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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Jim's column 16.8.14

What a Coventry City debut at Bradford for new captain Reda Johnson. The French-born son of an American Beninese father & an Algerian mother not only became the first Coventry City central defender to score on his debut but then added a second goal to become only the seventh City player to score more than one goal on his first Football League appearance.
Reda was the 89th City player to score on his competitive debut since City joined the League in 1919, and follows the following to score more than one: 
1928 Tommy Bowen v Norwich (h) 2
1954. Jack Lee v Crystal Palace (h) 2
1963.  George Hudson v Halifax (h) 3
1992.  Mick Quinn v Man City. (h)  2
1999.  Robbie Keane v Derby County (h)  2
2013.  Chris Maguire v MK Dons (a) 2

Sadly his goals were unable to help City avoid defeat at Valley Parade & it is now 55 years & 13 visits without a win there. The Sky Blues equalled another record last Saturday by taking the field with seven debutants and then using Shaun Miller to make it eight new men in total. That equalled the club's post-war record set in 2003 when Gary McAllister used seven debutant starters plus one new sub in a League Cup tie against Peterborough at Highfield Road. For the record those debutants eleven years ago were: Scott Shearer, Stephen Warnock, Patrick Suffo, Michael Doyle, Dele Adebola, Graham Barrett, Claus Jorgensen with Andy Morrell a substitute. City won 2-0 with goals from Adebola & Barrett.

On Wednesday evening the Sky Blues were dumped out of the League Cup by Cardiff City to extend City's poor recent record in the competition. Only once in the last six seasons have they progressed past the First Round. Cardiff joined Hartlepool, Morecambe, Bury & Leyton Orient as first round victors over City. The one exceptional season in the last six was two seasons ago when Andy Thorn managed the side to a victory at Dagenham & Redbridge before handing over to caretaker Richard Shaw who inspired an exciting win over Birmingham City -one of only three League Cup victories at the Ricoh. By the time the third round tie at Arsenal was played, Mark Robins was in charge & he oversaw a brave but heavy defeat at the Emirates. City's record in the League Cup might seem poor but I read this week that Ipswich have lost to lower league opposition in nine of the last 12 seasons.

As expected the attendance for the Cardiff game was the smallest for a League Cup tie involving the Sky Blues since the competition was inaugurated in 1960. The previous low was 1,904 at Dagenham two years ago & the previous home low was 5,519 for a second round game in October 1985 when Chester were the visitors to Highfield Road & were comprehensively defeated with Cyrille Regis grabbing five goals in a 7-2 victory.

Steve Menary wanted to know about City's pre-season friendlies in 1992-93 season. Under new manager Bobby Gould, the team played the following games:

20 July 1992 Morton (a) 2-2 Scorers; Bowen & Ndlovu.
22 July 1992 Clydebank (a) 1-0 Flynn
25 July 1992 Airdrie (a) 1-1 Sansom
8 August 1992 Brescia (at St Andrews) 1-0 D Smith (International tournament)
9 August 1992 Birmingham (at St Andrews 0-1 (International tournament)

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Jim's column 9.8.14

The new football season kicks off today for the Sky Blues with a trip to Yorkshire to face the Bantams of Bradford City. Here's hoping Steven Pressley's new look side can improve on City's shocking record at Valley Parade where only one victory has been gained in twelve visits, that was back in 1959 in the old Third Division. Last season City came very close, only to concede a 90th penalty which enabled Nahki Wells to complete his hat-trick and make the final result 3-3.

There has been sad news during the summer with three former City players passing away. In June Don Bennett, one of the last professional footballers to play first-class county cricket, died, followed in July by Bill Farmer & Billy Gray.

