Sunday, 17 November 2019

Jim's column 16.11.2019

It is with great sadness that I report the death this week of former City player Peter Wyer at the age of 82. Born in Coventry in 1937, Pete attended Christ the King school in Coundon and shone with Coventry Schoolboys. He played part-time football with Coventry Amateurs and Atherstone and was doing an apprenticeship when he he impressed City's management in a private trial game in 1955. After some excellent performances for the 'A' team and reserves he was given his debut by manager Jesse Carver as a second half substitute in a friendly against Sheffield United at Highfield Road. He scored City's second goal in the 3-2 defeat and five days later he was given a starting position at Crystal Palace as City had injury problems. They lost 3-0 at Palace and he was back in the reserve team the following week.
                                                                 Peter is his playing days 

He was a skilful inside-forward who could also play wide, but failed to impress and was released in the summer of 1956 without playing another first team game. He joined Derby County where former City boss Harry Storer was manager and made two appearances for the Rams in two seasons, scoring one goal, before Billy Frith re-signed him for Coventry in 1958. Despite his enthusiasm Peter got few opportunities and played only four games in City’s Fourth Division promotion season. In 1959 he joined Nuneaton Borough and later played for Rugby Town. He was a regular visitor at the Ricoh until last year and was also an enthusiastic member of the Former Players Association from the start. His health had declined over the past couple of years, he suffered with dementia, and had to leave last year's Legends Day after being taken ill.
                                                              Peter at 2017 Legends Day

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about City's Winston Churchill Trophy game against Fulham in 1965, played on the same day as the great statesman's funeral. Roger Hillier has reminded me that the trophy was played for again the following season against Northampton Town in a game which doubled as a testimonial game for long serving City stalwarts George Curtis and Mick Kearns. The game took place on Tuesday 10th May 1966, the night after Southampton, by drawing 1-1 at Leyton Orient, clinched promotion and consigned the Sky Blues to third place in Division Two.

The Cobblers had just been relegated from the First Division after their one and only season in the top flight. A crowd of 13,576 raised almost £3,000 for the players' testimonial fund and the game ended 2-2. Peter Denton and Ray Pointer gave City a two-goal lead in the first half but Northampton came back in the second half with goals from Billy Best and Jim Hall. George Hudson, who had signed for Northampton two months previously, played but was hampered by an injury sustained in their final league game. A four-page programme was issued for the game.

City's line up was: Glazier: Kearns, Hill: Bruck, Curtis, Farmer: Denton, Machin, Gould, Pointer, Clements. Dudley Roberts substituted for the injured Denton at half-time.

Kyle Walker's appearance in the goalkeeper's jersey for Manchester City in their Champions League game against Atalanta last week prompted City fans to ask when City last had an outfield player go 'between the sticks'. It was more common in the days before multiple substitutes and there wasn't a goalkeeper on the bench to replace an injured custodian. The last time the Sky Blues had an outfield player in the 'keeper's jersey was in a home game against Stoke in 2005 when Stephen Hughes had to go in goal after Ian Bennett received a red card just after half-time. Manager Micky Adams had a habit of not including a goalie on the bench and it almost backfired on him that day. Hughes however made a number of excellent saves and City got a 0-0 draw.

You have to go back 30 years for the previous occurrence – at Millwall in 1989 – when Steve Ogrizovic was injured and had to go off at half-time with City losing 3-0. There were two subs allowed in those days and City's were outfield players Dougie McGuire and Kevin Macdonald. Macdonald came on and David Speedie went in goal. David Smith pulled a goal back and 'Speedo' kept Millwall at bay until the 89th minute when Ian Dawes beat him with a corker from 25 yards.

