Monday, 3 December 2018

Jim's column 1.12.2018

Kenny Hibbitt only spent two seasons at Coventry City towards the end of his playing career and was much more closely linked with Wolves where he made over 500 appearances. He has recently published his autobiography in conjuction with Tim Nash, a Wolverhampton-based journalist. Kenny sent me a copy and although there is only one chapter covering the Highfield Road spell the book makes fascinating reading.

He started his career as an apprentice at Bradford Park Avenue but soon caught the eye of numerous scouts and signed for Wolves as a 18-year-old, spending two years in the reserves before becoming a regular in the first team from 1970 until 1984. He played in two winning League Cup finals and won a solitary England under 23 cap in an era when you had to be outstanding to play in the national team.

Wolves and City, of course, were massive local rivals in the late 60s and 70s and players like Kenny, John Richards and Derek Dougan were thorns in City's sides of that era with honours probably even between the Midland rivals in that period. The most memorable clash came in 1973 in the FA Cup sixth round tie at Molineux. City, rejuvenated by the signings of Tommy Hutchison and Colin Stein, were confident of a result but in front of 53,000 Richards and Dougan exposed the frailties of Bobby Parker and won 2-0. Wolves went on to lose unluckily to Don Revie's Leeds in the semi-final, a result that haunts Hibbitt to this day.

Relegation battles under first Bobby Gould and later Don Mackay, dominated his two seasons at Coventry (1984-86) but he writes fondly of this spell of his career. After hanging up his boots he managed Walsall and Cardiff and in the book highlights the issues of managing in the lower divisions, namely, lack of money, covering a multitude of roles and the 24/7 dedication required. There are lots of funny stories and big name characters who crossed his path in a dazzling career. The book, 'Seasons of My Life' wonderfully describes the golden era of playing in the early 1970s and the depressing side of managing in the lower divisions of the 1980s.

Last week I wrote about two City outfield players who went in goal in emergencies, David Speedie and Roy Kirk and promised to mention a few more this week. The last was Stephen Hughes who took over the goalkeeping jersey in a home game with Stoke City in 2005 after the City goalkeeper Ian Bennett was shown a red card in the 41st minute. Hughes repelled all Stoke's efforts to score and the game ended 0-0. Prior to that you have to go back to 1977 when Jim Blyth was injured in a home game with West Ham. Bobby McDonald went in goal for the last half hour but couldn't prevent 'Pop' Robson from scoring a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw. The previous season, at Maine Road, 'keeper Bryan King was dazed in a challenge early in the game but stoically continued until the hour mark by which time City were 3-0 down. John Craven took over in goal and kept Man City's formidable attack out until the final minute when Dennis Tueart made the final score 4-2.

In the 1960s there was only one incidence of an outfield player going in goal – again at Maine Road, in 1965, when Bill Glazier was stretchered off after 41 minutes with a broken leg following a clash with Glyn Pardoe. With City losing 1-0 and things looking bleak Ronnie Rees went in goal. Three minutes later Ken Hale equalised for City and Rees and City's brave defenders kept the home side out to earn a famous 1-1 draw.

If any readers remember any other City outfield players going in goal please let me know.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Jim's column 24.11.2018

Coventry City have a history of developing young talent and blooding them in the first team that stretches back to before World War Two. Harry Storer, City's legendary manager in the 1930s gave Second Division debuts to teenagers such as Ted Roberts, Plum Warner, Ellis Lager and George Mason. In the 1960s Jimmy Hill had faith in youngsters like Bobby Gould, Ronnie Rees and Mick Coop before a glut of kids came through under Noel Cantwell - the team that reached the 1970 Youth Cup final spawned eight first teamers, all of them making their debuts as teenagers. It has continued almost non-stop ever since with few barren periods where the club had to rely on the transfer market. Last week Mark Robins put out a first team at Cheltenham in the Football League Trophy that was the youngest starting XI in the club's history. The average age of the team that took the field was 21 years and 33 days, 25 days less than the previous record set at Maine Road in 1980.

