Hussain AlSaeed reveals latest on Bristol Rovers' infrastructural plans for the Mem and Quarters

Bristol Rovers are planning to develop both the Mem and The Quarters -Credit:PPA & JMP
Bristol Rovers are planning to develop both the Mem and The Quarters -Credit:PPA & JMP

Hussain AlSaeed has revealed that plans for the next step of the Memorial Stadium's redevelopment could be complete in two weeks, although it will still be some time until they're presented to the public.

Last October the Bristol Rovers chairman confirmed that, instead of looking to build a new stadium at the Fruit Market site, the club will instead remain at the Mem and increase its capacity. Prior to the Kuwaiti's investment in Rovers last August, plans had already begun to build a brand new South Stand which has since been completed, increasing the stadium's capacity by 3,414.

The target now is to take the Mem's total capacity up to around 16 to 17,000 by renovating the East Stand and the Thatcher's End, although this is a long-term project.

On the stadium plans, AlSaeed said: "We have two main infrastructure projects. The Memorial and the training ground and we’re working on both at the same time. For the Memorial, we are, more or less, close to two weeks or maybe a bit more away from completing the plans but we cannot share anything at the moment until we complete it and we also share it with the council members and see what their reaction [is] about what we intend to do.

"But we will be looking to increase the capacity to around 16 to 17,000 from this level plus have more seated stadium than now. We hardly have about 5,000 at the moment with the South Stand but we will take that to about 12,000, maybe 13,000 seated.

"So this is the main element of course to complete it and we have empty spaces that we’re working with the architect to close and to make it a really friendly surrounding plus upgrading the executive and VIP lounges to make it more family [friendly] and reception to the older members of families. That’s basically what we intend to do."

Regarding the training ground, a significant part of the ownership's pledge to take Rovers up to the next step is investing in the academy to allow it to progress from category three status to category two which would allow them to implement a development team on top of the under-18s.

Currently, the under-18s is the highest level of the academy before the first-team which is a sizeable gap to bridge. Clubs higher up the pyramid tend to have an under-21s or 23s team as well as their under-18s and that is a major target for the Gas to achieve.

Rovers did in fact have a development squad led by Gas legend Lee Mansell before it was disbanded in 2021 due to financial constraints and therefore withdrew from the Central League. Former manager Joey Barton made the point that the club needed an under-23s programme on a few occasions and Matt Taylor has made similar suggestions since his arrival in December.

However, getting to category two will require notable investment with such status, according to PlayerScout, "given to teams whose infrastructure falls just short of the investment and resources implemented by category one teams" which is measured in millions. Barnsley, Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic are the only League One clubs with such status and all have previously been in the Premier League, although League Two sides Colchester United and Crewe Alexandra also have category two academies.

Additionally, Executive Vice President Abdullatif AlSaeed revealed in the Fan's Q&A back in March that a small stand will be built at The Quarters for development team games once that stage is reached. The vision is to eventually have the first-team, academy and Women's team all training at The Quarters

On the Women's team, as part of its return to club management and going semi-professional, the Gas Girls will also be using The Quarters when they train alongside playing their home games at the Mem.

All of this points towards the target of eventually seeing the club promoted to the Championship with three years the target set out by the Chairman in his open letter earlier this year. However, the Kuwaiti has repeatedly stressed the point that it will take time and first the club needs to build sustainability to ensure that, if they are promoted to the second tier, that they stay there and don't come straight back down.

"Yes, as first step but slowly," AlSaeed said when asked if the stadium is being prepared for eventually reaching the Championship. "We don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up. We’ve seen a lot of the clubs go very quickly up and go very quickly down but we want to be on a solid ground and to make solid ground means good infrastructure, Memorial plus the training ground. The training ground is just as important because that’s where you attract good players, that’s where you make the good players, that’s where you train and it’s just as important.

"We’re working on the plans to develop it and to also take our academy from cat. three to cat. two which will also open an opportunity to have more young players for this club and eventually develop them and we’ve been known to give chances to young players and I think that’s a golden opportunity. But we need the right facilities to attract those young players which we are aiming to do as well."