I am just a pilgrim on this road, boys
This ain’t never been my home
Sometimes the road was rocky long the way, boys
But I was never travelin’ alone
Steve Earle – Pilgrim
I was a decent teacher, okay at my job if not great in my subject area.
It was never a vocation for me, certainly not in the early days anyway. It was a profession I fell into rather than worked towards.
At 21 and having completed a ‘micky mouse’ degree in Literature/Philosophy and Politics, subjects I was never really interested in, teaching was a means to an end at the time. Little did I realise how much I’d enjoy most of the next 31 years, all bar the last 6 months.
But I chose the wrong subject, simply because my degree didn’t enable me to offer much else; English it had to be. I wasn’t as well read as many, and certainly not as literate, but I was able to get by and much of teaching isn’t so much about your subject knowledge as it is about your ability to deliver it in an engaging and accessible way.
But I did grow to enjoy, if not love, literature.
I share this because every now and then a text, a poem or a song connects in some way with Cov. Not too often, but sometimes.
This weekend is one such occasion.
Ampthill is an area steeped in literary heritage, in particular the setting for John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, or The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream, to give it its full name.
I briefly mentioned this last year, but it’s relevance is even greater this season.
As away supporters, we are all on our own ‘pilgrimage’ of sorts; a long journey which represents an act of devotion; especially in the case of Esher and Blackheath when it also includes elements of self-flagellation…
Removing the religious context certainly makes it seem that way.
And Christian, the eponymous hero of the tale, the pilgrim whose progress we follow, represents ‘everyman’ – in our case just the ordinary supporter who journeys through dark times to reach the Celestial City, the promised land of the Championship and beyond.
And many of the places poor Christian visits in his travels are metaphors for the various travails of one’s own life. The road he took mirrors that which we, as supporters, have been treading these past few months.
Take the Slough of Despond – an obstacle over which Christian had to journey. The slough actually refers to the clay deposits that lined the Bedford and Ampthill Road, the clay being used to build bricks for the London Brick Company. Well, the good news is we’re passed them already, metaphorically speaking, at least for me we have. December and January last year I journeyed that way…they were dark times for any Coventry supporter, a time when there was little light and the end of the tunnel was nowhere near in sight.
Pass the Slough of Despond and we come to the village of morality, an abyss if ever there was one…based on Ridgmont just west of Ampthill. I’m skirting round that at the moment…
From there we reach Hill Difficulty, Ampthill Hill itself, on the main Bedford Road. Interestingly (or not) it’s the steepest hill in Bedfordshire, but nevertheless one that is best climbed to keep us on our journey. Skirt round Hill Difficulty and you come to forests and woods with names such as Danger and Destruction…not the best place to wandering off to on a Saturday afternoon.
Hill Difficultly it has to be…
And half way up Hill Difficulty, there is a narrow track leading to Place Beautiful, or Ampthill Hall, although I think it might have changed it’s name since then. And very near there is where we find ourselves tomorrow, Ampthill RFC’s own ground Dillingham Park. The Hill of Difficulty; Bunyan might well have had tomorrow’s fixture in mind when he wrote of it. Ironic that the place on which it is based is so close to the ground.
As Cov supporters we are on a journey, pilgrims each. We have travelled through some difficult times and even now the ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’ looms close-by (actually no more than a couple of miles, lying as it does to the west of Ampthill at Millbrook Gorge)…a couple of losses and the shadows re-emerge and that’s one place we definitely don’t want to be. The Shadow of Death…well we’ve felt its presence a few times before over the years.
And there’s Doubting Castle (based on Ampthill Castle, sadly no longer standing) – how many of us have been there in the last few months. Indeed, a few seem to have got lost along the way and are destined to roam the castle walls until we do indeed reach the Celestial City…and of course Doubting Castle was inhabited by none other than Giant Despair.
Fortunately, in Pilgrim’s Progress Christian killed the Giant Despair and was able to continue his journey on to the Celestial City. Hopefully, the win tomorrow will be the fatal wound to the body of our own Giant Despair that will see him off once and for all and enable us too look to the future and further onwards along the path leading to Cov’s own salvation.
We are most certainly on a journey from this world to that which is to come…it’s not one that will be straightforward and who knows the twists and turns along the path that lies ahead of us. But the important thing is that we are on it and hopefully have journeyed past the worst of it and are heading towards a better, happier place.
The Celestial Palace
So just what sort of team are we taking with us to kill off this Giant Despair, then?
