Ex-Bristol City assistant Paul Simpson on his departure, Dean Holden, cancer recovery and new beginnings at Carlisle United

Exclusive: Former Robin is now helping his hometown club to avoid the drop from League Two and he’s off to a great start

<p>Former Bristol City assistant head coach Paul Simpson.</p>

Former Bristol City assistant head coach Paul Simpson.

Two wins from two is a brilliant beginning for former Bristol City assistant head coach Paul Simpson, who left Ashton Gate last September and was appointed as the new Carlisle United boss just nine days ago.

‘Simmo’ battled kidney cancer last summer and is well again and fighting fit, and it’s almost fairytale-like how the experienced coach is now in charge of his hometown club, where he recently took over from former Robins boss Keith Millen.

Six points from a trip to Leyton Orient last Saturday and another win at home to high-flying Rochdale have been a dream start for the former England U20s boss who has a World Cup win to his name at youth level.

A six-pointer battle against second from bottom Oldham Athletic is up next for the Cumbrians.

BristolWorld got the chance to speak with Simpson ahead of facing the Latics about his time at Ashton Gate, arriving with Keith Downing in August 2020, and assisting Dean Holden before Nigel Pearson arrived.

And it was great to see the former assistant head coach in upbeat mood and on the up with his beloved Carlisle again.

When you left Bristol City, was it always your intention to get back into the game as soon as you possibly could and specifically, did you want to become a manager again?

Yes, I definitely did want to get back into the game as soon as possible. I would have quite happily, if everything had been agreed straight away, got back into work the next day. I left on the Thursday, I would have quite happily... I felt quite refreshed, I’d had an enforced break because of the cancer. I felt really well, I didn’t have any issues whatsoever. It was just the circumstances that I had to leave Bristol and I wanted to work.

I was really open-minded as to whether it be as an assistant, because I really enjoyed the assistant role. But I also really fancied having a shot at being a manager again. I think it’s really hard to get a manager’s job so for somebody like me and in my position of having a long time out of being a manager, I needed to take a job that wasn’t going to be easy and there was risk involved in it.

This was an opportunity that came up that I was delighted to go and accept two-fold. One, it’s my home city and it’s a club that I supported as a kid and two, they were in trouble and I really wanted to try and help them.

And you’re off to a great start! You said you were watching Bristol City v Coventry City on the TV when you got the call about the Carlisle job. Was that just coincidence or is that a sign that you still hold affection for the Robins?

I thought I had a really good relationship with the players so I just like to see how they’re getting on and every opportunity I get, I like to see how they’re getting on. I’ve watched quite a few of their games this season. I think when you’ve worked at a club, and a club that I actually really enjoyed working at...

Steve Lansdown, an absolutely fantastic owner at a football club. He’s built a really good place there with the stadium and a magnificent training ground. It was a really enjoyable time for me. I loved living in Portishead, I had an apartment over the marina there and everything seemed to be okay.

But things in football come to an end and you just have to move on and get on with it. This opportunity’s come up and I’m hoping to go and grab it with both hands over these 15 games and let’s see where it takes us.

You’ve mentioned that enforced absence in the summer. I think I read that you were actually working remotely whilst you were receiving treatment or just finished but you were watching clips and so on - that seems incredible to me and shows your work ethic...

In all honesty, before I had the surgery and in fact over the whole time, I think I came out of the club about two and a half weeks before I went in for surgery. I did the first three days of pre-season, then I went away to isolate and the surgery got delayed for probably three or four days. So it was probably about three weeks I was away, then six weeks recovery.

Out of that nine weeks, I would probably say ten days, 14 days, I was a bit of a wimp and I was in a bit of pain and struggling a bit for a while. But after that, I felt fine. I didn’t have any issues at all and I had no pain. So I was happy to do some work.

4/1

I looked at the pre-season games for Blackpool to do a bit of analysis on them before the first game of the season. Antoine Semenyo was injured at the start of the season so I got some clips together for him to be looking at and try and improve for when he came back fit and got back into the team, so we had a Zoom call looking through some clips with Antoine.

I kept in touch with the staff, well the coaches - Pat, Keith, Kalifa - probably every day, to be honest with you.

The players were brilliant as well. It was as if the players had a bit of a rota to keep in touch with me and keep in contact with me. So the players were fantastic, just keeping in touch.

I wanted to do something because I felt okay to do it. This wonderful world of computers and WyScout, Hudl that we use, you can get clips together and use them.

So all the games with the coaches, I watched every single training session and fed back to the coaches about things I noticed in training. So I felt I was playing an active part even though I was back home in Derbyshire.

