Bristol Rovers F.C.

Bristol Rovers
Full name Bristol Rovers F.C
Nickname(s) The Pirates, The Gas
Founded 1 August 1883 (1 August 1883) (Black Arabs)
Ground Memorial Stadium
Horfield, Bristol
Capacity 12,296 (3,000 seated)[1]
President Wael al-Qadi[2]
Chairman Steve Hamer[2]
Manager Darrell Clarke
League League One
2017–18 League One, 13th of 24
Website Club website

Bristol Rovers Football Club is a professional football club in Bristol, England, which plays in League One, the third tier of English football. The team play home matches at Memorial Stadium in Horfield.

The club was founded in 1883 as Black Arabs F.C., and were also known as Eastville Rovers and Bristol Eastville Rovers before finally changing its name to Bristol Rovers in 1899. The club's official nickname is The Pirates, reflecting the maritime history of Bristol. The local nickname of the club is The Gas, from the gasworks next to their former home, Eastville Stadium, which started as a derogatory term used by fans of their main rivals, Bristol City, but was affectionately adopted by the team. Cardiff City and Swindon Town are considered their second and third biggest rivals.[3]

Rovers were admitted to the Football League in 1920 and have played there ever since, apart from spending the 2014–15 season in the Conference Premier.[4] They came close to losing their league status in 1939, when they were re-elected after finishing bottom of Division Three (South), and in 2002 when the team finished one league position away from relegation to the Football Conference. Their highest finishing positions were in 1956 and 1959, on both occasions ending the season in 6th place in Division Two, then the second tier of English football. Rovers were Football League Trophy finalists in 1990 and 2007.


Early years

The club was formed following a meeting at the Eastville Restaurant in Bristol in September 1883. It was initially called Black Arabs F.C., after the Arabs rugby team and the predominantly black kits in which they played. This name only lasted for the 1883–84 season, and in a bid to draw more fans from the local area the club was renamed Eastville Rovers in 1884.[5]

Football: Wotton-under-Edge v Black Arabs (Bristol). A match under association rules has been played at Wotton-under-Edge between these clubs, resulting in the defeat of the visiting team. The home team were in every point superior to their antagonists and after a one-sided game Wotton were declared victors by six goals to nil.

Dursley Gazette, 3 December 1883, reproduced in Byrne & Jay (2003).[6] A report of the Black Arabs' first match.

The club played only friendly games until the 1887–88 season, when it took part in the Gloucestershire Cup for the first time. In 1892 the club became a founder member of the Bristol and District League, which three years later was renamed the Western League. In 1897 Eastville Rovers joined the Birmingham and District League, and for two seasons played in both this league and the Western League.[7] At the beginning of the 1897–98 season, the club turned professional and changed its name to Bristol Eastville Rovers,[7] and on 17 February 1899 the name was officially changed to Bristol Rovers.[8] In 1899 Bristol Rovers joined the newly formed Southern League, where they remained until 1920, winning the league title along the way in 1905.[9]

Into the Football League

For the 1920–21 season, the Southern League teams were moved into the new Division Three of the Football League, which became Division Three (South) the following season. They remained in this division for over 30 years, before winning the league, and promotion in the 1952–53 season.[10]

The team has won promotion on five other occasions: in 1973–74 from the Third Division to the Second Division, again in 1989–90 as Division Three champions, in 2006–07 to the Football League One, in 2014–15 to League Two from the Conference Premier, and then in 2015–16 to League One. The club has been relegated six times—in 1961–62, 1980–81, 1992–93, 2000–01, 2010–11 and most recently at the end of the 2013–14 season.[11]

The highest position in the football ladder achieved by Rovers at the end of season is sixth place in the second tier, which they did twice; once in 1955–56, and again in 1958–59.[9] The closest they came to the top flight was in 1955–56, when they ended the season just four points below the promotion positions.[12] The lowest league position achieved by the club is twenty-third out of twenty-four teams in the fourth tier, which has occurred twice. In the 2001–02 season,[9] relegation from the Football League was narrowly avoided on two counts; firstly they ended just one league position above the relegation zone, and secondly the rules were changed the following season to increase the number of relegation places to two, meaning that if Rovers had finished in that position one year later they would have been relegated.[13] This position was matched at the end of the 2013–14 season, which this time saw Rovers relegated to the Conference for the first time.[14] They returned to the league at the end of their first Conference season, with a penalty shootout victory over Grimsby Town in the play-off final.[15] In February 2016 it was announced that a 92% stake in the club had been bought by the Jordanian al-Qadi family and that Wael al-Qadi, a member of the Jordan Football Association, would become the president.[16] The club is now owned by Dwane Sports Ltd with 92.6% of the shares[17] with Bristol Rovers Supporters Club owning the remaining 7.4%.[18]

