There will be a brief respite for Gloucester Rugby this weekend as legendary former players gather to celebrate 125 years at Kingsholm. Results for the first team have been very disappointing recently, with consecutive defeats to Newcastle Falcons and Bath. But a charity cross-code match in the Mitsubishi Hybrid Cup brings a chance to celebrate the club’s deep history. This will be against a Salford Red Devils side, who themselves have just avoided relegation in Rugby League‘s Super League.
In an era of franchise clubs and regional sides Gloucester are one of a declining breed. The club itself is 143 years old, and has played at Kingsholm since 1891. The ground is nestled in the eponymous neighbourhood on the Castle Grim Estate. Quite an apt name for somewhere the home side hasn’t won since April.
The Legend of The Shed
Whereas other sides inhabit overly large football stadiums or 21st century new-builds, Gloucester inhabit a very traditional rugby stadium. The Shed, the infamous terrace running down one touchline is a key symbol for this. It is dwarfed on the opposite side by the 21st Century grandstand but is an integral part of marketing the matchday experience. Of all the matches at Rugby World Cup 2015 the Argentinean takeover of The Shed against Georgia was a particular highlight. The low roof, the rickety structure and proximity to the pitch all contribute to its character.
Another key factor is the fans who inhabit the stadium: the Shedheads. Several plans to redevelop their terrace or relocate completely have been rejected. An all- seater stadium, shared with the nomadic city football team, never gained much support. A redesign to put seats or corporate boxes alongside the terracing was also rejected. For home and away fans alike, the city centre location and parochial atmosphere is all part of the attraction. The bars and pubs across the road, including one owned by club legend Mike Teague, further improve the unique experience of a Kingsholm matchday.
Of course every club has its own quirks and traditions. The Crumbie Terrace at Welford Road would claim to be as intimidating and vocal. Northampton Saints would highlight their similarly loyal support at Franklin’s Gardens where seats are often hard to come by. Compare this to Bristol, who may inhabit one of the best modern stadiums in the league but have arguably lost some of the charm of their previous home The Memorial Stadium.
It is no mean feat for Gloucester to have clocked 125 years at Kingsholm. The Mitsubishi Hybrid Cup on Sunday will be a fantastic way to celebrate this. Huge names such Mike Tindall, Jason Robinson and Lesley Vainikolo will grace a rugby field for one final time. Perhaps this will be the occasion that helps boosts the morale of Shedheads as the current side looks to overcome a poor start to the season.