I was born by the river
In a little tent
And just like the river
I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
It’s been a long time coming.
41 games under Rowland Winter and just nine losses, a draw and 31 wins.
Not a bad record by any means. Not quite a promotion winning record, but they’re getting there.
And it’s almost as if since last Christmas we’ve been building up to this moment, or if not the moment, then at least this run of five games. It’s certainly felt like it with just the three losses since January, with last season’s away trip to Plymouth being the last time we lost a national one fixture. Time to put the record straight…
As the winning streak has continued week by week, so inevitably has talk of Coventry’s credentials as a potential promotion winning side, at first in muted whispers amongst fellow supporters and now openly on the Messageboard and on social media.
Whilst still quite rightly taking one game at a time, even the likes of Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter are publicly recognising that promotion is certainly a possibility at the end of April next year and are making preparations for it.
Ever the optimist, I hadn’t envisaged back in September we would be 9 points clear of the chasing pack by the end of November,. I thought we’d be in the mix and more than likely in the top three, but our current position certainly exceeds anything that I was hoping for back then.
Almost inexorably, the excitement has grown to the point now where I will genuinely be a bundle of nerves just before tomorrow’s game starts. I’m 58 and worked in a pretty stressful job as a senior leader in a challenging inner city school for more years than I care to remember, but it’s as nothing compared to the sickly feeling I’ll have waiting for the players to emerge from the tunnel in the moments preceding kick off.
Anything I can have some influence on is fine, I know it’s up to me then and natural instincts kick in. You’re focused and hopefully able to manage the situation as professionally as you can. But tomorrow, sitting in the stand, we’re all powerless to do anything other than watch as the game unfolds…and that is tough, at least I find it so.
On the pitch, the adrenaline kicks in and the players all know their roles and what they have to do – it’s second nature. Watching, though, is a very different matter indeed – and if it’s hard for supporters, it must be even worse for the coaches who can do little to affect the course of a game other than by using the bench as effectively as they can.
Tomorrow will be a significant test for Coventry, one of a number in the run up to Christmas. For anyone who has followed Cov for a number of years and who has experienced the highs and lows, it’s hard not to get carried away – win, draw or lose tomorrow, Coventry is in a far better place than it’s been for many a year.
The result will give us some idea of just where we are in terms of the journey we started back in September 2016, but it is but one game. Nothing more.
That said, when 2500ish supporters give Cov that roar of encouragement when they leave the pitch to complete their final preparations in the build up to the game, I just know that I’ll get that feeling of goose bumps that I always experience when the BPA is rocking as it will be this afternoon.
On days like today, Cov becomes something more than just a rugby club. I’ve grown up with it being very much a regular part of my life and whilst it won’t be true of everyone at the BPA today, I know it will feel as if I belong there.
I’ve sat in the same seat, alongside near enough the same group of supporters since 2004.
On a Saturday afternoon, there is a feeling of that extended Cov family that has always made Cov special for me. It’s more than just a routine for me, as is the case for Sam, or for Rob or Mick or all the other folk around us.
Routines are done routinely, performed as part of a regular process rather than for a special reason.
I don’t routinely go to Coventry because on Saturdays that what you do.
It means far more than that. I go to Cov these days because it’s in my blood.
I think a lot of the players get that about Cov, about the passion and the feeling of belonging. Many have commented on it when they’ve been interviewed for John Wilkinson.
All clubs have supporters who share those sorts of emotions, but because Cov has within the lifetime of many of its supporters experienced real success and been arguably the best club in England for a number of seasons, then there is a pride and a sense of tradition that you might not find elsewhere, certainly not in National One.
Blackheath, Plymouth, Moseley, all have plenty to celebrate, Moseley especially.
But Coventry was bigger than all of them and, for many of us at Cov, still is. The crowd today will be proof of that.
It’s why we have 200 plus members in the Supporters’ Club, it’s why we can take 350 to an away game and it’s why this afternoon the atmosphere at the BPA will be something special. And the most pleasing thing of all is that many of those supporters who haven’t been coming to Coventry anywhere near the length of time that some have are also now caught by the Cov bug as well and, for them too, Coventry is just as important in their lives.
