Thursday 6 October 2011

Bristol Rovers - The Memorial Stadium

Bristol Rovers FC
The Memorial Stadium
Filton Avenue

0117 977 2000

Matchday Number: 29
Tuesday February 24th 1998
Bristol Rovers 3-1 Wycombe
Nationwide League Division 2


The club were founded in 1889 and were known as Black Arabs, Eastville Rovers and Bristol Eastville Rovers before steeling on their current name 10 years into their existence. The name came from the stadium where they were based - the Eastville Stadium where they shared with the greyhound racing. The ground was also near the gasworks, hence their nickname of 'The Gas' However they lost their home in 1986 and were forced to travel miles to Bath City's Twerton Park ground, much to the delight of rivals Bristol City who taunted them with the chant 'There's only One Team In Bristol' completely ignoring the number of Non League teams also in the city. The team are also known is the Pirates, due to Bristol's Maritime history. They finally got back home in 1996 when a groundshare with Bristol Rugby was confirmed and they have since taken ownership of the ground and are now the sole occupant, following the rugby club's departure in 2014.

They were members of the Football League from 1920 until 2014 when they were relegated on the final day of the 2013/14 season, following a 1-0 defeat to Mansfield Town. Despite a slow start to the following season, they were on fire for much of the latter part of the season and beat Grimsby Town on penalties  in the playoff final. This however was a far cry from the clubs glory days in the Football League's second tier with them finishing as high as 5th in 1956.

Cup wise Rovers have reached the FA Cup Quarter Final on 3 occasions, the latest as recently as the 2007/08 season. After beating Leyton Orient, Rushden & Diamonds, Fulham, Barnet & Southampton they faced West Bromwich Albion. A record crowd of 12,011 flocked to the Memorial Stadium but the majority of them left disappointed as they crashed out 5-1 to the Premiership side. The Quarter Final of the League Cup was also reached twice at the start of the 1970's but they lost to Aston Villa and Stoke City. Cup successes have come as they lifted the Watney Cup around the same time and the Gloucestershire Senior Cup on a record 32 occasions.


Though there have been plenty of incidents of note beforehand, the rivalry between the 2 sides was cracked up several notches in August 2012. Wycombe were woeful at the time, rudderless and directionless under Gary Waddock. So it was no shock when Bristol Rovers strode into a comfortable 3-1 lead just after half time. The match, had it been allowed to continue would have been 5 or 6-1 to Rovers but the referee decided to call the game off after consultation with the now departed Wycombe safety officer. A minority of Gasheads did not take the postponement well, smashing some seats and abusing staff.

By the time of the rematch in December Wycombe were much improved while Rovers, after looking very good back in August were in a slump of their own. Their fans wore hi-vis jackets, mocking the part that the safety officer had in the previous postponement. Wycombe had the last laugh though, winning 2-0. though some consolation was had back in Bristol as Rovers won the return game 1-0.

The following season saw the 2 clubs battling it out to avoid relegation out of the football league though there was little sign of that becoming an issue back in October as Wycombe triumphed 1-0 at the Memorial Stadium. By the return game - the penultimate game of the season, fortunes had nosedived for both clubs as they were both deep in the relegation mire. Rovers triumphed 2-1 with a late goal and invaded the pitch. It was a poor show from Wycombe and there were calls for manager Gareth Ainsworth to quit after the game which seems astonishing now, though it had been a dire season. Wycombe looked doomed, if by some miracle we shaped up enough to beat bottom side Torquay we still had to hope that either Bristol Rovers or Northampton lost. Wycombe pulled off one of their best showing of the season and it was Bristol Rovers, seemingly with the easiest task of all who fell by the wayside. Mid table Mansfield at home looked a home banker but Colin Daniel thought different and his 37th minute goal for the Stags condemned Rovers to Non League Football for the first time in 94 years.

Past games had seen flashpoints. I was not around, at least in the sense of being a Wycombe fan when Bristol Rovers triumphed over Wycombe in the FA Cup in 1982, however I was at the FA Cup game 11 years later. Bristol Rovers were in the league above Wycombe at the time and their rented home, Twerton Park, had not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Wycombe in their past clashes with landlords Bath City. So it was no shock that Bristol Rovers controlled the game. Wycombe were fortunate to be drawing come the final minute but a huge cock up by Rovers keeper Brian Parkin handed Wycombe the win as he sliced the ball to Dave Carroll to give a gift of a goal. The highlight though was the brilliant and heavily biased match commentary on the end of season video which was in a heavy Bristol accent.

