And I’m moving on to my dreams of tomorrow
Thrilled to be wherever my soul may be bound
Who can tell where the journey may lead me
Who can say where the rainbow may be found
The Zombies – Moving On
Two articles on Coventry Rugby Club in The Rugby Post in little over a month would seem to suggest that club’s change in fortunes, on and off the pitch, is beginning to catch the interest of the rugby world outside of just the local rugby community.
This weeks TRP has a full page spread on the Coventry of yesteryear, in particular the all-conquering team of the early 70s, a team that was unbeaten in cup competitions for three years’ running from 1972-74. (At least technically, as they failed to reach the final of the ’72 Knock Out Cup following a 6-6 draw against Gloucester in the semi-final, with the Cherry and Whites, as was, going through on the away club rule).
In an excellent article by Neil Fissler entitled ‘We had 13 internationals with majority home grown’, Peter Rossborough reflects on those seemingly halcyon days when Coventry was, as the writer points out, ‘the team that everyone wanted to beat’.
Ironically, 40 plus years on and now, as Fissler remarks in his opening paragraph, ‘languishing in the third tier of English rugby’, there is a certain irony in the fact that because of our illustrious past we are, at our level, the team that most clubs still want to beat, especially at the BPA.
A failure to adapt to the changes in the game in the late 70s and 80s has meant, in some respects, that the club was a hostage to its phenomenal success for far too long.
As a supporter of the club, and one a long way removed from those in whose hands the club has been entrusted since then, it seems to me that it’s only really since the arrival of the current chairman, Jon Sharp, back in 2013 that Coventry has started to shake itself free from the shackles of its glory years and search for a new identity.
I’m sure there will be others who know better, who were part of the club in the 80’s and 90s, who will say something different, but as someone not in the know, it always seemed to me that for too long we failed to be even reactive on occasions, let alone proactive. And even when we were, it was a question of short term fixes with little or no long term vision.
It always seemed as if the club was content to live in the past back then, with the same photos of the same players adorning the same walls – there have been plenty of Cov heroes since then, none of whom were internationals but all of whom deserve to be remembered. The club has rightly made a lot of the number of players who have played 100 or more league appearances for the club, no mean feat in the modern era – let’s have their photos up too and celebrate the here and now as well as the there and then.
Apologies to those who disagree.
It’s just one opinion amongst many.
Anyway, back to The Rugby Paper…
As the previous article in TRP published last month, entitled, ‘New dawn at Coventry under Winter’s rule’ ( the full article can be found at New Dawn at Coventry Under Winter’s Rule on the CRSC website), makes clear, Coventry is once again starting to restore some of that long lost pride.
However, even then I would make the case that for the majority of Cov supporters who aren’t old enough to remember Coventry in its pomp, it’s a question of finding some pride rather than restoring it.
40 years is a long, long time. It isn’t time to let it go, but it is time to move on.
It’s great to see Coventry featured so strongly in this week’s TRP. Publicity for the club at this level and in such an esteemed publication is always going to be a good thing – it’s bound to generate further interest in Cov and as such it is another coup for the club. Hopefully, the Supporters Club will be able to add the full article to their website as they did with the previous one…?
It’s exactly the sort of publicity that the club needs, except there is a little part of me that just wishes that right now, as things start to really take shape and the mood in the club and amongst the supporters is as positive as it is, we could focus on the here and now and not return to all our yesterdays.
For those reading the article who aren’t Coventry supporters, will it just reinforce for them the club’s decline rather than accentuate the recent progress (and a warm welcome to the return of Mr PP, if Warren is reading this…).
That’s not to take anything away from the success that Coventry enjoyed back in the late 60s and early 70s. It was an unbelievable time to be a Coventry supporter, especially in your early teens as I was. A side with 13 internationals, all home grown and all representing the home countries (12 from England and one from Wales). It will surely never happen again.
It was a team of heroes for me back then…with Alan Cowman very much at the head for me, flanked by the likes of Rossborough, Duckham, Preece and Evans in the backs and a pack containing Fairbrother, Gray, Darnell and Ninnes.
