Sent To Coventry

Forty-odd years ago, I was taken to a magical place called Coundon Road.

A field of dreams where the finest rugby players in Britain bished and bashed and boshed, showed off fancy footwork and entertained in a way that a score bore draw a mile or so north east couldn’t.

Men sitting in the stands were keen to point out famous names and talk of their legend.

I can’t remember whether that Duckham bloke was playing, but the muddy blokes who pushed, pulled, punched and pounced seemed to be having the greatest fun.

But the XI a side game had a greater pull for me back then.  You could play football in the back entries of Coundon, where I lived. Kicking a tennis ball against a wall or garage, you didn’t even need your mates.

I didn’t hold a rugby ball until I moved to Blue Coat CE School.

Then it all changed for the better. England won a Grand Slam. Coventry was a big club, still with internationals. Blue Coat weren’t doing so badly, either, with me on the flanks for a cup final against Coundon Court.

Then it all started to go wrong. Professionalism, leagues and a gradual crumbling of the old guard.

It’s typical that Coventry have found form again since I moved to Cornwall. I’ve been to three or four games in the last two years, since Rowland Winter’s arrival. Teams now don’t like being sent to Coventry.

Winter has impressed me, despite initial suspicions. I like the fact that he talks to the fans who turn up to watch training, I like the fact he fronted up after the Blackheath disaster (okay, okay, a blip). I like what the players have intimated in their interviews.

Phil Nilsen, a man who’s been around and knows his rugby onions, said in his recent interview on the club website: ‘I came to Coventry because of the ambition of the club. When I met Rowland Winter, that was the first thing that was evident to me – the club were ambitious to get back into the Championship, and it’s nice to be in that sort of environment.

‘I had a lot of offers, from Premiership and other Championship clubs, but it was just the enthusiasm of Rowland and the way he spoke about the club and what they were doing, it was something I wanted to be around.

That’ll do for me, Tom. I’m happy to put my hands up and admit I was wrong. Even if he leaves tomorrow, I’ll be glad of the difference he’s helped engineer.

So, there’s talk of a return to the Championship. We’re 15 points clear of nearest rivals, Darlington Mowden Park, although they have a game in hand.

Now I’m taking nothing for granted.

But we’re top of the table. We’re playing entertaining rugby. We’re winning. We’re snatching try bonus points like they’re going out of fashion.

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The figures speak for themselves.

Played 19, won 18. Try bonus points in 17 of those games. Darlington, who we have yet to trouble home and away following a postponed fixture ‘up north’, have played 18, won 14 with try bonus points 14 times.

Coventry have broken the 800-point mark. No other club has passed 600. We average 42.6 points a game.

We’ve got the best defensive record. Plymouth, two games in hand, are next best. We’re shipping 15.5 points on average, they’re on 17.5. Take away the Blackheath result and teams have scored just 13 points against us a game.

We’re averaging six tries a game, taking us to 123 so far.

Even that drubbing by an old adversary saw us score five tries.

As an aside, Darlington average 29 points for and 19 against each game. It doesn’t really matter if you’re winning.

My sole care is with Coventry. My city. My club.

It appears the current coaching and playing staff, and the backroom teams at the BPA have fully realised how much our club means to us – the fans.

Because it means a huge amount.

I hope Championship rugby returns to the BPA. Especially as Cornish Pirates, the former Penzance club, is just seven miles away from me.

This era of Coventry is one to be savoured.

Even from 280 miles away.

Goodbye Blue Sky

Don’t Rain On My Parade, sang Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl and who would want to do that after Coventry City’s FA Cup heroics.

Two wins in a row against opposition from higher leagues, including Premiership Stoke City. It doesn’t matter whether they have been struggling or not, there’s still a gulf between the leagues.

But every picture tells a story, or is worth a thousand words, depending on whose line you believe. This Getty Images picture, published in an article in The Independent about Coventry City’s struggles, certainly paints a picture in my mind. Anyone could waste a thousand words, or several times that and more, to try and explain the reasons.