I believe there were seven other instances since the war of outfield players going in goal including Bobby McDonald, John Craven, Ronnie Rees, George Lowrie and Roy Kirk (who did it three times!). Older City fans will remember Rees's appearance in goal, at Maine Road in 1965 when Bill Glazier broke his leg. Rees took over with City losing 1-0 but he kept a clean sheet and Ken Hale popped up to score an equaliser.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Jim's column 9.11.2019

Max Biamou had an interesting week. Despite receiving a red card on Saturday for a bad challenge against Accrington on Saturday the club circumvented the rules to play him in the EFL trophy game against Southampton on Tuesday evening. The three-game suspension for the red card was temporarily forgotten as the French striker scored a hat trick to virtually guarantee the club’s place in the knockout stages of the competition. Let’s hope those stages generate bigger crowds for a competition that is really struggling to attract the fans. The crowd at St Andrews on a bitterly cold Tuesday was only 375, the smallest for a competitive home game since 1900, although I did find a crowd of 306 at Highfield Road in November 1940 for a War League game which was strictly speaking not a competitive game.

Max is the first Coventry City player to score a hat trick in a Cup competition since Gary McSheffrey netted three in a 8-0 home victory over Rushden and Diamonds in the League Cup in 2002-03. Since 2000 there have been only ten Sky Blue hat tricks, as follows:

2000-01. John Aloisi v Preston (h) League Cup
2001-02. Lee Hughes v Crewe (a)
2002-03. Gary McSheffrey v Rushden (h) League Cup
2009-10. Freddy Eastwood v Peterborough (h)
2015-16. Jacob Murphy v Gillingham (h)
2015-16. Adam Armstrong v Crewe (a)
2017-18. Jodi Jones v Notts County (h)
2017-18. Marc McNulty v Grimsby (h)
2017-18. Marc McNulty v Cheltenham (a)
2019-20. Max Biamou v Southampton (h) EFL Trophy

Older City fans may remember Robert (Bob) Dobbing, a full-back who was a regular in the reserve team between 1967-69 but never quite made the first team. Sunderland-born Dobbing joined City straight from school and played in the same youth team as Willie Carr, Jeff Blockley and Trevor Gould. After emigrating to Australia in the 70s he was chosen to represent Australia but broke his leg before the game. He lives in Melbourne but still has family in the North East and they have been in touch with the bad news that Robert has prostate cancer. He had an operation this week and everybody is hoping that he has a successful outcome. CCFPA have sourced a 1960s style City shirt for him and that is winging its way to him in Australia.
                                                         Bob Dobbing with son Steven and daughter Natasha

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Jim's column 2.11.2019

What a blow for the Sky Blues to concede that added-time equaliser at Peterborough last weekend. Max Biamou's stunning 86th minute bicycle kick appeared to have clinched a deserved three points but Muhammed Eisa squeezed home a 95th minute leveller. City fan John Baker, who lives in the Peterborough area, pointed out that Posh have scored late goals on City's last three visits to London Road. Last season Louis Reed scored a consolation goal for Posh in the 97th minute and in December 2016 Michael Bostwick scored a Posh equaliser in the 93rd minute after City had led for over 70 minutes with a Jordan Willis goal. It was an excellent game and in the tradition of the games between the two clubs going back to 1961 when a rampant Posh, managed by former City boss Jack Fairbrother, won 3-1 at Highfield Road. Since then the Sky Blues have the edge over their rivals and haven't lost at home to Posh in 11 games since then.

Last week's home win over Fleetwood was the third time in five games that the team have come from behind to win at home, a remarkable achievement. Before the Blackpool game this season the team had failed to recover from a deficit in a home league game since April 2016 – a total of 74 games. City's record of coming back from a losing position isn't great and three is the most in a season since 2012-13 when coincidentally Mark Robins was also in charge – he took the Sky Blues to comebacks in three games (Walsall at home and Stevenage and MK Dons away) whilst Steven Pressley had taken over by the time the team made it four for the season. The best record in the modern era was in 1977-78 when Gordon Milne's team came from behind to win on six occasions on their way to finishing seventh in the old First Division.

