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Sunday, 19 April 2015

Jim's column 18.4.15


Coventry City's 1-1 draw with Oldham Athletic on Tuesday night has probably ensured their safety from relegation from League One. It is difficult to see five clubs overhauling them with the games running out & several of the teams seemingly unable to buy a win. It was the Sky Blues' ninth home draw in what has been a frustrating home season, and fifteenth draw in total, the highest number in the division along with Walsall. With three games remaining the club record for the highest number of drawn games in a season, 17 set in 1962-63 (Jimmy Hill's first full season in charge), could come under pressure. A positive statistic is that if just eight of this season's 15 drawn games had been won, City would be in seventh place & challenging for a play-off position.

With one home game left, against Crewe a week today, the club may equal their highest number of home draws in a season of 10, set in 1971-72 – the season that saw Noel Cantwell sacked in March after a second successive FA Cup exit to a lower division club, Hull having knocked City out at Highfield Road.

Fellow historian Paul O'Connor tells me that the draw was the 1000th drawn game since the club joined the Football League in 1919. The complete record over 89 seasons is now:

Played      Won       Drawn       Lost
3801        1327        1000         1474

Tuesday night's draw was the first time since December that the team had come from behind to gain a result. The last time was the 1-1 home draw with Fleetwood when Simeon Jackson equalised an early Andy Webster own goal. This season the Sky Blues have only come from a goal down to gain a point on three occasions, and have once gone on to victory (Peterborough at home).

Geoff Moore came up for an amazing statistic after the Leyton Orient home defeat recently. He pointed out that Orient's winger Jobi McAnuff has played eight times at the Ricoh Arena & never been on the losing side. Since 2005 he has played there for Crystal Palace, Watford, Reading & Leyton Orient & incredibly been on the winning side six times with two draws. He has scored twice, for Palace in a 4-2 win in 2006-07 & for Reading in a 3-1 win in 2009-10. It backs up the theory that the Sky Blues have struggled badly at home since the move to Longford. In fact this season will be the eighth season running that they have failed to reach double figures in home wins.

McAnuff must love playing against the Sky Blues – in the same period he has not been on the losing side to City for his home teams. Prior to 2005 his record is not so good. Between his first game against City for Wimbledon in 2001 ,he appeared against the Sky Blues for the Dons, Cardiff & West Ham on seven occasions, winning once, drawing three & losing three. Jobi is now 33 & his career is tailing down but since 2001-02 he has never played less than 35 league games in a season & will top that figure this campaign. It's an impressive record that Reda Johnson must envy!

City fan Ed Blackaby asked me recently about locally born players who have never appeared for the Sky Blues. He named his XI of players born in Coventry & Warwickshire who he feels could have done a decent job for the City:

Goal - Ben Foster
Defenders- John Curtis, Nigel Winterburn, Ian Evatt, Ricardo Scimeca
Midfield- Graham Alexander, Jamie Paterson, Peter Whittingham, Mark Bridge - Wilkinson
Strikers - Matty Fryatt, James Collins

substitutes: James Quinn & Dean Thomas

I thought of a few others from bygone eras. Leamington-born George Green signed for Sheffield United from Leamington Town in 1923 & went on to play over 400 games for the Blades and won eight full England caps. Then there was David Woodfield, another Leamington lad, who played over 250 games for Wolves in the 1960s. I remember as a boy, being excited to be calling at his house in Tachbrook Road, Leamington, to get the autograph of a First Division star. David is still alive & lives near Cambridge. Finally, there was Graham Parker, an outstanding Coventry Schools player who also played for England Schoolboys in the early 1960s. Graham, a wing-half turned down City to join First Division Aston Villa & was Villa's first ever substitute in 1965. He made only 21 appearances in five seasons for Villa but subsequently had a long career with Exeter & Torquay.

If you can name any other Coventry or Warwickshire players who City missed out on please drop me an email.



Sunday, 12 April 2015

Jim's column 11.4.15


It is sad to report the death of former City player Ken Jones, aged 89. Ken, a right-back, joined City from Llanelli AFC in 1949 & played 88 games for the club between 1951-56. He later played for Lockheed Leamington & Rugby Town. With the help of his daughter Jayne Prosser I have been able to get a better idea of Ken's life.


