I’m ready for the lift up,
Keep steady beat,
‘Cus I’m ready for the big jump,
Keep up with me,
If you lose me then you know, you’re just a bit too slow,
I only go up, up.
I’m ready to be in control and the ground isn’t good enough for me,
I know where to find what I want and I’m gonna keep on,
Keep on, up, up
The Saturdays – Up
(Some of the images in this post have been used with the very kind permission of John Coles. I am extremely grateful to him as always and the posts are always so much better when his photos are included – thanks John)
Every now and then it’s the occasion and not the game that lives much longer in the memory.
This is particularly true of Saturday’s game against Hull Ionians, Cov’s final fixture of the 2017/18 season.
For the record, Coventry won what was an entertaining encounter against Hull Ionians 38-21, a game which finally sealed the fate of a Hull side that caused Coventry one or two difficult moments but in the end were outgunned in pretty much all phases of play.
But the afternoon was always going to be about Coventry for the most part.
Already promoted, Saturday was the celebration of a season that has certainly exceeded my expectations and probably those of most other supporters as well.
And just a brief word about Hull. They will be missed next season, taking nothing away from the teams coming up. They are a friendly, well run side with great facilities and hopefully they’ll bounce straight back next year. Despite defeat resulting in their own relegation, the club’s players and officials stayed out to watch Cov receive their trophies.
The showed real grace in defeat.
Cov had set its stall on making Saturday a day to remember.
And boy did it succeed.
The planning and preparation that had gone into ensuring the experience was worthy of such an important moment in the club’s history must have been considerable, but those involved did a sterling job and from the moment we arrived at just before 12.30 there was already a real buzz about the place, despite the weather threatening to put a damper on everything.
What the occasion clearly demonstrated from start to finish was that Coventry Rugby Club is more than capable of putting on a show at home games in the Championship next when hopefully the crowds are even bigger than average attendances have been this season. Even taking away the ceremony to celebrate the official handing over of the City of Culture to Coventry, the excitement and atmosphere generated on Saturday will be at least the equal of that offered by most other clubs in the Championship.
For instance, the decision to outsource the catering on Saturday gave a real Championship feel to the ground, with three or four food vans attracting plenty of interest throughout the afternoon. The burger bar was particularly busy with a constant stream of punters and the food, dare I say it, was appreciably more appetising that the usual fare on offer.
It made the ground seem altogether busier and took a little pressure off the main bar, whilst also adding some real authenticity to the pre-match build up. The club looked like it was holding a major sporting event and whilst I accept that it might well be that on crowds of just 1700 or so it’s not worth the while of those who run such food stalls, I thought it worked really well on Saturday.
The coffee/snack bar option made a pleasant change too and having a series of portaloos on the far side was far more of a convenience, so-to-speak. Hidden away as they were, they weren’t the eye-sore they could so easily have been.
And it just kept on getting better.
The decision to get the new scoreboard up and running for the last game was the right one. Even as I drove in, you could see the board towering above the pitch and that can only be good for business as those driving past the ground, perhaps lapsed supporters or even those with connections to Wasps, couldn’t fail to have been impressed. It generates curiosity and in turn might encourage decent numbers of supporters to come to the BPA next season and see why there’s so much interest in the game on this side of the city.
The run down of the team, together with highlights of some previous games, certainly caught the attention of those in the ground and again gave the feel of a club very much on the up.
Early days still and you’d hope that there would be a clock somewhere on the screen next season (personally I’d rather it wasn’t an exact countdown of time remaining as I quite like the uncertainty of knowing just how much extra time is available). I’m not sure why highlights of different games were being played as the actual game took place, that seemed a little distracting, but all-in-all it was a great success and certainly added to the match day experience for me.
The day had very much a family feel to it. One of the growing concerns from supporters has been the lack of a younger element in crowds at the BPA these days. It’s something that Cov has tried to address in the past without much reward but on Saturday they pretty much got it spot on. It might have taken several hundred complimentary tickets handed out at local junior schools, but if that’s what is needed to bring kids in, then that’s fine by me. And in fairness, the show Cov put on might well have been enough to see a good number of them back for the pre-season in August.
Repeat something similar against Moseley and Wasps (accepting that the schools will be shut over the summer hols) and maybe not only do you get them hooked, you can reel them in as well.
An acid test for me at any sporting events is what Sue’s reaction is.
My wife isn’t the most ardent fan of the game, or indeed in sport generally, but she loves any event where there is an atmosphere and a bit of razzamatazz. And she a whale of a time on Saturday and despite getting to the ground some two and a half hours before kick off, she wasn’t remotely bored.
