I have still to see a Bears’ win this season.
I’ve attended the last three home games, all of which have been pretty comprehensive defeats, albeit it against opposition at the top end of the division.
And all the teams concerned harbour hopes of a top three or four finish at least.
My timing has been impeccable, with York City Knights, Workington Town and Oldham Roughyers all proving to have far too much experience and depth for a Bears’ squad that is still only in its fourth season of semi-professionalism and having to play catch up with many of the teams currently in League 1.
For the visitors, a surfeit of skills too, but certainly no greater commitment to the cause than the home side.
And next comes Bradford Bulls, although history shows that when it comes to a match-up between bears and bulls, bears have the upper hand for sure.
But more on that later.
The current table doesn’t read too well for the Bears but with no relegation from National One, I rather imagine it’s more about slowly improving the club’s infrastructure and developing the squad over the next few seasons than it is about immediate, but perhaps short-term, success.
The mid-term aim is presumably to reach a position where the club is rather competitive against teams in the top half of the National One. On a shoestring budget and with attendances only averaging around the 400 mark (I guess), even that’s going to be challenging, but from what I’ve seen of the Bears this season it seems to be a club with both drive and ambition and certainly I’ve really enjoyed going to down to watch the home games at the BPA – with hopefully more to follow.
And the next home game (Saturday 30th June), against league leaders Bradford Bulls, is only likely to add to my (un)beaten run of Bears defeats.
But what a spectacle it’s likely to be.
Whilst the Bears seem likely to finish the day perhaps a little less bullish than when they started, they are certainly pulling out all the stops to make it a real day out for supporters and are hoping to attract what is likely to be a record crowd for the Bears at the BPA.
According to last weekend’s programme notes, entertainment includes a ‘full day’ of rugby activities involving:
- adult Try Tag Rugby tasters
- a mini festival of rugby (of all abilities)
- U7s – U9s playing before the main event
- outdoor festival style food and drinks (from midday onwards)
- post match live music
- opportunities to meet the players after the game
The first entertainment kicks off at 10.00 am and the club seems to have done its best to ensure there is something there for all the family.
With tickets on the day costing just £12, and concessions also available, it should prove excellent value, too.
In his programme notes last week, the Bears CEO, Alan Robinson, says the club are hoping to ‘attract a large crowd of local sports fans’ – and that surely must be the right starting point. Whilst I’ve really enjoyed watching the Bears, I’m not and never will be, converted to rugby league – union is my love and Coventry Rugby Club my passion – but in the summer it’s a great option when there is little else available other than cricket.
There will be those like me, I’m sure, who end up going along to the odd game and who maybe get hooked by what they experience, but first it needs afternoons like that planned for the visit of Bradford Bulls to attract them into the ground. I’ve spoken to a number of regular Cov supporters who will be there for the next home game and if the Bears can put on a decent afternoon’s entertainment and the team do its bit on the park, well that can only help raise their profile.
Crowds at the games I’ve attended have been between 350-500, but they are loud and encouraging and really appreciative of the players’ efforts. Despite shipping over 180 points in three games, fans have remained loyal to the players and seem to fully understand the gulf there currently is between top and bottom teams in the league.
Not only that, the visiting supporters are unlike any I’ve seen before at the BPA, other than perhaps those from Exeter Chiefs when Cov and Exeter were both in the Championship a good few years ago now. They are loud and vociferous (it helps when their teams are winning so comprehensively to be fair) and they have always shown great respect for the opposition.
Indeed, the Oldham fans applauded every single Bears player off the pitch and they kept up their singing throughout the duration of the game – there will have been some pretty sore throats amongst them come Sunday morning.
In another three weeks the pitch will be back to something very near its pre-season best which will certainly be a plus for the visit of the Bulls. If the ground has the same feel to it, the same buzz, as it did for the final Cov game against Hull, accepting of course that the crowd will be greatly reduced, then that it will make for a great day’s entertainment.
If I were to be at all critical, the lack of a scoreboard is somewhat disappointing. The whiteboard that leans against the portacabin adjacent to the main turnstile has a ‘make-do-and-mend’ feel about it and for a semi-professional set-up it is a somewhat amateurish solution. When the sun shines, the score remains hidden.
You’d hope that Coventry Rugby Club are aware of the importance to the Bears of the Bulls visit to the BPA at the end of the month and that it will do all it can to make the new main scoreboard available to the Bears. It would be something of a coup for the rather less-well off relatives in the current ground share and would certainly add much to the afternoon’s entertainment.
