You’re on a yacht near an island in Greece
Though you are hot, forget me not
I will keep waiting until your return
Now you are gone, end of the season
Winter will come any day
Back in the scrum on a wet afternoon
Down in the mud, dreaming of flowers in June
End of the season
End of the season
The Kinks – End of the Season
Coventry Bears’ played their last game of the season last Saturday, at home to Hunslet – a team lying in 7th place in Betfred National One and still with something to play for, having outside chance of earning themselves a place in the promotion playoffs. For that to happen, the visitors had to beat the Bears.
Not one of those end of the season, nothing to play for games, this one.
At the time I said I thought the game was eminently winnable on the basis of what I’d seen earlier in the season, although in reality Hunslet had to be clear favourites despite the Bears’ home advantage. The visitors remain very much a part of the northern powerhouse and wins against the established sides are very few and far between for the expansion clubs that include London, Hemel, West Wales and Coventry..
But as it happens, they did win.
A close game it was too at 14 and in so doing brought their season to a close on a massive of a high. This represents yet another notch on the goalpost, so-to-speak…a great achievement to end a fantastic season.
The Bears have only been semi-professional for the last 4 years, but in that time they have earned increasing respect, especially this season on the back of some really impressive performances against sides that are bastions of rugby league in the north.
A first half display against Bradford which was as entertaining as anything I’ve seen in a long, long time and wins against Keighley and now Hunslet are just three of the highlights this season and seven wins in total is probably better than most would have expected back when the season started in mid-February.
I came to the party late on – deciding to pop along after the end of the Cov season in late April just to see what had become of the Bears really. I’d gone regularly in the first two or three seasons after their formation back in the late ’90s, but for whatever reasons I’d drifted away and hadn’t really shown a great deal of interest in between I’m ashamed to say.
Credit for my return to the fold must go to whoever is responsible for the Bears’ social media output. I’d followed the club on Twitter and its feed is as good as most clubs in the RFU Championship to be fair. Some of it is a good deal better.
The first game I watched was against York City Knights (the league winners in the end) and despite a hefty thumping that day, I was hooked from thereon in. I think I’m right in saying that the club had only won one game back then and it would be several more defeats before I would see my first Bears win.
But despite that, the Bears approach to their rugby was always an entertaining one from a supporter’s perspective and although the first three or four games I watched all resulted in 50 plus points conceded, there were spells in each of those games where they showed they were more than capable of competing at this level.
And those crowds…
So different to Cov. I guess the expectations at Bears’ games isn’t quite the same as when Cov are at home, but even though the home support might be small it is fiercely loyal and always supportive. Even after a 50 plus points defeat, the team were always applauded off and there was never a negative comment aimed at either the team or an individual player – although the referees occasionally got a polite-ish mouthful, but often in a fairly good-natured way, especially from visiting supporters from up North!
As good as the Bears’ fans are, some of those from the visiting clubs are something special. Bradford Bulls’ fans sung and clapped their way through the whole 80 minutes and applauded Cov players off before their own – they were brilliant. They even brought their own drummers.
Part of the initial enjoyment was being a part of those crowds, watching and listening to them as much as the games sometimes. Cov crowds often need something to happen in a game for them to come to life and by comparison can be quite subdued, although just as passionate about their club.
I’ve watched the Bears 8 times in all this season and for sure I’ll be watching them more regularly next season…and in in those 8 games I’ve changed from being pretty much a neutral within the crowd to becoming something approaching a ‘real’ supporter, going through much the same highs and lows as I do watching Cov. Against Keighley I’d felt like I’d been put through the ringer, so tense and exciting was it and the final few minutes seemed to be interminable.
And because the Bears don’t have the same history as Coventry and aren’t steeped in the same traditions, there is something really refreshing in their approach to their supporters.
A couple of Cov supporters who read the blog also have strong links to the Bears and are active in their support of them, so as soon as I posted following my first visit to see the Bears this season, the club were in contact, happy to offer additional info and materials that might be of use and retweeting the blog to their followers.
I’ve learned so much from the likes of Craig Cathcart, Tim Griffiths and Alan Robinson and have been made to feel so welcome. As I sometimes do, I made the odd howler, was a bit critical or said something perhaps a bit insensitive, but fortunately the club realised that I’m very much a newbie and have never had any experience of playing the game and just seemed appreciative that there was someone writing about the club who was very much on their side. They always retweeted posts and more often than not I’d get someone from the club providing me with a bit information to support something I might have mentioned or directing me to an article that might be of interest.
It’s a very different approach to Cov’s (which is entirely understandable given I can be something of a loose cannon at times!), and is really a great example of just how open the club is and just how grateful they are of anything or anyone that promotes the club. At the moment, the average attendances are, I’m guessing, around the 350 mark, so the more publicity the club can muster, the better – and purely on the entertainment they provide, they warrant bigger gates than that.
And for just £12 as well. Great value it is, too.
Interestingly, as far as the blog is concerned, the two posts with the greatest numbers of views this year have both been when I’ve written about Bears’ games, with well over 4,000 views eventually for the post on the Bulls’ game after a link was put onto a supporters’ messageboard. It was crazy.
Even this weekend Tim G sent me some photos taken after the Hunslet game and at the post match awards’ ceremony in the clubhouse – Tim, by the way, is the man behind the mike at the Bulls games – he really does a sterling job and together with the brilliant in-game sound effects, he keeps everyone informed and amused. His ‘Come On, Bears’ far out ranks are rather tame ‘COV-EN-TREE’.
Had Coventry not been involved in a Championship game last Saturday, I would have gone to the Butts and in retrospect, given the defeat at Hartpury and everything that has followed, I kind of wish I had. Next season, whilst I will remain a Cov fan first and foremost, I could well see myself watching Bears at home in preference, say, to Cornish Pirates away and I definitely would like to get to an away game or two
As for the Hunslet game, described in one post-match report as:
Probably their most complete performance since joining the professional ranks in 2015
Head Coach Tom Tsang felt:
We did everything right. This performance had been coming for a while and now its happened, I am so proud for the supporters.
Hunslet came dear as play-off contenders and we beat them, just like we beat Keighley and came close against Whitehaven.
We can now really look forward to next season as the team continues to improve
As ends to the season go, that’s a pretty good one.
And the even better news is that the win took the Bears to 11th in League One and above London Skolars, Hemel Stags and West Wales Raiders which is significant as that put them above the other expansion clubs and the top club on the ‘wrong’ side of the north south/divide.
Watched by a crowd of 380, which would have been another 30 or 40 up had Coventry not been playing too, the Bears dug deep and come the final whistle the players and fans were finally able to relax and enjoy the win:
There were also a number of post-match awards which took place in the clubhouse after the game. I’ve included the photos Tim forwarded to me as I know there will be people interested in seeing them, although I’m embarrassed to admit a lot of names and a few faces are unfamiliar to me.
I must make more of an effort next season to learn names early on…it would certainly help when posting.
Strangely appropriate lyrics in many respects:
Winter time is coming
All the sky is grey
Summer birds aren’t singing
Since you went away
Wishing everyone involved at the Bears well-earned break…
…see you next season.