Roger Hillier wrote to me asking about City's games in the Winston Churchill Remembrance Trophy. The friendly trophy was initiated in 1965 and a game between City and Fulham was played on the day of Churchill's funeral, 30th January. There was no game the following season but in March 1967 West Ham came to Highfield Road for a friendly game and the trophy was again on offer. West Ham won on penalties (City's very first penalty shoot-out) after a 3-3 draw. Roger believes that this was the first time a penalty competition settled a game in England.

Roger was interested in the Fulham game and I was able to give him some details of the game. Fulham, then a First Division side, brought a strong team and included internationals Johnny Haynes, George Cohen and Bobby Robson, and a young Rodney Marsh. George Hudson gave the Sky Blues a 34th minute lead which they held until 13 minutes from time when John Key, later to join City and be part of the 1967 promotion team, scored an equaliser. Five minutes from time Scottish international Graham Leggatt scored the winning goal and after the game City chairman Derrick Robins presented the trophy to former England captain Haynes. The attendance on a very cold day was 10,881.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Jim's column 19.10.2019

I have belated congratulations this week for Kent-based Coventry City fan Colin Heys who two weeks ago celebrated 50 years of watching the Sky Blues. Colin, the founder of the London Supporters club in 1977, watched the team for the first time in October 1969 at Highbury where Ernie Hunt’s goal gave City their first ever win at the famous stadium.
                                                  Ernie Hunt scores the winner at Highbury in 1969                  

Since then Colin has watched the team play over 2000 games and reached the milestone of 2200 at Telford’s New Bucks Head ground in the friendly in July. Coincidentally Colin grew up half a mile away from that ground. Not that he normally watches friendlies - only two of the previous 2,199 were friendlies, the rest being competitive games. Earlier this year, at Accrington, he notched up the hundredth different away ground that he has seen the Sky Blues play on. Colin has barely missed a game, home or away, in the last 40 years and has had many tortuous midweek journeys to and from away games. Congratulations Colin!

Several readers spotted that Rotherham striker Michael Smith scored two penalties against the Sky Blues in the 4-0 defeat at the New York Stadium two weeks ago. This is is a very rare occurrence and the first time since Bradford City’s Tony McMahon netted two penalties in the 3-3 draw at Valley Parade in 2016.

Another two penalty man was Ade Akinfenwa who netted two for Gillingham in a 4-2 defeat at the Priestfield Stadium in 2014, a game that saw four penalties scored with Callum Wilson and Carl Baker scoring City’s spot-kicks.

There are a few other instances of opponents scoring two penalties in a game against the Sky Blues - Liverpool's Jan Molby managed three in the League Cup tie at Anfield in 1986 and other instances include Swindon's Jan Age Fjortoft (1994), West Ham's Ray Stevens (1984), Tottenham's Glen Hoddle (1980), Manchester City's Gary Owen (1978), West Ham's Geoff Hurst (1969) and Sunderland's Neil Martin (1967). I think Martin is the only opposing player to score two penalties at Highfield Road and also score two penalties in a game as City player, against Crystal Palace for the Sky Blues in 1969.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Jim's column 12.10.2019

Coventry City's excellent unbeaten start came to a shuddering halt at Rotherham's New York Stadium last Saturday. It was the Sky Blues' biggest league defeat for eighteen months -since that 2-6 debacle against Yeovil in the League Two promotion season. You have to go back to Easter Monday 2013 for the last time they lost by four goals in an away league game. That was a 0-4 defeat at Walsall near the end of the season. Left-back Jordan Stewart received his marching orders for two yellow cards in the 64th minute with the Saddlers, managed by current Villa boss Dean Smith, already 2-0 ahead and two late goals made it an embarrassing scoreline for manager Steven Pressley. It's interesting to look at City's team that day – it included a number of players who have gone on to greater things including Cyrus Christie, substitute Callum Wilson and John Fleck but some who have almost disappeared without trace and barely remembered by City fans. William Edjenguele and Callum Ball made their final starts in sky blue that day and Derby loanee James Bailey, Stephen Jennings and Franck Moussa were all on their way to the exit door.

