With so much interest at the moment being directed towards the pre-season games, and with discussions tending to focus on how competitive Coventry come the start of the National 1 league programme in September, I thought it might be worth taking a step back before the build-up to the Ealing game gets under way and look at the changes that have been taking place at The Butts over the last few months.
In short, have the club addressed the major concerns that supporters were expressing mid-way through last season, many of which will only return to plague us once more if left unresolved?
Back in February, I produced a poll asking readers to place in order the areas for improvement they felt the club should be prioritising based on a re-read of the Messageboard to identify specific concerns that supporters had raised, as well as in comments made on this blog and elsewhere. It wasn’t particularly scientific, but it did give what I felt was a pretty accurate snapshot of supporters’ feelings at the time.
The poll was as follows:
It was completed by over a hundred readers, which I felt was a pretty good response back then when there were few readers, probably indicative of the frustrations many were feeling at that time. The team were in a poor run of form, Rowland Winter’s appointment had just been announced and we were really in a state of limbo…waiting for the season to end in order to start the rebuild.
Each reader could only select their 4 most pressing concerns…
The results were, in order, as follows:
- Recruitment and retention of players -22%
- Introduction of a 2nd XV/Extras side – 18%
- Further development of the website, media opportunities and communication with supporters – 11%
- Replacement of current pitch with an artificial surface – 10%
- Securing a training ground – 9%
- Further develop the ground facilities for business and corporate links to increasing funding streams – 7%
- Further develop the match day experience to include quicker bar service and better disabled access in the main stand – 7%
- Introduction of Coventry youth/minis run by the club – 7%
- Better understanding of training/conditioning, nutrition and medical provision to minimise injury and maximise fitness – 6%
- Regular and ‘calendared’ Members’ Forums every two or three months – 3%
And in answer to the question I raised in the title to this post, it’s extraordinary just how much has already been put in place to resolve most these concerns, many of which had been longstanding. As a result, perhaps the danger now is that we expect results on the pitch to progress as quickly as the changes taking place off it and in so doing so we are asking too much of RW in such a short space of time.
It will take the best part of half a season for the squad to really bed in – we saw that with Plymouth Albion last season. They had a massive turnover of players and after a shaky start, they were right in the mix from Christmas onwards…I can’t help but feel this might be the case with Cov. The quality is definitely there, that was obvious from the Jersey game – but the coaches haven’t yet had the game time to analyse the best combinations of players or fine-tune a style of play that is still very new to many in the squad.
But it will come…I’m sure of that.
There are a couple of areas that just can’t be resolved at the moment, namely bullet points 4 and 8, but even then, from what we’ve heard, work is being done behind the scenes to try and ensure long-term funding streams, with the creation of an artificial surface very much in mind. These two aside, I’d tentatively suggest there’s been movement on all the rest…although they are all things which will take time to deliver on. Any ‘quick fix’ would merely paper over the cracks and temporarily mask the problem, only for it to appear in a few months time.
So, in a bit more detail:
- With something like 26 new players coming into the squad, recruitment was one of the major areas of focus for RW and although most of the squad was finalised well before RW officially took over his role, I still expect a couple of signings before the season starts as the coaches begin to get a better understanding of which areas might need strengthening. Retention was a thorny subject for some supporters, with some popular players moving on – but with every change of management comes a shift in focus and supporters have rightly moved on and embraced the changes that have been made;
- RW has expressed the desire to eventually run a second XV a couple of years down the line and the Development Squad, together with the re-launching of the Nighthawks fixtures, are the first moves towards achieving that goal. The introduction of an ‘Extras’ is not without it’s problems…costs incurred from having a larger squad, venues, fixtures and so on all make it problematical, especially when we have a grass pitch. But the intention is there and the additional monthly Nighthawks games are certainly a move in the right direction. There’s not a lot more that RW or Jon Sharp can do on this one at the moment until we either get our own training pitch or redevelop the ground to generate more income for the club so we can afford to install an artificial pitch at The Butts.
