Bullish Bristol chairman Chris Booy believes Friday night’s stunning European Challenge Cup victory over Toulon can be the launchpad to a new dynasty in English rugby.
With a third place Premiership finish and Bristol’s first major trophy success since 1983 vindicating huge investment by billionaire owner Steve Lansdown, Pat Lam’s side will continue to be supported in their bid to earn regular appearances on the winners’ podium.
Booy, who has overseen the club’s rise from the dark days of potential bankruptcy a decade ago, told The Rugby Paper: “What this season has proved is that we’ve arrived as a genuine top four side and we’ve won a major European trophy, which means we can compete.
“Clearly, we’ve got some world-class players who can make a difference in key games, so along with the strength in depth we’ve got it’s about winning more trophies now.
“As we’ve seen with Leicester, Wasps and Saracens in the past, once you win one you can get into the habit of winning trophies and that’s what’s driving us now. To bring a European trophy back to Bristol is special for all our staff and supporters and it’s put us on the map.”
Bristol are ahead of schedule, according to Booy, who added: “What we’ve got to remember is that two years ago we were in the Championship, so to have achieved what we have this season is beyond what we’d planned – we’re a year ahead of where we expected to be.
“It’s an amazing achievement when you consider how tough it’s been to become established when we’ve been promoted before. But last year we were comfortable, nowhere near the relegation battle at the bottom, and this year we’ve progressed again and excelled.
“We’re delighted, but it’s not just about the results, it’s about the culture that Pat Lam has instilled in the team, all the staff and the community as well. We’re in a very positive place now and, having won our first big trophy since 1983, we want to keep doing it again.”
Booy paid further tribute to Lam, who will continue to receive financial backing.
Booy explained: “Pat’s committed his future to us for at least the next three seasons and we’re building all the time. We’ve made some pretty good signings this year and we’ve got a good squad with growth in it, so we’re confident we can move on and improve.
“The league doesn’t lie, we’re third and we’re competing at the highest level and we don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to do that. We want to win trophies and while people might dismiss the Challenge Cup as a secondary competition, we had to beat three top French sides in Stade Francais – twice in our group – and Bordeaux and Toulon in knock-outs to win it.
“Those are some of the best sides in Europe, so we’ve arrived and we’ll attack the league and Champions Cup next season with confidence. Pat’s critical to our success and we’re fortunate to have the backing of the Lansdown family, who will continue to support us.”
With coronavirus cases on the rise, however, Booy added a note of caution on behalf of the whole of the Premiership with clubs currently desperate to have their fans back.
He said: “The game is in a very difficult period and we need the return of crowds or I cannot see all of the clubs surviving. While Bristol enjoys good backing from the Lansdowns, apart from TV revenue the rest of our income is zero and with the increase in Covid, it’s difficult.
“The government are very keen for us to have crowds but clearly they’re being very cautious with this latest increase in incidences. However, we need to get through this spike and then take stock and if they look at each club on a case by case, location basis, why couldn’t we have 5,000-6,000 fans safely back at Ashton Gate, which is a 27,000-capacity, all-seated stadium?
“The game needs crowds and supporters certainly want to watch us, so we need to make it happen as soon as possible. We had people in our restaurants watching Friday night’s match against Toulon on TV, so why can’t we have them in to watch live rugby or football?”