I’m not a great one for sitting in the bar pre-match, although I know for many it’s a very important ritual, beer, chat and maybe keep an eye on one of the games on Sky being shown on the many television around the downstairs bar areas.
Being somewhat less gregarious than most, I prefer instead to savour the build up to a game from outside, watching the players warm up, the crowd filter in through the turnstiles, feeling the atmosphere grow.
It’s all part of the match day experience for me.
And, of course, seeing far less of Sam than I used to, it’s a chance for the two of us to have a bit of a catch-up. Father and son time over a Tesco meal deal (avoiding Istanbuls for the time being) whilst watching the players’ warm-up.
As the music blares out from the speakers around the ground, you tend not to notice it at first, but at some point before the game, usually around 30 minutes before kick off, you’ll hear the first murmuring from main stand as it starts to fill. With just under 10 minutes to go, especially at home, you get a real sense of the occasion when the Cov players come together having completed their warm-up and jog in front of the main stand, before disappearing into the changing room.
Usually, John Butler is going through the team sheets at this point and, as the players exit the pitch, he’ll break off to allow the crowd to show its appreciation…warm applause, a few ‘Come on Covs’ and a palpable feeling of respect from the supporters towards the players.
On the big games, those really big games when the crowd is touching 1500 or more, some of the less seasoned players will sometimes look up to the stand, caught unawares by the sheer volume of noise that echoes around the ground. The players leave the pitch as one, a team united by their own belief in each other and the crowd’s belief in them – or that’s how it must come across to the opposing team.
More often than not, the opposition are still on the pitch as Cov take their leave and I can only imagine the effect that must have on them…if they hadn’t realised they’d be up against not just a side the 15 players on the pitch, but the crowd as well, then they will at that point. The 16th man.
Psychologically, I’m sure it must give us an advantage of sorts. It would be interesting to chat to one of the current squad who played against us for Moseley last season in the Christmas fixture to determine just how aware they were of the crowd both before and during the game and whether it really can have some influence on the outcome. I guess it must do as otherwise home advantage wouldn’t play such an important part in competitive sport. And in National One, the Cov crowd is as vociferous as any, and in larger numbers, too.
I mention this now, following an away game at Jersey, only because with a crowd of 1075 at yesterday’s game, I was surprised by just how little noise the spectators made, even when Jersey was on top in the second quarter. St Peter is an odd ground in many respects, with no one area where spectators are massed. There’s a main stand of sorts opposite the clubhouse, but it is reserved for members only and it was sparsely filled and even when full wouldn’t hold many. With just a 1000 in the BPA, there’s always going to be a roar of sorts when Cov get within, quite literally, shouting distance of the line, yet it wasn’t really that evident at St Peter yesterday.
In fairness, Jersey’s average home gate last season was a very healthy 1769, with a high of 3136, so maybe they just didn’t see a friendly against Cov as something to get fired up about, which is understandable when you’re used to playing the likes of Leeds and Bedford; small fish, biggish pond.
Supporters were spread around the ground, quite thinly, too, so it wasn’t the most intimidating of places to play in that respect…another 2500 inside the ground might have been a very different story.
For clubs in National One with just a couple of hundred or so supporters attending their home games, a trip to Coventry must be one of the highlights of the season, although perhaps not for the scenery, that’s for sure. But for players who are used to plying their trade in front of these smaller gates, the sight and sound of the main stand at Cov, three-quarters full and in good voice, must be something a little bit special, especially under the floodlights.
It’s something we probably take for granted at times and could and should use to our advantage more often. I know Mark Harrison works overtime on occasions to awaken the crowd from an occasional stupor, especially when Cov are down and in need of an extra lift, but it really needs more – we’re not helped by probably the worst terrace chant in the league, if not the country…’COV-EN-TREEE’ is hardly inspiring stuff, although neither is ‘MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSELEY’ in fairness.
Perhaps someone with a bit of imagination could come up with an alternative.
If the season goes the way that we all hope, then there might be occasions against teams at home when the crowd could make that extra 1 or 2% difference that is often quoted on such occasions.
The other thing I always enjoy watching prior to kick off is the players’ warm ups, in effect itself a countdown to the game. It’s most definitely part of the pre-match build up for me and is a chance just to watch the squad together and get a sense of the mood of the players. In the past, pre- Rowland Winter, you could definitely sense when players were fired up, either through players’ commitment to the drills or the response of the coaches. Some weeks seemed more intense than others. Not so now. The focus is always there, as is the attention to detail – not a moment wasted in the minutes leading up to the start of the game.
