Back to the future…
In October of last year, long time Cov supporter Rob Moody was kind enough to lend me his collection of season tickets going all the way back to the 1960-61 season. The resulting post, ‘A man for all seasons’ was one of the most enjoyable to write and brought back many memories going back to my early childhood.
In the final game of the pre-season, Rob handed me a rather ordinary looking plastic bag of no great size and suggested that I might be able to make use of the contents. He had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face, so I knew it was going to be something of interest…and I wasn’t disappointed.
Rob is clearly something of a hoarder, as I confess I am. However, whereas I just throw things in boxes and condemn them to the loft for the rest of eternity, Rob is far more organised. In the bag were a large number of Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club “News Sheets”, reaching as far back as the very first edition produced in September 1960.
I have to say, I’ve been rather nervous about just handling them, such is their age and, most probably, rarity. There can’t be many copies of these left and their importance to the history of the club shouldn’t be understated.
And before I share with you some of the gems that are included within these news sheets, perhaps it would be apposite here to make a serious comment, one that I hope is already in the minds of the Board of Coventry Rugby Club…
We are entering a new era at Coventry, one that is exciting and full of hope and many of us have said, myself included, that it’s time to break away from the shackles of the past, those glory days of the 60s and 70s by which all too often Coventry sides ever since have been compared.
And when they have been, inevitably they have been found wanting.
In some respects it is a millstone around the players necks and Sisyphus-like, however hard they try to roll that boulder up the hill of success, mention the teams of the early and mid 70’s and down it rolls, taking everyone with it along the way.
These are different times and comparisons between Coventry teams of 30, 40 or even 50 years ago aren’t helpful, but entirely understandable with so many supporters still around to remember legends like Cole, Wyman, Broderick, Godwin, Barton, Fairbrother, Gray, Gittings, Cowman, Preece, Evans, Duckham, Rossborough to name but a few. Were I messrs. Winter, Morgan, Maynard, Addleton, Davey, Henderson or any one of the the other DoRs of the last 20 years or so, I would have quickly tired of hearing about them.
But that said, Coventry Rugby Club is what it is because of its past…and its past is something of which we should be hugely proud. For years, decades even, Coventry was one of the greatest club is the land (and still is, I hasten to add!) and we should celebrate its history because it is precisely that history that has brought us to where we presently are.
For better or for worse, we are married to our past.
And lest we forget, in the dark days six years ago when we were so close to financial ruin, would so much have been done by so many to stabilise the club and ensure survival had the club not had such an illustrious past?
But as a club we do little to honour that tradition and the success that Coventry enjoyed for so many years.
I guess the passing of Ian Darnell has made me realise that we are reaching a time when some of those great names, those players who were right at the front of the vanguard of English rugby and who helped push the game into the professional era, won’t be around for ever. And unless we celebrate their contributions to the successes of this great club, then for the youngsters coming to Coventry for the first time, well the greats of the past won’t be great at all…and that’s a real shame.
Make these youngsters feel this club is special, that it was, and will be again, one of the giants of the game and perhaps they’ll want to be part of its renaissance.
12 years on from our first game at the BPA and we still don’t have an area of the clubhouse dedicated to Coventry’s past. There must be all sorts of memorabilia, cups and trophies, signed programmes, old shirts, photographs, examples of boots and balls from different eras that could be displayed. We have the photos of some of the past internationals who graced Coundon Road but there is little else of Coventry’s past on view…and that seems something of a shame to me.
It would take time and money to collate and display what memorabilia the club possesses, but there are grants and I’m sure the City of Coventry wouldn’t want Cov’s past to be consigned to some cardboard boxes and storerooms in lofts and attics the length and breadth of the city.
I’m proud of the Cov I watched as a boy, prouder still of the club I support today. I don’t like to think that I’ll never get to see photos and memorabilia from Coventry’s pre-war games, or that the 60s and 70s are increasingly going to become no more than just fading and confused memories in my head rather than being represented by real objects on walls and in display cabinets for all to see.
There will be lots of such memorabilia about, but as each year passes some of it will get lost or forgotten about. It ‘s all rather depressing and really Cov and the City of Coventry should be looking at ways to ensure the club’s history is never forgotten.
I guess I should apologise somewhat for the above, I’m not altogether sure where it came from and I had no intention of including anything in the post that wasn’t connected to the news sheets when I started it – but a blog is as much about conveying thoughts and feelings as it is about substantive content, so in that sense it is relevant.
Anyway, back to the Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club News Sheets then…
I’ve included images from the March 1965 edition, but in fairness all the news sheets from September 1960 onwards to late 1965 follow exactly the same format – one A4 sheet folded in half to produce 4 sides in all. By the look of it, the original will have been typed onto a spirit master and then copied using something like an old banda machine (often used in schools to reproduce copies for worksheets pre-photocopiers – I used to so hate using them!).
The Supporters’ Club produced them monthly by the look of it and actually they seemed to fulfil much the same purpose as the website does today, providing news and information from in and around the club.
I chose to include this edition mainly because of the detail in the account of the supporters’ trip, presumably to the old Twickenham ground, to watch the final of the County Championship which Warwickshire won – in those days, of course, Warwickshire tended to consist of usually 14 Cov players plus one other from one of the local teams within the county..
