Club talk

Diving for dear life…

With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls.

Shipbuilding – Elvis Costello

This coming week should provide some indication of just how Coventry intend to deal with the aftermath of the Esher game last Saturday. With the understandable backlash that is now taking place on the Messageboard and the strong and often adverse reactions being expressed towards some of the coaches, will Jon Sharp decide to make some sort of public statement about what is happening within the club to address the massive slump in form that we’ve witnessed over the past few weeks?

In retrospect, the email sent to Jean Harrison and copied into one of the posts on the Messageboard was more an example of Jon Sharp’s willingness to respond in person to a supporter who had raised concerns, rather than a statement to the supporters as a whole. However, it is interesting that he should say:

This is the same squad that put 50 points past Cardiff and beat Ealing ( both of the latter’s xv’s) preseason and they haven’t become rubbish overnight

Whilst in a post match interview on Saturday, Scott Morgan stated:

This is the same group of players that we had last year. What’s gone wrong?

It’s almost as if both Jon and Scott find it really difficult to accept that a team’s form can change so dramatically and that the poor run has come as a complete shock to those involved in the coaching/management of the club. It just wasn’t something that anyone was prepared for.

Maybe there was an air of overconfidence within the club, including the coaches, Board, players and supporters. We finished 3rd, strengthened the squad so we could only improve on the results of last season. I totally admit I got completely carried away by it all and in some respects the fantastic performances against Cardiff, London Welsh and Ealing only fuelled this feeling of complete optimism. And again speaking for myself and no one else, I think I got it into my head that it was ‘our’ time, that Plymouth weren’t going to be another Doncaster, Ealing or Jersey and that this league would be far more open than in previous years.

But of course all but the very best teams in any sport will have a dip in form at least once in a season; the crucial factor is how the club deals with it. But before you can do anything, you have to accept the reality of the situation. Jon Sharp is absolutely right in saying the team hasn’t become ‘rubbish’ overnight (the word ‘rubbish’ is unfortunate really, even in the context used here – it’s not something players would want to hear their chairman use when confidence is already low). However, ever since the second half of the Loughborough game, performances haven’t matched expectations and with only 2 wins in the last 7 games there’s  more talk of relegation than there is promotion.

So what should the club be doing this week? Well a statement to the supporters via the official website would be a start, saying something to the effect that the club are going to conduct an internal review of playing affairs and that an overview of the main findings will be made available. This would be a start. However, given the way the e-Letter was received, Jon Sharp is unlikely to go down that route. However, by saying nothing, he is in danger of being seen as avoiding the concerns of supporters and that’s something no chairman wants to be charged with.

So, he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

I do think Jon Sharp has done a great job turning the club around both on and off the field. He has invested time and money into Coventry and must be hurting as much as anyone. He will want what is best for the club and if changes need to be made, including to the coaching staff, he will make them. At the Supporters’ Meeting in August he seemed to have a very good relationship with both Phil Maynard and Scott Morgan, so I think there will also be a strong sense of loyalty there too, something that should be respected.

However, Coventry is a business and Jon Sharp is a businessman. A very good one I imagine. And he will be only too aware that the run of poor results will be having an adverse effect on the club’s finances, which in the long term probably won’t be sustainable. Attendances are down by an average of 400 and even taking into account the World Cup, that represents a large loss of income. I’m sure projected targets will have planned for a reduction in the attendance figures, but probably not to that extent. Blaydon next Saturday, bottom of the table as they are, won’t be a massive draw either and this, combined with some disillusionment on behalf of the supporters, all means it’s not looking good.

Can Coventry sustain attendances down by an average of 400 and rising?

Can Coventry sustain attendances down by an average of 400 and rising?

A reduction in those attending doesn’t just affect gate takings. Bar and food receipts, potential sponsors and the hiring of the clubs facilities could all adversely suffer.

So it might well be that the club is forced into making changes not because of specific problems on the pitch, but because of the financial implications of continuing poor results into the new year. The business side of the club must at times  impact on the playing side, mustn’t it? Just thinking out loud really, but it there’s probably something in it.

I really don’t believe a further influx of players, either dual registration or otherwise, is the answer. Those that have arrived don’t appear to be having a great impact and it means those who are already at Coventry are pushed lower down the pecking order and become even more disillusioned.  If the coaches can just get the players who are already here to play at the kind of levels we know they are capable of because we’ve seen them play at those levels, then we’ll be back up the league in no time.

After some thought this weekend, I hope Scott Morgan is given a stay of execution. He is still inexperienced but up to now has equipped himself well. I think if he is given some more autonomy and allowed to pick the team that he wants, with the advice and support from those he requests it from, he will be able to sort things out. However, I do think he could do with a mentor, someone experienced who is external to the club. His relationship with Phil doesn’t appear to be working, so perhaps this could be an option.

