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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:

Win ratio
Roland Nilsson
Micky Adams
Eric Black
Iain Dowie
Peter Reid
Mark Robins
Aidy Boothroyd
Chris Coleman
Andy Thorn
Steven Pressley
Gary McAllister

(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.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Jim's column 28.2.15

Last Saturday's 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane together with results elsewhere pushed Coventry City into the bottom four of League One & precipitated the departure of Steven Pressley, after two years in charge. I think it is always sad when a Coventry City manager leaves the club in these circumstances but especially so in the case of Steven. There is no question that he worked tremendously hard to achieve success for the club & he unquestionably had his share of bad luck but ultimately it is about results & no club can afford relegation from any division these days with the financial rewards & crowds usually dropping after a demotion. Every manager is under pressure & with few exceptions, forced to work with a lower budget than they would wish for. The number of managerial casualties increases every season – a staggering 17 managers have left their posts in the Championship this campaign.

Steven took over as manager in March 2013 after Mark Robins jumped ship to join Huddersfield & had his best period in the first half of last season when boosted by the goalscoring feats of Callum Wilson & Leon Clarke, the team quickly wiped off the ten point deduction & at one stage looked set for a play-off challenge. His decision to give Wilson his chance, when others preferred Shaun Jeffers, is probably his greatest legacy at the club. Last season he was hamstrung in the transfer market & forced to play his inherited players, some of whom he clearly didn't fancy, but when the handcuffs came off a number of his loan players were disappointing.

Last summer he was again hampered in the transfer market but his signings have, with a couple of exceptions, been poor & although the defence has looked more secure he never remotely got close to replacing Clarke & Wilson.

At Bramall Lane a two-goal lead against the ten-man Blades was thrown away – not for the first time on Pressley's watch. Last season two-goal leads were frittered against Bradford & Crawley with woeful defending.

Steven had exactly 100 games in charge (87 league & 13 cup) – only four managers since 1986 have had more (Sillett, Adams, Strachan & Coleman). His league record in the same period the stats rank him as 11th out of 18 managers for win percentage, appreciably better than Messrs McAllister, Thorn & Atkinson. His home form was the Achilles heel however, with only fifteen victories out of 43 games (34%) but he is not alone in this – only Roland Nilsson out of the 18 managers had a better than 50% win ratio at home.

CCFC managers since 1986

Games W D L Wins %
1 Mark Robins 25 13 5 7 52.00%
2 Eric Black 23 11 3 9 47.83%
3 Roland Nilsson 40 19 5 16 47.50%
4 Iain Dowie 43 16 9 18 37.21%
5 Micky Adams 90 31 24 35 34.44%
6 John Sillett 128 44 37 47 34.38%
7 Terry Butcher 49 16 11 22 32.65%
8 Phil Neal 58 18 18 22 31.03%
9 Peter Reid 29 9 8 12 31.03%
10 Aidy Bothroyd 36 11 8 17 30.56%
11 Steven Pressley 87 26 28 33 29.89%
12 Bobby Gould 54 16 19 19 29.63%
13 Gordon Strachan 183 52 52 79 28.42%
14 Chris Coleman 107 30 35 42 28.04%
15 Gary McAllister 68 17 25 26 25.00%
16 Ron Atkinson 64 14 24 26 21.88%
17 Andy Thorn 59 12 21 26 20.34%
18 Don Howe 19 3 8 8 15.79%

League games only

The goal-glut at the start of last season means that Pressley's goals per game is the fourth best of the 18 – only Robins, Black & Nilsson had better scoring rates. Steven's cup record was a mixed bag also. Only six of the 13 ties was won & five of the victories were against lower opposition with the win at Barnsley in last season's FA Cup a rare highlight. This season's defeat to Worcester has to go down as one of the worst results in the club's Cup history.

Craig Richards asked if City managers had been sacked in previous relegation seasons. The club have only been relegated four times in their league history, in 1925, 1952, 2001 & 2012. In 1925 manager Albert Evans was fired in the November with secretary Harry Harbourne taking over the reins. In 1952 the great Harry Storer was in charge & survived a further fifteen months after relegation. In 2001 & 2012, Gordon Strachan & Andy Thorn were respectively sacked a few games into the following season.

