Ricoh Arena - Coventry City FC
Monday April 17th, 2006
V Leicester City, Championship League, 3pm
By Susan Bowen

The Easter Monday clash between Leicester City and Midlands rivals Coventry City was the first opportunity for Foxes fans to view the Ricoh Arena, which is the new home of the Sky Blues having replaced the more customary Highfield Road. This much anticipated fixture in the M69 derby resulted in Leicester being awarded a huge allocation of 5,000 tickets, which the club happily accepted and duly sold within 10 days due to the improved form of Rob Kelly's team and the noticeable optimism around amongst loyal Leicester supporters. Coventry City too were expecting a bumper gate that would hopefully be the largest league crowd to date at the new stadium.

When The Ricoh Arena was being constructed twelve months ago there was a rumour circulated in the local media that a Leicester supporter employed as part of the construction firm had buried in the foundations a Leicester City shirt in order to jinx the Sky Blues at their new stomping ground and to bode ill for them in derby matches against the Mighty Foxes. This only added spice to the game and antagonised the natives further to whip up anti-Leicester sentiment. Due to the fact that it was Easter Bank Holiday, I retired home to Newmarket in Suffolk after the Preston game on Saturday and enjoyed a lovely weekend with family. On the day of the game, I made my way around my grandparents where I was being collected from to travel to the game. In total four of us were journeying to Warwickshire for the 90-mile haul, including my granddad, dad and a family friend.
 
We then made our way from the rural obscurity of Suffolk along the long and winding A14 dual-carriageway and then connected with the M6 motorway before then veering off at Junction 3. The Ricoh Arena is visible in the distance from the motorway and looks rather impressive nestled in the Coventry suburbs. We quickly exited and followed the road signs to football matchday car parks, which were conveniently close to the motorway junction, but dubiously some distance from the ground. There seemed ample parking around the trading estate and business park at Junction 3 and we had the luxury of picking a choice spot. The odd aspect of the parking was being awarded a ticket coupon, which had to be paid for at the ticket office at The Ricoh Arena, otherwise it was not valid and we would not be able to leave the car park after the match. A little unnecessary hassle I thought and an inconvenience. Nonetheless we trudged the rather gruelling two-mile hike to the stadium, in which my granddad nearly passed out on, rather presuming it was a lot closer. It certainly did not appear this far from the motorway! After a 20-minute brisk stroll we arrived at the state-of-the-art, peculiarly named, Ricoh Arena.

 

 
First appearances are that it is indeed a visually striking stadium that is modern and contemporary. The conference centre bolted on to the main stand is an unusual site, but one that does not detract from the stadium, but instead adds to the unique and interesting qualities of the ground. Like most new stadia built, and I also put The Walkers Stadium in to this bracket, they all look rather similar from the outside with metal framed turnstile entrances, a complex network of bold, white stanchions and transparent, clear perspex backing. The stadium was neat enough without being majestic or magnificent. We then made our way around the stadium to the away stand behind one goal and entered in to the concourse area. I was rather impressed in general with the concourse with the spacious, open layout with ample room to roam and good selection of food and beverage kiosks with electronic menus above. One element of the concourse which was a glaring fault was the architectural finish, or lack of. The concourse had an industrial feel with exposed cable, wires and insulation foil that made it, particularly across the ceilings, look unsightly, unpleasant, an eyesore and more appropriately, incomplete.
 
Whilst the rest of my party enjoyed some much needed alcohol, I quickly and hurriedly scampered up the flight of stairs to the seating area to discover exactly where we would be sitting. My first glance inside the stadium was breathtaking as it was a dazzling sight of bright Sky Blue seats in the steeply angled stands. Despite the fact that the design inside was fairly conservative, particularly with its similarities to other recently purpose-built stadia, it still proved to be a spectacle. Three sides of the ground are single-tiered with wheelchair gantries set half way up. The main stand, housing the corporate and executive facilities thought breaks up the monotony and uniformity of the stadium by being two-tired. A smaller upper-tier containing seating for corporate diners overhangs the larger lower-tier, which contains the directors box. The one disappointing element to the stadium was the distance that spectators are from the pitch with the stands being rather set back with a wide cinder track in-between. By the time kick-off approached 5,000 members of the Blue Army had taken to their seats to pack out the away section, which in this instance was the entirety of the goal end. Coventry fans were sluggish to arrive and the stadium only rapidly filled up close to kick-off with a crowd just short of 27,000 in attendance. 
 
The game started off at a frenetic pace with the blood and thunder you expect of any derby occasion. Within the first ten minutes Leicester plundered a lead courtesy of a crisp volley from Richard Stearman from 20 yards that promptly rattled the net much to the delirious joy of the large and boisterous travelling contingent who were savouring the start to the proceedings. However, within a matter of moments Leicester's joy was cut short by an instant reply from Coventry, which then cued celebrations amongst the Coventry followers. The rest of the first half disappeared without note apart from a disallowed goal for Coventry due to offside and a blistering shot from Danny Tiatto being palmed over the bar by the Coventry goalkeeper. Despite the lack of exciting play on the pitch, the atmosphere off was noisy and passionate between both sets of supporters. Coventry's vociferous section is adjacent to the away fans in the corner of the NTL Stand, The loud banter between both sets of fans was consistent and remained unabated for the rest of the game. In fact, I was rather surprised by the level of passion, support and animosity towards Leicester from the Coventry supporters. This however was articulated in a fiery, yet healthy way, without resorting to violent disorder or mindless gesturing. It was all good-natured and Leicester's mammoth Blue Army continuously roared the side on for a winner. Dennis Wise, villain and nemesis to Leicester fans was continually jeered and abused, much to the joy of player and the Coventry fans. Choruses of "Dennis Wise, what a w****r!" rang out amongst the Leicester supporters after a few altercations with Leicester players. Coventry supporters in response constantly sang their rendition and club anthem to "When we all sing together", much to the annoyance and irritation of the Blue Army. 
 
The second half proved dull in terms of attractive football, but exciting with regard to drama and high tension. Leicester had a man sent off half way through the second period after a lunge by Patrick Kisnorbo on a Coventry player that got him instantly dismissed despite his apologies. Despite the numerical advantage and the urgent pressing for an equaliser and desperate defending by the Foxes, Coventry failed to find a break through to penetrate the stoic and resilient Leicester defence that held on to grind out a drew. Dennis Wise came closest with a shot that rattled the bar with four minutes left, but that would have been cruel and unfortunate on Leicester that played robustly. The Blue Army left slightly deflated after letting another lead slip and failing to secure a morale-boosting victory. Still, Championship survival has been assured and a promotion campaign looms on the horizon with the menacing Iain Hume and Matty Fryatt carving out goal-scoring opportunities. Very few clubs can take 5,400 supporters to a meaningless, end-of-season affair, despite the rivalry between the two clubs. Leicester are fantastically supported and deserve success. Come on you Blues!   

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