The team comprised of: O'Brien (26), Grimmer (24), Mason (21), Eccles (18), Williams (19), Thompson (19), Jones (21), Bayliss (19), Bakayoko (22), Ngandu (17), Shipley (21). When the first substitute Sam McCallum (18) came on the average age dropped to 20 years 301 days and when Jack Burroughs (17) came on for Tom Bayliss it dropped even further, to 20 years 236 days. The final substitution – Jak Hickman (18) for Johnny Ngandu – pushed the average up a shade. Some people will argue that it was a meaningless game in a fairly meaningless competition but it still qualifies as a competitive first team game. Congo-born Ngandu meanwhile became the sixth youngest player to start a first team game. He was only 19 days past his seventeenth birthday and slots into the top ten.

  1. Brian Hill (April 1958) 16 years 273 days
  2. Isaac Osbourne (April 2003) 16 years 308 days
  3. Perry Suckling (August 1982) 16 years 320 days
  4. George Curtis (April 1956) 16 years 351 days
  5. Dietmar Bruck (April 1961) 17 years 9 days
  6. Johnny Ngandu (November 2018) 17 years 19 days
  7. Colin Holder (April 1962) 17 years 73 days
  8. Conor Thomas (Jan 2011) 17 years 92 days
  9. Lol Harvey (Nov 1951)  17 years 101 days
  10. Bobby Parker (March 1970) 17 years 137 days
                                                                 Johnny Ngandu 

Going back to 1980, Gordon Milne was reaping the benefit of many years of the club investing in youth and luring some of the country's best talent to Coventry. The young team would go on to reach the League Cup semi final and only lose out on a trip to Wembley by virtue of a late West Ham goal in the semi final second leg. The team that Milne put out at Maine Road was: Les Sealey (23), Steve Jacobs (19), Brian Roberts (25), Andy Blair (20), Paul Dyson (20), Gary Gillespie (20), Peter Bodak (19), Garry Thompson (21), Mark Hateley (19), Danny Thomas (19), Steve Hunt (24). Nine homegrown players plus Gillespie who was signed as a 17-year old.

Many thanks to Geoff Moore for his statistical help.

Keith Ballantyne regularly asks interesting questions and was recently struck by the somewhat unusual occurrence of a player scoring, and then finding himself in goal a couple of minutes later - the game in question being Ipswich v Preston, and the player being Paul Gallagher after the Preston goalkeeper received a red card, all substitutes having been used.

He wanted to know whether this unique honour has ever fallen to a City player. He recalled David Speedie going in goal for Oggy during a 4-1 defeat at Millwall in 1989, but it was David Smith who scored for City on that occasion. With the advent of multiple substitutions and the almost universal inclusion of goalkeeping substitutes it is very uncommon these days to find an outfield player going 'between the sticks'. I was able to tell him that no City player has scored a goal and then donned the goalkeeper's jersey. The nearest incident to this occurred in 1958 in a home game with Aldershot. City goalkeeper Jim Sanders broke his leg and full-back and captain Roy Kirk went into goal for the last half an hour. With six minutes left and City winning 7-1 they were awarded a penalty. Kirk raced from his goal to the other end to take the penalty but blasted it over the bar.

Next week I'll tell you about other outfield players who went in goal for City.

Keith's other question is regarding goalkeepers who have scored for and against City. He remembers, only too well that Oggy scored against Martin Hodge and Sheffield Wednesday in a 2-2 draw at Hillsborough in 1986 as he was at that game but he seems to remember that another keeper did the same to Oggy some years later, and Watford came to his mind as the offending side, but he's not really sure.