Born in the Welsh steel and tin town of Llanelli during the depression in 1926, young Ken was always destined to work in one of the numerous works around the industrial town. Aged 15, he left school & went to work in the Tin plating works but within a year suffered a serious industrial accident that strangely signposted a football career. He was working close to the acid baths used in the tin plating process & accidentally slipped into one of baths, finding himself up to his waist in corrosive acid. A colleague immediately pulled him out & immersed him in cold water. When they got the teenager to hospital they cut his skin off 'like nylon stockings'. His injuries caused him to spend over a year in hospital and as part of his recuperation he was encouraged to kick a football to strengthen his legs.

His hospital stay meant his call-up to the services in 1944 was delayed & when he finally joined the Army he was able to impress his regiment with his football talent, helping his squad to win a Lichfield League championship. His army service saw him sent to Norway & he was involved in the liberation of the country.

After leaving the services he returned to work in the tin factory & played regularly for Llanelli AFC in the Welsh League. He came to the attention of the senior Welsh league clubs & Swansea beat off the challenge of Cardiff & Newport to sign him on amateur terms but Llanelli, who had ambitions to become a Southern League side persuaded him to sign professional forms with them & he continued his development. By 1949, Ken's reputation was growing & eventually West Ham & Coventry were serious about their intentions. City's South Wales scout, former player Ernie Curtis, recommended him to City manager Harry Storer & Ken's preference was for City because the booming car industry of Coventry offered a back-up in case things didn't work out in his football career. On 29 October 1949 Storer missed City's league game at Blackburn to watch Jones at Llanelly & was so impressed he signed him after the game. His old contracts record that Ken was paid £7 per week & £6 in the summer with a £2 bonus if he played for the first team. In the close season he would take casual work for a Coventry builder Ted Smart to supplement his income.

Ken had to be content with reserve team football for almost two years but in September 1951 he got his chance in a Second Division game at Barnsley. The Bantams lost 0-1 but Nemo, writing in the Coventry Telegraph noted his debut: 'Jones...had no reason to feel he had let the side down. He improved with every minute of the game, and, if he can tidy up his work in the air, his value will increase considerably'.

His next chance came the following March when he deputised for flu victim Dick Mason in a 1-3 home defeat to Leicester. City were having a tough time & were relegated to Division Three that season but Ken was improving slowly in the 'stiffs'. After just one first team game the following season, Ken became a regular at right-back in 1953-54. His performances were outstanding & according to a press cutting he was 'the most improved player at the club that season', with 'his standard of play surprising even his friends'.
                                                        Ken receiving treatment from Dick Hill

City finished 14th in Division Three South but improved the following season to 9th despite lots of boardroom wranglings & changes in management. Ken was a virtual ever present in 1954-55 and was a member of the City team that held First Division Huddersfield Town to a draw in the FA Cup, only to lose the replay at Highfield Road.

Jesse Carver took over as manager in 1955 & after Ken lost his place after 10 games he sought a transfer. He was briefly recalled to the first team towards the end of the season but it was insufficient to win him a further contract & he was put up for sale. Birmingham League Lockheed Leamington stepped in and signed the 30 year-old Ken and immediately appointed him captain. He missed just one game in his two seasons with Lockheed playing a total of 92 games and in both campaigns the team reached the Birmingham Senior Cup final. In 1957 they beat Redditch 2-0 at St. Andrews and in 1958 they lost 0-1 to Moor Green at Nuneaton.

In 1958 he joined Rugby Town & made 32 appearances in their Southern League side and meanwhile Ken had gone to work at the Jaguar factory in Brown's Lane. Later he moved to the Standard Triumph at Tile Hill & he lived in that area until his death.

When the Former Players Association was formed in 2007, Ken enthusiastically joined & attended the first Legends Day, along with his old team-mate, fellow Welshman, Trevor Lewis. He loved meeting his old Bantam pals from the early 1950s. Sadly, there are few of them left now.

Ken's funeral takes place on Tuesday (14th April) at 11.15 at Canley Crematorium and his family would be pleased to see his friends afterwards at Lime Tree Park Club, Templar Avenue, Tile Hill Lane CV4 9BQ . Flowers can be sent to Grimmett & Timms, 118 Albany Road, Earlsdon, Coventry CV5 6NG.


Monday, 6 April 2015

Jim's column 4.4.15

George Mason was a giant for Coventry City in the 1930s & 40s. In a twenty-year career, interrupted by the war, he made over 350 appearances at centre-half for the club. His son John, was on City's books in the 1960s & regularly attends Legends Day. This year John kindly presented me with a great photograph for the club's archives.

