Friday, 28 March 2008
"This is the Memorial Stadium, home to Bristol Rugby"
It was in 1990, as a fourteen year old, that I first went with my dad to the Memorial Ground to see Bristol play. Eighteen years later and I'm still going. Less frequently these days (T has put paid to my season ticket), but it remains one of the most important locations in my own personal map of the world.
My lifetime has coincided with a decline in Bristol's playing prowess, so the good days at the Mem have probably been outweighed by defeats, but it is the good times that loom largest in the memory. I have seen personal heroes like Paul Hull and Derek Eves in their pomp. I hold dear the memories of derby wins that banished previously cocky Bath fans before the final whistle. I've seen the odd game, such as against Saracens in 1999, when the quality of the rugby has been of the very highest calibre.
So, it is with nostalgia and regret that I anticipate the proud old ground's impending demolition. We Bristol fans can't afford to be too precious. It was our own club's mismanagement that brought us to be tenants in our home, and we need to modernise the facilities if we are to prosper in the future.
So, I accept the need to rebuild the ground, but I am fearful of the two years it will take for the new Memorial Stadium to emerge. It's looking increasingly likely that Bristol will spend this time playing over the Bridge in Newport.
I love the Memorial Ground because it speaks to me of Bristol. It nestles into Horfield because it's part of the city, and when you go there you feel part of the city. That's why the Ground is special - and that is why the club is special. And to my mind it's a return to that heritage that has been at the heart of our mini-revival over the past four seasons.
If to Newport we must go, then we could put this in jeopardy. Sport is an unforgiving environment, and it won't wait for us to get back on our feet again simply because we've become temporary nomads.
Over the next few days the facts about the future will emerge, but we must not forget that Bristol Rugby prospers when it stays true to itself. If we have to leave the city temporarily then we have a fight on our hands to stand still, let alone stop ourselves falling back.