Sunday 25 February 2024

Jim's column 24.2.24

On Monday evening Coventry City will attempt to reach the FA Cup Sixth round for only the third time since the club won the famous trophy under John Sillett and George Curtis in 1987. 37 years have passed since that memorable day and the club's record in the world's most famous club competition has been pretty woeful. This is only the eighth time in those years that the Sky Blues have reached the last sixteen and four of those occasions came in successive seasons in the late 1990s when Gordon Strachan was in charge. The results of the previous seven appearances in the last sixteen since 1987 are:


26 February 1997 Derby County away Lost 2-3

14 February 1998 Aston Villa away Won 1-0

13 February 1999 Everton away Lost 1-2

29 January 2000 Charlton Athletic home Lost 2-3

16 February 2008 West Brom home Lost 0-5

24 February 2009 Blackburn Rovers home Won 1-0 (after 2-2 draw)

17 February 2018 Brighton away Lost 1-3


On the two occasions that they have reached the last eight they have failed against Sheffield United (in 1998) and to Chelsea (in 2008).


Monday's game is City's 17th FA Cup game against non-league opposition since the war and in the previous sixteen the Sky Blues have progressed on 12 occasions. However the ghosts of Kings Lynn, Sutton United, Worcester City and Wrexham linger over the club's FA Cup history almost as much as the triumphant 1987 story. Let's pray that Mark Robins' side can ignore those ghosts and take the club to the last eight for only the eighth time in their 140-year history.


The hard fought 1-0 victory at Stoke last week made it 20 successive league and cup games that the team have scored. You have to go back 11th November to find the last time the team failed to find the net – a 0-0 home draw with Stoke, coincidentally the game that the manager switched to a back four after several years playing a back three. In 20 games the team have scored a staggering 43 goals, albeit 11 in the FA Cup. Several readers have asked if this run is a club record but there is some way to go to match Jimmy Hill's team from the 1966-67 Second Division promotion season. In that momentous campaign, after a 1-0 defeat at Millwall in September 1966 the team went 29 scoring games before a 0-0 draw at Northampton in March 1967. After that scoreless draw the team scored in a further 16 scoring games including the first six games in Division One. In more recent times Mark Robins' 2012-13 team had 24 successive scoring games as he rejuvenated the club following relegation to League One.


Ed Blackaby has recently acquired a programme from a friendly game played at Highfield Road in 1962. On 11 December 1962 City played a friendly game with an England Youth XI and put out a full first team for a midweek game in the middle of a 46-game season (and the club was still in the FA Cup). A measly crowd of 3,448 watched the Sky Blues beat the England team 2-1 with goals from Hugh Barr and Ronnie Rees. The England team went on to win the European Youth Championships the following May and included many young players who went on to have successful top flight careers including Chelsea's Ron Harris, Tottenham's Phil Beal and Sheffield United full-backs Len Badger and Bernard Shaw. The outside right is David Pleat who had already made a scoring debut for Nottingham Forest in Division One but would be released two years later having made only six appearances. He went on to play 170 odd games with various lower division sides before making his name as a very successful manager with numerous clubs. Strangely, none of the England youth team won full England caps. 



Sunday 11 February 2024

Jim's column 10.2.24

Coventry City progressed to the FA Cup Fifth Round on Tuesday evening with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. It is only the second time in 15 seasons that the club have reached the last 16 of the competition, the other being 2017-18 when the club were in League Two. Whilst it was a great team effort I have to single out Casey Palmer and Callum O'Hare who gave us a master class in creative football. We've come to expect quality performances from O'Hare and one wonders what would have happened last season if the Solihull Messi had not been injured and missed the second half of the season. Since his injury he has added goalscoring to his armoury and turned himself into a player surely heading to the Premiership.

Before his injury on Boxing Day 2022 Callum had scored 12 goals in 117 starts and 29 substitute appearances. Since recovering from his ACL injury and returning to the side at the end of October he has netted nine goals in 12 starts and seven from the bench. Since his first start after injury, at Ipswich in December, City have lost only twice in 14 games. The statistics tell the story.

