SKY BLUE HEAVEN

A look back at Coven­try’s Check­a­trade Tro­phy glory at Wem­b­ley

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Jack­son Cole

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.

Prayed

“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.

On­go­ing

“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

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

GET IN! Coven­try’s Ge­orge Thomas scores their sec­ond, and ul­ti­mately de­ci­sive, goal PRIZE GUY: Coven­try boss Mark Robins shows off the tro­phy

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