It’s great to see you back. How much did the support from down that way help you at that time? A lot of supporters will take an interest in this story because they want to see you back working and doing well which is what you’re doing.

They were brilliant, the club were fantastic. From the first day that I spoke to Richard [Gould] to tell him about my diagnosis and Nigel - I told Nigel first and then had a chat with Richard - and they were absolutely brilliant.

There was no pressure on me to rush back, they just said to take my time and come back when I’m ready. I was ready to come back and in fact my wife was desperate to get me out of the house because I was driving her mad!

It worked out well to go back and I just got back in there and cracked on with it. Nigel was very good - he said “look, if you need to go home and do half days, just do that. If you want to sit up in the stands for the first few games, do that.”

But I didn’t feel the need to. I think at Peterborough away, I sat up in the stand but that’s because Nigel was ill with Covid so I sat in the stand and Keith and Curtis were in the dugout. At Peterborough, I was literally about four rows back so I didn’t even need the intercom system, I was shouting down to them with what I was thinking.

It was all fine and the support was brilliant for me so I can’t knock them at all for the way that they looked after me during that period.

I think you’ve said already that it was just a natural time for you to leave the club with the timing of Curtis coming in during the period and it just felt right for all parties. Is that correct?

It was, with the way that the circumstances turned out. Initially, I never thought for one minute that I was going to be leaving but Nigel wanted to change his staff around, Curtis was brought in initially on an interim basis. Nigel obviously got close to him and liked working with him and it was felt that myself and Keith weren’t needed so we came to an agreement and left the club.

Everybody moves on now, don’t they? It’s happened, I don’t know how many times, in football and will, I don’t know how many, over the coming years. So in football, you accept that you’re going to go into clubs...

The way that I am is I go into a football club and I treat it as though it’s the club I’ve supported all my life and then when you leave, you just have to accept that that time has come to a close and you move on to the next one and throw yourself into that.

It just so happens that Carlisle does have a special affinity with me because I watched them when I was a kid and I’ve obviously followed them all the time.

It’s just got a different feel to it but it doesn’t mean I work any harder because I don’t honestly think I could have worked any harder in any other jobs. I’m not saying I was right in everything I did but I certainly tried to do the right things.

I think it’s a measure of you all that yourself, Dean Holden and Keith all left Bristol City but you all got jobs within a couple of months or weeks in some cases. What are your thoughts on Dean? Maybe it wasn’t the right time for him at the club but do you see him going on and becoming a good manager in the future?

I actually thought he was a good manager at Bristol, if I’m going to be honest with you. It was a really difficult time. Obviously we were working through Covid and we had a long time without any supporters and everyone knows...The figures have just come out lately about the losses that Bristol City have made and the financial backing that Steve has had to put in which is incredible.

But Dean was working in difficult circumstances, not only on that but it was really tough for him with the whole structure that was set up inside the club at the time. It was a really difficult place to work, I found it a difficult place to work because of the structure that was in place. Nigel recognised it and made changes straightaway and got it a bit more how he wanted it to be.

I said to Dean when I had a chat with him after he left and we had a discussion around whether or not he should go back for management because he felt he wasn’t suited for it, I actually told him I think he is suited for it. I think he’s got a really good manner, he’s a good coach and shows a real empathetic side to him which players need at the moment or in the current game. I think he will go on to make a very good manager.

It was a really tough first job for him, a tough job working at Championship level but also working in that environment that we had at the time. But I think and I really hope that he does get another opportunity further down the line.

One of the last things I said to him when we were having a debrief was that his experience will definitely stand him in good stead moving forward to his next one.

Defender George Tanner is still no closer to returning to action after getting injured in December. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

There are a few Bristol City links up your way, with yourself following Keith [Millen] of course.. We’ve got George Tanner here who came from Carlisle United. Were you aware of him at all before he joined in the summer?

No, I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t because it happened so quickly. George came in for his medical on my first day back in at the club after my time away so I didn’t know anything about it, to be honest. I think he’s slotted in really well at the club, he’s a really good lad and tries to do things properly and with a great attitude. I think he was thrown in to the first team really early, probably earlier than anyone expected and more of a development type player to be around the first team.

But he’s had to go in and play. Unfortunately he picked up the hamstring injury and then the reoccurrence of it. But it might actually do him the world of good, as daft as it sounds, picking up this injury as it might just give him a bit of breathing space out of the firing line to be able to get used to living away, get used to Bristol, get used to the football club, get used to the size of it and the size of the task there.

I think he’ll be much better for it because, as I said earlier, his attitude and his desire to be well is absolutely brilliant. So I really hope for George’s sake that he comes back fully fit and he just hits the ground running and carries on.