Result: Coventry City 1-2 Northampton Town (FA Cup 1st Round)
Venue: Ricoh Arena (Saturday 7th November 2015, 3pm)
I set off for the city of Coventry with little optimism, after hearing it wasn’t up to much. However, approaching the day with as open a mind as possible, I set off into Manchester to catch my transport for the journey down to the former capital of England. Luckily for its current inhabitants, I was arriving fully clad in clothing in contrast to one of its more famous legendary characters.
So, after setting off into the grey, drizzly and overall pretty shit weather, I was soon rattling through the Staffordshire countryside, accompanied by Issue 3 of the superb NonLeague Magazine and was heading past the sights of Stoke and Wolverhampton before ending up under the Bullring in Birmingham. 20 minutes or so later, I’d pulled into Coventry station, disembarked and set off for a whistle stop sightseeing tour of the city centre which, I’d been told was pretty enough and worth a look.
First stop was the cathedral which is, arguably, Coventry’s most famous landmark. When I say cathedral, I don’t mean the current generic building that serves the area currently, but the bombed out shell of the former, medieval one which sits as a monument to the “Coventry Blitz” and those who were lost in it. The Luftwaffe bombing raids on the city were among the most vicious of their campaigns, indeed the German air wing termed other cities as being “coventried” after causing terrible damage, in relation to the destruction imposed on the Coventrians.
So, after leaving the old cathedral, which was sadly shut today, it was off to the Lady Godiva statue. Lady Godiva, for those of you who don’t know, was the owner of Coventry who, supposedly, rode naked through the streets in a protest against her husband’s taxation of the peasants. It’s unlikely this ever occurred, of course, although from it derived the term “peeping Tom” after Tom who created a hole in a wall to watch Godiva pass and was thus struck blind. Naughty Tom.
Anyway, with wartime history and naked ladies dealt with, it was onwards to the “Flying Standard” pub, which sits over the way from both landmarks. The Standard is housed within an old tudor-style building, though its interior hardly mirrors its exterior features. I’m going to stop explaining it here as I’m worried its beginning to sound a bit too “Escape To The Country”-ish and move on. After a quick pint of Carlsberg in here I decided, against all prior advice and tips, to undertake the four mile walk up to the Ricoh. Here’s my own tip for anyone thinking of doing the same: DON’T!!!
After you leave the centre itself, everything quickly degrades in quality and you begin to hit the suburbs which aren’t too much to shout about. I eventually reached the top of the long road leading up towards the Ricoh and, trusting Google Maps, headed for the Phoenix Way which was given as the quickest walking route to the ground. Well, it may very well be, but it neglects to tell you there is no pathways or that it’s a dual carriageway with a large likelihood you will be mowed down and killed. So, if you want to follow Google Maps and it gives you this option and you consider taking it: DON’T!!!
Eventually, after setting off for the Ricoh with an hour and a half to kick-off, I eventually rocked up at the ground itself 15 minutes prior to the start. I quickly purchased a programme for £2.50, before making my way past the stewards shouting “West Stand Access Only” repeatedly, before I went to the turnstile and handed over my due £15 for entry to the Arena. Of course, not before I was questioned with “You know it’s West Stand only, right?”. Somehow, I think I may have guessed! I do need to get used to waiting for a ticket at league games and stop bumping into the turnstiles in front of me, though, so maybe it’s some sort of karma for my sarcy thoughts!
Anyway, with ticket in hand, I was through the turnstile and into the concourse area of the stadium. What first struck me was just how empty it was in here. It wasn’t a ghost town by any means, though I expected there to be more about with a quarter hour to kick-off. As I entered block 35, I took my seat to the strains of the wonderful Sky Blue Anthem, but soon realised that this game wasn’t exactly going to have attracted a capacity crowd. This assertion was confirmed by the fact the North Stand was completely shut and half the South Stand was off limits, due to segregation. The other two stands were in full use, though neither were full by any means, though the travelling support was here in good numbers, having made the short trip over from Northampton.
The Ricoh is a smart new-build ground, with all four stands pretty similar, though the West Stand is a two-tiered structure. There are Perspex panels allowing natural light to enter the ground within the walls of each side and within it sits a casino and a number of other attractions. Now, before I go onto tell the tale of this FA Cup First Round game, here is the history of the Sky Blues of Coventry….
Coventry City FC was founded in 1883 under the name of Singers FC, the name deriving from the fact they were a works side for the cycle firm of the same name and they played as Singers up until 1898 when the club adopted their current title. Under their original moniker, the club were fairly successful especially in 1891-’92 when the Birmingham, Wednesbury & Walsall Cups were all won, leading a local businessman to produce some celebratory tobacco. After moving into Highfield Road in 1899, the club adopted its original nickname of the “Bantams” nine years later after a local paper had pointed out the club was without one and remained the nickname of City until the “Sky Blues” title took over in the 1960’s.
After WWI, City joined the Football League Division 2, but immediately drew controversy as the club, alongside Bury, faced each other in the final two games of the season and contrived results to keep up Coventry. Upon being found guilty, the chairman and ten others received life bans. The same season saw Coventry go 997 minutes without a goal, which is still considered a League record, but they also achieved their record win, a 9-0, over Bristol City, before winning the 1936 Division 3 South.
