Sunday, 25 October 2009

JIM'S COLUMN 24.10.09

Following my recent obituary of former Coventry City striker Terry Bly, City fan Tony Genower wrote asking me to recall an incident involving Bly. According to Tony, the prolific scorer blasted the ball over the bar from a position only a couple of feet from the goal line when it looked impossible for him not to score. He also recalls that the Bishop of Coventry, the Reverend Cuthbert Bardsley, a keen City fan and later President of the club, was present and when Bly missed the open goal City’s fans let fly with a stream of abuse and invective at Terry's dreadful miss, the Bishop was heard to exclaim "Oh.......... folly, ............folly".
I think the game in question was a 1-1 home draw with Northampton in October 1962. Northampton were top of the Third Division but in a similar situation to the present state of affairs in the Championship, City were in 14th position but only five points behind the Cobblers. The game had generated a great deal of interest in Northampton and there was a large contingent from the shoe town to boost the crowd. Alec Ashworth had given the visitors an early lead and Bly had equalised just before the hour. Then three minutes from the end came Bly’s miss. Nemo reported it at the time thus:
‘Northampton’s defence had been split and (goalkeeper) Chic Brodie was stranded yards out of his charge by a cunning Hugh Barr shot that deserved to be a goal, but curled slightly in the last couple of feet to hit the base of the upright.
Out it came to Bly’s feet, but with time to trap it and sidefoot it into the gaping goal, he blasted it over the crossbar. He held his head in disbelief, the 21,985 spectators uttered a mixture of anguish and nervous relief, and the bewildered Cobblers’ players looked as if they just didn’t believe their luck.’
I can’t confirm the reaction of the Bishop of Coventry but from what I have heard it was the sort of thing he would have said. The miss didn’t put Terry off either; his goal sparked a run of 11 goals in 10 league games, including a run of seven consecutive games in which he netted, something City had only seen before from Ray Straw and Clarrie Bourton.
I answered a question for David Kite on his first ever City game recently. He has asked if I could list the City team who lost 0-3 to Burnley on 28 December 1946. The team was: Alf Wood, Charlie Elliott, Lol Coen, Jack Snape, George Mason, Harry Barratt, Norman Smith, Fred Bett, George Lowrie, Peter Murphy, Emilio Aldecoa. The attendance was 26,944, the second highest of the season.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Jim's Column 17.10.09

I’ve had a glut of emails in the last week or so and I will try and deal with most of the queries over the next few weeks.

Ken Foster of Coventry wanted to know what happened to Gary Collier, a centre-half signed by Gordon Milne in the late 1970s. Collier was the first British player to move clubs through the freedom of contract in 1979 and cost City £325,000. The big centre-half was expected to take over from Jim Holton but after a disastrous defeat at Stoke on his debut Collier was dropped in favour of Gary Gillespie and played only one more game (a 0-4 defeat at Liverpool). His move followed a long career as a dependable stopper at Ashton Gate, which ended with a fall-out with manager Alan Dicks. Seven months after arriving at Coventry the club somehow made a profit on him as he moved to US club Portland Timbers for £365,000. In two seasons Collier played over 80 games for the Timbers before joining San Diego Sockers. He has remained in the United States and was coach of San Diego Surf for 14 years.

With Sven Goran Eriksson’s arrival at Notts County, Ken also wanted more information about County’s stay in the old First Division in the 1980s. He thought that they had been in the top flight for one season and had thumped City 5-1 at Highfield Road. You are half right Ken but amazingly County spent four seasons in the top flight between 1981 and 1985 under the stewardship of the wily manager Jimmy Sirrell. In that first season City did succumb to a 5-1 home defeat with goals from Goodwin, Harkouk, Mair, Christie and John Chiedozie. Chiedozie, a Nigerian winger, was probably the most well known of the scorers, and went on to play for Spurs. County’s defensive stars that night were Brian Kilcline, who later moved to Coventry and captained the Sky Blues to victory at Wembley in 1987, and goalkeeper Raddy Avramovic, another player later signed by Bobby Gould but jettisoned by the same manager months later in disgraceful circumstances.

In the four seasons that County played Coventry the Sky Blues failed to gain a single point at Meadow Lane and lost 1-5 there in 1982-83. County returned to the top division in 1991 but this time lasted a solitary season. City however failed again at Meadow Lane, losing 1-0 thanks to a Kenny Sanson own goal. County however did the Sky Blues a massive favour on the final day of the season. With City losing 2-0 at Villa Park and with little hope of getting the result they needed to avoid relegation, County, already doomed to the drop, came from behind to beat Luton and send the Hatters down and hand a reprieve to City.

