I’M GETTING old. And increasingly parochial, it would seem.
It was a keyboard conversation with a rugby fanatic, an English exile living at the bottom of the world in a country that knows a bit about the 15 man game – New Zealand – that reinforced the above fact.
Paul posts on Twitter as @drivingmaul and runs a weekday podcast poring over the latest international games or super rugby ups and downs. He’s well worth a follow and his live Youtube streams have taught me a thing or two.
I’ve found it fascinating how differently the game is run in the land of the great white cloud compared to the land of the grey clouds.
But a response to my comment about referees in National League One, where until last season Coventry Rugby Club had been lingering, left me sad.
Because why should people know what National League One is? Unless your team is part of English rugby’s third tier.
Or know about Coventry?
It’s indicative of how far Coventry’s star has fallen. Where once Coundon Road enjoyed the pick of the fixture list, the blue and whites were now playing Caldy rather than Cardiff, in the days where Cov heroes pulled up their shirt sleeves and roughed it out with internationals galore.
It’s been 30 years since the merit tables gave way to the leagues, when Coventry began to drift off the radar, replaced in the national conscious first by Bath, then Leicester and most recently Saracens.
Yet even in recent fallow seasons, Cov have still managed to blood and educate stars of the future. Were it not for injury, former blue and whites Ben Obano, now of Bath, and Jack Willis, of Wasps, would have been in South Africa with England.
It might be a far cry from the post-war days when Cov players dazzled their way into international jerseys. Ivor Preece, Peter Jackson and David Duckham were the outstanding players of their generations, playing for strong Warwickshire sides in the county championships, for England and then the British Lions – all ironically on tours of New Zealand. They were the standard bearers for exciting rugby, men with such extraordinary talent that their exploits are still fondly remembered.
At Coundon Junior School, David Duckham’s dad taught the final year pupils along with the teacher who changed my life, Mark Buckingham.
Events and history seared in my memory. As well as learning about the survival of the fittest, the planets, and a wealth of literature, from Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen or Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle Of The Ninth, I remember watching Peter Rossborough glide with effortless grace at Coundon Road.
While I can still recall the excitement as Mr Buckingham emphasised how Longfellow wrote the epic poem Hiawatha to mimic the sound of Indian drums, or the insistence of Alfred Noble’s The Highwaymen, who came ‘riding, riding, riding’, I remember the television coverage of Cov’s triumphs in the knockout cups of 1973 and 1974 – the centenary year.
Cov were top of the tree. A long time ago now. Even the sole season in the top flight when the leagues were launched was 30 years ago. History.
I guess there are many people following rugby today that would be blissfully ignorant of Coventry’s time in the spotlight, an erstwhile Icarus of a club that flew too close to the sun and paid the price.
Coventry has changed. I still hold onto the memory of the smell in Barnby’s, that most wonderful of toy emporiums; the heady mix of stone and book leather in the old central lending library and fur, feathers, foodstuffs and wood shavings in Fanshawe’s pet shop in Smithford Way.
How many people today remember the days of boxes of white candles in kitchen cupboards, ready for the next electricity blackout? Or of films stopping halfway through at the cinema, for an ice cream break while the next reel was loaded? The wishing well in Broadgate’s lush island paradise.
Or how many suffered that same mingling of fear and confusion when passing the old blue police box at the junction of Smithford Way and the Upper and Lower Precincts, when Jon Pertwee was popping out of one on Saturday night TV battling daleks and cybermen.
Memories. When trains could still be seen on the Coventry loop line, passing a straight Binley Road, with its one lane in each direction. When glass cabinets showcasing wares of city centre stores were a feature of shopping trips, and conductors turned wheels of paper into bus tickets on Coventry Corporation’s maroon fleet.
A time of fountain pens and blotting paper, which could be chewed and then ‘fired’ through the empty tube of a Bic biro at unsuspecting victims, when you could listen to the latest 45 in a booth at HMV or Paynes Music, opposite Pool Meadow, when there were still the temporary shops built after the Blitz, and Coventry was still very much part of Warwickshire.
I remember the joy of being among the first legions of schoolchildren to run riot on the ramparts of the Lunt Fort at Baginton, being frisked going to watch Disney’s Robin Hood at the Godiva Cinema in Tile Hill following the Birmingham pub bombings, the beat of the bass drum echoing through my body as bands marched past the Spinney in the Coventry Carnival parade.
And not just childhood. How many journalists started their careers, woodpeckering away at old typewriters, with phones that rang noisily, with paper electoral rolls and wall to wall telephone directories? No mobiles, internet or social media.
I’m part of a forgotten world.
In childhood I never expected it. Watching Terry Yorath and Barry Powell’s successful partnership, unlikely as it was, at Highfield Road in my junior school years, when football cards came in packs of bubble gum.
I played at Coundon Road in a schools final for Blue Coat in the early 80s. In the days when Broadstreet School was still up and running, and the route from the top of Binley Road through to Binley Woods was a country lane flanked by fields.
When I started playing cricket for Talbot, off Humber Road, the factory was all around. Rolls Royce was still employing thousands at Parkside. And Alvis, where you could score a six with a nick over the slips, was still churning out military hardware, such as the Scorpion and Scimitar light armoured vehicles, distinguished by track or wheels respectively.
I was a Coundon boy.
Coundon Road was still the site of a huge goods yard, handling much of the Warwickshire coal; and Coundon House, in the grounds of Coundon Junior School was still standing proud.
The bowling green at the back of the Coundon pub; the clinic next to the rugby club where I went for all my vaccinations and, of course, Coundon Road itself, old fashioned and beautiful, witness to wonders Cov fans of today can only dream about.
I still have the cine reel of memory playing in my mind, of a huge Cov pack rumbling forward, of Steve Thomas feeding the ball to the exciting back division of Mark Lakey, Eddie Saunders, Stuart Hall and Martin Fairn, among others. Of blue and white jerseys thronging forward as one and crowds clapping, cheering and coming to their feet in appreciation.
That aspect, at least, has returned, for now, at Butts Park Arena. Coventry under Rowland Winter are on the up and new memories are being created. Hopefully, the club will continue to worm itself back into the collective conscious of today’s rugby landscape.
For me, it’s always been there.