As Coventry City fans, we are now well used to the drudgery of a flaccid pre-season. Throughout the aimless reigns of Reid, Adams, Dowie and Coleman, we’d be promised this, only to end up with, well, that, and frankly it’s probably true to say that not since the giant killing days of Gordon Strachan’s managerial midterm have we truly felt any sense of genuine unfiltered enthusiasm.
That was, we said tentatively, until the beginning of last season. Chris Coleman and his buddy boy act was now out on its ear, and ex-Watford promotion hero Aidy Boothroyd was in on his (no mean task considering the size of them). Under ‘Boothy’, as nobody ever took to calling him, discipline was instilled, cash was splashed and talk was talked. Better still, this talk was actually believed, because in the form of new signing Marlon King, we were also promised goals. Goals?! This truly was dreamland.
And guess what? After an early run of combative victories and decent draws, come November/December time we actually found ourselves within a realistic tramp’s sniff of the playoff places. Things really were looking up! Granted, those dazed and confused veterans of the terraces wondered to exactly where up was, but optimistic idiots like myself were soon to point them in the right direction, we were aiming towards the sky… blue… and soon enough both branches of fans, the dazed and the wildly optimistic alike, found themselves united in what had now become a beautiful world; a world where week in, week out we would yell PLAY UP SKY BLUES! As loud as our hitherto repressed and downtrodden voices allowed us and where we started to really, finally, and without any sense of impending doom or dread, stop merely dreaming of a return to Premier League stardom and believe that it could, truly, if we were lucky, happen.
But things are never quite that simple, are they?
You see, as it turned out, we didn’t have the depth, or the longevity… or, indeed, the goals, to mount anything like a serious challenge for anything you’d seriously consider to be of any worth, and the pivot point for this rapid turnaround in ambitions was almost definitely the home game against Leeds United. Standard pre-match spirits had grown so high by the time the fixture came around, that nobody it seemed needed their traditional swift half-a-thousand pints before kick off anymore, and rumours began to emerge that even the sleepers amongst the local populace, those who’d lost faith long ago, that even they’d gotten wind of all this fanciful talk of a footballing resurrection that was supposedly taking place from within the rounded metallic confines of the fortress Ricoh. Most enticingly, they’d heard of goals, and from the feet of our very own King, and so it proved, when a record league crowd of 28,184 swaggered into the Rioch Arena, not just dismissing any notion of any threat of any kind to our footballing superiority, but actively believing that there couldn’t feasibly be one anyway. Leeds United? Pfft! Simon Grayson and his tactical nouse? Pfft! Max Gradel and his ability to mesmerize from the flanks? Pfft! We were Coventry City, all nigh on 30,000 of us, and we were going places at last.
Where we were actually going, though, was to a little place known as ahead of ourselves, the reality being that after half a season of well and truly flattering to deceive, the boys then well and truly capitulated in front of a newly believing public to lose 3-2. Not too bad a result perhaps in itself, but what followed was a painful run of about three million 1-0 defeats, which saw combative turn to crap, decent turn to dissenting and ultimately, Boothroyd’s brand of route one football turn to nothing but his overdue dismissal and 18th position in the league. Talk about cold hard facts.
But in reality, those facts weren’t actually anywhere near cold and hard enough, because despite the brief flicker of optimism that the first few games of Andy Thorn’s reign as manager provided, the subsequent summer lull has done very little indeed to temper the flames that now engulf our dying empire. The dominant talk has been about the state of play off the field, in the boardroom, where a series of convoluted financial maladies have contrived to mean, quite plainly, that we’re broke, and the long overdue admission from that current board, a hedge fund named SISU, that yes, actually, you’re right, we have absolutely no money, does nothing to dull the pain of the bottom line it creates, one that makes for the grimmest of readings, that any viable attempt to restructure a depleted squad is likely to involve a bit of barrel scraping… if we’re lucky.
And, really, avoiding all talk of takeovers until money is put where mouths are, if 18th position in the Championship last season can be rightly considered as not good enough for a side with players as capable as Ireland goalkeeper Kieron Westwood (now of Sunderland, free transfer), the aforementioned Jamaica striker Marlon King (now of Birmingham City, free transfer) and Iceland’s Aron Gunarsson (now of CCFC… the other one… free transfer, tribunal, we probably got a fiver), then it makes you wonder really what the future holds for a side that is now not just peppered with youth, but salted with it too, and which has added just two new experienced faces in the form of goalkeepers Joe Murphy and Chris Dunn.
