Being a sports fan in Bristol is not normally something to shout about. The summer of 2014 saw the city with one League One team, which in the season before flirted with League Two, one in the Conference and a Championship rugby union team that had left its spiritual home. Hands up who thought the worst?
I cannot prove this, since I did not record my predictions for the new season, but I always felt Bristol City would do well under Steve Cotterill. I did not expect them to top League One for as long as they have, but by the same token I am not surprised. My City supporting friends tell me of an optimistic atmosphere at Ashton Gate and genuine excitement as the modernisation of the stadium moves at a rapid rate. As someone whose loyalties lie north of the river, I am more than a bit jealous that they are redeveloping their spiritual home. As a self-styled old codger, for me Rovers spiritual home lies beneath a ghastly Scandinavian self-assembly furniture company in Eastville and even though the final, forlorn floodlight was taken down some years ago (I still have a wing nut in my living room), I still think Rovers when I drive by. Ashton Gate, no matter how modern it becomes, will still be Ashton Gate, even if it does become the Lansdown Stadium and it will feel like it.
Rovers have been at the Memorial Stadium for some time now. It’s adequate enough, certainly for Conference football, but no one in their right mind can see a real future for the Rovers with the stadium in its current state. I certainly expect Rovers to bounce back to the Football League at the first attempt, through automatic promotion rather than the play offs (watch Barnet blow up!) but how much will it mean if they are stuck in BS7? We all know that, around a year ago, Sainsburys, whose money is supposed to enable Rovers to build the UWE stadium, told of their intention to withdraw from the project and it seems that Rovers have been caught in another perfect storm to ruin their plans. Supermarkets are no longer building large stores as shopping habits change to I guess Rovers’ only hope of building the UWE will be to get Sainsburys to fork out for a supermarket they don’t want and won’t build. If it does finally fall through, let’s hope the club can revert to the original plan of developing the Memorial Stadium.
The rugby has been the surprise success story for me. I had no idea whether fans would follow the club to BS3 but I reckoned without the resilience of rugby fans who, as those at London Welsh and now Wasps are proving, really don’t care where they play. And gates at Bristol are massively up. They have a real chance of promotion this year although there is a farcical situation in the Championship whereby the league merely enables you to qualify for promotion play offs. I expect them to make it and if they continue to sign players of the calibre of Tom Varndell they will not only get in the Premiership but stay there.
So, for the major sports, all is beginning to look better. I expect all three clubs to go up, with only Bristol Rugby having to go through the play offs, and that’s only because of the stupid rules.
Come on, Bristol sport (all of it, not the company).