A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today
Rarely in the limelight, never in a major final or even semi-final, Bristol Rovers can count upon a loyal fan base recently rewarded with two promotions in as many seasons.
As long as there is a Bristol City, there will be a Bristol Rovers, the older of the two cross-town rivals. Founded as the Black Arabs in 1883, the club have always been based in the north-east of the city, from early friendly matches in Purdown to 90 years at Eastville.
When it came, in 1986, the farewell to Eastville was a damp squib, a crowd of 3,500 staying to the bitter end of a drab draw with Chesterfield.
But the decades in between forged the Rovers faithful, as the club climbed from the Southern League to Division Three in 1920 and stayed there until 1953.
The main players were loyal toilers: Harry Bamford, George Petherbridge, later groundsman Jack Pitt. Even after a player of the quality of Geoff Bradford, a one-time England cap in 1955, had been discovered locally, he stayed a one-club man despite attractive offers.
Bradford was part of Rovers’ most successful side, winners of the Third Division South in 1953, top-six finishers in the Second Division and twice quarter-finalists in the FA Cup.
Relegated to the Third in 1962, the club came back up in 1974, right-winger Harold Jarman a fans’ favourite at Eastville as the Pirates pushed for promotion under former Rovers players Bill Dodgin Sr and Don Megson.
Thanks to goals from strike partnership Alan Warboys and Bruce Bannister, Megson kept Rovers in the Second. A lively fan culture developed on the terraces of Eastville’s Tote End. Rovers and their supporters became known as The Gas after the gasworks that stood alongside the ageing ground.
In 1986, it all came to an end. Eastville and the Tote End were bulldozed, and cash-strapped Rovers were forced to move to Twerton Park just outside Bath.
Despite this setback, one-time England midfielder Gerry Francis was still able to lift Rovers back into the Second Division in 1990 before he was attracted back to his old club, QPR.
Since relegation in 1993, Rovers have never reclaimed second-flight status, though came close in 1995, a 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield at a Wembley play-off before a crowd of 59,000.
Three years later, popular old boy Ian ‘Ollie’ Holloway took Rovers to another play-off, the Pirates losing on aggregate to Northampton despite a 3-1 win in the first leg. On the plus side, at least Rovers were back in their familiar blue-and-white quarters, having tried a stripy number for no reason whatsoever.
By now, too, the club was on a firmer financial footing and able to buy the Memorial Stadium from debt-ridden Bristol Rugby, and move from Bath back to north Bristol. On the pitch, under former Pirates midfielder Paul Trollope, with goals from Richard Walker, Rovers won the League Two play-off at Wembley in 2007.
But, with a rapid turnover of managers, the club dropped down to the fourth flight in 2011 then out of the League altogether in 2014. A heartbreaking home defeat to Mansfield sealed the club’s fate when a draw would have sufficed.
Ironically, it was Mansfield-born manager Darrell Clarke who had failed to keep Rovers up – but then oversaw an unbeaten run in the Conference Premier to take the club to a Wembley play-off. Beating Grimsby on penalties in 2015, before another nail-biting finish a year later saw the Pirates gain immediate promotion from League Two thanks to a 92nd-minute winner in the last game. Top goalscorer Matty Taylor had hit the post before ever-present defender Lee Brown tapped in the rebound to send a packed Memorial Stadium crazy.
With the Jordanian takeover of the club by the Al-Qadi family confirmed months earlier, Rovers seemed set for serious assault on the Championship. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Selling Matty Taylor to Bristol City, forcing the forward to move house to avoid death threats, the Pirates missed out on a play-off place in 2016-17, then slipped ever further down the table to bottom in 2020-21.
The field of dreams – and the stands around it
Disjointed in appearance, as would befit an 80-year-old rugby ground being converted for the requirements of modern-day football, the Memorial Stadium will be the home of Bristol Rovers for a fair while to come.
Although the club own the ground, having bought it from then cash-strapped Bristol Rugby, Rovers also planned a move away, to the UWE college campus in Frenchay, on the northern fringes of town. Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s then decided against buying the Memorial Stadium site.
So, for the time being, Rovers are stuck with a ground opened to commemorate the fallen of World War I – a memorial still stands at the main entrance. In fact, trying to find the main entrance at all – tucked at the end of a little path by house number 27 on Filton Avenue – sums up the reason why the club is so keen on moving out.
For first-time visitors, the ground is a bit curious and a quirky relief from the plethora of identikit stadia elsewhere. The main stand has all the appearance of a cricket pavilion while the rest is a mish-mash of standing and seated sections, cobbled together as finances and agreements between Bristol Rugby and Rovers allowed.
