Next to take the reins of Sky Blues Blog is my favourite deep-thinking, erudite, quick-witted, soon-to-be-returning-to-Twitter, ideas machine – Trampbeater.
This week, the man who conceived the hugely popular “Tie a Sky Blue Ribbon” campaign offers a thoughtful and perceptive understanding of how the upheaval this summer has impacted on Sky Blues supporters…
Life is full of contrasts. Darkness and light, defeat and victory, pleasure and pain, love and hate. Perhaps the human condition is characterised by how we experience and share these extremes and everything in between. A life spent without on occasion breaking through to touch greatness, or stumbling into the gutter and reaching the bottom – perhaps these are lives that are in truth not fully lived?
Yet how the upheavals of the Summer have given us all some extremes to experience as both “Coventry City and City of Coventry Supporters”, strange in itself to write the phrase now that it has become somehow important to distinguish between the two.
The facts we are presented with are easier to report than explain of course. The Sky Blues now play at Northampton while the owners plan the development of a new ground; circumstances arising because of a failure of the Football Club owners and Ricoh Arena owners to arrive at any more suitable arrangements between themselves. There’s a hell of a blame game going on about this with almost everybody else involved or affected. Club and ACL Staff, players, supporters, ratepayers, politicians and the media all strung out in between the whole intractable mess of extremes.
We are a few games into the season and already we can see how the chips are falling in terms of the impact upon Supporters. In sheer numerical terms, the revenue-paying, game-attending “Home” support has collapsed because of the move to Sixfields. 996 reported as attending the first game at Northampton, whilst up to 8,000 attending an event at the Ricoh billed in part as a protest in favour of keeping Coventry City playing in Coventry. That was largely expected and promised in the run up to the season, with Coventry City fan forums clearly articulating that many would not be attending the games, either through the additional inconvenience of travel, or more vociferously on objection to the move out of Coventry.
There is a deep suspicion and mistrust of the Club’s owner’s promise that the relocation is temporary while a new ground for the Sky Blues is built closer to home. There’s also an annoyance that the parties concerned have failed to negotiate a settlement that would allow the Club to play in the perfectly suitable (if not a bit soulless and too big for us) Ricoh Arena. As predicted, this has seen a perilous drop in support for the relocated Club.
What was less certain to predict was how the circumstances appear to have unified objections amongst supporters, so that protest events such as the Gosford Green to Broadgate March, the “Tie a Sky Blue Ribbon” campaign, and alternative activities for supporters to attend at the Ricoh Arena on CCFC match days, have all captured the imagination in the City. I think that many of us are surprising ourselves with the resolve that is being shown. The collective spirit to gather and demonstrate that there is support for unified protest, being carried out largely peacefully and constructively, rather than passively “staying away” which has been our default method of protest until now, leading to a more than half-empty Ricoh and with it promoting a spiral of decline.
The unifying factor for many is the defence of Civic Pride, combatting the threat to the City of Coventry at large rather than the Football Club; the ignominy of having the City be without its football team, to some, stolen away in a cynical manipulation of the circumstances for political or commercial gain. I think that some (not all) supporters who live away from Coventry feel less offended or passionately anti the move. In material terms for myself, the physical inconvenience of going to Northampton now is less than if as a kid, living in the shadow of Highfield Road floodlights, I had been told that The City were moving out to Long Ford – as good as Bedworth for a lad like me. In fact, I still know people who have never settled in at the Ricoh after all these years, and some who vowed never to set foot in there after we moved from Highfield Road. So yes, feelings and passions run deep – the turmoil of the move is a challenge to the sense of place for many; their cultural identity, their sense of belonging and their sense of the community’s worth.
So to the matter of the divisions between supporters that are currently pretty rampant, between people wanting to go to see their team at Northampton, and those that would rather not, or who deny that the team is any longer “theirs” at all. So long as there is a little respect shown for differing points of view, not for them to be agreed, but at least to be allowed to be held, there is little harm any such views inflicts upon the other. With Sixfields attendances so paltry, they are unlikely to impact the “Not One Penny More” campaign against Sisu/Otium/CCFC, so it doesn’t make too much sense to vilify those that feel for whatever their reasons they must attend the game, unless the point is to intimidate others not to follow their example.
Like it or not, our support can be fickle, and the divisions between fans can be healed over time, but if not, it is hardly as if it matters after all is it? Nowhere does it say we have to like each other. In fact, one of the great things about sport is how what happens on the pitch can unify our spirits temporarily before we all go our separate ways. “Real” friendships will not be broken over our decisions about whether to go to Northampton or not – only facile acquaintances short on respect; friendships that probably weren’t worth the effort of having anyway. There will be some who follow the City because most of all they love their fellow fans, but they are few and far between. The familial spirit, the tribal mentality, it doesn’t work like that, unless it is attacked, or faces a common foe. Pretty much like the City in general really. The Suits should take note.
But they won’t. Just for the avoidance of doubt (in case anyone was abusing themselves with thinking otherwise), no one in the business of football cares for what supporters think really, beyond what we are prepared to pay for. It was ever thus, and for the time we have left, it shall remain.
Ultimately the near unanimity of the outcry against recent events comes not from an objection to, or a fear of change, but from an objection and fear of loss. Many do not trust that we are not set out on a path that will see us lose our football club forever. It appears that for some that point has already been arrived at. Some may still have hope that the situation can be redeemed, and seek to affect change by the protest of not attending games at Northampton. Some would advocate direct or legal action to effect regime change and reinstate what is being lost; others would rather start all over again, small yet fresh and new, unencumbered by the baggage of the past rancour and bitterness.
Even for those who are travelling to Northampton to attend games, I find that most similarly have a tipping point, albeit for them that point has not yet been reached. “If we don’t return to Coventry in 3 years…”, “If we merge with Northampton…” – All these things, questions of degrees – we all have different breaking points, a certain amount of loss we can endure, and then no more.
Indeed. “And then no more…”