The photo shows George shaking hands prior to the kick-off at a game between City & Luton Town. Rod Dean confirmed that it was the Third Division South game at Kenilworth Road on the penultimate Saturday of the 1935-36 season. The two teams were battling for the one promotion place & went into the game level on 53 points with three games remaining. Luton entertained the Bantams & the clubs were due to meet again at Highfield Road on the Monday evening (a re-arranged game owing to a weather postponement in December). The two games would decide who would be promoted to Division Two.

The meetings generated an enormous amount of interest & Luton closed the gates with a ground record 23,559 inside the cramped stadium. In the picture one can see the crowd has spilled on to the touchlines to get out of the terrace crushes & similar scenes were seen at Highfield Road on the Monday evening. George is shaking hands with Luton skipper Billy Fellows before a tense game which ended 1-1. Clarrie Bourton netted for City whilst Joe Payne, an emerging goal-machine for the home side, netted for the Hatters. Luton's shirt has a large badge with a straw hat on it representing the club's nickname which came from a major industry in the town in bygone years.

Two days later in the return at Highfield Road, a crowd of 42,809 – 11,000 more than the record set six years previously in an FA Cup tie with Sunderland – squeezed in to see a goalless draw. The result left the promotion issue in the balance until the final day of the season when City came from a goal down to defeat Torquay at home & Luton could only draw at QPR. City won the title & the promotion place by a single point.

Mason, sadly, was injured in the first Luton game & had to sit out the final two games. He often told the story that he was so nervous during the second half of the Torquay game that he had to leave the ground & have a walk around Gosford Green.

After Wednesday night's home defeat to Leyton Orient the Sky Blues have now won the same number of points at home as away (23). Once again the team have had a dismal home season & we can only hope that the recent good away form continues until the end of the season as it doesn't look like we can rely on decent home results. Only Yeovil & Notts County have won fewer home games in the division. The latter's home record of 4-4-11 gives a bit of hope for Monday.

City's home/away record has sparked discussions amongst fans & the local media as to whether generally it is easier to win away than at home in these days as opposed to earlier eras. I gleaned some stats from the English National Football Archive which seems to back up that theory. The table below shows the percentages of home wins, away wins & draws in all Football Leagues (including Premier League) by decade, since the 1920s, as to calculate it on a points basis would make comparisons pre & post the introduction of three points for a win in 1981 difficult.

decade    home    draw    away
1920s    55.7%    23.6%    20.7%
1930s    57.2%    22.4%    20.4%
1940s    51.0%    24.5%    24.5%
1950s    53.6%    23.1%    23.3%
1960s    52.3%    25.0%    22.7%
1970s    50.3%    28.6%    21.0%
1980s    48.8%    26.7%    24.5%
1990s    46.4%    27.6%    26.0%
2000s    44.9%    27.3%    27.8%
2010s    43.0%    27.1%    29.9%

There has definitely been a trend towards a higher number of away wins in football since the 1920s with, a 50% increase over that period. When you look at City's home record in the 2010s it makes for even sicker reading. The percentage of Sky Blue home wins for that 5-year period is under 34%. It is hardly surprising that no City manager has achieved a 50% home win ratio since Roland Nilsson.

Between 1919, when City joined the League, and 1969, they never won fewer home points than away & between 1929 & 1947 never won less than 50% of home games. In 1969-70, arguably one of the best seasons ever, the club finished sixth in the old First Division, won 10 away games & racked up one point more on their travels than at home. Since then they have repeated this on six occasions: 1987-88, 1992-93, 1996-97, 2002-03 & 2012-13. In most of these seasons the difference was one or two points but two years ago Mark Robins' won 28 points at home and a massive 37 on the road. Nine home games were lost that campaign, two more than the team have lost this campaign.

By the way the English national Football Archive (www.enfa.co.uk) is a wonderful resource for football stats. For a small subscription you have access to a database of every League & Cup match since 1888 including line ups & scorers, together with a database of every footballer who has ever played a first-class game.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Jim's column 28.3.15

What an amazing day at the Ricoh last Saturday as 35 former Coventry City players attended the eighth Legends Day. The former players all had a great time & many partied well into the night as the drinks flowed at the G-Casino who kindly hosted the post-match party. Once again the sight of all the former players singing the Sky Blue Song on the stage in the casino brought lumps to the throats of many of those present.

