I am very surprised that no commentators have mentioned the coincidence in the fourth round FA Cup draw this week. A victory over Portsmouth in next week’s replay will mean an attractive game with Sunderland. The last time City beat Pompey in the competition (in 1963) they also earned a home tie with Sunderland. They went on to beat the Black Cats on one of the most emotional nights in the club’s history and reached the quarter- finals of the competition. They lost to the eventual winners, Manchester United but it was those memorable cup games that put Coventry City back on the football map after more than a decade in the doldrums.
Any City fans aged 55 or over will have the Sunderland game etched on their memories. If they were there they will remember the massive crushing crowd, officially counted at 40,487 but believed to be more like 50,000 after two gates were broken down. Then they will remember City trailing to a first half goal, before pummelling the Wearsiders, and finally breaking them with goals from Dietmar Bruck and George Curtis in the last ten minutes. Many of those older fans will argue that it was the finest City victory of the post-war era, better than Wolves in ’67 or Wembley in ’87, and they will wax lyrically about the stars of that team like Willie Humphries, Terry Bly, Ronnie Rees, etc.
The weather this week has reminded me of that dreadful winter of 1963 and Coventry City’s performances as the country came out of the freezer helped Sky Blue fans forget about the awful weather.
To earn the tie with Sunderland, City, a Third Division side, needed three games to dispose of Portsmouth, then a Second Division side. The first game ended 1-1 at Fratton Park on a wet Wednesday night. Ron Saunders, later famous for managing Aston Villa, scored an early goal for Pompey but a battling Sky Blues performance was rewarded with Ken Hale’s 85th minute equaliser. Three days later the sides fought out another draw at Highfield Road with the biggest crowd of the season, so far, 25,642 watched City squander a 2-0 half-time lead (two goals from Jimmy Whitehouse) with former City player Albie McCann and Saunders levelling the scores and extra-time throwing up no outright winners. In those days there were no penalty shoot-outs and replays continued until a winner emerged so a second replay was planned for the following Tuesday night at neutral White Hart Lane. This time the Jimmy Hill’s boys made no mistake, coming from a goal down (that man Saunders again) to win 2-1 through goals from Terry Bly and Whitehouse and the Sky Blue song echoed around Tottenham’s famous stadium.
The other omen in the FA Cup this year is that the Sky Blues and Pompey have only met in the FA Cup on two previous occasions and on both occasions City have progressed to the quarter-finals. Exactly 100 years ago the teams, both then playing in the Southern League, were drawn together in a second round tie (equivalent of today’s fourth round). City had pulled off the shock result of the first round by winning at First Division Preston. A goal from Freddie Chaplin was enough to sink Pompey at Fratton Park in front of 11,631. City went on to beat another First Division side Nottingham Forest in the third round before losing 0-2 to Everton in the quarter-finals. Wouldn’t it be nice for the Sky Blues to emulate that great team from 1910 which first put City’s name into the headlines of the national newspapers with their giant-killing exploits.
It is sad to report the death of former City player Ron Wykes who passed away on 27 December aged 90. Although he never appeared for the first team he was a very promising youngster when the war broke out in 1939 and one who we can honestly say ‘but for the war’. A wing-half, Ron returned to Highfield Road after the war and was a regular for the reserves for the 1946-47 season.