We’ve recently heard that Ashton Gate will be closing as a vaccination centre in order to prepare for the return of fans to fixtures in August. Operations will move to UWE Bristol and all existing appointments will take place at the same date and time.
It’s brilliant that we’ll soon have live sport back at Ashton Gate, but I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on what an amazing job everyone involved in turning the stadium into a mass vaccination centre did. The success of the vaccine rollout has depended on all those staff and volunteers who stepped up to get jabs into people’s arms, and we owe them our thanks as we start to tentatively return to a new normal.
The role the stadium played also reflects the role of football in our community. Right from the beginning of the crisis we saw the best of our football clubs as they stepped up to help. Bristol Rovers organised deliveries of free school meals and educational learning packs to housing estates and designated drop off points, as well as sending essential food and goods to season ticket holders over the age of 70. And some of these care parcels were delivered by first team players! They also teamed up with the #WeareBristolKids campaign set up by Bristol City Council to encourage kids to exercise.
And of course, that culture of community and service is not unique to Bristolian footballers. Over the past few weeks, as we’ve watched the European Championships, we’ve seen an England team who also championed those values. From their team decision to take the knee against racism, to Marcus Rashford’s campaign to feed hungry kids, to Harry Kane’s rainbow armband – they are a group that have used their unique position to promote a message of inclusivity and equality that has reached beyond football.
Of course it’s disappointing that ultimately the final result didn’t go our way. But my family and I have taken such joy from watching this team play and being reminded of the amazing power of sport – I know that many of you feel the same.
The lack of live sport during the darkest days of the pandemic was a constant reminder of the severity of the situation, and I know fans are desperate to return to Ashton Gate and Memorial Stadium. I can’t wait to see them both packed to the rafters! But I hope as things return to normal we are able to hold on to and celebrate the values and actions of our footballers that have had such an impact off the pitch during the pandemic.