This is a crucial step for us, says Bristol Rugby chairman Chris Booy
CHRIS Booy is sympathetic to Bristol supporters' concerns about moving in with Bristol City – but believes the move to Ashton Gate or Ashton Vale is in the club's best interests.
Bristol yesterday confirmed they will ground-share with City – possibly from the start of the 2014-15 season – as majority shareholder Steve Lansdown brings his two sporting interests together at one venue.
If approval for a new stadium at Ashton Vale is not granted, City – and the rugby club – will redevelop Ashton Gate at a cost of £40 million, taking the capacity up to 26,000.
Booy, pictured, acknowledged that leaving the Memorial Stadium – the rugby club's home since 1921 – and moving to an all-seater stadium would concern many supporters.
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But, with Bristol Rovers selling the Memorial Stadium to move to a new site at Stoke Gifford, Booy said change was inevitable – and that his club would be City's partners as opposed to their tenants.
"I know it will be difficult for those who like to stand at our games to contemplate having to sit down," said Booy. "But I hope they stick with us, because this is a crucial step for us to get this club back into the Premiership and back to being one of the best clubs in the country.
"And the reality is that we will be playing in the best rugby stadium in the country, whichever one it is – Ashton Gate or Ashton Vale.
"We shouldn't lose sight of the fact we will be playing in, without doubt, the best stadium in the country and also the biggest.
"A lot of people will be disappointed about leaving the Memorial Stadium – and so will I. It has been our spiritual home for almost a century.
"But the key thing is that it's no longer a viable option. Bristol Rovers are moving – and, ever since some of my predecessors lost the ground, it was inevitable that a time would come that we would have to move out.
"We have a great relationship with Rovers – I spoke with (chairman) Nick Higgs and briefed him about this, and he fully understands.
"Nick is great, but if someone else had come along we could have been out – that is the reality of being tenants. But with sharing a joint majority shareholder, it gives us a lot of comfort and, in reality, it secures our long-term future."
Either a revamped Ashton Gate or a 30,000-capacity new stadium at Ashton Vale would be bigger than the Madejski Stadium in Reading, home to London Irish, which is the biggest stadium in the Premiership at the moment.
And Booy believes there are clear benefits to playing in the same stadium as majority shareholder Lansdown's football club, City.
"With both clubs having a common majority shareholder in Steve, there are obvious economic benefits of playing in the same stadium," said Booy. "And we will genuinely be a partner in this new stadium, whereas we are a tenant at the current point.
"Going into the new stadium, whether it's at Ashton Gate or Ashton Vale, we will be equally represented and we can develop that stadium for Bristol City and Bristol Rugby Club. All of that makes it a no-brainer for us."
And Booy, who is mindful of the need to secure Premiership rugby ahead of moving into a stadium with a capacity of at least 26,000, said Bristol would be investing in their squad as a further sign of their top-flight intent. This is part of our plan to get into the Premiership," he said. "We clearly have a desire to do it and we are going to invest more funds to secure that goal – we hope to do that as soon as possible.
"A new stadium is one way to attract new players – if we are trying to attract Premiership-standard players then we need a quality stadium for them to play in.
"Steve Lansdown's financial backing and the new stadium – whichever it may be – puts us in a fantastic position for the future. Now we have got to build the team and fulfil that ambition."