Bristol City: Who are the Ashton Gate 8, and how did they save the club?

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Ashton Gate 8’s admirable decision to save Bristol City from total ruin.
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Eight Bristol City players will forever be remembered as heroes around Ashton Gate, and this year is the 40th anniversary of their noble actions.

During a disastrous three year period, starting in 1979, the Robins dropped from 13th in the top division to the third tier.

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Financial difficulties threatened the club’s very existence, with survival in the third tier the least of City’s concerns.

It all came down to a piece of paper, on it written eight names, made up of players who were due wages.

Those players were Gerry Sweeney, Dave Rodgers, Peter Aitken, Chris Garland, Trevor Tainton, Jimmy Mann and Julian Marshall, and they were soon summoned to meet the board.

Talks with the board, the FA and the PFA followed, but the message was clear.

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"If you don’t do this, the club dies, the fans will suffer and the other younger players will suffer - and it’s your responsibility to save them,” recalled Jonathan Pearce in an interview with the BBC.

"Jump out of the lifeboat and give your place to someone else so you can save them. There was absolutely no regard to their families and what they were going through in life.

"These weren’t players who were on £50,000 or £100,000 per week, these were players who had mortgages to pay and would have to keep working for the rest of their lives."

Bristolian-born Geoff Merrick made over 350 appearances for the Robins. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Bristolian-born Geoff Merrick made over 350 appearances for the Robins. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Bristolian-born Geoff Merrick made over 350 appearances for the Robins. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

What followed was not pretty. Families were said to have been threatened, and the players were put in a difficult position.

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"The press came and took pictures of our houses, they sort of portrayed us as being very wealthy and the reason Bristol City were going under," Merrick told the BBC when looking back.. "But the last contract was the best contract I had ever signed. We weren’t earning a fortune whatsoever.

"But we didn’t want Bristol City to go out of business. We were all ardent City fans. We were kids who had grown up and spent all our life at Bristol City so, obviously, we sort of went along with it."

What they ‘went along with’ was the decision to rescind their contracts in 1982, decisions that would lead to the club being saved.

Some of the players faced financial difficulty on the back of the situation.

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As Pearce alluded to, players were far from set for life on the wages they received, and it wasn’t a case of falling back on their property portfolios nor superstar brands.

Thankfully, the PFA would help some of the players secure new clubs, and they also received a joint settlement, which was increased after the sale of Ashton Gate.

Regardless of how things turned out for each of the players, and their fortunes were indeed mixed, their bravery and their display of love for the club will never be forgotten.

Their actions saved the very existence of Bristol City, and they are remembered by a plaque outside the stadium to this day.

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This month marks the 40-year anniversary of the situation, and City will mark the occasion with a parade of the men involved on the pitch this weekend, ahead of the Middlesbrough clash.

There will also be interviews with the heroes and other tributes across the day.

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