For 15 years you’ve been a season ticket holder at ‘x’ club. Your Saturday routine is set in stone. 12pm, pub. 2.30pm, walk to the ground. 3pm, kick off. 3.45pm, bemoan/applaud (delete as appropriate) tactical ineptitude/genius whilst flicking through someone else’s programme. 4.50pm, scrum to leave the ground slating manager/marveling at performance and wondering if ‘this could be our year. 5pm, back in the pub to drown sorrows/celebrate inevitable relegation/glory.
But now you’ve moved to Bristol. And ‘x’ club is ‘y’ amount of miles away. For the first few weeks you try to make it back. Yet the routine of dashing to Temple Meads from Friday lectures and arriving back in Bristol shattered on Sunday afternoon is not conducive to a fledgling university social life, nor is it particularly helpful in steering clear of your overdraft. And midweek games? Forget it. If you want your regular fix of live football you’re going to have to look for options a bit closer to home (your new one that is). Luckily, Bristol has two.
Let’s start with the basics. City will kick off this campaign in the Championship having won automatic promotion from League One last season by winning the division at a canter. They also achieved a rare double, winning the football league trophy with a Wembley win over Walsall. Rovers also won promotion last season and return to the football league in League 2 having spent just one season in the National League following their heartbreaking relegation in 2014 (in the 2013/14 season Rovers did not once enter the relegation zone until the final day of the season).
As their differing league positions would suggest, the on-pitch rivalry between the two is somewhat dormant, restricted of late to meetings in the Football League Trophy. Their last league meeting came way back in 2001, in the then-named Second Division. Off the field though it remains intense. Both sets of fans regard the other as the enemy and when they did meet in 2007 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy things turned ugly with numerous arrests made and three police officers injured.
So who should I choose? Well if you want to do it ‘proper’ and support your local team then it depends where you live. City’s Ashton Gate is easily accessible for city centre residents but requires a lengthier bus journey from Stoke Bishop. Dwellers of UH, Hiatt Baker, Wills, Durdham, Badock and Churchill are however in closer proximity to Rovers’ Memorial Ground, although a jaunt up the lively Gloucester Road provides a fairly direct route from the city centre too.
Others like to base their choice on history. Rovers are the elder, having been formed in 1883, then under the name ‘Black Arabs’, whilst City came along fourteen years later in 1897. Neither have ever won a major trophy (discounting short-lived competitions such as the Watney Cup) but City came by far the closest, albeit it over 100 years ago, when they finished as top-flight runners up in 1907 and were beaten FA Cup finalists in 1909. Rovers on the other hand have never reached the top division and quarter final appearances, most recently in 2007/08, mark their most successful forays into the FA Cup.
If the quality of the football (and indeed the footballers) on show is your determining factor then obviously Ashton Gate is the place to go. In goal there’s Football Manager legend Frankie Fielding and at the back there’s the towering Aden Flint, a man who once had the novel honor of representing the England C team. Ex-Arsenal Lukes Ayling and Freeman are also on the books, the latter of whom often dazzles in an advanced midfield role, while up top last season’s top scorer Aaron Wilbraham is joined by new signing Jonathan Kodija who was Ligue 2 Player of the Year last season and is signed as a replacement for QPR-bound Jay-Emmanuel Thomas.
Rovers have understandably fewer recognisable names. Wales international Jermaine Easter is perhaps the first to stand out but he is not the club’s only international with wide man Jake Gosling having represented Gibraltar. Captain Mark McCrystal is a former Northern Ireland U21 skipper whilst full-back Daniel Leadbitter (no relation to Grant) and new loan signing Jeffrey Monakana came through the youth ranks at Newcastle and Arsenal respectively. Last season’s top scorer Matty Taylor will again lead the line with boss Darrell Clarke seeking a top seven finish.
Of course this is a temporary measure. Think supporting Ghana because England have been knocked out. You want them to do well but its not quite life or death when Asomoah Gyan rattles his penalty off the bar. Even as the full time whistle blows at Ashton Gate you’ll be back to frantically checking the scores coming in from The Madjeski or The Valley. And when Christmas and Easter come you’ll be back on the terraces of Eland Road or Selhurst Park. But for three years, or maybe more, spare a little time for one of Bristol’s clubs. And who knows? Maybe they’ll get Chelsea at home in the cup…