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Ashton Gate
Bristol City v Preston North End
League One
Saturday, April 5th 2014, 3pm
Paul Willott

(Preston North End fan)

Ashton Gate is a ground that has oddly benefitted from the failure of the World Cup bid in so much as the plans for a new stadium have been shelved. This pleases an old-fashioned purist such as myself, and I have enjoyed previous encounters at the ground as it still retains some character of bygone eras. 

On this occasion along with my partner we chose to set off from South London bright eyed and bushy tailed early in the morning for I had an eye on checking out the historic SS Great Britain before the match. We had a trouble free journey along the M4, and then dived down the M32 where I tried without success to pinpoint the former location of Eastville, one time home to Cityís rivals Bristol Rovers.

In past visits to Bristol I have found prior homework with a map essential as there used to be no signposting at all in the city centre for Ashton Gate. I noticed that there are now a few signs to help those travelling by car but I would still highly recommend homework as the signs that have sprung up are few and far between. Plus the city centreís traffic flow is not one for beginners!

We parked near the SS Great Britain and enjoyed a mind-blowing few hours wallowing in the museum piece that far exceeded my expectations, and if truth be told, we had to tear ourselves away to make sure we got to the football ground in reasonable time for the match. In other words, make a visit to the SS Great Britain a priority!

Another good reason for doing your homework before a visit to Ashton Gate is that the floodlight pylons that ďhomedĒ me in for my first ever visit have long since gone and been replaced by lights mounted on the stands of the ground. Having torn ourselves away from IK Brunelís lovely ship in enough time, we were able to secure some street parking fairly near Ashton Gate, and walk through some lovely parkland towards the ground.

I had to say I was eagerly anticipating this match, as Cityís recent form belied their lowly league position, and with our strong form away from home behind our promotion push, it suggested that a good game was possibly on the cards.

Ashton Gate

As usual, we away fans were situated in the Wedlock Stand, a stand which is truly past its sell-by date, with nothing but plastic seats minus even the basic provision of a back riveted to former terracing. However for me, I enjoy the atmosphere of such stands and although one cannot deny it lacks in the comfort stakes, I had mixed feelings when one of the friendly stewards informed me that this stand was due for demolition at the end of the season.

Having munched on a packed lunch already, we didnít sample the catering, but simply savoured the atmosphere slowly build up prior to kick-off. One of the added charms of the old Wedlock Stand is that it is shared with quite vociferous home support, and as the two sets of supporters try to out-sing each other, the low roof of the Wedlock Stand could make even a small bunch sound like a roman army in full clamour.

The fact that some of Prestonís players had earlier in the week been implicated somewhat in a spot-fixing issue seemed to give the Bristol City fans extra impetus to indulge in banter and by kick-off, the atmosphere was pretty electric and exciting. I wasnít unduly surprised; indeed I would have been disappointed if it had been anything else as Iíve always found the Bristol City lads to be loud and loyal in quite some number for a club that for its relative size hasnít enjoyed all that much success in my lifetime.

The game kicked off and as Iíd predicted, was a very tight affair with no quarter given and chances going begging at either end. It was the sort of pulsating end to end match action that is just what I love about supporting my team. It wasnít until half way through the second half that Preston broke the deadlock with a set-piece free kick routine, and that pretty much lifted the roof off the old stand; but within 10 minutes the roof was lifted off again as City equalised with a well taken goal. And thus the match ended honours even, which was a fair result, although fingernails for both sets of fans were chewed as the end to end action continued right up until the final whistle.

Hence we drifted out of the old ground and back to the car to head home and catch our breath.  I have always enjoyed my visits to Ashton Gate, and if it turns out that promotion is not to be for Preston this year, one of the consolations will be penciling in a visit to Bristol again to see both the SS Great Britain and Ashton Gate and maybe give a verdict on the new stand?

A great day out that my girlfriend and I enjoyed from start to finish!

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