Sadly, whilst there were fun & games at the Ricoh & in the casino, news came through that Steve 'Kalamazoo' Mokone Had died in Washington DC, four days short of his 83rd birthday.

Mokone was not only the first black South African to play first-class football in England but also the first to play outside his native country. Although he only played a handful of games for Coventry City his story is an amazing one that has been the subject of two books and a film!
                                                         Mokone with Charlie Buchan
                                                                   
Older fans will remember the buzz in the mid 1950s when Mokone arrived at Highfield Road. He hailed from Doornfontein and played for Durban Bush Bucks FC, also appearing for the Natal Province XI and the South African Bantu XI- the highest honour at the time for a non-European in the country.

He apparently wrote to City for a trial after seeing their name in his local newspaper and Charlie Buchan, the legendary Sunderland, Arsenal and England player, put up £100 for his fare. It took the South African authorities almost a year to issue Steve with his passport. At the time South Africa were under an apartheid regime and any black person wanting to travel overseas was considered a threat. When the passport was finally issued he was told, “Stay out of politics, or else.” Mokone was not overtly political but he knew some senior ANC figures, including Dr William Nkomo, a close associate of Nelson Mandela. He gave up his job as a clerk in a Pretoria Government office & left his wife and six month old son to come to Coventry for an extended trial in August 1956.

‘Kalamazoo’, as he was nicknamed, impressed City's coach, the legendary George Raynor, who had led Sweden to great feats on the world stage. Steve had wonderful dribbling skills and devastating pace and his touch and trickery was something rarely seen in English Division Three. He took some time to adapt to English pitches – he had never played on grass before – but scored in a practice match at Highfield Road a day after arriving & two weeks later scored the winning goal on his Reserve team debut at St Andrews. Meanwhile he was given part-time work in the offices of City director Phil Mead & lodging with two other City players, Roy Proverbs & Alf Bentley. Former City player Lol Harvey remembers him well: 'We called him Kal & he was a lovely man, always happy with a big smile & everybody who met him liked him. I played in his debut in the reserves at St Andrews & he didn't have any shin pads. We told him he was mad playing without them but he insisted they would hamper his style & wanted to play with his socks rolled down'.
                                                           Mokone with George Raynor

His first-team debut came on 13 October 1956 at Highfield Road against Millwall. Playing at outside left, Mokone was in dazzling form & Nemo wrote in the Coventry Telegraph: 'Mokone's form was a revelation.... he created opening after opening only for his colleagues to fritter them away. He showed excellent ball control and positional sense, and was always ready to shoot first time.' The match report said that Mokone's selection had added 5,000 to the gate & he set up City's goal in a 1-2 defeat.

Two days later he set up two goals in a 3-2 Floodlit friendly victory over Nottingham Forest & the following morning signed a professional contract. Against Brighton a week later he came up against Jim Langley, the best left-back in the division who would play for England within eighteen months, and Kal found the full-back 'too much for him'. His first goal came in a 4-1 home win over Gillingham a week later but Nemo's report was not as flattering: 'foot-fluttering over the ball may look very good to the spectators, but not always to his colleagues who have run into position for a quick pass or centre'. With friendly matches virtually every week that autumn, Mokone struggled to keep up his form & he was disappointing in a defeat at Swindon. After four league games & three friendlies he was rested.

November 1956 was a traumatic month for the club, even by City's standards. Coach Raynor left 'by mutual consent' as manager Harry Warren sought to turn the team's poor form around. His replacement was former England & Arsenal hard-man Wilf Copping, who had a reputation for being a tough taskmaster on the training ground. Then, the club's England goalkeeper Reg Matthews was sold to Chelsea for a record fee of £22,000.
Lol Harvey remembers how, after training at Highfield Road, Mokone would lay bets with Matthews, that he could score penalties against him, and usually won handsomely. He also recalls a practice match between the first team & the reserves at Highfield Road when Mokone took a penalty & started his run up from the halfway line!
Mokone was back in the reserves, scoring goals & doubling attendances for reserve games but was unhappy, In early January 1957 the Coventry Telegraph reported that he had asked for a transfer saying that ' he had not been given the chances for the training he expected' and that 'the club does not seem to be interested in developing me'. The club refuted his allegations but agreed to waive his contract & gave him a 'free' transfer. He continued to play for the club's reserves & A team & in February netted four goals in three reserve games prompting a call-up for the first-team's floodlit friendly with Akademisk Boldklub of Copenhagen. He scored the only goal against the Danes and according to Nemo: 'it was his colourful dashes down the wing which drew most of the applause'. Later that month he played in a Benefit match against an All-Star Managers XI. Sadly that would be his last first-team game & at the end of the season he left the club but not before a gracious farewell message for the fans: 'I am deeply grateful to them for all their support & encouragement, which has meant so much to me. I shall take with me many happy memories of the Coventry people.'

