They are big, butch and most certainly men’s men – but these are not the newly-promoted rugby players of Bristol whose team has just been rebranded.
For when Bristol Rugby chiefs announced the rebranding of the city’s rugby team yesterday, there was more than a ripple of surprise and excitement in a certain quarter of Bristol’s diverse city.
The new name for Bristol Rugby when they take to the field at Ashton Gate next season in the Premiership will be ‘Bristol Bears’, but there is already a well-established group of men known as the Bristol Bears.
Their spiritual and social home is in Old Market, the area that has been self-described as Bristol’s Gay Village, and of the many bars and clubs in the thriving village, the Bristol Bear Bar is their base.
And when any rugby fan might type ‘Bristol Bears’ into their internet browser, they will get a cascade of images of cheery, happy and smiling bears partying in and around Old Market.
For the uninitiated, a ‘bear’ is a particular sub-section of gay man who is rough and ready, perhaps a bit older, almost certainly bearded and not skinny.
Think John Goodman playing Roseanne’s husband, or a bearded Shaun of the Dead actor Nick Frost.
The definition of what a bear is differs within the gay community, but the slang term typically describes a hairy, heavy-set, sometimes muscular gay or bisexual man.
A bear typically projects an image of rugged masculinity. Some bears present a very masculine, over-the-top image of a ruggedly masculine man.
The Bristol Bear group are long-established – and their website promotes the Bristol Bear Fiesta – a gay event weekend that has been held every summer since 2003 in Old Market.
It also promotes the Southern HiBearnation, a similar event which is, obviously, held during the winter.
Both events are held in association with the Bristol Bear Bar, known locally as the BBB, which is the UK’s only bespoke bear bar.
Bristol’s bears are also a prominent part of the annual Pride celebration.
As well as there already being a Bristol Bears group, the other major problem for Bristol Sport’s controversial decision to change the name of the city’s rugby team to Bristol Bears is that the Old Market-based group has already established the internet domain name www.bristolbears.co.uk .
And the .com version of that name redirects there too.
Already the link is being made across the city.
A spoof Bristol Bears rugby account has been set up on Twitter, hilariously suggesting that the rugby team will now be made up of regulars at the BBB, and discounts will be offered on tickets for fans turning up in leather harnesses.
The club – the rugby one, that is – has faced something of a backlash from its own supporters about the name change, but it seems Bristol’s existing Bears are delighted by the name change.
Currently, anyone typing ‘Bristol Bears’ into Google will see the Old Market-based Bears group fourth on the search engine, although that is likely to be swamped by rugby sites and news once the season is up and running in the autumn.
The Bristol Bear Bar itself declined to comment, but one regular on the Bristol Bear scene, who didn’t want to be named, said: “It’s hilarious. I’ve been checking out the rugby website now, and I’m sure those players will be welcomed in Old Market – especially Luke Morahan,” he said.
A spokesperson from Bristol Sport said: “Naturally we were aware of the Bristol Bear Bar from the very beginning of the rebrand process.
“We have been in close contact with the owner of the bar and are confident that we can all co-exist happily together,” she added.