Another season in League One awaits dear old Coventry City. The temptation to add to the handsome collection of season previews is a strong one, but I’ve resisted the lure of statistics this year and come up with another way of bringing in the new campaign.
Introducing the notion of supporter self-improvement.
When you follow a club so inherently riddled with negativity and self-deprecation as Coventry City, by necessity you gain a level of tolerance over the idiosyncrasies of your fellow fan. You sit there, abiding the range of dipsticks around you, and over the course of time develop an immunity to the waffle that engulfs your matchday experience. There appears to be an engrained methodology to being a Coventry supporter, and while we in the stands may be used to it, I can’t help but wonder about how this can impact on the mentality of the players and the club as a whole.
Clearly we can’t blame ourselves for everything that happens on the pitch, or for Andy Thorn, but it occurs to me that there may be elements of self-improvement we could benefit from.
I’d like to contribute a selection of potential adjustments for this season. Influencing mass psychology is a massive task and I don’t necessarily assert these as a definitive list of rules. They are points for consideration. A list of ideals and improvements to coerce the losing mentality out of us.
For me, the task is clear this season: we must make the shift from a club that’s not finished in the top six of any league since ‘Nam, to one that actually believes it can win promotion in the third tier of English football. We’re conditioned to believe this is a Herculian task. It really shouldn’t be.
Could changes to any of the following elements finally help to realign the trajectory of the club’s performance on the pitch?
1. Tony is our manager – let us not have any more
With the huge caveat that if he loses twenty on the spin he will probably have to sling his hook, Tony Mowbray has come in, made the right noises, and most noticeably brought about a genuine sense of leadership and control over the team. That has to be a good thing.
For years we’ve longed for a figurehead, and there are signs that this bloke could be it. Pre-season hasn’t gone to plan, but deafening Clive Eakin with the assertion that he needs to be sacked if we don’t win many games in August really can’t be the way to go. A season is too long a slog to allow a poor run of games early on to define it.
Sure, expect and demand a certain level of quality to keep standards up, but we can’t lose our shit if things don’t go perfectly straight away. And certainly not before the end of the transfer window. That’s no way to carry on.
2. Thou shalt not shout “forward”
This really shouldn’t need any explanation in 2015, but the game has evolved and teams now value possession and control of a football match far more than they used to.
Yes, you may get frustrated if we’ve spent ten minutes passing the ball from side to side across our penalty box. That’s a legitimate grievance. But if 5 minutes into the game Romain Vincelot knocks the ball back to Reda Johnson rather than attempting a volleyed through-ball on his weaker foot, stadium-wide screeches of “forward” place the wrong kind of pressure on the players.
If a move breaks down and we have to start again, let’s do that and assert ourselves as the dominant team, dictating the flow of the match rather than playing forward for the sake of appeasing groans in the stands.
A high-risk ball over the top may work sometimes, but we have to let the players decide what’s best. They don’t need 8000 hyped-up people making that call for them. Especially when a manager like Mowbray (and most coaches nowadays) will also be expecting them to retain possession. It’s essentially criticism for doing the right thing.
There’s enough pressure associated with football, why introduce doubt over such trivial things as passing the ball at a right-angle?
3. Embrace James
We’ve fallen very lucky and have unearthed a gem. James Maddison is the real deal.
Yes, he is small and looks younger than me. But the kid has something that most youth players soon lose when exposed to the first eleven – the belief that he is not only good enough to be in the team, but better than those around him.
Maintaining that confidence is absolutely critical to his performance and continued development. A James Maddison minus the confidence to act on his ability would not get into our team. We need to embrace his ingenuity and creative instincts, not rein them in like we English tend to do with players who show such expressive tendencies.
He will get stronger as he ages, but providing he gives his all, we can’t really expect his role in the team to extend into winning tackles and aerial duels. Let’s focus on his strengths, allow him some freedom to express himself in attacking areas, and offer guidance and protection if things or passes are going awry, not give up on him.
4. Turn up
I hate attending a stadium riddled with insect paraphernalia. It puts me off as much as the next guy. But nobody wants to be rattling around such a huge stadium on match day.
Tickets are fairly priced. The kit is reasonably funky. And without shining too much of a light on him, James Maddison has been worth the admission fee in most of his appearances to date.
