Sport in the West Country is highly competitive and well supported. There are club sides across a variety of sports that are famous around the globe as well as on the national stage. The sport in the region is slightly different from other areas of the country with certain sports being followed with greater interest in this area than in any other region. The West Country is the least populated region in the country in terms of professional football Clubs. In fact AFC Bournemouth is the only side in the region that plays in the Premier League, with Bristol City playing in the Championship, which is the second tier. West Country people love their football, but this certainly isn’t reflected with the quality of the football played in the region.
Yet the West Country makes up for this with the quality of the Rugby Union that is played. Currently in the RFU’s top league The Aviva Premiership three of the top seven sides are from the West Country, and Exeter are the reigning champions. There are a further 4 sides in the championship which is the second tier.
Even before Rugby turned professional The Bristol, Bath and Gloucester clubs were the heartbeat of English rugby. Half of their fixture lists would include colossal matches against the South Wales teams, such as Cardiff, Swansea, Llanelli and Pontypool. As the game has entered professionalism Exeter have emerged as one of the nation’s best sides and has already produced several England internationals in the 21st century.
Exeter benefit from having Somerset, Devon and Cornwall on their door step where ruby is played extensively in the local state schools, and it is a tradition for the youngsters to try and break into the local representative sides. With the pool of talent available Exeter has now emerged one of Europe’s strongest club sides. The same “traditional factor” is having an influence on the cricket in Somerset. The County ground in Taunton is home to the side that has been in the first division of the county championship longer than another team.
This is quite remarkable considering there are many other counties that have a far larger population to pick from and are wealthier being able to afford to sign the world’s best players. Somerset’s County Ground can only hold 8,500 spectators yet the small arena is able to generate a great atmosphere with the local supporters rooting for the home team.
The side is full of local Somerset and Devon players, and once again the strength of the sport in the region is as a result of the strength of the school boy sport that is played. Some of the country’s top independent cricket playing schools, such as Millfield in Street and Kings Taunton, are located in the county. The attraction for youngster growing up in Somerset of playing in a front of a packed ground in Taunton has pointed many young players into the professional game. There are many players playing for other county teams in the Championship that first learned their cricket at the Somerset Academy.
The other County Team in the West Country are Gloucestershire. Their county ground in Bristol is a much bigger arena than the one in Taunton and can hold up to 17,500 spectators and has hosted international one day matches. The county has a proud record and was the club that the famous WG Grace played for 29 years. During this time, they were the unofficial champions of England in 1874, 1876 and 1877. They also boast one of the strongest one-day records having won the Gillette Cup on Five occasions the Benson and Hedges Cup three times and the John Player League once.
They are currently in the second division of the championship and are not the strength that they once were. The region is dominated by its rugby union clubs and a desire to make its football clubs stronger, and this has affected the quality of the players entering the county cricket team. The strength of the sport varies in the West Country and depends on what area the sport is played in.