Fans’ view: First trip to Kingsholm as the West Country derby ‘smashed all expectations’

Jared Wright
A general view of the pitch ahead of the Gallagher Premiership match at Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester.

A general view of the pitch ahead of the Gallagher Premiership match at Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester.

Friday night, in the West Country, for one of the Premiership’s fiercest rivalries as Gloucester hosted Bath at Kingsholm; what a way to spend the evening.

With the Rugby World Cup done and dusted, all eyes returned to the local competitions, and for this South African-born and bred writer, it provided the opportunity to experience a Premiership fixture live for the first time as a fan, thus providing a rare opportunity to do a personal piece as a rugby fan.

First impressions

Having watched the Premiership from afar, there was always a burning desire to get down to one of the hallowed grounds and experience the vibe and atmosphere of one of rugby’s most respected tournaments, and it did not disappoint.

After completing the hour-and-a-half-long trip to Gloucester and having parked the car, the wait was seemingly over; as my wife and I headed towards the Kingsholm stadium, I rattled off all the stats facts and teamsheets to her in true rugby nerd fashion.

“This will be a very different rugby experience,” I explained to my significant other, whose only other live game was at Loftus Versveld, where the smoke and smell of the braais can be smelt and seen from miles away.

While Loftus, or any stadium in South Africa, is usually kissed by the African sun before just about any rugby fixture, Kingsholm was different as the two Saffas strode towards the ground with two extra layers of clothing on, fighting off the icy breeze.

Yes, the differences in culture and weather are apparent, but once we walked through the gates, there was a sense of nostalgia with rugby in the air. Perhaps that’s an over-romanisation, but it’s hard not to get romantic about this particular sport, especially in such a famous arena; it captures and captivates you, and Kingsholm certainly did just that.

The smell of rugby was evident, and while accustomed to the mouth-watering aroma of boerewors before a match, the chicken burgers and bacon were just as tempting. As the regulars started piling into the ground, hurrying towards the nearest vendor selling beer, the buzz became incredibly infectious.

In fact, after my wife and I explained to my colleague’s partner that we were neutrals for the derby, my wife quickly changed her tune, shouting “Gloucester” along with the die-hard fans as the Bath players climbed off the bus and headed towards the changing rooms. Whether or not this was done in the name of self-preservation from the howls in the Shed or not is yet to be clarified, but I’m siding on an embryonic love affair with the Shed and the Gloucester experience.

The atmosphere went up a few notches not too long after when Lewis Ludlow led his side into the stadium with the Cherry and Whites faithful cheering him and his charges with the same chant and furiously waving their flags.

First half

Armed with our final round of drinks, we made our way up into the stands and sandwiched our way into our seats adjacent to the infamous ‘Shed’, eagerly awaiting kick-off.

The hustle and bustle before the game was nothing compared to the rapturous roar that erupted when the two sets of players sprinted onto the pitch. The mood was set; we were in for a cracker.

That passion did not dissipate at any point during the match as the Kingsholm faithful cheered and jeered throughout the encounter, with the Bath fans scattered throughout our stand doing the same for the full 80 minutes.

Again, it is hard to compare notes to a rugby match in South Africa, but the passion Gloucester fans have for their club is certainly on par, if not more than that of a Bulls, Sharks, or Stormers’ fans, as they constantly offered advice to the players, in varying levels of industrial language, as all fans do despite the fact the players cannot hear them, and of course, leapt out of their seats for every line break and big hit.

The frustration of Chris Harris’ decision not to pass to an open Freddie Clarke when he charged down the left touchline, was met with explicit words, which quickly changed when he shrugged off Ben Spencer and rolled over the touchline to be greeted by an eruption of cheers – which one young Bath fan a few rows ahead of us attempted to block out by covering his ears.

That fan would have his chance to make his voice heard as, in the distance, Ollie Lawrence had swatted off two defenders to charge over the line. Cheers for his score was not quite as loud as that Harris received, but the travelling fans certainly made their voices heard at the imposing away venue.

As the chant of “Gloucester” rang around the stadium once more, a lovely flowing attack saw Jonny May receive the ball out wide, accompanied by the cheer of “GO Jonny!” from possibly the entire Shed, but that was quickly replaced by “Oh Santi Carerras” as the Argentine dove over the line.

Gloucester heartbreak

The rush to the bars and vendors ensued soon after, and so did the half-time chats with fans discussing how brilliant ‘Santi’ is and how the players returning from the World Cup have an extra spring in their step.

While English football fans have to be separated at their respective grounds, it was hard not to admire the good-natured banter fans of both sides had, with pockets of friends split on who they were supporting. “The pints are on you, mate; your side is losing,” one Gloucester supporter explained to his friend while standing in line.

The Gloucester fans were certainly in good spirits at half-time as they looked on track to end their two-match losing streak, but that would be short-lived as their rivals came out firing in the second half.

Again, Bath’s dominance in the second half did not silence the fans, who constantly offered unwavering support with cheers of “Gloucester” and advice with screams of “fundamentals”, “defence”, and “tackle him” ringing throughout the stand.

Perhaps another standard fixture at a rugby match is the signs to “respect the kicker” as he lines up a penalty and conversion, and while there was a collective shushing when George Barton and Carerras stepped up to the tee, the same was not afforded to Bath’s Finn Russell.

In fact, the fans banged on the stands every time the Scottish international stepped up to the tee, and while the sarcastic cheers rang around the stadium when it looked like he had missed his conversion, the playmaker emphatically responded.

Four tries in a 15-minute period of the second half, plus a yellow card, well truly ended Gloucester’s hopes of beating their rivals, and while the crowd erupted once more when Matias Alemanno crossed the whitewash and again as he trotted past every stand, it was Bath who would have the final say as Lawrence scored his second try with time up on the clock.

While a few had already made their way to the exits by that stage, the vast majority remained to cheer on their team, even if it was in vain. Best of all, they begrudgingly also applauded the superb Bath performance, a mark of the sportsmanship and knowledge of the Glaws faithful and of the heritage of this fixture.

Final thoughts

After a thrilling introduction to Premiership rugby, I sought out the thoughts of my wife, a casual Springboks fan, to get her take on the experience of the match.

While many believe that it is the complexities of the laws or the dead time as a scrum set that turns fans away from the game, her overall view was a positive one, gushing over the atmosphere and vibe created in a stadium a quarter of the size to the South African behemoths we are accustomed too.

In fact, she was even tempted to purchase some Gloucester fan gear but was too eager to get back for the second half, stating, “I don’t want to miss a thing.”

As for my view, the West Country derby lived up to its incredibly lofty standards, while Kingsholm and the Cherry and Whites faithful smashed all expectations. From getting the simple things right, like showing the referee’s decision on the big screen, to ensuring there are countless refreshment stations available to fans, to the aura that the stadium has, it is a phenomenal rugby ground.

If you’ve not experienced it, do so. It’s one of the great rugby experiences and one that isn’t to be missed.

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