When the Jersey Reds game was first announced, I was determined to go.
I’d missed out on the two previous visits to the island in recent years, mainly because I was still working then and weekends had a far greater significance than they do now.
So when Rowland Winter indicated there were spaces on the team coach going down to Luton available on a first come first served basis, I contacted him straight away to express an interest and almost by return he’d forwarded me the flight details.
That same evening I’d booked the flights and, rather like a child waiting for Christmas, I started counting down the days.
Now, here’s a confession…two things slowly dawned on me.The first was that I only live 3 miles from Birmingham International Airport and yet it never occurred to me to check to see if you can fly to Jersey from there, which you can. At the time I assumed that as the team were flying from Luton, this must be the best way of doing it. I didn’t consider the fact that Jersey might have a deal with Squeezy Jet which made the trip down to Luton worth it. The extra distance from Coventry to Luton suddenly seemed less attractive.
Fortunately, though, it’s more expensive to fly from Birmingham, so that made me feel a bit better. Usually, I’m fairly level-headed and would think things through fairly rationally – but this certainly wasn’t the case when it came to the Jersey trip.
The second was more about my own insecurities than anything else.
Whilst going in the same coach as the players sounds really cool, for someone like myself, who is socially not the most confident of people, it started to play on my mind a bit.
I began to wonder whether my presence would be something of an intrusion.
Because in writing a blog on Cov, inevitably I’m going to write things that won’t necessarily be received too warmly by players and/or coaches. It’s never, ever my intention to be upset anyone, but well at some point you’re going to write something that will cause annoyance or frustration…and there are one two…or 25 or 26 to be more accurate, players out there whom I wouldn’t want to upset…! It happened last season and I guess it will happen again – and probably already has for all I know.
I suddenly began to feel increasingly awkward about the journey down to Luton. Irrational, I know…but that’s who I am…a bit diffident and ill-at-ease in situations that are unfamiliar to me.
Now I have to say everyone was fantastic…particularly the likes of RW, Tony Gulliver and of course, John Wilkinson. The players all accepted that there were supporters travelling with them (there were 3 others as well as myself) and it seemed totally natural to be there.
But I should point out that Rowland Winter, unknowingly gave me something of a sleepless night prior to the trip down to Luton on the Friday. He kindly sent a message the day before we were due to travel just confirming times etc and added, quite amusingly in hindsight, that he was looking forward to ‘hearing my debut song’ on the coach…
Now, of course the sensible bit of me knew it was in jest…but the Mr Worry in me didn’t want me to see it that way.
For most people, that would be worth a chuckle and a witty response, but my anxieties went into overdrive. OMG – would I really be expected to sing; was this some traditional Coventry initiation for everyone who makes their first appearance on the team coach? It wouldn’t be so bad if I could sing, but well, let’s just say it would take plenty of Dutch courage and a set of earplugs for the audience before I’d ever even contemplate something like that.
Suddenly, in my head the Cov trip to Jersey became something akin to a rugby tour taken straight out of Michael Green’s ‘Art of Course Rugby’ (for those old enough to remember). To me, if there’s anything worse than standing up in front of others and giving a talk, then it’s karaoke. After 25 years of giving 100s of assemblies, I still got nervous in front of the sixth form every Monday and Friday morning…so the thought of churning our a rendition of ‘Hey Jude’ to a coach load of burly rugby players was almost too much…
It was only when I arrived at the ground and saw there was another couple travelling that I relaxed. And I certainly wasn’t going to admit my karaoke nightmarest to RW or anyone else on the trip, at least not until we were all back in Coventry!
It was a slightly surreal experience, sitting in a coach full of players whom I’m in awe of to some extent. It doesn’t matter that many of them were new names to me; these are players who week in, week out, I happily pay to watch and yet there I was sitting in the same coach as them, listening to them talk about the game, their families, the tele they watch…seeing them as people and not players. There were internationals on the coach, players who’d played at the highest levels across several continents, youngsters with great careers in front of them…all of them now representing Cov, the team I’ve supported for well in excess of 50 years.
