Bristol: a divided city united by the struggles of City and Rovers brought together by FA Cup

For City and Rovers, the Cup provides welcome diversion from league toil and stadium trouble

The worth of the FA Cup remains a perennial debate. Ask Wigan fans torn between a one-off Wembley slap-up meal and losing the daily bread and expensive butter on offer in the Premier League. For Bristol and its two clubs this weekend at least offers a break from their toils in the league, a chance for much-needed new beginnings.

City, squatting in the League One drop zone fearing successive relegations, host Watford in the third round at Ashton Gate tomorrow. Rovers play in the second round, travelling to Crawley Town to complete their replay, the first attempt having been washed out. The weather left both sides idle on New Year’s Day; City saw their position worsen as Crewe Alexandra and Notts County both won. In League Two, Rovers remain a point above the dotted line.

Bristol’s footballing divide is bridged by a common  struggle. Both clubs are failing on the field and desperate to secure their futures off it, each ensnared in their own saga over where they will play in coming seasons. Had England staged the 2018 World Cup, Bristol was to be one of the venues; this is a city with footballing potential.

“Things are never as good as you think they are when you are winning and never as bad as you think they are when you are doing poorly,” said Jon Lansdown, City’s managing director and son of the club’s owner, in October in defence of manager Sean O’Driscoll.

O’Driscoll was dismissed in November. He had been in charge since January, when Derek McInnes was sacked; McInnes had been there little more than a year after the departure of Keith Millen, whose 16-month tenure appears an age in comparison with that of the man he replaced. Steve Coppell quit City after two games in August 2010. Two years earlier, City were one game from the Premier League, beaten by Hull City in the play-off final.

For Watford’s visit, prices have been cut to £10 for adults in an attempt to entice fans into Ashton Gate. The ground is at the heart of this sorry tale, as it is with Rovers. City have been looking into a new home for the best part of a decade and while they have been house-hunting their current one has suffered.

“When you turn up, as we did over the Christmas period, and there’s no toilet paper, blocked loos, the televisions don’t work in the main concourses,” says Stuart Rogers, chair of City’s Supporters Club and Trust, “you have the feel of a club waiting to do something good but while it is waiting, a lot of the  day-to-day running costs appear to have been pegged back. The fans’ experience has been pretty poor.”

In years gone by City have freely spent money provided by their benefactor Stephen Lansdown, but the arrival of Financial Fair Play and the realisation that a wage bill of over £18m was unsustainable have meant cutbacks and Lansdown Junior’s “five pillars”, a blueprint to encourage prudence.

Supporters remain to be convinced and allied to events on the field – 21 league games without victory over the tail end of last season and the start of this – it is a grim time, although back-to-back wins in the league, the first for nearly a year, have raised hopes.

The club, having declared record losses last year, will soon decide whether to spend £40m increasing Ashton Gate’s capacity to 27,000 or £92m on building Ashton Vale, a stadium for 30,000.

Their current average attendance is 11,653, though they took 36,000 to the  play-off final at Wembley, as much as Rovers did for their League Two play-off final in 2007.

Rovers, relegated back to League Two in 2011, also want to build, planning a 21,700 stadium in partnership with the University of the West of England funded by the sale of the Memorial Ground. Rovers’ average attendance is under 6,000 but the club believes a new ground means more fans – chairman Nick Higgs talks of a “huge armchair support” in the city and insists any new home has to be “future-proofed”, taking an optimistic view and looking to what Swansea City and Brighton have done.

It is not a view that encompasses Conference football. “Staying in the league is  massively important,” says Higgs.

Rovers too began the season slowly but have picked up. In John Ward, who succeeded Mark McGhee at Rovers a year ago, and City’s latest appointment Steve Cotterill, both clubs have managers schooled at their respective levels. Their employers need them to do their jobs well if the off-field pieces are ever to be fitted together.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower