It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Over the last 20 or so years, Coventry haven’t made it particularly easy for their supporters, have they?
Anyone who has joined the Coventry RFC family in, say, the last 10 -15 years won’t have experienced too many highs, but will have undergone a whole host of lows. However, if you’ve supported Cov since the 70’s or even the 60s, then you’ll have enjoyed the halcyon days of the Duckham era and then witnessed the slow and often painful decline of this once great club over the last 30 years so.
And before anyone corrects me, I don’t mean ‘once great’ there in any pejorative sense, I just use it in reference to the club’s all conquering exploits of the mid-70s – in many other aspects it is, of course, still a great club.
So the question is – which is harder: to have supported Coventry for 40+ years and witnessed the good times of the 70s against which everything else is invariably compared and comes up short, or to have only followed Cov over the last decade or so during which time little success has come the club’s way and therefore anything that the club achieves is going to be appreciated that much more?
Or put another way, are supporters who have nothing to compare the last 10-15 years with better off because the promised land awaits and everything from here on in is going to be a step nearer that ultimate goal of the Championship and beyond? In theory at least…
Or more simply still, is it better to have loved and lost than to have never won at all…?
Sometimes, I think having grown up watching Coventry towering, colossus-like, head and shoulders above most other clubs in the country (and Wales, too!!!), is more of a burden than it is a blessing since every other period of Cov’s history from there on in will never, ever live up to Coventry of the early to late 70’s.
Even if Rowland Winter proves a revelation and drags us screaming and kicking into the 21st century and we become a truly ‘professional’ club in every sense of the word, it still wouldn’t be quite the same, not for me. Not for me, anyway
Happy days indeed were they ever to happen. But the ‘romance’ of the by-gone era would be missing – a Coventry team in the ’70s made up mostly of Coventry born players, with a couple of Welsh refugees thrown in…(just getting ready for the weekend!) and players playing as much for the love of the game and the club as they were for a living. All long gone to be replaced by financial mismanagement, commercialism and the reluctance to acknowledge the voice of the individual supporter in preference to the advances of the corporate sponsors ( please note – a generalisation rather than a specific comment on Cov).
The win at all costs approach of the modern game with it’s league tables and huge financial divide between the haves and have-nots is in stark contrast to the amateur era I grew up in, where the art of coarse rugby often ruled even at the highest levels of the game.
It probably wasn’t like that at all, but as a teenage lad watching in awe some of the greatest names in the game, the likes of Duckham, Evans, Preece, Rossborough, Cowman, Fairbrother, Barton, Gittings (how those names still trip off the tongue), it was an age of adventure and of idealism.
Nothing has got even close to that feeling of being the best of the best since and as such that era has tarnished for me, and continues to do so, everything Cov has achieved since then. It must be difficult for anyone who wasn’t around at that time to appreciate, let alone understand, but the legacy remaining from that period in Coventry’s history isn’t, 40 years on, a particularly healthy one at times because the club failed to kick on from there for a good many years.
Looking back, Cov seemed content to live off its previous reputation rather adapt to the changes that came with the onset of the professional era. Again a personal opinion, but that’s how it seems.
Whilst other teams, teams we would never have even considered part of our fixture list back then, adapted to the league system and became professional in both thought and deed, I’m not convinced we did and it’s something from which we have never really managed to shake ourselves free.
In recent times, succeeding Cov chairman have moved the club forwards in many ways, but we are eons away from where we should be and even this has come at substantial financial cost and bankrupting us in the process on a couple of occasions. The club nearly folded and owes its survival to some heroic efforts from those within the club, their supporters and from the community at large.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times and now we’re somewhere in between…
So for me, all that success that I was so, so lucky and privileged to have witnessed back in the ’70s has been something of a millstone around the neck, of the supporters’ if not the club’s.
I was spoiled, never really understanding how lucky I was to be witnessing the club’s complete dominance at that particular time in its history. Were we to achieve promotion in the next couple of years, there would be huge celebrations in the Smith household, but I honestly think that however much I love the club (and I do!), my son would experience more pleasure from the club’s promotion than I would, great as it wold be.
