Last night they loved you, opening doors and pulling some strings, angel
Come get up my baby
In walked luck and you looked in time
Never look back, walk tall, act fine
Come get up my baby
I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden Years – David Bowie
A sad day.During the last home game against Loughborough, Rob Moody (he of the season tickets in an earlier post) was good enough to pass over a number of Coventry RFC programmes of yesteryear, thinking that there might be a post in the making.
And how right he was! Many thanks again, Rob, for the loan.
The very first one I happened to pick up from the pile was from 1995.
Little did I know it’s significance as a record of Coventry RFC’s more recent history. It was almost as if fate had taken a hand in the choice of that particular programme.
The opposition – Rugby Lions. Nothing particularly significant there.
The date – Saturday 16th September 1995.
And this is where it starts to get a little more interesting.
The previous season (1994/95) we had been relegated from the Courage National Division 2 in 10th place. It was a difficult period in the club’s history and the thought of National Division 3 was one that filled supporters with some dread. Having started in Division 1 when the league system was introduced, this was Coventry’s second relegation, this one coming after what had been 10 years of fairly tough times in Division 2. It seemed inconceivable that Coventry could have fallen so far, but something had to be done to prevent the club going into freefall…
And done it was.
And September 1995 heralded what was to be arguably the most exciting period in Coventry ‘recent’ history since the mid-70s.
Gerry Sugrue made the brave, if not rather unwise, decision to wave the cheque book about and recruit players who he believed would ensure a speedy return to Division 2, with the aim of returning Coventry to what was then National 1 within a couple of seasons. And how close he was to achieving it.
April 1997 and Coventry, by now riding high in Division 2, were just 80 minutes from glory. Having beaten London Irish at home in the first leg of the play off, Cov travelled to Sunbury full of hope, if not expectation.
But it wasn’t to be and the club’s bankrolling of their stars meant that in another 12 months the club all but folded and a financial package had to be put together very late in the day to enable Coventry to start the 1998/99 season.
Gerry Sugrue is something of a marmite figure in Coventry’s more recent past. Me, I loved him…okay he gambled with the club’s future, but he did so for the right reasons. It nearly destroyed the club and a lot of people lost a lot of money as a result. But, hey, we’re all still here and those of us who were around then have some pretty fantastic memories to hold on to.
Sorry, but that’s the way it is for me…
But in September 16th 1995 that was all in the future and there was great excitement that Saturday afternoon.
It was the second game of the season, the first at home. Coventry had beaten Harrogate away, 17-6, and the crowd were eager to catch sight of the new signings.
Expectations were as high as I can recall at the start of any season, before or since.
And so to the programme…and although it was 21 seasons ago now, the format is very similar to that of today (I suppose proving the old adage, if it ain’t broke…?). The cover, in a very arty blue and white, shows a youthful, and somewhat slimmed down, Micky Curtis about to pass the ball. I don’t think the cover photo didn’t change all season, but such was the esteem Micky C was held in by the Coventry faithful, I don’t recall anyone minding. At a pound, it was one of the more expensive programmes for Division 3, but with 28 pages there was a decent amount of content interspersed between the obligatory adverts.
Looking at the programme for the first time in over 21 years, the memories come flooding back. The names roll off the teamsheet and there are some Coventry greats to be found amongst them.
I’ve already mentioned Micky Curtis, everyone’s favourite centre (a bulldozer of a man), but when you add to the mix the likes of Tregilgas (underrated in my opinion), Addleton, Hardwick, Hyde, Gulliver, and Horrobin, you have some of the Coventry greats of the last 25 years. All of them had the ‘dog’ in them, and whilst Hyde and Hardwick would move on (Hardwick would eventually receive an England call up), they were real crowd pleasers and will forever hold a place in the hearts and minds of the supporters who were lucky enough to be around at that time.
There were some pretty impressive names in amongst the rest, too. The Saverimutto brothers for starters, although if I remember rightly, Alistair didn’t stay with us for too long, being snapped up by either Bath or Sale (?). Craig Quick was a very loyal servant and talented full back, and Simon Hancox was strong and quick on the wing. John Hart, playing at fly half, never really fulfilled his potential, having taken over the no 10 shirt from Richard Angel (another favourite for me but someone the Coventry crowd never really took to their hearts).