Parkin would later join Wycombe under hated manager Alan Smith and as a result he was not given much of a chance by the Wycombe fans. Though he was well past his best, he did try his best but he came for crosses like he had drank a gallon of scrumpy pre match and made a few mistakes. Other players to play for both sides included strikers Andy Rammell and Jermaine Easter, as well as a load of less successful journeymen.

Other incidents included both sides fielding a 'Justin Skinner' in a clash at Adams Park in 1994, a last minute equaliser off Dannie Bulman's backside 4 years later to grab Wycombe a draw and Wycombe relegating Bristol Rovers in May 2001 with a 2-1 win, with fans of Swindon & Bristol City joining the Chairboys faithful in the away end to cheer their rivals demise. The other incident I will always remember was in 2009 when Wycombe won 2-1 at Adams Park, though it was not the on field action that I remember. Coming out of the ground, a young Wycombe fan, probably only about 7 was celebrating and possibly mocking Rovers, only to be booted in the face by an away fan and sent flying. Like I've said above though, it was a minority as several Gasheads stepped forward to condemn their fellow 'fan' and apologise to the lad's shocked father.


My first visit to Bristol Rovers' Memorial Stadium was on a February night in 1998. This turned out to be manager John Gregory's last game in charge of the club, unbeknown to the fans, Gregory had spent the afternoon discussing a move to Aston Villa, this appointment was confirmed later that night.

Wycombe were well beaten on the night. Goals from Barry Hayles, Peter Beadle and Tom Ramasut saw Rovers win 3-1, Wycombe's reply coming from Keith Scott in a rare attack. Wycombe had won 1-0 in the home game at Adams Park back in October, and Rovers got their full revenge, winning at a canter. The Sausage Rolls were lovely though - I'd read a review in the 'Colman's Football Food Guide' that I'd got free with 'Goal' Magazine earlier that season


I don't remember much about this game to be honest. Keith Ryan had recently taken over from the disaster that was Tony Adams but couldn't muster a win in his caretaker role. It was his last game before John Gorman took over but a goal from former Wycombe transfer target Jamie Forrester won the game for the hosts.


The last game of the season as we settled into a mid table finish. Most notable for Lance Cronin's only appearance for the club, on loan from Crystal Palace. Ex Wycombe loanee Richard Walker settled the game in a dour end of season encounter which saw the Chairboys finish in 10th place, following a late season loss of form.


A victory at last, on New Years Eve. The game kicked off early at 1.30PM and I finally saw a Wycombe victory at the Memorial Stadium at the 4th attempt. Tommy Mooney's double ensured that Wycombe would be going into the new year celebrations on a high as they continued their excellent start to the season John Gorman, having only lost their unbeaten record 10 days previously. 


After waiting so long for a win, 2 came along at once, albeit with a 5 year gap between them. I mainly remember it for a a minority of Rovers fans being ungracious in defeat and throwing stuff at the coach. They would rear their ugly heads again later on in even worse circumstances, but it should be noted that they are just that, a minority, however visible they are. Stuart Beavon got the last ,inute winner for Wycombe in a closely fought game.


Having fallen in love with real cider since my last visit, I was determined to spend some time in Bristol to sample some of the good stuff. Previous attempts had been thwarted due to bad traffic and the lack of time to recover sufficiently in time to drive home afterwards. But as luck would have it we were to play them 2 times in a week. Due to Saturday's clash with FA Cup games I selected the Tuesday 'Johnstone's Paint Trophy' game to attend and planned to drive down at lunchtime, park up at the ground and get the bus into town. I had no shortage of takers willing to join me, meaning that pretty much all my petrol would be paid, and with ticket prices reduced to £10, this would be a fairly wallet friendly trip.

There was more controversy between the 2 side prior to the game. On the Monday afternoon Bristol Rovers had their request to call the game off accepted by the FA, owing to the fact that they had 3 international call ups. This led to some sniping from both sides, even though the postponement will benefit Wycombe as we have a few players out at the moment. I do feel sorry for the people who bought non refundable train tickets though. Going on the Saturday was never really on the cards for me after the JPT game was announced as I was not going to go to the same place twice in a week, opting for some FA Cup action on Saturday instead.

