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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Jim's column 19.4.14

One of the most memorable City away wins that I have ever seen came at Derby County's Baseball Ground in September 1970. Martin Oliver contacted me recently asking to be reminded of a famous 4-3 victory. The Rams, one of the top sides in the country & managed by the arrogant but irrepressable Brian Clough, had lost at home to the Sky Blues the previous season & Brian was determined that it wasn't going to happen again. After 13 minutes City were 0-2 down & had lost the services of their new signingWilf Smith, at the time the most expensive full-back in Britain

The game kicked off in a torrential downpour and within five minutes Smith took a bad knock. Three minutes later, with Smith temporarily off the field and City down to ten men, Kevin Hector scored in off a post. Ernie Hunt came on as substitute and Cantwell reshuffled his side, but on thirteen minutes Alan Hinton slammed in a rebound after Bill Glazier had made a good save. City were two goals down. Game, set and match to Derby, surely.

However, striker Neil Martin, who relished his tussles with the much vaunted Roy McFarland, was winning their aerial battle and it was Martin who, after 28 minutes, reduced the deficit with a hooked shot from Hunt’s cross. Three minutes later Dave Clements levelled the score with a daisy cutter. Against the odds, City were still alive and kicking.
                                                         Neil Martin
The second half was nine minutes old when Martin headed City ahead for the first time. John McGovern levelled the scores again with a shot that flew in off Willie Carr; then Geoff Strong seemed to seal City’s fate when elbowing Wignall off the ball in the penalty box. Penalty to Derby!

Alan Hinton, who boasted one of the most explosive shots in football, stepped up and fired to Glazier’s right, but City’s keeper made a prodigious leap to turn the ball aside. City were left hanging on grimly for a draw, and survived several stomach-churning moments. Two Derby ‘goals’ were disallowed for offside, Strong headed off the line, and Hector hit the bar.
It was still 3-3 when, with only two minutes remaining, City stunned the home crowd. Non-stop Willie Carr blasted the winner to gain a victory that Derek Henderson in the Coventry Telegraph described as probably City’s finest win in the First Division in the face of great adversity.

Last week I wrote about that famous trip to Peterborough 50 years ago this month & I received an email from Diamond Club member John Green. John was a fine goalkeeper in his day & was on City's books just after World War 2. He recently travelled to watch the Sky Blues at Crewe & told me it was his first visit to watch City there since 1963-64 season when he made the trip on the Sky Blue Special train. He cannot recollect the score or details of the game & asked me to refresh his memory. The match in question took place on a Wednesday night in early October and ended 2-2. George Hudson gave City the lead just before half-time. Crewe rallied after the break and goals from Frank Lord and John Dillon swung the scales in their direction. With just four minutes left Hudson flicked on a Mick Kearns free-kick and Ken Hale popped up to equalise.

City's line-up was: Wesson: Sillett, Kearns, Hill, Curtis, Farmer, Humphries, Hale, Hudson, Machin, Rees. The attendance was 7,385 (1,000 City fans).

Of course next weekend is the 50th anniversary of City's Third Division championship and promotion to Division Two & I will be recalling the events of the famous game against Colchester. So if you have any memories please drop me an email.

Finally, following my piece about the number of home-grown players fielded by the club, Dean Nelson reminded me that on several occasions in the 1981-82 season City fielded a starting line-up containing ten players who had come through the club's youth scheme. The first time it occurred was an away draw at Swansea when the line-up was: Les Sealey, Danny Thomas, Brian Roberts, Steve Jacobs, Paul Dyson, Gary Gillespie, John Hendrie, Gerry Francis, Mark Hateley, Tom English, Steve Whitton. The substitute was Ian Butterworth making Francis the only player to have been signed from elsewhere. In addition to the 11 on duty that day, a further six homegrown players appeared that season: Peter Bodak, Ray Gooding, Martin Singleton, Garry Thompson, Peter Hormantschuk & David Barnes. 17 players all of whom came through the ranks – what would they be worth in today's inflated transfer market.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Jim's column 12.04.14

I make no excuses for tripping down Memory Lane this week. Coventry City travel to Peterborough today and it is 50 years ago this month since 12,000 fans made the trek to London Road to watch the Sky Blues there. It is still the biggest Sky Blue away league following outside the West Midlands and in true Coventry City fashion the fans were let down.

