Bears v Bulls – so much more than just a game

1Jul - by Tim - 0 - In Club talk

1aThe Coventry Bears had promised to put on a show for the visit of Bradford Bulls, a club with a proud history and still very much a giant of the game despite finding itself in the third tier of English rugby league…

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…although not for much longer given the performances this season.

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And a show is exactly what the Bears delivered, both on and off the pitch.

A 12-62 defeat hardly tells the tale of a game that was, in every sense, the proverbial game of two halves.

In the first, Bears opened the scoring rattling the visitors for long periods and had they taken their chances in the final 8-10 minutes, a 6-16 scoreline at half-time could have been even closer.

In the second, well it was something of a rout.

Whatever was said at the break certainly had the desired effect as Bulls ran in 3 tries in the opening five minutes and, as the Bears tired the Bulls’ class told, although even then the Bears had their chances. Three further Bulls’ tries in the final few minutes probably skewed the score-line a little, but in the end the visitors’ class was evident and they ended the game totally dominant, despite the best efforts of the home side.

Despite Saturday’s game being my fifth visit to the BPA to watch the Bears this season, I arrived at the ground as something of a neutral..

…but left rather more of a fan than I’d ever expected, proud of the team’s performance and proud of the club, too.

The Bears were in all regards the perfect hosts and a record crowd at the Butts to watch a RL game was just reward for the efforts of all involved in the weeks of planning and preparation that had gone into welcoming the league leaders. It was, by all accounts, the biggest game in the club’s  20 year history, and by a distance.

However, despite the quality of the rugby that was on show at times, and some of it was mightily impressive to the untrained eye, the abiding memory for me will be the atmosphere generated by the crowd and, in particular, by the Bulls’ loyal army of travelling supporters….

…they were phenomenal and added so much to the occasion.

1465 attended the game and whilst I’ve nothing else to go on, as a guestimate at least half those present were Bulls’ fans.

As a Cov fan, I’ve always been extremely proud of our away support, and rightly so, but it is as nothing compared to the passion, knowledge and indeed humour shown by the Bulls’ fans at the weekend.

When Cov are away, you’re always aware of the support that travels with the club and indeed the fans generate a fair bit of noise themselves, but I witnessed on Saturday just how fervent they are up north about their rugby.

And it was a joy to behold…

The Bulls’ supporters were in great  voice all afternoon, especially in the second half when they had a lot to shout and sing about. Every player seemed to have their own song and whilst the accents occasionally got in the way of translation (!), a couple of ditties involving Leeds Rhinos suggested there was some pleasure being taken in Leeds’ contrasting fortunes this season…

…there was even the ‘Give us a wave’ chant directed at the coaches – one that was met very much in the affirmative, much to the appreciation of the devoted Bulls’ fans.

To be fair to the Bears, they did silence them somewhat early doors when the home side were making life very difficult for the visitors, but even then the away supporters were quick to get behind their side and encourage.

By chance, I sat amongst the Bulls’ fans and my enjoyment of the game was all the better for it.

It might not have appealed to some of Cov faithful for whom a rendition of the gratingly mundane ‘Cov-en-treeeee’ is a step too far, but for me their tendency to burst into a terrace chant added another dimension to the game. It was humorous and infectious, and even some Bears supporters joined in the ‘Bulls are going up, Rhinos’ going down’, so catchy was it.

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Bulls fans massing pitch-side as the hooter goes in readiness to cheer their players off the pitch

And as the hooter sounded to end the game, the vast majority of Bulls’ fans headed pitch-side to applaud their team off the park, and the players duly showed their own appreciation of them.

Fair play, too, to the Bears who applauded both sets of fans, acknowledging the impact they’d had over the course of the game.

A smaller group of Bulls fans remained at the top of the main stand, in full voice as the players milled around the sidelines and were still going strong when I left the ground some 15-20 minutes later.

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Bradford fans still singing their hearts out well after the game, accompanied by a lone drummer. Great stuff.

You just had to stand back and admire them. With just a hint of envy, too.

Cov fans have much to learn from the likes of Bradford Bulls’ supporters – how much more would we enjoy watching Cov if we participated in the game as much as they did on Saturday?

And participate they did. It was very much a two-way experience for them and as a result I imagine they got rather more out of the game than had they just sat sedately in the stands as the game unfolded in front of them.

Whilst  this might be heresy to some reading this, I can’t help but feel as supporters of Coventry Rugby Club (and I count myself in this) we are a little too smug at Cov at times. Yes, we are well-supported in numbers at  most away games, certainly in terms of National One over the last 8 seasons…but there is more to being an away supporter than just being there and, well, supporting.

I witnessed something special on Saturday.

For the first time in many a season, I experienced what it must be like for some of those clubs we’ve travelled to in recent seasons where Cov fans have made their presence felt on so many occasions and helped lift the performance of the team on the pitch.

