Back in 1974 as part of their centenary celebrations, Coventry Football Club (RU) produced a 72 page booklet entitled ‘One Hundred Years of Coventry Blue’, which as the title suggests was a nostalgic look at its already long and illustrious past.
It’s makes for fascinating reading, admittedly not something you would want necessarily to read from cover to cover in one sitting but definitely the kind of material that you’d want to dip into every now and again. For anyone with an interest in the club, even those who have ‘only’ been supporting Cov in recent times, it would make a great gift and something that the club should definitely consider reprinting and keeping in the club shop for the casual buyer. It’s never going to go out-of-date and I’m sure it would go down well at Christmases, on birthdays and for fathers’ (and mothers’) days.
Anyway, that aside, it is interesting just to look at it in the light of what has happened to the club since 1974.
In the conclusion to the publication, an unnamed writer (but probably the editor, one JR Barker-Davies) asserted that:
All Clubs have difficult financial and administrative problems, demanding more and more attention from their members to combat and overcome the difficulties…and in order to continue successfully in the future, it is necessary and indeed vital, to ensure Clubs can meet their financial obligations.
Sound guidance, although it’s a great shame that Coventry wasn’t able to heed its own advice over the next 25 years after which time we found ourselves in such severe financial difficulties that the club nearly folded.
Not altogether surprising, though, that money was an issue even back then, well before the era of professionalism. Indeed, such were the concerns that clubs was already discussing changes in its fixture lists to ensure less traveling and the avoidance of ‘excessive match expenses’. The advent of the Merit Tables was looming large, of course, the precursor to national league rugby that was to be adopted a decade or so later.
In this week’s, The Rugby Paper, there’s an interesting letter that emphasises just how many clubs back in the 70’s and 80s were unable to adapt to those increasingly difficult ‘financial and administrative problems’ and sustain levels of spending needed by them to ensure they remained competitive,.
In it, Paul Armstrong refers back to the 1987/88 Rothman’s year book (always a present at Christmas from a discerning relative, along with the Playfair Football annual)…
What amaze(s) me was reading the English Clubs section. Of the 42 top class teams mentioned, only 9 grace the top flight today…there are six in the Championship, five in National League One while 22 are languishing in the regional leagues,
Over half of the top clubs back in the late 80s now play their rugby in the junior leagues. Scary. A sanguine lesson for us all.
I know Coventry has been largely responsible for its own financial shortcomings, but at least we are faring better than the majority of teams that were deemed to be top flight back in the late 80s. It might have taken an immense effort from one or two loyal and influential Coventry clubmen, but our future looks significantly brighter than it does for many on that list.
The writer made the point that despite the undoubted success of the national leagues, he felt that much of the enjoyment had gone out of the game even then strong financial inducements were being attached to successful rugby; it had become a ‘business, no longer a pleasure’. I’m not altogether sure that I feel the same frustrations now , I have always liked the competitive nature of league rugby and the threat of relegation and hope of promotion make for a far more ‘interesting’, if not entertaining, season.
I just wish we could have fared a little better these last 30 years.
Back in the centenary year, there seems to have been rather a naïve innocence underlying much of what the club did at a time when other top clubs in the country were being innovative and forward-thinking.
There appears to have been a belief that Cov were good enough no matter what changes were made to the game.
…we are in danger of removing the ‘fun’ from what is, after all, a Saturday afternoon contest to be enjoyed by all players and spectators, enhanced by fraternisation and discussion after the game has been concluded.
Even back then the game was already becoming far more than a simple Saturday afternoon contest…
It’s tradition and its status at that time as one of the leading clubs in the country (Cov was arguably at the top of the pile back then, especially as it won it’s second consecutive RFU Club Knockout competition that year) meant that it felt it was secure no matter what.
Maybe that’s a rather harsh (and naïve) view on my part, especially if you were someone involved with the club at the time, but I do feel it has taken Coventry far too long to rid itself of the legacy of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
There are those who believe that it was around this time in the club’s history that we sat back and failed to respond effectively to the advent of league rugby and the beginnings of the professional era, although rugby wasn’t officially confirmed as being professional by the IRB until 1995. It’s not hard to see why that might be the case when you read statements like the one above…
The same article from the centenary booklet asserts that rugby is a ‘game for the player’ and whilst that may well have been the case then, if you jump forward another 40 years to the present day it seems to me that at the top of the rugby pyramid, whilst it is the players who play the game, they play it for the media moguls at SKY and BT SPORT. Okay, there are those who get well paid for their efforts but that is a happy consequence. And lower down, in the Championship and National 1, then clubs are being starved of hundreds of thousands of pounds being generated elsewhere and partly in their name.
The 1974 centenary booklet also includes a very interesting review of the Supporters’ Club written by John Butler. John had already served the SC with some distinction for 15 years, which means he joined in the year I was born…
It is mainly retrospective in nature, looking back to the earliest days of the Supporters’ Club and detailing key moments in its history. Founded in 1920, its primary aim appears to have been to:
meet the cost of providing and equipping the Coundon Road ground.
There are some lovely anecdotes and interesting facts and figures included in the article. For instance, membership in 1935/36 cost a shilling (5p in today’s money) which included the cost of a badge!
Fund-raising was the key raison d’être of the SC at that time and amongst its notable achievements were substantial donations towards the cost of floodlights at Coundon Road and the opening of the tea bar in the cowshed stand. At its zenith, the SC had 420 members, although in 1974 there were still a ‘disappointing’ 280. Today there are over 140, which in its first season is a very encouraging number indeed.
Apparently in 1996-67, the Supporters’ Club undertook its most ambitious fund raising scheme ever:
The weight of an Hillman Imp had to be guessed, with the winner driving around in style (!). Sad to relate, the scheme was a financial flop, simply because insufficient support was received. To this day, we have never been unable to understand why that was.
Now I wonder if the Supporters’ Club could encourage Jaguar Land Rover to offer one of their range of cars for a raffle…Cliff Bennett clearly has extremely strong powers of persuasion.
Nowadays, the amount of financial support that the Supporters’ Club can ever offer the club is minimal in comparison with the club’s expenditure. Whilst such support of the club is still written into its constitution, times have changed and for me, it is now more about serving the needs of its members, something it has gone about doing thus far with great success.
In the concluding article in the booklet, the writer remarks that as far as the rugby itself is concerned:
the object is to defeat the opposition by all fair means, but surely too much ten man football will detract from the enthusiasm of supporters, and rebound on the game in the long run.
Well amen to that and the excitement at the arrival of Rowland Winter and his intention to bring a quick, expansive style of play to the Butts is testament to the fact that it is an opinion shared as much today as it was back then.
What I can’t help but feel we did lose for a long time, though, was another tenet dear to the club back in the 1970s:
Can we do more to ensure there are school masters in our schools of the right calibre and that the liaison from school to Club, or from Junior Club to Coventry, is more strongly enforced?
As our influence at rugby’s highest level waned, that of other teams waxed and the pulling power of the likes of Leicester, Worcester, Northampton and lately Wasps has meant we have lost far too many good youngsters to premiership clubs over the years. However, in recent times we have begun to redress the balance a little with Henley College and, more recently, the advent of our own Development Squad. But, as the article points out…
As ye sow, so shall ye reap
Well we did sow, and we did reap too. And the harvests have been poor ever since.
But for the first time for a while, however, the seed we are using is of a finer quality…
…and the harvests will be that much better.
And many, many thanks to Rob Moody again for the loan of the booklet…