It was Watford Keith and a goalkeeper called Steve Sherwood. In January 1984 City entertained the Hornets, then managed by Graham Taylor. It was a very windy day at Highfield Road and Sherwood's long punt bounced on the edge of the City penalty area. City's goalkeeper, Raddy Avramovic and Watford's Nigel Callaghan challenged for the ball but the Yugoslav 'keeper missed his punch and the ball ended up in the City net. Watford went on to win 2-1. I'm not aware of any other goals scored by goalkeepers in City games.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Jim's Column 10.11.2018

Coventry City's five-game winning run, their best in the league since 1998, came to end at the Ricoh on Saturday when the team had to settle for a point against a very efficient Accrington side, whose league position doesn't flatter them. The Lancashire club, who ran away with the League Two title last term, close sides down and make it very difficult to find space and their goal came from a typical piece of pressing in City's midfield. Michael Doyle earned City a point with his first goal of the season when he was on hand to score from close range when the Accrington goalkeeper, the son of former Middlesbrough and Blackburn winger, spilled Jodi Jones' low shot.

Doyle has never been a prolific scorer but that goal won him a place in City's history books. He is now the third oldest City player to score a senior goal behind Dennis Wise and Gary McAllister. Doyle was aged 37 years and 119 days on Saturday and is over two years younger than Dennis Wise when he scored the last of his six goals for the Sky Blues on 30th April 2006. 'Wisey' was substitute that day and came off the bench to score in the 90th minute as City recorded a 3-1 victory over Cardiff City. The game turned out to be Dennis' final appearance of a 24-year career. Coincidentally McAllister's final goal in football was also in his final game, for the Sky Blues in a 1-1 home draw with Sunderland in December 2003. Gary stood down temporarily as City's player-manager after the game and a few weeks later resigned to look after his sick wife.

The top ten oldest goalscorers for the club are as follows:

Player Last goal
1 Dennis Wise 30/4/2006
39 years 135 days
2 Gary McAllister 8/12/2003
38 years 348 days
3 Michael Doyle 3/11/2018
37 years 119 days
4 Danny Shea 15/11/1924
37 years 9 days
5 Dick Lindley 24/9/1921
36 years 285 days
6 Danny Shone 5/1/1929
36 years 253 days
7 George Mason 27/12/1949
36 years 113 days
8 Steve Staunton 2/4/2005
36 years 73 days
9 Joey Jones 25/12/1922
35 years 359 days
10 Alex McClure 10/12/1927
35 years 250 days

Five of them played their football in the 1920s and were all largely 'over the hill' when they came to Coventry. More recently George Mason was a defender who went on to play for another two seasons for City's first team without scoring again. Other over 35s who scored for City include Richard Shaw, Charlie Timmins and Kevin Kilbane.

I have to thank the statisticians at for their help in discovering the facts on this one. They pointed out that Stanley Matthews was over 48 when he scored his final league goal for Stoke City in 1963 and Billy Meredith was 50 years and 6 months old when he netted an FA Cup goal for Manchester City in 1925 (almost four years after his last league goal).

'Doyler' also becomes the first City player to score at three different levels of the Football League having netted in the Championship during his first spell with the club, then last season in League Two. In the 1960s Mick Kearns, Brian Hill, George Curtis, Ronnie Farmer, Dietmar Bruck and Ernie Machin all scored in three different divisions. Dietmar only managed seven league goals in almost 200 games for the club but managed to score in Divisions Three, Two and One.

Ben Lipman posed that question and also wanted to know if Doyle holds the record for the timespan between his first and last goals for the club. Michael's first goal for City was in August 2003 in a 1-1 draw at Ipswich, over 15 years ago. My calculations show that he set the record last season, overtaking Ted Roberts who scored his first goal (on his debut) in a 4-0 home win over Bradford Park Avenue in March 1937. His career was severely interrupted by the war but he returned to the club and scored the last of his 85 goals on Boxing Day 1951 in a 3-0 home win over Bury – a span of over 14 years.
                                                                       Ted Roberts

