Premiership Grounds focus: Ashton Gate, Bristol

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - MAY 03: A General view of Ashton Gate during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bristol Bears and Sale Sharks at Ashton Gate on May 03, 2019 in Bristol, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Ashton Gate may have only been the home of the Bristol Bears since 2014 but it has a long history stretching back well over 100 years. 

With the team now established back in the Premiership, attendances are rapidly increasing and a vociferous home crowd lies in wait for visiting teams. 

Last Word on Rugby’s Premiership Grounds focus continues, following on our popular profiles of Sixways, Kingsholm, Sandy Park, Franklin’s Gardens and The Rec grounds.

History of Ashton Gate

Ashton Gate sits to the south of the city of Bristol, and has primarily always been a football stadium. It was originally the home of Bedminster FC, the local team who merged with Bristol South End to become Bristol City FC in 1900. 

The first major development was a covered terrace on the East side of the ground. This helped Bristol city record the biggest every attendance at the ground; 43,335 ‘packed the Gate’ in 1935 against Preston North End.

It took until 1958 for the next major addition, when a new main stand with press and executive facilities were added. This was known as the Williams stand after former owner Des Williams. In 1970 the Dolman Stand replaced the East terrace. This stand still remains under this name today, albeit having been upgraded to a modern, all-seated facility that can now hold over 6000 people.

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The crowning glory of the stadium was completed in 2016 when the impressive two-tier Lansdown Stand was completed as the new west stand. This includes seating for 11000 people, several executive boxes, media and corporate facilities as well as extensive fan space in the lower concourse.

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Rugby in South Bristol

Bristol rugby first started playing at Ashton Gate in the 1920s, having previously played at the county cricket ground. However the first match of Union held there was in the 1908 Home Nations Championship and saw Wales overcome England 28-18. 

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Bristol also held the New Zealand vs Tonga clash in the 1999 World Cup, but was somewhat controversially overlooked as a venue in 2015 when Kingsholm and Sandy Park were chosen to represent the South West. 

In 2007 the ground played host to a Gloucester Rugby home game against Bristol on the final day of the season. This match will unfortunately be remembered for a career-ending injury to James Forrester, overshadowing the Cherry and Whites 35-13 victory.  

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2014 saw the arrival of Bristol Rugby to the stadium, two years after local billionaire Steve Lansdown formally became owner of the club. He brought the rugby team together with Bristol City FC under the Bristol Sport banner and moved them to the same stadium. Previously the rugby team had played at the Memorial Stadium, home of Bristol Rovers FC. 

Finally, the Gate saw another England vs Wales clash in 2016. It was another win for the men from over the bridge by 42 points to 16 that set them on the way towards a Grand Slam that year. 

Best moments at Ashton Gate

2018/19 – Bristol Bears 17 – Bath Rugby 10 

Of the relatively short roster of Bristol Bears home matches at Ashton Gate, the victory over Bath in 2018 is undoubtedly the stand-out highlight. It was run close by a last second victory over Saracens later in the season, but a derby win in front of a record 26,000+ crowd will always take some beating. Kudos to the fixture planners for organising a repeat fixture to open 2019/20. 

Catch the highlights here:

2015/16 – Bristol Rugby 32 – Doncaster Knights 34

Despite the result on the night, the celebrations of promotion after seven years away from the Premiership were always going to be memorable. A capacity crowd (at the time) of 16,000 eventually got to see long-time favourite David Lemi lift the Championship trophy. They may have been outscored five tries to two but current start Callum Sheedy kept them in control with a 100% kicking record from eight kicks.  

Relive the action here: 

Future of Ashton Gate

Not content with already having one of the best sports venues in the region, Bristol Sport and Steve Lansdown have even grander plans for Ashton Gate in the future.

A further £100m worth of development is planned to build a 4000 capacity stadium for the city’s Basketball team, as well as car parking, a transport hub and two hotels.  This will help connect the stadium more closely to the city, as it is currently easily accessible by public transport or in an area graced with plentiful parking space.

The Rugby team did their bit by comfortably securing Premiership survival last season, and will be aiming to deliver first-class rugby in the form of Champions Cup and top six qualification to match the first-class facilities.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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