The hole in my shoe which
Was letting in water
(Letting in water)
Letting in water
What a really heavy bummer
Traffic -The Hole In My Shoe
If Coventry Rugby Club was a pair of shoes, it would be a pair of Church’s brogues.
Classic, traditional, well-made and loyal to their roots.
Nothing flash, nothing Jimmy Choo or Manola Blahnik about i.
Not high-end, more quality high street.
Very much in fashion at the moment and a name to reassure.
And sharing the same ethos:
Possessing an astute sense of the present and an unwavering focus on the future
Yet those Cov shoes aren’t, as yet, quite watertight.
There’s a hole in them and it’s letting in water.
And, to quote Dave Mason, it’s a bit of a ‘bummer’…
But more on that later.
Despite the build up of some ominous-looking clouds towards the end of the Cov’s Family Fun Day, the rain held off and those supporters present were able to enjoy what was very much a friendly, informal afternoon spent with players, coaches and management.
And, of course, with each other.
Now into its second year, it’s a format that works well…an open training practice followed by a ‘Q and A’ session with the coaches and then a few ‘skills-based’ activities with the youngsters to finish…kicking, line-out, tackle bags etc.
There’s not a great deal of planning or preparation necessitated beforehand, other than the organisation of the burger grill perhaps (which I thought was excellent and as good as anything we’ve had at the BPA food-wise in the last couple of seasons – Hoody was in his element!).
Many thanks to the club for opening its doors to supporters in this way, and to the Supporters’ Club for its involvement too, although that comes with some reservations as I’ll attempt to explain later.
Whilst it was good to watch the players train early on, it didn’t tell us a great deal really, although trying to spot the new faces and then put names to them was an interesting diversion.
As an aside, if you do have an urge to see how the players train immediately before a Championship game I would strongly recommend you pop along to the BPA on a Thursday evening during the season.
I always found it fascinating – you’re always made welcome and in the past it’s been an opportunity to chat to Rowland Winter and gain an insight into what it is the coaches are looking for from the team and, indeed, from the opposition.
Yesterday, the one thing that did strike me was the pace at which training took place. There were no breaks, no opportunities for water or a breather, it was a case of perpetual movement; with players rushing from one play to the next, from one side of the pitch to the other. It was non-stop and frenetic.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Cov looking to put pressure on the opposition in this way over the course of the opening few games, as we mostly did in National One. The Championship seems to be played at a slightly slower tempo anyway so it might be something that works in Cov’s favour a little.
I’m always surprised at just how much the players ‘talk’ to each other out on the pitch, often a case of encouragement, occasionally frustration. The players definitely enjoyed themselves out there. There were a couple of notable absences (Sam T and David H amongst others – and thinking about it, I’m not sure I clocked Tom Kessell either).
It was a good turnout from the players with pretty much the whole of the main/A squads present. I think RW said in total that amounts to 56/57 players).
We then went indoors for a fans’ forum style ‘Q and A’ session, although with just about 30 minutes available it was little more than an opportunity for the coaches to explain where they currently are in terms of their own preparations with the squad, as well as for a couple or so questions at the end.
It was compered by Rhys Davies and although nothing new really came out of it, it was good to hear the likes of Louis Deacon and Jake Sharp, neither of whom I’ve heard speak in public in the past.
At previous forums, I’ve tended to make copious notes and then stay up to the early hours to produce a detailed post of what was said, but I’m disinclined to do that now – if the club wants to provide its supporters with that sort of detail, then its incumbent on them to do that, not its supporters.