After finding themselves in Division 4, City achieved promotion in 1959 and became the first English League side to play in a full matching kit in 1962 with the introduction of the Sky Blue outfit. The club then ended up going through Division 3 and 2 by 1967 and were playing in Division 1. 1971 saw Coventry’s only European adventure to date, an outing in the Fairs Cup , where they beat Trakia Plovdiv over two legs before beating the mighty Bayern Munich at home, although they eventually bowed to the German giants over the two games.
After Highfield Road became, briefly, an all seater stadium (the first of its kind, until seats became missiles), City reached the 1981 League Cup semi final, where they lost out to West Ham and the club were then banned from wearing their home shirts on televised games due to the rules of the time that sponsorships on shirts were banned. Although efforts were made to incorporate the logo into the design, this didn’t work either.
In 1987, City lifted the FA Cup after beating Tottenham Hotspur for the cup, the club famously were knocked out by Sutton United when defending their title. After losing out in the 1990 League Cup semis, City staved off relegation at the end of 1991-’92 to ensure its place in the inaugural Premiership season. They remained in the Premiership for a total of nine years when, in 2001, they eventually were relegated after some close shaves prior. after staving off a further relegation to League 1 in 2005, the club bid farewell to Highfield Road, and hello to the Ricoh Arena.
After a few seasons of struggle and administration, City were relegated to League 1 in 2012 for the first time in almost half a century, before a falling out with the owners of the Ricoh led to the club departing and taking up residence in, ironically for today, Northampton Town’s Sixfields. This lasted for just a year, though, as City returned to Coventry for the following season and finished up in that, last season in a lowly 17th place.
Following an impeccable minutes silence on Remembrance Weekend, the game got underway with both sides on the attack from the off. Coventry had started slightly better, but it was the visiting Cobblers who struck first. Zander Diamond was awarded the goal, turning the ball in from a free-kick after just five minutes, justifying the Town fans chants of “We’re gonna score in a minute” in the lead up to the strike. Either there’s a large psychic contingent within the streets of Northampton, or it was just a coincidence. Either way, it was brilliant that it happened and cue the pyro!
I sought of wanted Coventry to get the win when I chose this game, as I have an affinity for them from my youth (no idea why, really) but after Town’s struggles became public, I thought it would be nice if they could get the result too, meaning that I arrived with next to no bias towards either team. What was apparent though was, despite Jacob Murphy’s fizzing equalising strike for City, was that they are very poor without the fire power of their on-loan Newcastle star Adam Armstrong. That, and they are a debacle at the back.
So, it was little surprise that Town went back up the other end and re-took the lead, with Coventry’s defence again failing to deal with a cross and Marc Richards arrived to plant a firm header past Lee Burge in the City net to restore the luminous pink-clad side’s lead in the tie and reignited the pyrotechnics from the visiting contingent.
It was from here on in that Coventry fell by the wayside and were, basically, awful for the remainder of the game. Take nothing away from Town, who executed their plans to almost perfection, the Blues were dreadful. Many times easy passes went astray, poor decision making, by Murphy in particular, repeatedly broke down dangerous looking moves and Town easily saw out the game to the break at 2-1. After a quick trip down to the far end of the stand for a £3.50 standard pie, it was time for act 2 of this drama.
Sadly, Emmerdale is usually more dramatic than the second period here. nothing of note really happened, until Burge did well to save a close range one-on-one & Town ‘keeper Adam Smith turned a shot around the post in the last minute, before I went to leave, got blocked off in the tunnel and was berated by a woman for being in the way. I’m surprised she still wanted to watch, to be honest! Shortly after the final whistle blew & the 2,500 Cobblers fans were sent into raptures and were well deserving of their place in Round Two.
After exiting the ground, it was a walk back down Hen Lane to the main road through Holbrooks, where I caught the 55 bus back to the City Centre. My intention was to visit to “mediaeval” Spon Street, which I eventually found, but not before I found myself in the midst of a shopping precinct and then its car park! There I was, just walking through the pedestrian area and then I was in a shopping mall. No idea how!
Eventually, Spon Street was found thanks to the giant neighbouring Ikea and I quickly popped into the Old Windmill pub. The Windmill is in a very old building and is one of those where the roof is really low and everything is cramped into a small area. It really is great. I couldn’t resist having a bit of “Fawkes Off”. It was pretty decent, and I was given a heads up on it by a guy at the bar who told me it was, somewhat, chocolaty. To be fair, I could see where he was coming from too as it did have a slight taste of it which was a bit strange, but it wasn’t too bad. As I was leaving, I noticed a small plaque behind the bar stating something like “Haunted Award”. So, for those of you who are into this sort of thing, this may be the place for you. I recommend it.
Alas, my time in Coventry was drawing to a close and I made my way back over to Coventry station, where I boarded my CrossCountry service back to Manchester, accompanied by the sounds of the likes of Elbow and Hurts, two local-ish bands from different ends of the musical spectrum but both equally as brilliant. As for Coventry, after being put on guard for a disappointment, I loved it. A great city that I truthfully cannot wait to return to soon, when I hopefully visit Coventry Sphinx. I’ll be searching the fixture lists….
Game: 5- Pretty poor after a good start.
Ground: 6- Nice new build, but nothing too special.
Fans: 6- They were ok, but it’s a bit of a shame that attendances seem so low so often.
Programme: 6- A decent enough read, especially for the price.
Food: 6- As I said, a pretty standard offering.
Value For Money: 6- £30 travel, £15 in, £10 extras. Poor game, but apart from that (and the walk) it was great.