[Or.. Coventry City FC return to the Ricoh]
“My name is John, and I’m a Coventry City supporter….”
There, I’ve said it. And despite various attempts to address my dependency, its a habit that refuses to die…
In truth, I don’t remember exactly when it crept up on me. Unlike Nick Hornby, I don’t have any recollection of my first game, beyond knowing that I started watching the City during the 1967-68 season. The collection of football programmes that I still have tells me this. But maybe the detail isn’t important…its what football can still mean, the memories that it holds, and how it can still be a powerful uniting force. [And yes, I know the contradictions that exist in a world riven with poverty where footballers at the top level earn obscene amounts of money, where ticket pricing and corporate sponsorship prices out ‘ordinary fans’, and where the undercurrents of race and hate are not far beneath the surface].
It starts out as one of those father and son things I guess…and I suspect there are hundreds of thousands of fans around the country with similar recollections as to how the ritual began. My Dad watched the City because it was what you did, and when I was deemed old enough for the initiation, I went with him…along with my friend Phil, who was embarking on a similar rite of passage with his Dad.
It never really occurred to me to follow anyone other than the City…it was my home town after all and there was already a perverse delight in following such a team of perpetual under-achievers who for most of the time during my early years were continually flirting with relegation from the old Division 1, with the occasional flash of inspiration. (Yes… I was at Highfield Road for the The Ernie Hunt Donkey Kick…. and we also (briefly) had the Lizard King (sic) on our books !!!). And of course, there was always Jimmy Hill.
I’m sure Phil secretly kept the faith despite being seduced by Liverpool and the silky skills of Steve Heighway… I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he was a glory hunter, as he might be reading this… 🙂
Despite moving away from Coventry at the end of 1970’s, the City result was always the first one I looked for, even though it was very rare that I got back ‘home’ to see a game, content to see the occasional away game that brought them down south to Portsmouth or Southampton. As something of a fair weather fan, the 1987 Cup Final was something that (rightly) I couldn’t get a ticket for, and so had to be content with watching our finest moment on TV. (Unless you count beating Trakia Plovdiv of Bulgaria in the Fairs Cup back in 1970…)
….and so what, you’re probably asking.
Well here’s the “like father, like son” thing… In the 1990’s my son Rob started to take an interest in football, and like all good parents, I felt it my responsibility to guide him away from the unseemly influences of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and the like. After all, he had no real connection with any of these teams, with the only commonality being that they were good, and seemed to keep winning things…
And so it was that the ritual was re-born…a 280 mile round trip to remake a connection with my home town, and to introduce another generation to another season of hope and optimism which, with a certain degree of inevitability, starts to fade into disappointment, with just the occasional glimmer of what might be, if the club wasn’t becoming a financial basket case, selling all of its best players, getting relegated from the Premiership to Division 1, incurring a points deduction, selling off the crown jewel that was Highfield Road, entering into a ludicrous rental arrangement on the new stadium which was financially unsustainable, culminating in a toxic relationship between the club’s current owners, Coventry City Council, and the stadium owners and a season of playing our ‘home’ games in Northampton.
And yet we kept the faith…and held onto the belief that maybe things would take a turn for the better. Don’t jump ship, don’t become a glory hunter, don’t forget the reason that you started watching football in the first place.
Coventry City 1 Gillingham 0
A small glimmer….