Coventry Rugby Club – keeping it in the family

Keep it together in the family
They’re a reminder of your history
Brothers and sisters they hold the key
To your heart and your soul
Don’t forget that your family is gold

Madonna – Keep It Together

By all accounts, the Fireworks Party held at the Butts Park Arena on Sunday proved very successful.

According to a post on the club Twitter feed, 2000 people attended which is certainly more than I would have guessed beforehand.

And whilst I have no idea whether that figure was in line with what the club was hoping for, or even exceeded it, there’s little doubt that the Cov reached out into the community and attracted many parents and children who otherwise wouldn’t normally have set foot in the ground.

This sort of community cohesion is probably not too high on the list of priorities for a club currently involved in what looks like it could be a genuine bid for promotion this season, a year earlier than perhaps was originally envisaged when John Sharp announced the appointment of Rowland Winter.

The vision that was presented to supporters back in May of last year included a very ambitious community-based rugby programme to work with youngsters across a range of schools within the city environs, one that seems to be blossoming under the leadership of Matt Price, with projected figures for this season indicating that between 12000 -13000 boys and girls will be involved (The Fans Forum: July 2017: Part One ).

But Sunday’s event went beyond that, reaching out as it did to many for whom rugby would not have play real significance in their lives.

2000 turned up on Saturday – that’s not 2000 supporters, that’s 2000 people drawn together by the thrill and excitement of watching fireworks in a safe and controlled environment. With no bonfire involved, parents had the relative luxury of sitting aside their children in the main stand, knowing that there was a minimal chance of anything untoward happening.

The vast majority of those there will have been local to the ground or living within a few miles of it, so in this respect the rugby club was for that one day at least, at the heart of the community, bringing families together and providing the cohesion I mentioned earlier.

And who’s to say that some of the parents and youngster who came to the ground on Sunday and enjoyed themselves won’t be back again before too long, this time to watch a game?

That might not have been the purpose behind the event, but it could be a lucky consequence.

And it would be easy to dismiss the Firework Party as a one off, but that would be somewhat disingenuous to a club that is really trying to widen its involvement in the life of the city.

I believe the club is also holding a children’s Christmas party prior to the Plymouth game, which on the back of the success of Sunday’s event, could be extremely popular, and earlier in the season Lara organised a sleepover in aid of the YMCA Coventry and Warwickshire. That’s three events that are somewhat divorced from the rugby side of the club. There will have been others, too, of which I am not privy. This isn’t something new to the club, it’s just something that perhaps is rightly enjoying a little more publicity at the moment.

Coventry’s reasons for hosting such an event as Sunday’s aren’t altogether altruistic, of course, and I’m sure that it will have generated some much needed revenue, especially when December sees just one home game. Cov can’t exist without rationalising a little but if in so doing, the club also provides a focus for the wider community, then that has got to be in the better interests of everyone concerned.

I know the Supporters’ Club Committee was very involved in early discussions about the event and the company that sponsored the Fireworks Party, Builders Supply, also sponsor the Supporters’ Club – so well done them, too. Without their involvement, arguably the event might not have gone ahead.

The importance Cov attaches to the local community and to its own Cov family, including both players and supporters, has become increasingly apparent as a result of social media and the comments made by the wives  of a couple of players who joined the club over the summer. They both have young children and have clearly relished the family ethos the club, and many of its supporters, are rightly so proud of.

I did seek the permission of both mums to use their tweets  and both were more than happy for me to do so. Thank you both.

On Sunday, Tallon Setu, Waita’s wife, tweeted the following from the Fireworks Party:

Not only is it a great piece of camera work on her part (well worth a look if you want to get a feel of what it might have been like to be there) it also shows just how much the Setu family is enjoying life at Cov at the moment. It hasn’t been the easiest of starts for Waita and, with an operation due shortly, he’s going to be out for a while yet. I’m gutted – I know one should never judge anyone on the basis of YouTube highlights, but really, have you seen those hits…?

Despite Waita not playing, they were also there on Saturday to watch Cov beat Caldy and it was the young Setu who made a sprint for the pitch a couple of times during the game – she’s obviously a natural. Fallon was kind enough to add in her response to my request that:

We’re upset he hasn’t been able to play as much. The atmosphere here at Cov is so different to back home. He’s so keen to get back fighting fit and be able to play a home game in front of the Cov crowd!!

And that’s a message very much echoed by Phil Nilsen’s wife, April, who loves the way Cov embraces families in a way that wasn’t the norm at some Championship clubs.

Phil has played both in the Championship and Premiership, so to hear that from April should be a great fillip to Cov.

Both Tallon and April are great ambassadors for the club and the next time we are engaged in talks with a player who has a young family and is unsure about the move to Cov, I’d be asking them to have a chat to him to put his mind at ease.

The picture of Phil Nilsen with his children after the game in some way captures the essence of what Cov, and indeed rugby itself, is all about. It’s just a game in the end and it ends as soon as the whistle is blown.

Rugby is but a passing moment, families remain with us for always…

…which is perhaps one of the reasons why Coventry Rugby Club has avoided the fate of the likes of Wakefield and London Welsh

It reminds me of a little of the moment Matt Price walked onto the pitch with his son ahead of the team back in April 2016 to mark his 150th appearance for the club. It was a moment he wanted to share with his family and the Cov family shared it with him

Despite being a club with such a history and one so full of tradition, Cov has always been accessible to children and under Rowland Winter it seems to be even more relaxed – the Open Day back in July where supporters had a chance to meet the players and their families was a good example of that. I suppose the fear is that if we do win promotion, the more professional the club becomes the more the club would be in danger of losing the current emphasis it attaches to the family.