Bill(y) Gray (03/12/1931 – 18/07/2014)
Bill was born in Binley of Scottish parents in 1931. During the war he was evacuated for a time to Stonehouse in Scotland. He was a precocious young player who impressed playing for Binley Youth Club before graduating in 1946 to play for Modern Machine Tools which was effectively City's nursery side after the war. Bill impressed City's management & he was offered a professional contract in 1948, joining a host of other talented youngsters at Highfield Road. During his National Service he was a PT instructor in the army based on the Isle of Wight. A skilful wing-half, Bill got his chance in October 1951 as a stand-in for the injured Don Dorman. He made just two first team appearances, a 1-1 home draw with Birmingham & a 1-3 defeat at Leicester, before returning to the reserves. In 1954 he left the club & went to work at Morris Motors as a machinist whilst still playing football for Southern League Kettering Town. Before long however he was playing for Morris Motors in Coventry's local leagues. He later worked at the Jaguar plant.
Bill moved to Northumberland nine years ago to be close to his family but two years ago made a sentimental return to the city to attend the 2012 CCFPA Legends Day and met up with several of his former City pals including Lol Harvey & Trevor Lewis. His son Alan told me that he took a lot of persuading to attend that day arguing that nobody would remember him & that he would not go on to the pitch. He relented however, thoroughly enjoyed himself & spoke of nothing else for weeks afterwards. Sadly he succumbed to Parkinson's disease.

                                                                Billy Gray

Bill Farmer (24/11/1927 – 02/07/2014)
Born in Guernsey along with his better known younger brother Ron, the siblings were two of the few professional footballers to have come out of the Channel Islands. Bill cut his footballing teeth there with both St Martin’s FC and St Aubin’s FC. He then spent three seasons at Nottingham Forest, along with Ron, eventually making 58 first team appearances between the sticks between 1953-56. He had signed for non-league Brush Sports in Loughborough when Oldham Athletic came in for him in summer 1957 but he only had five first team outings for the Boundary Park club by the time he joined Worcester City for the 1958-59 season.
In the meantime in November 1958 brother Ron had been signed up from Forest by Bantam’s manager Billy Frith. Billy was persuaded to take a look at Bill as potential additional goalkeeping cover for the popular Arthur Lightening and brought him to Highfield Road in August 1959. In the event Bill only made a handful of reserve appearances for City and he soon moved on to Corby Town where he retired in 1960.

Don Bennett
(18/12/1933 – 12/06/2014)
Don Bennett, who died in June, grew up in an age when outstanding sportsmen could play more than one sport at the top levels. In the same era Willie Watson & Arthur Milton both represented England at both cricket & football & future City manager Noel Cantwell did likewise for Ireland. A prodigious cricketer in his youth in West London Don joined the Lords groundstaff on leaving school and at the age of 16 made his first-class debut for Middlesex. He went on to make almost 400 appearances for the county over 18 seasons as a right-handed middle order batsman and medium fast bowler. Football was his second love and he spent eight winters as a regular in Arsenal’s reserve team as a full back or left winger before Billy Frith signed him for Coventry City in 1959. He made his City debut on the wing in a 4-0 home win over Bournemouth but soon moved back to become first-choice right-back as City went close to promotion in his first season. Don was always a late starter in the football season owing to his cricket commitments; he never appeared before mid-September and was never photographed in the pre-season team picture. However apart from the first half dozen or so games of the season he was a regular until early 1962, making 77 appearances in a City shirt. After Jimmy Hill became manager in late 1961 Don lost his place & was released the following summer enabling him to concentrate on his cricket. In the 1960s he regularly supported Coventry players’ testimonials by bringing a Middlesex team to the Wellesbourne 6-a-side tournament. After retiring from cricket in 1968 he became a coach, and was responsible for a very successful Middlesex first XI until 1997, later becoming the club President.

                                                             Don Bennett

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Stats summary 2013-14

Another season is over. Another season of roller-coaster emotions – too many of them  to do with the club's off the field problems. No one can deny however that on the field it has been an exciting campaign when compared with the many sterile seasons, not to mention a couple of relegation battles, since the club left the Premiership in 2001. Sure, the goals tailed off after the turn of the year but there were several matches which rank with the best in the post-2001 era, namely Bristol City, Leyton Orient & Peterborough at home & Rotherham & MK Dons away. Callum Wilson's scoring feats have been quite remarkable & he has written his name large on the club's history, whatever the future holds for him. The depressing statistic of course is the lowest average home crowds in the club's history.

Games: Coventry City played 53 competitive games this season, 46 league, 5 FA Cup, 1 League Cup & 1 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Points: The Sky Blues gathered 61 points (reduced to 51 by the 10 points deduction) during the season. This was four less than in 2012-13.

