Of all the things Bristol is famous for, despite having a rich sporting history, football has not been high up on the list in recent times. That may be about to change as both City and Rovers have given Bristolians reasons to smile about this season, writes John Howell.
Despite being England’s sixth most populous city, Bristol has never seen much success in football. Never has a side from Bristol won the old Division One or scaled the dizzy heights of the Premier League. Baring in mind that the first professional team formed on this soil was in 1883, it’s a hard fact for Bristolians to swallow.
So with this in mind, perhaps it’s right to celebrate success, no matter how small, when it comes our way. Following the doom and gloom of 2013/14, which saw the oldest club in town, Bristol Rovers, relegated from the Football League and Bristol City, projected to bounce back into the Championship at first attempt, finishing 13th in League One, not much was expected this year.
Instead residents in the South West have been treated to a season of rare success on all fronts. Bristol Rovers completed promotion at the first attempt back to the Football League, with a dramatic penalty shootout win over Grimsby. In front of 25,000 fans, they banished the disappointment of missing out on the Vanarama Conference title by a single point.
Manager Darrell Clarke has revitalised a struggling, yet passionate club, who, following 94 years of professional football, could have easily capitulated in the style of former Football League dwellers Lincoln, Wrexham, and Grimsby.
Bristol City stormed their way to the League One championship with 99 points, losing only five games all year. This is the first league title for City since 1955. This, along with a trip to Wembley in March that saw the Robins lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for a record third time in front of 43,000 supporters, is evidence of a club transformed under Steve Cotterill.
Whilst such small-scale success would not be lauded in the metropolises of Manchester or London, for Bristol, this is an achievement that has seen fans old and new flock back to stadiums in their thousands; dusting off their old replica shirts and dredging up scarves long forgotten at the back of the wardrobe. This season has also given the hardcore supporters something to cheer about on the terraces and in the pub on a Saturday afternoon.
Bristol Rovers regularly took thousands on the road with them and their 11,085 sell-out in April at home to Alfreton Town is the current league record. Even though the Robins stadium currently holds 13,414 with redevelopment ongoing, capacity will soon be 27,000 for their Championship campaign.
Whereas in the past the desire to see rivals fail is apparent, this season brought a feeling of unspoken mutual respect between both sets of Bristol’s fans; almost happy in the fact that together they are helping to bring a better standard of sport to their home town.
Steeped in rich culture and history, the football played in the confines of Bristol has never matched the heights reached by some of its more famous artists, musicians, and authors. Perhaps, like the past 132 years, it never will. But what is certain is that this is a season to savour, to remember, and to be repeated in conversation for years to come; now both teams of this fine city have finished what they started.
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