MAY 01] THE STUART LINNELL
It's Tough At The Bottom
"It must be tough being a
Coventry City supporter," said the businessman I was
visiting in London the other day.
"I'm a Liverpool fan,"
he added, almost apologetically, "and I have to say you
were very unlucky on Saturday".
Such comments are fine, but
little consolation when we know that we have had too many
unlucky Saturdays this season and too many Saturdays in the
early part of the campaign when we were just not good enough, as
manager Gordon Strachan has readily admitted.
Villa away and Bradford at home.
That's all that's left of this Premiership season for Coventry
City. All we can do is hope and pray that, for the Sky Blues, it
is not all that's left of the Premiership, full stop.
Two wins for a side playing as
well as we have been these last few matches, the visit to
Ipswich apart, should be quite possible. And then, as on one or
two famous occasions in the past, we look to others to slip up.
Derby County are apparently
having trouble with a huge banana skin that they seem to have
slid onto, while Middlesbrough are displaying all the
inconsistencies that Terry Venables was called in to remove.
Wouldn't it be something if both
Coventry City and Manchester City both survived? It could happen
In both cities the hopes of
thousands of fans and huge financial returns turn on the results
of the local football clubs. At both clubs, the Chairman has
made it clear that the present manager, whatever the outcome,
will stay in post to steer the future.
And both managers are old mates.
I hope that they won't take it as any sort of intrusion into
their privacy if I tell you that when Joe Royle brought his team
to Highfield Road on New Year's Day, they spent as much time as
the day's activities allowed in each other's company.
That didn't extend to any less of
a competitive encounter on the pitch, mind you, and I have no
doubt that both men would have preferred to take all three
points than the one apiece which resulted from the one-all draw
(remember Marc Edworthy's stunning goal? Remember Marc Edworthy?).
But both Royle and Strachan are
realistic, intelligent men who don't need the likes of you and
me to remind them just how tough their jobs are.
They differ in one way, however.
When Coventry City struggle life is tough, but it surely can't
be as bad as it must be for Manchester City with not just a
cross-city rival but the biggest football club in the world as
The taunting Sky Blues fans get
from their Villa counterparts is bad enough, but just imagine if
the nearest local team was not twenty-odd miles away in another
city, but actually no more than four or five miles round the
If Manchester City are relegated,
the expectation will be that they will, like Charlton Athletic
and Leicester City before them, bounce quickly back. With the
United-ites to jeer every moment of failure, anything else would
be unthinkable at Maine Road.
For Coventry City, life in
Division One, would be a wholly new adventure. Quite apart from
having to purchase a whole new set of A-Z's and find precisely
where Crewe, Gillingham and Huddersfield are, the ability of our
squad to live with teams hardened to life in the Nationwide
League is a complete unknown.
One would like to think that, if
the nucleus of the present side is kept intact and no
money-raising transfers occur that are not absolutely necessary,
we would have a good chance of a swift return. However, the
warning signs are there.
Look how hard it was for
Manchester City to recover from its plunge down the leagues in
the first place. Look how hard it has proved for Birmingham City
to even make the play-off's this time. Look how many times
Ipswich Town tried but failed to win promotion.
The tabloid press are already
warming to what it believes is the inevitable. One even went so
far as to suggest that, after our demise, both Magnus Hedman and
Chris Kirkland would be among the summer departures.
Both would command handsome
transfer fees, and we know that Hedman has been linked to
Arsenal and Barcelona, while Kirkland continues to interest
Liverpool. But to sell both goalkeepers, even with a huge
financial shortfall to make up? Surely not.
And what about the 'cash cushion'
we hear so much about, available to clubs relegated from the
Premiership for the first year after they go down. The reality
is that membership of the Premiership means a guarantee of some
£20million plus to Coventry City. If they were to go down, that
is reduced to no more than £4million - a shortfall of
approximately £16million or more!
So some players would have to go.
But one presumes that common sense will ensure that we at least
start the season with a squad capable of getting us back into
the top flight.
But enough of plan B. Plan A has
to be survival, and that means we must win at the Villa and at
home against Bradford City and look to Derby or Middlesbrough to
Oh - and one more thing; if
things go our way at Villa Park, the agony will be prolonged.
The final match of the season against Bradford at Highfield Road
will not take place until a fortnight later. A little thing
called the FA Cup Final occurs in Cardiff on the weekend in
As the man said, it's tough being
a Coventry City supporter.