It’s taken a little longer than it should have, but we’re finally here. The last in this frankly gargantuan series brings me on to what is possibly the most obscure and subjective topic for discussion in football: culture. I’m going to take a little break after this post to give the site a jolly good sort out before the start of next season, so I hope this will prove a suitably interesting piece to see you through the next few weeks.
It’s an often disregarded aspect of the game, and certainly a touchy one at the moment given Roy Keane’s outburst towards the Irish mentality and their apparent joy at pissing away a major tournament. Maybe we don’t like to talk about it, because it’s too hard to fix. Or maybe it’s due to an unawareness of its presence or influence, or even a belief that there’s little link there in the first place.
I’m really not sure why, but I’m adamant culture has been an issue at Coventry City, and a core one, at that. As with all my pieces, this comes with a fairly hefty caveat. This is purely my perspective of things – I appreciate many won’t agree. It’s simply not possible for you to agree with every point I make here.
Ambition at the club has been minimal for years. We spent thirty-odd years in the top flight and generally were content to be the underdogs for the most of it. Some would call that realism, and in many ways, there was never really any indication that we could push on and be a big club.
Unfortunately, season upon season without any real success breeds a certain type of culture and acceptance amongst supporters, and we’ve seen this manifest during our woeful decade in the Championship.
1987 aside, we’re possibly the most unsuccessful team in the country over the last 25 years. There’s been no finals, no play-offs, no promotions, and most crucially, no top 6 finish. This final one is a critical influence on support, as it means there’s been no season during that time with what you could describe as consistency.
As a club, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to win or be successful, and as fans, it seems we struggle to know how to react anymore. We’re used to failure, and support the team in a way which might even breed that nowadays. It’s a bloody horrid cycle, really.
For ten years during the Championship, we’d hear the relentless murmor about “building years” and settling for realistic improvement. Our first year in the second tier was going swimmingly, but following the needless introduction of Jim Smith fiddling with Roland’s formula, we bottled it. That was certainly a reality check for a lot of fans who were sure we’d make a swift return to where we’d become so accustomed. That year we thought it was our moment for some success again after so long, and when it didn’t arrive, it hit us hard.
As the Championship years have wore on, the gradual acceptance of mediocrity throughout the club has become rife. Chris Coleman’s era in particular best displayed how bad the issue of negativity and lack of real ambition had become.
Just look back at the team and the players we had back then. There was financial support to achieve, and we should have been challenging for promotion with the players available. Most have gone on to promotion chasing or Premiership clubs since. Keiren Westwood, Scott Dann, Dan Fox, Ben Turner, Martin Cranie, Elliot Ward, Leon Best, Aron Gunnarsson. All Championship players (and more), but they were never pushed to succeed from any level of the sky blue hierarchy.
We only ever aimed for “improvement”. Sisu came in, it should have been a new dawn and the start of a period of growth for the club. There was never any committment to this. There was far too much happiness to defer achievement and judgement for another year.. every year.
It was nonsense approach. We had some money, and yet we were wishing our life away. Even with some of Coleman’s tactics and technique gradually infected the individuals, that team was never a bottom half team. Yet every season, the arguments and disagreements amongst us lot would be there, with fans streaming to the phonelines to give grief to those who dare to question the endless mediocrity.
“Be realistic”. “This is where we are at the moment”. “We are a mid table team”. “It’s a building year”. “We’ve improved on last year”.
We heard it all.
Nevermind that the previous year we’d finished despicably low. Even a solitary point improvement on the season prior was seen as adequate by the fans and regime alike. That’s not the way to move on in the world.
Looking back over those players and how we as fans, treated the group, it makes you wonder just what qualities we’re actually after in a player. It’s well-known that we’ve booed and goaded players like Elliot Ward, Leon Best, Jay Bothroyd, in our time, while idolising persistent pests like Michael Doyle, Andy Morrell and Robbie Simpson because they like to run.