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Jim's column 3.11.2018

City's fifth league win in a row against Doncaster last weekend makes it the best run since Gordon Strachan's outstanding team won the same number of league games in a seven win run in all competitions in January/February 1998. Following a 2-2 home draw with Arsenal on 17th January 1998, City set off on a run of victories as follows:

24 January Home Derby (FAC) 2-0 (Dublin 2)
31 January Away Bolton 5-1 (Whelan, Huckerby 2, Dublin 2)
7 February Home Sheff. Wed. 1-0 (Dublin (pen))
14 February Away Aston Villa (FAC) 1-0 (Moldovan)
18 February Away Southampton 2-1 (Whelan, Huckerby)
21 February Home Barnsley 1-0 (Dublin (pen))
28 February Away Crystal Palace 3-0 (Telfer, Moldovan, Dublin)

The incredible run of victories came to an end on 7th March when Sheffield United held the Sky Blues to a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup sixth round.

I hope I don't put the jinx on things but one more victory today against Accrington would equal the best league runs in the club's history. On three occasions City have won six on the bounce 1908, 1954 and 1964. The last occurrence, in the Jimmy Hill era, saw City clinch promotion on the final day of the 1963-64 season with a 1-0 home win over Colchester, and then open the 1964-65 campaign with five straight wins. Similarly in 1954 City won the last three Division Three South games of 1953-54 and proceeded to start the 1954-55 season with three victories. The 1908 run is the only time the club has recorded six league wins on the bounce in the SAME season. The 1907-08 season was the most successful in the club's 25-year history to that date. They reached the FA Cup 1st round (the equivalent of the third round now) for the first time and finished fourth in the Birmingham & District League (their highest ever final position). After losing at Wolves to their reserve side, City beat Worcester City home (4-2), Walsall home (3-0), Brierley Hill away (3-1), Brierly Hill home (6-0) and Stoke Reserves home (5-0). The run came to an end with a 4-0 defeat at Burton United. By coincidence City's next league game is away to Burton Albion!

Before Burton however the Sky Blues are in Cup action twice in four days with trips to Walsall in the FA Cup and Cheltenham in the Checkatrade (EFL) Trophy. City have met the Saddlers twice before in the FA Cup and won both. In 1924-25 City travelled to the Black Country for the equivalent of a First Round tie and won 2-1 at Walsall's Hillary Street ground with goals from Fred Morris and Fred Herbert. City were struggling near the foot of the Second Division and the victory over their Division Three North opponents was a boost and they went on to reach the Third Round by defeating Nelson, from the same division, in round two. In the Third round First Division Notts County were too strong, winning 2-0 at Highfield Road in front of almost 22,000.

The other FA Cup meeting with Walsall was in 1947-48 in the Third Round. The Saddlers, by now in Division Three South, had eliminated non-league Vauxhall Motors and Norwich City to get to the Third Round and a massive 34,278 crowd including many thousands from Walsall, City's biggest crowd since the war, watched City win 2-1 with two goals from Les 'Plum' Warner, Doug Lishman replying for Walsall. In the fourth round City went out to Luton, losing 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Jim's column 28.10.2018

Two away wins in four days not only lifted the Sky Blues to eighth place in League One (their highest position since May 2016) but got two troublesome monkeys off their back. The deserved win at Roots Hall, with a late scrambled goal, was the first at Southend since 2006 and only the fifth in 25 trips to the seaside town. They then followed up with a comprehensive thrashing of lowly Bradford City, ending a 59-year wait for victory at Valley Parade. Although Mark Robins was not happy with parts of the Bradford game I thought it was a very impressive away performance and City could have scored more goals with Jonson Clarke-Harris, who was in imperious form, narrowly missing out on a hat-trick of headers.

