Steve Ogrizovic On Coventry’s Rise From Administration To Play-Off Final
Here at BoyleSports we got the chance to speak with Coventry legend and record appearance holder Steve Ogrizovic ahead of the Play-Off Final.
The former Coventry City goalkeeper played at the club for 16 years and made a remarkable 507 appearances in that time. Ogrizovic has also had spells as both the caretaker manager and goalkeeper coach at the club so it’s safe to say that there’s nobody who knows the club inside and out like him.
With Coventry’s EFL Championship Play-Off Final with Luton Town fast approaching we started off by asking the Coventry legend what a win on Saturday and promotion would mean to the club and the fans.
What Promotion Would Mean For Coventry City And The Fans
Q: How special would it be to finally get back up to the top?
It will be an unbelievable achievement, from the managers, from the players, from the club. Where they were, where they went to and where they potentially can get back to is an incredible effort.
It’s been a long road. It’s been a difficult road, there have been some dark days in recent years. But it’s been probably the last six or seven years, there’s been a steady rise up the league and here we are now 90 minutes away from being back in the Premier League.
Q: What is so special about Coventry City?
First and foremost, it’s a one-club city. I fell in love with it when I joined back in 1984; it just felt like a real family home club.
People were very friendly. Coventry people love their football club, we’ve got some terrific fans and supporters. It always felt a really good place to play.
Q: Is promotion the dream for clubs like Coventry, given the huge step up in standard?
From an ex-players point of view, from a fans point of view, I think it’s an unbelievable experience for either side, whichever team makes it into the Premier League. It’s an opportunity week in, week out to see the very best teams.
Can you believe that if we do win, next year, we’ll be entertaining the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United? We’ve not done that for a number of generations.
From a fans point of view, I would be saying even if we were up for one year and struggled and went down, it would be great to experience those times.
The important thing is if Coventry do make it there’s got to be a plan to manage things going forward. You can’t do it overnight, you’ve got to build a solid base.
I know fans won’t like me for saying this but I could actually stomach a year in the Premier League and then relegation, if it meant we never ever had to struggle in that position again.
Q: Is the squad in good shape for promotion and able to avoid a massive rebuild like Nottingham Forest last summer?
You’d be surprised actually, we have got a very similar situation. I think you’ll find three or four centre-backs are loan players, and Michael Rose’s contract is up.
We’ve got the same situation in wing-pack positions so there’s a massive recruitment job for Coventry next season regardless of what division we’re in.
But I’m sure those plans are in place. I think one of the reasons we are where we are at the moment is because when Mark came back one of the first things he did was build a proper recruitment strategy. The club is very diligent in their recruitment.
The Club’s Rise From Dark Times
Q: How dark were those days?
It probably started during the back end of my last year of my playing career when, with the best intentions, Coventry wanted to leave Highfield Road for a bigger stadium. The idea was good, but the timing was probably wrong. Coventry have never ever managed to own the stadium that they built and the financial repercussions of that have been felt quite severely.
Times were tough in the noughties, we went into administration in 2013, there’s been three relegations in the space of 20 years. You know, it’s been a dark time. We had rent disputes continually with the owner.
We’ve been away from Coventry twice, it’s been tough. One year filters into the other and every year you think things are going to get back to normal and you turn a corner, but it was the opposite.
Q: With the takeover in January, does it feel like you’ve got your club back?
I think so. The last owners were – to say mildly – not very well liked by the public. A lot of people wouldn’t go to games because of the ownership.
But the improvements had started before then. Back in 2017 we were going to get relegated to League Two, but we got into the EFL Trophy Final and things were not good at the club.
Mark Robins had just come back for a second time and only been in the job a few weeks when we went to Wembley. But we took 40,000 to Wembley, and they sang, they chanted, they just had a fantastic day, there was a smile on fans’ faces. And I think the players, everybody, could feel the love from the public was still there.
That was the start of something good. We got promoted from League Two via the play-offs the following year, and yet again, they all came out to Wembley like they will on Saturday, in their droves.
Q: To be here now, after the start of the season and not even having a pitch fit to play on?
Two years ago, we got back to the CBS Stadium and that was great news. It meant that the Coventry public could actually support the team in the droves. Then lo and behold we had the Commonwealth Games and the pitch was deemed unplayable so we had no ground, playing six or seven games away from home at the start of this season.
Finances were tight, we sold our centre-back to Blackburn, things were looking dire and, at that particular time, nobody in their wildest dreams would have imagined what would happen a few short months later.
Do Coventry Lack Star Power?
Q: Coventry look a team of unity, with no stars?
That’s their strength. But a lot of Coventry players go under the radar and you could probably say the same about our opponents Luton.
Viktor Gyokeres has for me been the standout striker in the league. I know he’s not scored as many goals as Chuba Akpom at Middlesbrough. But the way he leads the line and the improvement he’s made over the years has been incredible and he deserves that stage.
We’ve got a midfield player in Gus Hamer who started the season not very well but he’s been amazing since then. I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible. I’ve not seen a better all-round midfield player than Gus this season.
He is a terrific talent for those that haven’t seen him, his long range passing is incredible. He also scores goals from midfield as well. So I think both of those players definitely are bound for the Premier League, if not with Coventry with somebody else.
It goes back to my playing days, and some of the best teams I played in – it’s having round pegs in round holes and that’s what this team has got. I think there are quite a number of them who would grace the Premier League if we get there.
Manager Mark Robins Has ‘Done A Terrific Job’
Q: And the job Mark Robins has done as manager?
He’s jumped every hurdle put in front of him and he’s had quite a few hurdles put in front of him!
But he’s managed to keep the players totally focused on football. He’s a very calm person, it’s been a brilliant fit for Coventry since he came back and it was the first time round.
He really loves the club and feels at home and that’s always a good start. He’s virtually not put a foot wrong. He’s done a terrific job.
Q: Would it be a risk to play Kasey Palmer after injury?
I would be very surprised to see him used this weekend, probably the same as Cauley Woodrow for Luton. It’s not a game to gamble in.
There’s enough good players available, fit and in form. It would be unfair on Kasey for him to come back and perform in a one off game.
The Threats That Luton Pose
Q: What are the key dangers Luton offer?
They’ve got some good footballers. They’ve got some strength and power. Front players like Carlton Morris have been on fire this season.
They’ll play football, they’ll go direct if they need to. There are no airs and graces about the team. They are a real threat and you have to respect what they’ve done this season.
Coventry’s 1987 FA Cup Final Win
Q: You were playing on the great day in 1987 when you won the FA Cup?
We’re still dining out on that! We played to a full house at Wembley and these players on Saturday are going to experience that as well. If we do win the game, it’s going to be some homecoming and I’m sure the players will all experience exactly the same thing we have since that Cup win.
As people, you grew up dreaming that one day you might play in an FA Cup final. There is not a day goes by if I’m in Coventry when someone doesn’t come up to you and say ‘I remember where I was in 87’. They want to tell you their experience, they still remember it fondly and a lot say it was the greatest day of their lives.
Everyone dressed their houses with flags and good luck messages. The cars had ribbons on which stayed on until they withered and died. There was a real feel-good factor about Coventry and I sense that feeling again.
If they get the job done there is going to be a special homecoming for them. It’s time for another generation to experience the acclaim.
Q: Would this match that FA Cup winning feeling?
Nothing beats winning a competition. Back in the day, nothing’s going to beat winning an FA Cup final. But for the importance and the fact that the club would be back in the Premier League it would be massive.
There’s only so much happiness you can have, the fans are going to feel great, the players are going to feel great and it’s going to be a great experience, if it happens.
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