MAY 01] THE STUART LINNELL
A Tale Of Two Cities
Anyone reading this is a
committed Coventry City supporter or, possibly, just a football
fan who likes to take on board what’s going on in the game
generally. Either way, you will no doubt have been as staggered
as me at the headlines in this week’s national press.
“A Soccer City In Crisis”
Where were they talking about?
Manchester, of course!
Yep, the very same Manchester
that is home to the Premiership Champions, the same club that is
probably the biggest and richest football club in the world. So
how on earth can Manchester be “a soccer city in crisis”?
Come to Coventry, if you want to
sample fears and anxieties about local football. In Coventry, we
have a club that sustained top flight football for 34
consecutive seasons, winning the FA Cup along the way and not
experiencing true relegation in living memory – until now.
Our team has just succumbed to
the inevitable and currently finds itself applying for
membership of the Nationwide League, Division One.
A crisis? Well, not if you
believe the bookies who are tipping the Sky Blues as favourites
to make an immediate return to the Premiership, but it’s bad
enough for the long-suffering fans who are desperate to enjoy
even a hint of the success that appears to be the God-given
right of Manchester United.
But compare what is happening in
Coventry to the state of the game in Manchester. Coventry City
may be facing at least one season in the First Division but does
so knowing that its youngsters are widely regarded as among the
best in the country.
Those young players include Chris
Kirkland, rated as somewhere between £5-million and £12-million
depending on which ‘paper you read, and tipped as a future
England goalkeeper. Chris is already an Under-21 international.
Also, striker Jay Bothroyd, an
England Under-18 international just called up to Under-21 level,
Irish international Barry Quinn, former England Under-21
full-back Marcus Hall and a young midfield battler who must
surely soon win international recognition, John Eustace.
There are many others, Calum
Davenport, the 18-year old central defender who made such a
sound impression on his debut against Bradford at Highfield
Road, among them.
So, the future for Coventry City
looks good with manager Gordon Strachan looking for the “old
heads” as he puts it that will guide his youngsters on the
In Manchester, one set of fans
have every reason to tell you that their future looks more than
good. The supporters of the red half of Manchester are
legendary, of course, in coming from every part of the world
except Manchester, but the truth is that many do actually live
somewhere vaguely adjacent to Old Trafford.
They have been brought up on
stunning success ever since the Munich air crash and the Busby
Babes placed them firmly on the front page of every newspaper.
The name of Manchester United football club became instantly
known in every household, so that even in homes where football
is neither welcome nor understood, there will be at least a
flicker of recognition should the words “Manchester United”
or “Bobby Charlton” be mentioned.
Not that it’s been total
success. It’s easy to forget that while Coventry City enjoyed
its 34 years at the top, United went up and down the Leagues,
tasting relegation as well as glory.
Now, though, with yet more
honours to boast of after a season when they swept the rest of
the Premiership aside as if it didn’t exist, United is said to
be “in turmoil”. Why? Because the club’s most successful
manager ever, Sir Alex Ferguson, having failed to secure the
role he sought to follow his retirement, has announced that he
will sever all his ties with the club at the end of his contract
this time next year.
Speculation is understandably
rife that Sir Alex did not let that slip accidentally and that
he might well move on to another job in football before that
Within three days of that little
bombshell, United’s struggling neighbours, Manchester City –
relegated alongside Coventry and Bradford – announced that its
manager, Joe Royle had been sacked, apparently after disagreeing
with plans to make members of his coaching staff redundant.
All relegated clubs have to cut
their cloth according to their new circumstances and you can bet
that Coventry and Bradford are having to pursue a similar
process of making cuts and therefore bidding farewell to some of
their employees – and I don’t just mean players.
At Manchester City, however, the
plans disturbed Joe Royle to such an extent that, following a
three-minute meeting with his Chairman, he was also on his bike.
So – United has twelve months,
possibly less, to replace the irreplaceable, while City faces an
immediate search for a new man to guide it at least to a
position of respectability, and then take it as close as
possible to the pre-eminence of its neighbours.
Coventry City, on the other hand,
is busy trying to convince its public that the ship is on course
for a rapid return from whence they came, with Gordon Strachan
still at the helm and a lively, exciting, young crew ready to
respond to his call to arms.
Crisis, what crisis? Go to
Manchester, if that’s what you’re looking for.
[24 MAY 00 -
Kevin Keegan has now been appointed as the new manager of