I’m walking away
From the troubles in my life
I’m walking away
Oh, to find a better day
I’m walking away
I’m walking away
From the troubles in my life
I’m walking away
Craig David – Walking Away
As hundreds of Villa fans ran on to the pitch at Villa Park on Tuesday night to celebrate reaching the final of the Championship playoffs at Wembley next weekend, many of those who remained in the stands couldn’t resist the temptation to have a pop at some of the supporters present whom they felt had jumped rather late onto the Villa bandwagon.
The crowd that night was some 9000+ more than the average for the season and the fairly light-hearted, but still rather pointed, chant of ‘Where were you when we were sh!t?’ that rang round the stadium that evening suggests that there was a feeling among some supporters that there were more than a few fair-weather fans present that day.
Aston Villa fans signing "where were you when we were shit" the their own fans who invaded the pitch ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/n7qnAGQCxf
— Football Away Days (@sportingawayday) May 15, 2018
And I have to say, looking down from the main stand after the conclusion of the final Cov game against Hull last month, there was a part of me that felt something a little similar as hoards of Cov supporters gathered below to watch the presentation of the medals to the players, followed by the lifting of the cup by the proud and unusually emotive club captain, Phil Boulton.
Cov’s average gate this season was 1868, a figure that was probably nearly 150 higher than it would otherwise have been as a result of the 3758 who squeezed into the BPA on that final Saturday of the season.
2000 supporters more than the average, over twice the normal attendance – there must have been a significant number of supporters that day making if not their first visit to the Butts, then certainly a fairly rare one.
Now rugby supporters aren’t known for their chanting, spontaneous or otherwise, and given the best Cov fans have produced with almost a century and a half of watching Coventry behind us is the tortuous ‘COV…EN..TREE’, it was unlikely someone was going to come up with anything as witty as that offered by Villa supporters midweek.
And witty is was, despite the rather coarse language. Not something you’d expect to hear at a rugby ground admittedly but, even so, it’s hard not to smile. I’m sure most supporters who have stayed with clubs through the darkest of times will have felt something similar.
I have to be honest here and say that I’ve been slightly taken aback by my own personal response to hearing the Villa supporters’ post-match reaction. I know I shouldn’t be condoning it really. It’s hardly surprising that for such an important game so many supporters, armchair or otherwise, are going to want to be part of the occasion.
But I do get where they were coming from.
It wasn’t that long ago, back in the 2010/11 in fact, that just 432 supporters watched a National One league game at the BPA – that’s some 3300 less than were present for that final game this season. They were tough times to be watching Cov back then, just as they were to be playing for Cov too, as Matt Price has mentioned a couple of times in recent weeks.
There seemed to be little to be optimistic about as we struggled to survive in National One and indeed the following season we avoided relegation into League Two North by the proverbial seat of our proverbial pants, finishing 13th, just one position above the three relegation places.
Part of me is fiercely proud of being a Cov supporter. I’ve seen the club play in its halcyon days of the late 60s and early 70s whilst also witnessing its near demise back in 2008 and, before then, in 1999 and on occasions, as was the case in that final game against Hull, it has felt there have been a few gate-crashers come to the party.
It’s a totally selfish response I know, especially as a fair proportion of those present at Hull weren’t even born much before 2000!
But the tribal nature of sport, or at least of supporters in sport, can do funny things to even the mildest mannered of folk and so, despite the fact that it was absolutely fantastic to see so many at the BPA for that final game, part of me did wonder just how many of those 3758 will be back in September to watch that first home game in the Championship.
It’s of huge importance for Cov to bring in big numbers through the gates next season. Whilst Jon Sharp has repeated that the club is on a sure financial footing even now, increasing the coffers means that there is more money available in the playing budget or for Phase One of the ground development. Both are important if the club is to secure a top four finish in the Championship within the next two or three seasons.
Big attendances pre-season against Moseley and Wasps are pretty much guaranteed which should heighten the interest in and around the city in the lead up to the start of the Championship campaign, but the acid test will be how the gates hold up after the first half-dozen home games. You’d hope that Cov would be pulling in 2500+ at least given the heightened media interest that inevitably comes with Championship rugby, but for that to happen many of those armchair fans have got to be enticed back not as one-off, interested observers but as regular attendees at the home games. If Coventry pull out all the stops as they did against Hull and create a real match day package for all the family, including the outdoor catering which was such a great success, then there’s every chance the crowds will build if Cov prove to be competitive on the pitch.
The current ‘Early Bird’ season ticket offer represents incredible value for money and hopefully that will encourage some of those who might have been considering membership to take up the opportunity at a reduced rate. For others it might well be the atmosphere created in those big pre-season games that persuades them that the BPA really is the place to be next season. By all accounts pre-season sales are encouraging, with a considerable number of supporters taking up new membership in addition to the more predictable renewals.
