Bristol City have the novelty of playing in the smallest stadium in the FA Women’s Super League.
The Robins’ Stoke Gifford Stadium home has a capacity of just 1,500, the smallest of any club in the top flight, while many fans are at risk of the elements on a matchday with just 300 seats being available.
Bristol City moved into the stadium back in 2011 which had just been redeveloped at a cost of less than £1 million. The Stoke Gifford Stadium is part of Stroud College’s Stoke Gifford Campus.
Since the stadium was redeveloped, the FA Women’s Super League has come along way with crowds having been on the increase, big money sponsorship deals being agreed and potentially a bidding war for broadcasting rights on the horizon. The question could now be asked, ‘Is the Stoke Gifford Stadium still suitable for hosting FA Women’s Super League football?’
Whilst the facilities are relatively basic, for the Bristol City fans, the Stoke Gifford Stadium is somewhere that they can call home. It is a place where people can meet and make new friends, it has a little charm and it offers the club the opportunity to maintain a very tight-knit footballing community. The open layout of the ground also provides the best environment for players and fans to interact in the FA Women’s Super League. The facilities do include some real benefits including a gym and player recovery room while there are rarely any complaints about the excellent playing surface.
The FA Women’s Super League is now becoming big business though. With more overseas players coming to play their football in England and fans in many different countries watching our game at home, maybe the days of small open stadiums are a dying trend. Recent years have given players a taster of playing in bigger arenas, something which many will want to experience on a more regular basis.
Off the pitch, the days will come where fans and business will want the full matchday experience. All clubs will eventually need to offer matchday luxuries such as dining and hospitality experiences, enhanced media facilities and increased fan interaction facilities in addition to their usual operations.
It is clear that Bristol City know only too well that the top flight of the women’s game is a changing environment. They have switched three of their fixtures this season to Ashton Gate and the first two games have attracted healthy crowds. More appearances in BS3 will follow for sure as The Robins look to replicate many of their rival FA Women’s Super League clubs in occasionally utilising the men’s stadiums to help grow the game and their fanbases.
What is the future for the Stoke Gifford Stadium? Ashton Gate is far too big to host regular matches in the FA Women’s Super League and there may still be a purpose for the Stoke Gifford Stadium for some time yet. Could the club invest in improving their current matchday facilities such as building a bigger stand, building offices including a press room, creating a permanent bar for fan use and having a permanent club shop at the ground? The other option could be moving to another ground which is more suitable to host top flight football for the long term, although that may prove unpopular with a move out of the city something that might have to be considered.