In this week’s article, Rossborough makes the point that back then to have so many internationals in the side was an amazing achievement, ‘because rugby wasn’t professional and you couldn’t buy your international players in the way Saracens, Leicester and Northampton have done‘.
He also offers a little insight into what it was like playing for Coventry, explaining that the pride in wearing the Cov shirt Cov meant that ‘we also put pressure on ourselves, not matter how heinous the weather or how dreadful the referee was’.
He goes on to say, ‘We trained a lot harder than most clubs did in those days, players who joined from other clubs always found it hard to keep up with our training schedules in the first couple of months’.
Yet he also shows a different side to the game, a side that I don’t think you would see repeated in the modern era In the 1973 RFU Club Knockout Cup Final, against Bristol, the England hooker John Pullin was injured early on and had to be taken off. Unbelievably, there were no replacements allowed back then and Bristol had to play most of the game with just 14 players. Rossborough described Pullin as ‘a good man‘ and says the Coventry players were affected by the incident, ‘We felt desperately sorry for the guy and we played a very mediocre game to be honest‘, although Cov still triumphed 25-11.
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.
Would today’s professional players, coming as they do from all the rugby-playing regions of the word and moving so regularly between clubs, would they really be so affected? Rugby now is a game of the mind as well as body – the various sports’ psychologists and therapists would have ensured such feelings wouldn’t be allowed to impact on an important game. No way. There’s simply too much at stake nowadays in the professional game.
In fairness, neither Neil Fissler or Peter Rossborough make any comparisons between the two eras, but for anyone who knows the club, it would be virtually impossible to read the article and not think about how far the club has declined since the early to mid 70s.
But it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy…Cov will never experience such success again.
So they won’t.
Cov supporters are right to be proud of the club’s past and to celebrate its achievements – the Hall of Fame on the club website is a really excellent initiative and ensures that great names in the club’s past are not forgotten. Hopefully, in the next few years the club will put together a display of the all the memorabilia that must exist in various cardboard boxes and attics across the city and even further afield – a room in the clubhouse dedicated to Cov’s past. It is important that youngsters coming to watch Coventry for the first time understand where the club has come from and what it has achieved.
However, I also hope that every time the press alludes to the current resurgence in the club and talks about its ambitions and aspirations, we don’t get repeated references to the glory years.
That was then, this is now.
Reminders yes, and there aren’t many better than Neil Fissler’s in TRP. But it comes after TRP’s feature on Rowland Winter, which kind of makes the point.
The central focus, across the rugby media both locally and nationally, must be Coventry’s continuing pursuit of Championship rugby without the need to mention the successes of the early 70s. It is perfectly possible to have the former without reference to the latter. It begins to devalue what it is that the club is currently achieving as it is unlikely ever to match the once in a lifetime achievements of that great team of which Peter Rossborough was such a key member.
That might seem a little dismissive of that golden period in the club’s history. It’s not meant to be, I just want to enjoy the current successes in the context of the present and not the past because, for me, mentioning them in that context reduces their worth…
I rather fear, though, that it’s almost inevitable…even Neil Fissler can’t help but refer to Cov ‘languishing in the third tier of English rugby’. It’s only languishing if you compare it to the ‘good old days’ of the early 70s. To those who were never around then, these are now exciting times. The quality of the rugby is pretty decent, as is the style of rugby we play under RW and the league is fiercely competitive. There’s no way Jon Sharp would let the club languish.
It’s all about perceptions I guess. The club, those who work extremely hard in the offices and behind the scenes, the coaches and the players, are striving to move the club in the right direction.
I enjoyed watching the Cov of the 70s, as I did the 60s, 80s, 90s and 00s, but I’m loving the teens as well.
Time to be ‘Moving On’.
Rod Argent describes it far more eloquently than I ever will…
I won’t cry for the past
For I’ve refound my freedom at last
I won’t shy from the strife
What doesn’t kill me will fill me with life
The Zombies – Moving On
…and remember Colin Blunstone ?
‘What becomes of the broken hearted?’…
They all took to supporting Cov.
One day, Cov beat Moseley in front of a crowd of 2712 the weekend before Christmas and suddenly all was well with the world.