When, after a rare and welcome home win over high-flying Sunderland at the Memorial Stadium on that Tuesday night of the 10th March, 2020, your Treasurer Sue Williams and I sorted, allocated and stacked up the box of 50/50 tickets ready for the following Saturday’s game against Ipswich Town, we could never have guessed that those same tickets would remain undisturbed ever since.

This was of course due mainly to the terrible pandemic that suddenly launched itself onto a largely unsuspecting world that week, causing the Ipswich match to be the first of many to be cancelled before a complete league season was played out behind closed doors for the first time in our history.

Whilst watching our football on phones and laptops became the norm many of us were sadly losing loved ones and life-long friends to the virus and many more were unable to obtain otherwise standard medical care as the pandemic swept the country. On behalf of the Supporters Club I wish sincere condolences to all our members and Rovers’ fans in general who have become bereaved as a result of the virus. Far too many ‘Gasheads’ were lost to us!

Unfortunately, there was another reason for those Ipswich tickets remaining in their box since the resumption of ‘proper’ football with fans back in the stands and on the terraces from the start of the current campaign. That reason, as most of you are aware by now, is that the Football Club decided to ‘take the 50/50 Draw in-house’ by refusing to allow the Supporters Club to sell either tickets or match-day programmes. To do so entails the Football Club having to organise and pay for everything itself instead of relying on our army of sellers and administrative volunteers who have carried out the task flawlessly since the club’s return to Bristol in 1996.

It simply makes no commercial sense at all and therefore I believe it to be a ‘punishment’ for your committee not complying with a demand for three things outlined to me in writing by Non-executive Director Chris Gibson, M.B.E., who has been appointed by the Football Club to liaise with all support groups.

The demands were as follows;

1/That I resign my post as Chairman (no reason given!) 2/That I apologise (for something not outlined in writing!) 3/ That the SC hands over £50,000 for ‘sponsorship’ of the ‘Quarters’ training ground.

It so happens I had always intended to stand down at the end of my current term of office. Our next AGM marks completion of my thirty years as Chairman and that is more than enough, I’m sure many of you will agree with, even in ordinary circumstances. It also marks half a century serving on the committee, a decade as Vice-Chairman to Steve Burns and many more years before that representing Gordon Bennett’s ‘Pirates’ Youth Organisation on Eric Godfrey’s SC Executive.

So, I am more than proud to have ‘done my time’ although never before under such extraordinary ‘leadership’ as Bristol Rovers currently suffers! I warmly welcomed

Wael Al Qadi at the press conference called by then Chairman, Nick Higgs, to announce the takeover of the club and then went out of my way to meet up with him again on his first visit to the then training ground at Cribbs with Darrell Clarke. Now I cannot wait to get out so spare no tears for me!

The apology that was demanded (but will never come from me) was, I understand, for a safeguarding issue in which I am supposed to have colluded with others to discredit the President. I can categorically deny any such collusion and I call upon the President to prove otherwise.

Our members deserve an explanation and what happened is that, before a League game at the Memorial Stadium I was handed a ‘letter of concern’ from a trusted member of the Supporters Club which he requested me to pass on to the Football Club. Both our Treasurer Sue Williams and Safeguarding Officer Sam Parsons were in the cabin working on the 50/50 Draw with me, as they were at every home match. Sam took the letter and promised to pass it on to the Football Club’s Safeguarding Officer and she reported that this had been done at our next Committee Meeting. The matter was minuted with little discussion. The following Thursday evening Sam and I were required to attend a meeting with CEO Martyn Starnes and FC Safeguarding Officer Nikki Parker when the then latest EFL Safeguarding Instructions were outlined to us and which we agreed to take on board in full.

The ‘Letter of Concern’ was not mentioned at that meeting which lasted around an hour. After a couple of weeks I was advised by Sam Parsons that we were duty bound as the recipients to follow up the letter with Nikki Parker which we did and we were informed that the matter was closed because it was not possible to obtain further information from the complainant. This was confirmed by the Bristol City Council/Avon & Somerset Police Safeguarding Officer and this was minuted at our next Committee Meeting.

The matter was never discussed further either in committee or outside until a few months back when it started being openly referred to on the ‘Gaschat’ social media forum. The information being discussed on the forum did not originate from the Supporters Club and our Secretary was instructed to issue a disclaimer on our website. This was duly done, and members can draw their own conclusions as to where the information originated but it was not from your committee.

The so called ‘moderator’ of the ‘Gaschat’ site has since written to me also claiming that I had colluded with others, that he had evidence and attached a copy of the original ‘Letter of Concern’ and wanted to meet with me to discuss the same.