On the day of the game I spent the morning chilling at home. I was looking on various forums and looking at some of the daft posts by both sets of fans on various forums. There was a lot of sniping from both sides and a lot of fans giving it mouth even though they had no intention of going to the game. I picked Lewis and Jordan up from the train station at 11.45 before meeting Paul & Chris at Paul's house at midday. Before setting off I stopped at ASDA to get petrol and something to eat as I was feeling a bit peckish. It was a fairly routine trip down to Bristol and we were there and parked up in a road near the Wellington Pub.

We all got the bus into Bristol, paying £2.50 single each. Once we got to the city I left the lads to do their own thing and went off in search of cider. My first choice was 'The Apple' - a cider boat on the waterfront. I had seen conflicting reports about what time it opened and sadly it would not be available until 5PM, by which time I would be looking at heading back towards the ground. So I had to search for an alternatives and after considering several, I decided to go back to a place I had been before. The Stable Cider bar would have more than enough to keep me happy and I had 2 ciders - Harvest Moon & Muddy Scamp. Both were new tries and were very nice too. With me having to drive later I was wary of overdoing it and so I set off to meet the others. They were still in their original pub, The Drawbridge. I chose not to drink, as they only did ciders you can get anywhere else. The same could be said of their next choice The Bay Horse.

By this time it was time to go back to the ground and so after getting some drinks and snacks from Poundland we all bundled into a taxi to the ground, As there were 5 of us it worked out cheaper than the bus and was a lot quicker too, even though it was just after 5 and the middle of the rush hour. I had been in contact, with an old teacher of mine, Mr Stedman, all afternoon and he had recommended a pub near the ground called 'The Lazy Dog' So after the taxi had dropped the others off at The Wellington I put the pub in my phone and it was only a couple of minutes away. It turned out to be a great place with a decent range of nice cider. I had my final pint of the night - Ty Gwyn Festival Ferret and very nice it was too.

It was still over an hour to kick off, so I went in search of dinner. I went to a Piri Piri Chicken place, having hot chicken strips and chips. After that I went back to my car and got my camera and drinks and went into the ground, paying £10 entry. I met up with the others in the ground and caught up with some others who had come down on the coach. Initially we stood on the open terrace but it bucketed down at half time and the stewards allowed us to move into the seated area.

As for the game, the less said about it the better. Wycombe were very poor and Bristol Rovers hardly had to get out of first gear. Granted we hit the bar but by then the game was as good as over with the hosts taking a 2 goal lead early on. We only made a few changes from our usual line up and those that came in did nothing to prove that they merited a place in the starting line up. The only positive that I can think of is that we kept the score down to 2 and didn't collapse. Only 3 players - Matt Ingram, Matt Bloomfield & Aaron Holloway could come out of the game with any credit whatsoever and I'd not felt this disheartened by a Wycombe performance since our relegation season.

We made good progress on the way home and were back in Wycombe by 11.30. After dropping everyone else off I was home just before midnight and being up at 4 in the morning, didn't get much sleep. After the last couple of showings from Wycombe I was glad to be having a break from them for a couple of weeks, as I was ground hopping until the next home game against Newport County in a fortnight's time. At least I'd be able to just kick back and watch a game without the pressure of wanting your side to do well.

 THE MEMORIAL STADIUM is fairly basic compared to most in the football league. The biggest stand is on the side where away fans enter and is called the East Stand. This elevated stand looks to offer a good view of the action and once housed the away fans who wished to sit. To either side of this is uncovered terracing and visiting supporters get the section to the left of the stand. Behind the left sided goal there is a temporary looking seated stand which is split between home and away fans. Opposite is the West Stand, a very smart looking stand which is quite small on capacity and also houses executive boxes. There is covered seating and standing around this too to further increase the capacity. Completing the setup is the Blackthorn End, a former uncovered terrace which was covered at the turn of the century after fundraising efforts from supporters.

The ground has good tea bars with decent sausage rolls and pasties. The club shop had a decent range of merchandise too. Though there is a supporters club at the ground, it's probably a good idea to go to one of the local pubs. The Queen Victoria is the most popular but is pretty poor drinks wise. Though in recent years it has become a 'home fans only pub and it's not advised for away fans to go in there. My favourite option is The Lazy Dog, around a 5 minute walk from the away turnstiles. Food wise you are spoilt for choice, with plenty of competition from outlets on the Gloucester Road. There is plenty of street parking to be had around the ground, with very few restrictions in place on matchdays. 

No comments:

Post a Comment