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Silence speaks volumes about Coventry City’s plight
The young lad twiddling his thumbs at the burger kiosk gave the game away.
“So who’s playing tonight,” he asked his equally bored-looking mate.
“Bradford, I think” came the reply.
“All right, and who are they playing against? Northampton or Coventry?”
His ignorance was understandable. Less than an hour before kick-off and it was hard to remember that there was a game on at all.
There was no queue for food; there was no queue to get in the ground. In fact, there was no anything...
Welcome to the Coventry matchday experience, Northampton style.
A joyless night played in front of vast empty stands. It had all the atmosphere and appeal of a pre-season friendly at Barrow.
The Bradford City players admitted it was a weird occasion which they were in no hurry to repeat. For the poor souls in Sky Blue, they are back again today for the visit of MK Dons.
The original franchise club will always be lambasted for what went on with the proper Wimbledon. But what is going on right now with Coventry is not much more palatable.
Thirty five miles from Northampton sits a shiny football stadium called the Ricoh Arena, capacity 32,609. It has graced the Championship and would be one of the must-see venues of League One.
At least it should be. But with the ongoing rent row involving the club’s owners – a hedge fund from London – and the local council who built and own the ground, Coventry’s football team no longer play in Coventry.
So the former lodgers trudge reluctantly down the M1 to borrow Northampton’s facilities, playing on an eerie stage where nobody – on the pitch or in the stands – really wants to be.
Good business, I’m sure, for the stadium stewards and those who work the turnstiles, doubling their money with double the home matches. And what’s more they get the same rate for very little work.
But hardly what everyone else expects when you mention the name of Coventry City; a major Midlands football name conjuring up images of Jimmy Hill, John Sillett and Keith Houchen.
Tuesday’s attendance figure of 1,673 was the lowest to watch the Bantams for two years since 1,507 witnessed a 4-0 win at Barnet.
It was only the ninth sub-2,000 crowd for City games since they were relegated to the bottom tier in 2008.
The last seven were all in League Two and Dagenham are the only hosts from that list to still play league football. Chester, Macclesfield, Hereford and Barnet have all dropped out.
It didn’t quite plumb the depths of the 1,207 at Moss Ross in April 2011 when Peter Jackson celebrated his 50th birthday with a victory he billed afterwards as “one of the top five in my career”.
But Coventry, a club long associated with the top two divisions, don’t belong on that list.
And yet the City turn-out was par for the course. The week before, Stevenage had attracted 24 more; ten days earlier, Port Vale 46 less.
Their “home” average of 2,194 is the lowest in the division by far. Only three teams – Morecambe, Dagenham and Accrington – get less in the whole league.
That’s only 400 more than the number that Coventry take on their travels. They were backed by a whopping 6,781 travelling support for the original Milton Keynes fixture.
But the majority of those refuse to visit Sixfields on principle. Others stand defiantly on the hill overlooking one corner of the ground.
There was about a dozen watching glimpses of the game on Tuesday. They can probably only see about a third of the pitch but it makes the point.
The protesters do not want to feed the pockets of owners who they claim are holding the club to ransom. So an unsatisfactory stalemate persists – with no sign of a solution any time soon.
The lowest crowd to watch City in the modern era was at Selhurst Park, where Wimbledon were passing through on the way to being whisked out of London.
Only 1,178 watched a Championship fixture in February 2003 – this week had that same sensation of rattling round a deserted stadium.
Coventry’s “us against the world” mentality which powered them through the first half of the season is wearing thin.
The loss of one of their two potent strikers hit them hard in January and the other, just named League One player of the month, was missing in midweek through injury.
But results also suggest that the team have grown weary with their alien surroundings. The sheer emptiness must grind you down.
It must be no fun at all playing away every week.
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