How he obtained this confidential information is not clear, but I have no intention of discussing it with him and his letter has been placed in the hands of the Supporters’ Club’s solicitors.

The only regret I have in standing down is that I am leaving a brilliant, hardworking committee in what is a very difficult position that is none of their doing. The whole scenario follows a pattern in that it is the President’s ambition to rid himself of all dissenting opinion in order to be loved by the support base – the sensible members of which can see our once proud club being dissembled before their very eyes.

Think of five managers, a host of directors, masses of hard-working loyal staff both on and off the pitch, the Young Pirates, Blue Diamond Club, Former Players Association, two esteemed programme editors and so on. Not forgetting of course millions of pounds of losses mostly incurred before the pandemic oh, and a relegation back to the basement division!

Now the Supporters Club and the unfortunately named Presidents Club are seriously threatened. Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely believe that the President genuinely loves the club which is more than can be said of the Directors.

To the best of my knowledge none of the current Board, apart from the President and his brother, own any shares and none of them live in the Bristol area – they are simply employees of the club, unlike previous directors who gave their time and money freely for the benefit of Bristol Rovers.

In his latest ‘open letter to supporters’ the President claimed that nobody from the Supporters Club ‘attended’ the Football Club’s AGM a year ago and that is true. Many did not know that there was an AGM taking place as it was held on ‘Zoom’ with only a week allowed to request a place from receipt of the announcement.

It so happened that I was on a fortnight’s holiday and did not get back home until it was too late to receive the letter and claim a place. One known critic of the ‘Board’ did apply and told me he was refused, and I understand that only seven people took part so draw your own conclusions. The previous AGM in 2019 was held properly in person but turned into a fiasco as any shareholder who took part will readily confirm.

The hapless Chairman of that meeting closed it early in order to escape all the criticism and to avoid further critical questioning about the running of the company. He joined the list of ‘the departed’ soon after! As for the President’s claim that he values the support of the shareholders, well I’m sorry but if we were so valued perhaps he might have engaged with us before restructuring the company and reducing in particular the Supporters Club’s holding along with all other shareholders! When will there be another proper AGM I wonder?

Our own Supporters Club AGM could not have been held by ‘Zoom’ that we have now become so used to because the committee reasoned that many of our older members, indeed any member not on the internet, would not have been able to participate so it was held over and will now take place on October 28th.

According to the Share Scheme Agreement that I am a signatory to, the Supporters Club is entitled to two Directors on the Board and we have two nominations that are being forwarded to the Football Club.

I welcome at last the development of the training ground which is long overdue and which I know from speaking to him that the lack of such a facility was a big bone of contention with Darrell Clarke. I have already explained elsewhere that the £50,000 demanded of the Supporters Club towards the training ground was in fact set aside by the Committee for facilities for fans and that the equipment we suggested to then Chairman Steve Hamer would remain the property of the Supporters Club so that it could be reused.

The money belongs to the Supporters Club because it is the entire proceeds from the enforced sale of the former SC shop and offices in Kingswood.

If the remaining committee agree to stump up this massive payment from our funds, then it is entirely their decision but personally I would like the matter placed before the membership at the AGM. After all YOU are the people who have paid in over many years and have lost out on the convenience of our east Bristol base, so you deserve to be the ones to decide.

However, when/if voting, please be aware that the money was set aside for specific facilities for supporters at the training ground, and NOT for any other purpose.

So, I am both sad and glad to be standing down and I leave my former committee colleagues with something of a heavy heart as I know only too well how hard they work and have always done so for our members. In particular I want to praise my erstwhile officers; Secretary David Thomas has done a fantastic job on the Club’s website and in keeping up the links with the two incredibly successful Rovers’ women’s teams, both of which we continue to sponsor in full.

David has more than fulfilled his duties whilst suffering from cancer and has undergone a couple of major operations during the pandemic, so we are very lucky to have him battling through all this and doing his day job as well.

He is, thankfully, staying on and frankly deserves a medal! Also, to be following me ‘out of the door’ at the AGM they tell me is my near lifelong Vice Chairman Phil Draper while Treasurer Sue Williams has agreed to remain on the Committee until the end of the year.

Sue and Phil were both colleagues with me on the old ‘Pirates’ Youth committee under Gordon Bennett before joining several others ahead of me onto the main SC executive whilst I carried on representing the ‘Pirates’.

So, we have been through an awful lot during our near fifty years together and we jointly have an incredible tale to tell. Whoever steps forward to join your brilliant committee at this year’s AGM will have very big boots to fill but, whoever they may be, I wish them and all our loyal members all the very best of luck.

I will continue to support the team and your committee as best I can from my new position as an ‘observer’!

Jim Chappell,