Vanarama Stories: How Bath City are fighting for attention in Rugby’s heartland

Bath is one of Britain’s most picturesque locations, but it probably isn’t considered to be a hotbed of football by many people outside of the city walls. 

“When you talk to people around the world and you say you come from Bath, they’ll mention Roman baths, Georgian buildings, Jane Austen and Bath Rugby Club, and not necessarily in that order,” laughs Kevin Lawrence, Chairman of Bath Rugby Supporters’ Club.

Lawrence is right to assert Bath Rugby’s dominance of the city’s sporting landscape; average attendances of over 14,000 (filling the Recreation Ground to near capacity week in, week out) hint at the degree to which Bath is synonymous with the oval ball, and the club have a proud history of winning both European and domestic trophies.

But tucked away in Twerton, there’s a new challenger in town – Bath City Football Club may have existed for more than 130 years, but it feels like they’re a club on the rise ever since the team became supporter-owned in May 2017.

“It changes your worldview,” explains Carole Banwell, Bath City’s General Manager.

“It changes you from an inward looking, privately owned club – that really only the fans care about – to this outward looking community asset, that can do all these great things in the community.

“We have something like 500 community owners, and we all own a piece of it. So you have that pride, that says it belongs to us, it’s our privilege to own it, and it’s a great thing to say you’re a part owner of a football club. 

“But with that comes an obligation to say ‘it’s ours, we have to look after it and make it work.”

That community focus has led to Bath City launching some wonderful initiatives, including free season tickets for refugees who have moved into the area (paid for by local businesses), to make them feel a part of the local community.

But it’s also had tangible results on the pitch and in the stadium, with the team in the National League South play-off hunt and attendances at Twerton Park growing year on year.

“Four years ago we started a campaign called 1000BC, which aimed to get 1,000 people to every home game within that four year time period,” says the club’s Press Officer Matt Samuel.

“We’ve achieved that, so now the home attendances are regularly over 1,000 people and we want to kick on from there. 

“I don’t think we’re going to put a number on it, but our feeling – for the folks who are creating these campaigns – is that there’s a huge opportunity to build that number much, much higher.”

With a potential stadium redevelopment on the horizon too, there’s a feeling that the sky’s the limit for football in the city. Rugby may be the dominant sport in the local area for now, but the Romans of Bath City FC are most certainly on the rise.

Vanarama Stories’ is a series of short documentaries about clubs in the National League, National League North and National League South – produced by Twenty3 for Vanarama. You can watch the latest episode, all about Bath City FC, below.