Home Form: The home record was won 9, drew 8, lost 6. The total of 35 points was the best at home since 2006-07 (37 points). The goals scored (41) was the highest since 1978-79 but the goals conceded (39) was the highest in the club's Football League history. 

Away Form: The away form (7 wins, 26 points) whilst not up to last seasons record-breaking 11 wins & 37 points, was still the fourth best since the club were relegated from the Premier League.  The team scored 33 away goals (37 last term), the second highest total since the 1960s.

Biggest win:  The biggest win of the season was the 4-0 league win at Carlisle in August. They scored five goals once (Bristol City (h) 5-4) and four goals on two other occasions (Preston (h) 4-4 & Peterborough (h) 4-2). The Bristol City was the first City game to contain nine goals since a 5-4 League Cup win over Nottingham Forest in 1990.

Biggest defeat: The 1-5 defeat at home to relegated Tranmere was the biggest league defeat and the heaviest home league defeat since Newcastle won 5-1 at Highfield Road in 1998-99. City also lost by a four-goal margin (0-4) at Arsenal in the FA Cup.

Goals for: The goals for total of 74 was the highest by a City team since Gordon Milne's attacking side scored 75 in finishing 7th in the old First Division in 1977-78. At one stage the Sky Blues topped the League One scoring list and looked capable of reaching 100 goals for the first time since the 1930s but eventually finished fourth highest for the second season running, behind Wolves, Leyton Orient & Rotherham. City only failed to score in eight league games – the lowest number since 1977-78.

Goals against: The goals against total of 77 equalled the total of the 1983-84 season and was the highest since 1956-57 when City conceded 84 in a 46-match season. The team kept  nine clean sheets, the same as the previous season. City's 0-0 draw with Shrewsbury was the first goalless draw for almost two years. It ended a sixteen-game run without a clean sheet – the worst run since 1984 when Bobby Gould's team went 22 without a clean sheet.

Final position: The final position of 18th was the lowest finishing position since 1958-59 when the Bantams spent their one and only season in the old Division Four under Billy Frith. It means that the Sky Blues have finished in the top ten only once in the thirteen seasons since they left the Premiership in 2001.  They are the only club, bar long-serving Premiership clubs and recent promotees from the Conference, not to have been promoted or reached the play-offs since the play-offs were introduced in 1987 nor to finish in the top six of a division.  But for the points deduction a final position of 9th would have been achieved.

Leading scorers: Callum Wilson takes all the honours for goalscoring with his total of 21 league goals, the highest by a City player since Ian Wallace scored the same number in the old First Division in 1977-78. It is especially remarkable considering he missed nine weeks of the season after injuring his shoulder on New Years Day. At one stage he looked likely to finish as the division's leading scorer but was pipped by Bristol City's Sam Baldock (24) & Peterborough's Assombalonga (23). In March he netted in five consecutive games and only a penalty miss stopped him making it six and equalling Micky Quinn's modern-day record. For the first time since 1963-64 the Sky Blues had four players reach double figures in all competitions. In addition to Wilson (22), Leon Clarke (18), Franck Moussa (13) & Carl Baker (10) also reached double figures. Wilson's goal ratio (0.57 goals per game) was lower than Clarke’s (0.68), who in turn was inferior to David McGoldrick's ration in 2012-13 (0.72). Mathieu Manset achieved a feat achieved by very few – he scored a goal but never made a first-team start. Others to have managed this include Zavon Hines, Wayne Andrews & Mick Harford.

Doubles: City achieved the double over three sides, Stevenage, Bristol City & Walsall. On the other hand three sides did the double over City (Swindon, Brentford & Tranmere). City were the only League One side who were unbeaten against the champions Wolves.

Appearances: Joe Murphy started every league and cup game and has now missed only one game in three seasons and racked up 156 appearances for the club. John Fleck was involved in 43 league games and was missing only through injury & suspension. Five players failed to start a league game but made substitute appearances (Manset, McGeouch, Garner, Loza & Slager).

Players used:  Thirty-three players were used in league and cup games -five less than in 2012-13. Of the 33, 19 players made their debuts during the season, eleven of them loan players. In addition to the 33 players used, nine more, Lee Burge, Ben Maund, James Maddison, Lewis Rankin, Alex Gott, Stewart Urquhart, Jack Finch, Ivor Lawton and Leon Lobjoit sat on the bench as substitutes but were not used.

