offered me the chance to write for the Supporters Club website. Initially, I accepted but then reconsidered. I was most unhappy at the actions of the Supporters Club in a wide number of areas and I was uncomfortable at the prospect of writing for them. I told David Brain by e-mail.
Then, in the summer, I was approached by the ‘Evening Post` to co-write the ‘Fans View` section in the ‘Green Un`. They wanted to “freshen up” the column and along with Steve Slade I was deemed to be the fresher upper.
Our articles appeared for just six weeks before we were fired.
So there it was.
It was obvious why we were sacked from the programme – we were paying the penalty for “supporting the wrong side”, as one Supporters Club official told me but our sacking from the ‘Green Un` was more mystifying.
There were no criticisms of anything we had written, we had met all the deadlines and we hadn`t even criticised anyone at the club.
Yet the editor of the ‘Evening Post` had himself taken the decision to sack us from the paper. Not any old journalist, not the sports editor, but the head honcho himself. And what were the reasons he gave?
‘My name is Mike Norton. I`m the editor of the Evening Post.
As I am the person who made this decision, let me give you some facts about it.
1. These two columnists caused absolutely no rift between the club and Evening Post.
2. The club did not put any pressure upon me to “sack” them. In fact, as they are not employees of the paper, I`m not sure how they could be “sacked”.
3. They are being replaced by someone who I know to be independent, a lifelong Rovers fan who is also a journalist and who worked at the Evening Post for many years.
4. In other words, the new columnist is certainly not “board-approved”.
5. The Evening Post is – and will always be – editorially independent of both Bristol Rovers and Bristol City.`
That`s clear enough then. We weren`t “sacked”: we were replaced and not only that replaced by someone who was “independent”. Well, our replacement is a very important member of Bristol Rovers Supporters Club`s Communications Committee.
I am not disputing the accuracy of Mr Norton`s statement. I am just suggesting it doesn`t say anything.
You pays your money, you takes your choice.
On 2nd December 2006, a number of programme contributors are sacked (sorry – replaced. Don`t want to upset the editor of the ‘independent` Evening Post again) and on 18th September 2007, two of them who were taken on to write the ‘Fans View` are “replaced” just a few weeks after one of them writes to a director of the club declining his invitation to write for the Supporters Club.
What a coincidence!
At some time in the future, certain people will have to answer some questions about what has been going on.
Maybe it`s nothing at all and we`ve been listening to too many conspiracy theories or maybe someone has decided not to get mad but to get even.
I have no means of knowing just yet but I aim to find out.
If the long tentacles of (deleted for legal reasons) extend to this website and I get sacked yet again then we all have reason to be worried.
ECLECTIC BLUE – Rick Johansen