Winter kept us warm but April is still the cruellest month – no Wasteland for Cov but back in 2004…? A touch of class from DMP…

28Feb - by Tim - 11 - In Club talk

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.

Thanks, Rob

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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.

Anyway…

It was a big game, yet I have virtually no recollection of it at all.

A copy of the Cov v Manchester report from April 2004, courtesy of Rob Carter

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.

Coventry applying pressure in front of the posts during the final game. The white faced building in the background is the clubhouse, with a cameraman on the roof recording the proceedings. (From Wikipedia)
Manchester, in red, kick off for the last match at the ground. The Main Stand is in the background – from Wikipedia

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.

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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.

Wear Valley Advertiser

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

z

11 thoughts on “Winter kept us warm but April is still the cruellest month – no Wasteland for Cov but back in 2004…? A touch of class from DMP…”

  1. During that season we had been continuously in the relegation position since January so it was ironic that our last two games of the season were against Manchester and Wakefield, the sides ultimately relegated. My own records show that the Manchester game was played on 17th April which would have been a Saturday, but I stand to be corrected.
    We won only 6 league games and lost 18 that season. Top point scorers were Gareth Cull 184, Luke Smith 51 Mark Meenan 50. Leading try scorers were Kurt Johnson 8,James Baker 8 and Simon Brocklehurst 5.
    Yes, a very poor season, but we did beat India 114 – 6.

    1. I can’t for the life of me remember Gareth Cull – I’ve no idea why because I went to almost every game home and away that season – it’s bizarre! Everyone else yes, once I’d seen the squad list!

      And how on earth do you remember the India score!!!!

  2. Thanks Tim . I watched Cov seventy years ago with my dad at Coundon Rd but having left home in 1961 never to return to live again knew total dispair watching from afar as the professional era brought Cov so low. you’ve filled in dome of the gaps in my knowledge of the intervening years. I watched Cov lose the playoff with London Irish in ???? and then they seemed to disappear from sight only to reappear for me on moving to Cheltenhan within a feasible travelling distance. I think the resurgence owes much not only to the staff recruited by Jon Sharp but also to the likes of you rebuilding the club’s sense of community and public profile. Long may it all continue.
    Bill Rumball

    1. I think the Irish games were in 1997 – there are fair few clips of the Newcastle win in the same year on the blog if you’re interested (just use the search feature on the front page) – they were heady days, too! Jon Sharp and all the behind the scenes have done a fantastic job and the really pleasing thing about it all is that they haven’t gone for the quick fix so there’s much greater chance of this being a more permanent change in our fortunes

  3. I believe that one of Manchester’s players that day – Simon Verbickas – is now Caldy’s current head coach.

  4. 2008, Tim, was the year Cov almost disappeared, and it was down to minutesminutes.

  5. When you look at the clubs in the top tier when league rugby started 30 years, it is a fascinating indicator of sports ups and downs.
    Bath, Leicester, Gloucester, Harlequins, Sale and Wasps are still in the top tier, although several have had bad times since then.
    Bristol and Nottingham are in the Championship, although monied Bristol are still looking to re-establish themselves at the top table.
    Coventry and Moseley are in National One, but Orrell and Waterloo, have fallen off the map.
    There have been 28 clubs play at the top level since the leagues began – Bath, Gloucester, Leicester and Wasps the only teams to stay there throughout.
    Of interest, Cov’s one season at the top came during the amateur era.

    1. The shifting of power, slow as it sometimes is, is what makes league rugby so enjoyable – ring fence the Premiership and a lot of that enjoyment would be lost. The difficulties Cov have faced over the years makes the possibilities of the lie ahead in the future that more exciting.

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