SKY BLUE HEAVEN
A look back at Coventry’s Checkatrade Trophy glory at Wembley
TO SAY Gael Bigirimana had a memorable 48 hours last weekend is an understatement. On Sunday, the midfielder took to the Wembley turf to help Coventry beat Oxford 2-1 in the Checkatrade Trophy final, lifting a beleaguered Sky Blues to their first piece of silverware since 1987.
Bigirimana certainly played his part, opening the scoring with just his second goal of the campaign, the other coming earlier in the competition against Wycombe. The boy from Burundi also made a crucial stoppage-time clearance on the line, with the U’s throwing everything at the Midlands side in search of an equaliser in the dying seconds of the game.
That would be excitement enough for any weekend, but in the early hours of Saturday morning the 23-year-old midfielder’s wife, Natalia, had given birth to their first child, a daughter called Eden.
Eden’s birth meant that Bigirimana missed Friday’s training session and didn’t join his team-mates until 4pm on Saturday, but he was just glad to be a part of the two most important parts of the weekend.
“People think I was worried – and it’s not being cocky – but I wasn’t.
“It’s my trust in God that He’ll always do what’s best for me and in return I will glorify Him,” he said. “Me and my wife just prayed.
“My baby was in a position where she just wasn’t coming out. My wife was in labour for 25 hours and I thought ‘uh oh’ because I still had to travel down and check the pitch with the players.
“We were offered a C-section but we said no and prayed with some of our close family and friends to get this baby out and she soon came out.
“Me and my wife would have wanted me to be at the birth, but she also wanted me to play at Wembley. It’s one of those things, but luckily I didn’t have to make the choice.
“I’m not known for scoring goals. To run at that
moment and get the goal made me feel I was rewarded for all that hard work – and the clearance on the line was me doing my job and concentrating at the end. “My wife just said she loves me very much and is proud of me for all the hard work. She just said ‘go and have fun’.” Coventry’s Wembley win meant a lot to the fans, who have seen a gradual decline nce they beat Tottenham in the 1987 FA Cup final, with the Sky Blues currently cut adrift at the bottom of League One.
Bigirimana could be excused for feeling happier than most at the final whistle on Sunday, having arrived in the UK as a refugee from Burundi in 2004 and going on to rise through the Coventry academy ranks before rejoining the club last summer. And the former Newcastle man dedicated the victory to that youth set-up, especially former academy manager Gregor Rioch, with whom he worked closely as a youngster.
“I texted Gregor just before we got to the stadium and said ‘today you will see your work planted at Wembley’,” added Bigirimana. “I am thankful to all the academy coaches, like Gregor, and Richard Stevens and Jason Farndon, who are still here, to help us win.
“We all want to work that five per cent harder than everyone else to do more for this club and repay the fans.”
Despite last weekend’s celebrations, Coventry are odds on to suffer relegation, while the ongoing anger at club owners Sisu doesn’t look like going away.
But Bigirimana is keeping the faith. “All you have to do is work hard and believe. We’ve got the talent,” he said.
“If we work hard but don’t stay up then we’ll bounce back next season and take our good momentum into it like so many clubs have done.
“It’s not the end of the world if we get relegated but my mind is not that we’re relegated until there is an ‘R’ by our name in the table. Until then there’s still a chance. Wembley was an amazing experience, but I can’t dwell on it.”
MAGIC MOMENT: Gael Bigirimana pounces for the opening goal and, right, enjoys the acclaim
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