Sent to Coventry!

4 02 2011

Monday found us down Baarf way ( far too near the Wreck for comfort!) and about to head off with Chris’s mum and dad for a spot of lunch at The Globe, a family favourite near Newton St Loe (well worth a visit, excellent bar menu, good range of beers and a blazing log fire – sales pitch over!) when her mobile suddenly burst into life…

It was school with the unwelcome, but not unexpected, news that ‘the men in suits’ (teacher speak for an Ofsted inspection team) were being parachuted in on Wednesday and Thursday. It rather took the edge off her fisherman’s pie.

On Tuesday morning (theoretically a non-working day) Chris was up at the crack and listening patiently as I held forth, giving her the benefit of my experience (having been on the receiving end of four Ofsted inspections as headteacher):

Don’t panic, you know your school & you know how much has been achieved, don’t stand for any nonsense, it’s the kids and the parents that count – they know how good your school is, Ofsted will come, they’ll go and it will all be over and forgotten in a few weeks, plus last time your lesson was graded as ‘magical’ (outstanding plus) and not many people can say that!

Needless to say it didn’t have the desired effect and as I waved her off, to calm the troops and support the head in preparing for their unwelcome visitors, her final words were, ‘You go to Coventry – enjoy yourself!’              

Yes, I was being sent to Coventry– literally! 

I set off, in my Peugeot 207 SW, towards the home of Jaguar, who this year are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the legendary E-type. It was a blue sky day (and fortunately not a sky blue night, but more of that later) and it would have been a dream to be driving, that car, one of the most famous and desirable in automotive history.

I have been to Coventry more than a few times in the past but it is one of those cities where the ring road and the geography of the place always conspire to play tricks on me.

Having eventually found my way close to the centre I parked up and, like all good Peeping Toms, set off with indecent haste, through the rather shabby and time-worn shopping precinct, towards Godiva Square. But on this occasion the good lady was in the pink, covering herself against onlookers with a T-shirt promoting the Race for Life, the UK’s biggest women only charity, in support of the fight against cancer.

Next on the agenda was a return to Coventry Cathedral, some 30 years after my last extensive visit. Just as I had remembered, there is an undoubted feeling of spirituality about the place, regardless of one’s religious conviction.

Coventry has had three cathedrals on this same site over the past 1000 years.  Its earliest, dated back to 1043, founded as a Benedictine community by the Earl of Mercia, Leofric, and his more famous wife, the lovely Godiva!

The second, formerly the Church of St Michael, designated a cathedral in 1918, fell victim to the Luftwaffe during the Coventry Blitz on the 14th November 1940, a night of utmost devastation for the entire city.   

The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the very next morning, not as an act of defiance but rather a symbol of faith, trust, hope and reconciliation for a world at war.     

Shortly after its destruction, the cathedral stonemason noticed two charred roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. It was later set upon an altar of rubble and the words ‘Father Forgive’ were inscribed through the soot of the burnt out sanctuary wall.    

A local priest famously recovered three medieval nails from the rubble and fashioned them into a cross. The Cross of Nails is now a world-wide symbol of Coventry’s ministry of reconciliation.

The ruins remain consecrated ground and stand cheek by jowl with the new building and the two together create a single continuous living cathedral.      

The architect of the ‘new’ cathedral was Sir Basil Spence. His design, chosen from over two hundred submitted, was at the time both revolutionary and controversial, but also proved an inspiration for many of the finest creative artists of the post war era.

Jacob Epstein’s vigorous sculpture of St Michael’s Victory over the Devil adorns the exterior wall while the interior is dominated by Graham Sutherland’s immense tapestry of Christ, behind the altar, and John Piper’s floor to ceiling, bowed baptistery window, an abstract design comprising 195 panes ranging across the spectrum from white to deep colours.

Sir Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was written with Coventry in mind and premiered in the ‘new’ cathedral at the time of its consecration by the Queen in May 1962.  

