Saturday marked the anniversary of an emotional evening for all Sky Blues fans, the return to Coventry after just over a year in exile in Northampton. As the final whistle blew that evening, it was hard not to believe that we were living in the moment where the club’s fortunes changed for the better. It proved to be yet another false dawn at Coventry City, but are there now signs that we are better set up to finally realise our potential as a football club?
SISU remain in charge of the football club, they are here to stay and they intend to run the football club within its own means. SISU’s past deeds at the club have generated there is an air of mistrust to what they so and do and most of their actions are interpreted by a large section of our support in the worst case possible scenario. Running the football club in a sustainable manner has been decried by some as demanding that the fans stump up for the running of the club rather than the owners.
As we have seen recently with a small group of Everton fans protesting against the seemingly sensible manner in which Bill Kenwright has run the club, this isn’t just a Coventry City/SISU problem it is an attitude that permeates all football clubs, except those owned by rich benefactors. In a sense, it’s almost encouraging that we can now cast the problems that fans have with the owners within the spectrum that other football clubs experience. Just over 12 months ago, there was much more at stake than not signing Nicky Ajose.
Yet despite the disappointment that we haven’t pushed the boat out as much as many were expecting heading into the summer, we have managed to take 13 points from the first six games with a team largely made up of free transfers, loanees and youth-team graduates. Whereas last season we failed to build momentum beyond that Ricoh return game, the difference this season is that we have Tony Mowbray in charge.
It’s fair to say that nobody really saw Steven Pressley’s sacking coming, it felt like SISU were leaving the club to simply exist at the lowest possible cost. The prospect of owning the Ricoh Arena one day always felt like the bigger game for SISU, after that taken away it was, and still is, hard to see why they were sticking around. That they were allowing a manager increasingly out of ideas and with only loan signings to bolster the squad, didn’t generate a sense that they saw a way forward for their ownership of the club.
Ever since the sacking of Steven Pressley but especially since the appointment of Tony Mowbray, there suddenly feels a greater sense of purpose around the club. As things transpired, it was a sensible decision to only hand him a contract until the end of last season. In the short-term, Tony Mowbray kept us up, for the longer-term future, it allowed him to sit down at the end of the season and lay-out his vision for the future to the owners which they have bought into by extending his contract afterwards.
Prior to Tony Mowbray’s appointment, we were convinced that the cycle of decline that took us from the Premier League to the Championship and then the Championship to League One was repeating itself and that it was going to continue until the club was put out of its misery. Tony Mowbray has spoken constantly about the history and stature of this club which has generated the attitude that we actually are a big club who shouldn’t be in this division which has instilled in the fans, players and owners a collective sense of purpose.
When things started going wrong last season it was when that sense of purpose was lost and it didn’t take a lot for it to happen. It began to sap away after the back-to-back defeats to Scunthorpe and Rochdale, the following home game against Preston saw a crowd of just over 10,000 and a palpable change in mood. It stopped feeling like this was our season and it was immediately back to the silence, apathy and groans of frustration at sideways passes that we had been accustomed to at the Ricoh Arena prior to the year in exile and grand return.
What has been noticeable about the home games this season has been the purpose with which fans and the players have approached games. It has been attributed to the closing of the North Stand, but for me the shift in mood started during that Tuesday night game against Oldham last April. Despite conceding a sloppy early goal, there was a near constant rippling of noise from the home fans throughout the 90 minutes which was then rewarded by Reda Johnson scoring a late equaliser.
What I think has caused this change in emphasis is that we are witnessing a team playing a more attractive brand of football, with greater character and under an almost universally popular manager. There were a few times last season under Pressley where there looked to be the effort put in by the players but we looked far more cautious and a growing proportion of the fan-base were deciding that Pressley was a charlatan.
You can compare and contrast the atmosphere in a 1-1 draw with Oldham last April with that in a 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe just two months prior. Against Scunthorpe, it took a great effort from the team to salvage a point and in many ways they were brave in trying to keep the ball rather than hammer it forward as everyone was demanding. Instead of celebrating a hard-earned point at the final whistle, the team were booed off the pitch and Steven Pressley’s post-match interview was dissected like the fans were prosecution lawyers.
Belief and having a sense of purpose in football can make a big difference. For much of last season under Pressley, it felt like we were going through the motions hoping to get to the end of the campaign in one piece. Ever since Tony Mowbray’s arrival, it has felt like he has a clear sense of direction for this football club which not only the owners have bought into but the fans as well. That is all the more remarkable given that we have no prospect of owning the Ricoh Arena and SISU are still in charge, we are at last finally focusing solely on the football.
There is of course more than enough time for things to go badly wrong this season, this wouldn’t be the first Tony Mowbray team to go massively off the boil after a good start. It feels though like this team is built on more solid foundations and are less prone to the brief highs and long periods of lows that dragged us down last season. The recent win over Burton where we missing our two best players, had disappointed in our previous two performances and fell behind early on was an encouraging sign.
12 months on from that wonderful September evening, this club has finally discovered the sense of purpose that we thought we had found by finally winning on the big occasion. We are in the opening stages of a new journey and I’m excited to see where it takes us.