Home-grown players: For the opening game of the season at Crawley the Sky Blues took the field with five Coventry-born players, the first time this has ever happened. It was not uncommon for the team to contain six home grown players but that is some way off the record. In 1982, under Dave Sexton the Sky Blues fielded ten home-grown players. Aaron Phillips made his bow in the opening game of the season and became only the fifth Coventry City player to follow his father into the first team, his father being 1987 Wembley hero David. George Thomas became the sixth youngest Coventry City player when he started the league game at Orient aged 16 years & 310 days.

Records: Carl Baker took his total appearances to 182 & is now 53rd on the club's all-time appearance chart, level with Greg Downs, David Smith & Dele Adebola. Murphy is now on 156 appearances & creeps into the top ten City goalkeepers of all-time by appearances – but a long way short of his mentor Oggy who made 601 appearances. Two homegrown youngsters reached the 100 appearance milestone this season with Jordan Clarke finishing the season on 129 & Cyrus Christie 119.

Substitutes: Three players made the most substitute appearances (10 league & cup) – Aaron Phillips, Adam Barton, Billy Daniels whilst Franck Moussa was the most substituted player. Franck was ‘pulled’ on 20 occasions in 36 league starts. Five substitutes came off the bench and scored: Manset (Preston h), Phillips (Wolves a), Maguire (2) (MK Dons a), Delfouneso (Walsall h), Baker (Gillingham a). Chris Maguire became the first City sub to score twice since Patrick Suffo in an FA Cup game with Torquay in 2004 & in a league game since Bobby Gould's brace at Nottm. Forest in 1967. He was also the first City player to score two on his debut since Robbie Keane in 1999.

Average attendance: Home 2,364 (2012-13 10,938), down 78%. Away 8,651 (2012-13 6,895), up 25%. It will be no surprise to discover that the home average attendance was the lowest in the club's Football League history & you have to go back to the Birmingham League days of 1905-06 to find a lower average. Only three clubs in the League had a lower average In the league City’s tremendous away following increased by 40% to 1603 – the second highest in the division and beaten by only six Championship clubs. It was however well short of the record set in 1963-64 when an average 3,500 watched City's away games in Division 3.  The best following of the season was 6,800 at Milton Keynes, the biggest league away following since the 1960s,  5,186 followed the team at Arsenal for the Cup game.

Highest home attendance: The biggest league crowd was 4,905 for the visit of Peterborough on Boxing Day.

Lowest home attendance: Only 1,603 attended the midweek visit of Carlisle in February – the lowest league crowd in the club's Football League history. The Crewe home game in December attracted 1,618 – the lowest for a Saturday home game in the club's League history. The lowest crowd of the season however was 1,214 for the Hartlepool FA Cup replay in December which was probably the lowest crowd to watch a home FA Cup tie since before 1900.

Highest away attendance: The biggest away league crowd was at Molineux (22,939) with another big crowd at Sheffield United (20,273). A massive 59,451 were at the Emirates for the FA Cup game – the largest crowd to watch City since the Old Trafford League Cup game in 2007.

Lowest away attendance: Two crowds under 4,000 watched City’s league games with the smallest at Stevenage – 3,375. At Leyton Orient in the JPT only 2,151 were present and 489 of them came from Coventry. It was the lowest crowd to watch the Sky Blues in that competition.

Won from behind: (5) City came from behind to win on five occasions, all within an eight week period from November to early January. After coming back to win in the FA Cup tie at AFC Wimbledon (the club's first FA Cup away win since 2009), they repeated the feat against MK Dons (a), Peterborough (h), Rotherham (a) & Barnsley FA Cup (a). In the Peterborough game the side twice came from behind – the first time they have done that at home since the opening game of the 1997-98 season when they beat Chelsea 3-2.  On seven occasions the team came from behind to get a draw including the Port Vale home game when they were 0-2 down and got a point.

Lost from in front: (6)  City lost six games from a leading position. In away games at Leyton Orient (LC), Port Vale, Swindon, Brentford & Sheffield United and at home to Carlisle. It was the second season running they have let a lead slip at Brentford  and we will be glad to not be playing them next season.   In a further six games City took the lead only to be pegged back for draws. 20 points were lost from leading positions which was an improvement on last season's 33 lost points.

