I like Bristol Rovers’ new president, Wael Al Qadi. I’ve never met him, mind you, the nearest I got was passing him on the way to the loo by the executive boxes in the West Stand. I thought about stopping him, introducing myself and thanking him for buying the club, but I concluded he might have other things on his mind, or more likely his bladder. I am sure the time will come soon enough.
I know that some people, usually Bristol City supporters, are suspicious about Wael’s motives, but frankly I couldn’t care less what they think. I am more interested in the evidence of my own eyes and ears.
There’s a BBC TV programme next week which is all about Wael. It promises to be a good watch, letting us know what makes the man tick and confirming what we already believe we know about him, that he is an all round good guy who wants Bristol Rovers to succeed and that he has developed a love for the club. I genuinely believe the latter.
But it is, as ever, the simple things about the new regime at Bristol Rovers that impress me more than anything. Their evolutionary, not revolutionary, approach to progress and development, their commitment to sustainability, their professionalism and the scale of their ambition. And, uniquely, at the Rovers, a genuine empathy with the supporters. Last night, at the Memorial Stadium, Wael said something, almost a throwaway remark, that resonated with me big time. He referred to Bristol Rovers as “their club”, their meaning the supporters. Without needing to define what he said – it was clear enough – it was as plain as day that he knew, he understood that the club, the heart, the soul and the spirit, belongs to the fans. Whilst he owns the bricks and mortar, his perspective and understanding are crystal clear. In a very strange way, I feel more than ever that Bristol Rovers is our club.
At a club like ours where supporters have repeatedly rejected the idea of fan ownership in a variety of forms, this is important to understand. The various supporter groups, fan protest groups – none really made a difference, all failed. Of the alternative ownership models open to us, it seems obvious someone like Wael Al Qadi’s was the most desirable. By all measurable measures, the club is in a far better state than it has been in my lifetime. Where there was confusion and muddle under the previous autocrat regime, now there is honesty and clarity. The contrast could not be greater.
By understanding Bristol Rovers is “their club”, I invite Wael Al Qadi to accept that Bristol Rovers is his club too, not just in financial terms – that is unarguable – but in terms of co-owning the spirit of the club, along with those of us who have, by and large, always been here. He’s a Gashead, too!