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Mark Hoskins

Mark Hoskins writes

Posted Tuesday, February 1st 2022

The five thousand: club set for fixture milestone

Neil Williams, our club statistician, has calculated that Bristol Bears’ fixture with Newcastle Falcons on Saturday February 5th will be the 5,000 first team match played by a team representing the Bristol club.

To reach this figure, Neil has included 4,825 official Bristol first team games, plus the 21 matches played in 1918-19 by the interim side known as Bristol United and the 154 fixtures fulfilled by Bristol Supporters during the six seasons of the Second World War.

Most supporters will know that Bristol played their first ever game on October 6th 1888 when they lost 24-0 to Cardiff at Cardiff Arms Park. It should be noted that the try was only worth one point at that time in rugby’s history; Cardiff crossed Bristol line 14 times, and when conversions are added to the total, under modern scoring values this would have been an 80-0 drubbing! Bristol didn’t even travel with a full team and had to borrow Cardiff forward James Arman to make up the numbers.

When the First World War began, rugby in general, and club ruby in particular, virtually vanished. Schools continued playing, and there were matches played by military selections, but in general it was not considered patriotic to be playing games while men were needed for the war effort. Thus the Bristol club effectively disbanded, and there was no committee in place to resurrect the club when the war ended on November 11th 1918. Yet, thanks to the initiative of Harry Gould, a Bristol Saracens member who had played once for Bristol in 1909, a new club was actually playing by the end of the month. This side provided regular rugby for returning servicemen, and the team was to establish the nucleus of the Bristol side when the club was relaunched the following year.

Gould later insisted that he had originally had no intention of creating a new Bristol team, but by the end of the season it was clear that this had happened. When Bristol officially restarted in 1919-20, Gould and the rest of his committee were appointed as officers of the club, with Gould himself acting as secretary. Gould’s interim side was called Bristol United, and this title should never be confused with the name used for many years for Bristol’s second team. Bristol ran no second team at all after the war until 1922-23, and it was not called Bristol United until 1929-30. The 1918-19 Bristol United side played its home games on a ground at Radnor Road in Horfield. The bulk of Bristol side of the early 1920s played for the team, which was captained by scrum half Billy Wring. The opening game was a defeat against Avonmouth Old Boys on November 30th 1918, with Wring actually appearing for Avonmouth in this match.

The attitude to organised sport in wartime was quite different during the Second World War. It was now considered positively beneficial as an aid to morale and as a means of raising funds for various wartime charities. When war was declared in September 1939, Bristol’s committee wasted no time in declaring the club closed for the duration of hostilities, but Percy Williams, a former player who was secretary of the Supporters’ Club, quickly formed a team called Bristol Supporters. This side was very definitely Bristol in all but name, wearing the same shirts and using the Memorial Ground (which had been requisitioned) whenever the Army permitted it.

The story of the wartime Bristol Supporters side is a fascinating one. Rugby was provided for players in reserved occupations and for military personnel stationed in the area. The inaugural fixture was a victory over the 2nd Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment on September 30th 1939, and the team played in all six wartime seasons, eventually raising over £600 for a range of charities. And as had been the case with the Bristol United side of 1918-19, a ready-made Bristol team was available when official rugby started again in 1945-46.

It is important that we recognise the contribution made by both Bristol United and Bristol Supporters when we celebrate the historic milestone of our 5,000th game when Newcastle visit Ashton Gate.


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