On Saturday Sheffield United's Jose Baxter became the first opposition player to be shown a red card since January last year when Preston's Kevin Davies was sent off at Deepdale. In the time since then the Sky Blues have had six men ordered off – a pretty frightening statistic. Baxter's red card came in the 19th minute – the quickest opponent's dismissal since August 2011 when Leicester’s Darius Vassell was ordered off after only 10 minutes.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Jim's column 21.2.15

Alan Clowes posed a good question to me after reading my piece about Coventry City's friendly games against Morton in 1964-65 that mentioned City's great goalkeeper Bill Glazier. Alan was a big fan of Bill & remembers him playing for Crystal Palace at Highfield Road & letting in five goals.

The game in question was the opening game of the 1963-64 season. City beat Palace (with Bill in goal) 5-1 with Ronnie Farmer bagging a hat-trick. Ron was playing at right half back & scored two penalties & from a direct  free-kick and still relates the tale that after the game he tried to claim the match-ball but Jimmy Hill wouldn't let him have it, arguing that it 'wasn't a proper hat-trick'.
Alan asked me to confirm that Ron only ever missed one penalty kick in his time at the club – it was at Millwall, later that season when he beat the 'keeper but the ball hit the post and in total scored 22 in league & cup games.

Bill Glazier joined City from Palace in October 1964 for a world record fee for a goalkeeper of £35,000. He had made over 100 appearances for Palace & had helped them to promotion to Division Two with the Sky Blues the previous season. He went on to make 402 first team appearances over a wonderful 10-year career at Coventry.

Talking about the 1960s, a golden period in the club's history, I have heard from Keith Ballantyne with his interesting memories of the catering at Highfield Road in that era.

He wrote: 'When I started going to Highfield Road with my parents around 1963, the 'Sky Blue Revolution' was well under way. Something we took for granted was 'Wal's Mobile Catering', which consisted of men in sky blue jackets and trousers with what I assume was an insulated container strapped to their back walking around the pitch before the game. You could buy hot pies from them and tea / coffee, there being a tap / spout arrangement either side of the container. To this day I have never seen anything like this at any type of sporting or entertainment event, and was wondering if it was one of the many minor yet pioneering and unique facets of the 'Hill Revolution', and when it was discontinued?'

I remember Wal's catering with his novel method of serving food & drink. It almost had a feel of an American sporting event in the way he went to the customers to save them going to the kiosks & queuing for their pie & hot drink. This week I was looking through some City programmes from 1975-76 season & came across an interesting snippet of news which goes some way to helping Keith's investigation. One programme states:


Cater Sport run by two of our old friends Wal & Reg Campbell (Wal is still mine host at the Sky Blue in Coundon) have taken over the catering on the ground bars and West Stand, and Sky Blue Stand. Wal & Reg have been connected with the club for many years and we feel sure they will again offer a second to none service. Catering in the Main Stand & Main Stand bars is still being organised within the club's own catering network.

Keith subsequently responded:

I think the hot tea and coffee tanks were in the lower part of the container they had strapped to their backs, and the pies kept warm above from the rising heat in their own container. A simple and ingenious arrangement, but I can't for the life of me remember how they got each pie out without unstrapping the whole contraption and lowering it to the ground, or maybe they did ? As he was a denizen of the licensed trade, I wonder if he was the same Wal who was running the Navy Club in Spon Street in the early 1970's?

Does anyone have anything to add to Wal's story?

Simon Shaw is one of the organisers of the Earlsdon Festival & has been in contact regarding a special match played at Highfield Road 100 years ago. On Sunday 26 April this year's Earlsdon Festival will be launched with a special event to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 1st Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers being billeted in Coventry (11 January - 15 March 1915) and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gallipoli (25 April 1915) where most of them would sadly lose their lives.

The Lord Mayor of Coventry and Daniel Mulhall, Ireland's Ambassador to the UK, are attending the event as the guests of honour.

The battalion was almost 1,000 strong when it arrived in Coventry and most of the men made their way to billets in Earlsdon and Chapelfields. Despite their short stay, a strong and genuine bond was formed between the soldiers and their hosts.

The Munsters, playing in khaki shirts & white shorts and looking 'a tough lot', faced Coventry City in a friendly game at Highfield Road on Saturday 23 January 1915. The Bantams won the match 8-3 in front of a crowd of around 700 people with Allan (3), Dobson (3), Morris and Turner netting for City.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Jim's column 14.2.15

On Tuesday evening the Sky Blues' shrinking attendance fell to a new 50-year low with only 6,885 fans paying for the privilege of watching another poor home performance against Scunthorpe. The attendance was the lowest for a league game in the city since Easter Monday 1962 when 5,965 turned up for a 1-1 draw with Bristol City. The circumstances of that game are interesting however. Jimmy Hill had taken over as manager the previous November but his honeymoon period was over & his early impact on the team's fortunes had petered out. The side had won just once in six games & a final position well below halfway in the old Division Three was certain. A crowd of almost 14,000 had watched his first home game but the disillusioned fans had drifted away & only one of the previous five home games had attracted over 9,000. The Port Vale home game a week earlier had attracted 5,894.