Apparently on the way back from the game, the Pullman special (no coach for the final!) ran out of champagne on the way back to Coventry and apparently also water, leaving the writer to comment:
who the H–L drinks water,
and such was the impropriety attached to the use of the word Hell, letters had to be deleted.
Apparently, supporters were so hungry on the train:
that the chef had to bake more blackberry and apple pie…
This is a fantastic example of how important such documents are, both to the club and to the wider community. This is social history at it’s best. I can barely remember the old Pullmans, can’t imagine most Cov supporters drinking anything but wine, beer or lager and can only smile at the writers need to blank out of the letters…how things have changed. People, other than players, are referred to formally used the epithet ‘Mr’ and having perused most of the news letters, women by name are notable only by their absence….although the above edition does refer to:
this same committee mans (sic) wife took along some electric light bulbs – just in case!
There was also a ladies committee that made cakes for various social events.
We’ve come a long way since then, but that’s exactly why I think these sorts of documents ought to be preserved for posterity. How many other Cov Supporters News Letters dating back to the early 1960s are still in existence – barely a handful of each edition I’d wager to guess – surely we should be doing something to preserve them? It’s not even about Coventry Rugby Club, it’s about enlightening future generations about what life was like back then.
Back in September 1960, membership to the Supporters’ Club was a shocking 2/6d or 13p (rounded up!)! for which you received the newsletter, a badge and access to any social activities organised by the supporters, Badges and coach travel? Wouldn’t go down well with everyone today.
The opening line of the September edition begins:
At the start of this new season of Rugger…
and ends with Peter Jackson, the club captain, writing:
May I wish you all many hours of enjoyable Rugger.
I wonder when it became rugby…?
One up for the age of the Internet though, with supporters in the December 1961 edition asking when:
Club Photographs and Trophies are going to be put into the clubhouse.
In February 1961, the then club Treasurer, one Mr T. Hallam, had been to Canada and America and apparently took some ‘fine colour slides’ and had agreed to a showing of these in the clubhouse with all ‘Supporters’ (with a capital ‘S’) invited to attend. (With this in mind, later on today I’ll be putting together my own collection of holiday snaps, including those from my recent trip to the States and will prepare a 90 minute presentation for everyone on the coach on the return journey from Esher. Should be a sell out, so book your seats early.).
A ‘young Mr J. Butler’ gets several mentions, the earliest being in the November 1960 edition following his gift to Mr Prescott of a ‘dog-eared copy of ‘The Coventry Times’ dated 1897 which contained a report of the ‘Annual Dinner of the Coventry Football Club held in the Kings (sic) Head hotel’. On a serious note, John Butler’s knowledge of the club’s history is second to none and an evening listening to him and JW and the likes of Tony Gulliver and George Cole reminiscing would be something I’m sure many in the Supporters’ Club would be interested in attending, with the whole thing recorded for posterity, of course.
The Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club News Sheets also included plenty of information about the squad, injuries, club news and so on. For instance, in his start of season review in September 1961, Peter Jackson stated that:
we have reached the stage where it is essential to have a few new players…we must have competition, and new ideas all the time. Nothing is easier to combat the opposition tactics, when you know their style of play, and it is only new blood which will counteract this…Another factor to bear in mind is that those matches which we won by the odd point at home last season, will have to be played away this season, and it is only natural that clubs will want to even matters. Roll on Newport, Bristol!!
And the report of the Midland Counties Cup when Coventry faced Moseley in March 1961, includes the following:
At four o’clock Hill kicked off for Coventry facing the sun. Arthur Frith looked like scoring in the first minute, making a pretty run (bless). Arthur Rotherham securing (sic) dropped a grand goal two minutes from the start. The enthusiasm of the Coventry supporters was immense, in fact the whole crowd cheered the remarkably clever feat. With four points in hand the cup holder went to work vigorously.
It all sounds a bit ‘topping and wizard, all washed down with lashings of ginger beer…’ only rather more Famous 15 than Famous 5.
The final score: Coventry 2 goals (1 dropped) 2 tries : Moseley nil (not sure what that was in points, mind!).
Maybe it’s just me, but I think it would be a huge loss were such documents as these (not Rob’s own, of course) never collated and put on show somewhere in the clubhouse or even elsewhere in Coventry (should there even be a City Sport’s Museum to cover different sports and different club’s within those sports – that would be a first for the city, I imagine?)
These news letters talk of a time long gone and unless we have access to such memorabilia we will lose part of the club’s past, a past that has helped shape the club as it is today. It’s not about harking back to the glory days, far from it, it just about recognising the club is 142 years old and that it is something that should be celebrated, not ignored. (Might be useful in 8 years time, too).
Times change and we change with them. And just to emphasise this point, the October 1962 edition includes the following:
After the match against Blackheath, the club skipper made these points to the Editor:
We must have the best team in the country with the talent we’ve got. Never have I seen such a fine body of players in particular club at the same time.
Clearly a different result to Saturday’s then.
We mustn’t disregard the journey the club has made to get to where we are now.
There is no Delorean-style time machine capable of returning us to bygone eras, and nor would most of us want that. We have the makings of a good side here at the moment, one capable of making it’s own little bit of club history.
However, let’s not forget our past and how we got here either…
It’s simply a question of going back to the future.
Many thanks to Rob Moody once again for lending me these news letters…I’ve entertained myself and a fair few others reading snippets from them.
If anyone else has anything they’d like to share…?