The dawning of the year 2000, millennium year, was a time of great excitement for the future. For all football fans the new millennium was a blank sheet of paper with which to re-write their clubs histories and forget about past failures. On January 3rd 2000, during the 1999/2000 season, newly promoted Manchester City Football Club visited Crewe Alexandra in the Nationwide League Division One (the second tier of English Club Football). Despite a 1-1 draw against relative minnows Crewe that day, City remained top of the Division One table and optimism was in the air for a second successive promotion back into the top division of English football. The previous season City had memorably scraped promotion from the second division following a play-off final victory against Gillingham at the old Wembley. At the dawn of this new era, it seemed to fans of the blue half of Manchester that a long nightmare period was finally coming to an end. During the 1990’s they had sunk to new depths never before known by the club but amazingly they had not lost their support. In many ways the dark times had galvanised the supporters to get behind the team more than ever, in a tremendous show of loyalty, and as if by sheer collective-will they had dragged the club back towards the top flight. In the same month, work on the Commonwealth Stadium had begun in preparation for the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth games. City moved to the stadium in the 2003/2004 season leaving their long term home of Maine Road behind (it was soon after demolished to make way for a housing development). City were promoted back into the top flight as runners up to Charlton Athletic in May 2000 and despite once more being relegated from the FA Carling Premiership in 2001, were promoted once again to the Barclaycard Premiership in 2002, just in time for the opening of the City of Manchester Stadium (Etihad Arena).
Since 2002, following several managerial and ownership changes, they have slowly but surely emerged as a new force in English football, undeniably as a result of the Abu Dhabi investments over recent years, but also as a result of some excellent football played by gifted international superstars. City finally claimed the Barclays Premier League title in 2012 but failed to defend it in 2013 after wounded neighbours United won it back in Sir Alex Fergusons last season as manager. With the renewed rivalry, regular success in the Manchester derby and continued financial backing, possibly the tide has finally turned City’s way in Manchester and English football.
On the 4th January 2000, the other famous wearers of the sky blue coloured home kit, Coventry City Football Club, faced Chelsea at Highfield Road. The Sky Blues drew 2-2 that day and finished the season just below mid-table in 14th position in the FA Carling Premiership. However there was a sense that fortune might be running out for the club that had achieved 34 consecutive years in the top flight of English football. Coventry failed to win an away game in the league that season and they were then unable to keep hold of several key players who departed for “higher achieving” clubs. The following season 2000/2001, both MCFC and CCFC were relegated in 18th and 19th place respectively. Coventry City have not played a top flight English league game since May 2001. In an almost polar opposite trajectory to Manchester City, Coventry City has fallen down the English league divisions into the third flight, currently known as Skybet League One.
The old Coventry City ground, Highfield Road, home to the club for 106 years was left behind in 2005 in the hope that new investment in a modern stadia known as the City of Coventry Stadium and later as the Ricoh Arena, would reverse the fortunes of the club and take them into the new millennium fully equipped for life in the top flight. Unfortunately this has not gone to plan. Due to relegation in 2001 and successive failures to gain promotion, the plans for the stadium were downsized and capacity was reduced from 45,000 to 32,609. A series of disastrous exchanges in ownership, crippling debt and over 20 changes in management personnel has resulted in the club falling further down the leagues and coming into dispute with Arena Coventry Limited over its £1.3m-a-year rent. The club has now played at Northampton Town's Sixfields stadium since May 2013, a round trip of around 70 miles for local supporters. Although the current financiers of Coventry City FC plan to build a new stadium back in Coventry, this is some way off reality and by the time it is achieved who can predict the status of the club at that point. However, Coventry are now playing some decent football and appear to have found a manager who can match the expectations of the fans and the reality of the financial situation in which they find themselves. Like Manchester City before them, the team must fall so far before revival is inevitable (depending on the will of the fans) and it could be this season that Coventry have reached that very point and start their comeback.
For those unfamiliar to England’s geography, approximately 100 miles separates the two clubs. Manchester is in the North West football hotbed surrounded by clubs with great histories such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton and looking further back Preston, Blackburn and Bolton. Coventry is in a relatively quieter area of footballing prowess, south of Birmingham (home of Aston Villa and Birmingham City). Manchester and Coventry do share some notable similarities away from football and top of that list is their musical heritage. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Coventry was the forefront of the 2 tone sound (Specials, Beat, Selecter etc.) whilst Manchester was the hub of the Madchester scene (Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets) in the late 80’s and early 1990’s. Both Cities have a rich industrial past and a strong political consciousness.
Until Manchester City’s exploits in the last 3 years it was actually Coventry who had tasted success more recently with their fairy tale FA Cup win against Spurs in 1987 compared to MCFC’s league cup victory in 1976. MCFC were beaten FA Cup finalists in 1981 also against Spurs and several players in that City team had Coventry links, (Tommy Hutchinson, Bobby MacDonald and Dave Bennett). The clubs have also shared a memorable manager over the years in Joe Mercer.
Despite the current vast gulf between the two clubs it is actually the story of Manchester City that should inspire optimism in Coventry City fans for the future. MCFC were in the footballing wilderness just 14 years ago and through good luck and collective will they came back stronger than ever before. The same good fortune could await Coventry City FC.