This morning, I had the pleasure of watching Bristol City stun Manchester United with an injury time winner to seal a spot against Manchester City over two legs in the semi finals next month. With Arsenal and Chelsea also in the draw, Bristol City will become the neutrals favorite from the get go. And, as I thought about the wonderful result this morning (yes, yes, I know, bitter Liverpool fan rejoicing at United’s loss), my memory went back a visit to Ashton Gate on a cold Friday night in October 2015.
I’d just arrived in the UK on the morning of the match with my ex-wife and was dead tired so we checked into a hotel for an afternoon kip then jumped in the hire care to drive out to Bristol for the match. You know, I cannot for the life of me remember where we stayed. All I know is that it took about an hour in the car to get there. We arrived in Bristol around mid afternoon so had a sneak in the shops and enjoyed some delicious British food for lunch. As the evening rolled into focus, I decided it was time we made our way out to the ground. I have this thing you see. I need to acquire a program for every match I attend. Sometimes, they sell out before kick off which makes life tricky to find one in the ground or after the match. Parking turned into a bit of a nightmare so, with this in mind, we decided to park a little further way from Ashton Gate and walk. We still had an hour before kick off after all. Plenty of time to grab my program before kick off.
As we approached the ground, I noticed that the western side of the ground was missing a grandstand. All I could see was a sea of scaffolding. Of course now, there is the beautiful Landsdown Stand that covers the entire western side and holds up to 11,000 punters however, at the time, it was quite surreal to see open spaces for a football match. Now, what about that match day program you say? Old muggins here left his cash in the glove compartment of the car. By now, it was too late to head back so I thought it would be simple enough to grab a program from the club shop before heading in. Problem was, they were sold out. Too easy. I’ll just go to a cash point and get some money that way. Do you think I could find a cash point? After asking around, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to get to a cash point down the way and back in time for kick off. Fuck it I thought. I’ll just write to the club and ask to pay for one plus postage. More on that later.
Inside the ground and with minutes to spare before kick off, the atmosphere was bouncing. Not a selfie stick or bucket list tourist in sight. Just a stadium full of footy fans desperate to see their team win. Our seats were in the South Stand and around 10 rows from the front. A good spec if you ask me. The bonus to this was that we were surrounded by the Bristol City supporters who make up the “home end”! Proper buzzing it was! A win would get City out of the relegation zone however, a loss would see them cemented to the bottom of the ladder.
Aaron Wilbraham stunned the Forrest defense striking in the 4th and 11th minutes to set up an early lead for which would remain in place for the remainder of the night untouched. City were out of the relegation zone and the Forrest fans had a dull trip home ahead of them. I emailed the club at the ground to asked about getting hold of a program and in true pass the buck fashion, they put me onto the company who produces the programs who in turn failed to respond to my twelve email requests. I always make sure I have some coins in my pocket these days. It makes buying a program at the match so much easier.
Ashton Gate now holds around 25,000 supporters where as the ground record came in 1935 for an FA Cup tie that attracted no less than 43,335 spectators against Preston North End. If you have not yet visited Ashton Gate for a match then, may I suggest you find the time to head into Bristol for a match and maybe even make a weekend of it. The people of Bristol are wonderful and there is plenty to do in one of England’s finest cities. For the record, we made it back to our hotel without falling asleep on the road and enjoyed one of the best nights sleep in some time. The only let down was not getting a program on the day. Oh well, onwards and upwards…..