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‘We could have sold out The Rec a few times over’

By Jon Newcombe
BATH, ENGLAND - MAY 18: Bath fans show their support following their side's victory during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Northampton Saints at The Recreation Ground on May 18, 2024 in Bath, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Bath are set to sell out The Rec for the seventh time this year as the club’s success-starved supporters dare to dream that the long wait for silverware may be over.

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Tickets returned by play-off semi-final opponents Sale Sharks have been selling quickly since they were put on general sale by Bath on Wednesday morning, with the majority purchased straight away.

Play-off fever has gripped the rugby-mad city and with Bath’s own allocation snapped up in no time at all, despite the eagerly-awaited match not being included in season tickets, and the exorbitant prices they are being asked to pay, there won’t be many spare seats, if any, come Saturday’s 3.30pm kick-off.

After an inauspicious start to the season crowd-wise against Newcastle in round one, when just 9,680 fans came through the gates – the lowest attendance for a Premiership match outside of the Covid era since the ground was expanded to its current 14,509 capacity – Bath supporters been every bit as consistent as their team this season in turning up in big numbers.

Lured by sight of Finn Russell in blue, black and white post-World Cup, and encouraged by the form of a team that never fell outside of the top-four, they have paid through the nose to witness in person what has been a remarkable transformation from Premiership easy-beats to potential champions.

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Even when asked to stump up £52 to stand behind the posts, and nearly double that in the seated main west stand, Bath supporters have still turned up.

The Round 3 game against Leicester had an attendance of 13,748, and since then in only one match – Gloucester at home in Round 11 (13,943) – has not been full to capacity. As local rivals, the visit of Gloucester always draws a big crowd but the first sporting weekend of any new year is a tough sell.

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Across the whole of this season, The Rec has had an average occupancy rate of 94%, with sell-outs against Bristol, Exeter, Harlequins, Sale, Saracens and Northampton – the game that clinched a home semi-final, that’s worth an estimated extra £1 million in revenue.

It has been 28 long years since Bath were last crowned English league champions but victory over Sale would leave them 80 minutes away from ending that barren run.

Since the last of those triumphs in 1996, Bath have only won the 1998 Heineken Cup and 2008 European Challenge Cup, despite major investment from Andrew Brownsword and latterly Bruce Craig.

Craig, who acquired the club in 2010, has been every bit as patient as Bath’s long-time suffering supporters who, Head of Rugby Johann van Graan acknowledged this week, have supported the club through “thick and thin”.

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“We’ve got fantastic supporters that have been there from the first round of the Premiership right through the Champions Cup and now onto the final stages of the Premiership and we want to do them proud,” he said.

“If you look at the interest for tickets and how quickly we sold out the stadium, I think we could have sold out the Rec a few times over.

“It’s good to see and most pleasing thing from a team point of view is that the City of Bath is proud of the club and proud of the players and that’s not lost on us. It is a huge part of the community culture.”

Van Graan has been fortunate to be at clubs with passionate support before – the Bulls and Munster, which can work for you and against you – but at present, he can’t do any wrong in the eyes of folk of a blue, black and white persuasion.

Even with the introduction of million-pound man Russell, Bath were 14/1 outsiders to win the league at the start of this season. But those odds have been cut to 12/5 following a season of huge progress and they are now favourites to get past Sale and make it through to their third Premiership final, having previously lost to Wasps in 2004 and Saracens in 2015.

“Our supporters have gone from hoping that we will win to believing that we will win,” added van Graan.

“What an amazing picture it was (against Saints) last Saturday, to see everyone in the east stand wearing their Bath jerseys proud to be associated with this club.

“When we finished the game, there was still a minute or two to go in the Saracens-Sale game, and it was amazing that everyone in the stadium stayed. And when they announced that we had a home semi-final, that noise evolved. It shows that whatever the players deliver on the pitch, the supporters will back it up with their noise and support.

“Bath supporters are certainly up there with every other place I have been involved with.”

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