There’s a chap who comes regularly to the home games who sits in the stand fairly close to me who I’ve always thought was an ex-player, a centre. Having seen the team sheet, I think it might well be Stuart Bardon who played for Cov for a number of seasons (I think)…I might be completely wrong, but seeing his name, I’m sure it is him!!! If anyone knows whether he is a Coventry regular these days, I’d be genuinely interested to know.
It’s not until you turn over the page, though, that you really appreciate the underlying significance of the programme. It represents a momentous shift in Coventry’s history, one of seismic proportions. It’s as if the tectonic plates shifted and the Coventry landscape would be forever altered.
With the understated headline of ‘Summer signings’, the page augers the arrival of the first tranche of players signed by the Chairman; players that were to capture the imaginations of the supporters and herald the dawn of a new era in Coventry’s history.
The page lists the new sigings. In addition to the Saverimuttos who were already in the team by then, waiting to make their debuts for the club were Andy Blackmore, Doug Woodman, Derek Eves, Marc Thomas and Paul Lydster.
How excited were we…?
Eves had joined Coventry as player-coach and had been at the club over the summer months. His reputation preceded him…having played England A games as recently as a few months before his arrival at Coventry. I can’t remember the reason why he didn’t appear for the first team in the first few games (I remember missing his first appearance for the Extras because it clashed with a parents’ evening at the school I worked at. I remember being gutted especially as Sam, who was all of 6 and a half at the time, was quick to let me know on my return home that Eves had scored).
Eves’ Bristol links meant that he was able to attract a number of Bristolians to the club on his move up to the Midlands. Bristol were one of the stronger Division 1 sides at the time.
Blackmore was the first (with Woodman???) but Ian Patten and Alan Sharpe (the Scottish prop) followed, as did others. Blackmore was a huge man and although coming to the end of his career and suffering from a pair of ageing knees, he was a real force in the line-outs.
Marc Thomas was another firm favourite of mine. A very competent full back who was surprisingly quick for someone of his size and he had a huge boot on him. However, he was also a very amiable person and always said hello to Sam, something that always made his day. I got the impression he was quite a character, and I have a picture in my head of him with a pint in one had and a cigarette in the other after a match, chatting away to supporters, although I might well be doing him a disservice.
Paul Lydster was a very competent scrum half but if my memory serves me right, he had to play second fiddle to Tigger Dawson for long periods…
This was the beginning of a real upsurge in interest in Coventry, with supporters returning to the club after a period of disillusionment. A little over 15 months later, Coundon Road would be rocking to the sound of a capacity 9000 crowd in ecstasy as a Jez Harris drop goal from a long way out sailed between the uprights to ensure a Coventry victory against a star-studded Newcastle team in which all 15 players were internationals.
Heady days indeed…and more names would follow. Jez Harris I’ve already mentioned, but there were also the likes of the Gallagher brothers, Smallwood, Minshull, Crane, Criscuolo, Kilford, Robinson and Grewcock. By the end of October of the same year (1995), Eves had become the Director of Coaching and there follows 18 months of great excitement and optimism. For a while, Eves was an immensely popular figure at Coundon Road, although by the time Fairbrother took over the reigns from a broken Gerry Sugrue, Eves’ fate was already sealed.
Ok, the dream died and took several casualties with it, Sugrue and Eves being but two, although many other players, including Patten and Sharp left too.
There will be those who have a very different take on this period in Coventry’s history. After all, it almost ruined us financially and some will argue that we are still paying the price for the extravagant salaries being paid to some on the Cov payroll at that time. To those who feel this way…
…don’t look back in anger.
Focus on the good moments.
And there were many.
But I was oblivious to what was happening behind the closed boardroom doors at Coundon Road at that time; I just was there for the ride, home and away.
It was a great, great time to be watching Coventry…some talented players, some fantastic rugby and dreams of climbing the leagues to the very top.
Where Coventry belonged. Or so we rather presumptuously believed.
And the result that day…? We lost to Rugby Lions 6-13.
But by the end of the season, we were top and heading back to Division 2. It’s amazing what memories a programme from a game long past can stir up.
A game that in itself was pretty forgettable but in an era that was anything but.