The unbeaten run is over but let's not forget that it was the club's second best start ever in league football, falling five short of the club record set in 1937-38 which I have written about in earlier columns. I don't fancy waiting another 82 years for a similar start. The 10-game run was also the best unbeaten run since Tony Mowbray's exciting team were unbeaten in 11 games in October and November 2015.

Tranmere are tomorrow's visitors at St Andrews and won't be easy opponents. City's home record against them is quite good – only two defeats in ten games but the Sky Blues have a woeful record at Birkenhead with just one victory in nine visits (in 1938!). Those fans who travelled to watch City at Sixfields in 2013-14 will remember the 5-1 thrashing dished out by the Merseyside club that day with Ryan Lowe registering a hat-trick. Older fans will remember another 5-1 drubbing at Tranmere in a 1999 League Cup tie when City were a Premier League Club but threw Italian goalkeeper Rafaele Nuzzo in for his one and only senior game. It will be the fourth different venue that Tranmere have played away games against City, Highfield Road, Ricoh Arena, Sixfields and now St Andrews.

Following my mention of City's great home record in 1955-56 (they remained unbeaten from the start of the season until February) David Walker was in touch with his memories of the legendary manager Jesse Carver:

Thanks for the piece on longest unbeaten runs, especially the piece about Jesse Carver.

Amazing how some things stick in your mind, but that season (1955-56) was special, in one particular way.

Standing behind the goal, at the Swan Lane end that year, we seemed always to be watching a mediocre first half, with the City not looking too effective and short of ideas.

As the second half started, Mr Carver would appear from the tunnel and lean back against the terrace wall, just standing there, watching things, arms folded and obviously missing nothing. He was very distinctive in that light coloured sports jacket (as per the picture) and it was as if a someone had thrown a switch and got the team playing.

How? I reckon he had spent the first half weighing up the opposition, sorted out the needs in the dressing room at half time and came out to see the results, which usually gave us a lot to cheer.

Also, it was good to see long time director Erle Shanks in the picture. Derrick Robins gets a lot of plaudits, but Mr Shanks was a great supporter of the club, when there was not much money about.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Jim's column 5.10.2019

Last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Doncaster ended the Sky Blues 100% home record after five consecutive victories. The team therefore equalled the five game winning run from the start of the season achieved last in 1973 under Gordon Milne and before that in 1956. It fell short of the club record start of eight home wins in a row set in 1935 and equalled in 1950. The next target is to remain unbeaten at home and the record for that was set in 1955, under the managership of Jesse Carver, when the team were unbeaten for 15 home games in a run which lasted until the middle of February 1956. Carver, the manager who City’s chairman Erle Shanks somehow lured from Italy to manage City, then a Third Division club, only stayed in post from the close season until New Years Eve, never lost a home game in charge. He oversaw 12 wins and two draws in that five month period before being enticed back to Serie A by Lazio.
The Sky Blues’ unbeaten run in the league is now 10 games, the second best start in the club’s history, and just five off the club record set in 1937 which I wrote about last week. City are now one of only three clubs unbeaten in the top four divisions, Liverpool and Ipswich being the other two.
Amadou Bakayoko became super sub on Saturday, scoring the deserved equaliser in the 89th minute, eight minutes after coming on for Jordy Hiwula. That was Bakayoko’s third goal from the bench since he joined the Sky Blues last year, following his brace in the victory at Charlton last autumn. The club record is five scored by Gary McSheffrey.
I watched Bayern Munich’s 7-2 demolition of Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday evening and realised as Serge Gnabry netted his fourth and Bayern’s seventh goal that a long-standing record had been broken. In October 1970 the Sky Blues suffered a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Bayern in what, until Tuesday evening, was the heaviest defeat by an English club in a major European competition. Older fans will need no reminding of the circumstances of the horrendous night in Munich: a surface resembling a paddy field after torrential rain, reserve goalkeeper Eric McManus in goal for the injured Bill Glazier and facing a team of virtually all internationals including Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier. The Sky Blues were 4-1 down after 20 minutes and the score line could have been a lot worse but a bit of dignity was restored with a 2-1 Sky Blues win in the second leg at Highfield Road. Since that night no English club had suffered a worse defeat although Leicester went close in 2016, losing 5-0 to Porto. Someone suggested that Tottenham had lost 8-0 to Cologne in the Inter-Toto Cup a few years ago but I don’t think that competition is classified as a ‘major’ competition.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Jim's column 28.9.19

