There is better no way to start a new season at a new stadium. The FA Cup is one of the oldest running cup competitions and it’s a privilege to be involved in it.
Terry Anderson – Coventry United Manager
12 months ago, had someone told me that I would be sitting in the main stand at the Butts Park Arena watching Coventry United play football in the first round of the FA Cup, well, I would probably have just laughed.
The first Saturday in August?
Midweek in September at the Hawthorns, watching West Brom in the EFL against some minnow of a team from Division Two for a tenner (excluding Coventry City of course…).
Well, maybe….Saturdays in August in the past have always been given over to watching Cov play pre-season friendlies, whether home or away, and whilst I’ll try and get in a couple of footy games over the course of the season, I’d only ever consider the Baggies and only then if there’s no clash with a Cov game.
So the decision to watch Coventry United yesterday was something of an odd one for me. But it was the chance to watch a bit of history in the making – Coventry United’s first game at its new adopted stadium…the Butts Park Arena, home to the mighty Coventry Rugby Club.
Having missed the game against Leicester Lions on Thursday, the result of my wife arranging our social calendar to avoid clashing with the weekend rugby (!), it looked as if it was going to be a blank weekend as far as live sport was concerned.
Mick Shaw’s post on the Messageboard highlighting the forthcoming Coventry United game got me thinking about a possible trip over to the BPA, but it wasn’t until Cov RFC tweeted the details that I actually made the conscious decision to go – which probably shows the power of social media, especially with those as easily swayed as me.
Hopefully, similar tweets advertising the Cov home games early on this season will have similar effects on a few lapsed Cov supporters!
Anyway, a quick text to my son, Sam, and it was BPA here we come.
If only I’d taken a little bit more notice of that Cov tweet though.
It’s actually very cleverly done, the green and red of Cov United, sandwiching the photo of the Cov stand with the legend, ‘Our first game at BPA, be a part of history’…
Sensing that ‘history’ involved, I thought it would be quite interesting, if only for posterity, to take a few photos of the Cov United team warming up before the game on my arrival – who knows where this first game at the BPA might lead…Wembley in May, perhaps.
So, with camera in hand, off I went to capture a few snaps…
Now here’s the thing…I’m not a great follower of football, least of all footie outside of the Premier League (unless it’s to follow Wolves, Birmingham and Villa’s attempts to escape the Championship), and certainly I have absolutely no knowledge of football outside of the football league…and, also in my defence, I’m not a Coventry lad so I couldn’t even tell you what colours Cov United, or Rugby Town for that matter, play in.
So it seemed pretty obvious to me that Cov United would be the team wearing the sky blue shirts…
So very, very wrong.
So the 40 odd shots of Rugby Town warming up clearly weren’t going to go down a bundle with anyone expecting to log on to the blog and see some photos of the Cov United team going through their pre-match routines. There were very few supporters around when we got in and those that were present were divided equally between the red of Coventry and the blue of Rugby Town. It was only when it became clear that the supporters in front of us as the game started, decked in red and green, were Coventry fans that my faux pas became clear.
As a result, at half time I had to leave the stand pretty pronto and wait by the clubhouse entrance to take some photos of the Coventry players as they returned for the second half to redress the balance.
I might be an airhead…but at least I’m an honest one.
And all along Cov’s tweet advertising the game had all the information I had needed….d’oh!
The ground looked in great condition, with a couple of new portacabins in place, one appearing to be some kind of office area at the railway end and the other, opposite the main stand on the other side of the pitch, looking as if it might be an additional watering hole. Supporters weren’t allowed to watch the game from the far side, opposite the main stand, presumably something to do with health and safety – apparently it needed to be kept ‘sterile’, which was an odd choice of word.
The pitch was and, I’m pleased to say, still is looking in fantastic condition and stood up brilliantly to the 11 man game, even despite some really heavy rain in the first half.
There were plenty of sliding tackles going in as you’d expect, but I don’t remember there being any divots having to be put back and there was little obvious damage to the surface of the pitch at all. It was probably cut a little longer than one would normally expect for a football game, which will have helped, but I can’t see the additional fixtures at the BPA this season associated with the round ball being anything of a problem on the evidence of just this one game.
Two games of rugby on a Saturday in similar conditions, one following the other, well that might prove different, but certainly I’m far less anxious as far as the football is concerned.
Entrance was only £7, which I thought was very reasonable (with kids £1 and concessions available) and there was a decent crowd in – I’m hopeless guestimating numbers, but sitting in the middle of the stand it felt like there were a good 500 plus there, although from behind the goal at the railway end in the second half, the stand didn’t look as full as it had seemed when I was in its midst. Hard to tell really, so it will be interesting to see the official attendance figures.
Speaking briefly to a Cov United supporter, it appears the crowd was between ‘4 and 5 times’ the size of that which they had been averaging last season, although how much of that is down to the new venue, as opposed to the game being something of a local derby, is debatable.
However, it was a very relaxed atmosphere and both sets of supporters were in good humour, even when one of the Rugby Town players got to have an early bath (and yes ,the Cov changing room does have one!) within the first 20 minutes.
The crowd were fairly loud at times, but no more so than a Cov crowd would be and there was relatively little chanting which was somewhat disappointing, as that would have definitely added to the atmosphere. Everyone seemed very impressed with the facilities, including the pitch, and there were no negative comments that I heard regarding the bar or food…plenty of people were tucking into chips and beans and there was a fair amount of ale being drunk – presumably all good news as far as the rugby club is concerned.
I’m not sure whether the league fixtures come the middle of the Winter will attract quite the same interest, but it was certainly a promising start.
It looks like the scoreboard has been sorted for this coming season, with the team sheet scrolling across the screen prior to the game, either that or Cov United have an IT buff who knows how to get the most out of the software. Another nice touch is that Cov United very professional looking boards to signal substitutions – I’m not sure whether they are electronic or not, but they are impressive and are very much clearer than the old ‘number on a card’ that Cov still use.
I’m not really best qualified to comment on the game itself, although from a neutral’s point of view it was very enjoyable to watch.
Plenty of industry and endeavour; competitive throughout with some odd touches of skill every now and then that were well received by an appreciative crowd. It had goals, was a bit feisty at times and was entertaining throughout – certainly it was interesting to watch how the players treat the referee, surrounding him as they did on one occasion, getting extremely animated and probably influencing the decision to red card the player.
Whilst it was a younger crowd than for a Cov game by and large, it felt extremely safe and I would have no qualms in taking my grandchildren along now I’ve been the once – that might sound a bit over-protective, naïve even, but in truth I just didn’t know what to expect…
The acid test for someone like me, very much a fair-weather supporter, is would I go again…and I have to say I would.
I would never miss a Cov game to attend, but if there was no clash or I couldn’t make an away game because I had something booked for the evening, then a trip over to the BPA to watch Cov United would certainly be a real possibility.
It was very well hosted by Cov, no complaints from anyone I came across at all.
That said, as we walked up to the ground the side of the stadium by the turnstiles didn’t create the greatest of impressions, especially for the first time visitor…
I hope the ‘Y’ of COVENRY, seemingly hanging on for dear life, can be restored to it’s rightful position before the season starts.
Yesterday, it seemed to be asking of supporters the most profound of questions…
The answer, though, is actually rather less cryptic…
Because it can.
Forgot to add this yesterday – having a ‘mare: