April 23, 2008
We now know that Bristol Rovers will be bound to live up to its tag one more time as we uproot to play our football away from our home patch. The difference this time around is that we depart in the full knowledge that we will return to our very own special purpose facility, designed to our own brief to include the provision for income streams that will secure our future for many generations to come.
The protracted period away at Bath City’s Twerton Park ground could have dented our core support and although we look back to our time there with fond memories in many ways, some would argue quite strongly that on our return we have had a bit of ground to make up on our near neighbours south of the river. We cannot deny the fact that the record attendance at Eastville was and impressive 38,742 whilst to the credit of those there at the time the figure for Twerton was a mere 9,464 and that was to host the mighty Liverpool. Fair play to Bath, we could not have squeezed one more person in.
We cannot deny the right of the South End to exist or to enjoy the same level of support as ourselves. This is Bristol and when you consider the size of the city and the generous population in our nearby towns and villages the area is well big enough to support two full time professional football clubs. I say and emphasis the same level of support. During our period of time in Bath, some would argue that we were made by others to look and feel like the smaller of the two clubs.
Over the period of my life time this is certainly not the case at all; when I was a child there was never a notion that I can recall of The Rovers being not at the very least on a par. Take the 1958/59 season as an example. Both Bristol Clubs were strong in the second tier. We finished sixth and the South End boys finished a little way behind us in tenth place. We played them at home in the November and attracted 32,104. We went to their place for the return fixture in March to play in front of 26,868.
The levels of support that we have enjoyed and are extremely thankful for over the past eighteen months, will have served to demonstrate that we are indeed not the smallest club per se and probably never have been. Nonetheless we will have our work cut out to maintain and build on the base levels of support that we know exists whilst we are away. It is so important that we continue to maintain and grow the support of our younger fans and families.
The Football in the Community is so vitally an import part of our work in this regard and one that we will be working incredibly hard to sustain over the coming months and during our time away. Quite simply we must maintain our presence in Bristol. Peter Aitken and a Wayne Noble are our full time coaches and their role within the club at this time is a vital one. At the game on Saturday against Gillingham we were hosts to no less than one hundred local children and many parents. Activity started as early as 9.30 with coaching and fitness training culminating in tours of the stadium and dressing rooms, lunch and then the game itself.
The Football League Trust has established itself over the course of the season with Dave Edmundson at the helm. Dave was formerly Chief Executive at Burnley Football Club. The Trust is chaired by Mark Arthur who is presently Chief Executive at Nottingham Forest. The Trust is divided into five regions each with its own Regional Manager. We are very lucky to have Bath City Manager John Relish as the top man in our South West and Wales region. John is a good man.
Whilst all clubs benefit from a base level of grant, the Trust has decided to top slice money for overall projects that it thinks will be to the benefit of football clubs and to their respective communities alike. The first of such projects is at the bidding stage. Considering our pending period of absence we simply cannot afford to miss out and every effort is being made to get our slice if the cake.
The Trust is developing a five year national project that would involve clubs working on an estate or estates with 11-18 year old boys and girls. Football is the central activity but the project delivery must include multi sports as well. The older young people must be given a delivery role in support of the coaches and go through to introductory awards, for example Sports Leadership awards. Activities will take place in the evenings and in the respective communities. At Bristol Rovers we are confident in our abilities and skills to deliver such a programme.
The time scale for the bid was very short and we had to pull out all the stops as a team to draw up a local scheme and to present our written bid as strongly as we could. Our proposal bid is now with The Football League for their consideration and approval and we expect to learn as to whether we are successful or not by mid May.