Steve joined Dutch club Heracles of Almelo, a small town near the German border. In the 1957-58 season he helped them win the championship of Division 3 B and was voted player of the season by the fans. He played for Heracles for two seasons becoming a local legend, even appearing in a friendly game against Santos of Brazil for whom Pele appeared. His time at Almelo was recounted in detail in De Zwarte Meteoor (The Black Meteor) written by Dutch football journalist Tom Egbers in the late 1990s and the book was later made into a film. There is a street named after Mokone in Almelo and one of the stands in Heracles’s Polman Stadion is dedicated to him.

In 1959 he tried his luck in the Football League again and joined Cardiff City, then a Second Division side. He played only two games for the Welsh side, including a 3-2 win over Liverpool when he scored the opening goal. The club tried to force him to play through an ankle injury and Mokone refused; he was not selected for the first team again.

Next stop was Barcelona who loaned him out to Marseille. He never appeared for either club but in the south of France he ran a small factory manufacturing ‘Mokone’ football boots. In 1961 in a spell with Barnsley, he made a solitary appearance.

He married South African Joyce Maaga in 1961 and after a year in Rhodesia they moved to Italy where he had a brief period with Torino. In one match he scored four goals against Verona and was hailed as the new Eusebio (then the top African player in the world).

At the time the Italian football writer Beppe Branco wrote: 'If Pele of Brazil is the Rolls-Royce of soccer players, Stanley Matthews of England the Mercedes-Benz and Alfredo di Stéfano of Argentina and Spain the Cadillac of soccer players, then Kala of South Africa, lithe and lean, is surely the Maserati.'

After a brief spell in Australia in 1964 playing for Sunshine George Cross in Melbourne, he moved to the USA and became a mature student in Washington, ultimately gaining three degrees and qualifying as a Doctor of Psychology. His marriage was in trouble however and there was a custody battle over the daughter of the marriage, Thandi. Three violent assaults took place. First, Steve was attacked by three unknown assailants. Next, his wife’s lawyer was attacked with acid. Then Joyce herself was similarly attacked. Mokone was arrested and despite maintaining his innocence was jailed for 12 years. Later Tom Egbers would discover evidence that made the verdicts questionable and that South African authorities had asked the American CIA to bring Mokone, who had been increasingly political with the anti-apartheid movement in the US, to heel. Egbers would later write a second book, Twaalf Gestolen Jaren (Twelve Stolen Years), which, like the first book, was only released in Dutch.

After leaving prison in 1990 – where he ran the library and the football team – he took up his psychology again before retiring some years later with heart trouble. In 2003 he became the second South African sportsman to be recognised as a member of the Order of Ikhamanga, for exceptional achievement in the field of soccer and an outstanding contribution to the development of non-racial sport. He joined the Former Players Association (CCFPA) a few years ago & enjoyed hearing news of his former colleagues, especially Lol Harvey, George Curtis & Roy Proverbs.
                                                    Mokone proudly wearing his FPA tie

Ironically CCFPA’s Mike Young had only just put Steve in touch with a Ed Aarons, a Guardian journalist who was preparing a book on the contribution and history of Black African footballers to the game.

Mokone had a brief but memorable time at Highfield Road. His fall from grace at Coventry coincided with George Raynor's departure from the club & one is left wondering what might have happened if Raynor had stayed & coached what was undoubtedly a great talent. That someone with Kalamazoo's talent couldn't get into a poor City side that struggled to avoid re-election that season almost sixty years ago is a mystery.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

Jim's column 21.3.15


The rights & wrongs of Coventry City's sojourn at Northampton last season have been discussed Ad nauseam but one of the major downsides for me was that the Former Players Association were unable to put on their annual Legends Day last season. Today Legends Day returns to the Coventry City calendar for the first time in two years & around 40 ex-Sky Blues will be at the Ricoh Arena to meet up with their former playing colleagues, enjoy a nice lunch, courtesy of the football club, & receive the traditional half-time ovation from City's supporters.