Best run: The Sky Blues went unbeaten in seven league games in from the beginning of October to mid-November. The run including three consecutive home wins – the first time that has happened since 2010 under Aidy Boothroyd. They also managed three goals in each of three home games – the first time they have managed that in 34 years!

Worst run: The season ended with the worst run of the campaign – seven league games without a win and only three points collected.

Hat-tricks: (0) No City player scored a hat-trick but there were 12 braces with Leon Clarke notching five, Wilson four, and Billy Daniels, Carl Baker & Chris Maguire the others.

Opposing hat-tricks: (2) After seven years without a single opposing player scoring a hat-trick, City conceded hat-tricks in consecutive league games. First Bradford City's Nahki Wells scored all three in the thrilling 3-3 draw at Valley Parade, then two weeks later Tranmere's Ryan Lowe scored a hat-trick in Rovers' 5-1 victory at Sixfields. The previous hat-trick was by Hereford's Stuart Fleetwood in a League Cup tie at Edgar Street in August 2006 & the last league hat-trick conceded was scored by Plymouth's Vincent Pericard in January 2006. Lowe is the first player to score a hat-trick against City at home since Nottingham Forest's Kevin Campbell in 1996. Several players haunted City by scoring in more than one game including Crawley's Jamie Proctor, Port Vale's Doug Loft, Brentford's Clayton Donaldson, Tranmere's Ryan Lowe, Orient's Dean Cox and Michael Smith who scored for both AFC Wimbledon & Swindon.

Own goals: For City: (2) Mat Sadler (Crawley h), Callum Kennedy (AFC Wimbledon FAC a).

Own goals: By City: (2) Conor Thomas (Tranmere a), Jordan Clarke (Stevenage h).

Penalties: For City: (6) Leon Clarke (2), Baker (2) & Wilson (2) scored from the spot. All three players missed one: Clarke (Leyton O LC a), Wilson (Stevenage h) & Baker (MK Dons h).

Penalties: Against City: (7) Wells (Bradford a), Asgard (Rotherham h), Williams (MK Dons a), Sheehan (Notts County a), Lowe (Tranmere a), Akinfenwa 2 (Gillingham a) . Joe Murphy set a club record by saving five penalty kicks: Berrett (Carlisle a), Mooney (Leyton O h), O'Connor (Rotherham a), Lisbie (Leyton O a) & Judge (Brentford a).  In the game at Gillingham there were four penalties scored, the most ever in a City game.

Fastest Goal scored: 55 seconds: Leon Clarke in the 2-1 home win over Gillingham in September.

Fastest Goal conceded: 38 seconds: Port Vale's Doug Loft in the 2-2 draw at Sixfields in March.

Red cards: Coventry: (2): Carl Baker (Leyton O. LC a) & Dan Seaborne (Gillingham a). Additionally Seaborne was given a post match red card after an incident in the Oldham home game.

Red cards: Opponents: (4) Haynes (Notts Co. h), Taylor (Tranmere h), Morgan (Rotherham a) & Davies (Preston a).

Bookings: Most yellow cards award went to John Fleck (11) followed closely by  Conor Thomas (10). In the game at Crewe seven City players were given yellow cards – a club record.

Television: The Sky Blues appeared live on television on four occasions – the home league game against Sheffield United, the away game at Bradford & the FA Cup ties at Wimbledon & Arsenal.

New Grounds: City played at only two grounds for the first time in competitive games. The Cup game was the first visit to AFC Wimbledon's ground in Kingston & of course, before this season, they had not appeared at Sixfields.

Postponements: City had two home games postponed (Walsall & Bradford City) because of a waterlogged pitch. This was the first time City have had a game postponed since 2002 when they lost two matches to an icy pitch.

Man of the Match: Three players tied in the race for  Andy Turner's Man of the Match awards. The leading contenders were: Wilson 8, Fleck 8, Jordan Clarke 8, Webster 7, Murphy 5.

With many thanks to Paul O’Connor.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Jim's column 3.5.14

I would like to use this week's column to reply to a number of questions I have had in recent weeks.