Local schools & factories finished early to allow the Sky Blue Army to make the cross country trip and the roads of Northamptonshire were packed nose to tail by the Sky Blue invasion as cars, vans & every available coach from a 20-mile radius was put into service for the journey.

A win on that Monday night in April 1964 in their penultimate game would have virtually ensured promotion from Division Three but in front of a ground league record crowd of 26,307, home goals from Chris Thompson & Derek Dougan consigned City to a 2-0 defeat. It left Jimmy Hill's men & all Sky Blue fans biting their nails for five days before they sealed the Championship with a 1-0 home win over Colchester.

It was another anniversary this week – 17 years since one of the best home games in modern history, a 3-1 home win over Chelsea at Highfield Road. A defeat to West Ham in their previous home game had left City in serious trouble near the foot of the table but an amazing 2-1 victory at championship chasing Liverpool thanks to 92nd minute Dion Dublin goal had revived hopes of survival. Three days later FA Cup semi finalists Chelsea arrived without their change kit & were forced to play in City's red and bluechange kit. Gordon Strachan donned the shirt for the first time that season and inspired a superb comeback from a goal down to win 3-1. In a nine-minute second half spell Dublin, Paul Williams & Noel Whelan won the points and reduced Chelsea's team of all-stars to a disorganised & petulant rabble. At the final whistle French international Frank Leboeuf ripped off his shirt, threw it on the ground & allegedly spat on it. The win was a crucial one in City avoiding relegation & is often forgotten when talking about the Great Escape that year.

Carl Baker's goal against MK Dons means he becomes the fourth City player to score ten goals in all competitions joining Callum Wilson, Leon Clarke & Franck Moussa. Ben Lipman asked me if this had ever happened before & the answer is yes but not for fifty years. Again we go back to that memorable 1963-64 season when no less than five players reached double figures. The famous five were:

George Hudson 28
Ken Hale 17
Ronnie Rees 15
Ronnie Farmer 11
Willie Humphries 11

What a contrast this season has been to some recent seasons - in 2006-07, 2010-11 & 2011-12 no City player reached double figures! Admittedly it was at a higher level of football but then again the club's playing budget was substantially higher back then. Callum was unable to add to his goal tally but his achievements this season are nothing short of astounding and in the years to come his scoring feats this season will be remembered. Whether he stays or goes this summer we need to cherish his accomplishments.

One of this season's fabulous four scorers, Franck Moussa, had one of his 'goals' removed from his record this week. After substantial pressure from myself & other football statisticians the Football League finally agreed to review the second goal at Rotherham on New Year's Day and realised that Franck was nowhere near the ball when it entered the net & that Cyrus Christie was the goalscorer. There was a possibility of it being given as an own goal but it was decided that the Rotherham defender did not affect the flight of the ball sufficiently. Moussa is now credited with 12 goals (11 in the league).

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Jim's column 5.4.14

There was a very welcome win at Crewe's Gresty Road last Saturday after six consecutive away defeats. Although City have not played at Crewe much over the years it is a ground that City have rarely done well on. It was the Sky Blues' first league victory there since 2002 when Lee Hughes notched the last City away hat-tick in a 6-1 win. Since then there have been four consecutive league defeats before Saturday's win with that meaningless 2-0 Johnstone's Paint Trophy victory last season. Older fans will remember in 1966 when City, then a top Second Division club, almost got knocked out of the FA Cup by the Fourth Division Railwaymen. Only a late Ronnie Rees goal earned City a Highfield Road replay which they duly won.