The former players attending include several making their first ever appearance at a Legends Day including former Irish international Gerry Daly, John Tudor, who cut his teeth as a young man before going on to form a formidable striking partnership with Malcolm Macdonald at Newcastle, and all being well, David Thompson, who gave his all for the club in the Premiership relegation season & whose rip-roaring goals kept City in the promotion race for so long the following season.

As usual the former players will include representatives from all eras from Brian Nicholas of the 1950s to Claus Jorgensen, a stalwart of the Ricoh era. Last season's absence of a Legends Day meant that CCFPA could not properly celebrate the 50th anniversary of the club's Third Division Championship under Jimmy Hill & that will be rectified by a special presentation to some of the members of that team or their relatives. The man whose goals helped fire the Sky Blues to promotion back in 1964, George Hudson, will be there, along with goalkeeper Bob Wesson, defenders Dietmar Bruck & Ronnie Farmer & Graham Newton, who, although only joined the club two months from the end of that memorable season, helped steady a Sky Blue ship which was looking decidedly wobbly on the run-in. Jimmy Hill will be represented by his son & grandson & the trainer of the team, Peter Hill, who sadly died recently, will be represented by his widow Barbara.

If you are at the game today please try & be in your seats at half-time when all of the former players will be introduced to the crowd & give the men who helped make our football club a great reception. In conjunction with Legends Day the club are urging fans to dig out a Retro shirt for the day. Although anyone wearing the swirly red away shirt from the 1990s will be turned away at the turnstiles!

City fans were rubbing their eyes in disbelief on Tuesday night after a second away win in four days. Following on from the 3-2 win at Chesterfield, Tony Mowbray's side scored two late goals to clinch a vital win at Fleetwood, in their first ever competitive game at Highbury Stadium. It was the first time the team had won back to back league games since September (the first two games back at the Ricoh) & the first consecutive away wins since February 2013 when caretaker boss Lee Carsley's team won at Bury & Steven Pressley celebrated his first win as City manager at Scunthorpe. The points were vitally important for the club's battle against relegation but several respected pundits praised the quality of the football in the victory, no doubt helped by the plush Fleetwood playing surface which suited City's passing style of football.

This week one national newspaper, talking about the sacking, by Sunderland, of manager Gus Poyet with just nine games remaining, posed the question: What’s the latest point in a season that a club has sacked a manager?

I felt obliged to remind them that in modern times Coventry City have twice sacked a manager with just one game of the season remaining. In 2002 the club’s dream ticket of Roland Nilsson and assistant Jim Smith had failed to reach the play-offs after looking odds-on certs in March and with one game of the campaign remaining they were told to clear their desks. Two years later chairman Mike McGinnity, repeated the trick.

Gary McAllister had taken over from Nilsson and managed to avoid the boot in 2002-03 but then left the club to care for his ill wife in December 2003. Eric Black replaced him and after 20 actually rather successful games in charge in 2003-04 was sacked the day after the penultimate game of the season – a 5-2 win over Gillingham – in order for the board to bring in the more “high-profile” Peter Reid. Within seven months Reid himself was sacked after failing to reverse the club's fortunes despite bringing in the high profile Tim Sherwood & Stern John.
Nilsson & Black were both sacked when there was little to play for & the club was planning ahead but in 1986 chairman John Poynton sacked manager Don Mackay with just three games remaining with relegation a distinct possibility. After a particularly spineless performance in a 0-5 defeat at Anfield & relegation looming, Poynton replaced Mackay with George Curtis & John Sillett. George & John inspired the team to win two of their three games & avoid the drop by two points. Within twelve months the Sky Blues were at Wembley and the rest, as they say, is history. It just shows how quickly things can change in football.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Jim's column 14.3.15

Jon Stead came close to a record on Tuesday night. Geoff Moore alerted me to the fact that the much-travelled Bradford striker was set to play for his sixth different club at the Ricoh Arena. As it turned out he spent the whole evening on the substitute's bench.

