Sunday, 19 November 2017

Jim's column 18.11.2017

Steve Hardy, a City fan since his father first took him to Highfield Road in 1960, recently posed an interesting question.

'Through the 1960s we always used to kick off our Saturday home games at 3.15, not 3pm as the rest of the Football League. I have always wandered why and when meeting and having a wonderful chat with Bobby Gould at a Legends day a couple of years ago even he did not know why. One theory was that it was to accommodate the engineering workers in Coventry who apparently at that time used to work Saturday mornings'.

At the start of the 1962-63 season Jimmy Hill changed the Saturday kick-off time to 3.15. There were two reasons for the fifteen-minute delay. Firstly, Hill revealed he had received requests from shift-workers whose shift ended at 3 pm and who could attend games if the kick-off time was adjusted. The second reason and possibly the more important reason was that the new 4.55pm finish time would fit in neatly with the new 'Sky Blue' social club which would have a licence commencing at 5pm and members would not have to wait around for twenty minutes for a drink. Apparently JH had been impressed with a similar club at Torquay the previous season where the home fans gathered in large numbers to have a drink after the game, missing the worst of the post-match traffic and mulling over the game over a pint. After the first home midweek game the club also put back the kick-off times for evening matches from 7.15 to 7.30.

Steve responded to my reply, as follows: 'Rings a bell when relating to my playing amateur football in my younger days. As soon as the clocks changed in October our kick-offs were brought forward to 2.15 to account for the darker nights, no floodlights at the level I played at! I was fortunate to play for one of the top local sides at the time and the general thought as to why we attracted so many good players was that were a social club side and the club steward who also help run the teams used to open the bar for us as soon as we had finished playing. He often said the hour or so from just after 4pm helped to swell the club coffers as most of the players, including the away team would stay behind for a few beers. We also attracted more support than usual for a local Saturday team as the supporters also new they could get an early pint in. We were all glued to the tv around 4.45 in thoses days watching the scores come in on the vidiprinter on Grandstand, happy days!'

I have to mention the fantastic achievement of former Coventry City youth team goalkeeper Paul Bastock. Last Saturday he broke Peter Shilton's world record of playing 1249 competitive games, appearing for United Counties side Wisbech Town at the age of 47. Leamington-born Paul was a member of the City youth team that won the FA Youth Cup in 1987 but was released by the club a year later when there seemed to be no route through to the first team for Paul with Steve Ogrizovic and Jake Findlay in the way. Paul played for Cambridge United briefly before a long spell in non-league football. He re-appeared in league football in 2002 with Boston United for whom he made over 500 appearances and has played for numerous non-league teams since then. Congratulations Paul.

Thanks to everyone who supported my very successful book signing last weekend, especially former players Mick Kearns, Ronnie Farmer and Dietmar Bruck and friend Geoff Moore who was a great help on the day. My fellow author Steve Phelps now takes centre stage with his new book: 29 Minutes from Wembley, the inside story of City's 1980-81 season. Steve is holding a book signing next Saturday (25th) at the Genting Casino with some players from that memorable season including Andy Blair, Garry Thompson, Paul Dyson, Harry Roberts and Paul Dyson. They will be signing books from 1.40pm until 2.30 and after the game until 6pm.

Steve has written an excellent book about what was an exciting campaign but ultimately ended in disappointment for players and fans alike. With the help of players and fans memories, as well as the remarkable recollections of the manager Gordon Milne, he has weaved a fascinating story. The group of young players were the club's finest crop of home-grown talent and one is left feeling sad that they couldn't be kept together to take the club to a higher level. In addition to the aforementioned the team also boasted future internationals Danny Thomas, Mark Hateley, Steve Hunt and Gary Gillespie and most of them have related their stories to Steve. All Sky Blue fans over the age of 45 will remember the semi-final first leg against west Ham at Highfield Road and the remarkable comeback. The book brings that classic match back to life with great insights. There are numerous 'what ifs' in Coventry City's history but the question is most pertinent for the team of the early 80s. Who knows what the club could have achieved if they had been kept together.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Jim's column 11.11.2017

Older City fans will know that Coventry City had a player called Jimmy Hill in the 1950s – not the JH who became the club's most successful manager in 1961. I had an email recently from Stuart Fraser. His wife's grandfather was Jimmy Hill and they knew little about Jimmy's playing career and asked for my help.

Jimmy was born in Wishaw in Scotland in 1931 and was signed by City's nursery club, Modern Machines as a teenager where he played alongside many future City players including Reg Matthews who went on to play in goal for England. In August 1948 he was offered professional terms by City and he made his first-team debut for City on the left wing at Hull in November 1949, deputising for the injured Norman Lockhart. City lost 1-2 to a very good Hull side which had the legendary England international Raich Carter as player manager, and Carter scored both the Tigers goals that day in front of a crowd of 40,170. Jim didn't play for the first team again that season but played four times the following season and scored the only goal of the game on his home debut against West Ham in March 1951.