However, I’ve included just the key points as I recall them (and without pen and paper I’m sunk these day, to be honest). In note form, apologies:
- the kit was revealed. RW suggested it had looked better on paper and explained that the key colours used on the home shirt, or related colours, couldn’t be used in the away one. With gold appearing on the club badge, it was decided to repeat this on the reserve strip;
- the pitch is a concern. The club has procured the services of the fire brigade and a local farmer and with plenty of war and some seed, RW felt Eric could weave his magic and produce a pitch that would be fine for the Moseley game in two weeks’ time;
- the club has opted not to take part in the Zoo League this season, instead it’s cherry-picked the fixtures that are best suited to it (Richmond, Jersey, OEs etc). Barnes 2XV aren’t going to benefit greatly from facing potentially the likes of Sammy T or Latu (and nor will the players). There will be one game a month at least for a Cov A team with fixtures against the armed services/varsity sides currently being organised. Several of the DS squad, those in the 19-20 age group(ish) will be loaned out to National Div2/One sides and recalled as and when;
- the club don’t see the Cup competition as anything but a positive (and rightly so, I can’t see why some Cov supporters have been so negative about it. I’ve always said it’s a great to be involved). We’ll be in it to win it (as we will with all the games we play this season). It will be an opportunity for the younger players like Joe Lane and Scott Russell to excel and there will be a host of senior players wanting to be involved as well. Music to my ears, that one;
- RW explained that he was fully understanding of the trial changes to the laws surrounding the tackle that will come into effect in the Cup competition. He’d been down to an RFU mtg (?) for Champ DoRs the week before in which the reasons behind the changes had been explained. The arguments were apparently compelling. If and when they are released publicly, he felt sure supporters would understand, too. The law could also work positively for Cov with the bigger, stronger wide-men that Cov have able to off-load more easily now;
- Hannah Walker spoke briefly to say that this was a much quieter period for her than was usual at this time. Rhys D plugged her private work (PRIME) and mentioned that her expertise was available to supporters as well
- Max Hartman also spoke briefly about the GPS tracking that was enabling his team to monitor the performances of players on a match day and in training. Interestingly, there was little difference between the data coming from those who were at Cov last season and those recruited from the Championship and above this summer. It’s too early too look at how the data has improved since its first use as it hasn’t been in operation long enough to draw such conclusions;
- Louis Deacon explained that he and the coaches had gone back to basics with the scrum, line-out and rucks, looking at, for instance, the lift in the line-out to enable players to jump higher to gain that little extra advantage, or starting with a 2 man ruck and building it up into a full 8 man scenario;
- RW felt that Ealing and London Irish are the two clear favourites for the league currently and the consensus is that whichever of the two teams loses that opening fixture in Week One of the campaign will be playing catch-up from then on.
- Louis D mentioned that as far as Cov is concerned, he hoped we’d be competing in the top 4 within 2-3 seasons.
- RW mentioned he was looking forward to playing both Ealing and London Irish and spoiling their seasons for them!
- Gully said he would be would be speaking to the players in the run-in to the Moseley game and would be focusing in the importance of the game in terms of the club’s history and to the supporters as well…
Visiting DoRs will be required to sit in the main stand this season under Championship rules and the club has made a space available to them at the far end (the clubhouse end). RW will be positioned alongside the media (towards the city end of the stand). In other words, they will be well apart, with Cov having the better vantage point!!!!! My words, not his.
That’s pretty much it really…if there were other things mentioned, I’ve forgotten them. Apologies.
I have to say whilst RW was rather less effusive about the new kit than he had been about it in its design, I’m of the opposite opinion. I really didn’t like it at all when I first saw it on the website, but having seen Lara model it (and thanks must go for her for organising the ticket collection) on Saturday, it kind of works despite the colour combination and looks far better than I thought it would.
I’m always happy to put my hand up when I got it wrong and I certainly did on that one.
Still not as good as those pink hoops, though.
The ‘Q and A’ session was followed by the ‘Family Fun’ session outside with youngsters invited to take part in a number of training activities.
Those that got involved clearly loved it and I have to say I thought Nile Dacres, in particular, was brilliant with the smaller kids, showing great patience and understanding. He epitomised what the day was really all about.
The crossbar challenge was won by Hendry Davies and he received a signed-ball donated from a particularly kind and generous supporter for his efforts.
Nice one, Hendry.
Players mingled with supporters, supporters with players…
I guess it was just as it was planned to be.
Or maybe not quite…
And this is where I return to the hole in the shoe…
I always try and put a positive slant on these occasions, and indeed there was much to be positive about yesterday.
However, I did think that it wasn’t particularly well attended, not given the importance of the coming season and the opportunity to meet so many new faces.
I guess there were probably between 150-200 there in all, with less than 100 in the ‘Q and A’ session. Of that 200-ish, if you take out the players’ families/partners/friends, then it would be much nearer the 125 mark, which given there are well over 700+ season ticket holders before even considering those fans who opt to pay on the gate, then I don’t think it’s that impressive.
At a guess, it was less than the numbers present last year…
Maybe the weather was a factor, although that’s unlikely.
Or maybe several hundred were away on holiday…
Or maybe it just wasn’t very well promoted.
The Supporters’ Club did there bit, with emails sent to every member and reminders on the Messageboard. But at best, there are only 250 Supporters’ Club members who would have received the email which is why the event really needs to be marketed by Cov and not the SC as the club has a much bigger audience.