Kasey Palmer has never played a better game for City. He looks fully fit, enormously confident and is fulfilling the potential he showed as a Chelsea youngster. I can rarely remember a better performance from a Coventry midfield player in my 60 years of watching the team. It reminded me of a virtuoso performance from the legendary Ian Gibson against West Brom in an early season game at Highfield Road in 1968. The supremely talented 'Gibbo' had fallen out with manager Noel Cantwell and there were strong rumours that he was on his way out of the club. Cantwell recalled him to face the Baggies and he gave a dazzling display of dribbling and passing, creating a hat-trick for Ernie Hunt in a 4-2 victory. Afterwards Cantwell sheepishly admitted that there was no chance of Gibbo leaving the club after that performance.


                                       Ian Gibson

City's unbeaten run came to an end at Carrow Road last week after 12 league and cup games without defeat since City's previous trip to East Anglia in early December when they lost at Ipswich. The run was the club's best since 2019-20 when Mark Robins' team were unbeaten in 18 league and cup games when football was suspended for Covid (the Birmingham penalty shoot-out defeat counted as a draw). That team were also unbeaten in 14 league games from mid-December until 7th March. East Anglia is not a happy hunting ground for the Sky Blues – they have won only two of their last 15 league trips to Portman Road and only one of the last 17 at Carrow Road.

Another run came to an end at Norwich – City had scored two or more goals in seven successive league games with 19 goals in all but only managed one goal at Carrow Road. The run was only one short of the club's all-time record, set in 1959-60. Newly promoted to the old Division Three, City were beaten 5-1 at Southampton on the 24th October (the Dell was a bogey ground in those days) but in every one of the next eight games scored two or more goals. Unlike this season's team they lost two of those games but the run, with 25 goals, lifted them into the top three. 11 of the 25 goals came from the boots of young striker Ken Satchwell. Sadly the club's promotion push faltered and they finished in fifth place and it would take another four years to get promotion to Division Two.

This was the run in 1959-60:


Oct 31 Southend (h) won 2-0

Nov 7 Shrewsbury (a) lost 2-3

Nov 21 Norwich (a) won 4-1

Nov 28 Brentford (h) won 2-0

Dec 12 Reading (a) lost 2-4

Dec 25 Wrexham (h) won 5-3

Dec 26 Wrexham (a) won 3-1

Jan 12 York (h) won 5-2


Sunday 4 February 2024

Jim's column 3.2.24

The games are coming thick and fast for Coventry City right now and a draw in the FA Cup fourth round tie at Hillsborough means potentially seven games for the team during February. Hopefully the seventh and last game of February will be a fifth round tie with Maidstone United who await the winners of next Tuesday's replay with the Owls.


Arguably the Sky Blues shouldn't have needed a replay to beat Wednesday but failed to press home their domination at Hillsborough. The fans got their first glimpse of new Danish signing Victor Torp who scored a memorable goal on his Coventry debut. His goal is the first by a City debutant since Tyler Walker scored the winning goal after coming off the bench in a League Cup tie at MK Dons in August 2020. The last debutant to score in an FA Cup tie was Josh Pask in a 3-0 replay win over Bristol Rovers at St Andrew's in early 2020 and you have to go back to September 2018 for the last league scoring debutant – Conor Chaplin with a penalty in a 2-1 victory at Oxford. Here's hoping that Victor has a more successful career at Coventry than those three scoring debutants. 


Kyle McFadzean left the club this week with many eulogies for his part in the club's rise in recent years. He joined Coventry from Burton Albion in the summer of 2019 and helped the club to win promotion to the Championship in his first season. He had previously won promotions with Crawley Town and MK Dons. He made 171 appearances for the Sky Blues and scored eight goals including the winner on his CBS Arena debut against Nottingham Forest in 2021. Prior to his arrival I always felt City's defence had a soft heart and were often bullied by the more physical teams. Kyle solved that problem at a stroke, commanding his penalty area and probably the most dominating centre-back the club has had since Mo Konjic twenty years previously. Of course he had his moments – the disaster at Rotherham when he was red carded as City slumped to a 4-0 defeat comes to mind but he bounced back from that and was only on the losing side once more that season. Last season his presence was dreadfully missed when he was injured in December and January when City won only two games out of 11 and suffered embarrassing home defeats to Wrexham and Norwich. He returned in February helping steer the team to the play-offs and was only on the losing side once in 20 games. This season he had continued his good form and it was still hard to imagine a Coventry side without their captain and defensive rock but Mark Robins decided to change the defensive formation to four at the back and Kyle, who is 37 this month, was relegated to the bench. With the re-formed back four producing good results and Kyle's presence not missed he had become surplus to requirements. Kyle is a true legend of the club, a winner and a major force in the Coventry City's resurgence.