At the moment, supporters mix freely with players and players willingly mix with supporters, whether members or not. Yet, when Cov was in the equivalent of the Championship, I remember travelling to a couple of away grounds where away supporters weren’t even allowed in the clubhouse (or even home supporters without a season ticket – although I’m sure that will have changed by now). In fact, at Worcester back then we weren’t even allowed to park at the ground, despite their being an abundance of spaces available and we were forced to leave the car a good 600m away.

Hopefully, the proposed developments to the ground, including the move to a synthetic pitch and the building of perhaps some shops/hotel/apartments will further involve the club in the life of the local community, so if anything the club should be able to reach out even further.

Already we have seen the Academy squad attract some of the best local talent in the city and with proposals to introduce mini and junior sections by 2019/20, the club will be a fully inclusive one. Further, if by then the club has been able to develop the ground as is hoped, it could be a real city hub, providing many recreational and commercial opportunities for Spon End and beyond.

It is a two-way process.

Of course it is.

Coventry Rugby Club needs to expand its business if it is serious about gaining promotion into the Championship, whilst also ensuring it has the infrastructure to remain there and even look to be competitive at the top end of that division.

Lara Hunter (and Jo and everyone in the office, too) has worked extremely hard to gain the confidence of local businesses and the club is now regularly used as a conference centre or meeting place to network, as well as a dining/entertainment facility. I’m sure Phil Crossman will be giving us some idea of the direction the club is moving in this area at the next Fans’ Forum towards the end of the month.

Judging by the use being made of the club’s facilities at the moment, things are progressing well on that front. Hopefully, the club will also be keen to ensure the family nature of the club isn’t compromised as a result. which must be a danger at least from a  supporter’s perspective.

Corporate needs sometimes result in a more impersonal approach to business and if that were ever to be the case at Cov, then part of the club’s soul would inevitably be lost.

And whilst rugby remains very much a sport, the more successful we become, the more the business behind it grows.

Events like Sunday’s Firework Party and the forthcoming Christmas Party are really important for the club’s future. I think most Cov supports would accept that we have something of an ageing fan-base. If the presence of Wasps has had an impact, I would imagine it has been on the younger supporters, attracted by the big names and the razzmatazz of Premiership rugby.

And who can blame them for that? And with so many other distractions for youngsters these days, live rugby isn’t the draw it once was. Take my family for example – last season there was one game where 4 generations of the Smiths were in attendance, sitting side-by-side – mum, me, Sam and Josh, my grandson. With mum a bit frail these days and Josh showing no signs of any interest in rugby, let alone Cov, for the time being its just me and Sam flying the flag – and I’m sure that’s being replicated elsewhere.

It’s where the club is at the minute, that’s all.

Continued success on the pitch is going to  bring back supporters to the Butts and we have already started to see that happen, with  the average gate this season well in advance of that of last year. However, hand-in-hand with that, Cov really need to continue to work towards attracting the next generation of supporters, including parents with young families, who will be the bedrock of Coventry’s support in years to come.

‘Your City, Your Club’ is fine as a catchphrase.

But only when it becomes ‘Our City, Our Club’ will  the partnership between club and community  really work.

‘Our’ suggests a unity of sorts, the club and the community working together , whilst ‘Your’ suggests the ownership of the club belongs to the supporters which in truth will never happen. It will never be your club, or my club, but it could be ours in the sense of the club working very much with us.

It’s definitely beginning to happen already, and the club should be given plenty of recognition for that…but there’s still a long way to go before to get where we need to be.

Cov has always been a ‘family’ club and surely must remain so if it is to thrive once more?

Brothers and sisters they hold the key
To your heart and your soul
Don’t forget that your family is gold


I wanted to use Sister Sledge but it appears elsewhere in the blog so I’ve gone for Madge on this occasion….

The older I’ve got the more I’ve grown to like her….

A 12 minute extended live version – the choreography is impressive; Madge really shows how to handle a chair in this one.





5 thoughts on “Coventry Rugby Club – keeping it in the family

  1. Thanks Peter…yes, well wroth stating…Louise is another one of those unsung heroes who gives a lot of her time to the club.

    I can definitely see you as an avuncular Father Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho! it’s Peter Redhead,

  2. I think your story and mine will be repeated over and over again and is one of the main ways in which new Cov supporters come to the team…via families. Cov need also to be attracting those supporters who haven’t had anything to do with Cov in the past so that they can in turn become the Cov families of the future, Great to see that there’s a London branch of the fan club now though…could do with them over at OE on Saturday!

  3. I started regularly taking my son Matthew to Coundon Road as a 6 year old. It wasn’t long before he was giving out the oranges to the players at half time, (those were the days when they stayed on the pitch!), and then progressed to ball boy, programme seller, and ultimately scoreboard operator. He has worked in London for the past 20 years but still regularly makes the trip up to Coventry for home games and we also meet up at most away Cov matches. Although his three children were born in the south I’m pleased to say that he has instilled in them his love for Cov and usually brings them to the games. It’s a great feeling that very often, home and away, there are three generations of the family together watching our great club.

  4. Just a small addition to your brilliant report on the family aspects of the club. The Children’s Christmas party, organised so well by Louise, has taken place for many years, in fact I was called on to be Santa’s assistant for three years until premature retirement. Don’t know how the real chap carries on year after year!
    It is the dedicated actions that people such as Loise makes me so proud to be part of the family that is Coventry Rugby Club.
    Finally Jacky and myself attended Sunday’s brilliant display and its success is a tribute to the Club, Sponsor, Supporters Club and all those who attended.

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