Coventry City v Notts County
Ricoh Arena / League One / 17th November 2014
Last weekend I was cruelly denied ticking off a new ground by Mother Nature. Having rolled up into Mansfield before midday, I was greeted by torrential rain, which soon led to a dreaded pitch inspection, followed by the inevitable postponement of Mansfield’s FA Cup 1st Round tie against non-league Concord Rangers.
Back at Mansfield station, I randomly encountered London-based groundhopper Richard, who had also travelled up for the Mansfield v Concord game. Shortly following the announcement of the postponement, a quick dash ensued to Nottingham, as we decided to get our Saturday football fix from Nottingham Forest v Norwich City (we made it into the stand literally as the game was kicking off).
I enjoyed the Championship encounter and I always enjoy a visit to the City Ground with this being my third visit there; however, I was frustrated not to visit somewhere new. So with the craving to visit a new league ground, I decided that the following Saturday I would head for a new ’92 ground’. It was to be the other side of Nottingham that would influence my choice of fixture.
Towards the end of last season I visited Notts County’s Meadow Lane and was welcomed superbly by the County fans who I befriended in the pub prematch. I had promised I would try come on an away day with them in the near future and so with a free weekend and with me having never visited Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena, I thought this was the weekend to join the Pies on the road.
Me being a bit of a tight-arse recently meant that I booked the cheapest train possible to Coventry from Manchester, but with cheap tickets ccame setting off early. I actually arrived into Cov bleary-eyed at 9.30am, although this provided me with ample time to explore the West Midlands city.
Apparently 19th century Coventry was the model for George Eliot’s Middlemarch – well the Coventry I discovered was nothing like the setting of Eliot’s iconic novel. The place could probably do with a bit of sprucing up with grey, high rise flats seeming to flank the city centre. However, I liked the place. After a wander through Coventry Market and the various shopping precincts, I ended up on medieval Spon Street, a small street with small shops and bar/restaurants housed in old, timber housing. To be honest, there was little going on down there on this Saturday morning and so instead I made a beeline to Coventry’s most famous landmark.
Coventry was left decimated by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, so much so that the Nazis described similar obliteration of cities as ‘Coventrated’. The most resonant symbol of the destruction comes in the form of Coventry Cathedral, which still stands to this day – or at least its remains do. I had a wander within its open-air structure, before heading back into the city centre in search of a pub. Adjacent to the ruined cathedral is a newer, fully-functioning cathedral and just around the corner from here I found a Wetherspoons pub: The Flying Standard.
A pint of Tuborg was consumed, whilst my phone consumed a much-needed battery recharge, and as a steady stream of older Coventry fans entered, I exited and went in search of another pub.
Just down the road I found the much more ‘colourful’ Old Tudor Rose. It was not even 11.30am yet, so the place had Soccer AM on all the screens; I used to love the show, but I genuinely couldn’t recall the last time I had watched it – this whole groundhopping thing has taken over my Saturdays I suppose. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Swansea’s Modou Barrow and Jefferson Montero appeared on this week’s edition of Showboat (three times in Jeff’s case). However, one thing I didn’t enjoy was the pint: it was hideous and a battle to finish.
Like the majority of new build grounds, the Ricoh Arena is located outside of the city itself – 3.5 miles outside the city to be precise – and even I felt that this would be too far to walk. From Pool Meadow bus station I hopped on the number 48, which had me in the vicinity of the retail park near the Ricoh in ten minutes. I got off before the bus arrived at Arena Park, as the Football Ground Guide website said there were a couple of pubs on Foleshill Road about ten minutes from the ground.
My first port of call on the aforementioned road was the JK English pub/Indian restaurant. I’d read that the place was popular as a prematch drinking hole; what I found was an empty pub, bar one barman. It also seemed that I had time-travelled back to the nineties as the music of The Lightning Seeds, Kula Shaker and Elastica played in the pub. The nineties playlist was relentless and throwing in the old decor of the place, I actually began to ponder whether I had actually travelled back in time. Maybe I would exit the pub and find no Ricoh Arena and instead have to track down Highfield Road to watch the likes of Darren Huckerby, Dion Dublin and Richard Shaw in the sky blue of Coventry City. It transpired that I was very much in the 21st century on leaving.
Loneliness had set in whilst in the JK English and so I crossed the road to the far more lively Wheatsheaf, complete with a small gang of teens drinking pints outside the establishment, who were boisterously singing Coventry songs towards the cars heading up the busy road. The pub had a classic working man’s club feel to it and had quite a bit of Coventry memorabilia garnishing its walls. I was ‘football colourless’ today, but I’m fairly sure that this wouldn’t be the place to go if you were an away fan.