Cup competitions

The only major cup competition won by Bristol Rovers is the 1972 Watney Cup, when they beat Sheffield United in the final.[19] The club also won the Division Three (South) Cup in 1934–35, as well as winning or sharing the Gloucestershire Cup on 32 occasions. The team has never played in European competition; the closest Rovers came was when they missed out on reaching the international stage of the Anglo-Italian Cup in the 1992–93 season on a coin toss held over the phone with West Ham United.[20]

In the FA Cup, Rovers have reached the quarter-final stage on three occasions. The first time was in 1950–51 when they faced Newcastle United at St James' Park[21] in front of a crowd of 62,787, the record for the highest attendance at any Bristol Rovers match.[22] The second time they reached the quarter final was in 1957–58, when they lost to Fulham,[21] and the most recent appearance at this stage of the competition was during the 2007–08 season, when they faced West Bromwich Albion.[23] They were the first Division Three team to win an FA Cup tie away to a Premier League side, when in 2002 they beat Derby County 3–1 at Pride Park Stadium.[21]

They have twice reached the final of the Football League Trophy, in 1989–90 and 2006–07, but finished runners-up on both occasions. On the second occasion they did not allow a single goal against them in the competition en route to the final, but conceded the lead less than a minute after the final kicked off.[24]


Bristol Rovers main rivals are city neighbours Bristol City, with whom they contest the Bristol derby.[3] This rivalry was deemed 8th fiercest rivalry in English football in an in-depth report by the Football Pools in 2008.[25] The most recent encounter between the clubs took place on 4 September 2013, which saw Rovers beaten by City in a Football League Trophy tie at Ashton Gate Stadium by a 2–1 scoreline. Other rivals are mainly other teams from the West Country, such as Swindon Town, Cheltenham Town, Plymouth Argyle, Exeter City and Yeovil Town. After relegation to the Conference, a rivalry also emerged with Forest Green Rovers.

In the past, rivalries also emerged with Severnside rivals Cardiff City known as the Severnside derby.[26] Rovers most recent meeting against Cardiff was a League Cup match on 11 August 2016, which Rovers won 1–0 with Chris lines scoring the winner.[27] The last time Cardiff and Bristol Rovers were in the same league was in the 1999–2000 season.

The first time Rovers encountered Yeovil was a Football League Trophy match which was played on 31 October 2001, which Rovers won via a penalty shoot out. The most recent encounter between the teams was in a Football League Two match on 15 August 2015, which Rovers won 1–0 with Ellis Harrison scoring a late winner.[28] Because of the close proximity many players have also represented both the clubs, for example Adam Virgo, Gavin Williams, Dominic Blizzard and Tom Parkes.

Colours and badge

Team colours from 1883 to 1885

Bristol Rovers are known for their distinctive blue and white quartered shirts, which they have worn for most of their history. The current home kit consists of a light blue and white quartered shirt and white shorts, while the away kit is black and gold with the same colours as the trim.[29] During the 2008–09 season a special third strip, which is black with a gold sash, and is a reproduction of the original Black Arab shirt, was used for a single match to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the club.[30]

Team colours on winning the Southern League in 1905

The team began playing in black shirts with a yellow sash from their foundation in 1883 as Black Arabs F.C. until 1885, by which time they were called Eastville Rovers. For the next fourteen years, until 1899, the team wore blue and white hooped shirts. These were replaced by black and white striped shirts until 1919.[31]

When Rovers were admitted to The Football League in 1920 they wore white shirts with blue shorts. These remained the team colours until 1930, when the colours were reversed to blue shirts and white shorts for one season.[31] The blue and white quarters were first worn in 1931, when they were introduced to try to make the players look larger and more intimidating.[32] Rovers continued to wear the quarters for 31 years until they were replaced by blue pinstripes on a white background.

1996–97 "Tesco" shirts

Over the next ten years, Rovers went on to wear blue and white stripes, all blue, and blue shirts with white shorts before returning to the blue and white quarters in 1973, which have remained the colours ever since.[31] During the 1996–97 season, Rovers wore an unpopular striped quartered design, prompting fans to refer to it as the Tesco bag shirts[33] because of their similarity to the design used for the company's carrier bags. The change in design prompted the Doucheton Times fanzine to change its name to Wot, No Quarters?[34]

The black and gold shirts were also used as the away kit for the 2002–03 season, the club's 120th anniversary.