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That’s a game in full flow, by the way. This is not a stadium filling up ahead of a match.

For the Stoke City clash at the Ricoh Arena, the crowd was 14,199. How many Stoke brought down, I don’t know, but it’s only an hour up the M6.

Likewise, MK Dons, the club formerly known as Wimbledon, which put its supporters way down the list of priorities and uprooted north-west from the nation’s capital. Hmm, that sounds familiar.

Neither match could be called a glamour clash.

Not Stoke City, back in the days when both clubs graced the highest echelon of English club football. Two once-proud cities, packed to the brimful with artisans and craftsmen, whose skills have not been matched by the fortune-chasing move of manufacturing abroad. Not a Liverpool, Chelsea or Spurs.

Not MK Dons, the former inhabitants of Wimbledon Common (yes, really), then Plough Lane, to the National Hockey Stadium at Milton Keynes via a ground-share with Crystal Palace.

But this was fourth tier Coventry, in with a real chance of a giant-killing act of Premiership opposition.

This was the FA Cup.

The glory competition.

But just 14,199 turned up.

Coventry, a city of near 330,000, with a wider reach of a million in Warwickshire; Coventry stuck in the old fourth division, going for another scalp, this time from the division above, but more importantly to continue an FA Cup run.

The glory competition. We took near on 8,000 fans to cheer on the Sky Blues, more than the MK Dons could muster. And we won again.

What a delight it was for the city when we won the cup itself in 1987. It changed the feel of the city, massaged its soul and helped revive the city’s economy. So I’m puzzled by relatively poor attendances and the apparent acceptance by the club itself.

This was a Facebook post following the Sky Blues’ heroic rearguard action to keep a clean sheet.

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What support for a League Two club? What a thing to say.

Now you can blame SISU all you like. I’m desperately unhappy at the way they have directed the Sky Blues’ decline.

But the rot set in before SISU. Without the rot before there would be no SISU now.

Yes the boycott of the Ricoh by some lifelong fans is understandable.

Who wants to fund SISU? A real moral dilemma, consdering what has happened to our club.

And the Ricoh? It’s not Highfield Road, for a start. It’s soulless and the whole route to the former gas works site being the home of the Sky Blues is mired in controversy, dodgy dealing and a frank disregard of the humble Coventrian, let along a football club with such a proud history of players, innovation and inspiration.

And let’s face it, thanks to the connivance of Sisu and city council, it’s no longer the club’s home.

So I accept that attendances have dwindled for good reason. League Two is hardly romantic, is it? Swap Arsenal, West Ham and the Manchester clubs for Barnet, Yeovil, Morecambe and Forest Green Rovers? No thanks. I’d rather watch a big game on the telly down the pub.

Is there another factor? Is the cost of supporting your local football club too much? I’m not sure about the costs elsewhere, but a £24 walk-up-and-pay for League Two football sounds pretty expensive, especially for a city like Coventry where unemployment rates are high and spending cash for people low.

Then factor in a £10 charge for those older than 16 but under 18, and £5 for those over 13 but under 16. That’s an expensive day out for many.

But is it simply that the years of decline and play in lower leagues has lost an army of fans?

Success isn’t always a guarantee of good crowds, either. Although that London cuckoo in the Midlands nest, Wasps, appear to have managed the power of attraction to its games at the Ricoh.

I hope the fans that have started turning up again continue to do so. Coventry have edged into the play-off spots in League Two and have every chance of making an automatic promotion place given recent form.

Because the players out there on the pitch, wearing the shirt, putting pride behind the badge, deserve support. Coventry City Football Club deserves support. Not SISU, but there’s a fine line between helping the club become profitable and therefore more saleable.

And Coventry City is our club, the club belongs to the supporters, not SISU.

Hopefully attendances will improve; there won’t be awful pictures like the one above…

…And we will get a big club, with history, for our next FA Cup match up.

Tottingham anyone?