He didn't appear in the first team the following season but became fairly regular towards the end of 1952/53 season. His best season was 1953/54 when he played 31 games scoring three goals. He played regularly when Jesse Carver was manager in the first half of 1955/56 but when Carver walked out to join Lazio at Christmas Jim's career at City was virtually over.

He left City in July 1956 to join Millwall but played only one first team game before joining Shrewsbury Town the following summer where he played eight games. He did return to live in the City at some stage and in 1958-59 he was playing for Lockheed Leamington in the Birmingham League. He died in 1993.

City fan Roy Evans sent me a great City team picture this week and one I had never seen before. It was taken before the opening game of the 1940-41 season against Leicester City at Highfield Road. With the war underway the Football League was suspended and regional leagues were introduced to reduce travelling. City would only play 10 games before the blitz in November resulted in Highfield Road being bombed and rendered unplayable. Ten of the team had played for the Bantams before the outbreak of war in September 1939, although George Lowrie, City's last signing before the war, had only made his debut on the day before Neville Chamberlain's fateful radio broadcast to announce that war had been declared, scoring in a 4-2 home win over Barnsley. The odd man out is Dave Murray, the centre-forward. Mike Young has provided me with some details of this player who never played for the club in peace-time. Apparently he was a local mechanic who owned a garage in Whitefriars Lane who played in local amateur football. He was one of the first local amateurs to be invited to play for the club as the regular professionals joined the services and were unable to turn out regularly for the club.

Murray had played four games at the end of the 1939-40 season, scoring five goals including a hat-trick in a 4-0 home win over West Brom. The Leicester game would be his only appearance before City withdrew from football in November but he did reappear in 1942 when football re-commenced at Highfield Road, making five appearances and scoring one goal. For the record City drew 1-1 with Leicester with George Lowrie netting in front of a crowd of 2,165.

I am signing copies of my new book 'Play Up Sky Blues: Coventry City champions 1967' in the casino before and after today's game with Mansfield. Legends from the 1967 team, Mick Kearns, Dietmar Bruck and Ronnie Farmer will be with me at 1.30 and after the game until 6pm. The book, which costs £16.99, tells the story of the greatest season in the club's history when First Division football was achieved for the first time.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Jim's column 4.11.2017

The Coventry City goal drought ended in spectacular fashion at Kenilworth Road last Saturday when the Sky Blues beat league leaders Luton Town 3-0 with goals from McNulty, Shipley and Nazon. It was the biggest away league win since the 5-0 victory at Crewe in January 2016 and McNulty's 16th minute goal was the first league goal since Nazon's 9th minute effort against Crewe on 30th September – a total of 457 minutes playing time.

It was the worst run without a league goal since 2003 when Gary McAllister's team failed to score in their last five games of the 2002-03 season and the first game of 2003-04. That spell lasted 617 minutes and was slightly shorter than the longest post-war run set in 1973 when Gordon Milne's team went six complete games (645 minutes) without scoring between 6th October and 24th November. For a side that included Tommy Hutchison, Brian Alderson, Colin Stein and David Cross that took some doing. During that seven week period the team did however manage eleven goals in four League Cup ties.

The worst run ever was back in 1919-20, City's inaugural season in the Football League. After scoring in a 2-1 defeat to Leicester on 4th October the team failed to score in 11 successive games until they scored three against Stoke City on Christmas Day – a total of 1048 minutes without a goal. This stood as the longest ever League run until 1992-93 when Hartlepool went 1227 minutes (13 games) without scoring.

At Luton there was the rare occurrence of two City substitutes scoring in the same game in the shape of Jordan Shipley and Duckens Nazon. It had only occurred once before in a league game, in 2010 when Carl Baker and Jordan Clarke came off the bench to clinch a 3-1 home victory over Barnsley. It has happened twice in Cup games – in an FA Cup win at Norwich in 2000 when Cedric Roussel and John Eustace scored, and last season at Wycombe in the Checkatrade Trophy Ryan Haynes and Gael Bigirimana scored after coming on at half-time in the 4-2 win.

