Bristol Rovers Football Club
The Early Years
When Bristol Rovers were first formed in 1883 they initially adopted the name Black Arabs F.C. as their kit was predominately black and their home ground was adjacent to the Arabs rugby team pitch. However just a year later, they changed their name to Eastville Rovers in order to attract fans who were residents of Eastville. For the 1884/85 season they moved to a field called Three Acres, the location of which is unknown. Initially the club only entered friendly matches, but they had their first taste of a professional game in the 1887/88 season when they played in the first ever Gloucester Cup. Unfortunately they were quickly knocked out of this by Clifton, losing 4-1. It was not until the following season in the same cup that they enjoyed their first professional win against Warmley, winning 1-0. In 1981 they made an arrangement that allowed them to play on the Schoolmasters Cricket Ground in Horfield. The club only played there for one season though, and moved to Durdham Down the following year.
1892 was a fundamental year for Eastville Rovers, as the club joined an organised league for the first time; the Bristol and District League which later became the Western Football League. Their first game in this league was played against Mangotsfield, whom they lost to 3-1. The rest of the season continued in a similar way, and ended with them coming sixth out of the nine teams that made up the league. The league steadily grew but Rovers always maintained a mid to low position on the table.
In 1894 the club moved to yet another home, this time at Ridgeway in Fishponds. The following season Eastville Rovers made their first appearance in the FA Cup, which they were quickly knocked out of by Warmley. Towards the end of the century, in 1897, Rovers purchased another ground from Bristol Harlequins Rugby team. They would stay at this home for a great deal longer than the rest, almost 100 years in total. For the last few years the club gradually became known as Bristol Eastville Rovers, and in 1899 the name was officially changed to Bristol Rovers.
The Early 1900s
At the beginning of the century, Bristol Rovers were accepted into the Southern League which was a great accomplishment for them. Unfortunately the club had a pretty poor start in the league, never finishing above thirteenth place in the years before the First World War. In 1920 a decision was made to move all teams in the Southern League into a new division in the Football League, the Third Division.
Although they were not performing particularly well, the club had a large fan-base, often playing to a crowd of 30,000. The most notable player in the early years was Ronnie Dix, who was only 15 years old when he made his debut for the team in 1928 in a game against Charlton Athletic. A week later he scored his first goal for the club, in a game against Norwich City. The strike made him the youngest goal-scorer in Football League History, and the record still stands today.
When Albert Prince-Cox was brought in to manage the team in 1930 he introduced many changes to the club. One of these was a new kit, which still exists today, which Prince-Cox thought made the players look more intimidating and larger. Their new manager did not have a great impact on their performance however, and in 1936 they suffered their greatest ever defeat losing 12-0, to Luton Town. Incredibly 10 of the goals scored were by Joe Payne, and this still remains a record for the most goals scored by one player in a match.
After The Wars
After the Second World War, Bristol Rovers had one of their most successful decades. They managed to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 1951. The game was against Newcastle United, and ended 0-0. The match was attended by 62,787 fans, setting a new crowd record for Bristol Rovers. The club also won a divisional title in 1952, Champions of for Division Three, which was the first title they had won since the Southern League. Other achievements included having one of their players called up to play for England, Alan Ball, and they also had their highest placing in the football pyramid when they finished sixth in the second tier in both the 1954/55 and 1958/59 seasons. The same decade Bristol Rovers had one of the greatest wins in their history in the FA Cup final against Manchester United. Matt Busby was manager at the time, and led the team to a 4-0 victory. Tragically the same day four of Bristol Rovers’ players were killed in the Munich Plane Disaster.
The 1960s started off as one of their greatest decades. In the 1960/61 season the Football League Cup was founded, and Rovers became the first team to win a fixture in this competition. In 1962 Esmond Million was signed as goalkeeper by Rovers. The same season a newspaper ran a story that revealed that Million had accepted money to allow goals in during a match against Bradford. Rovers managed to score two goals against their opposing team so luckily the game finished with a draw, but Million was awarded a fine by Doncaster Magistrates’ Court and was banned from playing football again for life by the Football Association. In 1963 a new club record was made by Geoff Bradford when he scored his 242nd league goal, making a total of 355 goals for the club. The highest position Rovers have ever reached in the league cup is the quarter-finals, which they achieved in both the 1970/71 and 1971/72 seasons. Later in the 1970s they suffered yet another catastrophic defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, losing 9-0.
The 1980s and 1990s
The inaugural season of the 1980s is regarded as the club’s worst in its history. Throughout the whole season the team only managed five league wins in total, and a dismal four home wins. However throughout the decade things steadily improved and in 1987 Gerry Francis was appointed as manager. He started signing players to the team, including Ian Holloway, Devon White and Nigel Martyn. With these players in the team Rovers came top of the Third Division during the final season of the decade. This win led to the introduction of the Bristol Rovers magazine, The Fanzine. The same year Rovers’ stadium was hit by an arson attack, with several Bristol City fans later being convicted of the crime. The core of the damage caused was to the main stand. They had to take up residence with Bath City whilst repairs were made, and did not return to Bristol until 1996 when Bristol Rugby Club, who were having financial difficulties, offered them the chance to purchase half of their Millennium Ground. They took the opportunity and the following year were able to buy the other half also. This was the first time Bristol Rovers had actually owned their own stadium since 1939.
At the start of the Millennium, Rovers were relegated to the Third Division and there was a succession of managers brought in to improve their performance, including Gerry Francis for the second time, Gary Thompson and Ray Graydon. Paul Trollope was the most successful of the managers, and under his guidance the team was able to reach the final of the Football League Trophy in 2007. The final was at Wembley Stadium and they played against Shrewsbury Town, whom they beat 3-1.
Season tickets are available to buy which give you access to all games played at Rovers’ home Memorial Stadium and, from January 2008, at Whaddon Road. Season tickets also give priority to selected cup games and some away fixtures. All under-10 members are given automatic free access to season tickets. Details about prices and how to apply for season tickets are available from the Rovers Website. Tickets to all home and away matches are also available from their website, and payment can be made online.
The Bristol Rovers Memorial Stadium is located on Filton Avenue, Horfield, Bristol, BS7 0BF. To reach the stadium by car, exit the M4 at junction 19 and join the M32. Travel along this for 3.2 miles until junction 2 and take the third exit towards Horfield and Southmead. From here signs will direct you towards the stadium.
From the M5, exit at junction 16, signposted towards Thornbury and Filton. Follow signs for the A38, and signs from here will direct you to the stadium.
The nearest mainline railway station is Bristol Parkway, approximately 2 miles from the stadium. Bus and taxi services connect the station with the football ground.