The early risers from Coventry City and Sunderland were able to compete for sob stories heading up Kingston Road to St Andrew’s for League One’s noon kick-off.
Less than 20 years ago, this was a Premier League fixture featuring big names such as Craig Bellamy and Kevin Phillips. Since then, Coventry have twice moved stadiums and been taken over by controversial hedge fund Sisu, while Sunderland have suffered back-to-back relegations and are up for sale with no willing buyer.
Though both clubs are experiencing flickering signs of life again, pushing for promotion from League One, it was still eerie to have such an important game held in no-man’s land at Birmingham City FC, which Coventry are borrowing 20 miles from home.
Less than 20 years ago, Coventry versus Sunderland was a Premier League fixture
Now both teams are in League One, although show signs of flickering back into life
The surrounding blue is navy not sky and those Cov fans supping a pint at the Happy Abode bar outside St Andrew’s did so under the gaze of Birmingham posters featuring their defender Kristian Pedersen in a Peaky Blinders hat.
The walls are adorned with pictures of Trevor Francis and Bob Latchford rather than Coventry’s 1987 FA Cup final hero, Keith Houchen.
Steve Ogrizovic, goalkeeper on that famous day at Wembley, told Sportsmail: ‘Top of the league, we’d be getting crowds of 18,000 if we played in Coventry. Mark Robins is a great manager and we play good football but to stay at St Andrew’s is not sustainable.’
Sunderland are currently in a playoff position and harbour hopes of promotion
Coventry are averaging just 7,000 at their temporary home (after they were unable to stay at the Ricoh Arena). Sunday's game attracted a league best 10,055, swelled by more than 3,000 from Sunderland.
The lucky ones left the North East by car at 6.30 in the morning. Train travellers left even earlier and when their connection from Leeds was cancelled, had to share £220 cab fares.
In the circumstances, and given the level of long-term boardroom incompetence, both clubs are lucky to have the managers they do. Robins, best remembered as a player for