Colin Heys always poses interesting questions and recently asked about the shirts that City wore for a game at West Ham in the 1970s. He remembers them turning out in white shirts with red shorts but cannot remember the season. It was 1st April 1978 and was not an April Fool. City's 'change' kit that season was a red version of the Admiral, tram-line kit, and apparently the referee at Upton Park that day decided that City's red kit clashed with the Hammers claret and blue. City's kit man was despatched to a local sports shop to purchase some shirts and came back with plain white Admiral shirts which were worn with the red 'change' shorts. The kit didn't do the Sky Blues a lot of good – relegation-threatened Hammers won 2-1, denting City's European qualification hopes. It wasn't the only strange kit worn by City at Upton Park. In the 1981 League Cup semi-final second leg the team wore yellow shirts with a blue trim on a round neck collar and yellow shorts. The normal away kit was the infamous chocolate brown but was unpopular under floodlights so the change was made.

Colin also wanted to know how many clubs City have played in league games since they joined the league in 1919. That's a tricky question by virtue of the new clubs with old names e.g. Newport County. The stats experts www.enfa.co.uk consider the modern-day Newport and Accrington clubs different to the previous clubs of the same name and also consider, rightly or wrongly, Wimbledon and MK Dons to be the same club. So, on that basis the league newcomers Forest Green Rovers became the 116th team two weeks ago.

The most recent firsts have been:
105. Scunthorpe 2007
106. Yeovil 2012
107. Stevenage 2012
108. Crawley 2012
109. Fleetwood 2014
110. Burton Albion 2015
111. AFC Wimbledon 2016
112. Newport County (2) 2017
113. Cambridge United 2017
114. Barnet 2017
115. Accrington Stanley (2) 2017
116. Forest Green 2017

By Christmas that number will have reached 119 after successive games against Morecambe, Cheltenham Town and Wycombe Wanderers who will all be playing the Sky Blues for the first time in a league game. It will also mean that the Sky Blues have played all of the current 92 league clubs at least once. I believe only two other clubs, Notts County and Swindon, will have achieved this feat by the end of this season.

My latest book, Play Up Sky Blues, the story of the memorable 1966-67 season, is now out and I am holding a book signing session in the Casino next Saturday along with stars of that team, Mick Kearns, Ronnie Farmer and Dietmar Bruck. We will be signing copies before the Mansfield game (from 1.30) and after the game (until 6pm). If you would like to reserve a copy for that event please drop me an email.



Sunday, 8 October 2017

Jim's column 7.10.2017

Coventry City's 1-0 victory over Crewe Alexandra last weekend was the club's fourth consecutive league game without conceding a goal at the Ricoh, following clean sheets against Port Vale, Carlisle and Exeter. It ended an outstanding September for Mark Robins which may well see the City boss pick up the dreaded 'Manager of the Month' award. For the record the team won five, drew one and lost one in league games during the month, equalling the best September ever, set in 1929 and equalled in 1958 (the Division Four promotion season). As far as successive clean sheets at home, it is the best run since four in 2002 under Gary McAllister and two short of the club record set in that Fourth Division promotion season in 1958-59.

Attendances are picking up slowly as the Sky Blues' home form improves but the Port Vale home gate of 6,951 was the lowest home league crowd on a Saturday since April 1958 when 6,939 watched the Bantams play Gillingham. Midweek attendances are traditionally lower and three days later there were only 6,151 paying customers for the visit of Carlisle – the smallest home league crowd since April 1962 when there were only 5,965 to see Bristol City.

It was good to see the team notch a win at Swindon's County Ground at last. In recent seasons they have taken the lead on several occasions there but failed to come away with the points. This time they fell behind only to come back strongly and goals from Doyle and Nazon sealed the first league victory there since December 1960. That was a 2-1 win also with Ray Straw and Billy Myerscough on target.

I was contacted by Dutch journalist Joris Kaper last month. He is writing the biography of former City player Nii Lamptey who briefly played for the Sky Blues under Ron Atkinson in 1995-96. Joris wanted the details of Lamptey's appearances for City and I was able to furnish him with the following facts:

       
Coventry City 1995-96


H
Hull City (League Cup)
W
1 goal
9




A
Hull City (League Cup)
W
1 goal
9




A
D

9




H
L

9*




H
Tottenham H (League Cup)
W

9




A
L
sub
12




H
L

8*




A
Wolves (League Cup)
L
sub
12




H
D
sub
12




A
Manchester City (FA Cup)
L
sub
12




H
D
sub
12



-

​In addition he played 2 friendlies: 11/9/95 St Albans (a) 7-1 (he scored one) and 8/10/95 Hearts (a) 5-1 (he scored one).

Ghanaian Lamptey was something of teenage superstar helping his country to win the World under-17 championships in 1991 and being touted as the 'new Pele'. Atkinson signed him for Villa and then brought him to Coventry soon after he arrived at Highfield Road. It's fair to say he never looked like a world-class performer for City and his subsequent career, which has taken him to Italy, Argentina, Portugal, Germany, Dubai, China and finally back to Ghana, was an anti-climax after his exploits as a teenager.