April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
Winter kept us warm…
TS Eliot – The Wasteland
A home game back on Friday 16th April 2004 was perhaps one of the more significant fixtures in Coventry’s recent history, yet it’s not one that lives too large in the memories of most supporters despite its importance.
Certainly not mine, anyway.
Even when presented with the opposition or the scoreline, many supporters will probably still remain somewhat underwhelmed.
For the record, it was against Manchester and the game ended in Coventry winning 34-20.
The importance is actually neither in the opposition, nor the result, but in the fact that it was Coventry’s last game at Coundon Road before the move to Butts Park Arena for the start of the 2004/05 season.
That said, as it turned out the win was also significant for another reason, but more on that later.
I do remember the occasion, but little about the details.
Surprisingly little, in fact.
83 years of history came to an end that day.
83 years during which time Cov had risen to be one of the top clubs in the country, only to fall foul of the professional era and spiral into potential free-fall which could have seen the club back in the equivalent of the third tier of English rugby had we lost to Manchester.
Coundon Road had been in need of considerable investment for some years, but with Coventry struggling financially and having faced the threat of receivership back in 1999/2000, it was decided to sell the ground to Bryant Homes for development and move to a new, purpose-built ground a mile or so away in Spon End which would be available from September 2004.
It seems particularly fitting to recall the game now given that at the time we were fighting to stay in the Championship, whilst now we are striving to return to it…
What goes around, comes around…
I’m indebted to Rob Carter for sending me a copy of the Coventry Evening Telegraph’s (as was) match report of the Coventry v Manchester game, written by John Wilkinson . Rob was the creator of the Supporters’ Club logo, Tuska, and a die-hard Cov supporter.
I can recall most of the players who took part in the John Player Cup teams of the early/mid 70s.
I can certainly name the Cov side that beat Newcastle on November 2nd 1996…
..and there’s every chance that in 10 years time I’ll be able to recall most of the team that beat Darlington Mowden Park on Saturday, such was the performance that day.
But in truth I would have struggled to even remember half a dozen of the Coventry side who faced Manchester back in the April of 2004 in the very last game to take place at Coundon Road..
(Have a think whilst your carry on reading and see how any you can come up with – the team will appear later in the post).
And yet it was a game that I should remember with far more clarity.
Even back then I’d been watching Cov for over 30 years, man and boy. Emotions were high, it was a big crowd, over 3000 plus according to the Telegraph (the highest for six seasons apparently), although only 2200 if you believe the Wikipedia article on Coundon Road!
And there’s a point of interest in itself – let’s presume the figure of 3000 is correct…
…well if Cov could ‘only’ attract a crowd of 3000 for the very last game at Coundon Road, a game that Cov had to win to keep its hopes of Championship rugby alive for the following season, then crowds of up to 2800 and several around the 2000 plus mark in National One in recent years are actually pretty impressive.
We average 1700+ even now. If we can average 2500 in the Championship (presuming we get there, of course) then that would be a success. The more I look at attendance, the less the Wasps factor becomes an issue and the more it becomes a question of the magnitude of Coventry’s success on the pitch.
It was a big game, yet I have virtually no recollection of it at all.
As is made clear from the headline in John W’s report, the win was ‘a job half done’, a quote in fact from the then Chairman, Keith Fairbrother.
All it did was to ensure that Cov remained in the bottom two in the Championship and in touching distance of Wakefield (in the days when two went down).
It also meant that Coventry needed to win three points more than Wakefield, their hosts, in the final game of the season if they were to leapfrog Wakefield and survive the drop, whilst at the same time condemning the home side to relegation.
Against Manchester, Cov scored 5 tries and after a nervous opening 20 minutes, according to Fairbrother:
We relaxed and, to be fair, we did play some good rugby
The photos from the game, although rather grainy, do show there to be a sizeable crowd. Supporters several deep behind the posts was always indicative of a well-attended game.
I have to say though, I’m not sure the shirts back then were up to much – yes they had the wide hoops, but the all-blue short sleeve doesn’t look great and baggy just isn’t beautiful anymore, unless you’re an ageing tubby like me, in which case they are the real deal.
The blow up of the main photo on the front of the Evening Telegraph (see below) gives some indication of what the result meant to the supporters there. I would probably have been tucked away in the main stand somewhere, with my son and his grandmother, well away from the raw emotion pitchside, although doubtless jumping up and down in celebration.