As the clock ticked past 1.30pm, I decided to start walking towards the stadium. I still hadn’t actually seen the ground itself, but after circumnavigating a large Tesco, the impressive structure of the Ricoh Arena appeared dead ahead of me towering over the adjacent retail park. Admittedly, the stadium did have the familiar bowl-shape appearance of several new-build grounds, but it did exude a slight bit more character than most.
The club have played at the Ricoh since 2005/06 having previously played at Highfield Road for the 106 years before. Coventry’s move to the Ricoh has coincided with a particularly bleak period in the club’s history with the club struggling in the second tier, until they were relegated to League One in 2012.
Worse things were to come for the club. The club’s financial situation and the incompetence of their owners SISU saw Coventry City Football Club forced to leave Coventry. For the 2013/14 season the club played at Northampton’s Sixfields – located 35 miles away from Coventry. Many fans refused to attend ‘home’ games that season and the protests were vociferous as the fans tried to get the club back in the city it belonged in. Thankfully, the fans succeeded and on the 5th September this year, the club returned to the Ricoh, as they defeated Gillingham 1-0 in front of 27,500 fans.
Okay, now to may favourite feature of the Ricoh. Having crossed the retail park and made my way around to the other side of the stadium, I arrived at the place where I was meeting Notts County fan Stu for a prematch drink: a casino. Yes, the Ricoh Arena has a casino attached it! This had to be the classiest place for a prematch drink on my travels thus far.
On heading down the neon-lit escalator, I was confronted with the sight of a bar next to a waterfall and a huge room packed with various tables and roulette wheels with Coventry and County fans circled around them gambling away. I’ve never been much of a gambler, so I headed to the bar. My slightly more glamorous surroundings made me fear the worst in regards of beer price, but I was quite content with £3.50 a pint (although admittedly it came in one of those irritating plastic cups that you can squish easily in your hand).
With no sign of Stu, I was about to head off, before I received a message confirming that he had arrived at the Ricoh and was heading for the casino. Another pint please barman!
Drink in hand, I went for a wander of the casino and found Stu and his other County pals surveying their rather upmarket surroundings. On my visit to the Meadow Lane, I met Stu and many other Notts County fans in the Navigation. Stu is the editor of the Notts County fanzine Black and White, as well as recently gaining the prestigious role of being County’s ‘Supporters’ Liaison Officer’; so, basically the man knows his Notts County. However, one thing my County pals did not know about was gambling. The party had decided they wanted to put a bet on, but with us clearly being very inexperienced gamblers, nobody quite knew what to do and instead we just circled the tables watching others throw their money away. Not to be put off though, Stu has now decided in his role as SLO to bring a casino to Meadow Lane.
I left the lads to try to suss out this whole gambling malarkey, as I made my way to the away end back round the other side of the stadium. En route I passed the statue of Coventry legend Jimmy Hill, who managed the club in the sixties; Hill also changed the club’s colours to the the sky blue of today and even penned the club anthem, The Sky Blue Song. The outside of the East Stand also had the club’s hall of fame on the wall, which included former Wales manager Bobby Gould; the less said about his time as Wales manager, the better.
Having digested Coventry City’s history on my walk around the ground, I found myself at the turnstiles to the South Stand and I was soon into the away end. Despite the signs and the mock brick wall design of the refreshments area advertising ‘Eat Street – Pies’ I came away with a horrible tasting bottle of Carlsberg and went over to say hello to Dan Landy – another County who I’d befriended on my Meadow Lane trip.
The big news from the away end was the presence of Roy Carroll in the starting XI. This usually wouldn’t be a big deal, since Carroll has been County’s regular keeper since he returned to these shores from Greece in the summer. However, less than 24 hours before, Carroll had been in goals for Northern Ireland out in Romania. Originally, he was expected to stay with the Irish squad following the game, yet Carroll took it upon himself to fly home and make the 3pm kick-off at Coventry. Top effort Roy! I salute you.
There was just minutes to go until kick-off, so we headed to the top of the South Stand to take in today’s League One action. As you would expect from a fairly new stadium, the whole ground is completely enclosed with 3 large single-tiered stands going around the pitch, whilst the West Stand also has a small upper tier (I’m assuming for the more ‘prestigious’ spectators). The ground also has a large TV screen in the South-East corner and there are also clear perspex panels at the top of the stands, letting light enter the ground more easily.
