Bristol Rovers were formed with the evocative title of Black Arabs, in September 1883, following a meeting of five young schoolteachers at a restaurant on Stapleton Road, in the Eastville district of the city. They took the name from their black gowns and from a rugby club known as the Arabs, who played on an adjacent pitch, at Purdown, in East Bristol.
The Black Arabs played their first match, a friendly fixture, on 1 December 1883 and played a further nine games during their first season. The club became known as Eastville Rovers in 1884/85 to encourage players from a much wider area and to broaden the base of the club. From Purdown, the club moved to The Three Acres at Ashley Hill in 1884 and to The Downs at Horfield, before settling at Rudgway, Upper Eastville for a short spell in the early 1890’s.
In 1896 the club realised that a better venue was required for matches at which paying gates would now become a necessity. In 1897 they acquired Stapleton Hill, former home to the Harlequin Rugby Club, which later became known as Eastville Stadium. Professionalism and a further name change, to Bristol Eastville Rovers came at the start of the 1897/88 season, with the name Bristol Rovers being adopted prior to the start of the following campaign.
In 1986 Bristol Rovers fought out a 1-1 draw against Chesterfield to bring down the curtain on their 89-year stay at Eastville. A new home had to be sought and Rovers opted the move to Twerton Park in nearby Bath. Finally, they ended their ground saga and returned ‘home’ in Bristol at the Memorial Ground, moving in with Bristol RFC rugby club in 1996.
Not only are Bristol Rovers nomadic endeavours colourful, so is their club colour history. Their first shirts, as Black Arabs, were black with a single yellow diagonal stripe, until 1885. Next, in honour of the Duke of Beaufort, the club president, they sported his racing colours of Badminton hoops of light blue and white, similar to QPR.
Then, between 1899 and 1919, they tried black and white stripes because they had been worn with success by teams such as Newcastle and Notts County These proved to be unpopular however, and white shirts with blue shorts followed in the 1920’s.
In 1930, after a plain blue shirt and white shorts had been introduced for a short interval period, their rather more sartorial manager Albert Prince-Cox gave blue and white quarters and white shorts a turn, claiming “that it would make the players look bigger and more robust”. By 1962, for one season only, the desire to alter the strip returned and Bristol Rovers wore hideous blue candy stripes, to give way to blue and white vertical stripes from 1963 till 1966. The sartorial saga continues. They changed to all-blue from 1966 till 1969, to be followed by a change for blue shirts with white collars, cuffs and shorts from 1969 till 1973. Finally, in 1973, sanity and the unique and instantly identifiable quarters returned to stay.
Bristol Rovers started out life as mentioned before as the Black Arabs, and became known as the Pirates in the early 30’s after the use of a pirate logo in their programme. Back in the 16th century Bristol’s port was not only a centre of the slave trade, it also attracted the odd pirate. Other nicknames were Purdown Poachers from their Purdown days in the late 1890’s and Lilywhites when they played in white shirts in the 1920’s. Bristol Rovers are also widely known by their nickname Gasheads. Eastville stadium was situated next to Gasworks, producing the smell of old gas fumes – absolutely horrid. It was said that when the heads of the gasometers were rising, the smell overcame the opposition and helped to win – hence Gasheads.
Bristol Rovers’ first emblem was the citys’ coat of arms. Since all you Gasheads have already checked the Bristol City chapter you all know what the story is behind this insignia…. The start of the 1997/98 campaign saw the introduction of the present proud Pirate image, depicted on a blue and white quartered background with the addition 1883. It followed an unimaginative design, consisting of two intertwined squares, depicting a segment of a football and the 1883 foundation year. It was used for almost ten years from 1987 onwards.