Addleton, Maynard, Glackin have done a fantastic job getting us to where we were at the end of last season, but I’m not sure they are they right combination of people to move us up to the next level. Pete Glackin is doing a brilliant job at the Academy by all accounts and perhaps should  concentrate his efforts there whilst also having links to the club as and when, but not in his present coaching role. Aggers is Cov though and through and whatever happens he should stay within the club.

I do think someone coming in from outside, working with Scott Morgan, someone who doesn’t know the players and therefore is someone who can make judgements about their abilities without any prior knowledge of them would be a good thing. At the moment it is pretty clear some players aren’t been given an opportunity for whatever reasons – someone coming into the club as a coach would want to revisit every player and see what they could offer. And that has to be good for morale.

So Scott Morgan stays, supported by a mentor.  One or two new forwards/backs coaches come in with corresponding movement the other way. As for Phil Maynard, well he has done a great job for Coventry in some very difficult circumstances. If there’s a commercial or business role for him at Cov, great, but I don’t think he can oversee the role of the Head Coach if it means Scott’s decisions are being in any way compromised or undermined.

If there are to be changes, then they should be made in the next couple of weeks. Confidence is extremely low amongst the players and they need to see that things are moving in the right direction. At the moment, nothing that is being done appears to be making a difference, so there is some urgency.

Blaydon is a must win game now. They will be coming here full of confidence following their win against Fylde – and we all remember what happened when we played Fylde a few weeks back. The consequences of another loss, this time to the bottom team in the league, will be grave and if the pressure from supporters for change is great now, it will be overwhelming then. So, lots of healthy discussion prior to the game, but come Saturday everyone is behind the team.

There is enough quality within the team to ensure that Coventry can be a real force within this league over the remainder of the season, provided they have the confidence to play to their strengths with a game plan that doesn’t shackle their individual skills and abilities, with a team selected on the basis that it is the best team available.

If that happens then:

When we could be diving for pearls.

8 replies »

  1. My comments about the players were made out of protection, rather than accusation. For the e-letter to have cast aspersions on the players was, in my opinion, very wrong on many levels. I sincerely hope that Jon’s ire, in whatever form it may take, is not vented on the players. Quite simply because the responsibility does not lie with them. But Jon won’t need me to tell him how to run the business!
    Whether I’ll be seated in the stand on Saturday remains to be seen. If I’m with Kimbo (aka Old Statler) I’ll be standing on the other side of the ground. The silly old f*rt hates sitting to watch rugby. And he will not be persuaded otherwise despite my best attempts.

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    • The letter e-letter was very unfortunate in many respects and as a player I would have been very unhappy to have read the comments which, as you’ve already said, had rather a barbed edge to them.
      Hope the weather improves for the weekend, otherwise you’ll be soaked (in both senses I expect!)…

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      • Issues both on and off the field need to be addressed support of the club and its facilities need to stretch beyond the Saturday game, both Supporters and Players need to frequent the club and provide an atmosphere to build from. I have been a supporter for many years and confess visited the club for the first time on a none match day to watch the World Cup Final. I would have thought with no game many others including players would be there. Imagine my surprise that the 5 visitors I bought with me made up the majority on the day. Its time we all looked to raise the game and support the team and the club.

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      • Hi Martin – that’s a really good point; one that tends to be all too quickly forgotten, especially when things aren’t going quite so well on the pitch. And although I’ve been somewhat critical of Coventry with regards to their communication with supporters regarding playing matters, that’s not a fair criticism when it comes to the social side of things – especially their use of Twitter and Facebook and social media generally.
        Cov is a community club, or should be and adopting the ‘Your city, your club’ motto as it has is an attempt to do this. I’m not sure what else they should be doing to raise the profile of the facilities available outside of match days – they have quizzes and music evenings/dinners, but perhaps these should be more regular? the club used to screen recordings of away games on the following Monday evening last year, but I’m not sure this is the case this season and who would want to go anyway, given some of the results…
        I wonder how many people live within walking distance of the club – I guess that must have been looked at? If, like me, you live a distance away then a soon as a car is involved then it becomes unlikely, given its a rugby club with a bar…and putting on activities for children is out during weekdays and Saturdays. I’m ashamed to say I don’t even know what happens there on a Sunday – mini rugby with the juniors…?
        I’m thinking out loud here I know, I’m just not sure how to get people in…but it’s a really interesting comment and well worthy of a discussion on the Messageboard.
        Great to hear from you…hope to do so again before to long.
        Cheers, Tim

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      • I think it is good to see that so far the arrival of Wasps has not greatly affected the support that Cov have received however, if we continue in the same loosing way for much of this season that support will soon diminish which I think you have eluded to previously. There is one thing which Wasps do which I think would greatly benefit our club and that is to have a supporters board that meets at regular intervals with Club management and team and puts the supporters view on both issues on and off the field. I for one would be prepared to get more involved. I know we do not have the same following as Wasps but I am sure we can grow that if we tried to involve more in some way.