After failing to come from behind to win a home league game in more than three years Coventry City did it in successive home games against Blackpool and AFC Wimbledon. Both games saw late, late winners with Liam Walsh's winner in the latest game timed at 93 minutes. By my reckoning these two comeback wins were the first time the Sky Blues have done it in successive home games since 1989. On 27th March 1989 Danny Wallace gave Southampton an early lead at Highfield Road but Brian Borrows equalised before half-time before David Speedie grabbed a 71st minute winner with one of his trademark chips over Tim Flowers. Two weeks later Norwich were the visitors and Speedie was the star man again, making David Phillips' equaliser and scoring the winner. 'Speedo' also won a penalty which saw Canaries' 'keeper Bryan Gunn sent off for dissent, but Brian Kilcline missed the spot kick. The victory lifted the Sky Blues to sixth place in the old First Division but sadly there were only 12,000 to watch John Sillett's exciting team defeat a Norwich team still in contention for the league title.

Today's home game with Doncaster is probably City's toughest test to date and the nine-game unbeaten league run will come under severe pressure. It's currently the best run by a City team since the autumn of 2015 when Tony Mowbray's thrilling team went unbeaten for 11 games that saw them top League One for three weeks. We are still well short of City's best unbeaten start to a season however. That happened in 1937 in the old Division Two. Following promotion in 1936 manager Harry Storer had consolidated in the higher division and with some shrewd buys had built a strong side with its foundations in defence. He had introduced a new kit that summer and it took fifteen games for the 'Bantams' to lose in the new kit. They started the season with a goal-less draw at Tottenham followed by two 1-0 home victories over Manchester United and Burnley. A point in the return at Old Trafford and a 2-0 victory at Bury put City into second place but another 1-0 home win over Stockport saw City go top of the table.

The team's form was attracting the crowds and over 27,000 saw City draw 2-2 with Chesterfield and a week later Forest grabbed a point at Highfield Road. Any thought that bubble was about to be burst were dispelled with 2-1 victories at Newcastle and at home to Luton before a 3-3 draw at Swansea after leading 3-1 kept City on top. A 2-0 home win over Norwich saw Irish international winger Jackie Brown score his sixth goal of the season and a week later came City's greatest test, at Villa Park.
                                                         1937-38 squad 

Villa were favourites for promotion and were in third place two points behind City. Over 67,000 including an estimated 20,000 Coventry fans packed into the ground and saw a thrilling game. Billy Macdonald gave City a first half lead but Eric Houghton levelled after the break and a draw was a fair result and extended City's run to 13 games. The first two Saturdays of November saw City record 0-0 draws, at home to Bradford Park Avenue and at West Ham, the latter game attracting a crowd of over 40,000 to Upton Park, one of the largest crowds at the east end stadium.

Seven days after the draw at West Ham City's fifteen-game run came to an end at Highfield Road when Sheffield Wednesday staged a smash and grab act with a 1-0 win. City's good form continued however and the next three games were won with 11 goals scored and there was only one more defeat before the middle of January – at Bramall Lane in front of 49,000 on Christmas morning. City were never out of the top four all season but two defeats in their final three games cost them promotion to Division One with Villa and Manchester United going up and City missing out by one point. Coventry fans would have to wait another 29 years before reaching the top flight.