May I express a warm welcome to Wael Al-Qadi. His acquisition of Bristol Rovers FC promises an exciting era for the revitalised club. There is a great buzz of optimism and hope among Gasheads – and also among those who care for the Memorial Ground. I hope that a new stadium can be built for Rovers. However, I would like to know if the creation of a new stadium is dependent on destroying the Memorial Ground, as previously planned? Does the new owner intend to preserve the Mem as a war memorial sports ground?
It is encouraging that the Rovers’ President has said many sensible things since the takeover. “I want this club to be part of the community, to serve the community. I want fans to be proud of their club” (BBC interview, 19 February 2016). These wise words bode well for future relations with the club’s near neighbours and with the wider Bristol community.
Wael Al-Qadi is now the custodian of a famous sporting heritage asset. The Memorial Ground is the city’s largest war memorial – and, in many ways, most effective and poignant. The brilliant idea of a dynamic war memorial, marrying sporting culture with remembrance, is relevant to this day and offers huge potential for its future development. Many people in the local community are as proud and protective/supportive of this special place, as Gasheads are for their club. Plans are in place for Bristol’s 2016 Remembrance Day Ceremony to be held at the ground, in the year of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, during which so many soldier sportsmen were killed.
A large number of sport fans and Bristolians hope that the Memorial Ground will carry on being a major team sport venue for Bristol, as intended by its founders almost a hundred years ago. In November, Bristol City Council listed the ground as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ in recognition of its “current use as a local sporting, cultural and recreational interest community stadium”. The application was submitted by The Bishopston Society. The entrance gates to this memorial ground are grade II listed. The principal reasons for the Historic England designation were… “Historical: as a poignant reminder of the tragic impact of world events upon this small community. Context: the gate piers are intact and retain their context as the entranceway to the Memorial Stadium”.
I should emphasise that any proposed re-development of the site should:
1) respect the war memorial status of the site
2) be appropriate to its residential setting and
3) conform to the Restrictive Covenant on the land which states that it must be used for sport or recreation, in perpetuity.
This war memorial sports field has inspired thousands of people during the past century. In the event that a new stadium for Bristol Rovers is built on the city’s outskirts, might not the Memorial Ground be used as a training ground? Or, in the spirit of its founders, developed for participatory sport to bring on new talent and help underpin the health and well-being of the city’s population? I sincerely hope that this inspirational and very special sports ground has a sporting future.