The Robins fly high around the top of the Barclays Women’s Championship table. Charlotte Galloway documents her first experience of Bristol City at their home ground of the Robins High-Performance Centre (HPC).
It would be fair to say that my matchday experience started somewhat before the game. In fact, the experience for me started sometime after 3 pm the day before, when I saw on Twitter that matchday parking at the venue had sold out. I’d been at the HPC for Bristol’s victory against WSL stalwarts Reading, which saw a crowd of over 400 fans. Parking hadn’t sold out for that fixture, so from that alone, I knew there would be a good crowd for this – which also happened to be the first home game of Bristol’s season.
Fortunately, I was able to park at the school across the road, at a cost of £6 via contactless payment, so the inconvenience was minimal.
I entered the HPC around half an hour before kick-off and was surprised, but pleased, to see that the seating was already nearly completely occupied, with the odd seat here and there available. Fans were already starting to lean against the white fencing that separates the fans from the pitch, players and staff.
Speaking of the pitch.. it is a beautiful green stage. Once I had climbed the steps to the pitch and seen that I had very much missed out on a choice of seat, I was hit by the smell of grass being watered in hot August sunshine. I gazed out over a carpet of green that looked as perfect as any of the pitches I’d been to over the summer for the women’s Euros – with the added bonus of being quite literally within touching distance.
I found a seat near the stadium announcer, and, once settled in, asked HPC first-timers Hannah and Rachel what they thought of the venue.
Hannah replied ‘There are lots of people sporting their BCFC women’s tops; music is blaring; there’s good positivity in the air before kick-off and I can see someone waiting to get their ball signed by the players and manager – I love the energy here!’
Rachel said ‘There are more people here than I thought there would be. I used to come before (a few years ago) – it’s a much more professional set-up now, there are just so many people!’
Once the warm-ups had been completed (accompanied by music chosen by both players and fans alike via social media) the teams and coaching staff entered the pitch to applause and cheers. A notable addition to the coaching team included ex-England international legend, Anita Asante.
Hannah said: ‘It’s noticeable how many women are on the coaching and management team. That’s quite rare, you hardly ever see women in the coaching staff. Here it’s not just one token woman – that has an effect, it has an effect on the players as well surely, makes them feel like it’s more their game, not trespassing on the men’s game.’
When I pressed Hannah on the significance of this, she added:
‘It’s one thing (women) being allowed to play, it’s another being seen to have the competence to be on the coaching staff’.
Without a doubt, my favourite thing about Bristol City Women’s home ground at the HPC is the proximity to everything. To the players and the staff, the commentators and even the dressing rooms. Everything feels within touching distance – that’s because it is! And this evokes memories of Bristol’s previous home at Stoke Gifford, but with a more professional touch and a few hundred seats.
The match itself saw Bristol win comfortably. I definitely thought the Robins had another gear they could move into. Abi Harrison, usually so clinical, saw a number of powerful shots blocked by a Blackburn Rovers player. Both Bristol and Blackburn Rovers came to the match off the back of 1-0 victories at the season opener last weekend. Both goals were scored in the first half, both by Bristol City, both by new signings.
At the break, the stadium announcer invited the younger supporters to the family fun area at the side of the pitch, which was subsequently flooded by children in their new Bristol home shirts. Clearly these young fans were eager to replicate the skills they’d witnessed in the first half of the match.
Shania Hayles was replaced by Ffion Morgan at half time. Morgan made an immediate impact, slicing her way up the right wing to set up a goal scoring opportunity, and subsequent rebound that was cleared off the line.
‘Abi’s too good for you’ rang out through the home crowd after Abi Harrison was cut down and won a foul in the final third – the crowd was feeling confident, and evidently Blackburn Rovers were feeling frustrated.
The tumultuous crowd continued with ‘No Palmer no party’ shortly after, showing how much of a fan favourite Aimee Palmer is among the Robins. Even the stadium announcer hailed the return of the young captain ‘Welcome back to…. AIMEE PALMER’, which was met by rapturous applause from the home fans.
The mood of the crowd seemed to be rubbing off on the game, as the Rovers were called up for a foul throw, perhaps demonstrating a lack of concentration from the visitors.
The Rovers backline was resolute, denying further goals from the Robins and forcing Bristol to turn what could have been promising attacks into a reset as the home side prioritised possession over risk-taking.
Throughout the affair, the home side enjoyed incredible cheering from the crowd, led by Shahan Miah, D-M Withers and Nat Brown – best known for Bristol City Vixencast – and their drum!
Blackburn seemed to do enough to put Bristol off during the game.. but seemed unable to do much more than that. If this was the Robins on a bad day of finishing chances, opponents should hope that they are not on the receiving end of a good day.
Off the pitch, a highly enjoyable moment was when the crew noticed Nigel Pearson in the crowd, and crowed ‘Nigel, Nigel, Give us a wave!’ to which he obliged, and was met with cheers from around the stadium. This stood out to me as significant as there aren’t all that many clubs who see the men’s manager attend so many of the women’s games (and vice versa!).
The final whistle blew. Attendance was announced: 714.
2 wins, 2 clean sheets, 6 points – as Lauren Smith expressed her delight with the start of the season in strong but simple terms in her post match interview with Bristol City.
I love going to the HPC. It’s like some kind of football fusion between Sunday League and the Euros Final at Wembley. You get to see international players on a beautiful pitch, but you’re within touching distance – you can smell the perfectly mown grass; you can hear the players and the managers. Players and staff alike hang around at the end to sign shirts and memorabilia and take interviews, but you’re This Close to being doused by one of the sprinklers at half time.
It’s thoroughly enjoyable to watch Bristol play with confidence and dominate games again. I personally hope that Bristol draw one of the big WSL teams in the FA cup – not only to show how much they’ve improved since re-joining the Championship, but also so that more people might get to enjoy the intimate, yet professional set-up at the High Performance Centre in BS8.