Football"s lost city! But both Bristol clubs can hit the glory trail again

Football's lost city! But both Bristol clubs can hit the glory trail again

'Ah, Bristol.'

So began the Bristolian
chapter of a 1999 biography of English club football. The two-word
opening was probably meant to echo the old Bisto advert but it also
captured a wistful feeling surrounding the sixth-biggest city in
England – 'the last great under-achieving metropolis of English
football'.

Some 13 years on and not enough has
occurred to alter the opinion that in Bristol football lacks urgency,
that this is primarily a rugby town.

Barry Meyer, left, fires past Ray Wood as Bristol Rovers humble the Busby Babes 4-0

Famous day: Barry Meyer, left, fires past Ray Wood as Bristol Rovers humble the Busby Babes 4-0

For the third time in 16 seasons, Bristol City and Bristol Rovers are both in the third round of the FA Cup today. But what about the fourth round

Rovers were formed in 1883 and City in 1894 but neither have won the FA Cup. That can also be said of the League Cup and, of course, neither have won the league title.

ROVERS FLASHBACK

BRISTOL ROVERS 4-0 MAN UTD

(FA Cup third round, Jan 7 1956)

BRISTOL ROVERS: Nicholls; Bamford, Alcock, Pitt, Hale, Sampson, Petherbridge, Biggs, Bradford, Meyer, Hooper.

Scorers: Biggs (2), Meyer, Bradford (pen).

MANCHESTER UNITED: Wood; Foulkes, /01/07/article-2083404-0F59714700000578-822_468x312.jpg” width=”468″ height=”312″ alt=”Early pedigree: Bristol City lost 1-0 to Manchester United in 1909 final” class=”blkBorder” />

Early pedigree: Bristol City lost 1-0 to Manchester United in 1909 final

McInnes, the latest Scottish manager to move south with a billowing reputation, stood in the gym at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night and considered smaller and bigger pictures. Less than three months in town, Bristol City had won one game when the Scot arrived.

CITY FLASHBACK

BRISTOL CITY 0-1 MAN UTD

(FA Cup final, Apr 24 1909)

BRISTOL CITY: Clay; Annan, Cottle, Hanlin, Wedlock, Spear, Staniforth, Hardy, Gilligan, Burton, Hilton.

MANCHESTER UNITED: Moger; Stacey, Hayes, Duckworth, Roberts, Bell, Meredith, Halse, J Turnbull, S Turnbull, Wall.
Scorer: S Turnbull.

Attendance: 71,401 (Crystal Palace).

'We were six points adrift at the bottom of the table. It was a club going one way,' he said. 'But I've played here against Bristol City and it was a club everyone always recognised as having the potential to go somewhere, a club you could do something with. We've seen clubs of similar size get to the Premier League – Burnley, Blackpool, Norwich, Swansea.

'We needed to get optimism about the place. People can get used to being downbeat, pessimistic.

'Why has Bristol not done as much as smaller cities I don't know. It feels like a football city. There are people here waiting for us to do something. And I'm not here to mess about.'

The 40-year-old from the edge of Glasgow could be the catalyst. But it will not be easy. Not only are the Robins 12million in debt and with as many as 17 players out of contract in June, McInnes also has a latent support to rouse. There were 12,000 on Tuesday to see City beat Millwall 1-0.

There is an element of indifference in Bristol that was summed up by one of McInnes' predecessors, Gary Johnson, when he said: 'The area is not football, football in the way Sheffield or Manchester is. And the two clubs split the support. Then there's Bristol rugby, with Bath and Gloucester close. And Bristol is a nice place. There's a lot to do, there's a broader culture.' Johnson added: 'Success breeds support.'

Growing reputation: Bristol City boss Derek McInnes

Growing reputation: Bristol City boss Derek McInnes

It is easily overlooked. He was near to matching the 1976 Alan Dicks team that made it to the old First Division and stayed for four years, but it says something of the Championship play-off losers, and perhaps Bristol, that when Dean Windass scored the euphoric 2008 Wembley volley to take Hull City to the top flight for the first time, the forgotten team they beat were Bristol City.

They had been promoted from League One the previous season; Johnson's achievement was under-rated nationally, although Bristolian rivalry meant it was enough for him to be a controversial contender for the Rovers job.

City's future, Johnson stressed, depends on a proposed move to a new stadium. It was the same view on Wednesday morning at Rovers' Memorial Stadium. Amid the fall-out of Buckle's departure, Rovers' finance director Toni Watola said: 'The issue for Bristol, for both clubs, is very much one of facilities.

'Part of the underachievement lies around outdated facilities. We have been trying to regenerate a stadium on this site or on an alternative site for the past 20 years. We now have plans for a 22,000 all-seat stadium about one-and-a-half miles away.'

Rovers share the Memorial Stadium with Bristol Rugby Club. They have 'pre-sold' it to Sainsbury's pending official permission for a new stadium.

But that is not guaranteed. The council once took two years to decide if Rovers could brighten their floodlights, a process that leads some to refer to 'Planet Bristol'.

bristol-graphic

Watola agreed. 'Sometimes Bristol, for all its size, sees itself as a bit of a village,' he said. 'I think that attitude is changing.'

Rovers' plan to move would take them to South Gloucestershire council land, which may help.

Certainly, spending 10 years from 1986 at Twerton Park in Bath did not. Identity and finances suffered. 'Around here, around this stadium, there's no doubt that rugby has a much stronger culture than football,' added Watola. 'Purely because this has been the rugby club's home longer than it's been ours.'

Rovers have had moments since – they reached the FA Cup sixth round three years ago – but tomorrow's 11,600 capacity is not yet sold out. Even so, seven per cent of Rovers' annual turnover will come in a single day.

So is it sustainable for Bristol to have two football clubs

Watola's eyebrows rose. 'Now there's a good question,' he said. 'Sheffield sustains two clubs and the hardcore at both Rovers and City means there will always be two clubs. I just don't see there being, for example, a Bristol United. What we see is that our move to a new stadium makes our plans sustainable. We could do so much better.'

That last sentiment is shared across town. Marie Day of City's Supporters' Trust said of Bristol's underachievement: 'It's a conversation we have but I don't understand it, lots of fans don't understand it.

'Apparently we're the fastest-growing city in the UK. And it's not just Bristol, it's a massive catchment area.

'There is the rugby tradition. And we've been that inconsistent for years. Look at Boxing Day – we lost at Coventry, bottom of the division. Then we go to Southampton, top, and win.

'We're not bewildered, we've just come to accept it.'