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Something has to Give

By BrianC
August 8 2005

Those of you who were not following club rugby in the eighties and early nineties may not be aware just how dominant a force Bath Rugby were in this period. Less than two decades ago Bath were arguably more dominant in club rugby terms then than Leicester are now. The Rec

Bath - 2004/5 Season

30-Apr-05 ZP Bath vs Leeds Tykes 6-10 Recreation
09-Apr-05 ZP Bath vs Northampton 30-12 Recreation
12-Mar-05 ZP Bath vs Worcester 18-10 Recreation
26-Feb-05 ZP Bath vs Harlequins 15-17 Recreation
05-Feb-05 ZP Bath vs Leicester 6-6 Recreation
01-Jan-05 ZP Bath vs Saracens 6-13 Recreation
28-Nov-04 ZP Bath vs London Irish 27-15 Recreation
13-Nov-04 ZP Bath vs Sale 27-13 Recreation
16-Oct-04 ZP Bath vs Wasps 16-19 Recreation
02-Oct-04 ZP Bath vs Gloucester 29-14 Recreation
11-Sep-04 ZP Bath vs Newcastle Falcons 18-33 Recreation
Season Average 10448

They were certainly one of the top club sides in the world. Today they could best be described as a mid-ranking English club. It is open to question just how much of this slide is down to their intransigence with regards to their home ground. As an outside but interested observer I would suggest it is, by some way, the principal cause.

This is not to say that Bath in themselves have declined. Their gates are up 44% in the professional era, 8.8% this season alone thanks to additional temporary seating. Their relative decline stems from the fact that other clubs have grown more quickly and leapt ahead of them.

Bath's home is The Recreation Ground (Rec). It is situated on common ground, close to the town centre. The stadium itself is owned by Bath Council who rent it to the club at a very favourable rate. So far so good.

The problem however is that the land it sits on is managed by the Charities Commission, it having been given to the people of Bath. There are a number of covenants governing the use of the land, none of which foresaw the advent of professional rugby and the subsequent need of Bath Rugby to expand. To further add to Bath's woes there is a well organized and vociferous local lobby who strongly oppose any further development.

Five years ago Bath, with the support of the local council, tabled a plan to substantially redevelop the Rec. This plan envisaged a 14k capacity, modern stadium. The best that can be said about this plan is that it is in legal limbo, more likely it is a dead duck. The Charities Commission are taking legal advice and conducting a review with the interested parties. Whenever they decide something, whatever the decision, there are sure to be legal challenges from the other side. This one will go as far as the Secretary of State.

To make things even worse for those Bath supporters who worship the Rec, it can now be stated with some degree of certainty that even a stadium of 14k will be too small for the Premiership as we approach the end of this decade. As the new decade approaches, crowds in excess of 20k for premiership games will not be unusual.

The gist of last years article in this series, Restricted by the Rec, remains unchanged. Past intransigence has cost Bath rugby dear; it continues to do so. There are no easy options for Bath Rugby or it's supporters here. The choice is either to move or to continue a relative decline, perhaps even to a point where Bath are no longer a part of top flight rugby in this country.

Season Average Att. Position
(Out of)
Final ZP
97-98 7282 4th(10) 3rd(12)
98-99 7400 3rd(10) 6th(14) 1.6%
99-00 6973 4th(10) 2nd(12) -5.8%
00-01 7645 4th(11) 3rd(12) 9.6%
01-02 8048 5th(11) 11th(12) 5.3%
02-03 7993 5th(11) 11th(12) -0.7%
03-04 9627 5th(12) 1st(12) 20.4%
04-05 10448 5th(12) 4th(12) 8.5%
Variation '97 - '05 43% 7th(12)
Crowd Growth Absolute 3166 7th(12)
Average Growth 5.6% 8th(12)

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