Today marks the start of Coventry City’s first league campaign in the third flight of English football for 49 years at Yeovil’s Huish Park. After a mixed pre-season City fans’ feelings are mixed with some confident that Andy Thorn’s summer transfer dealings can spark a successful campaign whilst others still bemoan the lack of investment from SISU and fear that the club’s fortunes have not yet reached their nadir.
Looking at the statistics of previous relegated teams from the Championship, the omens for an immediate return to the second tier don’t look great. Over the previous ten seasons only six of thirty clubs relegated from tier two have bounced back at the first attempt. Peterborough (in 2010-11), Norwich (2009-10), Leicester and Scunthorpe (2008-09). Brighton (2003-04) and Crewe (2002-03). In the last five seasons big clubs (by League 1 standards) such as Leeds United, Southampton, Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday have returned to the higher division but only after two or three seasons. Other clubs, such as Luton Town and Plymouth Argyle, have virtually sunk without trace, primarily because of financial difficulties. It could be argued that the Sky Blues have more in common with the Lutons and Plymouths than the aforementioned big clubs. Unlike relegation from the Premier League there are no parachute payments when you drop out of the Championship to make relegation a relatively soft landing and give a big advantage over the rest of the field..
Thorn’s transfer wheelings and dealings have drastically changed the face of the team with big names Keogh, Cranie, Eastwood and Clingan all now ex-players and a mixed bag of newcomers including two French defenders, a multi-capped Irish international (Kilbane), a refugee from Rangers (Fleck) and two interesting loanees (Brown and Ball). As I write this before the Dagenham game it would seem that, judging from the final friendlies, we may have at least five or six league debutants at Yeovil today.
The modern day record for most CCFC debutants was set in 2008-09 when six players made their first start in a City shirt: Keiren Westwood, Stephen Wright, Guillaume Beuzelin, Freddie Eastwood, Clinton Morrison and Aron Gunnarsson – all now ex-players. The vast turnover in City’s personnel can also be seen from looking at the team put out by Chris Coleman on the opening day in 2009-10. In a 2-1 home victory over Ipswich City lined up as follows: Westwood: Osbourne, Van Aanholt, Clingan, Wright, Turner, Bell, Gunnarsson, Morrison, Best, McIndoe. Today only David Bell is still at the club and sadly is on the injury list again.
Attendances at the first two home games this week will be interesting. The all-time Ricoh low of 12,054 will be severely tested, especially on Tuesday night when Sheffield United are in town. They may be one of the big clubs in this division but sadly midweek games at the start of the season, when many fans are still on holiday, are notoriously poor. With less than 6,000 season tickets sold I think the attendance will be under 12,000.
That is a far cry from the attendance at Highfield Road 50 years ago today. A crowd of 22,832 watched the team play Notts County in their first competitive game in their brand new sky blue kit. Jimmy Hill paraded his all new five man forward line as the Sky Blues ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Terry Bly and Hubert Barr. Golden memories!