Interview: Chris Kirkland fears for the Sky Blues

After watching his former side Coventry City slip to a home defeat versus Sheffield United on the television, CHRIS KIRKLAND was unsurprisingly disappointed. It wasn’t the scoreline that affected the former Sky Blues goalkeeper most, however, as protests from supporters made the realisation that a once famous football club is in serious jeopardy hit home.

Progressing through the renowned academy at Coventry, Kirkland has a natural affiliation to the club and he keeps a very close eye on results. With the Sky Blues languishing perilously in the relegation zone of the third tier, he admits that it is an “incredibly sad sight” for anybody connected to the football club.

He said, “It is bad enough when you are fighting against relegation, but when you have all the off-field problems added to that it must be tough for them.

“The squad is very young but that might not be a bad thing as they will be focussed on playing for their careers ahead of them, maybe it won’t affect them as much as older professionals.

“Some more experience is needed in certain areas, however, and I would like to see more players brought in on fixed contracts, but it looks as if they are relying on loanees once again.”

With regards to City’s ongoing search for a manager to fill the vacant post that Tony Mowbray left behind, Kirkland put forward two candidates that he would like to see take the reigns in order to stabilise a seemingly sinking ship.

He expressed, “I would love to see ‘Oggy’ (Steve Ogrizovic) given the job as I have always told him to apply if it ever comes up.

“Maybe someone like John Eustace would be an option too as he is doing great things at Kidderminster Harriers.

“It just needs to be someone who understands the club and shares the same passion as the supporters in the stands really.”  

Whilst Kirkland appreciates that the club has been on a downward spiral since relegation from the Premiership in 2001, he insists that it is “obvious where most of the problems lie.”

He said, “The club has never been run particularly well, but current hedge fund owners SISU don’t communicate with anybody and nobody knows their plan or end game as a result.

“Supporters have every right to be frustrated and angry as all they see is their club being dismantled and players being sold to be inadequately replaced without hearing reasons why.”

Following the constant barrage of negative chants aimed towards the hierarchy at the club and a pitch invasion that caused the game versus Sheffield United to be briefly halted, Chairman Tim Fisher has expressed that he thinks Coventry City will “die” if it stays at the Ricoh Arena – a stadium now owned by Wasps Rugby Club.

Coventry City fans protest on the pitch.

Like many fans, the Barwell born keeper fears for the existence of his former club and he is eager for potential investors to step forward and save the Sky Blues. He said, “They just have to stay up this season and take things from there.

“Hopefully SISU will sell up because it is a fantastic club for somebody to buy that’s for sure, it has massive potential and a great fan base to tap into.”

He isn’t oblivious to the fact that some potential buyers may be put off due to a lack of assets, however, and he stresses that it “all depends on figures and what the current owners want.

“I can’t see them letting go of it if it means them losing more money so we will just have to wait and see.”

On joining City, Kirkland said, “I was training for the Sky Blues around the age of 14 and I chose to join the club over Leicester City because of my relationship with Steve Ogrizovic – me and him just got on from day one.

“He was a massive influence for me and he used to take me to training so I was always going to sign for Coventry despite my Dad being a massive Foxes fan!

“I also owe a lot to Jim Blyth too – both of them got me to where I am today and I can’t thank them enough really, I will be forever grateful.”

A humble character, Kirkland will always have the Sky Blues to thank for giving him the opportunity to achieve his dreams of playing for the team he supported as a boy – Liverpool. Following three seasons as a professional at Highfield Road, the Reds stumped up £6 million to acquire his services in August 2001 – making him the most expensive goalkeeper in British transfer history at the time despite him being only 20 years old.

He expressed, “It was extremely difficult leaving Coventry as I loved my time there and I couldn’t wait to wake up every morning to go to training. 

“When the coaches blew to signal the end of training on my final day at the club I wanted to stay out on the pitch – it was a fantastic environment and we had some great players like Dion Dublin, Richard Shaw and Gary Breen amongst others.”

Despite only making just shy of 50 appearances during during an injury plagued five-year spell at Anfield, the stopper has no regrets in making the switch to Merseyside.

Kirkland with former Liverpool teammate Emile Heskey.

He said, “I always said that Liverpool would be the only club I would leave Coventry for and it was the honest truth.

“To this day, making that decision and driving away from the Sky Blue Lodge ranks as one of my most difficult choices but everybody knew I was a Red and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by.

“When I was little, me and my Dad used to catch the bus from Hinckley up to Anfield when we could afford it so to pull on that famous shirt was an absolute honour for me.”

Kirkland played his part in the 2005 Champions League success as he featured in four of the group stage fixtures before sustaining an injury that ruled him out of the latter stages. Loan spells at West Bromwhich Albion and Wigan Athletic soon followed before he made the switch to the Latics permanent. 

With critics blasting the keeper’s injury record, many tipped him to struggle at Wigan but he proved them wrong by making over 130 appearances during a six-year stint at the club.

“I always ask myself how different it all could have been if I hadn’t picked up multiple injuries, but my record after I left West Brom was actually very good and I played nearly every game during my first four years at Wigan.

“During my last two years there, Roberto Martinez just didn’t fancy me and that’s football so we parted company. I then joined Sheffield Wednesday and played almost 90 games across two seasons before Kieron Westwood took the number one spot.

“Last season at Preston I was included in the majority of matchday squads too so my injury record over the last ten years would probably stand up to anybody’s really. 

“The media just used to blow things out of proportion sometimes.”

After signing for League One side Bury in the summer of 2016, Kirkland had his contract mutually terminated before the season got underway due to personal reasons and he is now taking time away from the game with his family. Despite that, I asked him if he would ever consider rejoining the Sky Blues in some capacity.

He replied, “I would love to, one hundred per cent!

“Maybe some time in the future I can return but it depends on who the manager is at the time and whether or not they would want my assistance.”

You can follow Chris on Twitter – @ChrisKirkland43 

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