Slow Decline at Coventry
There was always an air of unreality surrounding Coventry City’s three decade stint in the top flight. The Sky Blues rarely troubled the top half of the table and indeed, appeared to be attending multiple auditions for a remake of the film Flatliners. Their most dramatic escape of all came with a 4-1 victory over already crowned Champions Everton in 1985, long after other fixtures had been played and a situation that would never be allowed to occur nowadays. Only with FA Cup glory and John Sillett’s dancing in 1987 did the Midlands club rise above the humdrum, although they did brighten the mood with some ludicrous kits. Since returning to the level that many might suggest is their rightful home, City have again managed to dodge the drop, seemingly establishing themselves as the most mid table of clubs – but I do feel there are grounds for concern.
The problem is one of slow decline. The descent of Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Forest, Leicester and others in the past has been vertiginous, but the feeling of catastrophe has been so marked that it has become quickly obvious that urgent surgery is required. Hence, these clubs have, in the main, managed to conduct a turnaround before their plight has become too parlous. Coventry, by contrast, have edged down the pyramid over the course of a decade; their demise has been akin, to quote Charles Dickens, to “being ground to bits in a slow mill…roasted at a slow fire…stung to death by single bees… drowned by drops… going mad by grains”. A cup quarter final appearance last season and Michael Mifsud’s destruction of the Old Trafford Reds have failed to clothe a masterclass of underachievement, with bosses Strachan, Nilsson, McAllister, Reid, Adams and Dowie doing little to enhance their reputations in the manager’s seat.
From an outside viewpoint, the decision to relocate from a perfectly good, indeed, relatively modern stadium in Highfield Road to the motorway hugging and ghostly quiet Ricoh Arena is at the root of the problem. Shiny new homes have worked for others but only when there was clear evidence of trading upwards (Bolton, Huddersfield, Leicester). The Sky Blues pioneered the all seater stadium in the seventies and for a club with a history of innovation going back to Jimmy Hill, this rehousing seemed to be a new idea too far. In addition, boardroom politics have taken over as evidenced by the thankfully ditched decision to do away with the club crest in 2005, although a switch is now once again up for discussion.
This term, the Sky Blues rode their luck a little to actually lead the way early on, but from the autumn onwards, worry has become the dominant emotion. Only Leon Best has done himself justice, finally showing glimpses of the player he promised to be back in his Southampton youth team days. As Lloyd said in a recent post, when your talisman is Clinton Morrison, you have concerns. Chris Coleman has done well with the resources available to him and cannot be blamed for losing Danny Fox and Scott Dann, but their last win was in September and they have now stretched the victoryless run to eight matches. This may be the year when they tumble again.