The Olympics may come around every four years, but a sporting event in Bristol comes around even more rarely. When Bristol City played Bristol Rovers today it was the first time the two bitter rivals had met since 2007 and was a bigger and more important sporting occasion for many in the city than the giant sports day currently taking place in that there London.
Because of the Olympics, police advice when this match was announced was not to hold it for fear of violence and because it clashed with the Games. But the friendly, to mark the testimonial season of longserving City captain Louis Carey, went ahead regardless.
Avon & Somerset’s finest were taking no chances, however, and there was a heavy police presence before the game, which had an early kick-off time of 1pm, most likely to restrict the pre-match drinking time of boisterous fans.
Home fans had to show their matchday tickets to be allowed into Bar BS3 and The Coopers Arms, while the sight of fans in blue and white quarters around Ashton Gate was rarer than an Australian gold medal at London 2012, although most Gasheads arrived in civvies.
As one group of young Rovers fans made their way to the away end, they began a chant of, “Give me an R, give me an O”. “It’s good that coz you can spell,” joked a steward on the turnstile as he patted one of their party down.
The atmosphere inside the stadium, with many empty seats among an official attendance of 8,713, was initially highly charged, most unlike a typical pre-season friendly, but this was a rare Bristol derby.
The 1,632 Rovers fans corralled into one corner loudly sung their club song Goodnight Irene as Robins fans reminded them that there’s only one team in Bristol.
There was a guard of honour from both sides for Carey as he made his way onto the pitch accompanied by his family, including his young daughter with ‘Daddy’ spelt out in across the back of her shirt.
With 624 appearances and counting, Bristol-born Carey is second on the all-time list of City players; second only to the late great John Atyeo, after who a stand at Ashton Gate is named.
The 35-year-old, who made his debut for the Robins in 1995 away at York City, received his second standing ovation of the day when he was substituted a couple of minutes into the second half.
According to the programme notes, Carey is known for his “wacky dress sense, cracking banter and humour in equal measure, plus a down-to-earth outlook on life”.
His appearances could have been even more if not for a number of injuries, including six broken noses and, away from the field of play, dropping a barbecue on his foot which caused him to miss the start of the 2010/11 season.
The Rovers faithful kept up their chanting throughout most of the day, and the exuberance of a few fans spilled over only a few minutes into the the game as police pushed back some who were encroaching too near the home supporters, with more police swiftly drafted in to form a larger luminous yellow barrier between red and blue.
Apart from that bit of silliness, the atmosphere inside Ashton Gate was largely boisterous rather than threatening, with most of the Rovers contingent standing up throughout the 90 minutes, and most City fans only taking their bums off their seats when instructed to “Stand up if you hate the Gas”.
A notable exception was a few hundred home fans in the corner nearest the Gasheads, who were happier with chanting at their bitter enemies north of the river rather than watching the game.
City dominated the first half, and their first goal on 22 minutes came from a goalkeeping error, as Martyn Woolford’s shot looked like it was saved by Iain Turner between the sticks for Rovers, but then bounced into the net.
As the rain continued to fall in the second period, the tempo noticeably dropped, but the difference of two divisions between the sides began to tell, with Rovers mostly restricted to a few long-range efforts as Woolford, Cole Skuse and Yannick Bolasie all threatened to double the home side’s lead.
It was Albert Adomah who eventually made it 2-0 to City with a stinging low-range shot from outside the box, and Adomah who set up Stephen Pearson to tap home from close range for City’s third after 85 minutes.
More renditions of Goodnight Irene were not able to spur the Rovers players on the pitch into action. As jubilant City supporters bounced up and down in delight in the Williams Stand, football bragging rights today were retained by the red half of Bristol.
After the final whistle, the man of the moment, looking tanned after a week of pre-season training in Marbella, thanked both sets of fans for their support as he spoke at an impromptu press conference in the stadium’s gym.
“The noise of the crowd, walking out with my family, it was a massive honour,” said Carey, who was sporting a marvellous handlebar moustache. “This was a game that I will remember forever.”
He added: “I’m from Bristol, I love Bristol, I’m passionate about Bristol. At the end of the day, it’s great for Bristol football to have got the two teams together.”