EXCLUSIVE: Liam Fontaine speaks out on decision to quit as Bristol City captain.
Bristol City defender Liam Fontaine insists he had no choice but to relinquish the captain’s armband earlier this season.
Speaking for the first time about the most testing season of his career, the Londoner admits the responsibility of leading a struggling team in the Championship affected his form.
Recalling the poor performances and results that ultimately cost manager Derek McInnes his job, Fontaine also revealed the personal hurt he felt when the team slipped to the foot of the table.
No one was prouder to be made captain than the former Fulham centre-back, who moved to Ashton Gate from Craven Cottage in 2006.
But things quickly went wrong for Fontaine and the team and a series of heavy defeats caused the skipper’s own form to suffer as confidence waned.
Subjected to vehement criticism from sections of the Ashton Gate crowd, Fontaine took his problems on the field home with him.
He said: “It was hard when the team was struggling and the pressure was on.
“We are all human beings and it was a horrible time. Sometimes, you are affected by things and there was a lot of criticism flying around back then.
“It has been a frustrating season for me personally, because I’ve been here seven years now and Bristol is a big part of my career and my life.
“It’s in my heart and, when things go wrong, it does affect me.”
The more responsibility Fontaine assumed, the more his form suffered and he eventually gave up the captaincy in December, since when Cole Skuse, Louis Carey and Marvin Elliott have all led the team into action.
He said: “When I had the armband, I think I tried to do too much. I’m the kind of guy that wants to take responsibility, but also takes things to heart.
“I think I tried to take on too much for other people and I felt I had to try to put things right all over the pitch. Of course, it cannot be done and I began to struggle with it all.
“I spoke to the old gaffer (McInnes) and he decided the best thing was to remove that responsibility and enable me to focus on my own game. I wanted to get my own game back.”
Restored to his natural role as a left-sided centre-back since Sean O’Driscoll succeeded McInnes in mid-January, Fontaine has rediscovered his form and played his part in a revival that has seen the Robins win four consecutive home games to move off the bottom of the table.
His confidence restored, the Londoner scored his first goal in three seasons to help City beat fellow strugglers Barnsley 5-3 at the weekend.
He said: “In difficult times, you are judged by how you react and I think I have reacted in the right way. I’m showing again what kind of player I can be and long may it continue.
“I’ve been enjoying my football lately and I’ve been playing with a smile on my face again. My strongest position is as a left-sided centre-back and it is nice to be back in that role. I feel comfortable there and I genuinely enjoy playing alongside Greg Cunningham at left-back.
“Everyone is in their correct slot now and that has helped us defend better as a team. We’re still a work in progress, but we do seem to have a better defensive unit now. We’re by no means the finished article, but we will keep working at it in training and keep improving.”