Towards the end of the last millennium a national poll voted Coventry Cathedral as the nation’s favourite 20th Century building. For worshippers and visitors alike it very clearly has that ability to move, excite, delight and inspire, and time and again elicits those gasps of awe and wonder so popular with the men in suits!

On Tuesday evening Coventry City – The Sky Blues – were hosting the Tricky Trees.  

As an aside, I have always been intrigued by the elephant on the club logo. Apparently it is taken from the city coat of arms and represents strength, as it is carrying a castle on its back. There is a possible link to an ancient legend, dating  back to the middle ages, about an elephant killing a dragon to protect its young.   The Phoenix rising from the ashes represents the rebirth of Coventry following the blitz. 

I do now recall, from Nicci’s time at Warwick University (which has a  Coventry postal address) that  there is also an elephant on their logo, alongside the Warwickshire bear and ragged staff

Back to the football. In all honesty it had not been my intention to attend this game, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly I wasn’t over confident that we would be able to perform and get a result, having played three matches in quick succession including a physically and emotionally draining victory over the Sheep, at Pride Park, and a close run 3-2 FA Cup defeat at the hands of Premiership side, West Ham.   

Secondly, I had visited the Ricoh Stadium for the first time last season. It too was a bitter cold February evening and the game was an uninspiring spectacle in a half empty ground, totally devoid of any kind of atmosphere, which we contrived to lose 1-0.

This time around the experience was pretty much the same but at least the result was 2-1 in our favour, making it five wins on the bounce and placing us within a couple of  points of a top two Championship place, with two games in hand! 

Coventry ventured into our penalty area once in the first half and we promptly gifted them a goal, to ex Forest striker, and ex jail-bird, Marlon King who was barracked mercilessly all night by the travelling Forest contingent.         

But this Forest side is nothing if not resilient and within the next ten minutes not only had we equalised but taken the lead.

First, Lewis McGugan, an enigmatic talent and on the radar of a few Premiership sides, won the ball in midfield  and immediately let fly with an effort from 30 yards that skipped off the turf and over the  keeper’s despairing dive. It may have been a speculative effort assisted by a goalkeeping error but scoring is becoming a very useful habit for McGugan. This was his tenth league goal of the season – let’s hope there are a few more to come on the final run in.

Five minutes later, Guy Moussi surged into the box and crossed for Robbie Earnshaw to execute a quality finish, firing the ball into the top corner of the net. Cue, celebratory somersault and game over – we’re on a roll!  

With a few exceptions (last season for one!), Coventry has tended to be a happy hunting ground for Forest over the years.

Forest fans, who were there (and I was), will never forget that sunny Saturday afternoon, April 22nd 1978, when a hard-fought goalless draw secured the League Championship (with four games to go!). There were 37,000 packed into Coventry’s old Highfield Road ground and the place was rocking!

I can understand the appeal of moving to the bright new Ricoh Arena but there is no doubt that the atmosphere generated by Sky Blue fans at their old home (which I always thought was in pretty decent shape anyway) has not transferred with them.

There was an attendance figure of 14,631 on Tuesday night with over 2,000 of those away supporters. Taunts of ‘Your ground is too big for you …’ echoed around the Ricoh and there were huge expanses of empty blue plastic seats to justify the claim – a shame.

Anyhow, a satisfactory result at the end of another pleasant away day but hopefully next year I won’t be sent to Coventry. There will be no need if we  make it back to the Premier League, and this time around, yes we should!  



2 responses

5 02 2011

The standard seems to get better and better. Who else would make football and history a good early morning read! It cheered me up a bit after yesterday,s result in Cardiff. We seemed to play down to our usual standard.

5 02 2011

I thought England were very clinical. They had a clear game plan and delivered it pretty well. Wales were always dangerous in broken play but England should have finished it off sooner. Early days but with 3 games at Twickenham England should be in the final shake up. The last time they won in Wales (2003) they went on to win the Grand Slam & the World Cup. Too much to expect history to repeat itself!

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