x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The biggest team in English football? Why that would be Coventry City

Not Liverpool, not Manchester United. Will Batchelor has a water-tight, scientific method will tell you who the biggest club in England really is.

Coventry City's fans have only ever been able to celebrate one major trophy, the 1987 FA Cup, yet our columnist reckons they are England's biggest club, by a complicated, scientific process of elimination. Matthew Lewis / Getty Images
Coventry City's fans have only ever been able to celebrate one major trophy, the 1987 FA Cup, yet our columnist reckons they are England's biggest club, by a complicated, scientific process of elimination. Matthew Lewis / Getty Images

Oh dear. Don't look now but somebody just poked the Biggest Club monster. Guys, I thought we were all agreed on this? First rule of football: nobody talks about the Biggest Club. No good can ever come of it.

It was Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool's new £12 million (Dh71.4m) signing, who wielded the stick. And, boy, did he wield it hard.

"It is the biggest club I have ever played for," he said, jabbing that slumbering beast right between the ribs. "In the [English] Premier League, there is no bigger club than Liverpool."

Thanks for that. Thanks a lot.

Now, the apologists say we must not blame Sturridge, that he was simply responding to a journalist's question in the only way a new signing can.

"What else was he meant to say?" they cry.

For the record: "One of". That is what he was meant to say. "It is one of the biggest clubs I have ever played for. In the Premier League, Liverpool are right up there with the big boys."

Simple, eh? Job done, journalist answered, monster fast asleep, emergency averted.

But no. Not Sturridge. Perhaps lured by the thought of those few extra decibels of approval from the Kop, he had to take it that step further.

And so it began. How many lives were interrupted by those fateful words, as fans dropped whatever meaningful and sensible task in which they were engaged to compare dusty old silverware statistics and attendance figures?

A million, 10 million, perhaps even 100 million otherwise decent, educated men reduced to trading that ultimate playground barb: "My club is bigger than yours."

So what happens now? How do we stop this new age of barbarity consuming us all? The answer is, of course, the driving engine behind all progress: the appliance of science.

You see, I have a formula - and under its cold and unforgiving scrutiny, we can finally penetrate the cursed miasma of emotion, superstition and dogma which surrounds this Biggest Club question. I shall apply it here for England but it will work for any country.

The first element of the formula is relatively simple. We must declare a cut-off date for "history", to rid ourselves of those analogous legends of bygone and incomparable eras.

We really cannot have the Barnsleys and Burys of this world, for example, clouding the issue simply because they popped up in an FA Cup final while Queen Victoria was hardly cold in her grave.

So, for these purposes, let us agree that football history began in the 1950s.

Now for the second stage - and I am afraid this may sting a little. We must eliminate all football clubs which share a town or city with a rival club.

Think about it. A truly big club does not simply fill a stadium but fully penetrates the fabric of its own environs. And how can any club achieve anything like full penetration when 50 per cent of the population actively wishes it ill?

So, sorry Sturridge, but Liverpool are out of the running, as are the Manchester, London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Nottingham "giants".

For the same reason, we must also rule out clubs which hail from cities in which a significant proportion of the populace prefer another sport entirely, such as rugby league.

Yes, that means you, Leeds and Wigan (although I doubt anyone, least of all Wigan Athletic fans, would try to claim Big Club status).

From this now dramatically thinned field, we must eliminate clubs which have neither graced the top division nor won some serious silverware - sorry, no League Cups - since the cut-off date.

By my reckoning, this leaves us with Portsmouth, Coventry City, Ipswich Town, Southampton, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Bolton Wanderers and Blackpool.

On the basis of incomplete cultural penetration, West Brom and Bolton, albeit enjoying official "one-club town" status, must go because of their proximity to glamorous and support-stealing neighbours, namely Manchester United and Aston Villa. Likewise, the transient nature of Blackpool's population makes it hard to tell the real fans from day-tripping tourists.

But how to differentiate the rest? Here we apply the Household Name test, to assess clubs' relative impact on the imagination and memories of not just football fans but the general public at large.

In other words: what, if anything, could your mother Sturridge tell you about them?

Having just asked my own mother this very question, I am pleased to reveal to you that the Biggest Club (TM) in English football is …(drum roll please) those romantic underdogs of the 1987 FA Cup final, Coventry City.

She did not have a clue about the others.

Take a bow, Coventry, and enjoy your scientifically proven status as giants among men. Oh yes, and good luck in the third tier against Carlisle United on Sunday.


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