Every couple of weeks I introduce you to an English football club which I assume you don’t know much about. In other words, you won’t be reading about Man U or Chelsea in this space.
This week we head southwest of London to the very hip town of Bristol to meet a League One side known as The Gas.
Bristol, about two hours southwest of London, in the West Country near the coast and South Wales.
About the Town:
In what is basically the Portland, Oregon of England – where you can find bearded, tattooed 30somethings eating pickles at food trucks and parking their vintage bikes outside artisan coffee shops – there are actually two clubs, Bristol City of the Championship and Rovers of League Two. Bristol is also the original home of the famous street artist, Banksy; you can take walking tours to see his originals all over the place.
Bristol has about 450,000 people and gets awards like “Best UK City to Live In,” “Greenest UK City,” and so on. There are a lot of college kids around, a lot of young professionals, but also a long blue-collar and seafaring tradition; fishermen from here settled Newfoundland in the 17th Century, and two famous steamships (the SS Great Britain and SS Great Western) were built here.
The port was eventually left behind because it couldn’t handle bigger ships, and in World War II the Germans destroyed much of the city center, killing 1,300 people in the process. So in the middle of this historical, working city there is now a very modern city center — a nice combination.
You might think it’s Rovers, but that’s part of their actual name – same with Blackburn Rovers, for example. No, they are The Gas, because their old stadium was near a gas works that had quite the odor. Bristol City fans made fun of them for it, but being English, they took the insult as a matter of pride and carried on. Come on, the gas!
They are also called the Pirates, and that’s the character you’ll see walking around the ground.
They were founded in 1883, joined the Football League in 1920, and have never made the top flight of English football since. They best they ever did was was finish sixth in the Second Division, twice in the 1950s. Those were basically the glory years; they twice made the quarters of the FA Cup in that decade, the farthest they’ve ever gotten.
They bottomed out in 2014, getting relegated out of the Football League for the first time, but they bounced back in style, earning promotion to League Two after the 2014-15 season, then up to League One after the following year.
League One, the third tier. This means their fixture list includes names like Sheffield United, Millwall, and AFC Wimbledon. They made the second round of both the FA Cup and League Cup.
3rd in League Two (promoted), FA Cup Round One, League Cup Round One
Rovers play in the 12,300-seat Memorial Stadium, which still has terraces. That is where I stood to see them play Port Vale last year. It’s an odd place, originally guilt for rugby, with one stand that doesn’t stretch the length of the field, another that is partially covered, and another that is narrow but quite tall. But it’s right in town, near a road with lots of shops, and super friendly.
Odd fact: This piece of land was originally called Buffalo Bill’s Field, because Bill played there in 1891.
Their anthem is “Goodnight, Irene.” Apparently this started in the 60s, when they sang it to taunt opposing fans who were leaving early because they were getting whipped. It stuck and is still their signature today. Here is a fun compilation of their fans singing it at various grounds:
Bristol City, of course, but they rarely play. They haven’t been in the same league since 2001, and since then they have played three times, in the minor League Trophy; City won all three times.
Otherwise, they have their West Country neighbors like Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle, Exeter City and Yeovil Town. They also don’t like nearby Cardiff, but hardly ever play them, either.
While You’re In Town:
Take a boat tour of the historic harbor, check out the beautiful and historic train station, walk around the downtown and shop/eat at markets, look for some Banksy street art, eat at a food truck, check out the amazing Clifton suspension bridge, or jump on a train and travel 12 miles to the lovely city of Bath, with its Roman baths and incredible architecture.
In fact, its proximity to Bath is a main reason most tourists will be near Bristol. If your itinerary includes a visit to Bath, consider staying in Bristol and catching a game at Rovers. They are mighty friendly folk, and it’s a fine day on the terraces, singing “Goodnight Irene.”