And there’s always something that little bit special about games such as today’s, games against the better teams in our league, played under the lights. The atmosphere is different, more intense that perhaps than it might be otherwise – the senses are heightened and there often seems to be rather more intensity in games that are closer going into the final minutes. The shadows that surround the ground, that contrast so much to the brightness of the pitch, seems to add that sense of urgency as the minutes tick away.
There will be a big crowd this afternoon, bigger than for any other game so far this season other than for perhaps the Moseley game back in September. The came has certainly been promoted widely this week, not just by the club, but by local media and on Twitter, too. It will be a big crowd because it’s a big game and whilst some of the supporters won’t be regulars down at the BPA by any means, Coventry Rugby Club has the ability to pull in huge crowds when it is successful.
A win today ensures we stay at the top of National One and by a healthy margin, and the consequence of that could mean that many of those who will have watched Cov today will be back again…
…and hopefully again.
And others will come along with them…
…and so it grows.
Plymouth Albion come to the BPA today not as favourites given Coventry’s home record over the last 12 months, but certainly as a team more than capable of beating us. But I do believe that a Coventry side playing to its strengths and performing for the full 80 minutes will almost always beat any other National One side, however well they play.
Rowland Winter and his team of coaches are nothing if not thorough, and they will have done their homework on the opposition, so for me, the concern is not that Plymouth will be too strong up front or have too much pace in the backs, it’s simply that we might not perform on the day.
A slow start, a loss of concentration or poor execution could prove costly because we know Plymouth are going to exploit any mistakes we make.
Stay tight, do the basics well, win the game up front in the first 50 minutes and we give ourselves every chance.
So, today’s result isn’t make or break for our season, although arguably it is more so for Plymouth, but it will certainly gives us an indication of how competitive we are against the top teams. It’s worth bearing in mind though that had we lost to Blackheath, depending on the margin of defeat, they could have been second in the table by now.
By my reckoning, we have already beaten one of the top sides in our league…a similar performance, certainly in terms of the physicality, is going to be called for today..
It’s going to be another great afternoon of rugby down at the BPA…
And doubtless down at Broadstreet as well, where the Development Squad take on Richmond. The move away from the BPA, whilst totally understandable, is disappointing as I was really looking forward to the chance to see what are clearly a talented group of youngsters, several of whom have now played for the senior side or are edging closer to a first appearance.
Already Luc Jeannot has proved himself to be a great prospect, making some impressive cameos when covering for the injury to Phil Boulton (and Andy Brown) and I’m sure he’ll have benefited immensely from the experience of playing alongside Phil Nilsen, Scott Tolmie and Jimmy Litchfield. Cameron Gray and Kwaku Asiedu made appearances in the first team and with others on the fringe, if Coventry can continue to bring them on there is plenty of depth beyond just those in the official first team squad.
Good luck to everyone involved in both games today.
And good luck to Bishop Stortford as well who play hosts to Darlington Mowden Park…
It would be too much to ask for, wouldn’t it?
But the home side has surprised many teams already this season: indeed they gave us a bit of a fright for a while a few weeks back.
Up the Cov…
…and, for today only, the Stortford too.
As always, I’ll be tweeting updates from the first team game this afternoon. With the Development Squad over at Broadstreet, sadly I won’t be able to provide any updates from their the Zoo Shield with Richmond.
Both Cov and Plymouth have a match day Twitter feed, although mostly just the scores and the main moments in the game. Plymouth’s Twitter account is @AlbionRFC and Cov’s is @CoventryRugby
If you’re looking for no more than score updates and the odd comment, then certainly both of those will provide what you’re looking for and wherever possible, I’ll try and give a sense of the atmosphere as well.
I tend to tweet far more, a lot more, so if you’re at home and just surfing the net trying to find out anything you can about the game, this might be a different option. The tweets, when combined, make a crude ‘commentary’ of sorts. Be warned though, you might get well over a 130 plus tweets during the course of the game – so if that is too much, mute me and use the two club’s official feeds!
Please bear in mind, I am a bit one-eyed when I tweet.
I’m on @Cowshedtim
Apologies in advance for some of the typos that appear. For some though, deciphering my tweets adds to the occasion.
If you aren’t familiar with Twitter or don’t have an account, then on the homepage of this blog (www.coventryrfc.me) all the tweets will appear in real time on the far right of the page, towards the top end. Click on it to increase its size.
Sam Cooke knows.
It’s been a long time coming.