Hill had his plans & was on the verge of the inspired signings of Willie Humphries & John Sillett but the fans had little or no inkling that the most exciting period in the club's history was just around the corner. Now, 53 years later, few City fans would dare to think things will change so dramatically at the club.

The even more worrying statistic is the club's average attendance this season. Even with the inflated crowd of 27,000 for the Gillingham game, the average is currently 9,320. With gates unlikely to improve between now & the end of the season, the final figure will be lower not higher. Leaving aside last season at Northampton, that average is the worst in the club's Football League history. Only twice since 1919 has the average fallen below 10,000, in 1925-26 & 1927-28 seasons. In 1925-26 the team were playing their first and only season in Third Division North, having been relegated from Division Two the previous year. They went from playing teams like Chelsea, Wolves & Manchester United to facing tiny clubs such as New Brighton, Ashington, Nelson & Durham City. Gates started at the 15,000 level but despite remaining unbeaten at home in 16 games up to the end of March crowds dwindled, especially after Christmas and there were several crowds under 6,000 with the lowest 4,744 to see a 5-2 victory over Hartlepool in the final home game. The average was 9,505. Two years later, with the team now switched to Division Three South the crowds peaked at 15,000 for the visit of Plymouth in September but were under 9.000 by Christmas. The average was skewed somewhat by a Monday afternoon game in February when 2,059, the lowest ever league crowd at Highfield Road, watched a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace. The side won only five home games all season and finished 20th of 22 teams with a final average attendance of 9,388. At the moment that is the lowest average in club's league history (barring Northampton). That record will go this season.

Interestingly the lowest post-war average was in 1982-83 when, at the all-seater stadium Dave Sexton's side averaged 10,552.

Lifelong City fan Dave Long asked me to provide the details of the FA Youth Cup final game against Arsenal in 2000. It was his daughter Esme's first trip to Highfield Road.

It was the first leg of the two legged final & City were in the final for the second year running, having lost to West Ham the previous year. The game took place on 4 May 2000 and the teams lined up as follows:
City: Gary Montgomery: Richard Spong, Daniel Hall, Craig Strachan, Calum Davenport, Tom Cudworth, Lee Fowler, Robert Betts, Gary McSheffrey, Simon Parkinson (sub Jason Ashby), Craig Pead (sub Martin Grant).

Arsenal: Graham Stack: Israel da Silva, Nicolo Galli, Liam Chilvers, John Halls, Steve Sidwell, Rohan Ricketts, David Noble, Jerome Thomas, Jay Bothroyd, Graham Barrett.

Arsenal, coached by former City manager Don Howe, were without their star player, Jermaine Pennant, allegedly a £2m signing from Notts County the previous year, but still fielded eleven youth internationals. City, coached by Richard Money, started strongly but were undone by three Arsenal goals in 21 minutes after half-time. Thomas, Barrett and Sidwell netted & although Gary McSheffrey scored a late goal it was a comfortable victory in front of 10,280.

In the second leg at Highbury the following week Arsenal won 2-0 with goals from Bothroyd & Sidwell to lift the trophy 5-1 on aggregate. Messrs Bothroyd, Barrett & Ricketts all subsequently played for the Sky Blues. Of the excellent young Arsenal side only Barrett, Pennant & Ricketts appeared in an Arsenal league line-up – and none of them made more than 12 appearances – whilst only Bothroyd & Barrett won full caps for their country. Six of the Coventry side made it through to the first-team with McSheffrey & Davenport having successful careers.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Jim's column 7.2.15

John Woodfield, a City fan who has followed City since the 1950s & sits behind me at games, wanted information about friendly games played at Highfield Road in the 1960s against Scottish club Greenock Morton. In the 1960s Morton (as they were then known) were the up and coming Scottish club & often referred to as the Scottish Sky Blues because of their innovative ideas and modern thinking. In 1964 as the Sky Blues were winning the Third Division, Morton were winning promotion to the top flight in Scotland for the first time in 12 years & had a deadly striker called Allan McGraw who scored 51 goals.