Was the flyer emailed to everyone on Cov’s marketing list, for instance? If it was, then I didn’t receive it…
From the Wednesday of last week there was just one tweet promoting the event and on the Friday, almost too late in the day, the club released a very good CRTV interview with Scott Tolmie, also promoting it.
Not a great deal really.
If Coventry are to be a family-orientated club, then yesterday should have been a hugely important day for them, a day to sell the club as such.
Somewhere along the line, it wasn’t something that carried much appeal for most supporters.
And it should have done. New players, new season, new kit on view, no cost – all the ingredients were there.
Ironically, in the CRTV interview Scott T hits the nail on the head when he talks about the huge lift players get from the supporters and what a difference they can make…yet, in the same period of time, there was actually more promotion for the pre-season friendlies that don’t start for another two weeks.
Maybe I’m over-egging it a little, but I was disappointed by just how few attended, especially given the involvement of the players. Many were just left hanging around in groups as there wasn’t enough youngsters for all of them to get involved which was something of a shame.
Jon Sharp was kind enough to pop over and say hello and talk through some what is happening behind the scenes at Cov. To be honest, I’m not sure how much of it was in confidence and how much of it he’d be happy for me to share, so I’ll opt for discretion here. What I will say is it appears that plans for the development of the ground are WELL ahead of schedule and he is very much a man on a mission, supported exceptionally well by the likes of Phillip Crossman and Lara Hunter et al.
His commitment is obvious and it would now appear that the business side of the club is ahead of that of the playing side in terms of longer-term plans.
Exciting doesn’t really do it justice.
It’s a club that should now break even as early as the end of the season and with plans looking to be in place for the club to be self-sufficient within 12 months, he’s well on the way to achieving everything he set out to do a couple of seasons back…and more.
On the playing front, it’s too early to tell just how effective the squad and the coaches are at this level, but we do know that the structures are also in place to move the club forward and at a considerable rate of knots, with promotion into the Premiership the goal.
A successful business at one end of the spectrum, a success team at the other.
And in the middle, exactly where the hole would be were we back talking about Church’s brogues instead of the club, lie the spectators…and that is where the club hasn’t yet got the balance quite right for me.
RW has shown over and over again that he has an awareness of just how important the mood of the supporters is in the success of the club – something he demonstrated when he first came to Cov and improved things so dramatically with regard to communication between the club and its fan base.
But the demands of the Championship will mean he’s going to be pulled away from the oversight of all the aspects of the club that he probably had two years ago. For me, it now needs someone else in place to develop that link between club and supporter.
Tom Branston has done a huge amount to further it in many respects, providing us with a constant (and welcome) stream of news about what is happening on the training ground. Indeed, he was busy all afternoon filming and recording no doubt for future release on the website and social media. I’m looking forward to the Luc Jeannot interview especially.
But Tom and the Communications team are facilitators first and foremost, the conduits between club and supporter, not the decision-makers. It needs another Winter or another Sharp, with that same insight they share in their respective fields, to join all the dots.
The product the club is creating is going to be spectacular, indeed is still pretty impressive even now, of that I have no doubt.
But I’m not convinced it is as as far along the line in terms of it PR with supporters as it is in other areas of its business. I think we’ve seen that in terms of the pricing for the pre-season games.
Some dialogue from the club along with the announcement might have alleviated the disappointment and that mustn’t keep falling on RW’s shoulders all the time, at least I don’t think it should.
He’s got better things to do with his time – pick a side to beat Moseley and Wasps for starters.
An ex-player would be ideal for such a role, I reckon, someone respected and well-liked but who also understand the mood of supporters.
Us fans are in a really happy place right now, but it wouldn’t take much for the sentiments to change, especially with some disappointing performances early on. That’s exactly when you need to have someone working closely with supporters, who understands their worries and frustrations…which is exactly what was missing when it all went belly up under Maynard and Morgan.
Instead of a dialogue, it just went quiet.
And that wasn’t great.
So the hole in the shoe, that missing link between supporters (outside of those in the Supporter’s Club and the club itself) needs filling. Who actually represents the voice of the supporters on the Board, or is it represented, or should it be?
I’ve always been in favour of stakeholders having more of a voice .It’s improved in recent years with the return of the Supporters’ Club, but that isn’t necessarily the answer here.
It’s the person within the club who interacts with the supporters that is crucial.
(For me, the SC fulfils a different role in that its remit is really to provide a better experience principally for its paid-up members, different in many respects to what I’m suggesting which is more relevant to Cov supporters in general and probably not reflected necessarily in its constitution.
Traffic – Hole In My Shoe
Great song, although just a bit before my time.
My brother loved it though…