Thank you, Cov!
At one point my heart sank somewhat when we saw some youngsters going through rehearsals out on the pitch early doors. I feared the worst, believing it could signal a reappearance of a local troupe of cheerleaders.
It’s something that has been tried several times in the past and it’s never worked.
I needn’t have worried though.
It was a group of drummers and I thought they really contributed to the build up to the game before the players came out to warm up. The sounds of the drums resonated around the ground and seemed to go down well with those watching. When it’s normally so quiet at that stage of the pre-match build up, to have the drummers there liven things up no end was a real bonus. Ir was something to watch and enjoy at a time when normally there would be little else going on.
The appearance of Godiva, albeit a one-off, created great interest. As automatons go, you don’t get bigger than this. In fact it was so big it had to be controlled by a number of rather dashing gentlemen and ladies who certainly looked the part with their matching neckerchiefs, goggles and trench coats. It was like something out of the film Monte Carlo or Bust…
There was, of course, a serious element as well to the pre-match entertainment – namely Hull’s handing over of the mantle of the City of Culture to Coventry which was chosen to be the UK’s City of Culture for 2021 in December, taking over from Hull which had held the title in 2017.
The two respective Lord Mayors were in attendance, together with other local dignitaries, with John Sharp representing Coventry Rugby Club. I hadn’t really given it much thought before but I think, had I been asked beforehand, I would have expected such a passing of the baton to have taken place at Wasps and not Cov were it to involve a ‘local’ rugby club.
The fact that it wasn’t and that instead the Mayoral Office had decided to recognise Coventry’s fantastic achievements this season is perhaps of some significance and represents the growing influence the club and its Board is enjoying at the moment. I might well be wide of the mark here but the more I think about it, the more importance it takes on. This was a significant event, of national importance and not just local…
Another big tick in the box for Cov.
And the choice of the two players to represent the club was an interesting one in many ways. It was Latu Makaafi and Sam Tuitupou who carried out the oversized rugby ball into the middle of the pitch as part of the ceremony. Two senior pros, both of whom have contributed greatly to Cov’s success – Latu particularly on it and Sam more so off it, given his injuries.
There’s no doubting that Sam is a star turn at Cov, a charismatic figure who attracts attention nationally in rugby circles. Listening to Rowland Winter at training on Thursday, it appears Sam was fairly influential in first attracting David Halaifonou to Coventry, as was the case with Latu last year I believe.
The Islanders are hugely popular among Coventry supporters and they seem to have thoroughly enjoyed their time this year at Cov (and I include Anthony Matoto here as well). It was rather heart-warming to see the Tongan flag, also bearing the Coventry badge, draped across the fencing by the changing room entrance.
On the flag was written the legend ‘Malo Tonga’ which those of us who are fluent in Tongan know means ‘Thank you’, together with the shirt numbers of the three Islanders who have graced the Cov colours this season.
Nice touch, lads,
Class in fact.
And it wasn’t just those in the ground who were celebrating Cov’s success. A couple of the apartments overlooking the ground had also decided to recognise Cov’s promotion into the Championship by joining in the fun and decorating their balconies in an appropriate fashion.
More evidence perhaps of how the club’s success has impacted positively on the local community.
Ever since it appeared likely we would win the league, Cov had targeted the National One attendance record set by Jersey several seasons back.
And like many of the targets the club set itself this season, it reached it…
…with some ease.
3758 packed into the BPA on Saturday to pay their dues to a Cov side that had given its all over the course of the season. Okay, they fell away a little from the heights achieved up to and including the first of the DMP games, but overall it was a phenomenal effort on the part of everyone connected with the club.
It’s a season that has brought so much happiness to those who follow Coventry, both locally and further afield and I’m delighted that rugby fans across the city paid their respects by attending in such numbers.
As for the game itself, well for a full summary there’s no better place to go than to the club website itself and John Butler’s report:
(I’ve made no mention of the two Johns as yet, but hopefully I’ll address that in a later post)…
However, I can’t help but include my favourite John Coles’ photo from the game:
Great player, great photo…
And of course there was the small matter of Rob Knox’s 100th appearance and a try as well.
Not only had he read the script, it rather looks as if he’d penned it himself, too.
In the final few minutes of the game, thoughts turned to the presentation and the resulting celebrations.
The game had looked like petering out in the last quarter, but one last piece of brilliance from Max Trimble ensured that the season ended on a high and the attempted conversion by none other than Scott Tolmie was the icing on the cake. The party started as he began his run-up and for all I know might well be continuing even now such was the delight of both supporters and players alike.