But as I mentioned earlier, I am an optimistic idiot, and in Andy Thorn, I truly think we have a manager of some standard of excellence. In the few games under his guidance at the end of last season, there were some excellent footballing displays, the kind of which that whilst although you’re never happy to, you don’t mind so much losing with. More important though, to me at least, is the fact that Thorn has a genuinely refreshing attitude for a football manager; one of pure pragmatism, there are no nauseating clichés and he is in my view almost the sole good thing we’ve got going for us at the moment. A veteran of the great Wimbledon era, he played in the bruising FA Cup final that became that clubs finest hour in 1988, a year after our own. Thorn is also a man with a public profile amusingly in contrast in size with his girthy waistline, and that is no sleight on him, because whilst he may be a big lad with a huge head, it is from within that head that comes this seemingly endless stream of common sense, a brand of straight talking with which he is quickly becoming a cult hero for a Coventry crowd seeking sanity.
The question really is whether that will be enough? Whilst it’s certainly true that he has absolutely no track record in football management, he was the chief scout for us for a number of years, and as such was the man largely responsible for seeking out the majority of the talent that we’ve managed to attract in recent seasons, so you do get the feeling he knows a good player when he sees one. Whether that will translate or not over the course of a season, or indeed, however long it takes him to get sacked, I cannot say with any certainty, other than in the fact that I feel with almost all of my body and soul that if anybody can take this depleted and fractured squad to the dizzying heights of not getting relegated, it’s going to be Thorny. And unlike ‘Boothy’ he really is getting called that.
I’ll finish off this rousingly miserable preview with a bit of pomp and circumstance to perk things up a bit. Before the season started, the club honoured it’s all time hero and the man it is indebted probably more than any other: Chinny Jimmy/Jimmy Hill. He needs no introduction to City fans; or to Fulham fans, or to the association of football linesmen, or Des Lynam (or indeed, to Sunderland fans, answers on a postcard), but for everybody else it’s worth mentioning that Jimmy is the man who made us; the man who adorned us in Sky Blue and then dragged us up with some considerable style, right from the lower reaches of league football all the way to the peaks and glories of Europe. He truly is Mr. Coventry City, and a week or so before the new season kicked off, the man himself was present at the Ricoh Arena to unveil an excellent statue, his doppelganger in bronze, after which, with not a dry eye in the place, he lead the gathered fans in a rousing rendition of our club song, the one he penned all those years ago.
I was there, and as always when anything to do with Jimmy crops up, our minds go back once again to those halcyon days where we were winning divisions and not just making up their numbers, and where our players played snooker and supped friendly pints with its fans. We are now in these times of struggle, well used to pontificating about the majesty of that era, and rightly so, but my point here is a lot more present than that. I don’t know whether it was just me, but standing there watching Jimmy unveil the statue and whatever else, I sensed a different mood than you usually find surrounding this kind of trip back in time. There was a darker quality in the air, no doubt in my mind due to the much starker contrast than even we as City fans have been used to between the endless optimism of then and the seemingly endless pessimism of now. At first, it was quite a sobering thought, and for a little while after the event I felt a little bit depressed that an event honouring Jimmy had ended up making me feel that way. Could things really be as bad as they seem? You know what, it might well be that they are, it is going to be perhaps our longest and hardest season in living memory, and there has been plenty of talk amongst fans of season ticket mutinies, of relegation and even of the dreaded administration.
But then it struck me.
We should never, ever, give up on our club; Jimmy didn’t, not until the TV companies came a-knocking, and I don’t think Thorny will either. We need now, more than ever, to just get right behind our Coventry City and sing louder than we’ve ever sung before; we need to return to the simple pleasure of just enjoying our football, and we need to make Coventry City once more the bastion of sporting dignity and endeavour the like of which Chinny would recognise. We need to forget the boardroom rubbish and the hideousness that was the false Kingdom of Marlon and Aidy, and instead, we should endeavour, along with the current crop of players, a lot of whom are Cov kids in themselves, along with the manager, to build up a new a Republic; the Republic of Andy Thorn and his Crazy Sky Blue Gang. So in my best Dave Bennett voice, I say to you come on you Sky Blues, stop playing up and PLAY UP!
Written by Paul Martin, We Are Going Up’s Coventry City Blogger
Paul tweets at @AgeSechsLokashn