By Geoff DunfordArthur Holmes who passed peacefully away on January 4th aged 90 should be remembered by both Bristol Rugby club and Bristol Rovers with gratitude.
Arthur had to deal with rugby turning professional when it was not universally accepted. He carried this financial burden almost on his own. He was also the man who recognised sporting clubs could work closer together for mutual benefit
With the advent of professional rugby in the 1990's the top rugby clubs in the country had to make important decisions on their future. Should they turn professional or retain their traditional amateur/semi professional roots?
Bristol Rugby Club decided to follow the professional route along with most of the top clubs in England, however, it did not go down well with some of the Bristol purists who either withdrew their financial support or did not contribute to the coffers of Bristol Rugby. This resulted in a lifeline for Bristol Rovers who were still playing in Bath and I was charged with negotiating a lease with Bristol Rugby to return Bristol Rovers to Bristol which was successful.
When I first met Arthur Holmes he was struggling to maintain Bristol on a sound financial footing and it seems he was fighting a lone battle. He needed financial support from other Bristol businessmen who were rugby fans, but the professional era was not popular. A deal was on the table to sell The Memorial Ground to a pension company and for the rugby club to rent it back. This was discussed at a Rovers board meeting and it was decided to offer the rugby club the same deal as the pension company but with the added benefit of starting a new company to acquire the stadium (The Memorial Stadium Company) with each club buying 50% of the shareholding for £10,000, and the rugby club would also receive £2.3m to solve their cash flow problems.
This option was far better than the pension company offer as it would result in the same amount of cash to the rugby club plus 50% ownership of the ground.
I found Arthur Holmes to be a gentleman in his business dealings and as a person. Indeed, he funded personally an amount of £250k to complete the sale to The Memorial Stadium Company as we were still short of funds at the deadline, to ensure Bristol Rugby could retain 50% ownership. (Arthur was made a Vice President of Bristol Rovers in light of this kind gesture.)
As we are only too aware in Football, professional sport is a difficult business to balance the books, and without further financial assistance from others who could have made a difference, Arthur, found the finances of professional rugby unsustainable without other benefactors. Indeed, the only time offers of financial help came, it was too late as the club had already entered administration.
If either club entered administration, the other had the right to purchase the shares in the stadium company for the initial price of £10k to maintain their trading position, and this is what occurred.
Bristol Rugby survived turning professional and like most sports clubs needed very rich benefactors to help them maintain their progress.
Arthur Holmes loved rugby, and loved Bristol Rugby Club. If it wasn't for his support the rugby club would have disappeared into the amateur game and Bristol Rovers would still be playing elsewhere. Sometimes history gets twisted into rumour and sub plots, but rest assured, both Bristol Rugby and Bristol Rovers have reasons to thank Arthur Holmes for being in existence today.
Arthur, rest in peace, you were a true gentleman, something very rare in sporting circles today. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Julie and family.