It’s hard to write about supporting Coventry without wallowing in self-pity and naval-gazing about the point of it all. Basically, good things don’t happen to Cov fans.
My last game was the 4-1 defeat away to Oxford in November. I left in disgust, lamenting the wasted money, the time I could have spent on something infinitely more rewarding, and the apparent lack of commitment from some of those involved in the club – it felt like a tipping point. An unacceptable performance that was, by all accounts, followed by yet further unacceptable performances in my absence.
Without sifting through stats and analysing case studies, it feels as though falling short is embedded in the make up of our DNA.
When automatic promotion looked likely last season, we somehow didn’t even make the play-offs. When reaching the Football League Trophy regional final against Crewe in 2013, with Wembley tantalisingly close, we brought 32,000 fans to the Ricoh and bottled it. When we went into administration a few months later, we somehow came out of it with the same destructive owners who’d taken us into administration in the first place.
We rely on young players and journeymen, and the big stage frightens and overawes us. “Typical Cov”, the refrain goes, as yet another defence made up of underprepared teenagers and creaking has-beens concedes a late goal in farcical circumstances. “Typical Cov”, murmurs the guy sitting behind you as our latest six-game loan striker slices wide a sitter, apparently unaware that there are points at stake in first team football. This is what we know, and this what we expect.
The decline and neglect of the club over the past 15 years has permeated the mindset of players and fans, and there is so rarely anything left to be proud of. The infamous and tiresome off-field issues have almost become a default excuse for failure.
Managers are allowed to underperform because: #SISUOUT. Rivals buy talented players and our response is often that our best players deserve better than us (we all deserve better than ‘us’).
The owners are ultimately responsible for where we are as a club, but their presence also feeds this toxic inferiority complex, and excuses failings – whether the owners are directly responsible or not. This is never more apparent than when you go and watch other, more functional clubs and see how they do things.
How sweet, then, to find ourselves, almost inexplicably, competing in a cup final at Wembley. There can’t be many Cov fans that genuinely believe the Checkatrade Trophy is a credible competition. It’s not. The inclusion of Premier League and Championship academy sides is an insult to the competition and to the historic and well-supported lower league teams that compete in it.
The meagre attendances and scorn heaped upon it are no less than it deserves. If the Football League evaluates the competition at the end of the season and truly believes that the changes they’ve made have been a success, you have to worry for the critical reasoning skills of those making the decisions.
It speaks volumes that Oxford were the only the second League One side the Sky Blues faced in the competition. The road to Wembley took in three ties against academy sides, two games against Wycombe Wanderers, and victories over Crawley Town and Northampton Town. Attendances at the group stage averaged just over 1,500.
But standing at Wembley surrounded by more than 40,000 Cov fans singing the Sky Blue Song, the merits of the competition became immediately irrelevant. It wasn’t about the EFL, or Shaun Harvey, or Sisu – it was simply about us. A moment of catharsis and a glimpse into the world of fans whose clubs aren’t cursed like ours is.
Watching 11 players perform as a passionate, cohesive, organised unit and throwing everything at the cause in the name of victory evoked 1987 more than any nostalgic tat I’ve ever seen in the club shop (do we still have a club shop?).
The ecstasy as we went ahead inside 15 minutes through academy graduate Bigi, and then further disbelief as we found ourselves 2-0 up thanks to a moment of genius from George Thomas, another CCFC academy graduate. We’ve only gone 2-0 up five times in the League, FA Cup and League Cup combined this season. Talk about rising to the big occasion.
The nerves after Oxford’s goal; the five minutes of injury time and that distant and agonising 94th-minute goalmouth scramble; crisis averted thanks to Bigi and Lee Burge (yet another academy graduate).
The thousands of grown men and women welling up as the final whistle blew, remembering those unable to be there and smiling disbelievingly at those present, spanning generations. Children witnessing history that will stay with them forever, scenes that might even tie them to the club for a lifetime (for better or for worse).
The surreal feeling of watching Coventry players ascending the Wembley steps to lift a trophy (an actual trophy), before returning to the pitch to pose for a team photo, amidst sky blue jester hats and fireworks and thousands of CCFC fans singing their hearts out.
The Sky Blue invasion of London’s pubs afterwards, Coventry songs echoing into the capital’s night sky against a backdrop of Wembley’s iconic arch illuminated in our colours.
Things. Like. This. Do. Not. Happen. To. Coventry.
And. Yet…it did. And it was beautiful, and life affirming.
It’s not a new dawn, and we return swiftly to the reality of almost certain relegation to the fourth tier, but it was an unforgettable and desperately needed holiday from perpetual misery.
Now we know that good things can happen to Coventry City, and that in itself is something worth clinging on to and remembering next time we enter the big stage with “typical Cov” lurking ominously at the back of our minds.