Assistant sports editor Phil Turbitt writes about the highs and lows of Bristol sport…
You can tell a lot about a city by its sports teams. If you go along to the Memorial Stadium or Ashton Gate for a football or rugby match, you will surely say that Bristolians are passionate about their teams. However it’s strange to see such a populous and vibrant city, without a team in the top flight of any of the UK’s two most popular sports. Bristol City and Bristol Rovers sit respectively in the third and fifth tiers of the English football ladder. Steve Cotterill seems to have galvanised the Bristol City team, as they have started the season looking like strong promotion contenders. Whereas Bristol Rovers, after a rocky start, look to be aiming for Conference play-offs with their new look side.
In recent seasons our local teams have struggled, especially Rovers dropping into non-league football for the first time ever. Neither sides have rich owners, so they have had to rely on stretching their resources to the maximum and relying on playing youth players.
Rovers’ new stadium could mark a prosperous new chapter in the clubs history, whereas City are still battling for a new stadium too. Two new stadiums in the area could act as a springboard for success, which the city has been crying out for, for far too long. Swansea were in League Two ten years ago, the same division as Bristol Rovers and a league below City, now they are an established Premier League club who have played in Europe and have a League Cup to their name.
Building a new stadium and implementing an attractive and combative playing style proved to be all they needed to be successful. But with success stories there are always nightmare scenarios to avoid. Darlington built a 25,000 all-seater stadium in 2003 and had
audacious hopes to sign former Premier League stars, Paul Gascoigne and Faustino Asprilla. However, a combination of change in management, no financial planning and poor attendances lead to their extinction in 2012. If the board and playing staff work together and combine funds with footballing substance, Bristol football could finally live up to its potential.
Bristol RFC have enjoyed spells in rugby’s Premier League, flying high in the 2007 season finishing in third place. They’re currently dwelling in rugby’s second tier falling victim to English rugby’s rigorous play-off system. Last season, they finished top of the league and in any other sport they would have been promoted. Unfortunately, they came unstuck against second placed London Welsh in the play-offs final, making their top of the table finish irrelevant. A recent move to Ashton Gate has allowed for bigger crowds and having the biggest crowds in the league surely means it’s only a matter of time before they’re back in the Premiership.
Like in football, Bristol RFC’s problem isn’t the support, their highest attendance was 10,000 last season which was double any of their counterparts had all season. Bristol are a big club in a small league, but with experienced coach, Andy Robinson, as part of the backroom staff they could prove to be a force in the Premiership. Rugby is not as much of a rich-man’s game as football, so money will not be as much of an issue. Clubs are more reliant on producing their own youngsters through the ranks, rather than splashing out.
With former England coach Robinson, they have the right person to get Bristol back to where they should be.
This was in no way a glass half empty or a doom and gloom look at what Bristol is doing wrong. It’s an optimistic look at how our clubs aren’t far off reaching their potential, with such immense support behind them.
By Phil Turbitt