Memorial Ground - Bristol
Saturday, November 3rd, 2001,
V Oxford United, Division Two 3pm
After driving to visit
Ashton Gate the previous Monday, I opted for a different means of transport for
my prompt return to Bristol. Not only were the train times and prices
inconvenient, but I really wanted to do something totally different to
spice up a trip that I found it hard to look forward to - fatigue had
certainly set in. I therefore decided to take the National Express
coach from London to Bristol, and as they ran hourly I found it easy to
reserve my seat to arrive in time to watch the Manchester derby on Sky.
Catching the local train into London I made it across to Victoria with
plenty to spare before the 9 am departure, but the usual problems that seem to
blight the rail services every Saturday had spread; my coach was over half
an hour late and I began to regret opting for this method of transport.
But to my surprise the driver made up so much time on route that we actually arrived
in Bristol only 15 minutes late and after a stroll around the city centre I
found a pub close the bus station and settled down to the lunchtime match.
A few bottles later I caught the number 70 bus that took me on the 10
minute journey to the Memorial Ground and got my ticket for the West Stand
Enclosure. I attempted to take a look around the entire stadium from
the outside but the layout of the venue prevented that - houses block
passage in some areas.
As it was I made my way inside the ground and sat on the terrace steps in
brilliant sunshine. With a fair bit if time to kill before kick-off, the mixture
of alcohol and sunshine made my rather sleepy and I only looked forward to
getting the game over with and enjoying a sleep on the road to
London. As 3 o'clock drew closer the crowd piled in and the
atmosphere was enlivened by the visiting Oxford fans declaring their
allegiance for the afternoon; they were cheering for Bristol Rovers as they
wanted Swindon to join them in relegation to the 3rd Division (one
huge flag in particular drew applause from the Rovers fans!). I'd
never heard of the song "Goodnight Irene" before I visited the
Memorial Ground, but now I know it as the Rovers theme and the
pre-match rendition was terrific.
Before the teams made their way
out I looked around the stadium. To my right was the temporary South Stand
which - in the words of the Bristol City fans who I stayed with earlier
in the week - resembles a beer marquee at a cricket ground. Indeed,
the green and white striped canvass roof lent itself to that comparison.
Opposite me was the steep East Stand which looks even stranger due to its'
length either side of the halfway line. Underneath and in front of
the East Stand was a terraced enclosure which ran the entire length of the
pitch, with the away fans penned into the corner to my right. On my
left hand side was the home terracing which has only recently been covered with a
roof that was partly funded by the company that produces Blackthorn
cider. The area of the ground I was stood in comprised a small section of
terracing (with a separate families area tucked in between there and
the Blackthorn End) behind which was a handful of rows of seating.
Above these seats was a set of executive boxes but they design of the entire
stand was very odd and looks top-heavy.
The game itself was highly
entertaining and although already-doomed Oxford put up some resistance
during the first half, they eventually succumbed to a second half onslaught
which saw Rovers triumph 6-2. I actually left during injury time at the
end of the match and missed the final goal which also saw Oxford receive
a second red card in conceding a second penalty of the afternoon. I
had to return quickly to the city centre to get the 6 pm coach back to London
and as I wasn't sure what the traffic would be like leaving the
ground, I left nothing to chance. As it was I made it back in
plenty of time and returned to the pub I was in before the match to see the
first half of the Sunderland-Newcastle game. The extra beers also
ensured I slept during the journey home!
Looking back, it wasn't a bad day out although I was glad of the change to my
usual routine of driving matches. The coach was an refreshing alternative
(and an extremely cheap one) which also allowed me to enjoy a few drinks during
the day. As for the Memorial Ground, £13 was expensive to be standing up for a
2nd Division game. The stadium appears odd in places but it must be
remembered that until only recently it was purely a rugby stadium. I'm
sure that in time further re-development will occur and improve the facilities.
The one thing I cannot recommend highly enough during any visit to Bristol
Rovers is the quality of the Cornish pasties. All around the ground
are catering outlets that offer wonderful traditional pasties and they are
reasonably priced at £1.60 (if my memory serves me right). Well worth the
an away or general football fan who has visited the Memorial Ground recently?
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