Steven Pressley's 'win ugly' strategy worked at Gresty Road and after the 0-0 home draw with Bradford City on Tuesday evening the team has now gone unbeaten in three & probably banished the relegation blues. The strategy however cost City seven yellow cards in the Crewe game & I was scouring the records to discover any other instances. By my reckoning it was the most in a game for the club - I could find several instances of five bookings in a game but not more. In December 1971 at Old Trafford in a 2-2 draw the referee booked the whole of City's five-man defensive wall for not retreating ten yards. Then at the opening game at the Ricoh Arena City had five men booked in the 3-0 victory over QPR. Allegedly there was some bad blood from a pre-season game between the clubs in Ibiza & Rangers had their centre-back Danny Shittu ordered off just after half-time.
Several readers have asked me if this season is a record for the number of penalties conceded by City. They have now given away 12 spot-kicks in all competitions with seven scored and five saved by Joe Murphy. I wrote some time ago that Joe had surpassed Jim Blyth & Bill Glazier's post-war record of penalty saves but as far as penalties conceded this season's total is, I believe, the worst season in the club's history.

Rod Dean read last week's piece about the Tottenham friendly in 1964 which ended 6-5 to the Londoners & was at the game. He noted that the late John White appeared for Spurs & asked me to try & confirm if it was the last game he played before his tragic death in a lightning strike on a golf course that July. I do know it was his final appearance in a Spurs shirt but he did play an international for Scotland in West Germany two weeks later.

Some weeks ago Steve Burroughs asked me to confirm whether this season's side has featured the most home grown players in the club's history. I was pretty certain that in the early 1980s City had a stronger contingent of players who had come through the ranks if measured by number of appearances but did some research.

As of Tuesday City's 10 home grown players have made 191 league appearances this season:

Conor Thomas  37 plus 2 subs
Jordan Clarke  33 plus 2 subs
Callum Wilson 31
Cyrus Christie  28 plus 1 sub
Jordan Willis  15 plus 7 subs
Billy Daniels  10 plus 8 subs
Others   5 plus 12 subs

Total  159  plus 32 subs (191)

Between 1979 and 1983 City played 30 different home grown players from the memorable such as Mark Hateley, Garry Thompson, Les Sealey & Danny Thomas to the less well-known such as Keith Thompson, Derek Hall, Steve Murcott & David Barnes.

In those four seasons the total number of appearances by home grown players was as follows:

1979-80     259 (19 players)
1980-81     354 (17 players)
1981-82     383 (19 players)
1982-83     391 (16 players)

It is easy to forget how many of the team in those days, under Gordon Milne & Dave Sexton, were products of City's youth scheme. In the latter two seasons the only non-home grown players making any substantial number of appearances were Steve Hunt & Gerry Francis. Effectively the club's youth strategy kept the club in the top flight.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Jim's column 29.3.14

Coventry City's topsy-turvy season (when has it been anything else for the Sky Blues?) saw the team succumb to Brentford, arguably the best side in the division, on Saturday and then on Wednesday evening, with relegation clouds gathering, relieve some of the pressure with an ugly but vital 1-0 win over bottom the table Stevenage. The Brentford loss was despite taking an early lead with Callum Wilson's 19th league goal of the season. The accolade of being the highest City scorer since 1967, currently held by Ian Wallace (21 in 1977-78), was now in sight. Then on Wednesday evening at home to Stevenage the dynamic young striker failed from the penalty spot & his run of five scoring league games came to an end, one short of Mick Quinn's six in a row in 1992.

The goals against Brentford & Stevenage took City's league total for the season to 68 & long-suffering fan Colin Heys wanted to know when a City team last scored that many goals. With still eight games to play they have now eclipsed last season's total of 66 and the 67 scored in 2003-04 and could beat the highest total since the club came out of the old Second Division in 1967. That was 75 goals, again set in the 1977-78 season when strikers Wallace & Mick Ferguson were on fire & superbly served by wingers Ray Graydon & Tommy Hutchison. The team scored 75 from 42 games & included two five-goal hauls & four four-goal hauls & only five games in which they failed to score.

On the opposite side of the coin the team have now conceded 68 League goals & are heading for one of their worst defensive performances since World War 2. The most goals conceded in a season since the war was in 1956-57 season when in 46 Division Three South games the team, managed by Harry Warren, shipped 84 goals.

Since the club reached the top flight for the first time in 1967 there have been some pretty miserable defensive seasons, namely:

71 1985-86 & 1967-68
73 2004-05
77 1983-84

One common factor in all these four seasons is that the Sky Blues were fighting relegation until the final or the penultimate game. I hope that is not an omen.