The two victories mean they have won four league games in a row for the first time since November 2015 when under Tony Mowbray the team beat Peterborough (h), Barnsley (h), Colchester (a) and Gillingham (h) to go to the top of League One. Those four games harvested 14 goals with Jacob Murphy scoring five and Adam Armstrong four. Have the Sky Blues ever had two better loan players? Lots of readers have been asking when did City last win five in a row. I'm probably giving the kiss of death on matters but you have to go back to February 1998 and the Premiership days to discover the answer. 1998 was of course the golden spring when City knocked Liverpool, Derby and Villa out of the FA Cup and should have reached the semi final but it is easy to forget the impressive league form in that period. Between early January and early April the team were unbeaten in nine league games and by the end of the season had lost just once in 21 league and cup games (counting the Sheffield United cup replay as a draw!). Embedded in that incredible run was a run of five straight league wins and two FA Cup victories.

Michael Doyle achieved another milestone this week when he overtook Richard Shaw in the all-time list of most Coventry City appearances. He's now made 364 appearances in all competitions for the club and stands seventh in the list. This season he has overtaken Shaw, George Mason and Tommy Hutchison and is now closing in on Mick Kearns on 385 with Bill Glazier's 402 also under threat.

The top ten at the moment is:
  1. Steve Ogrizovic 601
  2. George Curtis 543
  3. Mick Coop 499
  4. Brian Borrows 488
  5. Bill Glazier 402
  6. Mick Kearns 385
  7. Michael Doyle 364
  8. Richard Shaw 362
  9. George Mason 359
  10. Tommy Hutchison 355

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Jim's column 20.10.2018

After successive wins over Charlton Athletic and Wycombe Wanderers the Sky Blues now face two tough away games in four days. They have poor records against Southend, today's opponents, and Bradford City, who they visit on Tuesday evening. The Shrimpers have been a bogey club for City going back to the 1960s when they were unbeaten in three consecutive games at Highfield Road and put 11 goals in City's net – a 3-3 draw in 1961-62 followed by 4-3 and 5-2 victories in the next two seasons (they were the first post-war opposition to score five at Highfield Road).

City have no victories in the last five meetings with the Essex club and only four wins in 24 league visits to the seaside resort. Their last victory at Roots Hall was a Friday night game in 2006. Freddy Eastwood scored twice to cancel out goals by Stephen Hughes and Colin Cameron (a penalty) and looked to have earned a point for the home side until Dele Adebola popped up with the winning goal. City's last two visits there have ended in 3-0 and 3-1 defeats.

Valley Parade is another unhappy hunting ground for the Sky Blues. They have failed to win in their last 10 trips stretching back to the last win there in 1959-60 when George Stewart (2) and Ron Farmer gave City a 3-1 win. It's not just Valley Parade that City have a problem with the Bantams – they have recorded only one win in the last 12 meetings, a 1-0 home win in April 2016 when Andy Rose netted the solitary goal. Jordy Hiwula will remember the 2017 game at the Ricoh – he scored the second goal in Bradford's 2-0 victory, a result that left the Sky Blues 14 points from safety and virtually relegated.

Keith Ballantyne regularly corresponds with me on City's history and in the summer following Ernie Hunt's death he posed a couple of interesting questions. He wanted to know if Ernie had ever appeared at Highfield Road before joining City in March 1968.

He played at Highfield Road for Swindon in:
1960-61: a 1-1 draw and scored.
1961-62: City won 2-1
1962-63: City won 2-0
1964-65: City won 3-2 (he scored a pen)

And for Wolves in:
1966-67: City won 3-1

The other question concerned the 'Three Ernies' – Hunt, Machin and Hannigan. Keith wondered how many times all three played in the same City team. Ernie Machin joined City from Nelson in 1962, Hannigan joined from Preston in November 1967 and Hunty came from Everton in March 1968.
                                                                Ernie Hannigan
                                                                 Ernie Hunt
                                                             Ernie Machin

In 1967-68 all three appeared together in four games. All three started seven games in 1968-9 (Hannigan appeared in three more as substitute). In 1969-70 Hannigan only started seven games in total and Hunt started in six of them but Machin was absent in all of them. So in total there were only eleven games when all three started.

