Latest Eclectic Blue Column.
By the time you read this article – and you`d better be quick if you`re reading it through a link on the heavily censored official forum because it won`t be there for long – the famed Section 106 agreement will have been signed and the clock will begin to tick on the redevelopment of the Memorial Stadium. Put bluntly, it`s time for Geoff Dunford to deliver.
For reasons too boring to go into, on Tuesday afternoon I found myself in Eastville. And not any old bit of Eastville. I walked along the thoroughfare by the Jobcentre and the foul-smelling Fried Chicken outlet on the Stapleton Road , under the M32 and by the underpass to the stadium that has not been there for a very long time.
IKEA is there, of course, casting a huge shadow over everything, situated as it is next to SITA. I think there is a certain irony there but I shall leave it to you, dear reader, to work that one out.
A few stairwells are still there too, behind where the North Stand used to be. There are still small bits of the Rovers, or bits that somehow belong to that era. But unless you close your eyes, and you know your Rovers history, you would never believe a football club was ever there.
I was there at Eastville for the Flook/Bradshaw era (yes, the Bradshaw). There was a stench of death at the club in those days. The club did not own the stadium and didn`t it show? It was filthy, dirty, tatty and probably unsafe. It had all the atmosphere of a landfill site. As a kid, Eastville was a dump when I started going and it gradually got worse. This is probably heresy, but I hated the place. People said I should love it because it was ours, but it was never ours in my lifetime.
I was not alone in hating the place, or at least not liking it. The numbers who were going to games slipped to the three, four thousands. The club was dying.
From not owning a dump which we regarded as ours, we moved to a dump that definitely wasn`t.
Through necessity we went to Bath and stayed at Twerton Park , another place I didn`t much care for except in one glorious season.
Then we came back to the rugby union ground.
The Dunfords certainly deserve credit for a) saving the club by taking us to Bath and b) by bringing us back to Bristol , albeit at the other end of the Muller Road . A lot of credit. Let`s not be churlish about these things. Denis Dunford has been a class act for Bristol Rovers.
For all the positives, the Memorial Stadium has a lot of negatives. It`s a mish-mash of ill-thought out stands and terracing that doesn`t fit together.
Something, as they say, had to be done.
A man called Colin Williams joined the board of directors. A lifelong supporter, Colin was at one time the only man who would sponsor the club in the dark days of Twerton Park . A lovely man, as well as being a smart businessman, Colin came up with the idea of developing the Memorial Stadium in a way we could afford.
18 months on, with half the board (the good half in my view), gone, and the remaining members, bolstered by a mixture of retired businessmen and builders, are taking forward Colin`s vision.
Since the club got planning permission on 17th January 2007, we have waited for news of when the redevelopment would actually start. Now we know that it will start and it will start soon.
Everything hangs on the redevelopment including the future of the club; the very existence of the club.
We have been told that the funding for the stadium is in place and that rumours to the contrary should be ignored. The board has set out its stall and now it is time for them to deliver.
More to the point, it is time for Geoff Dunford to deliver.
Geoff`s time as chairman coincided with some of the worst football we had ever seen and he led us to the bottom division for the first time in the club`s history. And until he stood down on 1st April 2007 (how apt), we looked like staying there. An outsider like me could never know whether it was the change of chairman that made the difference but maybe – just maybe – Ron Craig inspired the coaches and players to greater heights. Maybe he set them free! Who will ever know?
Not many of the directors say very much these days. Chairman Ron has made around three statements since his April 2007 appointment, Vice Chairman Nick Higgs has said even less. New director Rodney King has said nothing at all and his good friend Barry Bradshaw has said zilch since his bullish pre season “Let`s go for it!” call to arms. Who`s left? Ed Ware, who has recently joined the board, is heavily involved with the project team for the new stadium and of course ordinary director Geoff Dunford. And we have heard far more from Geoff than anyone else.
Rightly or wrongly – and you can guess where I am coming from these days – Geoff is still seen by many as being The Main Man at the Rovers. I mean, when things finally go wrong you will not get people on the pitch chanting, “We want King out, say we want King out”.
We have been told, in effect, that the new stadium is coming and that the doubters are misguided.
Well, let`s hope we are.
Because Geoff, it`s time to deliver now. If you don`t, no-one else will. And you`re going to, aren`t you?