Declan Murphy was in contact with me regarding two friendly matches between Coventry & Tottenham at Highfield Road in the 1960s. In April 1964 in the week after Jimmy Hill's team had clinched the Third Division championship City were scheduled to play Brazilian club side FC America but the FA refused to sanction the game. Hill persuaded Spurs to fill the gap at short notice and Bill Nicholson brought their First Division side to Coventry for a friendly game. It gave the fans a chance to applaud their heroes one by one as they were presented to them in the centre circle before the game. The team were then joined on the pitch by the manager, chairman Derrick Robins and Hill’s back-room team, Pat Saward, Alan Dicks and Peter Hill. Robins thanked the crowd for their wonderful support, and led the players in a rendition of ‘Three cheers’ for their loyal supporters. Spurs, missing only Jimmy Greaves and Maurice Norman from their first team, gave a scintillating display of football and won 6-5 in front of 15,638 with Les Allen scoring an 11-minute hat-trick. Spurs’ Welsh international winger Cliff Jones later said: ‘It was a bit of an experience to see a crowd of 15,000 turn out so quickly for a friendly match. I don’t think I’ve heard a crowd shout so much at a friendly match.’  Spurs' Scottish international, who was tragically killed that in a lightning strike on a golf course that summer, possibly played his final game in a Spurs shirt that night.

The scorers were Hudson (2), Kirby, Farmer, Newton (City) and Saul (2), Allen (3) and White (Tottenham). It was probably the busiest week in the club's history with five games in five days as the Brazilians finally got clearance to play on the Thursday. This was their programme that week:

Saturday: Beat Colchester 1-0 to clinch championship. Players & wives at celebration dinner at Hotel Leofric.
Sunday: Day off.
Monday: City play a Dublin XI in Dublin (lose 3-4)
Tuesday: Tottenham game followed by a celebration banquet at the Council House.
Wednesday: Testimonial game at Bedworth (win 4-0)
Thursday: A very tired City lose 2-5 to FC America.
Friday: City travel to Eastbourne for a testimonial game (win 3-1)

In all five games City put out a strong side with several players playing all five friendly games but the following week they got their bonus for winning promotion – a two week trip to Spain.

Almost exactly a year later Tottenham returned to Highfield Road for a repeat game and this time won more easily, 3-0 with goals from Low, Mullery and Saul in front of 13,660.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Jim's column 22.3.14

Coventry City pulled off a rare feat on Sunday in the home game with Port Vale. 0-2 down going into the last ten minutes, goals from Jordan Clarke & Callum Wilson secured a valuable point. The rare feat was coming from two goals behind to draw & it was the second time that the team have done it since Steven Pressley arrived as manager just over a year ago. In March last year in Pressley's first home game in charge, the side were down 0-2 to Colchester but goals from Callum (his first senior goal) and Carl Baker won the point. That was first time  City had got a draw from 0-2 down since a 2-2 home draw with Middlesbrough in 2009.

Just over a year since Callum's first goal against Colchester and we are now marvelling at his stunning form which has harvested 19 goals this term. As I wrote last week his 18th league goal on Sunday brings him level with Dion Dublin (1997-98) as the most successful strikers in one season since Ian Wallace scored 21 in 1977-78. Who would bet against Wilson topping Wally's haul?

Callum's superb late strike against Port Vale was his fourth in consecutive league games a feat not achieved by a Coventry player since Marlon King in April 2011. The next target for Callum is the six in a row which Micky Quinn achieved in his first six games in a City shirt in 1992-93. The club record is nine held, of course, by the legendary Clarrie Bourton in 1932. In 1985 Terry Gibson scored in seven consecutive games but his run included two League cup games & a Full Members Cup game.

Sunday's starting line up was one of the youngest to appear for the club with an average age of 22 years & 329 days. That included two players (Murphy & Baker) who are over 30. Friend Geoff Moore who keeps tabs on this statistic pointed out that if either Billy Daniels or Lee Burge had started instead of Baker or Murphy it would have been the youngest starting line up in the club's history, with an average age of under 21, beating the record set in 1981 at Maine Road of 21.18 years.