With every likelihood of it being another high scoring game, it’s going to be hard to keep track of the score with a visible scoreboard, although I’ve been very impressed by the person who acts as PA during the game – his encouragement of the Bears is indefatigable, but in a very unobtrusive way.
The match day programme, at £2, is also good value. I have to be candid here and admit I stopped buying the Cov programme a while back – at £1 more it is glossier but doesn’t contain a great deal more reading material and, whilst I’m sure what the sponsors have to say is of great interest to some, it’s not a deal-breaker for me.
The Bear’s programme does lack a fixture list and league table which is annoying at times, although the internet/mobile phone makes that sort of information instantly available these days.
However, given I know little about the Bears, past or present, the programme is informative and I particularly enjoy reading ‘The Frontline’ – a regular feature in which Head Coach Tom Tsang is interviewed by Mike Shires on all things Bears.
One of TT’s frustrations is that the Bears only seem to be able to play 30-40 minutes of high intensity rugby every game and he believes much of the problem is as much mental as it is physical. Produce a consistent 80 minutes and suddenly confidence will flow.
It’s not dissimilar to what Cov fans got used to Rowland Winter and the coaches saying early on at the start of his reign as DoR two seasons ago now and, whilst there is obviously a gulf between the Bears and the three sides I’ve watched them play so far this season, they’ve certainly showed that can compete well at times, especially against York.
As a Cov supporter, it’s hard not to juxtapose the Bears current situation with that potentially of Coventry Rugby Club next season. Promotion into the Championship brings with it a whole set of new concerns, one of which is just how Cov will cope psychologically with the pressure of being the new kid in town amongst the likes of London Irish, Ealing, Bedford and co.
In the programme for the Workington Town game, Tom Tsang quoted Yogi Berri’s comment that baseball is ‘90% mental and 10% physical’, suggesting that might well be one of the issues for the Bears. The physicality is certainly a good deal greater in rugby than it is in baseball, but that can be addressed pre-season to some extent. We’ll only find out just how mentally ready Cov are for the challenges posed be competing in the Championship once the competitive games begin in earnest in September…
For Tsang, one solution lies as follows:
A lot of it comes down to managing the game and recognising momentum shifts. In a game of RL, each team will have their patches of dominance. It’s about learning to understand the difference and knowing what are the correct play calls to use, the correct decisions to make on the field. That, combined with a high work ethic and determination to perform as a team, will allow us to extend our performance to 80 minutes
If what is, after all, a young and inexperienced Bears squad stays together for a couple of seasons, together with one or two more seasoned players coming in over the same time period, then you’d hope that decision-making will improve accordingly. Certainly from the little I’ve seen, the work ethic among the players and their willingness to run themselves into the ground isn’t lacking at all.
It’s the present though that is currently capturing the imagination, especially that forthcoming visit of Bradford Bulls – an encounter described in last week’s programme as the ‘Battle of the Beasts‘.
The Bears v the Bulls..
Now, just for fun, I googled who would win a fight between a bear and a bull.
I have to say the answer is pretty encouraging:
Back during the gold rush, “cowboys” would stage these fights to entertain people. Initially they would saw the horns off of the bulls in order to save the bear. The bears obliterated the bulls typically by shattering their skulls.
Eventually, the people got bored of watching the bears destroy the bulls so easily (as the fights were indeed fixed in the bears favor, bears were extremely valuable for that time period, they didn’t want to risk losing them). Eventually they started using actual bulls with horns.
With horns the bulls actually were capable of killing the bears, but typically the bears were STILL the victors in these fights, though it wasn’t a 10/10 deal.
So, all the Bears need to do is to somehow metaphorically remove their horns…which is perhaps easier said than done.
A little further research suggests visualisation might be an answer, in which case I hope this helps:
I’m really looking forward to watching the Bears in a week’s time.
They’ve already faced Leeds Rhinos pre-season and Widnes Vikings away in the 5th round of the Challenge Cup but by all accounts is the big one.
I have to say that not being up to speed with rugby league these days, I had to double-check to make sure I hadn’t misread the fixture, presuming that Bradford Bulls were still a top flight team – which sums up just how out of touch with what is happening in the game these days.
That said, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the BPA this summer and look forward to seeing a few more games still before the season ends.
Rugby all year round.
Sue is ecstatic…
…and also out of the house today which means I get to post in the afternoon.