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Agree with that Graham. Foot used to write the City reports for The Guardian in days gone by on the rare occasion that we merited national coverage, and always produced quality copy. I think he was responsible for dubbing us 'the Real Madrid of the thrid division' after one particularly memorable performance.

He is spot on here about Johnson coming in with an outsider's perspective and how crucial that has been. Johnson made the same point a day or two ago, saying that City may have failed in the play-offs previously but his team hasn't - and don't intend to.


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08:00 - 23 May 2008

It's time for excusable optimism and imaginings on a grand scale. City are within touching distance of £60 million fantasy football. The prospect has Ashton Gate in a joyous, unfamiliar whirl of expectation.

The team have got there by an intriguing amalgam of fitness, basic efficiency, mental zest and old fashioned skills, adroitly dusted off and refined by a canny management team.

There have been, blissfully, no stars of imbalance or celebrity brio. City have been the surprise side of the Championship, now on the cusp of upward success for the second season running. And that is, above all, a fine compliment to a non-flamboyant style, well-drilled and implemented. In the process, City have, as ever, trifled ceaselessly with the fans' emotions, making life needlessly hazardous as the team seemed to reject automatic promotion.

Accolades have never sat very easily at Ashton Gate. There is too much natural reserve and a self-effacing attitude to the West Country's sporting persona.

Gary Johnson, pictured, doesn't come geographically or emotionally from the region. Just as he did at Huish Park, he brought with him the fresh and new perspective of an outsider - while, significantly at the same time, ensuring that a close, family feeling was retained.

Much of the pre-Wembley publicity has been about him, and deservedly so. He likes the right headlines and doesn't walk away from the camera. He is seldom short of a word, on occasions directed at his players after one of their more banal displays, and doesn't irritate with any affectedly coy interpretation of public relations. Though single-minded about tactics and team selection - not always wholly to the approval of the supporters - he likes to be seen as a fatherly figure, near to his players, aware of their individual flaws and strengths, on and off the pitch.

Whether at Cambridge or in Latvia, he has watched and acquired managerial skills. He possibly learned a trick or two from the eccentric John Beck, while rejecting others from that personalised source. Johnson doesn't go in much for gimmicks - that is if we discreetly ignore his bare-bottom promise, which in the end he needed to compromise.

He's naturally good-humoured, insists on his team being well turned out, and doesn't ever whinge like Neil Warnock. He handles rare disciplinary concerns - and we all know he has had them - within the privacy of his office.

The last time City squeezed into the dizzy top flight, in 1976, in front of 27,000 spectators at Ashton Gate, Clive Whitehead, who didn't used to score many goals, got the one that counted against Portsmouth. The ground heaved with humanity as if it were a rock concert or even a Billy Graham rally there. The players rode on the open-top bus, were guests at the civic reception and then soaked up the Spanish sunshine.

For reaching the top level, the team members picked up a grand each; for Alan Dicks, who had orchestrated the ascent and weathered an unfair amount of abuse, there was five grand. First division football, with its heady ambience and visits of famous clubs and names, had come back to Ashton Gate for the first time since Billy Wedlock, small, portly and magnificent, had dominated south Bristol hearts and minds.

City in the late 1970s even sniffed a European place. But the club's stay among the League's masters was bitterly brief. Soon they went down, with Derby and Bolton. And down and down again.The decline became a horror story - as the players were sweet-talked into tearing up their contracts, and City so nearly went to the wall.

Tomorrow the club can confirm their exulted status after that long, undulating playing span during which the grandiose moments have often been too elusive.

Sentimental fans with long memories might point to one of the club's finest performances in the 1975-76 season as promotion beckoned. They won 3-0 against ??? Hull City

We all retain our favourite images of the four years that then came and went. Tom Ritchie, all legs, Norman Hunter, all muscle, Geoff Merrick, all heart rather than inches. And a thousand other memories, like Joe Royle's four-goal debut.

It is now widely agreed that the Premier League is the most renowned football competition in the world - and doubtless the richest.

City are no more than one historic step away from that league and taking on the country's best clubs once again.

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