It was sad to hear of the death of Birmingham goalkeeping legend Gil Merrick who passed away, aged 88, last week. Sparkhill-born Merrick played over 700 games for the Blues between 1939 and 1960 and won 22 caps for England. He was England’s number 1 ‘keeper in an era when there was a glut of outstanding English goalkeepers such as Bert Williams (Wolves), Ted Ditchburn (Spurs) and Ray Wood (Manchester United). Gil was unfortunate to be in goal on the occasions of England’s heavy defeats to Hungary in 1953 (3-6 at Wembley) and 1954 (1-7 in Budapest) and lost his place after the 1954 World Cup. Whilst Gil was a one-club man, he actually played one game for Coventry City, as a guest in a wartime game in 1943. Alf Wood was City’s regular keeper that season but for some reason was unavailable on 3 April for a game at Derby and Merrick played in goal in a 1-1 draw with the Rams.
City’s line up that day in the Football League North championship was: Merrick, O’Brien, Elliott, Snape, Mason (G), Boileau, Coen, Barratt, Lowrie, Lager, Greenway. I think Gil was the last remaining member of that team although Norman Greenway, who originally hailed from Whoberley, was alive in Canberra, Australia about thirteen years ago, and if alive would be almost ninety now.
Leon Best’s move to Newcastle United prompted Frank Hughes, a long suffering City fan, to email me about other City strikers joining Newcastle. He reminded me of two, George Lowrie and John Tudor. Lowrie, who joined the Magpies for a big fee (£18,500) in 1948 never reproduced his City scoring form at St James’ Park. For City he netted 59 goals in 85 games (a bit more prolific than Leon!) but at Newcastle he managed only 12 games in eighteen months and scored five goals. Tudor, on the other hand was never a prolific scorer for City (15 goals in 77 games) although on occasion he did play in the centre of defence, most notably at Forest in 1967 on the night George Curtis broke his leg. He left City for Second Division Sheffield United in 1968 and scored 33 in 76 games before a big money move to Newcastle in 1971. Playing alongside Supermac (Malcolm Macdonald, John was a regular for almost five seasons and scored 58 goals in 187 games. Leon Best’s record for City was 22 goals in 104 appearances although 25 of the appearances were as a substitute.
Talking of Newcastle, City travel there for a league game on Wednesday night for the first time since the Sky Blues left the Premiership. City’s recent record at St James’ Park is not good, they failed to win in eight Premiership encounters between 1992-2000 and picked up a solitary point in March 1998 when Dion Dublin, playing at centre-back, marked the England centre-forward Alan Shearer out of the game. In the seven defeats they conceded 24 goals and scored only two. It is almost 22 years since the Sky Blues last won up there, then goals from Regis, Gynn and Speedie gave City a comfortable 3-0 win. If those stats are not bad enough then United’s home form this season (unbeaten in 17 league and cup) points toward a busy night for City’s defenders. The Forest hoodoo was smashed this week so lets keep our fingers crossed for the Newcastle bogey going west. A blank from Leon Best would help.