Now that the rugby club has moved out for good, football is the focus here – when in League One, Rovers attracted close to 12,000 capacity for major fixtures. Home fans occupy the North (Blackthorn) Stand while visiting supporters are allocated adjoining corners of the East and South Stands, with a limited allocation of seats. Overall seating capacity is a paltry 3,000.
Going to the ground – tips and timings
The stadium is way north of the city centre.
From stop Tc at Temple Meads station, buses 70/71 (every 10min, every 15min Sun, direction UWE) run to Filton Avenue (journey time 30-35min), via stop Ca at downtown The Centre. Alight at Churchways Avenue by Horfield Methodist Church.
From bay 13 at Bristol bus station, buses 78/79 (every 30min, every hr Sun) also run to Churchways Avenue (15-20min journey time).
From town, stop He at Lewins Mead, bus 73 (direction Cribbs Causeway) runs to Churchways Avenue (every 15min, every 30min eve/Sun, journey time 15min). Note the X73 service doesn’t stop at Churchways Ave.
The Churchways Ave stop is by the junction with Filton Avenue, 2mins from the ground. Coming back, you can pick up the bus at stop B on Filton Avenue.
Alternatively, you can take the train from Temple Meads to Filton Abbey Wood (every 10-20min, 10min journey time) and get buses 70, 71 or 73 back towards town along nearby Filton Avenue, from Wallscourt Rd to stop B by the ground, 8mins journey time.
A taxi from Temple Meads should cost around £10.
The sat nav code for the Memorial Stadium is BS7 0BF. Get here reasonably early, and there should be street parking within easy reach of the ground. Muller Road (around the postcode BS7 9QY) and Gloucester Road, partlcularly around The Wellington pub (BS7 8UR), are the best places to start looking.
Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much
Tickets go on sale several weeks in advance at the club shop (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match-day Sat 9am-3pm & after final whistle, non-match day Sat 9am-12.45pm) at the stadium.
There are also online sales.
Prices are broken down into match categories A and B, seated and standing. Sitting in the West Stand costs £26/£24, under-22s £23/£21, over-65s/under-16s £20/£18. Standing, £20/£18, £14/£12 and £11/£9. The East Stand is slightly cheaper. The Thatcher End is £18/£16, £14/£12 and £10/£8.
Away fans pay £21/£19 to sit, £18/£16 to stand, discounted prices £17/£15 and £12/£10, £14/£12 and £10/£8.
On-the-day sales incur a £2 levy – there’s a match-day ticket office (credit cards accepted) and cash-only turnstile.
what to buy
Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts
The club shop (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match-day Sat 9am-3pm & after final whistle, non-match day Sat 9am-12.45pm) behind the main stand sells all kinds of gear for the roving Rovers fan – branded dog bandanas, bottle openers and stainless-steel flasks. As well as the revered blue-and-white quartered shirts, you can pick up the change strip of black with yellow pinstripes.
Where to Drink
Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors
There are plenty of pubs and bars at the Montpelier end of Gloucester Road but it’s quite a trek to the ground. One gathering point is The Sportsman on Nevil Road, where several live games are screened at the same time and Bristol-based pub group Wickwar Wessex oversee the cask-conditioned ales, quality lagers and, most importantly, friendly atmosphere. Plenty of pool tables, too.
At the corner of Ashley Down Road, closer to the ground, the smart, family-friendly Royal Oak only opened in 2009, serving quality food and sought-after beers such as Moretti, Ubu, Sharp’s Doom Bar, Butcombe and Reveller cider. There’s a big screen inside, large terrace out front and board games to keep the kids entertained.
If you’re serious about your ales, the Drapers Arms further up at No.447 looks like a shop but is, in fact, Bristol’s first micropub. According to ‘micro publican’ Garvan Hickey, it has ‘no TV, no WiFi, no lager, no snacks, just quality ales and clean glasses’. Opens from 5pm Mon-Fri, Sun, and from noon on Sat.
Still on the stadium side of the road, the Bristol Fryer at No.431 is a classic pre-match chippie, its walls covered in Eastville-era match programmes..
Further up Gloucester Road, past the turn-off for Filton Avenue, The Wellington is a lovingly refurbished pub/restaurant/B&B run by St Austell brewery. Mains now include rump steak and sweet chili salmon in the £12 range, and the wine list takes precedence over beer. There’s a beer garden, though, and big-screen TV, and you can even book rooms if you’re making a weekend of it. Usually welcomes away fans unless it’s a needle match.