As the two sets of players filed past each other, the tables came out, the cup emerged and an area in front of the main stand was sectioned off. It was done with the minimum of fuss, a quiet and efficient operation that typified everything that had gone on before it. If this had been a test of the club’s ability to handle large crowds and big occasions, then it would have passed with flying colours.
Blue and white, of course.
And as the players walked across the pitch to the area where the presentation was to take place they did what they’d done all season, they showed their appreciation to a rapturous crowd who stood as one to acknowledge their heroes.
Yes, there was an element of sadness to it all, with players of the calibre of Brett Daynes and Andy Brown playing their last games for the club, but the overriding emotion was one of pride and respect for a group of players who time and time again during the course of the season had left everything out on the pitch.
Battle-weary, they’d struggled to reproduce the form that won them the title and brought Championship rugby back to the BPA some 5 games before, but that was firmly behind them now.
It was about supporters and players coming together.
A family united.
Jon Sharp made a point of going around the players, shaking hands and giving hugs and despite what must have been a moment of huge personal triumph for the man who has invested so much time, energy and money into the club, his first thoughts were for the players and staff.
A special hug, lasting far longer than for the other players, was reserved for Phil Boulton, captain fantastic and the leader who arguably helped galvanise the squad from January of last year, turning them from a good side in National One to an outstanding one.
And as the players waited for their medals, Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter stood side by side as they’ve done for the last two seasons, smiles lighting their faces, the respect for each other clear for all to see.
I wonder what words were exchanged in those brief moments?
Two men, a shared vison, a dream fulfilled.
Or maybe only part thereof…
…both are ambitious and I doubt if either feel that it’s a question of mission accomplished, or anything like.
As they looked up into the stands and saw the response from the crowd, I can’t help but believe that already they were thinking ahead to what successes might yet lie in wait for this stirring giant of a club.
The players duly received their medals individually before regrouping as a team in readiness for the final accolade, the lifting of the cup.
The presentation itself wasn’t without some humour, with Rowland Winter discretely whispering the names of each player into Billy Bell’s ear before he announced their names out to the crowd.
It took a good couple of minutes for the medals to be given out and the waiting got the better of many of the players who’d already received theirs and a champagne (or more likely prosecco) frenzy broke out well before Phil Boulton lifted the trophy.
Presentations were made to John Butler and John Wilkinson, both retiring from their current roles, although John B will still be involved at the home games next season.
Jon Sharp then briefly spoke to the crowd, generously paying tribute to Rowland Winter for helping to turning the club round on and off the pitch in the last 2 years and to the supporters for their part in this season’s success.
And then came the moment itself.
Phil Boulton stepped up, raised the trophy aloft and skipped his way over to the team; having never won a trophy in his career before, it was obvious just how much this meant to Phil. For just a few second the Cov captain let his emotions get the better of him as he leapt in the air several times, a signal for the players to once again pop the corks and douse each other with fizz.
The supporters, many of whom had gathered on the walkway alongside the press to take their own photos, took this as a sign that the formal presentations were over and after waiting for the champagne shower to end, started to mingle with the players.
It was the perfect end to what had been pretty much the perfect season. Players, coaches, support staff and supporters as one, shaking hands and sharing thanks-yous, the respect that has steadily grown between one another these last two seasons there for all to see.
The players welcomed the outstretched hands of grateful fans, and patiently posed for photos with the young, the old and all those in-between. The trophy was handed from one player to the next and always, always offered to any wide-eyed, open-mouthed youngsters who happened to be nearby, desperate to share the moment with their heroes.
Loyalties were formed out there that will last a life-time and many of those children who stood side-by-side with the players will, as a result, be Cov supporters for many years to come.
And to cap it all, suddenly over the PA blared the dulcet tones of none other than Brett Daynes, serenading the crowd to a rather different (‘tuneless’ would be a bit harsh given the occasion) rendition of a schmaltzy classic.
And there, as everyone turned round, stood Brett a-top of the stand by the press box, microphone in hand and grinning from ear-to-ear.
As memories go, that will live longer than most.
The guy’s irrepressible.
And he’ll be missed.
On weekends when Cov aren’t playing next season, or it’s a particularly long journey, I’ll take a trip up to Binley Woods just to see how Brett’s getting on.
And I’m sure I wont be the only one from Cov there either.
Hard to choose any other song really.
Up – The Saturdays
Nothing to do with them being a particularly attractive girl band of course, I’d never be that shallow.
As pop songs go though, it’s one of the better ones – a definite ear worm.