Eastville Stadium was the home of Bristol Rovers
Football Club from 1897 until the end of the 1985/86 Season, and in addition
to staging football matches, was also a well established venue for Greyhound
racing and Speedway, in addition to hosting a thriving Sunday market.
In March 1897, Rovers had decided to form themselves into a limited company. Capital of £1,500 was to be raised by issuing 1,500 £1 shares. From the club's Memorandum of Association, the objects of the club were stated to be "to promote the practice and play of football, cricket, lacrosse, lawn tennis, hockey, golf, bowls, bicycle and tricycle riding, running, jumping, skating, physical training and development of the physical frame and other athletic sports, games and exercise of every description and any other games, pastimes, sports recreation, amusements or entertainments". The directors decided to lease some 13 acres of land in the Eastville area.
So Rovers secured a permanent home at Eastville. In those days there was no Muller Road and the whole area was an expanse of open fields and countryside. The entrance to the Rovers ground was via Stapleton Road. There was a wooden stand with seats numbered from 1 to 501, although it was rarely full. The stand also contained a press box.
Initially leased to the Football Club, and then purchased in 1921 by Chairman George Humphreys for £2,500, financial difficulties meant that it was sold by Bristol Rovers to the Bristol Greyhound company on 3rd March 1940 for £12,000, although the deal was done on 26th April 1939. Apparently the chairman did this without close consultation with his colleagues and at the next board meeting nine days later there were some stormy scenes when it became clear that the other directors wanted to withdraw the offer. The greyhound company would not let Rovers back out and negotiations dragged on until March 1940 when Rovers, with liabilities of £20k, had no option and sold the stadium for £12k with a 21 year lease to permit football to continue.
This was a move that would ultimately prove to be disastrous for the Pirates. However, the ground saw what many consider the heyday of the Gas fortunes, as the teams of the mid 50's, and later the 73-74 promotion team brought success to the Club. At the Stadium's height, crowds way beyond any that can be imagined today flocked to the ground, and urged on by the Tote End, Eastville was a great place to watch football.
In 1980, a fire destroyed the South Stand and enclosure, and many fans say the atmosphere in the ground was never the same afterwards.
Rent increases and dwindling attendances were making it increasingly difficult for the Club to function and make ends meet, and these factors eventually took their toll, and the decision had to be taken to move from the ground.
The Stadium was demolished to make way for an Ikea store in October 1998, having been left increasingly neglected, and hosting only Greyhound races once the football club had left. The only remaining sign of the old ground is a floodlight that stood in the corner of the ground between the South Stand, and the Muller Road End, which can still be seen on your right hand side as you pass the Eastville/Fishponds exit heading towards the City centre on the M32.
Eastville was a unique place to watch football, and created many of the legends and traditions which are still part of the fabric of the club even now.
The Stadium was responsible for the Clubs' nickname 'The Gas', thanks to the nearby Gasometers and subsequent air pollution they produced on damp and foggy matchdays. The Towers could be seen between the Tote End and the North Stand.
The construction of the M32, which passed behind the South Stand and the Muller Road end of the ground, often led to a queue of vehicles parked on the hard shoulder during matches, with one of the best views in (or outside) the ground. The Muller Road Terrace also, on occasions when football was not being played, hosted firework displays organised by the Evening Post Pillar Box Childrens' Club, with no apparent thought to the traffic just a few yards away from the terracing.
The other special aspect of Eastville was the Rose Beds placed, and lovingly tended by the Ground Staff, behind the goals at both ends. This has never seen anywhere else, before or since! Now you'd never get that at Old Trafford!
What Happened Next
Bristol Rovers, at the time a virtually bankrupt Football Club, began playing football at Twerton Park in Bath, and ended up out of their hometown for 10 years, losing a generation of young fans, as application after application to build a new home in the city was rejected by Bristol City Council.
However, after years of hard work by a new Board, headed by Denis Dunford, his son Geoff, and their Board of Directors, the Club eventually returned to the city and their present home, the Memorial Stadium, in Filton Avenue, Horfield, just down the road from the old ground.
Firstly, the Club returned as tenants of Bristol Rugby Club. However, (and ironically given the circumstances of our departure from the city) our landlords suffered financial problems, going into receivership two seasons ago, and as a result, Rovers have now purchased and own the Memorial Stadium outright. The Rugby Club continue to use the ground, albeit now as tenants of the Football Club.