As a 13 years old, had I talked ‘local derbies’ to my friends, I would have been drawn into a debate as to the outcome of the forthcoming Baggies v Wolves or Villa v Blues matches. For me though, there was only ever one local derby and that was Cov v Moseley, and if it were to be the Boxing day game, then it was the highlight of the sporting year. My friends never really got it.
Well fed, in good humour but often anxious to get away from the ageing relatives who had outstayed their welcome the day before, the Boxing day crowds were always large, always cheerful and always expectant of a tough game. It was often bitterly cold and perhaps I have a nostalgic view of the past, but I can visualise on one or two occasions snow piled on the side of the roads, the remnants of a recent thawing as we journeyed to the games. There was something gladiatorial about the encounters and we expected the players to have denied themselves any form of indulgences over the Christmas period whilst we all lived an epicurean life. I rather expect the players were less keen on the fixture than the supporters. For me, though, it was a relief to be watching rugby again.
The programme I have in front of me is for the 1973 Boxing Day game, away at The Reddings. We always had to leave early to get to the ground as parking in the street was a problem the nearer to kick off you arrived. This was never something that bothered me as I always enjoyed the build up to the game, something that has stayed with me even today. We would always try to spot those in the crowd who were wearing the scarves they’d been given the day before or the dad’s who’d had to bring their kids along with them under sufferance in order to escape yet another interminable family get together.
I have to say, Moseley certainly produced a far better programme than we did in those days and the squad photos with names on the cover was a nice touch, particularly for traveling supporters – although, as a Coventry fan, I would have been all too familiar with many of the greats playing for Moseley at that time. And what greats they were. Horton, Webster, Finlan, McFaddean, Cooper and Doble were all internationals by then. Players like White, Ayre, Warren and Protherough would become synonymous with Moseley for years to come. The two best teams in the country at that time? I think so. And within 15 miles or so of each other. Their backs were mercurial. Webster was a feisty scrumhalf , and his battles with Bill Gittings always made for great entertainment. Cooper was a silky runner and looking back now, he is the player I remember most fearing…bar one.
Sam Doble was a machine. He seemed to be able to kick points from anywhere in the opposition half and several yards inside his own, if I remember correctly. I’d rather have had Rossborough at full back in a dream team if it was about creating a free-flowing, attacking game of rugby, Doble if we needed 3 points for the win in the final minutes of the match. His death just four years later was to be a huge shock. I attended his memorial match wearing a Moseley shirt I’d borrowed. It would be the first and last time I would ever wear any other club’s colours, but the stature of the man was such that it felt like the right thing to do.
Coventry’s side contained the usual suspects and I have made mention of most of them elsewhere. Gittings at scrum half – he was as combative as they come and I count myself as lucky to have seen both Gittings and Steve Thomas (the best scrum half never to have played for England?) play for Coventry. Darnell and Ninnes were the powerhouse in the scrum and Darnell, in particular, was a firm favourite of this particular supporter. Fairbrother, and Cotton were both to continue in the game well after their playing days, Cotton with his Traders and Fairbrother as the saviour, or otherwise, of Coventry RFC.
For me, memories of Coventry v Moseley aren’t about individual games, they’re about the occasion, the atmosphere and the friendly rivalries. Big crowds always. Players, many of whom were born locally, playing for the honour of the club. Players who knew the importance of the fixture to the supporters. It made for a great spectacle.
For the record, Moseley beat us 24-19. Bet I was unbearable for the rest of the Christmas period.
Should this blog still be running come Christmas, I think I may well produce a fantasy Boxing Day derby between the two teams, using the current squads and tweet the scores out in real time…there’s only so much cold turkey I can take…