Laurie Kilpatrick is an innocent man. He wasn’t even an egg, as one of my daughters used to say, on the infamous night that Jimmy Hill – er – orchestrated the perfect finish to Coventry City’s final game of the season, a match delayed by congestion against Bristol City: making sure the players of both sides, then drawing 2-2, knew Sunderland had lost at Everton. It was the only combination of results that would send us down and keep both of them up and they played out the game without further effort.
Laurie, a London-based City fan who is the man behind The Lonely Season blog, sees the funny side of Sunderland supporters’ collective long memory. And with his answers to our questions, he upholds the high standards of our League One Who are You? interviews …
Salut! Sunderland: Coventry have climbed a little since our first game. Do you still see playoffs as a possibility or is it looking beyond you?
Laurie Kilpatrick: it’s over. About four games ago we were in with a a sniff but our limp home form has put paid to that. Creditable points at Barnsley and Luton are meaningless when you lose at home to Oxford.
Our two clubs have had torrid times. How has it been for a Coventry supporter to see what has become of a club that was competing at the highest level not so long ago?
Not great. I started supporting CCFC the season we got relegated from the Prem so it’s been one fun log flume downwards for me.
For the last two years, depressing as it sounds in League Two, things on the pitch have been about as good as I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve never seen us climb a division, so two Wembley visits in a year including a promotion was something extremely emotional to be a part of. I feel serious fatigue over the whole circus surrounding the club, so I try and focus on our players and our actual football matches as much as possible. That part has been very enjoyable for a good while now.
Are you happy with Mark Robins and the job he’s done in trying to build on last season’s promotion – and what about the ownership (Otium Entertainment)?
Robins is doing a very good job at Coventry City in trying circumstances. He’s managing in League One so of course he has his limitations, but on the whole the way we play is moving in the right direction.
He is obsessed with playing nice football, with young players, in semi-rigid systems. His lack of flexibility means that we often struggle to win once behind, but equally, we rarely lose once ahead.
He sets up his teams in a disciplined way so we are unlikely to lose by more than one goal. Some of his recruitment has been questionable. He was given something equating to a war chest at the start of this season, having flogged Marc McNulty to Reading and probably seeing some cash from the development of James Maddison at Leicester, but his buys have been unspectacular.
Conor Chaplin can’t get into the team, Bakayoko often treats the football like it’s a strange probe from an even stranger planet, Abu Ogogo was frozen out of the setup having scarcely played, while returning playmaker Tony Andreu was farmed out to Scotland (seemingly because he didn’t fit with our system) only for Robins to instantly bring in a new playmaker. Anyway, despite all that things are pretty decent in the hood.
As I said to your pal Ian before the first game, it’s the question that ‘cannot not be posed’! Does the lingering controversy and (on our side) bitterness about Jimmy Hill and that night in 1977 enter your thoughts when we play each other? Any first or handed-down memories?
It means nothing to me (born in ’89) but since we have few rivals who care about us any longer, having any kind of semi-legitimate beef is something I’ll happily go along with – even if it does seem to be almost solely perpetuated by your side of the divide.
The video of that Mackem screaming at the statue at the Ricoh is something else.
Who has been the pick of your side this season and where do you feel most in need of strengthening?
There have been lots of candidates for POTS this year. Dominic Hyam has become a man in the centre of defence, Jordan Willis makes up for the occasional error with his electrifying pace, Tom Bayliss is one of the most exciting young midfield talents outside of the Prem, right wing back Dujon Sterling is another stunning prospect from the Chelsea battery farm loan academy and Liam Kelly has danced on the still warm grave of Michael Doyle to make the central midfield berth his own.
Luke Thomas (on loan from Derby) has flattered to deceive for parts of the season but undoubtedly scares opposition defences – your defenders will have sore ankles from blocking all his “shots”.
Next season we will need a new keeper as Lee Burge heads for pastures new, and we still need someone who will score some goals. We don’t really have any wide players that belong to us so that will be a key area.
And who has given you most pleasure in City colours over the years?
I have a short memory, but the pleasure Tom Bayliss gives to me on a weekly basis is right up there. He’s not a bad player either.
Further back, James Maddison and Dele Adebola stick out. John Fleck was magic in his own way, and while I missed most of the Kieran Westwood years, I loved Joe Murphy a lot. Leon Clarke is like the ex I know I should forget about but I can’t. Him and his sweet mate Calum Wilson.
The flipside of that question: who would you rather forget?
Give Tony Mowbray a call, ask to borrow his phone and check out the WhatsApp group, ‘who’s not fit but available, today!?’ You should be able to get hold of Darius Henderson, Peter Ramage, Stephen Hunt and Marc Antoine Fortune without much trouble.
And your best and worst moments as a supporters?
Best: strangely the away leg at Notts County in the playoffs last year somehow trumped the final. We won 4-1 and ruined Kevin Nolan’s season. I’ve never been part of an away end like that. 4k Cov dominating the ground like a pack of wild animals. I think about it often.
Worst: Who remembers the worst moments? Not like there has been a shortage but I am struggling to dust off the memories that I try and suppress as soon as they happen. The majority of the League One relegation season was miserable, but the Checktrade win and the arrival of Mark Robins planted a seed of hope strong enough to make us cling to the future.
Your thoughts on us – SAFC, the fans, the city and region, Jack Ross?
I’m always a fan of any club that takes thousands away and Sunderland definitely tick that box.
It’s also an example of what Coventry could be, Sunderland being a one-club city with a stunning following.
The thought of Coventry having a 49k stadium that we actually needed is unfathomable. It’s nice having big boys down in League One briefly but for sure I would like to see Sunderland back in the Champ at least. It’s hard not to enjoy watching massive away followings dominate the funny grounds in this league.
And if not covered on that answer, what did you make of our own sharp decline and this season’s efforts to get back at least to the Championship?
You’ve been about par for what I expected. The level of expectation must be huge and I think to be in the mix at this stage of the season is a good effort. Especially since your club had essentially forgotten what winning was.
Hand on heart, where will our two clubs finish? And what is your longer-term prognosis for either or both?
I think you guys will win the playoffs and we will remain annoyingly distant – ninth is my prediction. I hope we have at least one massive away win left in us at either the SoL or Fratton Park.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Yes. We will draw 1-1.
Finally, a few lines of who you are, what you do and your history of supporting your club?
* Laurie Kilpatrick on himself:
I write a blog called The Lonely Season and have been a fan since the start of the millenium. I live in London so every game is something of a trek but that’s part of the enjoyment. I am not from Coventry and have never lived there so my fandom is something of an unlucky coincidence. My dad took me to a game aged 10 and that was that.