Well it looks a pretty strong one to me with relatively few surprises, although of course in it there is the inevitable curved ball once again, but only the one of them this time. Olly Povoas makes a long awaited return, having been out for six games with a knee injury. Playing him at 7 allows Eoghan Grace to revert back to 6, whilst Darrell Dyer retains the No 8 spot. There seems to be a bit more balance there now and it’s potentially a back row that could stay together for a while with Brett Daynes also in the mix, provided there’s no Jack Willis around that is.
Maybe it was just me, but I did get the distinct feeling from John Wilkinson’s interview with Darrel on the website earlier in the week that he would prefer a return to 6, although he’s delighted just to be playing, of course. And here’s one of the problems that has yet to be resolved – Cov hasn’t as yet found a genuine No 8 and, having rung the changes, is currently opting for Darrel in lieu of there being anyone better. Darrel is worthy of his place anywhere in the back row and is starting to find the kind of form that so impressed everyone when he played us last season, but he’s not a specialist no 8. Olly can play 8 or open side (7) but Rowland Winter has not unsurprisingly gone with Darrel at 8 for the time being given the form he’s in, but that still doesn’t hide the fact that we are a little short in what is a key area for us.
That aside, it will be good to see Olly back in the team. At just 20 years of age he is the youngest member of the Cov squad by a couple of years ( I believe?), behind Sam Harry and Rhodri Adamson and a year younger than Wasps’ Academy player Tom Howe, perhaps a better indication of how well has done to get himself back into the Coventry team. The likes of Povoas, Harry, Adamson, Jubb, Dyer, Stokes, Knox, Litchfield, Maisey, Bone and Rundle are the future of the team as they are all 24 or under; players with great potential and all very popular with Coventry supporters already.
Olly’s dad was himself a rugby player of some note…(from The Independent – Sept 1992):
Richards yearns for a return to No 8, his old England position, where Leicester already have a polished performer in Simon Povoas. The dilemma is heightened by Leicester’s weakness at lock until Martin Johnson returns from injury.
If dad was good enough to keep Dean Richards out of the side, then he must have been pretty special himself.
Simon Povoas scored 64 tries in 135 games for Tigers between 1986-93 and ‘made quite a name for himself despite being unfortunate enough to play No 8 at the same time as the legendary Dean Richards.’ Not a bad pedigree that.
The forwards will be key tomorrow. Ampthill have a big, but ageing, pack and if we can hold them for the first 60, I fancy us to take advantage of some tiring bodies out there in the final 20. That’s the theory, anyway.
But Ampthill have some real experience out on the pitch with the likes of Lutui, Gulliver and Maama Molitika more than capable of controlling the game up front. (As a side note, it’s great to see the Gullivers together at the Butts, albeit on different sides).
Loti Molitika is on the bench and both Pete Weightman and Sam Baker are in the starting XV.
I’m delighted to see James Stokes back in the Cov side as he a major threat when he has the ball in hand, especially when running from deep, and with Knox retaining his place on the wing and Corey back partnering Tom Wheatcroft in the centre, we look as if we have more line breakers in the side than we did against Blaydon.
I’m not sure we’ll be quite so expansive against Ampthill as we have tried to be of late, especially in our 22. We won’t want to get caught with ball in hand deep in our own half and I expect to see a bit more of a kicking game this time round. James Pritchard continues at full back and his experience might well be needed at times if the game is a tight an affair as seems likely.
We’ve got a strong bench again, which is no surprises, and with the versatility of Adamson, Fenner and Daynes, we should be able to cover all areas outside the front three where we have Scott Tolmie and Jimmy Litchfield to call upon as and when they are needed.
I am quite nervous about this game, I have to say.
It’s one that could go either way, but one that we probably need to win if we are to send out a message that Coventry is one of the form teams in the league and one that is going to be pressing for a top three spot before too long. We underestimate Ampthill at our peril, but that is true of ourselves as well. We shouldn’t underestimate just how good this squad is and the potential there is to get even better. Had our fixture list started with the Fylde game back in September, we would have all been getting somewhat excited by now – and with the momentum we’ve picked up with each win, and the work done by the coaches midweek, I can’t help but think were we to play Blackheath and Esher away again in the next three weeks the performances, and maybe even the results, would have been very different.
All ifs and buts again, but so much about sport is to do with confidence and we are now starting to see the players look more confident and play with more confidence – coming back with injury time scores to win the games against Plymouth and Blaydon will have helped there. The training this evening was sharp and focused again, with plenty of smiling faces before and after the session but a steely focus during. The session was again well attended by supporters with what must have been a season’s best, edging into double figures.
It is great to sit in a group and talk rugby for an hour or so…I think I learn more about Cov from the training sessions than anywhere else. Everyone knows something different and they all chip in…which is how it should be.
Not long to go now…