Sunday 21 January 2024

Jim's column 20.1.24

What a game at the CBS Arena last Saturday! The Sky Blues demolished the league leaders Leicester City 3-1 in a thrilling final twelve minutes or so to inflict only the fourth league defeat of the Foxes' season. The defeat ended Leicester's 11-match unbeaten run in the Championship in which they had won nine and meant City became the first team to score more than two goals against them. You have to go back to February 2008 for the Sky Blues' last win over their M69 rivals since which the clubs have drawn four and Leicester have won three.

Watched by the biggest crowd of the season, 29,914, which is also the second biggest league crowd ever at the CBS Arena, the Sky Blues showed all of their renowned 'never say die' attitude to overcome a team packed with players with Premiership experience and pedigree. Trailing from a controversial penalty, the team never panicked and showed great patience until eleven minutes from time when Callum O'Hare scored the equaliser. A second goal from Milan Van Ewijk and another O'Hare special sealed a famous comeback victory. 

It was the second successive league comeback following the 3-1 win at Middlesbrough something no Coventry City side has done since December 2012 during Mark Robins' first spell as manager. Then there were two away wins in four days over Christmas. At Stevenage on Boxing Day City trailed 1-0 until the 78th minute before Richard Wood, Carl Baker and David McGoldrick ensured a vital win. Three days later at MK Dons Daniel Powell gave the home side an early lead, Franck Moussa equalised, Ryan Lowe restored the Dons lead before Stephen Elliott nabbed two goals to give the Sky Blues a 3-2 win and extend their unbeaten run to 12 games.

The victory was also City's first comeback win at the CBS Arena since March 2022 when Sheffield United were defeated 4-1 after taking an early lead. City's scorers on what was Legends Day 2022 were Gyokeres, O'Hare 2 and Godden. The Leicester win was the 23rd home league comeback win since the move to the new stadium in 2005 including one at Sixfields (2013-14) and five at St Andrews (2019-21) and in my opinion was the most exciting, bearing in mind the quality of the opposition and the atmosphere in the stadium. The Fulham win in 2021 was good as was the last minute 3-2 win over Peterborough at Sixfields at Christmas 2013. In fact poor Peterborough have been the losers in three of those 23 comebacks and the 2015 3-2 win with two late Adam Armstrong goals was a classic.

Saturday's excellent crowd took the average for the season to 24,742 and if maintained will be the club's highest average since 1970-71 – the season that City played in Europe, averaged 26,039 and finished 10th in the old Division One. This season's average has only been bettered in 10 out of the 97 seasons the club has been members of the Football League – the best being in City's first season in the top flight, 1967-68, when crowds averaged a staggering 34,705. Whilst the CBS Arena has an official capacity of 32,609 there are a number of unusable areas between home and away fans meaning that record average will not be bettered.

Sunday 14 January 2024

Jim's Column 13.1.24

Coventry City continued their good form with a comfortable 6-2 home victory over Oxford United in the FA Cup Third round. Big cup victories are a rare thing for the Sky Blues and it was the club's biggest victory in the competition since 1999 when Macclesfield Town were put to the sword 7-0 at Highfield Road. Since City joined the Football League in 1919 there have only been five instances of them scoring six or more goals in the FA Cup:

1929-30 Coventry City 7 Bath City 1

1934-35 Coventry City 7 Scunthorpe & Lindsey United 0

1963-64 Trowbridge Town 1 Coventry City 6

1998-99 Coventry City 7 Macclesfield 0

2023-24 Coventry City 6 Oxford United 2

In the first three instances the opponents were non-league clubs whilst Macclesfield were in the third tier of the league as are Oxford.

Matty Godden came off the bench to score two goals – the first City player to achieve that feat since Amadou Bakayoko did it at Charlton Athletic in a League One game in 2018-19. He is only the eighth Coventry sub to score two goals in a game and the first in an FA Cup game. After substitutes were introduced to the domestic game in 1965 Bobby Gould was the first sub to score two (at Nottingham Forest in 1967) and since then has been followed by Jay Bothroyd, Patrick Suffo, Chris Maguire, Ryan Haynes, Max Biamou, Bakayoko and now Godden.