In 2005, Rovers ran an April Fools' joke on their official website, stating that the team's new away strip would be all pink. Although this was intended to be a joke, a number of fans petitioned the club to get the kit made for real, and also suggested that funds raised through the sale of the pink shirts should be donated to a breast cancer charity.[35] Although the pink shirts were never used in a competitive fixture, they were worn for a pre-season friendly against Plymouth Argyle in 2006.[36]

A pirate features on both the club badge and the badge of the supporters club,[37] reflecting the club nickname of The Pirates. Previous club badges have featured a blue and white quartered design, based on the quartered design of the team's jerseys.

Kit suppliers and sponsors

Rovers first used Bukta as an official kit supplier in 1977, and Great Mills as the first kit sponsor followed 1981. Rovers' longest running kit supplier is Errea who supplied the club kits for eleven years (2005–16).[38][39] The club's longest running kit sponsorship was from local company Cowlin Construction who sponsored the club for a total of 11 years before ending the deal in 2009.[40] Following the end of the Cowlin deal, sponsors were chosen by raffle, via the 1883 Club.[41] This process lasted nine seasons before the club announced Football INDEX as new sponsors for both home and away kits.[42]

Period Kit Supplier Home Kit Sponsor Away Kit Sponsor
1977–1981 Bukta No sponsor
1981–1983 Great Mills
1983–1984 Toshiba
1984–1986 Hobott
1986–1987 Henson Peter Carol
1987–1988 Design Windows
1988–1990 Spall Design Windows Universal Components
1990–1992 Design Windows
1992–1993 Roman Glass
1993–1995 Matchwinner
1995–1996 Le Coq Sportif Elite Hampers
1996–1997 Cica Bradshaw's Snack Box
1997–1998 The Jelf Group
1998–1999 Cowlin Construction
1999–2001 Avec
2001–2005 Strikeforce
2005–2009 Errea
2009–2010 N-Gaged Stevens, Hewlett & Perkins
2010–2011 Smart Computers Stalbridge Linen
2011–2012 McCarthy Waste ITS
2012–2013 Opus Recruitment Solutions CR Windows
2013–2014 Eurocams Highspec Travel Services
2014–2015 Arco Office Beverages
2015–2016 The Sportsman Pub Pensord Press
2016–2017 Macron Dribuild Powersystems UK Ltd
2017–2018 Thorntons Travel Barrs Court Construction
2018- Football INDEX




Rovers play their home games at The Memorial Stadium in Horfield, a ground they formerly shared with Bristol Rugby. The team moved to The Mem, as it is known informally, at the beginning of the 1996–97 season, initially as tenants but purchased it two years later.[43]

When Bristol Rovers were known as Black Arabs F.C. in 1883, they played their home games at Purdown, Stapleton. The following year they moved to Three Acres, the precise location of which is not known, but is believed to have been in the Ashley Down area of Bristol, where they remained for seven years. This was followed by brief stays at the Schoolmasters Cricket Ground, Durdham Down and Ridgeway.

For the majority of their history, Bristol Rovers have played their home games at the Eastville Stadium, where they remained for a period of 89 years from 1897–1986. Financial problems led to the team being forced to leave Eastville, and they found a temporary home at Twerton Park, the home of Bath City. They stayed in Bath for 10 seasons, before returning to Bristol in 1996.

Rovers also played five home games at Ashton Gate Stadium, home of rivals Bristol City, following a fire which destroyed the South Stand of the Eastville Stadium on the night of the 16–17 August 1980. Rovers returned to Eastville in October 1980. During World War II, some friendly matches were played in Kingswood, and in their early history some games were played at Parson Street, Bedminster[5]

In January 2007 planning permission was granted for a new 18,500 capacity all-seater stadium to be built on the site of the Memorial Stadium.[44] The project was abandoned after a series of delays.[45][46][47] In June 2011, the club announced its intention to relocate the club to a new 21,700 all-seater stadium on the University of the West of England's Frenchay campus.[48] The planned UWE Stadium was shelved in August 2017 due to disputes between the club and the university, and attention returned to redeveloping the Memorial Stadium.[49]

In 2018 there was a crowd recording for the 2018 Aardman film Early Man at the memorial Stadium. [50].