Harry Hennessey asked me on Twitter this week if I could list the Bayern Munich side that played against Coventry City in 1970 in that famous European Fairs Cup second round tie. The Bayern side which included four of the West German national side that had reached the World Cup semi finals just four months previously was:

(1st leg in Munich) Maier: Hansen, Koppenhofer, Beckenbauer, Scwarzenbeck, Roth, Zobel, Mrosko, Schneider, Muller, Brenninger.

For the return game in Coventry Pumm replaced Roth and Uli Hoeness replaced Schneider. Hoeness, who was only 18 at the time and in his first season with Bayern, was recently jailed for tax evasion. I'm sure most City fans don't need reminding that Bayern triumphed 6-1 in the first leg before the Sky Blues regained a bit of pride by winning the second leg 2-1. The goals in the first game were scored by Schneider 2, Muller 2, Schwarzenbeck & Roth with Ernie Hunt replying. At Coventry Neil Martin & John O'Rourke scored with Hoeness replying. Bayern reached the quarter finals of the competition before going out to Liverpool who themselves lost to eventual winners Leeds United in the semi-final. In the final Leeds beat Juventus over two legs and on the away goals rule.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Jim's column 15.3.14

Two away defeats in four days have increased the pressure on Steven Pressley & the Sky Blues & once again they are looking over their shoulders at the teams fighting to get away from the bottom four in League One. The result at Gillingham on Tuesday night was a pretty disastrous one but was a unique game in Coventry City's history being the first time that four penalties were scored in a game involving the club. Gillingham's Adebayo Akinfenwa scored two from the spot with Callum Wilson & Carl Baker netting for the Sky Blues. I am certain that there has not been another instance of four penalties scored in a City game since the Second World War but some of the pre-1939 penalty scorers are a bit uncertain.

There has been two post-war instances when four penalties have been awarded. The first was a game at Leicester City's Filbert Street in 1977. City's Mick Coop netted twice from the spot with Jon Sammels replying for the Foxes but Leicester's first penalty by Dennis Rofe was saved by Jim Blyth. City won the game 2-1. The second was in September 1990 at Highfield Road against Nottingham Forest when City were awarded three penalties. Brian Kilcline scored one and missed one, Forest's Nigel Jemson scored from the spot and added a second from open play before Brian Borrows netted City's third penalty two minutes from time to rescue a point in a 2-2 draw.

Akinfenwa is not the first opponent to score two penalties in a game against the Sky Blues - Liverpool's Jan Molby managed three in the League Cup tie at Anfield in 1986 and other players to match Akinfenwa include Swindon's Jan Age Fjortoft (1994), West Ham's Ray Stevens (1984), Tottenham's Glen Hoddle (1980), Manchester City's Gary Owen (1978), West Ham's Geoff Hurst (1969) and Sunderland's Neil Martin (1967). I think Martin is the only opposing player to score two penalties at Highfield Road and he later scored two penalties in a game against Crystal Palace for the Sky Blues.

Another interesting statistic from Tuesday night's game was that stand-in captain Dan Seaborne became the first City player to receive a red card in a league game this season. Earlier in the season Dan was punished with a three-match ban after video evidence showed he had committed a red card offence against Oldham. Carl Baker was, of course, shown a red card in the League Cup tie at Leyton Orient this season. With only one red card last season (Jordan Stewart at Walsall) it is now almost two years since a City player was sent off in a home game - that was Richard Keogh in the final home game in the. Championship.

Red cards are one way of measuring a team's discipline and the above are positive signs for the Sky Blues. However another measure is the number of penalties conceded and the Sky Blues' record this term is appalling with the total now 11 in 35 league games. Admittedly Joe Murphy has saved four of them (a record for a City keeper) the total is the worst in the club's history, surpassing the 10 conceded in 2004-05.

Back to a positive statistic & Callum Wilson's goalscoring feats. Three goals in the last three games has taken his league total to 17 in 27 games and he is now joint top of the League One scorers. He has scored more league goals in a season than any other City player since 1997-98 when Dion Dublin topped the Premiership scoring lists (with Michael Owen) with 18 goals.