My piece about the famous Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Football Team last week caused some comments including an email from Ben Pearson. He was surprised to read that ladies football was so popular in the 1920s and went on to say: ‘I have no reason to doubt any of the facts presented, although I did check that today wasn’t 1 April when I enunciated the name of the ladies team – “Dick, Kerr”’. I was able to reassure Ben that it wasn’t a prank, in fact there is an excellent book been published telling the full story of the team entitled 'In a League of Their Own!' by Gail J Newsham and there is also a website

Mrs Jess Clark of Windsor left Coventry many years ago but has fond childhood memories of watching City play. She remembers as a child being let in free at Highfield Road when the gates were opened 20-30 minutes before the final whistle. The kids would patiently wait outside the Kop gates and then rush on to the terraces to glimpse their heroes and watch the final stages of the match. The game she asked to be reminded of was when that great centre-forward George Lowrie burst the ball. It was in October 1947 in a 0-0 draw with Bury. It came near the end of the game and the Coventry Telegraph reported it thus: 'Lockhart..centered perfectly for Lowrie. The centre-forward tried a volley shot, there was a loud report and the wobbling ball case flopped over the corner line.'

Finally it is a rare event for a Coventry City player to be chosen as the Championship player of the month and Leon Best fully deserves the honour. His goals and general all round play has been outstanding this season and as several people have mentioned his form seems to have risen since Giovanni Trappatoni called him into the Republic of Ireland squad. It is fourteen years since Phil Babb made a similar late bid to be part of Jack Charlton's Irish squad for the 1994 World Cup. Babb won a place in the team and returned to Coventry with a massively inflated value and earned a £3.6 million move to Liverpool. If Best were to emulate Babb then sadly City would not be able to cash in as Leon looks certain to be a free agent come next July.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

JIM'S COLUMN 10.10.09

What a great result at Watford last week. The Sky Blues came from behind to win at Vicarage Road, their first victory there since Micky Adams’ team won there in 2004-05. Admittedly the Hornets had a weakened side following a flu bug and were seriously put to the sword by Cardiff four days later but it was still good to see us win at a bogey ground. Before this season Watford had done the double over City in four of the last seven seasons they have met including the last two seasons. An interesting point to note is that like many of the sides in the Championship this season, Watford have very few players who cost a fee and a lot of homegrown youngsters either on the bench or in the squad. Reality is biting hard this season in the championship and I believe that the three teams relegated from the Premiership will have to shoot themselves in the foot not to go straight back up.

City don’t often come from behind to win a game (only once in the whole of last season at home to Blackpool) and the Watford victory was the first time on the road since the 5-1 win at Colchester in April 2008 when relegation to League One loomed at half-time with City a goal down at Layer Road.

Colin Heys duly celebrated the 40th anniversary of his first Coventry City game last weekend. He posed a few questions for me including the following:

In 1969-70 what sort of season did City have? : Considering they had avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth in the previous two seasons Noel Cantwell performed miracles to take City to sixth place and qualify for the Fairs Cup. The success was built on a solid defence and an incredible away record – they won 10 away games, only bettered by champions Everton.

During the 40 years I have been watching them, how many league games, FA Cup games and League Cup games have Coventry won, drawn and lost? :

League : Played: 1672 won: 531 drawn: 466 lost: 675

FA Cup: Played: 110 won: 47 drawn: 24 lost: 39

League Cup: Played: 128 won: 67 drawn: 17 lost: 44

In addition to watching Coventry City in almost 1700 games he has also seen over 300 non-Coventry games including a World Cup final (1990), a European Championships final (1988), a European Cup final (1991), a European Cup Winners Cup final (1995), a UEFA Cup final (1984), a League Cup final (1983) and of course an FA Cup final in 1987. He has seen all the greats of the era including Maradona, Platini, Cruyff and Zidane. His all-time favourite City player is Tommy Hutchison.

Ian Evans of Willenhall sent me a very interesting photograph taken at Highfield Road in 1921. It is of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies Football Team who that year played St Helens Ladies on the ground.

Dick, Kerr, were a firm of tram makers from Preston and their ladies team made headlines after the First World War with their exciting brand of football. The undefeated ladies champions of England hired League grounds and staged matches for charitable causes. The biggest ever crowd recorded for a women's game in England took place at Goodison Park on Boxing Day 1920 when 53,000 people watched Dick, Kerr's Ladies beat their closest rivals, St Helen's Ladies, 4-0.

On 26 February the same teams played at Highfield Road in aid of the Mayor’s Fund for the Relief of Distress, a local charity for the benefit of poor families. Advance publicity stirred the interest, and a crowd approaching 25,000 was reported in attendance. If that figure is accurate it would have constituted a new ground record, but in 1929 when discussing record crowds at the stadium the gate was confirmed as 22,920, 600 short of the record. The team from Preston were again too strong and ran out 8-1 winners.

In October 1921 the Football Association banned women from playing on Football League grounds. The main reason given was that: ‘Complaints have been made as to football being played by women, the council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’. Though ladies football continued to take place there was a considerable decrease in interest. The FA ban lasted until 1971.

