JUST WHOSE GROUND IS IT ANYWAY?
City began life in the brave new world of the Alliance Premier League in August 1979 with a long trip to Boston United. They had beaten the Pilgrims over two legs to claim the Non-League Championship Trophy the previous season but could not repeat this feat and returned from Lincolnshire on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline. This set the tone for the season and a 4-0 defeat to Stafford Rangers in March, that left City in deep relegation trouble, saw manager Bob Boyd, never a popular appointment in the first place, sacked. Colin Tavener took over in a caretaker capacity and just one defeat in the final seven games steered City to safety. The only bright spot of the season was the clubs best ever FA Trophy run that ended in the 3rd Round with a home defeat to Dulwich Hamlet. The next few seasons saw City consolidate their position in the top flight of non-league football as firstly under Stuart Taylor then Bobby Jones they twice finished in sixth place. The 1984-85 season saw the APL renamed the Gola League and for the first time City were geniune title contenders. In the end they had to settle for fourth place behind winners Wealdstone although they were only denied the title because of a one-season experiment with the points system. Three points were awarded for an away win but only two for home victories. City won 15 of their 21 matches at Twerton Park but only six on their travels. In another oddity City also exited the Bob Lord Trophy to Weymouth on away goals in a one-leg match! The next two seasons saw City finish mid-table but finally taste FA Cup success after a gap of seven years. A 1-0 2nd round defeat to Peterborough United in 1985 represented their best run since the 1960's and they matched this feat the next season. Yeovil Town were beaten in the 4th Qualifying Round at Twerton Park and when Mickey Adams's knee sent them past Aylesbury United they were draw against local league side Bristol City. In front of over 10000 fans at Ashton Gate City were under the cosh for long periods but as the game reached the closing minutes they were only a single goal down. Up popped Paul Bodin to write his name into City history with a stunning volley from a Dave Payne cross that earned City a money-spinning replay. Unfortunately City were unable to stage this replay at Twerton Park and three days later (my 16th birthday!) they returned to Ashton Gate. This time there were no such heriocs and a disputed penalty plus two late goals gave the Robins a 3-0 victory.
The 1986-87 season also saw City gain a tenant at Twerton Park. Bristol Rovers had been struggling to remain at Eastville for a number of years (a ground share with City had first been mooted in 1982) as the club did not own the stadium having sold the lease to Bristol Greyhound Racing Association in 1940. A fire destroyed the South Stand in 1980 and six years later facing an increase in the rent that the Pirates could not afford the club were in danger of going out of business. Moves to ground share with Gloucestershire CCC and Bristol Rugby Club fell through but City came to their rescue with the offer of Twerton Park. The desperate Bristol club signed a 7-year lease to be reviewed after four for £20000 per season plus an undisclosed percentage of gate receipts. They also contributed another £80000 to bring the ground up to league standards plus half the cost of a new pitch. There was considerable local opposition to the arrival of Rovers as residents had become used to less than a thousand football fans causing little or no disruption every other Saturday. Suddenly there were 3000 plus Bristol football supporters descending on Twerton. These fears were largely unjustfied as apart from parking problems and the occasional minor outbreak of trouble (normally when Bristol City were the opposition) the share worked well. There was one exception to this happy partnership in 1990 when a group of Bristol City fans, returning from an away match, broke into Twerton Park and set fire to the Main Stand. The sixty year old structure was destroyed but both clubs continued to play their matches at the ground using a temporary stand built at the Bristol End until it could be rebuilt. In the end Rovers remained at Twerton Park for 10 years. In that time they entertained Liverpool and Manchester City in front of nearly 10000 supporters but in 1996 they returned to their home city to share the Memorial Stadium with the rugby club.
With the financial rewards of their FA Cup run and the increased revenue from Rovers, City published their first profits for many years in 1987 and with some of this money allocated to Bobby Jones to build a successful side optimism was high of a real challenge for league status - especially as the winners of the now-named GM Vauxhall Conference had been granted an automatic promotion place into the 4th Division as of the previous season. However just two wins in their opening 17 games soon put pay to these dreams and the club were instead faced with a desperate relegation battle. Theie cause was not helped when top scorer Paul Bodin moved to Newport County in January 1988 for £15000 (a fee that City never received as the Welsh club went bust a couple of years later). Jones was sacked in April, Paul Gover and Colin Tavener taking over the reigns, but it was too late and a 2-1 defeat at Runcorn condemned City to a return back to the Southern League after an absence of nine years. Once again the FA Cup proved a welcome distraction from their league troubles as City made it to the 3rd Round proper for just the fifth time in their history. There was disappointment in this competition as well though as they missed out on big name opposition, instead drawing Third Division Mansfield Town away from home. They lost 4-0.