To many, it wouldn’t be a big thing, but it was to me.
Meeting Tony Gulliver was a delight. This is a man who’d been my hero in my late teens…I can just about remember players like Ian Darnell, but Gully and Brian Kidner I can still remember as if it were yesterday. Gully is a true gentleman and ran things super-efficiently. And there he was, sitting in the coach alongside all the other players, unaware that it felt as if I was….
sitting next to the shoulders of giants.which, given his size, was true on two levels.
Whatever the outcome of the Jersey game, I would have got my money’s worth just being part of the Jersey experience.
My presence will have gone practically unnoticed by the players but it was just such a great experience for me…a real treat. Having not played rugby other than for the school team, it never ceases to amaze me how much these guys put into their rugby…the training, the sacrifices, the physicality, the hits and the injuries. It’s second nature to them and because I’ve only seen them either train or in a match day situation, to see them outside of that was special.
It’s something I would have loved to have done when my children were growing up…Sam would have had his autograph book to hand all weekend!
I do think the lack of young supporters down at The Butts these days on a match day is a concern. The issue about having Cov minis/juniors plying their rugby at the club is a very different one for me- we need more children regularly coming to support the club.
Often there are schools in attendance on match days, but I’m not sure that many of the pupils involved come back with their parents following that first visit and become regulars..? The club do a brilliant job working within the community and developing an interest in rugby with local youngsters. But in terms of match day experiences, we are well behind that of our premiership neighbours. Matt Price and his team do a great job bringing in the youngsters, but do we need to do more to encourage them to return?
Somehow we do need to make rugby a more attractive proposition for 5-16 year olds, especially with Wasps and other local sports competing for their support. Children need to buy into the vision, and the best people to help with that are the players themselves. The big advantage Cov has is that has always been a family club and the fact that players and spectators often mingle with each other after a game is a great starting point – get the youngsters involved and they’ll want to come back and see their heroes play again and again.
Opportunities for Coventry supporters to bring their families to ‘meet the players’ sessions would be great…perhaps a barbeque where the players have their photos taken with the kids, or they do the cooking/serving would be an idea.
Or each junior member is given an autograph book and once they have collected 30+ signatures, they get a reward of some sort…a brainstorm amongst supporters/the club would soon come up with plenty of ideas.
Cov appears to have a fairly old fan base – certainly in comparison to Wasps. If we are going to boost gates, then we do need to attract more families, even if it means a bit more razzmatazz – something that makes me shudder a little, especially if it involves cheerleaders.
Ok, success on the pitch will bring back supporters, but mostly only those whom we have lost over the last 18 months since our form dipped so drastically after the 18 match unbeaten run, and they aren’t necessarily going to be from the younger generation. To increase the number of youngsters through the turnstiles, I do think Cov will need to offer something different, something a little more imaginative. If we can do that we might be finding ourselves the next generation of Coventry supporters.
I don’t think this is a problem specific to us alone. There are many clubs in National 1 that would love to have the size of crowds we get. But with Coventry pushing to become not just a top National 1 side, but also expressing genuine aspirations of becoming a leading Championship side, then they will need to look at ways of promoting the club to a younger audience. Matt Price does a fantastic job working within the community and bringing the youngsters to the Butts but he can’t do it all – somehow the club need to capitalise on Matt’s work and ensure the children want to come again with their families time and time again.
Maybe had I had to sing on that coach trip down to Luton I would have chosen that karaoke classic ‘The Greatest Love of All’…
Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to…
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Whitney Houston – Greatest Love Of All
One quick anecdote from the flight out to Jersey:
When the flights for the players were booked, the seats were allocated according to squad number – ie 1-15 first and then the bench. So, when the players were given their tickets, because the cabin was divided into 3-3 split, the front row were seated together.
So messrs Litchfield, Tolmie and Stankovich found themselves next to each other – the best part of 60 stone…
…for some reason, one or two of the players found that fairly amusing…