Monday, 5 October 2009

JIM'S COLUMN 3.10.09

Former City centre-forward Terry Bly sadly passed away last week. Terry had an awesome reputation in the lower divisions in the early 1960s - a reputation built on his goalscoring exploits with first Norwich City in their famous FA Cup run of 1959, then with Peterborough United. Having joined the Canaries, then a Third Division side, from Bury Town in 1956 Bly got few chances in the first team until January 1959 when after scoring his first senior goal the previous week he was retained in the number nine shirt for the Third Round visit of Manchester United. On a snowbound pitch Bly became a Carrow Road legend that afternoon, his two goals helping defeat the Reds 3-0 in a major shock. Another brace followed in round four as First Division Cardiff were defeated 3-2 and in all Bly scored seven goals as City reached the semi-final only to lose to Luton Town in a replay. In a golden four months Terry also scored 22 goals in 23 league games. The following season he was less prolific scoring only seven goals in 25 games but the Canaries romped to promotion to Division Two. That summer however Terry was allowed to move to Peterborough, newly admitted to the Football League. He scored in the club's first ever Football League match, a 3-0 home win over Wrexham, and never stopped scoring in the next eight months notching a Fourth Division record 52 goals. He bagged five hat-tricks and twice scored four goals in a game in that one season as Posh raced to promotion.

Bly slowed down the following season in Division Three when he managed a mere 29 goals, plus four in the cups and in the summer of 1962, to the dismay of the club's fans, Posh accepted an offer of £10,000 from City manager Jimmy Hill.

One of five forwards signed by Hill in the summer of 1962, Terry was an immediate success with a goal on his debut in a 2-0 home win over Notts County. City’s early season form was patchy but in Mid-October the team hit a purple patch and inspired by Terry’s 17 goals in 16 games the Sky Blues remained unbeaten in 23 league and cup games until Manchester United inflicted a 3-1 defeat in the FA Cup sixth round tie at the end of March. Much of his scoring success was down to the service he received from two of the best wingers in City’s history, willie Humphries and Ronnie Rees. Both were capable of going past their full-back with ease and sending pinpoint crosses on to the head of Bly.

The United game proved to be Bly’s final game at Highfield Road and it was a momentous one for him. He put City ahead in five minutes with a diving header and then later, with City trailing 1-2, he hit the underside of the bar and was involved in a controversial incident as he set up a ‘goal’ for Willie Humphries. The referee ruled that Terry had handled the ball when it was clear to virtually everyone that the ball had hit him in the face.

Four days later Hill signed George Hudson from Peterborough for £21,000 - the Hud and Bly had played together for Posh - and Hill made it clear that Hudson would lead the attack in place of Bly. On the Saturday Hudson scored a hat-trick on his debut and Terry played only one more game for City. Rumours circulated about the reasons for Hill’s actions, ranging from a punch-up with Willie Humphries to an affair with a team-mate’s wife. According to Ronnie Farmer who played in the side alongside Bly, none of the rumours were true. He told me last week that Bly was a ‘great bloke’ and a natural goalscorer but Jimmy often criticised him in the dressing room for not working hard enough when he didn’t have the ball. The irony was that Hill replaced him with Hudson, who worked even less!

As City’s faint promotion hopes slipped away during April the fans blamed Hill and argued that Bly would have got them promotion. Hill however was adamant and told Bly and the media that unless there was an injury, Bly would not feature for his team again. Arguably this was the first example of Hill’s talent for knowing when to sell a player and a few years ago Jimmy told me that he had a sixth sense that Terry had lost something and was not going to continue to score prolifically. It was wonderful foresight – Bly was sold to Notts County for £13,000 and scored only four goals the following season as County were relegated to Division Four. Just over a year after leaving Coventry Terry was playing for non-league Grantham United.

Grantham became his home-town and he was player and then manager in a 15-year association with the club as well as running a sports shop in the town until just a few years ago.

This weekend Colin Heys celebrates the 40th anniversary of his first Coventry City game. Colin, one of the founder members of the London Supporters Club in 1976, attended his first game with his father on 4 October 1969 and watched City beat Arsenal 1-0 at Highbury. He tells me that this will be his 1694th Coventry City game – I make that an average of more than 42 games a season – a phenomenal record. He rarely misses a game home or away even though he lives in Kent and does not drive a car!

The line ups that day make interesting reading: City: Glazier, Coop, Bruck, Setters, Curtis, Blockley, Hunt, Gibson, Martin, Carr, Clements. Arsenal: Barnett, Storey, McNab, McLintock, Roberts, Simpson, Robertson, Sammels, Court, Graham, Gould.

Ernie Hunt’s 30th minute goal clinched what was City’s first ever victory at Highbury in front of 28,977. City were in 7th place in the league and went on to qualify for Europe by virtue of a final sixth position. Space does not allow me to answer several questions that Colin posed for me but I will deal with them next week.

Congratulations Colin and long may you continue to follow the Sky Blues.