With eleven league games remaining Wilson is capable of overhauling some other all-time great  City scorers. Over the last 50 years the top seasonal scorers are as follows:

24 George Hudson 1963-64
24 Bobby Gould 1966-67
21 Ian Wallace.  1977-78
19 George Hudson 1964-65
18 Dion Dublin  1997-98
17 Callum Wilson 2013-14
17 Mick Quinn 1992-93
17 Terry Gibson 1983-84

Callum's efforts this season are outstanding especially when you consider he was only a fringe player with only one senior goal to his name before the season kicked off.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Jim's column 8.3.14

Last Sunday's 0-0 draw at home to Shrewsbury was a very rare occurrence - the first goal-less draw in a Coventry league game since 17 March 2012.  That day Andy Thorn's side grabbed a point at Watford to end a dreadful sequence of 10 away defeats stretching back to October 2011 and kept their first clean sheet on the road of what was a dire season that culminated in relegation from the Championship. Of the side that won a point at Vicarage Road only Joe Murphy & Jordan Clarke are still at the club. The last home game to end  0-0 before Sunday was also against Watford, earlier in the same season.
Sunday's clean sheet was the first that City have kept in 16 league games -since the 3-0 home win over Notts County in early November. When I checked the records I realised that it was the club's worst run without a clean sheet for thirty years. Between Christmas 1983 and August 1984 Bobby Gould's team failed to keep a clean sheet for 22 league games. The worst run in the club's league history is 23 set in the 1956-57 Division Three South season.

On Wednesday evening the Sky Blues got back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Walsall. Callum Wilson was back on the score-sheet after his two-month absence and netted his 15th league goal of the season to draw level with Leon Clarke in the scoring charts. This is the first season for 35 years that two Coventry players have netted 15 league goals (Ian Wallace & Mick Ferguson were the last in 1977-78). Callum is now one goal short of McGoldrick's 16 league goals last season which was the best haul by a City player since Dion Dublin's 18 in the Premiership in 1997-98, and on the evidence of Wednesday night's performance looks well capable of smashing that record.

Following my piece about the origin of the Bantams nickname used by the club from 1908 and 1962 I had several readers give me their view. Graham Smith, author of Sky Blue Heaven, wrote: 'Regarding the Bantams nickname, I can add some detail to how it came about. When I was researching my book "Sky Blue Heaven" at Coventry library in the Evening Telegraph archives, I found the sequence of articles that led to the name.

To summarise, as you said, in 1908, "Nemo" invited ideas for a club nickname. There was a suggestion "that the three geese that promenade themselves about at Highfield Road would make a good mascot."

On November 7, 1908 a reader from Berry Street offered the name "The Bantams" saying "it is a good sporting name and judging by the weight and physique of the Southern League teams...City are surely the lightweights...Perhaps one of our fur and feather supporters will be kind enough to present a bantam to the club as a mascot." Nemo reckoned it to be "Not half a bad idea."

Nevertheless, other ideas kept coming, including ,"The Pedallers," (cycle industry) and "The Watchdogs," (watchmaking), "The Sinners," "The Terriers," "The Chickens" and "The Pip-Pips." But, by the end of the month, Nemo was referring to the teams as the Bantams.

Incidentally, in 1922, City nearly became "The Scrapers." A ballot was held to coincide with the change of colours to green and red halves. The prize of two guineas attracted ideas such as "The Velocipedes" and "The Oojahs," but retaining the Bantams name was the overall winner.

Mike Young also sent me copies of the above fascinating articles from the Midland Daily Telegraph which confirms the above. He had also heard it said that an enthusiastic supporter's donation of a pair of bantams cemented the deal and that the club were named after a make of car constructed in the City at the time. I have heard the 'Singer Bantam' story before and don't buy it as the car was only launched in 1935.

 In last week's tribute to former City player Gordon Nutt there was a picture of the club's youth team from 1949 & several readers have tried to name all the players. Former player Lol Harvey was at the club at the time & could name most of the people in the picture. 

Back row (L to R): Ces Barratt (coach) (father of Harry Barratt), ? Bates, John Quinney, Reg Matthews, Bill Lovett, Albert 'Bulldog' Sneddon, unknown, Harry Moore (trainer).
Front row (L to R): Gordon Nutt, Philip Cresswell, unknown, unknown, Billy Watson.
Can anyone fill in the gaps?