Stead, who has played for 10 different clubs in his 12-year playing career, has appeared at the stadium for Sunderland, Derby, Ipswich, Coventry and Bristol City. He also sat on the bench for Sheffield United & played against the Sky Blues for Bradford City at Sixfields last season. His scoring record against City is very patchy – two goals in nine appearances. He scored for Derby in a 2-1 win at the Ricoh in 2006 & for Bristol City in 2011-12 at Ashton Gate in that miserable Easter Monday game that City lost 1-4, a result that virtually ensured relegation from the Championship. In that game he was also credited with City's first-half goal.

Geoff tells me that there are three other players who have played for five different clubs at the stadium. Jack Cork played there for Scunthorpe, Southampton, Coventry, Watford and Burnley, Leon Clarke (Wolves, Sheffield Wednesday, QPR, Scunthorpe and Coventry) and Jordan Stewart (Watford, Derby, Sheffield United, Notts County and Coventry).

I believe the record for the most appearances with different clubs at Highfield Road was held by Bobby Gould. The Coventry-born striker who appeared for eight different clubs in a 16-year playing career appeared for six different clubs at Highfield Road (Coventry, Arsenal, Wolves, West Brom, Bristol City and West Ham). He played against City on six occasions at the ground & scored twice (for Arsenal & West Ham).

Keith Ballantyne regularly asks me questions about Coventry City's history. Following my summary of Tony Mowbray's career last week he emailed me the following:

My mind may be playing tricks on me again Jim - I was certain that Tony Mowbray played for Ipswich at Portman Road against City in 2002. My other recollections of that game, which I think we lost 2-1 with John Eustace scoring a consolation, was Gary McSheffrey's pace constantly undoing Ipswich down the left, albeit to no avail, Gary McAllister being past his sell-by date and the appalling Jamie McMaster sporting hair more or less the same colour as his yellow shirt...

Keith's mind is playing tricks on him. Tony's last game as a player was the Championship play-off final at Wembley in May 2000. Ipswich, managed by George Burley, finished third in the regular season to qualify for the play-offs for the fourth successive year. After beating Bolton over two legs they faced Barnsley at Wembley & won 4-2 with captain Mowbray scoring the first goal. Ipswich returned to the Premiership after five years away but lasted only two years & since 2002 they have never been back in the top flight. In that game at Portman Road, sub John Eustace equalised Darren Bent's early strike but City were beaten by a late goal from their sub Pablo Counago.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Wal's catering at Highfield Road in the 1960s & 1970s. I received an email from Terry Kemble which throws more light on the novel pitchside refreshments that started in the Jimmy Hill era.

I was really pleased to read your recent article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph as Wal was my Grandfather and Reg Kemble my father (both have now sadly passed away).
I started to go with them to Highfield Road from 1963.
The lads sold tea from a tank on their backs and the pies were kept warm in a separate insulated box that was made by my father.
I think you can just see one of the lads in the main picture with your article, just to the right of George Best!
Wal ran the Oak pub in Gosford Street at this time before later moving on to the Nugget in Coundon which later changed its name to the ‘The Sky Blue’.
I believe CCFC took over part of the catering when the main stand was rebuilt (in 1968) and the catering for the rest of the ground a year or so later.
We returned to the ground in the 1975/76 season and ran the catering for three quarters of the stadium up until the early eighties when there was a change in the law re the consumption and sale of alcohol within the stadium.
The catering company originally started as Sky Blue Catering but later changed to Cater Sport Services.
They also ran the catering for the Sky Blue Special train from 1964.
Terry Kemble

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Jim's column 7.3.15


Tony Mowbray was unveiled as Coventry City's new manager on Tuesday, becoming the 35th manager since the war & the 13th since the club were relegated from the Premier League 14 years ago.

Tony had a long & successful playing career with Middlesbrough, Celtic & Ipswich Town & made over 570 league & cup appearances – the majority with 'Boro who he captained to successive promotions in the late 1980s under the managership of Bruce Rioch. In 1988-89 they were back in the top flight (the old First Division) & I thought he must have played in that classic game at Highfield Road that season when David Speedie scored a hat-trick of headers for the Sky Blues but finished on the losing side. A Bernie Slaven hat-trick ensured 'Boro won 4-3. It's hard to imagine 'Speedo' scoring three headers against the man-mountain Mowbray & on checking the line-ups I discovered it was one of the few games that Tony missed that season. Later that campaign he played against the Sky Blues in a 1-1 league draw at Ayresome Park and a 1-0 victory in the Zenith Data Systems Trophy.

