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Not Just A One-Man Band

Quite properly, the football world is buzzing about John Hartson. Quite properly, John Hartson is talking about the team he is now part of.

John Hartson, Coventry City FCThe Welsh striker's run of form is not only vital to Coventry City's chances of avoiding relegation, it is also quite remarkable when you consider what little football he played this season, prior to the eventual completion of his prolonged transfer from Wimbledon.

As a freelance in the media world, my range of activities extends to working at conferences, and I was doing just that a couple of weeks ago in Swansea. The conference was called 'Fire 2001', organised by the Fire Executive of the Local Government Association. Representatives from fire and rescue services throughout the UK were present and the main guest at the gala dinner was the Lord Mayor of Swansea.

Why am I telling you this? Because over dinner our conversation turned, inevitably perhaps, to football and as soon as I revealed my support for Coventry City FC, his Worship instantly beamed with delight and proceeded to enthuse over John Hartson and Craig Bellamy.

The latter, he insisted, was as good a young player as he had seen and would become a huge star, if not with Coventry City then with another club in due course.

As for Hartson, the Lord Mayor of Swansea told me that he had followed the striker's career since he was a young boy.

"No one has yet worked out how to keep him fit for very long," he told me,"but the club that does will benefit from as good a goal-scorer as you'll find. He will always score goals whoever he plays for. Always has, always will. And don't be misled by all that nonsense about his weight. He can play football, make no mistake about that."

Even as I write this, an old friend with Welsh connections, has just sent a text message to my mobile phone to tell me that he is visiting family right now. Guess where? Yes - you're ahead of me, aren't you? - Swansea.

Part of the message reads: "Mr Hartson is currently the top sports story here in Swansea."

So the impact our free-scoring Welsh hero has made has been more than significant and has put his name and that of Coventry City into the headlines throughout the country.

Add to that the apparent change of temperament and attitude that many have noticed in John's eight appearances so far for the Sky Blues. Whereas he had won himself a reputation as something of a hard man on and off the pitch, he has conducted himself to perfection since his arrival at Highfield Road.

If he was ever a really bad lad on the pitch, he now has the approach of a man who knows that he simply has to be there to be a physical presence that opponents are not allowed to ignore.

Off the pitch, he comes across as an absolutely polite, perfect gentleman. The term 'gentle giant' is an old cliché of course, but it certainly fits the image that John Hartson has established in his new surroundings.

But, as he quickly acknowledged after scoring his sixth goal in those eight games - the winner against Sunderland - City's late revival is not just about him, crucial though his contribution has been.

He generously, but quite rightly, acknowledged the "great set of lads" that were here before he arrived. He made the point that although he has scored the goals, which is his job after all, the chances have been made for him by a team that has also found renewed confidence at the back, largely through the consistency of Gary Breen and teenage 'keeper Chris Kirkland.

In fact, throughout the side, there really is so much to applaud right now. Marcus Hall's return to fitness and form is welcome, not only because he is a Coventry kid. I believe that Marcus is playing some of the best football of his career to date.

Young Barry Quinn, though out of position at right back, is more than worthy of his place in the side and the Irish international squad. Paul Telfer, though prone to the odd howler, has made a huge difference since his return, and it can surely be no coincidence that since Telfer's recall, Lee Carsley is showing why Gordon Strachan was so keen to sign him.

John Eustace - not born in Coventry, but a West Midlander none the less - must consider himself very unlucky not to have been called up for England Under-21 duty, while Craig Bellamy's pace and ability are now blossoming since Hartson's presence has given him the chance to show what he can do. Young Jay Bothroyd also gave us a glimpse of his precocious talent against Sunderland, and we know that David Thompson can turn a game on his day.

One man I haven't mentioned is Richard Shaw. The oldest member of the current squad, he has not had the best of seasons, but is now hitting form at this critical time and made a match-winning tackle in his own penalty area in the dying minutes against Sunderland that was as worthy of celebration as the Hartson header which rounded off a superb move for City's goal.

So - welcome Hartson the Hero. He is already on the way to winning his place alongside Coventry legends like Hudson, Mason, Gibson, Hutchinson and Curtis, but let's also salute the team that, like so many before, finds itself in a late, late battle for survival.

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CWN / Sport / Football / Coventry City FC / Stuart Linnell / 18 Apr 01
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