- Massive improvements already on this front…even this week we should have the unveiling of the new website, something that has been long overdue. And with the shrewd appointment of John Wilkinson to oversee all things media related, supporters are getting regular first-hand information coming out of the club so there shouldn’t be too many concerns on this front at the moment. With RW proving to be far more willing to talk directly to supporters, communication is fast becoming a non-issue. The club’s use of social media is also helping to get the message out further and faster than it has ever been done before…all good news on this front, then;
- Not sure on this one other than we know Jon Sharp is exploring all sorts of avenues with regards to the development of the ground and he’s said publicly that any increased revenues will be ploughed back into the club. This one is going to take time simply because of the huge costs involved…patience and faith in what the club are doing behind the scenes are needed here;
- As above…I know there were talks about providing more gym facilities at club, but I’m not aware of anything new with regards to the acquisition of a training ground or the sharing of facilities with another local club. I’m sure there will be a statement made before long, but whilst the weather remains as it is, Cov seem content to use The Butts and the adjoining park . I understand RW wants to move away from The Butts on Mondays and Tuesdays to give the squad a change of scenery, but I don’t know any more than that;
- The club is currently undergoing a rebrand…the club logo has changed recently and Lara Hunter is working extremely hard to develop new links with local businesses, as well as promote the ground as a conference facility. The fact that the Comedy Club are using The Butts as their base in Coventry for the next 12 months shows how the club is trying to diversify in order to develop its business opportunities:
- Too early to tell on this one – I understand there will be a new-style match programme come September and there are plenty of discussions taking place between the newly formed Supporters’ Club and the club about refreshment/bar facilities on match days, although I’m of the opinion that on this one you’re never going to satisfy everyone. At peak times, especially half time and immediately after the game, there are always going to be queues especially as our attendances hopefully increase, although there are things that can be done to reduce them. I have to say the steep steps up the main stand, particularly when wet, are an accident waiting to happen, especially for the elderly and infirm…but I appreciate that is not everyone’s viewpoint;
- I’m not sure this will happen for a while. There are many junior clubs who provide this already and were we to get involved, I don’t think they’d be too chuffed because we’d be taking way much needed revenue/interest away from them. It’s something that appears to be a strength elsewhere in the city, so it wouldn’t be a top priority for me, although it might well be that the club sees it very differently;
- Another area that has undergone extensive changes. The players are monitored extremely closely with regular player reviews taking place to assess strength, conditioning, fitness and so on. The appointment of Hannah and her team, as well as an increased role for Rob Norman, are already having an impact and although no one else has commented on it, I didn’t feel there was any real difference in fitness levels between Jersey Reds and us on Saturday. It was a hugely physical game, but there didn’t appear to be any injury concerns coming back on the Sunday morning which again is indicative of the great work being done behind the scenes. Corey Hircock has also been working closely with RW and the coaches, focusing on diet and nutrition and the ubiquitous pie and chips after training has been replaced by a much healthier (but probably less appealing!) option;
- It’s certainly RW’s intention to meet more often with supporters, both formally and informally. The information coming out of the club via John Wilkinson partly addresses this, but I’m sure there will be more meetings, as well as additional opportunities to meet with management and players through membership of the Supporters’ Club.
There is so much going on at the moment that it’s hard to keep up with everything that’s happening behind the scenes…which on reflection is reason enough to have another member’s forum – or preferably a supporters’ meeting to which everyone is invited. There is a lot to celebrate.
The club is making huge progress on a whole range of areas within the club and maybe a newsletter to members/supporters early on, outlining everything that has taken place, might raise more awareness of the inroads being made to ensure that Cov is better prepared to become a fully professional club, hopefully in the not too distant future.
The game against Ealing is an important one because a good performance, which doesn’t necessarily mean a win, underlines the progress being made elsewhere. Another score line similar to the one last week will feed the doubters, even though the positives certainly outweighed the any negatives against Jersey Reds on Saturday. If the players come out in the first half against Ealing as they did in the second against Jersey Reds and if the pack can be as dominant as it was over the 80 minutes, then the supporters will be in for a treat.
All if and buts once again…but it is the first home game where the supporters will have the chance to see what is approaching a full-strength match day squad, so a good performance will get supporters talking and add a few more onto the gate in September.
No pressure there then…