A couple of surprises in Bristol: Ashton Gate (Bristol City)

Ashton Gate

Ah the magic of the FA Cup. I sit here and type this as I have the Fourth Round draw on the TV, and it does still have a certain romance about it; waiting to discover who your team has been drawn against, or seeing the next potential giant-killer as lower league teams are pipped against the might of the Premier League.

The magic of the cup however isn’t quite what it used to be and tickets to see Premier League teams in action can be pretty cheap. Unfortunately the Premier League opposition I was to see happened to be one of the least glamorous in Huddersfield Town, as they faced Bristol City in the Third Round.

Never mind, I wanted to see an FA Cup match and it had been a couple of months since I last went to the football.

I’d realised a couple of weeks before that I’d be in the West of the country for FA Cup weekend and £15 to see Premier League opposition seemed reasonable enough.

What I hadn’t accounted for was the sudden drop in temperature in England, with literal freezing temperatures meaning I was doubting whether to head to Bristol (I am more of a sun seeking Sports Tourist after all). However I deemed £15 too much to waste in the end.

My initial plan was to get to Bristol to have a look around the city and take some edgy videos of the sights, such as Cabot Circus, the SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. As it turned out, I was running late as I’d bought a house that morning (long story) and arrived into Bristol at 3:30pm. I’d always liked Bristol and did nearly end up at University in the City once upon a time, so was disappointed not to get the chance to have another look around.

I’d taken the 25 minute train from Chippenham to Bristol Temple Meads (a reasonable £9.20 for a return), and changed there for the short 5 minute ride to Parson Street station close to the ground. Bristol Temple Meads has connections to many of the UK’s major cities, so most fans will find it simple enough to travel to the ground via train.

With Parson Street station being only 15 minutes walk to the ground, I thought I’d have enough time for a quick drink at the local and stumbled across The Robins on the way. £3.90 for a pint of Amstel and the atmosphere was friendly enough but I believe the pub is restricted to home fans only.

From the pub, it was only another 10 minute walk to the ground. I’d been to Ashton Gate before, at least 10 years ago and sat in the away end. The score escapes me but my blurred memory is of an old, tired looking ground where you had to walk in front of the home fans to get to the away end so I really wasn’t expecting much.

I was surprised as I got closer to see a fan zone, with plenty of bars and food on offer outside of the ground and a live band playing (see the beginning of the video at the end of this post). This is the first time I’d experienced this at an English football ground and I think its a fantastic idea, having fans congregate at the ground pre-match.

Walking around the outside of Ashton Gate, it seemed almost like a modern ground, with red lights outlining each of the stands and big, bright signs for each of the entrances. Through the turnstiles and this area was also large and bright, with home fans being able to walk around the whole of the inside. Being also home to the Bristol Bears rugby club, I especially liked the touches around the ground highlighting various pieces of history of both the Bears and Bristol City.

There was a fair selection of food and drink on sale within the concourse and a pint of Heineken set me back £4.80 (standard football ground price hike). Do note that when I returned at half time, the queue’s for food and drink were horrendous and I just gave up.

I was sat in the Dolman Stand, the ‘East’ stand along the side of the pitch and opposite to the tunnel/dugouts. I’d purposely chosen a seat pretty much on the halfway line and a few rows up, and I have to say the view was fantastic of the pitch, although leg room was a bit tight.

I guess you can’t blame the Bristol City fans themselves for staying away from this tie, I haven’t been able to find attendance stats online but I’d estimate the 27,000 seater stadium was perhaps a third full?

I think the ones that stayed away had done themselves a massive favour, as the first half in particular was very dull. I can’t remember seeing any major chances for either side and at half time, I decided to add some excitement to my evening and moved to the opposite end of the ground and sit in the Lansdown Stand.

Once again the view was rather good, and there was a man with a red feather in his hat at least trying to create some atmosphere, a bit of research tells me this was Stoney Garnett – a City regular.

The action didn’t improve much in the second half and I spent most of the time looking at my phone, occasionally glancing up. The highlight of my evening occurred when a steward accused me of filming the whole match. As per the video at the end of this post, I’d barely taken any footage and lets be honest, I feel sorry for anyone who would want to watch this match again.

Just as I considered leaving the match early (not something I usually do) to catch the 7:30 from Parson Street, Bristol City scored a goal to at least add some excitement to the last 15 minutes. City did hang on to pull off a win, I wouldn’t call it a giant killing or a shock as I didn’t realise at the time that Huddersfield Town had already lost 8 in a row, perhaps a surprise?

My next dilemma was how to get back to Bristol Temple Meads as the next train from Parson Station wasn’t for a while. I decided to give the walk ago, walking past The Rising Sun pub, a pleasant looking pub just a short walk from the ground (although I believe is also home fans only). An uninspiring 45 minute walk later alongside the River Avon I ended up back at the station and on the 8:30 back towards London Paddington.

I really must of missed the note that Ashton Gate had received a major redevelopment. A little bit of online research post-match has revealed an overhaul of the stadium was conducted ahead of the 2016-17 season and I was really pleasantly surprised of what Ashton Gate had to offer for a fan’s experience. Apparently there are further plans to develop a Sports and Convention Centre on site to be the new home of the Bristol Flyers basketball team. Well there we go, a day full of surprises…

Visiting Ashton Gate? A guide to the stadium can be accessed here.

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