Supporter culture

The team traditionally draws the majority of its support from north and east Bristol[51] and South Gloucestershire. Many towns and villages in the surrounding area are also home to significant pockets of Rovers supporters.[31]

The nickname given to Bristol Rovers supporters is "Gasheads".[52] "The Gas" was originally coined as a derogatory term by the supporters of Bristol Rovers' rivals Bristol City, and was in reference to the large gas works adjacent to the old Bristol Rovers stadium, in Eastville, Bristol which wafted the sometimes overpowering odour of town gas across the crowd.[31] "Gasheads" was adopted as a name by a splinter group of Rovers supporters in the mid-1980s to early 1990s. The chant "Proud to be a Gashead" spread to regular fans, and a fanzine was produced called The Gashead.

The term "Gasheads" is now universally accepted within the English media and football fraternity as referring to Bristol Rovers supporters.[53] After the club's relegation to Football League Two in 2001, the club designated the squad number 12 to the Gasheads to signify them as the club's 12th Man in recognition of their loyal support.[52]

The retired Conservative MP for Hayes and Harlington Terry Dicks is a Bristol Rovers fan. He mentioned the club in parliament on 5 May 1994 when debating with Labour MP and Chelsea fan Tony Banks.[54] Other notable fans are local musicians Roni Size[55] and Geoff Barrow of Portishead[56] and writer David Goldblatt. [57]

The Rovers fans have good relations with Spanish club CE Sabadell FC, which initially began due to several Rovers fans noticing that the club had the same colours.[58] In July 2016 the two clubs played each other in a pre-season match in spain.[59]

One Bristol Rovers print fanzine is currently active and is entitled Last Saturday Night.[60] There is also a fan-run podcast and blog called GasCast.[61]

Club song

The song which is synonymous with Rovers is "Goodnight, Irene", which was written by Lead Belly.[62]

Opinions differ as to how this came about but it is thought to have become popular in the 1950s when a version of the song was in the British charts—the line "sometimes I have a great notion to jump in the river and drown"—seemed to be particularly apt when Rovers lost as the Bristol Frome flows alongside the old Eastville ground.[31] Another theory is that it was sung at a fireworks display at the Stadium the night before a Home game against Plymouth Argyle in the 1950s. During the game the following day, Rovers were winning quite comfortably and the few Argyle supporters present began to leave early prompting a chorus of "Goodnight Argyle" from the Rovers supporters—the tune stuck and Irene became the club song.[63]

Another popular Bristol Rovers song is "Tote End Boys", which was written and sung by Ben Gunstone. The name derives from the section of Gasheads who stood in the Tote End terrace at Rovers' old home, Eastville Stadium.


As of 31 August 2018[64]

Current squad

Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.

No. Position Player
2 DF Daniel Leadbitter
3 DF Tareiq Holmes-Dennis
4 DF Tom Lockyer (captain)
5 DF Tony Craig
6 MF Ed Upson
7 MF Liam Sercombe
8 MF Ollie Clarke
9 FW Stefan Payne
10 FW Tom Nichols
13 GK Jack Bonham (On loan from Brentford)
14 MF Chris Lines
15 DF James Clarke
No. Position Player
16 DF Tom Broadbent
17 FW Alex Jakubiak (On loan from Watford)
20 FW Gavin Reilly
21 GK Adam Smith
22 DF Joe Partington
23 MF Kyle Bennett
24 MF Stuart Sinclair
25 DF Joe Martin (On loan from Stevenage)
26 MF Sam Matthews
28 DF Michael Kelly
33 MF Alex Rodman

Development squad

Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.

No. Position Player
31 DF Alfie Kilgour
32 MF Luke Russe
34 MF Lewis Leigh-Gilchrist
36 DF Sam Blake
37 DF Rollin Menayese
38 MF Ben Morgan
39 MF Cameron Hargreaves
42 FW Cameron Ebbutt
No. Position Player
44 GK Alexis André Jr.
45 DF Lewis Ludford-Ison
46 MF Mohammad Baghdadi
47 MF Theo Widdrington
51 FW Rhys Kavanagh
DF Ash Harper
FW Deon Moore

Out on loan

Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.

No. Position Player
1 GK Sam Slocombe (On loan at Lincoln City)
11 FW Bernard Mensah (On loan at Lincoln City)
35 MF Connor Jones (On loan at Mangotsfield United)
50 MF James Spruce (On loan at Yate Town)
GK Liam Armstrong (On loan at Tiverton Town)
DF Alfie Clarke (On loan at Larkhall Athletic)
FW Cameron Allen (On loan at Dorchester Town)

Notable former players

This is a list of the most noted former players at Bristol Rovers Football Club, stating the period that each player spent at the club, their nationality and their reason for being listed. To be included in this list a player must have made over 400 league appearances for the club, scored over 100 league goals or hold a club record.

