Barcelona model inspires British billionaire’s sports dream

BRISTOL, United Kingdom: When British billionaire Steve Lansdown got fed up with his home town of Bristol being treated as a sporting joke he set out to put that right – modelling his vision on mighty Barcelona.

The 66-year-old, who made his fortune in financial services, said his main motivation for buying football club Bristol City, rugby side Bristol Bears and basketball outfit Bristol Flyers was that he was fed up with the teams being ridiculed even by the locals.

But Lansdown has an even more ambitious long-term plan – hoping that sporting success can enable the city in southwest England to compete with major provincial hubs further north.

Bristol slipped down the pecking order as a trading and business centre during the Industrial Revolution and the sporting achievements of cities such as Liverpool and Manchester have enabled them, as Lansdown puts it, to stay in another “league”.

“The fundamental reason I bought the clubs is I got really fed up with sport in Bristol not being taken seriously and being ridiculed by people in Bristol,” Lansdown told AFP at the impressive 27,000-seater Ashton Gate Stadium.

“I’d like to think that is not the case now and they are taking it seriously and backing it.

“Local politicians and local councillors are always saying Bristol should be like Manchester, Liverpool or, dare I say it, Cardiff.

“We haven’t been in their league but sport would help push us into that league.”

Lansdown, whose favourite sport is football, said the idea of forming umbrella organisation Bristol Sport came to him on a visit to Barcelona, home to one of the most iconic sporting institutions in the world.

“It was a chance trip going to the Nou Camp and the museum and expecting to see all the trophies of the football club,” said Lansdown.

“But it was much more than football. There was the basketball and water polo and so on and it made me think Bristol could do a similar thing.”

Lansdown has already seen handsome returns on his investment.

Bristol Bears returned to the English Premiership this season and Bristol City reached the League Cup semi-finals last term, where they put up a spirited fight against Manchester City, and are riding high in the second-tier Championship.

Bristol City, managed by Lee Johnson, reached the League Cup semi-finals in 2017-18 AFP/Oli SCARFF

Lansdown wants to get Bristol-based businesses involved in sponsoring and supporting the clubs but also wants to see local sporting talent flourish.

“Making Bristol Proud is one of our hashtags and you make them proud by being successful.

“That is by giving people the opportunity to be successful and for that you have to create a pathway from a young age to professional ranks through to retirement.

“We want to encourage young people to participate in sports and, if they are good enough, play for one of the three teams.”

The businessman said not enough sports clubs devote themselves to nurturing young local talent.

“A lot of clubs are bringing in players from outside and as a result you are blocking young players from coming through.

“There is nothing better I think than if you have an 18-year-old player on your books and a decade on you can look back and see what he did for the Bears and England.”

Lansdown’s ambitions are for the Bears to win the Premiership and be crowned kings of Europe.

His hopes for City are a little more modest but he would like to see the club return to the Premier League – they have not played in the top flight of English football for nearly 40 years.

Lansdown, one of the more notable financial heavyweights to favour Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, said that, despite the personal cost, he is enjoying the ride.

“Like all journeys they are never smooth and there is never a straight line,” he said. “There have been awkward times along the way but I wouldn’t change it.

“I have no regrets whatsoever. Things have come together and all the hard work and aggro have been rewarded.

“We are well set to push on from here.”

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