Keith also wanted to know if George Hudson played for Tranmere in the FA Cup games in 1967-68, after leaving City for Northampton in 1966. The Hud played for Tranmere in both FA Cup games v City in 1968. He scored one of the goals in Tranmere's 2-0 replay win, George Yardley scored the other.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Jim's column 13.10.2018

Coventry City's luck has not been in at times this season but it was definitely in at the Valley last Saturday. Trailing with ten minutes remaining the super sub Amadou Bakayoko struck twice to give the Sky Blues three points they had never looked like winning in the previous eighty minutes. Bakayoko joined an elite group of seven Coventry City players to score two goals from off the bench. The full list is:

1967-68 Bobby Gould (Nottingham Forest (away)) 3-3
2002-03 Jay Bothroyd (Rushden & Diamonds (LC) (home)) 8-0
2004-05 Patrick Suffo (Torquay (LC) (home)) 4-1
2013-14 Chris Maguire (MK Dons (away)) 3-1
2016-17 Ryan Haynes (Wycombe (FLT) (away)) 4-2
2017-18 Max Biamou (Yeovil (home)) 2-6
2018-19 Amadou Bakayoko (Charlton (away)) 2-1

The first, Bobby Gould's brace at Nottingham Forest after he came on for captain George Curtis who had broken his leg in only City's second game in the top flight, was the first time any City substitute had scored. The most dramatic brace was Chris Maguire's at MK in 2013. The scores were level at 1-1 with five minutes left when Maguire buried two sublime free-kicks in front of a large Sky Blue following. We have had some great moments at that stadium, it's a shame we won't be going there this season.
                                                  Gould nets at the City Ground (August 1967)  

In the 53 years that substitutes have been allowed only four opponent's substitutes have scored two goals, the most famous being West Ham's Tony Cottee in 1982-83, the last being in the Yeovil home game last season when Sam Sturridge came off the bench to score two against a red-faced City defence.

The Checkatrade Trophy (or EFL Trophy to give its proper name) continues to attract miniscule crowds throughout the country. There were less than 500 at the games at Cambridge and Gillingham on Tuesday night and City's pathetic 1,341 was in the top six highest gates of the night. From my vantage point the crowd looked to be under 1,000 which would have made it the lowest for a Coventry competitive home game since the club joined the league in 1919, held by the 1,111 for the Millwall Full Members Cup tie in 1985. However the final figure crept up to just beat the Crawley attendance (1,338) in the same competition two years ago. Despite the attraction of a Wembley final isn't it time for this competition to be put out of its misery. I fully envisage a Wembley final between two Premier League Under 21 sides that would attract a very low attendance.

The games at least give managers the opportunity to give promising youngsters a run out against stronger players than they're used to and on Tuesday we saw several City debutants. Jak Hickman and Morgan Williams got their first starts and then 17-year old Jack Burroughs and recent signing Dexter Walters came on as a substitutes. Burroughs became the first City player born after the millennium to appear for the first team. None of the youngsters looked out of place with Williams and Jordon Thompson especially impressive.

Dick Graham was the manager of Crystal Palace when they were promoted from Division Three alongside the Sky Blues in 1964. Dick passed away in 2013 but his son Mark is writing a book about his father's football career and I was able to help him with a few facts and figures. Graham and Jimmy Hill, City's manager at the time, had a few spats in their time. After a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park in December 1963 JH was critical of Palace's tactics saying 'I have never been so pleased to have won a point. To me it proved that constructive football can triumph over the purely destructive. This is our third experience of Palace's rough play this year'.

In those three games four Palace names had been taken – in the days when you almost had to a maim an opponent to go into the referee's book, with full-back Bert Howe picking up two bookings for flying tackles on City's winger Willie Hunphries. Graham retorted by calling Hill's comments undignified and saying 'We play the game men should play it'.

Both teams were promoted and the two managers were in opposition for a further two seasons before Graham was sacked in early 1966.