Yesterday saw the start of the domestic football league season. It was a successful start for Coventry City in their new (and hopefully temporary home) of St Andrews in Birmingham.
Without going into the politics of the Sky Blues move out of the City I think that it would be fair to suggest that the financial aspects of the game generally are now the dominant factor in the running of football clubs at all levels.
Grass roots clubs struggle to collect enough in “subs” to cover the expenses of kit, insurance, pitch hire and all of the other associated costs. In Coventry there are only a fraction of the municipal football pitches which once were available.
When considering the professional game many people - particularly of my own generation (born around the early 1960s) and older – will pass comments like “money is ruining the game” and “footballers are much too highly paid”.
Up until the early 1960s it was often the case that professional footballers would also need to work in factories or traditional trades. When I was a teenager I was an avid collector of Coventry City football programmes and amassed a collection including some going back to the war years. The short “pen pictures” (biographies of visiting players) would often start with sentences like “joiner by trade”, “electrician”, “factory foreman” or sometimes “Jack of all trades”).
The direct connection between professional footballers and the everyday working life of their communities was weakened early in the 1960s with the introduction of the minimum wage in the sport in this country after extensive lobbying from the Professional Footballers Association. The mastermind behind this was Jimmy Hill – later to become Coventry City manager and driving force behind the “Sky Blue Revolution” which saw the club’s rapid rise to the top division and (a little ironically in this context) also saw the encouragement of community involvement.
Community involvement with the football club did not start with Jimmy Hill however. There is an excellent book by Lionel Bird - “One Man’s Vision” which tells the history of Coventry City Supporters Club (much more interesting than it may sound and a real social history). The book describes in detail how supporters had played a leading part in financing the club throughout the twentieth century including major ground developments.
Looking back even further the club was set up by Coventry workers in 1883. Originally named “Singers FC” after the local cycle company the club was founded at a meeting held at the Binley Oak pub on Paynes Lane (now a Muslim resource centre I believe, the pub also had links with the launch of the 2 Tone phenomenon of the late 1970s).
There will be more to come about local sport and links with industry and social clubs associated with Coventry’s factories as my ramble goes on into the coming weeks..........