Until the start of this millennium a favourite pub teaser set by football nerds was to request the four clubs who have been in the top flight the longest.
They would then sit back smugly as their mate swiftly rattled off Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton before a prolonged spell of head-scratching would commence interspersed by numerous incorrect guesses. “Spurs?….ah I got it, Aston Villa!”
No-one ever thought of Coventry City and sadly that omission will continue today as the club plays out its last fixture in the Championship before dropping to its lowest level in sixty years. For a club that was a mainstay of the top tier from 1967 to 2001 their demotion to League Two represents an ignominious fall from grace that mirrors that of Man City, Forest, Leeds and Wednesday in recent times but there will be scant media coverage and all-too-few tears shed by the wider football community. It is tempting to suggest that the sky blues have been sent to Coventry but aside from a brief spell under Strachan, with Huckerby and Dublin ruthlessly tearing sides apart and of course a memorable FA Cup triumph, this non-committal apathy has always plagued the West Midlands outfit despite them going toe-to-toe with the big guns on a weekly basis for several generations.
They’ve just always been…there.
Except now they may not. At all. Having been hopelessly mismanaged by their venture capitalist owners SISU to the point where they are unable to pay the annual rent on a ground jointly owned by the local council and a charity, the club’s existence lies in genuine threat. Tenants in their own home, with a threadbare squad, a hostile split between fans and board, and an ever-mounting debt the drop will hit Coventry hard with administration looming in the near-distance as a decade-long decline both on and off the pitch has its inexorable impact. Supporters, who as always in these circumstances have been impeccable throughout fighting – sometimes literally – for the future of their club, now find themselves in the awful situation of only half-wanting SISU out. After a sustained period of protests demanding their exit it now appears they may get what they so desperately wanted. But with no new backers on the horizon things could then become even more perilous.
Coventry’s raison d’être for many years has been overcoming adversity, usually in the form of a relegation dogfight, and it is hoped that such defiance has seeped into the club’s bloodstream and will stand them in good stead. Certainly the supporters have been battle-hardened and it’s a wonder if those who were at White Hart Lane for the miracle last day escape on 1997 don’t still have thousand yard stares just from that game alone.
They also crucially have a good man at the helm. Andy Thorn is a decent manager who has worked under exceptionally difficult circumstances often being forced to sell key experienced personnel and having to blood talented but under-prepared kids.
So there is hope, and in football sometimes just that can be enough to pull you through.
They may be perceived to lack a certain glitz and glamour that other clubs possess and their in-house struggles may have prompted a strange apathy among the wider football circles but I for one will be desperately rooting for the sky blues next term and hope not just for survival but a rebirth. Maybe, as a Man City fan, it’s the colour of the kit that has always evoked a sympathetic allegiance in me. Maybe it’s the ace badge that bizarrely features an elephant, castle, phoenix and griffin. Perhaps it’s the memory of Houchen diving for glory; an act that I promptly recreated in my mate’s back garden before being called home for a chippy tea.
Whatever the reason what is beyond dispute is that they are a proper club with proper support and deserve infinitely better than their current plight.
In 1981 The Specials wrote ‘Ghost Town’ as a disillusioned eulogy to their hometown. The second line is particularly pertinent – ‘All the clubs have closed down’. Yet there is one that is still open for business and let us hope that will forever be so.