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      • And when we were winning last season we were getting 2000+ at one point…no, Wasps aren’t a real threat, but results which push us into mid-table mediocrity are…an earlier post (16th September) entitled ‘Suggestion Box’ set out something similar. It might be worth writing to the club, but experience shows this doesn’t prove particularly fruitful. There certainly should be more dialogue between the club and its supporters. Sadly, it all seems one way at the moment.

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  2. Whilst feeling for Jon Sharp as I said yesterday, I really feel for the players this morning. They must be feeling absolutely dreadful and wretched. I’m sure you’ll have been in a situation where, afterwards and overnight, you have replayed events in your mind over and over again. The worst thing about this navel gazing, however, is that there is nothing you can do to change what is now history. Therefore the only course of action is to look at it positively and to learn.
    What concerns me, though, is that there have been several opportunities for such positive learning this season (Hartpury College, Fylde, Rosslyn Park, Esher) but I fail to be able to identify where there have been improvements as a result. And I’m not talking about the players, who are drilled into following a game plan, who have strong language thrown at them in the dressing room telling them how to play, etc. Instead, I am talking about the game management from the coaching staff. There is no evidence of any learning from the coaches to result in an improvement. There are constant and numerous changes to the playing squad, there are numerous new loanees and new recruits who have made no improvement to the standard of play and rather than at least be able to hold our own, we are actually going backwards.
    The e-letter’s thinly veiled threat to players who don’t perform is an obvious scaremonger attempt to pass the responsibility on to the players, and therefore completely misses the mark because, in my opinion, the responsibility is not the players’ but the coaching regime.
    I do so hope that Jon is able to take a dispassionate view and assessment this week. Certainly he can’t take much longer because the season is fading fast.
    I personally would very much welcome an invitation from him to a mid-season meeting (similar to the pre-season meeting) where he could take the opportunity to address the concerns of members, to put their severe hesitancy at ease, to openly communicate, to ameliorate some of the growing discontent which is being expressed on the Message Board, and to spell out his vision for a clear direction forward. There is not a shadow of a doubt that such a course of action would win him support and commitment.

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    • I don’t think there has been much criticism at all of the players in the last few weeks, other than that directed towards Wayne Evans over his two yellows in the game against Fylde and Scott Morgan (not from me I hasten to add) over his decision to play himself. I think most people accept that there has been no lack of effort and that it’s the game plan that’s at fault, and the coaches must bear the brunt of the culpability there, unless of course the players are ignoring it – but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Like you, I feel very sorry for players who came here with good pedigrees and impressive CVs and are struggling to get a game. Confidence seems at very low ebb right now and unless things improve rapidly, Blaydon could be another banana skin. A loss to them and I think Jon White wound be forced into making changes.
      I spoke to a couple of players on Saturday and the impression I got was that there is a real bond between them and certainly they were very vocal in their support during the game. They seemed to be really enjoying their time at the club, although made no reference to the coaches at all. There was a hint of the frustration amongst those who weren’t playing but nothing more. They were diplomatic in the extreme. Interestingly, the likes of Chad, Devlin, Tom Preece, Dan Rundle, Gaston Mieres et al were all there – not sure if this was a three-line whip to show unity or that’s where they genuinely wanted to be on a wet Sat afternoon in November, but it was very noticeable.
      Whilst I do think there needs to be change, and change at the fairly senior level, those who perhaps need to be moved on have families just like the rest of us, with a mortgage and others dependent on them. This is a family orientated club not one that tend to make changes unless absolutely necessary, especially where management/coaching are concerned. It’s easy to call for someone’s head, but we must also look at the implications for everyone concerned.
      Another Supporters’ Meeting would be an excellent idea, but whether Jon, Scott and Phil would be willing to face supporters in that sort of forum is another question. There would be some tough questions coming from the floor and they wouldn’t get an easy ride. But as you say, they’d get immense respect for putting themselves in the firing line. Great to read your comments as always…thank you for taking the time to respond. See you on Saturday – perhaps in the stand this time?
      Great to read your comments as always…thank you for taking the time to respond. See you on Saturday – perhaps in the stand this time?

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