The English language is littered with proverbs, some more obvious in meaning than others. I remember as a child having to complete lists of them in tabular form, page after page of the damned things, and then rote learning them…you know the sort of thing. ‘You can’t make an omelet without…’ and ‘A chain is only as strong as…’.
As pupils, we were never told the meanings of them, there was no example of proverbs in context, we just carried around with us 100s of these weird phrases with the expectation that we would know what they meant when we came across them. Not the best of teaching methodologies, it has to be said, but strangely it worked to some extent and I now find myself using them with gay abandon…using gay in its most archaic sense.
Take for example ‘Every dog has his day’. The proverb suggests everyone will have success at some stage in their lives, how ever badly off they are at present. I mention this for two reasons, one is that although things might not seem particularly good just now, and realistically if you’ve supported Coventry for any length of time, you’ll have been on what must seem like a permanent downward slope. For those of us who can remember the victories in the John Player Cup back in the early 70s, then that slope becomes a spiral.
However, every dog does indeed have his day and our time will come…sooner rather than later…but, hey, patience is a virtue and a watched pot never boils…
The second reason is that Paul Ingleston wrote a comment on a post earlier this week about the need for a return of the ‘Coventry dog’. Okay, we’re now moving from proverbs to idioms, and local ones at that, but it did set me thinking. And Paul’s absolutely right…the Coventry dog is what’s missing, to a certain extent.
My grandfather would sometimes allude to this ‘Coventry dog’ back in the late 60s and, as a naïve youngster of 8-9, I had visions of some mythical hound of Baskerville proportions running onto the pitch during the game to terrorise the opposition (I always hoped it would be Moseley). But eventually I came to realise that it wasn’t even a mascot that they were referring to, it was that unquantifiable force that some players have, the willingness to put everything on the line, a desire to play not for yourself or even your team mates, but for the Club and the supporters, for the badge on your shirt and the honour it brings.
The ‘dog’ manifests itself in players who never give up, no matter the score or the situation they are in, who play on bloodied and battered because they are. proud to be Coventrians. To me, this was best exemplified by the likes of Steve and Paul Thomas (they weren’t related), who represented Coventry for many a year. They gave their all in every game, showed every emotion possible on the pitch and often became embroiled in arguments with players, referees and occasionally the odd supporter, such was their passion for the game. Julian Horrobin was another more recent player who exemplified this spirit. ‘Louie’ (even as I type I know that’s not right) Hall, a wing who was short in stature but immense in spirit, was another who had ‘the dog’; not as fiery or irascible as some of the others, but he played with a passion that coursed through his veins.
In today’s squad, Matt Price has ‘the dog’ in him, too much at times which can get him into trouble with the refereee, but he plays with a passion and belief that is evident in everything he does. At times, watching from the stand, we can almost feel his emotions so expressive is he on the pitch. There are others, too. There is something charismatic about Devlin Hope – the pony tail, the bruising, battering nature of his play and his willingness to be in the heart of everything that is happening that makes him a crowd pleaser. Sam Pailor is another Paul Thomas for me, slightly less confrontational but someone who wears his Coventry heart on his sleeve, as does Rob Knox. Dom Lespierre has the ‘dog’ in abundance, he puts everything into his game for the full 80 minutes and lives and breathes his rugby to the max. Dan Rundle is much the same…
There is absolutely no criticism implied of the Coventry players of today. This is a different era, larger squads, more understanding of injuries, the use of rolling substitutions. Far more is at stake in every game – rugby is almost unrecognisable from Michael Green’s ‘coarse rugby’ of the sixties and seventies. It is far more professional and in many ways better for it. But not in every way. The modern era doesn’t really seem to allow for the same commitment and passion for a club…you only have to go onto Youtube to see the huge number of promotional videos made by players in our league highlighting their best moments in a given season. They are in the marketplace for a bigger, and financially better, move and who can blame them. Certainly not me.
I write as a supporter, not a player, but it seems to me that there is far more movement between clubs and players who stay more than three or four seasons are the exception rather than the rule. Those I’ve named above tended to be local to Coventry, in many cases having attended Coventry schools. That develops a loyalty and a sense of belonging that probably is missing nowadays. The Academy could provide us with another crop of local talent in years to come, players for whom Coventry is their home club, but sadly the bigger, wealthier clubs are waiting at the gates to snap up the best of the crop – witness Josh MacNulty.
When times are a little difficult, as they are at the moment, then players who roll up there sleeves and get stuck in are the ones who probably are most needed. And that’s ‘the dog’ I’m referring to. It’s not always pretty and it certainly doesn’t always make for the most free-flowing of rugby, but it’s effective. When the whole team plays with ‘the dog’ then it’s very hard for the opposition to play against and the crowd loves it…
…although a barking dog never bites, so what do I know?