It’s painful to see Coventry City Football Club usurped by a rogue Rugby club. I realise there are still political and emotional reasons that run deep for many fans, and a few words in a blog probably aren’t going to adjust those overnight, but if you have a connection to this club and want it to do well, find a way to be there for the team as much as you can. We miss you.
At the very least, it’ll help us get a few more players in, although I’m never too sure how much to believe that.
5. Do not celebrate poor attendances
It may seem daft but there’s a key cultural issue to address at our club, and showing such audible pride in 7000 attendances can’t be the best way to shake that. Let’s recognise that a half empty stadium doesn’t reflect well on us, and congratulating ourselves on it just makes us look like a bunch of idiots.
They’ve closed a stand this year, and while I’ve made my peace with the reasons behind that (even though it’s an all too visual representation of our decline), that doesn’t mean we have to celebrate the point.
Let’s save the self-congratulation for a time when it’s actually deserved and isn’t going to encourage even more ridicule.
6. Don’t panic
In line with the early note about Mowbray, it feels important to remember a key point about how football works.
Every football team loses matches.
I know it’s gutting when it happens, especially when it’s completely avoidable. And I go mad with the best of them. But maybe we need to calm ourselves? How often has the relationship between one game and another proven completely erroneous, with the team losing one match then turning on the style a few days later.
By the end, Pressley’s issue seemed to be that he’d lost the courage in his convictions and reacted too-heavily to every single defeat, even when the team performance displayed signs of a potentially cohesive unit.
Wholesale changes are not always the answer if you lose a game. As hard as it may be, there will be times in the upcoming season where we have to keep our cool and place a poor performance down to just that.
7. Don’t be a bully
We’re there to be vocal and show our feelings towards to the team. But there’s something truly uncomfortable when the focus begins to hone in on the performance of one player, and before you know it, this mutates into an obsession that consumes an all-too audible quota of the crowd.
Adam Barton was the unfortunate recipient of this last season. He coped reasonably well given that everyone seemed to hate him, but we all know what comes next: that unsavoury cheering of a player being substituted that doesn’t help anyone, and just makes us fans look like dicks.
8. Demand more
I’ve alluded to this throughout, but we have to start to recognising that we’re in League One, and while it’s a proven to be nuisance of a league, there’s very little excuse for our intention to be anything other than challenging come the end of the campaign.
The aim this season is promotion. We can talk about it. It’s fine.
9. Don’t wish our lives away
So often we get to January, feel like we’re too far away from achieving anything, and seem to just give up on the season and accept our fate.
Players aren’t completely disengaged from the things we say. If anything they’re closer to our thoughts than ever before. Knowing they’ve already achieved what is acceptable to the fans can’t be conducive to success. Set the bar high, and even if you don’t quite reach the bar, you’re more likely to do better than if you set the bar too low in the first place. At least that’s how I see it.
It might feel realistic and safe to set mediocre expectations for the season ahead and hold off pushing for anything for a few more years, but all it does validate the deferral of achievement. We’re not going to luck our way to success. We’re going to have to make it happen.
Sheffield Utd went from 23rd to 7th between Valentines Day and the end of the season in 2014. That’s an extreme example, but that ascent proved that even the worst season can be turned around. Let’s not give up on a season before it’s already started.
10. Let’s go for it
We all have our own views about how best to support the team. The points above are really just a selection of things which from my viewpoint appear to encapsulate our mindset as a losing club. I don’t want to be that club anymore, and after a lifetime with absolutely zero success to speak of, you have to wonder if the unique atmosphere and culture we’ve created contributes a stronger influence over the performances of our club than we’d care to admit.
This may seem like it’s a list of things that I think will fix everything, but it just seems that way. If anything it’s a list of hopes, and quite possibly contradictions. But we all want Coventry City to achieve, and maybe it’s a sign of desperation that I’m now looking at elements beyond the pitch in attempt to bring about that success.
After a rotten few summers, we’re now entering a season back at the Ricoh Arena with a brand new manager and a team with some very good players in it. If we can find a way to supplement those with a few more bodies, I say we puff out our chests and show the league that we’re not the self-deprecating Coventry City we’ve allowed them to think we are for so long.
It’s time for a new era at this club. And it starts this season.