Godden has now scored 50 goals for the club and is the first player to reach that level since Gary McSheffrey. The two Cup goals take him to 21st in the all-time table which is headed by Clarrie Bourton with 189, followed by Billy Lake with 129. He is now within striking distance of Ernie Hunt (51) Ronnie Rees (52) and Terry Gibson (52). 

The draw for the fourth round gave City a trip to their favourite Cup ground, Hillsborough, the scene of their sixth round and semi final victories in 1987. It also means trips to Sheffield Wednesday in successive weekends with a league game next Saturday followed by the Cup trip the following weekend. I'm not a great one for omens but several readers have reminded me that in City's memorable 1986-87 season City played Wednesday on successive Saturdays. The teams fought out a tough league game at Highfield Road with City prevailing 1-0 in a snow-affected game. Lloyd McGrath scored the winning goal and Dean Emerson, then in the form of his life and being tipped for an England call-up, suffered a bad knee injury following a challenge by Gary Megson. Seven days later the Sky Blues pulled off one of their greatest Cup results, winning 3-1 at Hillsborough where the Owls were unbeaten in 23 FA Cup ties. 

Another footballing legend died this week. Following hard on the heels of Bobby Charlton, Franz Beckenbauer, the man who marked Charlton in the 1966 World Cup final and the 1970 quarter final, passed away aged 78. 'Der Kaiser', the Emperor, started his career as a midfield player but later became an outstanding central defender winning the European Championships with West Germany in 1972, the World Cup in 1974 and the European Cup three times with Bayern Munich (1974-76). I particularly remember his imperious performance in the 1976 European Cup final against St Etienne at Hampden Park when he didn't misplace a pass all game. He also managed Germany to victory in the 1990 World Cup in Italy.


                       Franz Beckenbauer can't stop Neil Martin scoring at Highfield Road in 1970

Franz captained Bayern against Coventry City in the UEFA Fairs Cup in 1970. Bayern destroyed the Sky Blues 6-1 in the first leg in Munich but City won the second leg 2-1 at Highfield Road and Beckenbauer was given a tough time by City's centre-forward Neil Martin but still managed to show the Coventyry crowd his outstanding ability.


Sunday 7 January 2024

Jim's column 6.1.24

An impressive Christmas and New Year programme saw the Sky Blues rise seven places up the league table to eighth place with 10 points out of a possible 12. The unbeaten run was extended to seven games and there has only been one defeat in 11 - away at high-flying Ipswich at the start of December.


The latest victory came at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium - their first win there in a regular season fixture. Despite winning the play-off semi final second leg there last season City had played 11 league games since the stadium replaced Ayresome Park in 1995 and never won.


Three days earlier Swansea City had grabbed a fortuitous point at the CBS Arena with a late goal from a free-kick just as the fans were about to celebrate a comeback from behind victory for the first time since Good Friday 2022. Goals from Haji Wright and Ellis Simms had cancelled out Liam Walsh’s early goal and a victory had looked certain until Liam Cullen’s clever free-kick. On New Year’s Day however the long wait for a win from behind ended with an impressive second half display from the Sky Blues to seal a 3-1 victory. Between April 2022 and Monday City had fallen behind in 29 league games and failed to win. They had managed 11 draws but 18 times had ended up losing the game. The run stretched back to the 4-2 win at St Andrew’s when City came from 2-0 to take the points.


I have mentioned City's remarkable attendances this season before but have to point out that the Christmas games pushed this season's average to 24,807 and with likely sell-outs at the Leicester and Leeds home games to come the 25,000 barrier may be broken by the end of the season. If the average remains at this level then it will be the club's highest average since 1970-71 when it was 26,039. The Boxing Day crowd of 29,208 for the Sheffield Wednesday game was the second highest for a league game at the CBS Arena bettered only by the 30,175 for the Birmingham game last season. It was also the largest Boxing Day home crowd since 1969 when 32,649 watched the Sky Blues beat Ipswich Town 3-1.


On Thursday I was at the CBS Arena for the launch of the appeal for donations to the statue of George Curtis and John Sillett. Joe Elliott’s committee have done a fantastic job in raising over £130,000 towards the cost of the new statue but £87,000 is still required to make the monument a reality. Joe introduced several of the 1987 FA Cup squad including Trevor Peake, Lloyd McGrath, Steve Ogrizovic, Dave Bennett and Dean Emerson as well as Mick Kearns, former teammate of George and John and a member of the 1987 coaching staff. The legends’ families were represented by Jean and Neil Sillett and Inga and Julie Curtis and the sculptor Douglas Jennings was introduced. Douglas has previously produced a number of football-related statues including George Cohen (Fulham), Graham Taylor (Watford) and Jimmy Dickinson (Portsmouth).


