Who Are These Jobbers?
I once had the privilege of sharing a Metro with a horde of Manchester United fans en route to the Stadium of Light. Fuelled by the drink and an optimism that only comes with being an away fan visiting Sunderland, they serenaded the carriage with songs from their repertoire. Among them was a slight at rivals Manchester City for being a “massive club” because big-time Coronation Street loser Curly Watts was their “celebrity” fan.
The chant did raise a smile from this miserable soul prior to watching his side put up a meek fight against a mediocre United and it did make me ponder the concept of the celebrity supporter. While Sunderland can only lay claim to Steve Cram and that lad who did a rap on Love Island, Bristol Rovers can call upon one of Hollywood’s true big dawgs.
And this isn’t like when Tom Hanks decided he supported Aston Villa or when a bemused Sylvester Stallone walked out at Goodison Park, this is proper.
This is Bristol Rovers having Kelsey Grammer as a celebrity fan.
That’s right, THE Kelsey Grammer of Frasier, Cheers and Sideshow Bob fame sat in the West Stand and watching Rovers lost to Rochdale back in 2014.
Turns out Grammer’s wife, Kayte Walsh, is the daughter of a youth team coach at Rovers and that maniacal laugh echoed around the Memorial Stadium as the Bristolians headed towards relegation. Tremendous.
Bristol Rovers started life with the highly problematic name of The Black Arabs FC which apparently was because they were named after a rugby team called the Arabs who played in black. They finally decided on the name Bristol Rovers in 1899 and the supporters are known as the ‘gasheads’ which stems from Rovers’ stint of playing next to a gasworks.
On the plus side, it does mean you will be treated to an over-enthusiastic stadium announcer bellowing the words “IT’S THREE O’CLOCK ON A SATURDAY AND I SMELL GAS” as the teams emerge from the tunnel to the sound of an air raid siren. Which, I’m sure, will get a big cheers from those in attendance.
That Kelsey Grammer pun doing anything for you? Thought not.
What Is The Ground Like?
The Memorial Stadium has the aesthetic of someone running around a car boot sale looking for items to decorate their newborn child’s room. We’ll just take this grandstand from the racecourse, get that corrugated iron stand from the rugby ground, put in a terrace and that the temporary golf stand will do for the away stand.
Despite The Gas’ home looking like the result of a stadium building meeting held in a Wetherspoons at 1am, it has a lot more character than the soulless bowls and retail park accessories we have become accustomed to in this hellscape division. They have been trying desperately to build a soulless football ground next to a retail park and have been consistently knocked back.
You will all be pleased to know that Sunderland supporters are housed in the open terrace section of the East Stand while those that bottled a stand with no roof are in part of the South Stand.
How Do I Get There?
It’s another long, old slog down to the West Country, so crank that alarm clock for 5am and let’s get going. If you’re driving, take the A1(M) down to junction 35 before exiting for the M18 and subsequent M1. Turn onto the A42 at junction 23A as you pass East Midlands Airport before taking the M42 at junction 3A south of Birmingham and begin to head west.
Join the M5 and follow the signs for Bristol before exiting at junction 16 taking Gloucester Road (A38) following the signs of Filton and city centre. Pass The Wellington pub on your right hand side and turn left onto Filton Avenue where you will find the ground. Parking is available at the ground and in the surrounding areas.
Should you get lost then plop BS7 0BF into your sat nav.
For those arriving by train, Bristol Parkway is the closest major railway station to the Memorial Stadium where you can catch the 73, 73A or 73B buses to the ground. If you’re coming from Bristol Temple Meads, you can catch the 73 from outside the station or take a train to Filton Abbey Wood station and walk from there.
A Love Supreme buses leave the Stadium of Light at 7am with return fares priced at £42. Book your place here.
Where Can I Get The Sesh Started?
After a long trip down the M5, what better way to be welcomed into the warm bosom of Bristolian life than being told “no away fans, lads”. While there are a handful of pubs in the vicinity of the Memorial Stadium, I cannot completely guarantee that you won’t be turned away if you’re decked head to toe in red and white.
However, The Anchor further down Gloucester Road seemed to have a mix of home and away fans while The Wellington closer to the ground also allows in visiting supporters. Both of these should be taken with a pinch of salt since given the high profile nature of the game (BECAUSE WE’RE F*CKING MASSIVE MATE) so if you get turned away, not my problem.
If you have a little more time on your hands then head to the area of Montpelier. Very much like its French counterpart, it is full of demure women wearing berets and riding bicycles with baguettes in the front basket. There is also loads of pubs.
Around the corner of Montpelier train station you can find a quintet of lovely hostelries including The Bristol Flyer, The Gloucester Road Ale House & Kitchen and really embrace your south west surroundings with a flat cider at Cider Press.
I’m Staying Owa, Is There Owt To Do?
As a city that is essentially every hipster craft beer bar you’ve ever been in, there is plenty of things to see and do in Bristol to keep you entertained for 48 hours. Naturally, you could spend your afternoon gawping at the various Banksy murals that populate this city or you could see some of the other bloody well nice things Bristol has.
Fill your evening with dulcet indie tones by seeing Hippo Campus at SWX on Saturday evening or the incredibly named Gang and Inevitable Daydream at Hy Brasil Music Club. Head to M Shed before the match and see critically acclaimed wildlife photography from some of the world’s best snappers, be aware that the exhibition comes to an end on Sunday, so get in quick.
And if you want to keep this cavalcade of art going then head to Bristol Museum & Art Gallery to see a celebration of the work of Leonardo da Vinci. In recognition of the 500th anniversary of the big man’s death, there are numerous pieces from the earless one for you to stare at.