• Phil

Paths Cleared and Stadia Lost

I’ve had an interesting couple of days following up some of the themes that I’ve been discussing on here over the last week or so.

In my post about the guided walk given by Stoke Local History Group last Saturday I had mentioned that it had been good to meet like minded people and had hoped that I would be working with them towards common goals on a voluntary and / or professional basis.

Yesterday I met up with Marie Allen who also attended the walk on Saturday. Marie is one of Coventry’s “Ambassadors” in the lead up to our stint as “City of Culture” and from my brief experience seems to be doing the job admirably. I found her to be very knowledgeable, supportive and helpful in encouraging my own efforts to help promote our City and develop my small enterprise. Within a couple of hours she had introduced me to one of Coventry’s leading historians, arranged a meeting to give me more access to the tour guide market locally and offered some potentially valuable future support. At a time when there seem to be a lot of negatives locally it is great to come into contact with positive people making a real effort to promote the city.

The positivity continued into today! I went out with a group of volunteers from the Coventry Way Association again after my first stint a couple of weeks ago. We were working on ensuring that one of the footpaths just outside the City was passable – the mission was successful after a couple of hours or so of shearing, strimming and raking in the pleasant (and dry!) surroundings of the Warwickshire countryside.

My colleagues in the working party had all lived much sportier lives than myself (although I did consider myself a dab hand at darts at one time!). The Association organises and runs a 40 mile challenge run each year on top of maintaining the footpath (all of which runs within a six mile radius of Coventry at any point).

One of our number today was Colin Kirkham. He is another person with a passion about Coventry history and during our brief conversation today showed a good knowledge of the city’s weaving industry and sporting heritage.

Colin’s reputation is as a formidable marathon runner. together with other achievements he represented Great Britain during the 1972 Munich Olympics. I was told that he moved to Coventry to join Coventry Godiva Harriers – one of the leading athletics clubs at the time.

Thinking back to my childhood and teenage years in Coventry during the 1970s I remember a time when spectator sport was much more affordable. Not only more affordable but with Coventry teams in a prominent position nationally.

Coventry Bees speedway team were regular league and cup winners at the time of riders like multiple world champion Ole Olsen. Ole took over the mantle from Nigel Boocock as one of the fans’ favourites and able captain. Brandon really was a hive of activity with crowds of 15000 attending annual British Finals at the stadium.

Coventry City had firmly established themselves in football’s top flight and even qualified for Europe in 1970 (another Munich connection as they actually beat Bayern at Highfield Rd – albeit after a heavy defeat in Bavaria).

These were heady days as well for Coventry Rugby Club – again recognised as amongst the leading lights of their day. These were the days of players like David Duckham, Fran Cotton and other international gracing Coundon Road.

It seems strange to reflect on the state of Coventry’s sport in my youth compared to what is happening now. Coventry Rugby Club are now long established in Godiva Harriers former home – The Butts stadium. Cov’s former home of Coundon Road is now a housing estate (although some thought has been given to its past through naming roads after former players).

Now that Coventry City FC have moved out of the City the honour of being Coventry’s leading resident football club will be fought over between Sphinx and Butt’s tenants United who meet in the extra-preliminary round of the FA Cup early in August (interesting to have meaningful Coventry derbies even at that level!). The Sky Blues old Highfield Rd is now another housing estate (which has also taken over one of my old music venue haunts – The Mercers Arms).

Apart from the City playing in Birmingham, we have the (remnants of) the Bees riding in Leicester whilst (the former London) Wasps are now the City’s leading performing large spectator sport club and play out of the stadium built for the Brum bound Sky Blues! Who would have thought it back in the 70s? Or the 90s? Or the 2000s? A strange world we live in!

These are themes that can’t be ignored for many Coventrians and I’ll be coming back to them as the ramble goes on.....

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