If you would like to make a donation to the fund go to www.CCFC.Co.uk/statue-appeal



Sunday 24 December 2023

Jim's column 23.12.23

Gordon Milne is the longest serving Coventry City manager since World War Two having been in charge from 1972 until 1981. During his first two seasons at Highfield Road his title was Team Manager and Joe Mercer was at his elbow as General Manager but there was never any doubt that Gordon was in charge of on-pitch matters. He has recently published his biography 'Shankly, my Dad and Me' and it is an excellent read.



Gordon's Dad was Jimmy Milne who played alongside a young Bill Shankly for Preston North End before the war and appeared together in the 1937 FA Cup final. After the war Jimmy became the trainer at Deepdale, Shankly saw his playing career out with Preston and was a neighbour of the Milnes. Gordon remembers as a child playing in the street with Shanks and after cutting his teeth as a young player with Preston it was no surprise that in 1960 Shankly, by this time managing Liverpool, made Gordon, a talented half-back, one of his first signings. The essence of the book is the influence that his father and Shankly had not only his football career but his life in general.


Gordon tells the story how Shankly transformed not just the team at Anfield but also the club. Unbelivably the Reds had been out of the First Division for eight years but signings such as Ian St John, Ron Yeats and Gordon got them promotion in 1962 and two years later they lifted the League Championship. Over seven seasons Gordon played almost 300 games for Liverpool, picking up two league winner's medals in a golden period for the club that saw European Cup semi finals and a Cup Winners Cup final. The club also lifted the FA Cup in 1965, beating Don Revie's Leeds United but Gordon had to sit it out with a knee injury. Gordon describes the scene at Anfield four days later when Shankly told him and Gerry Byrne (a casualty at Wembley) to parade the Cup around the pitch before the crucial European Cup semi final first leg against Inter Milan. For Gordon the ear-splitting reception they got from the Kop was his greatest memory of his time at Anfield.


In 1963 Alf Ramsey selected him for his first England cap against Brazil and he went on to win 14 caps in all. In 1966 he was in the initial World Cup squad of 28 players which was reduced to the final 22 just before the tournament. He left Liverpool for Blackpool in 1967 and after hanging his boots up he started his managerial career at non-league Wigan before coming to Coventry with Mercer in 1972. The M-men as they were christened by Coventry Telegraph's Derek Henderson excited the fans with a brand of attacking football and apart from the almost disastrous 1976-77 season relegation was rarely mentioned. At the same time he kept the finances on an even keel even if it meant selling some of the club's outstanding homegrown players. In the book Gordon deals with the infamous Bristol City game in 1977 and, contrary to the views of many in Sunderland, confirms that the decision to delay the kick-off was not made by Jimmy Hill or anyone associated with the club.


                    Gordon with Bristol City manager Alan Dicks celebrating the 2-2 draw in 1977

He reveals that during his 10 years at City he was interviewed for two big jobs – in 1974 Liverpool considered him as Shankley's replacement before opting for Bob Paisley and the same year he was shortlisted and interviewed for the England manager's job which ultimately went to Don Revie. The book also describes his time at Leicester City and fascinating times in Turkey with Besiktas and at Newcastle with Bobby Robson.


It's a great read with some wonderful stories from his 60 years in the game and will evoke many memories of the Sky Blues in the 1970s whilst reminding us how Bill Shankly turned Liverpool into a major force in European football. The book is published by Pitch Publishing and is co-written with Steve Younger.


2023 has been a great year to be a Coventry City fan. Mark Robins' team gave us an exciting run to the play-offs and the highest final position since we left the Premiership over 20 years ago. We've had another trip to Wembley where the difference between success and failure came down to a penalty shoot-out. This season we've seen the highest crowds at home games for 50 years creating an electric atmosphere and positive signs that the 'new' team are bedding in and becoming a strong Championship side.


Finally, a Merry Christmas to all my readers and the hope that you and yours, as well as our beloved Sky Blues have a healthy and prosperous 2024.