Mike Rowbottom: In with a shout but no one is listening

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The Independent Football

Julian Joachim is 5ft 6in, and his striking partner for Coventry City, Andrew Morrell, is 5ft 11in.

Small men, as footballers go, and as footballers go the men of Coventry City went on Tuesday night, slithering out of the FA Cup after losing 3-1 to Colchester United from the division below them.

I mention the height thing because it was a major feature of the night - that is, for me and the Coventry fan seated somewhere behind who voiced his growing concern as the First Division side hoofed the ball upfield with distressing regularity.

"Come on Coventry," my companion urged soon after Colchester had taken an early lead. "Who's the better team? Play feet. You've got to get it on the floor."

But the men in the ugly red-and-white away strip seemed not to be taking this advice, to the point where my friend interceded again. "Feet, Coventry! Feet! We haven't got any tall blokes up there..."

He was one of a couple of thousand travelling fans to suffer a switchback ride of despair, hope, despair and then resignation in the course of this fourth-round replay - suffering which I was able to witness at close quarters, having only managed to get into the ground by buying a ticket in the away supporters' stand.

It all began affably, as the Midland fans demonstrated their shaky grasp of local geography. "Small town in Ipswich, you're just a small town in Ipswich..." they sang, incorrectly, before offering up another oddity to a different tune: "Your Dad, is an Ipswich fan, your Dad, is an Ipswich fan..."

Then came an equaliser from Joachim, and the words changed: "1-0, and you f****d it up, 1-0, and you f****d it up..."

So much for the hope. Once Colchester had restored their lead shortly before half-time, the jig was up. "Come on Coventry," someone observed. "You are playing crap." It was true. Their marking was all over the place, as other voices soon pointed out.

"Come on! Into his boots! Right into his boots!"

"He never does. Doesn't fancy it."

Mercifully the evening was not without distractions. The trainers' handicap sprint, in which both sponge-men scurried on to the pitch laden with buckets and bags following a clash of heads, offered brief respite. But Colchester even won that contest as, to cheers, their man arrived first at his prone player following a cartoon burst of speed.

Once Coventry had fallen further behind, a mood of desperation began to take over the inhabitants of Block E (Away Seating) and one fan began to address the visiting manager, Eric Black. "Talk to your players, Black! Do something. You are meant to be a manager."

"Oh no," someone else muttered. "Don't let him talk to them..."

There were a few, final, vocal contributions from the Coventry not-so-massive. "Someone shoot!" someone cried, despairingly. Someone else offered a defiant forecast of Colchester's chances in the next round: "You won't beat Sheffield United."

And then the voice behind me repeated its message, plaintively: "There's no tall blokes up there. Don't you understand?"

At the final whistle, the away seats were full of slumped figures adopting the internationally recognised language of glum: shoulders hunched, arms folded, chins down.

But as the visiting fans filed out, a number raised their hands above their heads to applaud the opposition's achievement. One man remained, obstinately, clapping towards the neighbouring stand until a family group noticed him and acknowledged the gesture. It was the sort of thing that gives football a good name.

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