Morton boss Hal Stewart apparently rang Jimmy Hill to suggest that the clubs play a couple of friendlies & that someone might put up a trophy. Unfortunately it was impossible to get permission for another competition so JH called the game at Highfield Road in October 1964, the first leg of the unofficial 'Most Progressive Clubs Cup'. The game took place just a week after the signing of goalkeeper Bill Glazier for a world record £35,000. Glazier had made his debut at Portsmouth three days earlier but his first appearance at Highfield Road attracted a crowd of 17,029. Morton, despite being without the goal-machine McGraw, raced into a two goal lead & it wasn't until the last 20 minutes that City got their act together with John Mitten & George Hudson netting to rescue a draw.

The clubs had the re-match at Morton's Cappielow Park in March 1965, won 3-1 by Morton who included four Danish players including international Kai Johansen, a real novel signing in those days.

In November 1966 Morton returned to Highfield Road for another friendly. The Sky Blues were struggling to live up to their billing as Second Division promotion favourites & lay sixth in the table having already lost six out of 18 league games & exited the League Cup to Third Division Brighton. Three days earlier Hill had recalled Ian Gibson after six weeks in the reserves & the irrepressible Scot had dazzled in a 3-2 win over Cardiff. Only 4,098 fans turned up on a bitterly cold night to see a relatively young Sky Blues team inflict only Morton's second defeat of the season. JH gave debuts to Willie Carr & Trevor Shepherd alongside other inexperienced youngsters Peter Thomas, Mick Coop & John Burckitt. Gibbo was in devastating form, setting up the first two goals for Ronnie Rees & Shepherd with Bobby Gould heading the third in the 3-2 victory. The following Saturday the Sky Blues won 3-1 at Molineux & set off on a 24 game unbeaten run that went through to the end of the season & the club's promotion to Division One for the first time. John says that Morton playing in a fluorescent orange kit which was very unusual at the time & has stuck in his memory almost 50 years later.

My colleagues on the Telegraph Sports Desk unearthed a lovely old photograph of another friendly game from August 1983 against the Zimbabwe national team. It had been the summer of hell for new manager Bobby Gould since his arrival in May. Seven first team players, including Mark Hateley, Danny Thomas & Gary Gillespie, had rejected new contracts & left the club & Bobby had the task of rebuilding the playing staff. He signed eleven players & gave trials to several others. The game against Zimbabwe was fulfilling a reciprocal agreement following City's tour of the African country the previous May & gave the fans (around 3,000) an opportunity to see some of the new faces. As it turned out only three of the new signings started the game & one of those, Charlie George, would have his trial ended soon afterwards without playing a competitive game.
                                              City v Zimbabwe 1983

The Sky Blues lined up as follows: Perry Suckling: Peter Hormantschuk, Brian Roberts, Martin Singleton, Ian Butterworth, Steve Jacobs, Dave Bennett, Gerry Daly, Charlie George, Terry Gibson,
Keith Thompson. Goalkeeper Tim Dalton, Steve Hunt, Derek Hall & newcomer Graham Withey came on as second half substitutes & goals from Withey & George gave City a 2-0 victory. City fans would have to wait a little longer to see other new signings such as Ashley Grimes, Micky Adams, Micky Gynn, Dave Bamber & Trevor Peake.

The question on social media last Saturday evening after the 2-2 draw with Rochdale was when was the last time two loan players scored on their Sky Blues debut. I was amazed that so many people (including some of the local media men) had forgotten that it was just over a year ago that Chris Dagnall & Chris Maguire scored the goals in City's 3-1 victory at MK Dons. Both those players left soon afterwards and neither scored again for the club. Let's hope the same fate does not afflict Messrs Samuel & Odelusi. This season has now seen four players scoring on their debut with Reda Johnson (v Bradford C) & Frank Nouble (v Gillingham) the others.

Thomas Murden asked me what the highest number of drawn games in a season is for Coventry City. He wonders that with nine draws already whether the tem might be close to a record. The answer is we are some way off the record of 17 set in 1962-63 (Jimmy Hill's first full seasonin charge). Those 17 came in 46 games but the highest percentage of drawn games came in 1997-98 when Gordon Strachan's side drew 16 out of 38 games. The Sky Blues finished 11th that season, their highest final position in the last 25 years & if just half of those drawn games had been won they would have finished fifth, one point outside the Champions League places.