Thursday, 23 March 2017

Memorial Stadium

Bristol Rovers 2-1 Chesterfield

18th March 2017

The instances of both Bristol clubs playing at home over the same weekend, I imagine are few and far between, so the opportunity to catch both is clearly not to be missed.  Thus it was Wife was persuaded a long weekend in Bristol would be just the ticket.

We also wanted to see a number of the attractions the city has to offer, one of which being the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  I am aware the views can be stunning from the crossing.........but regretfully not this morning, where the whole Avon Valley appeared clothed in a shroud of fine mist.  But even this fact failed to detract from the wonder and beauty of the construction.

A small but informative Visitor Center can be found on the Leigh Woods side of the bridge where I learned of those awesome vaulted chambers which honeycomb the south tower, watched footage of the emotional scenes when the hull of the Great Britain passed under the bridge on its return to Bristol back in 1970.  And most remarkably of all....discovered that Cary Grant was a Bristolian!  I never knew that.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge

This sign appears on both towers.
Nothing much more to say, really.

The mist may have spoiled the view, but not the day.

And so to Memorial Stadium.  Opened in 1921 to commemorate those local rugby players who lost their lives in The Great War, the ground has enjoyed a bit of a chequered history.  For most of its life it was the home of  Bristol Rugby Club, the egg-chasers welcoming then-homeless Bristol Rovers as tenants in 1996.  However, financial woes led to the rugby club selling the ground to the football club a couple of years later, and becoming tenants in what had once been their own home.  This arrangement persisted until 2014 when Bristol Rugby eloped to jump into bed with Rovers' rivals City at Ashton Gate.  

Thus what we now have is the Rovers playing in what still looks a bit like rugby venue.  But what a delight the place is, boasting perhaps the most eclectic selection of structures to be seen at any Football League ground.

One touchline is dominated by the squat DriBuild Stand, facing which is the sleek West Stand, which actually looks as if it would be more at home at Cheltenham or Bath Racecourse.  Neither stand runs the full length of the pitch, and are each book-ended by either terracing or dinky smaller structures.

I plumped for the Thatcher End terracing, opposite which could be found the very temporary looking Brunel Professional Risks Stand.  So temporary in fact that it looks as if one strong breeze would relocate it into Somerset.

The terracing was great fun, and a rare delight, reminding me of all we have lost with the imposition of all-seater stadia.  In Irene's Kitchen behind the enclosure, I was introduced by a drop-dead gorgeous lady to the delights of Thatchers Gold.  And I feel a long-term relationship was forged that afternoon.  (With the cider, not the lady, unfortunately).

The inscription says it all.

The DriBuild Stand from Alton Road.

Reminders that for much of its life Memorial Stadium was a rugby ground.

Match Day Shop (obviously).

Memorial Stadium, Bristol Rovers FC.

Memorial Stadium, Bristol Rovers FC.

Rear of the DriBuild Stand, Memorial Stadium.

Memorial Stadium, Bristol Rovers FC.

Rovers began the match in a hurry and scored within 30 seconds, me missing Ollie CLARKE'S goal as I was still leafing through the match programme at the time.  Irishman Rory GAFFNEY put in a second after 18 minutes, having been set clear by the hard-working Luke James.  Clearly the ginger-headed Irishman is a bit of a favorite with the locals, for in celebration of his goal, the terracing bods around me set up some song offering Gaffney the sexual services of their respective wives.

Quite what the reaction of the number of partners who must have been in the crowd was to this generous offer, I am unsure.  But perhaps, given the chap had just put their side two-up, they may have been perfectly content to go along with things.  After all, the good people of Bristol are well-renowned for their friendliness.

Chesterfield created a couple of reasonable opportunities in response to these setbacks, but some dreadful finishing by first Jon Nolan then Rai Simons saw their shots almost leaving the ground.  “That's why you're going down!” pointed out the home crowd after both attempts........and they were right.

For a hectic five minutes or so around the half-hour mark, Rovers just appeared to pepper the visitors' goal, with Christian Montano, Luke James and the aforementioned Gaffney all forcing visiting keeper Thorsten Stuckmann to earn his pay.  The big German really did have a fine match, and was soon being called upon to prevent his side going three down from the penalty spot.  He somehow managed to flap away James' attempt.  And this guy was once deemed not good enough for Patrick Thistle!

Bristol Rovers v Chesterfield - March 2017

Dion Donohue - Chesterfield FC.

Stuckmann's 39th minute penalty save.

I think this is Billy Bodin enjoying some fun with Chesterfield's Dan Jones.

Visiting defender Tom Anderson heads clear.

Rovers' Billy Bodin (No 23)

I just love the way Rovers have taken a former derogatory nickname and made it their own.

Bristol Rovers v Chesterfield - March 2017

Now whether what occurred after the break was due to the Pirates running out of steam, or complacently taking their collective foot off the, errrm, gas, I don't know.  But during the second period the home side were nowhere near so impressive.  Unfortunately for the visiting fans (and us few neutrals) Chesterfield did not really appear to have the quality to  take advantage, and the match degenerated as a spectacle more than somewhat.

I smiled when I heard a Rovers fan next to me moaning to his mate, “It's been a shit second half so far”.  It was the “So Far” that got me, for this was in the 82nd minute.  Clearly he still held hopes of an improvement.  But instead moments later things, from his perspective anyway, got shitter, as Sylvan EBANKS-BLAKE pulled a goal back.  

But the Spireites never looked like getting another, and Rovers' drive to swap leagues with rivals City remained on-course.

Unusually for a Family Enclosure, the one here is all standing.

The DriBuild Stand - Memorial Stadium.

The Thatcher End terracing.

I think this little chap is simply known as the South West Stand.

Memorial Stadium West Stand.

Memorial Stadium, Bristol Rovers FC

If there is a cooler club flag, I have yet to encounter it.

As it sez: The Brunel Professional Risks Stand.

Panorama of Memorial Stadium, Bristol.

FOOTNOTE – This note will appear at the (ahem) foot of both the Bristol City and Bristol Rovers entries, to divert any accusations of bias.  I now must be around 2/3 of the way around the English League football grounds, and rarely I have come across a city full of helpful, friendly folks as Wife and I encountered during our long-weekend stay in Bristol.

Bus drivers, serving staff in shops and restaurants, and vendors at both football grounds all just seemed so utterly delighted to make our acquaintance.  We had one guard at Bristol Meads Rail Station earnestly request we “Go Safe”, as we hurried to catch a train, and I do not think I have been called “My Darling” so often before in my life.

Thank You Bristol.