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[11 APR 01] THE STUART LINNELL COLUMN
Gordon In The Spotlight

Whatever happens with yet another Coventry City battle to survive in the top division of English football, no-one will be able to say that the club or its manager kept a low profile through this tough time.

Gordon Strachan, Coventry City FCAvailable as ever to the football press for the regular pre-match and post-match interviews, Gordon Strachan has also, in the past week, been under the spotlight like never before.

On Thursday 5 April, five days after that fine win against Derby County, Gordon and Sky Blues' Chairman Bryan Richardson faced after-dinner questions at Highfield Road from an audience paying 40 a head for the privilege. On Monday 9 April, two days after BBC TV's 'Match Of The Day' had labelled the 3-1 win at Leicester City as "excellent", Gordon was top of the bill on the last in the current series of the late night 'Onside' programme, also on BBC1.

Questioned by 'Onside' host John Inverdale, Gordon's repartee and one-line quips had the studio audience rolling with laughter and did more than enough to persuade TV producers that he should be invited back for more.

For those that missed it, two examples from the Strachan joke-book: asked whether the seaweed diet he embarked on at one stage of his playing career had made him fitter, he said "it made me a better swimmer!" When fellow guest and self-confessed 'lapsed' Coventry City supporter, impressionist Alistair McGowan, was part way through his routine of football personality impersonations, Gordon asked him if he could do Thierry Henry. "No", admitted McGowan. "That's a pity," Gordon shot back, "I was going to ask you to play on Saturday."

As the TV show developed you sensed that Gordon was enjoying himself, and well he might, after two good, vital back-to-back victories. However, in his post-match comments at Filbert Street the Saturday before, he said that the question and answer session with his Chairman at Highfield Road had been "the toughest night of my life".

I took some professional pride in that. The club had recruited me to MC and chair the evening with question slips distributed on the tables throughout the room for the diners to write down and submit their questions. When I announced during dinner that this was to help the timing and efficiency of the night, I was greeted with the odd jeer from one or two quarters.

People obviously thought that I was there to ensure that Gordon and Bryan got an easy ride and filter out the hard questions. In fact, the opposite was the case. I had already agreed with Bryan Richardson that no subject was off-limits, as long as I discarded the deliberately stupid questions that often come up at these events.

As it happens, there were none, other than one or two deliberately sent up as personal jokes for Bryan and Gordon and not intended for public dissemination. However, one or two issues were covered in questions from several tables so I put those together rather than ask the same topic more than once.

Questioners were also invited to put a supplementary question and debate directly with the manager and chairman after hearing their initial response.

As I said, nothing was ruled out, so we had - from several quarters - the question; "why was Gary McAllister allowed to leave?"

The answer was that despite an offer of a contract that would have made him easily the highest paid player at the club, Gary arranged his own move to Liverpool telling Gordon and Bryan that he wanted to leave Coventry for entirely personal reasons.

Pressed by the audience to say what those reasons were, Gordon said: "I know the reason, the Chairman knows the reason and Gary McAllister knows the reason, but Gary has asked that no-one else should know and unless and until he ever changes his mind on that, no-one will ever know, but it was personal to him and nothing to do with this club."

In answer to another question, Bryan Richardson said that "none" of our players have a "get-out" clause in their contracts allowing them to leave if we are relegated. He added that if we go down we may have to sell one or two to bring in necessary finance to compensate for what we lose from no longer being in the Premiership, but they would only be deals that fitted the club's overall strategy in that situation.

He stressed that "not one" of the players has an "I'm off if we go down" clause.

Gordon Strachan said that Gary Pendry is his Number 2, which I think is the first time that he has actually assigned that role formally to anyone.

He added that when Alex Miller left suddenly to return to Scotland and the fitness coach left a couple of days later, all that was left was the two of them (Gordon and Gary). They got stuck in and took the club on a 7-match unbeaten run. He said that Gary Pendry may not be everyone's idea of a coach or a number 2, but he said that few, if any, of those that criticised Gary had ever seen him coaching.

Bryan Richardson was very critical of the coverage given to Coventry City by the Coventry Evening Telegraph, describing it as "disgraceful".

He said he had copies of newspapers from Middlesbrough, Manchester and Sheffield where the local coverage was 100% supportive of their struggling teams.

That is just a flavour of what many people who were there came up to me afterwards and said was a very fair, interesting and enjoyable evening. If Gordon found it "tough" I can tell you he didn't show it and he emerged from that and his TV appearance with John Inverdale with flying colours - just as we all hope City will from yet another relegation dogfight.
 

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CWN / Sport / Football / Coventry City FC / Stuart Linnell / 11 Apr 01
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