Bristol City and Bristol Rovers announce merger
It has taken less than two months and if the more paranoid among Bristolian football fans expressed worry when Steve Lansdown became the majority shareholder of Bristol Rugby Club in February, that step has now been revealed as a mere staging post in the master plan — for today the formation of Bristol United Football Club has been announced.
In a statement, Lansdown admitted that the merger between Bristol City and Rovers would come as a shock to some — ‘As I said a month ago, I love sport generally and I want to see sport in Bristol be successful across the board, but this city really ought to be represented at the top end of English football — with the overall conurbation now at over a million and suggestions that Bath and Bristol could become a real megacity within half a century, I felt now was the time to put an end to tribalism and parochialism’.
The tortuous attempts to move to a new stadium and the nimbyism of Long Ashton Parish Council have left Lansdown at the end of his tether — ‘we had to act quickly and decisively when it became obvious that the Npower League would approve our plans — and we were aware of the misguided protests when my hero Robert Maxwell tried to form Thames Valley Royals all those years ago — I’m afraid that the deal is a fait accompli and we are now very much looking forward to forging Bristol United’s identity.’
The club will take to the field for Easter Saturday’s trip to Nottingham Forest sporting a new kit of red and blue quarters, with Derek McInnes and Mark McGhee forming a joint managerial team of a decidedly Tartan hue — McGhee said: ‘I have known Derek for years now and am relishing the opportunity to work with him — it’s also great to be back at the level I feel I belong as a manager.’
The phoenix club will assume the fixtures of the old Bristol City in the Championship table and will have their work cut out attempting to avoid an immediate slide into League 2 — to date, there has been no reaction from the League 2 clubs affected by Rovers’ demise — controversially, the results of matches played against the Pirates will now be expunged and the league table recalculated — Plymouth Argyle’s 3-2 win over Bristol Rovers in December as well as a recent point gained in the return fixture will now be airbrushed from history for instance; leaving the Devonians once more mired in the relegation zone.
The stealth with which the deal has been done will surprise many but perhaps reflects a new steeliness on the part of football’s movers and shakers to press ahead with plans that they know will be met with vigorous opposition. Easter Monday will see the newcomers play their first match at home and the visitors will be closest rivals Coventry City — where that match will take place is clouded in uncertainty however.
‘Medium term, we still want to be at Ashton Vale although Rovers had announced plans to move to a new stadium near the University of the West of England. To be brutally frank, I understand that South Gloucestershire council have been much more accommodating to the idea of having a spanking new stadium on their doorstep than the authorities we have been forced to deal with at City’ — said Lansdown. Just last month, a ruling over whether to grant a judicial review into the Robins’ plans for their new home was adjourned.
For now, it seems likely that Ashton Gate will host the Sky Blues — its larger capacity more suitable for such a pivotal fixture. With crowds hovering around the 11-12,000 mark for much of the campaign, United will be hope for a significant increase in revenue — whether the fans of these two proud clubs will play ball remains to be seen.