Firstly Les Smith asked me about a game at Highfield Road with Stoke City in 1965. He recently acquired a programme for the game and wondered what competition that it was for, as the respective first teams were not in the same division, and neither were the reserves! - The game was played on a Friday night in early October.

There were actually international weekends then – for the Home Internationals – and the game was a friendly arranged because both teams had two or more players involved in internationals that weekend and were permitted to postpone their league games. Ronnie Rees was playing for Wales against England & Dave Clements was representing Northern Ireland against Scotland.

In actual fact Coventry's scheduled game at Cardiff had already been switched to the following Wednesday because Wales were entertaining England at Ninian Park on the Saturday. The league game on the following Wednesday night was an historic occasion as the game was beamed back to Coventry and shown on big screens at Highfield Road. City won 2-1.

The friendly was an opportunity for Jimmy Hill's second division promotion chasing team to pit their wits against top-flight opposition and City ran out 5-1 winners in front of a 8,180 crowd. The goals came from Allan Harris, George Hudson (2), Brian Hill & Peter Denton.

Fellow CCFPA committee member Dean Nelson reminded me that this week was the anniversary of a Clive Allen hat-trick against the Sky Blues in 1979 & wondered how many goals he scored against us. The game in 1979 ended in a 5-1 home win for QPR but wasn't enough for the R's to avoid relegation from the First Division. 17-year old  Allen was making his first start for Rangers & set the scene for a long record of success against City.

In all Clive played 14 times against City for 6 different clubs and scored 12 goals. After QPR he appeared for Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea & West Ham and scored for all but the latter two. His most famous goal against City was probably the opening goal of the 1987 FA Cup final, his 49th goal of a memorable season.

Allen's 12 goals is not the most scored by a City opponent. That record is held by Alan Shearer who netted 17 goals, followed by Ian Rush & Tony Cottee with 14 goals each. 

Finally Adrian Goss wanted to know if City ever won a game playing in the Pony purple & yellow away kit during the 1995-96 season. They only played in the horrendous kit on six occasions, drawing twice and losing four times, including a 5-1 thrashing at Blackburn & a 4-3 loss at Hillsborough. It's not the only kit that City failed to win a game in – in 1999-2000 City, playing in a white shirted kit with black shorts failed to win a single away league game. 
                                                 Dublin & Ndlovu in the 1995-96 away kit

Today is the last game of the league season & the Sky Blues travel to Sheffield United knowing they are safe from relegation. Callum Wilson's goals have dried up recently, possibly owing to his enhanced reputation, which deservedly won him a place in the PFA League One Team of the season last weekend. He is marooned on 21 league goals, equal with Ian Wallace's total in 1977-78, with one more goal to be the highest seasonal scorer since City were promoted from the old Division Two in 1967 when Bobby Gould netted 24.

Next week I will cover Callum's scoring record & lots of other stats in my annual review of the season.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Jim's column 26.4.14

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Sky Blues' Third Division Championship success – the day they defeated Colchester United 1-0 at Highfield Road in front of 36,901 on the final day of a roller coaster 1963-64 season.

The team, managed by Jimmy Hill, had looked odds-on favourites at the start of 1964 having amassed an eight-point lead over their nearest rivals but a disastrous run of 11 games without a win saw them slip to third place in March. The transfer-deadline signings of George Kirby & John Smith steadied the ship & some hard fought results saw them back in the promotion race. However defeat at Peterborough on the previous Monday night had stalled celebrations. As the final day dawned City knew that a win would be sufficient to clinch promotion irrespective of what happened to closest rivals Watford at Luton. In fact with Coventry boasting a better goal average, they only needed to achieve the same result as Watford to clinch a higher level of football and a return to Division Two after 12 years. Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph calculated that a single goal victory by the Sky Blues would require Watford to win 12-0 to pip them. The leaders Crystal Palace were at home to Oldham & were expected to gain the single point they needed to clinch the title.

The stage was set therefore for the biggest league game at Highfield Road since the war and the club announced that the turnstiles would open earlier than normal, at 12.30 to meet the expected 30,000 plus crowd. Coventry police appealed for motorists to leave their cars behind on the big day and use public transport to get to the ground.