An impassioned Richard Protherough certainly seems somewhat pumped up following Cov’s fourth try that earned Cov the all-important bonus point .
So, having had a little time to think it through, how many of that 2004 side that played in the very last game at Coundon Road can you recall? I’ve given you Protherough as a starter…
According to Statbunker, the match stats are as shown below:
There are some very familiar names amongst the 22 there…a few Canadians (incuding the late, great JC), a Vunipola (although Elisi was always my fave), together with a few Cov favourites, including Micky Curtis, Ben Gulliver, Kurt Johnson and Robbie Hurrell.
Familiar names which I struggled to recall.
A bit embarrassed about that to be honest.
Looking at the strength of the squad, I can’t help but think the team underachieved somewhat. Several of the players went on to bigger and better things so perhaps we shouldn’t have floundered quite so much as we obviously did.
2003/04 was the season in which John White started off as Head Coach, but was duly moved on after Christmas after a string of poor results. Steve Williams came in and promptly won enough games to keep us in the Championship.
I’m not sure where SW went from us, but the following season he couldn’t repeat the success of those last few games of the season before and we finished that year with Mike Umaga as head honcho, and we all know where that led…
With one game remaining after our win over Manchester, we travelled up to Wakefield and in a close encounter did enough to win the game 11-15 with tries from Shaun Perry and John Cannon. In what must have been the tightest relegation battle of all-time in the Championship, we managed to survive the drop, consigning Wakefield to National Division Two – the equivalent of National One today.
As it turned out, Wakefield never played again.
TS Eliot got it spot on – April is indeed the cruellest month for those teams that suffer the heartache of relegation…
…meanwhile Winter keeps us warm.
Wakefield had suffered a trading loss of £105,000 that season, as well as owing a further £640,000 to creditors. Despite efforts to sell the club, in the end the Board decided it had no option other than to withdraw from the league and the club ceased to exist as a rugby-playing club.
So Coventry were the last club ever to play Wakefield.
The margin of survival can clearly be seen from the final table:
Both Coventry and Wakefield shared the same final points score for the season of just 37 and, in the end, the relegation place was decided presumably on points difference or total number of wins (I can’t recall which). I remember it as being a particularly depressing season and with Cov averaging just 17 points a game, it’s not hard to see why – Coventry are currently averaging 42…
Had we been relegated, who’s to say we wouldn’t have gone the same way as Wakefield?
We were hours away from that fate in 2008 (thanks’JW); maybe the new backers wouldn’t have been around in 2004.
As it was, we moved into the BPA in September of that year and, despite a few blips along the way, here we are, 14 seasons on, in a much healthier situation and looking to return to the Championship once more.
Thanks to Rob for the initial article and to the Internet for the rest of the info…
I sure as heck couldn’t remember much as I would have liked.
Finally, just a couple of updates from the weekend…
Firstly, the Wear Valley Avertiser carries a report on the DMP game – nothing new in it, although it does suggests that:
Mowden went in to their eagerly-awaited meeting with the only team above them in the table defending a 100 per cent home record, but despite a crowd of 1,879 packing in to The Northern Echo Arena – the biggest of the season – Danny Brown’s side were unable to produce an upset.
I have to say that at no time did I have the feeling of being ‘packed’ into a ground that has a capacity of 25000….although apparently it can currently only hold 10,000 because of poor road access.
And secondly, fair play to Danny Brown for his thanks to the Mowden spectators who attended:
Following what was a very tough weekend for all concerned, the players and coaching staff thought it was important to thank everyone for their huge support on Saturday, with a season record number of people coming out to cheer the team on. We know there were a lot of people who would have been making there (sic) first trip to the Arena on Saturday as well as those who support us week in week out. As a sportsperson to run out of your home support is always special and we never take it for granted. We were all disappointed with Saturday’s result and credit must go to Coventry. We all now have our hearts and minds set on bouncing back this week against Esher
A touch of class there from the DMP Head Coach who also went on to offer the club’s heartfelt sympathy to the family and friends of Ian Williams, the Doncaster Knights’ player who tragically died last week – as he says:
it somewhat puts sport and results into perspective and what it means to us all
Amen to that.
I found everyone at DMP very welcoming and extremely appreciative of the Coventry performance – I can only wish them well for the remainder of the season.