Had it been a Cov game against one of the top Championship teams, then as a home supporter I would have found it tough-going and for sure there would have been an unease amongst Cov supporters which undoubtedly would have been picked up by the players out on the pitch…

…which surely is exactly what you want to create as an away fan?

If we could only break out of our rather reserved approach to watching rugby union and follow the example set by those fans of rugby league, then I’m sure watching the game would be a far better experience both for the fans – and for the players, too.

The decision to include some pre-match entertainment on Saturday, together with live music and an outdoor bar, proved the right one and in what were ideal conditions for spectators, the area opposite the  main stand where it was all situated proved popular with supporters well before the game started.

The ice-cream fan was a hit, too. In fairness though, who isn’t tempted by a Mr Whippy…?

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The entertainment/refreshment area soon after the turnstiles opened and again an hour before kick off.

The organisation and preparation that mus have gone into hosting the game clearly paid off and judging by all the positive comments on social media over the last 48 hours, it was greatly appreciated. For those like me who are infrequent visitors to the Bears, well it will have all been worth it in the long run when some of return to the BPA for the remaining games of the season.

The next home game, on the 15th July, will be an interesting one in that you’d hope the gate would be an increase on the season’s average – a result of both the pre-match atmosphere and the Bears’ impressive performance against such strong opposition, especially in that first half.

And after only watched the Bears play teams from the top half of the table for the last five home games, it’s the first chance for me to see them against a team also struggling a little results-wise – Hemel Stags.. Both teams have the same points and same points difference, although Bears are a place above Hemel Stags, presumably because their points scored tally is two greater than Hemel’s.

Definitely one not to miss!

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CEO and Bears’ owner with some of the younger Bears before the game

The programme notes for this week, as always, are an interesting read. My son, Sam, came to the game for the first time this season and he made a similar comment to one I’d made previously about the match day programme – whilst far less glossy than Cov’s, it’s a more interesting read with much of the content unique to the programme.

The Bears’ performance against the Bulls must have pleased CEO Alan Robinson who wrote this week:

in the position we are in it’s a struggle at times to find positives on the field

Well, he can’t help but have been delighted with the performance of his team against Bradford, a performance in which for the first 40 minutes the Bears caused the visitors  some considerable concerns, something recognised by the Bulls themselves in their own match report:

Coming out of the blocks firing, the Bears put the Bulls to the sword and kicked off proceedings with an early try…

and:

Evidently facing a fired-up Coventry side

Plenty of positives to be had there.

AR couldn’t have asked for more really against a team topping the table and already looking champions-elect, although supporters of York, Hunslet and Oldham might well take umbrage with me on that.

AR also makes the point, and it wasn’t something that I was aware of, that the club is far more financially secure than one might expect:

We spend less than the central distribution on our squad and run our operation in the black with no debt 

That’s a heck of an achievement, one that as a Cov supporter I can appreciate more than most. That degree of sustainability bodes well and if the club can steadily attract a growing fan-base and develop more local talent, then the future looks far brighter I guess than for most expansion sides.

Whilst the argument for and against Dual-Registration players rages on in the union game, in rugby league it is rather more clear cut…it is something that clubs like the Bears must rely on to develop further and is something welcomed by coaches and players alike, according to Head Coach, Tom Tsang.

Talking about improved displays following a heavy defeat by Oldham, TT maintains:

…there is no question the injection of the lads from Hull KR assisted in this…our existing players have all seen their inclusion as a huge positive. Immediately, everyone had an extra bounce in their step…the decision to sign the DR agreement was done in consultation with the first team captain…and other senior players who were unanimous in their approval 

It seems a logical step for clubs like Coventry Bears provided  those younger players who train week in, week out don’t suddenly become surplus to requirements – which I rather suspect has been the case in union.

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The difference in the size and scale of the two sides was particularly evident in the media/management entourage that came with the Bulls. The press box, usually the home to a couple reporters at best, was replete with journos and what looked like a number of Bulls’ analysts, recording a plethora of data from the game for future use…a professional approach from a professional side and I imagine in stark contrast with what is available to the Bears.

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More interest in the Press area than you’d get in a Cov vs Moseley derby! Not that we’ll see those again for a while 🙂

The match was streamed live by the Bulls and was watched by  a staggering 10000 plus (I think that’s right – although I might have misread the figure and can no longer find it)  and the full game on YouTube has already been seen 685 times which is impressive in itself…I guess that’s the pulling power of a club like Bradford Bulls…

Highlights (and there are plenty of them) can be seen below:

It was truly a great day and one that certainly I’ll remember for some time – and not just for the rugby alone, which was special in itself. No, the atmosphere created by the Bradford Bulls’  supporters was something else and it brought smiles to everyone’s faces, demonstrating just what supporting your side should be all about.

However, the final word must go to the club who did itself no end of good by staging such a great day’s entertainment and achieving its biggest ever attendance.

Many thanks…

Always, always a Cov fan…

…but a Bears’ fan in the making as well.

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