Rob Yates was 15 years old at the time & remembers the day vividly: 'I was 15 at the time and this was my first game to watch the Sky Blues, although I had been following them via the Telegraph and radio etc., for a couple of seasons before. A friend of my father's was a regular visitor to home games and offered me a lift to the game for the Colchester match, which I gladly accepted. It was difficult finding a parking space on the day, as all the streets close to Highfield Road., were heavy with traffic for the large crowd. I remember he parked on the town side of the ground, and as you walked towards the ground, there was a narrow passage way at the top of Primrose Hill Street with a metal men's toilet at the start of it, both of these are long gone! I think the entrance price was around 2 shillings. Anyway we got to the ground, and I climbed to the top of the concrete steps leading to the covered end, to be confronted by a sea of faces, and the thing that took me by surprise, it seems silly now was that it was all in colour, all football I had watched before on TV then was in black and white! 

On the Friday the team news had been surprising – fan's hero George Hudson was recalled after injury. Hill confirmed that he wouldn’t play a double spearhead of Hudson & Kirby but that Hudson would play an inside forward role. Kirby, Hill said, was prepared to switch with Hudson if things were not working out during the game. Ron Farmer, who had missed the Peterborough defeat would also return to action in place of Dietmar Bruck.

Hill’s tactical gamble paid off with the Sky Blues & winger Willie Humphries in particular, carving huge gaps in the visitors defence before Hudson, looking like the Hudson of old, netted after 24 minutes. Nemo described the goal: ‘A quick thrust down the left, a cross from Rees while the Colchester defence was at sixes and sevens, and it was a blur as Hudson whipped the ball into the back of the net.’

City missed many opportunities to increase the lead and after half-time the crowd’s attention switched to news from the two other vital games. With City kicking off later at 3.15, the Palace and Watford games finished ten minutes or so before the final whistle at Coventry and with the game still active Godfrey Evans announced the scores over the Tannoy. Watford had led their local rivals Luton for most of the game but let in two late goals to ensure City’s promotion. Palace amazingly lost to Oldham and City would be champions by a goal average margin of 0.17 goal. The last ten minutes seemed to drag and finally the referee blew the whistle and within seconds the pitch had become a sea of spectators with the players disappearing under a mass of hundreds of young supporters. Several fans wrote in saying they raced on to the pitch at the end including Alan Ludford and Ian Davidson. Ian remembers having his woollen bobble hat (covered in the plastic stars with photos of the players all the kids bought at the time) stolen whilst on the pitch with several hundred supporters (young and old) chanting as the players took to the stands for their deserved applause.

Somehow the players got off the pitch and soon appeared in the Main Stand, high above the massed ranks of fans. There was no trophy for the track-suited heroes (it was still at previous year’s champions Northampton and would not be presented to City until the League’s AGM) and chairman Derrick Robins’ attempt to have himself heard long enough to present George Curtis with the Midland Footballer Of the Year trophy, ended in a noisy farce as the fans shouted for Jimmy Hill. Hill, Robins and the players deserved the plaudits for restoring the club’s Second Division status. The final average gate was 26,017 the club’s highest since 1950-51 and the highest by a Third Division club since the golden post-war years. The average was the eleventh highest in the whole league and topped all but three Second Division clubs as well as First Division clubs such as Aston Villa, Leicester, Wolves, Birmingham and West Brom. For the very first time City had the highest crowds in the Midlands and would do so for the next seven golden years.

After the game Hill revealed two well-kept secrets. First , he had ordered the players to take sleeping pills on the Thursday and Friday nights and they had ‘worked like a charm’ with the players more relaxed than they had been in weeks. Secondly, Hill had invited the comedian Jimmy Tarbuck into the dressing room for about 25 minutes before the match. Hill explained: ‘I asked Jimmy to crack a few jokes and keep the lads’ minds off the game. It helped them to relax in the worst time – just before the game’.

Alan Ludford sent in a nice poem about the climax to that season with a poignant message about the club's current plight:

 Peterborough away
 Cant forget that day
Silent journey going back
Promotion hopes off track
Next day Watford could only draw
Beat Colchester up for sure
The Hud returns to such a cheer
Scores , a great roar everyone could hear
Final whistle blow champions are we
Onto the pitch jumping for glee
O a return to happy days
To play at home and not far aways.

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).