I would like to start by saying how humbled I’ve been by the support shown to Bristol Rugby. From shops and schools across the city who have embraced the play-off campaign to staff and players within our group barracking for the boys.
Bristol City FC; City Women FC; Bristol Rugby Ladies; the Flyers Basketball team; members of the new badminton franchise and our motor racing drivers have all been cheering them on and sending them the best of luck, indeed many of them are here tonight, once again showing their support. I know these personal messages to Andy, Sean and the team mean a great deal.
The fact that we set a new Championship record at the semi-final home leg of 12,000 fans was incredible. A figure that we will break, once again, tonight. That Sunday afternoon game in the sunshine, against Bedford, was the best atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed at a rugby game.
To sell out Ashton Gate to its 16,000 capacity, a week before the final, is something all of us can be extremely proud of. Not just as a group but as a city.
We are a force to be reckoned with. Steve Lansdown’s vision of making Bristol a sporting city is coming sharply into focus. By the end of this evening, we could, just possibly, have three teams playing in the top domestic leagues in the country next season (rugby, basketball and badminton).
I know so many of you have been through the highs and the lows of play-off finals once too often. I’m acutely aware that no one is taking for granted the 15-point lead we bring back home. I know that all 16,000 of you will be singing, shouting and clapping your support of a team that has battled throughout the season to be consistently the very best in the Championship.
It was seven years ago that we dropped out of the Premiership. Longer than some of our fans have been alive for. It is this new generation that we are building for. A stadium, that they will be proud to call their home. Our Forever Bristol memberships have been aimed directly at helping our younger fans feel valued and engaged with the best clubs on their doorstep. It is spine-tingling to think that for many of them this evening could be their seminal moment. The moment they decide they are Bristol forever.
Finally I would like to pay tribute to all the incredibly hard-working staff within Bristol Sport who have done everything they could to make tonight a success. A sold out stadium filled with a sea of blue and white. It is now over to the boys on the pitch to complete the job. I have no doubt that they will make Bristol proud.