Note: all details from Byrne & Jay (2003) unless otherwise stated.
1927–1947 EnglandJack PittPlayed 467 league games.
Spent over 50 years at the club as a player, coach and groundsman.
1928–1932 EnglandRonnie DixThe club's youngest ever player, at 15 years 173 days.
The Football League's youngest ever goalscorer, at 15 years 180 days.
1936–1956 EnglandRay WarrenPlayed 450 league games.
1945–1955 EnglandVic LambdenScored 117 goals in 268 league appearances.
1945–1962 EnglandGeorge PetherbridgePlayed 457 league games.
1946–1958 EnglandHarry BamfordPlayed 486 league games.
1949–1964 EnglandGeoff BradfordRovers' record goal scorer with 242 league goals from 462 appearances.
The only player to be capped by England while at Bristol Rovers.
1953–1962 KenyaPeter HooperScored 101 goals in 297 league games.
1953–1968 EnglandAlfie BiggsPlayed 424 league games and scored 178 goals.
1956–1973 EnglandBobby JonesPlayed 421 league games and scored 101 goals.
1959–1973 EnglandHarold JarmanPlayed 452 league games and scored 127 goals.
1966–1980 EnglandStuart TaylorPlayed 546 league games, more than any other Rovers player
1981–1999 EnglandIan HollowayNamed the fans' Cult Hero in a BBC poll.[67]
1987–1989 EnglandNigel MartynBecame the first goalkeeper to command a million pound transfer fee when he was sold to Crystal Palace.[68]
1992–2000 EnglandAndy TillsonRecord signing, and former club captain.[69]
1997–1999 JamaicaBarry HaylesClub record sale when he moved to Fulham for £2,100,000.
2000–2003 LatviaVitālijs AstafjevsMost internationally capped Bristol Rovers player, with 31 appearances for Latvia while playing with Rovers 158 times.[69]
2016–2018 EnglandByron MooreScorer of Rovers' fastest ever league goal[70]

Club staff

The current manager of Bristol Rovers is Darrell Clarke. He joined Rovers in June 2013[71] as Assistant Manager and then took control of the first team nine months later on 29 March 2014[72] (with 8 games of the season remaining) when the previous manager John Ward changed roles to become 'Director of Football' at the club.

Managerial history

As of March 2014, 32 men have been appointed as a manager of Bristol Rovers Football Club, excluding caretaker managers.[73][74] Bobby Gould, Gerry Francis and John Ward are the only men to have been given the job on a permanent basis twice, although Garry Thompson had a separate spell as caretaker manager before later being appointed permanently, and Phil Bater was caretaker manager on two separate occasions.

Youth Academy

The Bristol Rovers Academy currently operates at The City Academy Bristol and Sir Bernard Lovell School. Current first-team squad members Ryan Broom, Ollie Clarke, Ellis Harrison and Tom Lockyer all graduated from the Academy to earn a professional contract. Chris Lines also graduated from the academy before moving on to Sheffield Wednesday. Lines has recently returned to Rovers. Perhaps the most successful former member of the academy is Scott Sinclair, who was signed by Chelsea in 2005 for an initial fee of £200,000, with further payments to the club possible, depending on performance.[75] He currently plays for Scottish Premier League club Celtic F.C. Other recent Academy players to have appeared in the Premier League or Football League include Eliot Richards, Sean Rigg and Alefe Santos.

Women's team

The club had a successful women's team, formed in 1998 as Bristol Rovers W.F.C. following a merger with Cable-Tel L.F.C.. This merger came about as Bristol Rovers only had girls teams up to the under 16 age group level, so when girls reached the age of 16 they were forced to leave the club. The merger with Cable-Tel meant that Bristol Rovers had a senior squad. The club's name was changed to Bristol Academy W.F.C. in 2005 to reflect the increased investment from the Bristol Academy of Sport. Though sometimes still referred to by their former nickname, the Gas Girls, Bristol Academy W.F.C. are no longer affiliated to Bristol Rovers.


Bristol Rovers Football Club has won the following honours:[76]

1989–90, 2006–07
1888–89, 1902–03, 1904–05, 1913–14, 1924–25, 1927–28, 1934–35, 1935–36, 1937–38, 1947–48, 1948–49, 1950–51, 1953–54, 1954–55, 1955–56, 1958–59, 1962–63, 1963–64, 1964–65, 1965–66, 1967–68, 1973–74, 1974–75, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1984–85, 1988–89, 1989–90, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1994–95






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