Pat Lam has had a wry chuckle about sceptics who mocked Bristol when they officially became the Bristol Bears two years ago following a name change. On the verge of becoming Championship champions at that time in April 2018, owner Steve Lansdown controversially decided to ramp up the razzmatazz ahead of the club’s return to the Gallagher Premiership by renaming them in the hope that it would attract a new generation of supporters.
The rebrand was dismissed in certain quarters as a marketing gimmick, particularly the accompanying 19-page brochure where comparisons with the bear, which referenced physicality, spirit, hunger and fearlessness as well as awakening from hibernation, caused much mirth.
Even the Bristol Rugby Supporters Club weren’t impressed, its treasurer Mike West commenting on the BBC: “I’m not best pleased… I’m confused about why – this is a club that has been around since 1888 and is one the oldest rugby clubs that still exists at the highest levels. I don’t understand why they have suddenly contorted the name after 130 years without some reference. People don’t go bear in Bristol that often. In the Premiership next season the opposition fans will surely be calling us Yogis, or Boo Boos or the Fuzzies.”
However, with Bristol sitting third in the Premiership when the current season was suspended indefinitely last month and attracting average crowds of 17,916 to Ashton Gate, coach Lam has declared the name change to the Bears a success that is now driving them on during the sport’s current suspension.
Speaking on Bristol Sport TV about the two-year anniversary of the controversial name change, Lam said: “There was a little bit of controversy there but I went straight to Steve, why Steve, why the Bears? When he talked to me about the spirit of the bear, he talked to me about the bear, the qualities of the bear that will look after its community, that when it needs to defend its ground it will.
'I actually had to retire over a Zoom call. I had all the boys, all the staff and there is me getting emotional'
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“But the biggest thing is that it will look after the people within that whole community and that is all around the place. I suppose it aligned so much with my coaching philosophy, that it is not just about winning rugby.
“I know people mocked us about ‘oh, the Care Bears’ and stuff like that but that is actually what I want people to see in our staff and in our players, that we do care about our community, and when it is time to be aggressive and have that winning instinct – it has that too – but more importantly it will stand its ground and it will defend our community.
“At the time it was just an idea and, like our vision, to sit back now and look at it and think how far we have come that it is just part of our fabric, it’s who we are, it’s what we are about and it will hold us in good stead and it will get us through this challenging time and we will come out of it an even stronger club I believe.”
Bears was the second time in the past 20 years the club adopted a nickname, having previously taken the name Bristol Shoguns as part of a sponsorship deal.
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