In our last programme column for the match against Rochdale former Rovers’ Press Officer Keith Brookman wrote an excellent piece on the start of the Supporters Club’s highly successful 50/50 half-time draw which we have recently gone ‘on-line’ with whilst fans are prevented from attending games. 

This draw has been running ever since we returned to Bristol some quarter-century ago now and, as Keith stated, it raised a lot of money for stadium projects such as the much-needed roof over the Clubhouse Terrace. Nothing stays the same forever (except perhaps Rovers’ search for a new stadium!) and when the Board announced plans for a new 5,000 capacity all-seater stand to replace the Clubhouse end it occurred to me that the amounts being raised by the 50/50 whilst significant were not going to fund any more major building projects such as the new structure which was going to cost millions. Obviously though we had started something good which ordinary fans could identify with so a new focus was needed.

I have always been a great supporter of Rovers Youth since my early days on Gordon Bennett’s Pirates Committee and it seemed to me that would be an area where a few thousand quid would be of real benefit to the club. When I approached Manager Paul Trollope he was most enthusiastic as the Football Club was looking for a new, ‘upmarket’ minibus for the Under-18s who were then just starting to ply their trade far and wide and needed more than a ‘transit van with seats’! The problem with an ordinary minibus is where to store all the kit when there is a full squad of players plus management, trainers, physios and the like. The answer was a half-size coach with a floor to roof boot that was capable of taking a couple a couple of skips yet would not impinge on the main seating area. Supporters Club Director at the time, Ken Masters, was equally enthusiastic about us providing such a vehicle, as was the then new Head of Youth, Darren Patterson. Ken’s brother had contacts in the trade and also experience in driving minibuses so we all got together and paid a couple of visits to a specialist coach company in Walsall where they had ‘just the job’ – a year-old 22-seater Mercedes with the required ‘big boot’! 

That was it and we handed over £27,000 after the all-red interior had been refabricated in royal blue and it was driven back home to the Mem – the first purchase for the new Youth Academy from the 50/50 Draw and it was in daily use by Rovers for nearly a decade before being replaced. The coach went on display at the stadium during the 2010 Open Day and was a bit hit with fans as it displayed both Football Club and Supporters Club logos on its gleaming silver bodywork. Lots of other bits and pieces were to follow for the Academy, all paid for by our great supporters, and I’ll report on that in the next programme. Meantime, get online if you are able to and support the club even if you can’t yet get to see the team play – it’s only a question of time so stay safe!

Jim Chappell.