Middlesbrough were relegated that season & although they returned to the new Premier League in 1992, Tony had moved on to Celtic and the 1988-89 season was the only season he played in the English top flight. He never appeared against the Sky Blues again & never played at Highfield Road.

After retiring from playing in 2000 having captained Ipswich to promotion to the Premier League in his final season, he became coach at Portman Road but in 2004 got his first management job at Hibernian. His success in Edinburgh alerted West Brom & he was appointed their manager in 2006. After losing the play-off final in his first season, he led the Baggies to the Championship title in 2008 as well as the FA Cup semi finals.

In those two seasons he came up against the Sky Blues on five occasions, winning four and losing once. In 2006-07 Micky Adams' City lost 0-5 at the Hawthorns & in the return at the Ricoh soon after Iain Dowie took over, the Baggies triumphed 1-0. The latter game was memorable for two red cards. City's Ben Turner was sent off on his full debut & Albion's Diomansy Kamara followed near the end. In 2007-08 Albion won 4-0 at the Ricoh in a game that saw Michael Mifsud sent off after just 10 minutes. In the return at the Hawthorns a month later City pulled off a major shock by winning 4-2 with two goals apiece for Leon Best & Mifsud. The teams also met in the FA Cup fifth round that season just a week after Dowie had been sacked. City, led by caretaker bosses Frank Bunn & John Harbin, picked up another red card, for Michael Doyle, and were comprehensively hammered 0-5 with four of the goals coming after Doyle's dismissal.

The following season the Baggies were relegated from the Premier League & in the summer of 2009 Tony was lured away to Celtic. His time in Glasgow was troubled & he was sacked before the season was out, having failed to keep pace with Rangers in the SPL. In October 2010 he was recruited by Middlesbrough & for a while things went well. He steered them away from the relegation zone & they finished 12th. They came up against the Sky Blues at the Ricoh in December & lost to a Marlon King penalty but won the return 2-1 at the Riverside in April. In 2011-12 he led Boro to seventh place but managed to take just one point from the games against City. A 1-1 early season draw at the Riverside was followed in January by a rare Sky Blue win – McSheffrey, Nimely & an own goal on target in a 3-1 victory. The following season Boro finished sixteenth and Tony lost his job at the Boro twelve games into the 2013-14 campaign.

Tony's managerial record against the Sky Blues is therefore:
Pl W D L
WBA 5 4 0 1
Middle sbrough 4 1 1 2

Several readers were surprised at the statistic I quoted last week regarding the home record of Coventry City managers. I said that since we left the Premiership in 2001 only Roland Nilsson had a better than 50% win ratio in home games. On further investigation I can reveal some startling statistics. Since the team moved to the Ricoh in 2005 the team has won only 85 home league games out of 223, a win ratio of 38%. Before anyone says 'The Ricoh must have a curse on it', I can tell you that the win ration since the club dropped out of the Premiership in 2001 is virtually identical. So things were as bad at Highfield Road.

The home records of the managers since 2001 are as follows:


Pl
W
D
L
Win ratio
Roland Nilsson
20
12
3
5
60.0%
Micky Adams
45
21
13
11
46.7%
Eric Black
11
5
3
3
45.4%
Iain Dowie
22
9
4
9
40.9%
Peter Reid
15
6
4
5
40.0%
Mark Robins
13
5
3
5
38.4%
Aidy Boothroyd
19
7
3
9
36.8%
Chris Coleman
53
19
20
14
35.8%
Andy Thorn
29
10
11
8
34.5%
Steven Pressley
44
15
17
11
34.1%
Gary McAllister
34
9
12
13
26.5%

(League games only)

Chief executive Steve Waggott said last week that he was looking for a manager with a 40% win ration or better (and Tony Mowbray meets that criteria) but most Coventry City managers in the last fourteen years haven't been able to achieve that in home games.

Despite impressive results at Sixfields last season, Pressley's home record was poor & he won only five of 18 games at the Ricoh. Even Mark Robins struggled at home but his outstanding away record leaves us remembering his time as a golden period.

For a comparison with the above table, Coventry City's most successful managers have been Harry Storer & Jimmy Hill. Hill's home win ratio in his six years at the club was 60%, whilst Harry Storer in his two spells between 1931 and 1953 achieved a home win ratio of over 63%. During City's golden era from 1931-1939 under Storer's management the team won 70% of its home games.