In the balmy summer of 2009, a fresh-faced 20-year-old soon-to-be world renowned columnist travelled the vast British Isles following the reformation of Oasis. From Edinburgh to Manchester, I would stand outside towering stadiums beckoning fellow concert-goers to purchase fanzines dedicated to the most influential indie band of the past 30 years.
A day in the Scottish capital had yielded a plentiful commission of 50 pounds, while a day stood outside St Peter’s station resulted in a similar amount. When the opportunity arose to travel to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, the thought of a day out combined with a wage that would see this scrimping student through the next week was an absolute no-brainer.
The naivety of youth could not have been more forcibly rammed home if I had given my bank details out to an email claiming that I had won a “massive yacht”.
Four hours spent in the back on a Ford Ka with three other gullible fools followed by an afternoon standing in the pouring rain... followed by another four hours in a cramped Ford Ka taught me a few lessons.
Firstly, people at gigs don’t want to buy an unofficial fanzine. Secondly, Oasis fans, in the main, are complete idiots and thirdly, and most importantly, Coventry’s Ricoh Arena is one of the most soulless, desolate places on the planet.
Forthright opinions established during youth tend to soften as we get older - we look at things from a different perspective and are willing to give people, places and events a second chance. As a now world-wearied 29-year-old world renowned columnist, I headed back to the scene of one of my most miserable days.
The world of 2018 is a very different to the one I encountered in 2009 and, maybe Coventry and the Ricoh Arena would be different. After all, a lot of things from that day had changed.
Oasis are now called Liam Gallagher and Noel Gallagher, Coventry City have had a few years to bed into their surroundings, and the sun was shining.
Yes, I was ready to give this corner of the West Midlands a second chance... for about half an hour.
I stepped off the incredibly prompt M34 Megabus at Pool Meadow Interchange in the fabulous 2021 City of Culture full of hope and optimism. As I gazed up at the cloudless sky, I took a moment to drink in my surroundings - “today is going to be a good day”, I mused.
I indulged in a oddly cubed ham sandwich (I dunno, must be a Coventry thing), and boarded the handy bus service to the stadium.
As I alighted, I surveyed the retail park in which this stadium occupies. Ah, there’s a train station here now, that’s pretty handy, I’ll make sure to remember that as I exit later. This day is going swimmingly, I may even whet my whistle in the nearby Frankie & Benny’s (always one of my favourite away day venues). Ah, only one member of staff working the bar, not to worry... I’ll just head into the stadium.
The boiling rage brewing inside had not quite reached the back of my throat and even managed to subside after sampling a £4.80 pint of flat lager.
While I began to realise why I had such a loathing to Coventry, many of my fellow Sunderland brethren were giddy with excitement of Love Island 2017 bronze medalist Chris Hughes dancing around the concourse.
This was no time to be seduced by the charm of an A-lister such as Hughes, we had a ninety minutes of being called “a town full of paedos” by the noble people of Coventry waiting for us.
The locals seemed very excited about Sunderland coming to town and they’d pulled out all the stops. They’d all congregated in one corner, put a lovely portrait flag of Jimmy Hill opposite the away supporters and even done their research and found that convicted sex offender Adam Johnson did, in fact, play for Sunderland.
However, it wasn’t just a big day for Coventry.
There were even a few Newcastle supporters that couldn’t resist the allure of two former Premier League teams duking it out in the third tier. Decked out in their finest black and white replica shirts, the charming Geordies really got their £22 match ticket’s worth as the first half went on for an excruciating 53 minutes.
And no doubt, the Newcastle contingent in attendance will have been delighted to see a proud northeastern such as Lee “The Absolute F**king Boy” Cattermole ram home the opening goal. It is this kind of north-east solidarity I would like to see more of, even in these testing times for our beloved neighbours they can put rivalry aside and cheer on Jack Ross’ red and white wizards.
Coventry missed a couple of sitters and then equalised to give their fans a brief moment to stop singing about paedophiles. The hosts went on to miss more chances but the final whistle was just the beginning of the fun.
The scene in the coach park after the match is what every Stone Island-clad 15-year-old dreams of when they’re posting “shit fans” on various Instagram accounts.
Coventry’s “mad lads” broke through a barrier to have a scuffle with their Sunderland counterparts. Bald men in parka jackets got excited, teenagers reached for their camera phones to film the “mass brawl”, mothers screamed at their sons and police repeatedly told people to “get back”.
All the while, I watched on.
My mind reverted back to that day in the summer of 2009. I thought about all those people that wandered past in the pouring rain. I thought how damp I felt in the car driving back to Sunderland and the £8 I made from the day. And I thought how much more fun it was than this.
The only way home was now blocked by a bunch of lower league football supporters hitting each other. The once-regarded-handy railway station was trainless for the next hour. The one bus heading back to the city was full.
I begrudgingly handed over £10 to the taxi driver with the simple message of “get me out of here”. Get me out of Coventry.