Football was flourishing in the area well before Bristol South End Football Club came into being. Warmley, St George, Clifton Association, Eastville Rovers (founded as the Black Arabs) and Bedminster AFC were the top dogs. Internal dissention within the ranks of the Bedminster club, coupled with the disbandment of Bristol South AFC, lead the erstwhile Minster members Fred W. Keenan and John Durant to form Bristol South End on the 12th April 1894.
The new club, clad in red shirts and navy blue shorts, commenced their career in front of a 3,500 St John’s Lane crowd who witnessed a defeat at the hands of Swindon Town on 1 September 1894. As the club progressed and their popularity increased large canvas screens were raised during matches to block out the free view hundreds of spectators had from Windmill Hill. Not only did attendances rise, the huge screens were also used as advertisement hoardings.
The club was renamed Bristol City FC on the adoption of professionalism in 1897 and made into a limited company following a famous meeting at the Albert Hall, Bedminster. A decision was made to employ a manager, and of those that applied the name of Sam Hollis, trainer at Woolwich Arsenal, stood out. His first assignment at Bristol City was to assemble a squad of players to take part in the Southern League having been given a transfer fund of just £40.
In 1900 City merged with Bedminster, the club who had moved to Ashton Gate from Greenway Bush Lane. After one season playing at both St. John’s Lane and Ashton Gate and then three seasons back at St. John’s Lane, the decision was made in 1904 to adopt Ashton Gate as the new home.
The players by now wore red shirts and white shorts, adopted in 1897, a combination almost unchanged for the following hundred years which eventually would earn them the nickname ‘The Robins’. The earliest documentation of a tag however was ‘The Garabaldians’, so called on account of the red shirts worn by the followers of the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi. In those early days the players were also referred to as ‘The Citizens’ as well as simply the ‘Red Shirts ’or ‘Reds’.
In consequence of their rapid rise to prominence they soon became universally known as the ‘Bristol Babe’, lasting until the late 1940’s when the present nickname came to fore, this apparently first having been used in 1926 when the song ‘When the red, red, robin goes bob, bob, bobbing along’, written by Harry Woods was the hit of the moment.
The red and white from the year ‘The Robins’ turned professional remained until adopting an all red strip in the mid-Sixties. It was jettisoned after six years and so the early Seventies saw the return of the familiar red and white. The beginning of the Eighties heralded black shorts, but the following season saw a reversion to white. However, the past few seasons all red has made a re-appearance. In the opinion of many faithfuls, City’s best ever strip was that worn in the 1954-55 promotion season, this being modelled on the Arsenal kit.
With regard to the club’s badge this has, since 1897, always been the Coat of Arms of the City and County of Bristol, first appearing on the shirt for the 1901-02 campaign. By a patent of Robert Cooke esquire, alias Clariencieux, principal and king of ares of the south east and west part of this realm of England from the river of Trente southewards, the arms of the city of Bristol are declared to be “gules on a mount vert, issuant out of a castle silver upon wave, a ship gold” and the crest and supporters granted in 1569 “upon the heaulme in a wreathe golde and gules; issuant out of the cloudes two armes in saltour charnew, in the one hand a serpent vert, in the other a pair of balance gold; supported with two unicornes seant gold mained, horned; and clayed sables mantled gules dowbled silver.” The motto “Virtute et industria.”
Uuhh, what does that mean? Well, the arms show a golden ship, representing Bristol’s seafaring traditions, leaving from the Watergate of a silver castle, signifying a stronghold. Bristol’s castle at that time was a twin-towered structure, built in the 1240s by order of Henry III. The helmet above the shield depicts the armies that left Bristol in early history. The crossed arms over the crown hold scales in one hand, denoting justice and a green serpent in the other hand, indicating wisdom.
This emblem first appeared on the shirts for the 1901-02 campaign and was retained for 1902-03. Subseqently it did not re-appear, except for the FA Cup final of 1909, until post-war days in 1950-51.
However, in 1949-50 a badge was on the shirt, but this saw the use of a robin for the first time. The arms remained until the end of the 1960-61 season. It wasn’t until 1970-71 that the practice was revived. As Bristol City’s club badge was similar in design to that of Bristol Rovers, the Ashton Gate club launched a competition among their supporters in the early Seventies to design a completely new crest.
A 57-year old rugby fan, Harry Winn, won the prize in 1972 by coming up with a robin on a five-bar gate. Appearing in the programme and on City’s merchandise it never graced the club shirts which continued to show the coat of arms.
The 1976-77 campaign heralded the adoption of the robin, ball and Clifton Suspension Bridge design. It remained on the shirt until 1983 when plain lettering simply showing B.C. 82 was introduced. It wasn’t until 1986-87 that the robin badge made a re-appearance and remained until the mid-Nineties when the arms were restored.