One of the things that is particularly evident under the current set-up is the structured nature of the warm-up itself. Take yesterday, for instance. Players emerged from the changing room from around 1.45 onwards (the timings might well be out here as I’m relying on memory), just to have a look at the pitch and get a sense of the ground or of the conditions. They were in ones and twos generally and there was the odd handshake with players from Jersey whom they clearly knew of old.
Informal and relaxed. Settling the nerves.
That lasted about 10 minutes or so before the players returned to the changing room; only to quickly reappear to then spend a good 15 minutes or so going through their own individual routines. And it’s fascinating how they spend the time so differently…Brett Daynes is plugged into his headphones, Pete White will practice lots of passes from the base on an imaginary scrum or ruck, Scott Tolmie will go through some throws to the line-out, Will Maisey will kick to the posts from various angles and so on. All the time RW is calling out times and is wired up to the other coaches, relaying last minute messages or ensuring everything is ready for the next part of the warm-up. Again, fairly relaxed, although very focused.
Then it’s back to the changing room, Within a couple of minutes, out they come again.
And suddenly the intensity is stepped up several notches, with everyone now working together, each reliant on the other, coming together as a team now rather than as individuals concentrating on their own programmes. Activities are timed to the minute, but the coaches have little input at this stage, other than to shout out the times. It’s very much the Captain’s Run, an expression I had never come across before last season, although it’s one any rugby player will be aware of.
The 40 minutes or so before the game seems to progress with very view interventions, with everyone very aware of their roles, backs and forwards working together to begin with and then splitting to allow the forwards to go through their final set piece preparations and the backs to go through some practice drills. Then it’s back together to do some work with crash bags and so on. I’ve over simplified it somewhat, but the session is broken into a number of separate activities, each growing in intensity in readiness for the 3.00 o’clock kick off. By then, players are completely focused.
Whilst it’s probably similar to what was done before RW arrived, it’s been taken to another level – we look really professional out there these days, something that was commented on by a group of Jersey supporters who sitting behind the posts close to where Cov were training on Saturday. It was far more organised than they were expecting.
I wasn’t aware before of the constant monitoring of time leading up to kick off. Now, players jog between each activity rather than amble, with very short, timed, water breaks built in. There really isn’t a minute wasted.
Phil Boulton is very much the man in charge during these final moments and he is very vocal, clearly leading by example, with little input from the coaches – that was all done midweek. The players come on and off the pitch as a unit, led by Phil, and it all conveys a sense of unity and the feeling that this is very much a team, rather than a group of individuals.
They just look a far more professional unit these days in all that they do pre-match and that presumably has a knock on effect, a very positive one too, when they get onto the pitch. If you tend to socialise in the bar before a game, I recommend you grab your pint around forty minutes before kick off and with your mates go and sit in the main stand or lean against one of the railings round the pitch and have a watch, preferably choosing a game that you know is going to attract a big crowd. In the opening couple of games of a season it’s also an excellent way to get to know all the players and there’ll be a fair few names to learn now the Development Squad will also be involved most Saturdays.
Indeed, there are two home games next week, so twice the opportunity to watch the players warm-up! I’m still not sure how these double headers will work in terms of the selection for the Menagerie Safeguard League is concerned. Will all those full squad players not selected in the match day 20, play in the A side? And will that then be topped up with Academy gold and silver group players?
Or will the Academy players be put in first and the remaining first teamers then be included to fill the gaps in order to offer some additional experience that would be otherwise lacking? It does make quite a difference as there could be 10 or more full squad players available once the match day 20 has been selected, leaving relatively few starting places for those in the Development Squad, unless the full squad players are also used on the bench.
I’ve made that slightly more complicated than it needed to be, but hopefully you’ll get the main gist…!
Today has been something of a luxury for me…I’ve written this post sitting in the bar of the hotel where I’m staying, overlooking the beach at St Brelade whilst waiting for my flight back.
No late night for me today – this should be all done and dusted before lunchtime. Trouble is, there’s so much going on outside that I keep getting distracted.
Still, can’t have it both ways…might need a working lunch at this rate…