Let me be clear – I fully acknowledge that most football fans appreciate the players who work their arses off. We love a trier – good lord do we love a trier. But in most teams at a high level, they’re there as the supplementary players to the quality. The flair has just as much, or possibly even more of an important role to play.
One problem is that as fans, we had an unhappy knack of driving away the genuine quality with our rounded hissing from the stands and ironic cheering as players are substituted. All while the mistakes and ineptitude of clearly inferior players went blindly unnoticed, and regularly rewarded with adulation because they put “a shift in”.
Any of us could put a shift in. But taking this upside-down approach to player support, we did little but encourage and set a standard for players in our team. If you want the fans on your side at Coventry City, run around and make sure you’re always moving forwards. That seems to be the main criteria.
Another indicator of the level our culture is at is the reaction to the announcement of crowds at the Ricoh. I bloody hate this bit more than any other part of the day, with the away fans laughing as we gleefully applaud a 17,000 attendance. I don’t think I’ve been in any other stadium when the fans cheer a half empty stadium.
What’s telling is that we’ve all seen how many people turn up for games when there’s even a hint of excitement. Remember Leeds at home during Aidy Boothroyd’s time here? 28,000 turned up that evening, simply because we were doing okay in the league for once. There wasn’t much of a catalyst, and look what it did for the crowd. We certainly have the fan base – it’s just be so long since we’ve had anything to cheer, they’re gradually disappearing.
We’re no different to any other club in terms of the mob mentality that rules on match day and I’m under no illusions that things will change overnight. We have our booing of players who probably don’t deserve it, the round of applause at attendance time, the scream of “shooooot” whenever a player is within 40 yards of goal, and lots more.
It’s just unfortunate that our mob mentality appears to have evolved into a wholly old-fashioned one.
The passing game in particular is one thing that does not sit well with us. We have to move forwards. If we’re not moving forwards, we’re doing something wrong, and we’ll let the players know. Sammy Clingan is the best example of someone whose style contradicted the directness we wanted to see. In a team that finds it so fundamentality difficult to keep hold of possession in the first place, it’s typical that the one player who was able to do this with more ease than others, received a daft and destructive nickname because of it. How dare he keep the ball?
We’re not used to this approach. I’m not saying last season they offered any genuine implementation of it, but the intent was there, and it goes against everything the Ricoh crowd knows.
It’s so predictable:
If the ball is passed backwards, this is bad.
If a player doesn’t shoot on sight, this is bad.
If the ball lands at the feet of any player within 40 yards of goal, we must implore him to shoot. And not even in the ironic way that people used to do with Paul Williams.
I’m not positioning myself as any different. Mob mentality is contagious – but surely we have to embrace the evolution of football, and how if we’re to eventually become a successful team at any level, showing patience with the ball is hallmark of the best. Just look at Manchester Utd or Arsenal. They’ve been so used to a certain style, that you’ll never see a whinge if the ball goes backwards. The crowd understand what the team is trying to do.
If we’re to finally make the step up to actually achieving something ourselves, I’m starting to think that we as fans, need to do the same. The time for acceptance, endless pragmatism and guarding against failure has gone. We’ve had years of that.
The finances are a massive issue for the club as a whole, we all know that – but we’re still a big team in League One with players who should be able to compete. What’s the worst that can happen if we actually push for a higher standard of football and expect the team to challenge for promotion next year? They don’t manage it. So what? We’re no worse off.
The expectation should always be there, and we should push for better. There’s no excuse for the lack of success we’ve had to put up with. It’s an unacceptable drought, and sitting around giving the impression that another season of mediocrity is expected and acceptable surely can’t help things.
Taking a little break..
As mentioned, this is the last in the blame game series, and my last major post until the start of our 2012/13 season (unless something important happens).
I’m planning a pretty hefty revamp over the summer, and some exciting things to keep the blog looking fresh and that. Hopefully see you on the other side.
Thanks for reading.
PS. Steve Harrison’s gone. I hope it wasn’t anything I said.