It’s incumbent on all supporters to welcome with open arms the prodigal sons and daughters who hopefully return in the coming weeks and months now that Coventry is back in the second tier of English rugby, fair weather or otherwise. There will always be a hard-core support for Cov but temporary or otherwise, the number through the turnstiles is what counts.
Fans are a notoriously fickle breed at times and unless you are something of a die-hard, when your club is regularly on the receiving end of a drubbing then £20 a game suddenly becomes rather less of an attractive proposition. But when Cov are riding high and enjoying the most successful period in their recent history, then it’s a question of welcoming anyone and everyone into the BPA.
Who knows how long it will last?
I went to watch Coventry Bears over at the BPA last weekend.
Given the above, there’s a certain contradiction evident here considering it’s a good few years since I’ve watched the rugby league side play. Armchair supporter is perhaps a term that is just as relevant to me in this context as it might be to those who made an appearance at the BPA for Cov’s final game of the season just last month, although in all fairness rugby league would come a poor fourth in terms of favoured sports for me at the moment behind rugby, football and cricket.
Although I can see that changing in the not too distant future.
Also in my defence, there was no bandwagon to jump onto and far from the Bears being in a rich vein of form, I went to watch them on the back of a 98-6 defeat against Keighley Cougars the week before.
In all honesty, I visited the BPA last Saturday very much in the belief it would be a one-off…a Saturday spent watching the Bears in preference to working in the garden and nothing else. I had no real expectations other than perhaps a pleasant afternoon watching some live sport, content just to enjoy the moment.
And enjoy it I did.
The result might not have gone the Bears’ way, but it was an immensely entertaining game and by the end of the first half the home side were always in the game, at one point coming back from 18-0 down to level the scores, with further opportunities to take the lead to follow. In the end, they lost to York City Knights 18-58 but this was against the joint league leaders and a side that had won their previous game 144-0!
The Bears never gave up, played some enterprising rugby and, most importantly for me, entertained the crowd. Whilst supporting the Bears on the day, the loss was never going to be such an emotional experience for me as, say, watching Cov’s defeat down at Blackheath back in January.
No, it was disappointing but the overriding feeling was one of enjoyment.
At £12 I thought the whole experience was excellent value for money and if there is anyone reading this at a loss at what to do on Sunday, I would strongly recommend a visit down to the BPA to watch the Bears take on Workington Town.
Despite expecting last Saturday to be my one and only visit to watch the Bears this season, I’ve every intention of being there too which is indicative of just how much I enjoyed the afternoon.
The crowd wasn’t as a large as I’d imagined, smaller than I remember from when I used to go fairly regularly for a couple of season after the Bears’ were first formed (they were more Cubs back then…?). I’m guessing there were in the region of 350-400 at most, but the supporters were far noisier than those watching Cov by and large and they were always behind their team, something that might not always been the case in the days when Cov were conceding 10 tries.
There was no scoreboard, but there was food available in the clubhouse and there was certainly never a problem with queuing at the bar, even at half time! There were spaces in the car park right up to kick off, so there would be no need to get to the ground early as there would be at a Cov game which means a late entry and quick exit is possible if you don’t want to make a full afternoon of it (car park charges remain though).
As with Cov, everyone is very friendly and welcoming and having mentioned how much I’d enjoyed my time watching the Bears via Twitter, I had several replies, both from the club and supporters, thanking me for coming which was really refreshing.
The Bears are currently 12th in the league and struggling a little, but if they continue to show the same sort of endeavour and enterprise against the teams around them at the foot of the table, I can’t help but feel they will pull themselves further up the table. Certainly, having enjoyed myself so much last weekend, I’ll be taking a real interest in Coventry Bears over the remainder of their season.
I understand from speaking to those in the know that the visit of Bradford Bulls (yes, the Bradford Bulls) on 30th June is likely to attract a crowd of around 1500 plus which I imagine would be a record at the BPA for a rugby league game.
Bulls regularly have crowds of between 3000-4000 attending their home games and apparently have a strong away following so it sounds very much as if the BPA will be rocking when they come a-visiting in 6 weeks time.
Definitely a date for the diaries, that one!
I actually had the first Craig David album which surprised me at the time and surprises me even more now, although I think it might well have been the influence of my kids and probably Now That’s What I Call Music – Volume 3242.
Still, Walking Away kind of fits the bill, although Helen Shapiro’s Walkin’ Back To Happiness might have been an even better choice…too late now though.
Although just to compromise (and because it’s a far better song), I’ll include the Shapiro video…it goes way back to 1961 apparently!
Could be the song for the coach journey on the way back from beating Bedford next season…
Spread the news I’m on my way, woopah oh yeah yeah
Now the Blues have been blown away, woopah oh yeah yeah
Walking back to happiness I shared with you (yay, yay, yay, yay ba dum be do)