At 29, (sorry to use you as an example here, Sam) he can well remember the Newcastle game which is probably the highlight of his time supporting Cov (together with the promotion from National 3, under Eves), but for him I don’t think it would match the emotions of a promotion winning season this time round, given that it is so much harder to get out of this league now than it was back then.
If the Eves’ era is his reference point, then success under Winter would probably top it.
My reference point, however, would be the ’72-’74 John Player Cup wins and the years of being the top team in the land with a squad made up of numerous internationals at the peak of their game. Good as promotion would be, it wouldn’t instil quite the same strength of emotions in me as it would in Sam…just how you measure such emotions isn’t clear, but I do think there would be a slightly different response between the two of us.
Arguably the pinnacle of Coventry’s dominance of club rugby in the early to mid-70s was their John Player Cup victory at Twickenham in 1974. I don’t see myself at 56 as being particularly old, but the back and white footage, the commentary in the most received of received pronunciations and the 4 points for the try are clearly telling me something different. I’m sure the commentator refers to Bill Gittings as ‘Gillings’ as he goes over in the final few seconds of the clip! The YouTube clip below gives a feel for what it was like to watch rugby back then…
Watching Coventry since then is a bit like how I imagine old Sisyphus would feel…rather like myself, a man searching for a bit of clarity, albeit in rather a more philosophical sense, pushing a boulder up the hill, only to see it get close and roll back down again. Time and time again.
Coventry can never reach the top of the mountain again because they’ve reached the summit of a mountain once before, only it was higher than the one they’re trying to climb now and as such its present efforts, however successful they are, will ultimately become repetitive and in the end, for me, a task that will never be as successful as it would have been first time around.
I’m sure I sound like I’m whingeing, but I’m not…at least I don’t mean to be.
I just think that anyone who has only been a Coventry supporter in the last decade or two hasn’t known what it is like to support a really successful Coventry side and they’ll have all that to come. Yes, there have been times when the club has had some success, most notably in 1993-95 when we won the National Division 3 title in 1994 and then went on to finish 3rd in 1995 under Eves, but there has been precious little else to celebrate. It was a happy time for me and one that I probably look back on with more enjoyment than the 70’s because it coincided with the time my son was getting really interested in Cov and we went to pretty much every game in that two year period.
Anyone starting their journey as a Coventry supporter this season will have had their patience sorely tested over the past few months, but in a way it is a very exciting time to start supporting the club…pretty much rock bottom, although hopefully safe from relegation, next season offers the promise of much more. A new DoR, as likely as not a new squad yet to be announced and the promise of better times ahead. Good news indeed…but the cynics amongst us, of whom I am fast becoming a leading light (!), will have been there, done it and bought which ever strip was current at the time and on more than one occasion.
So, in answer to the question I asked at the start of this post…
Which is harder – to have supported Coventry for 40+ years and witnessed the good times of the 70s against which everything else is invariably compared and comes up short, or to have only known Cov in the last decade or so when little success has come the club’s way and therefore anything that the it achieves is going to be appreciated that much more?
To have watched Coventry back in their heyday in the late 60s and early 70s, particularly in the mid-70s, was something I was extremely fortunate to experience, but in a strange way it has impacted somewhat negatively on everything that has happened since and has tended to take away a little of the excitement and fulfilment of Coventry successes since then simply because they aren’t as great as those I witnessed as a youngster.
Having experienced success at the highest level with Coventry, for me nothing else is going to ever produce the same sense of satisfaction and enjoyment, how great the achievement. Different players, different eras. I almost envy those supporters who have ‘only’ followed Cov over the last 10-15 years in that when success does come Cov’s way, as it surely will, it will be the greatest feeling of all for them because. They have nothing else to compare it to…these aren’t the best of times for Coventry, yet nor are they the worst, but hopefully happier days are just around the corner…
So from my perspective, it’s harder for supporters who have experienced the good times and who are now having to make-do with a pretty mediocre season than it is for supporters who are used to the club playing in National 3 and for whom promotion will be the biggest achievement they’ve ever witnessed as a supporter of Coventry RFC.