INTERVIEW: Bristol City star is not your average Joe

With his club riding high from an historic Carabao Cup run, we caught up with Joe Bryan to discuss his hometown club and independent schooling

What are your earliest football memories?

Well there’s a photo of me, aged four or five, playing football in the back garden of my grandparents’ house, with my brothers Will and Tom and my sister Lucy. Apparently, I said to my nan, “You can be Man Utd and I’ll be Batman”. I meant to say Blackburn! Club-wise, I remember joining Backwell Athletic and playing for their Under-8s indoors. 

Was pursuing a career in professional football always your ambition?

Not always, no. At 14 or 15 I was often playing up an age group and because I was quite small I used to get battered about quite a bit. However, at the age of 16 I was offered a four-year contract by the club, two years as a scholar and two years as professional, so from then on, I felt they had put their faith in me and I felt I was good enough to do it.

How was your relationship with football fostered by your time at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School (QEH)?

It’s predominantly a rugby school but they allowed me to avoid that, permitting me to stay back at school when rugby was on and concentrate on catching up on my work. They also allowed me to leave the school premises to go and train with the Academy. I did dip my toe into playing rugby in Year 7 but I was tiny and got battered and bruised. So much so, Bristol City actually asked if I could stop because I was turning up at training covered in bruises! 

What led you to QEH?

Both my brothers went there. My parents wanted me to go to a private school, so I followed in their footsteps. Tom and Will had a good time there and so did I.

Describe your experience at QEH. At what point in your school career did you make the decision to focus on your pursuit of professional football and what were the main factors that influenced that decision?

They were very open to allowing me to pursue professional football, even handing in homework late or missing school trips and lessons. They were flexible, which was great. At 16 the idea of combining A-levels and training was mooted, but eventually it was decided with only one day a week to do it, it just wouldn’t work. I completed my GCSEs and then went full-time with Bristol City. I would probably have done History and Spanish at A-level, but football took over.

Did you have any doubts about leaving QEH to sign on as an apprentice professional?

I think my parents had doubts but once my mind was made up, I was certain. My dad especially, coming from such an academic background, would have preferred me to have a base of A-levels to fall back on but it just wouldn’t work with professional football.

Having stayed in your hometown to play for Bristol City, do you still get a chance to catch up with old friends and teachers from your time at QEH?

I see the teachers every now and again because we share the training ground with QEH. However, as far as friends are concerned, I only have one friend I regularly keep in contact with from school – but I’d known him from the age of three. I never really fitted in at school because I was always away playing football. I was a bit of a loner really. 

There has been talk of potential interest from Premier League clubs; if one did come calling do you think your affinity for your hometown would affect your decision to leave Bristol City?

To be honest transfer talk is part and parcel of football, especially if you’re performing well – individually or as a team. I try not to let it affect me and just concentrate on my football – that’s the most important thing.

The club’s recent run in the Carabao Cup and historic victory over Manchester United (in which you scored a fantastic goal) has brought Bristol City FC international attention. How important do you think that result and the team’s success was, not only to the club, but to the city as a whole?

It’s been good. I would add that up until that point we were quietly going about our business but with the cup run, there was a big hoo-ha about us. Maybe it has had an impact on our results on the pitch; there’s an expectation now whereas before it was just little Bristol City. It’s great for the city… people were talking about it for weeks and it still gets mentioned now. For us, it gave us massive confidence to show we can mix it with the best. 

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