The teams came out onto the pitch with Coventry in their famous sky blue and Notts County in a fairly hideous green and yellow away kit. A minute’s silence was held and impeccably observed to commemorate the Coventry Blitz, which had occurred almost 74 years to the day and then we were ready to get underway.
Obviously, I wanted County to win (I’d even made a point of wearing the same cream flat cap that had supposedly brought them luck when I saw them defeat Crawley back in April), but what I really wanted was an exciting game of football. Still this season, I’m struggling to attend genuinely exciting and enthralling games and today was my 40th of the season. League One is generally the league where I find the most exciting games on my travels, so I was hopeful today would be a belter. It wouldn’t be. Far from it.
Quite frankly, the football on show was woefully bad. Neither team could string a few passes together and it was all very frustrating to watch. The poor condition of the pitch certainly didn’t help matters either. Throw in that the atmosphere was rather dire (today’s sparse-looking crowd was a far cry from the 27,500 fans who attended the Gillingham game back in September). The away fans had very little to cheer on either.
In a scrappy encounter it could be argued that County had the better of the first half and they came close to scoring when Mike Edwards’s header was cleared off the line by Aaron Phillips.
The half was closed out with a series of half chances, but nothing of real significance. Although hero of the hour Roy Carroll did find himself down on the ground for a lengthy period following a fairly rash challenge from Coventry’s Phillips. However, his latest heroic actions saw him back to his feet moments before the interval.
Half-time: Coventry 0 – 0 Notts County.
After catching up on the half-time scores and purchasing (and not really enjoying) another beer, I headed up back to the top of the stand and hoped that the game would improve. It really couldn’t get worse, but it did improve only slightly.
Coventry were on the front foot during the opening stages of the second half, without really getting anywhere. Toiling up front for Coventry was Frank Nouble – one of the many strikers Brendan Rodgers brought to Swansea in our promotion season, 2010/11, and who ultimately failed at the club. Today he was working hard and actually looked much more effective than he ever did during his Swans spell.
The action was slow and so I was caught completely off guard when Garry Thompson went through on goal for the away team. Thompson cut into the box with only the keeper to beat and brilliantly curled the ball into he far corner. I went to turn to Landy to celebrate only to be met by him clotheslining me to the face instead. I did recover from the blow to dish out a few high fives (I can be old school like that) to the County fans around me. Soon the club’s rather bizarre ‘Wheelbarrow song (“I had a wheelbarrow/ the wheel came off!”) was resonating around the away end. 1-0 to the Pies!
There was just 20 minutes to play and it was very difficult to see where another goal was going to come from. There was one late penalty claim from the Coventry players and fans, but the ref was having none of it.
Full-time: Coventry City 0 – 1 Notts County. As much as I enjoyed spending time with the County fans again, I was almost glad that such a poor game was over.
After waiting to clap off the much-loved County manager Shaun Derry (he’s one of their own you know?) and having some photos of the empty ground, it was time to depart the Ricoh and head back into the city.
Traffic was a bit slow-moving, but I did make it back to the Town Crier pub to watch the England v Slovenia game; as a Welshman, I disguised my chuckled as Slovenia took the lead.
By the time I got to the spacious Litten Tree, where I had witnessed 3 middle-aged men in suits fairly paralytic at 10am earlier that morning, England were winning 2-1. With the pub just 5 minutes walk away from station, this was to be my last pub stop, before making my way back to Manchester.
Frankly, I’d not expected much from the city of Coventry beforehand, but I’d actually enjoyed the city; although it could maybe do with a new lick of paint in a few places. One part of the city that certainly doesn’t need a new lick of paint is the football stadium and it is great to see the club back in the city. Yes, it could be argued that it is just another soulless, new-build placed on the outskirts of a city, next to a shopping retail park, but it is certainly one of the better done new-builds I’ve been to; plus, you can’t beat a stadium with an adjoining casino (this coming from a very infrequent gambler). The only shame is that more of the locals aren’t heading over to the Ricoh to support their local club (there was just under 9000 spectators there for today’s game with 800 or so of them being away fans).
Once again, a big thanks to the Notts County contingent for being so welcoming and friendly. Hopefully see you guys again soon!
Highlights: decent city, good stadium, a casino attached to the stadium, good to meet up with the County fans again.
Low points: stadium located away from the city, not too much near the ground, poor game, poor atmosphere.
Check out all my photos from my trip to the Ricoh Arena here.