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Remembering Harry Dolman

The great man, known as ‘Mr Bristol City’ would have turned 123 years old today (August 6th, 2020) but 43 years on from his death, Harry Dolman’s legacy lives on.

The East Stand was named after the Bristol businessman in the 1970/71 season and his widow, Marina Dolman, continues her presidency role with the club to this day.

Dolman, who would be almost as old as the club itself, was chairman of Bristol City for 25 years after replacing George Jenkins in March 1949.

It was during this time that he oversaw improvements at Ashton Gate, including the remodelling of the Dolman Stand with its bowls alley – another of his favoured sports alongside football - and the introduction of floodlights.

Bristol City were one of the early pioneers, with many prestigious floodlit friendlies being played against the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Arsenal, Cardiff City, Chelsea, East Fife, Fenerbache, Hajduk Split, Frankfurt, Nice, Rheims, and Stuggart Kickers.

However, it wasn’t until 1956/57 that the Football League allowed the playing of matches wholly under lights; City’s first such game at Ashton Gate being when Notts County were beaten 3-0 on February 20th 1957. Eight years later these somewhat primitive lights, perched on 20 small pylons located around the perimeter of the pitch, were replaced by four 160ft tall pylons with iconic sloping heads, one at each corner  of the ground, until the introduction of roof lights along the stands 26 years later.

Dolman also saw City rise to the First Division in the second half of the 1970s, before his death.

And he was instrumental in bringing the club’s legendary striker John Atyeo to BS3, who remains the Robins’ all-time leading goalscorer. As the story goes, Dolman walked along a railway line to a signal box where Atyeo’s father worked and he returned the contract signed…and the rest is history!

Dolman (middle right) discussing the stadium renovation plans

In his earlier years outside of football, Chippenham-born Dolman served in the Wiltshire Yeomantry during the First World War and later joined the Bristol engineering firm Brecknell, Munro & Rogers. There he was a junior draughtsman but later became a director and so the machinery business was renamed Brecknell, Dolman & Rogers. The company was credited with producing turnstiles for the London Underground.

Dolman, was a visionary, predicting the likes of artificial pitches (Ashton Gate’s turf is 97 per cent real grass), automatic stadium turnstiles and multiple sports under one roof (City’s stadium is now shared with Bristol Bears).

Dolman’s story was also retold in the book ‘Harry Dolman: The Millionaire Inventor Who Became “Mr Bristol City”’ complete with his own hand-written diary entries, which was published in 2017. Its profits of £8,000 were donated to the Robins Foundation last summer.

Dolman sadly passed away aged 80 in November 1977 but his spirit will always live on at Ashton Gate.

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