The blue and white quartered shirt was heavy and oversized. Boots on, laces poorly-tied and socks half-falling, he stared into a vast common full of excitement.
Not even a year absent from the game, caused by a gasometer accident (yes, you read correctly!) could take away this moment.
This is the story of Nick Puñal, a Hambrook lad who’d play for his school, and eventually end up in Sydney, Australia, many years later.
Three years after running onto that common, Nick swapped picturesque Hambrook for semi-arid Central Spain due to family work reasons. The new neighbourhood kids wasted no time in pressuring him to choose a new football team to support (Real Madrid or Barcelona!) but Nick stood his ground so he could buy more time!
The Spanish Bristol Rovers – Centre d’Esports Sabadell
This delay immediately paid dividends when on a weekend trip to nearby Albacete, a family friend exclaimed “look, Bristol Rovers are playing!”. Nick couldn’t quite believe it but as it turned out, Sabadell was playing, not the Gas!
Following Sabadell anywhere outside the Barcelona region posed a massive challenge, even when they briefly made the First Division for two seasons. Live games were rare, which made the televised game in Albacete even more incredible!
Sabadell disappeared again with relegation to the second, and then third tier of Spanish football, but along came another blue and white team – also based in the Barcelona area – to fill the void. This time the impact was unexpected and massive!
RCD Español, the “second team” of the City of Barcelona finished 3rd and qualified for the UEFA Cup – now the Europa League – and against all the odds, these blue and white ‘misfits’ created history by reaching the UEFA Cup Final. It was perhaps Español’s inexplicable loss on penalties that spurred Nick, several decades later, to create his first Football Supporters Group in Australia in 2007.
History of Catalonian Football reignites passion for the Blue & White Quarters
Two years later, Nick started a life-long goal of researching the history of Catalan Football. The most successful teams in Catalonia also included Centre d’Esports Sabadell, and he wasted no time in contacting the ‘Arlequinat’ Club.
A visit to Europe in 2012 included Sabadell for what would be an unbelievable, on-the-pitch experience at the Nova Creu Alta. Life-long friendships were formed!
Upon returning to Australia, buoyed by the visit to Sabadell, Nick kept an even sharper eye on Sabadell and Bristol Rovers, as well as Español. All three clubs would be woven into his fandom fabric for decades to come.
2022 visit to Bristol
And fast-forward to August 2022, to a rare trip “home”. Nick visited his old school and cottage in Hambrook, and more importantly The Mem to see what the 7-0 promotion fuss was all about!
As soon as he stepped into the stands the memories of a 7-year-old in that heavy oversized blue and white quartered jersey started flooding back, his peculiar football journey had come full-circle and at that very moment he knew what he had to do when he got back to Sydney!
Sydney Gasheads Supporters Club
September 2023 Nick officially launched @SydneyGasheads on social media with a view to bring together Bristol Rovers fans living in Sydney and the State of New South Wales for Beers, Bristol Banter, BBQ and above all, to watch The Gas together when the time and place permits!
However, this is only the start of the journey!
Nick needs the assistance of Bristolians, both at home and in Australia to spread the word! Only by sharing the Sydney Gasheads Social Media accounts with family and friends will this new Supporters Club grow at a faster rate!
Thanks in advance and…
Up the Gas!
Up the Sydney Gasheads!
X (Twitter): @SydneyGasheads https://twitter.com/SydneyGasheads
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SydneyGasheads