Sunday, 28 March 2010

Charlie Ashcroft R.I.P

                                  Charlie Ashcroft who died recently

JIM'S COLUMN 27.3.10 Two stars of the 1950s pass away

                                                                  Charlie Dutton

Today is Legends Day at the Ricoh Arena, the fourth year running that the Former Players Association have organised a major reunion of ex-Coventry City players. Around 40 former players will be entertained to lunch in the Eon lounge and then will be presented on the pitch at half-time. Players representing seven decades will be present stretching from 89-year old Trevor Lewis who made his debut in 1948 through to Claus Jorgensen who scored the first ever goal at the Ricoh in 2005. If you’re going to the game today I encourage you to stay in your seat at half-time and give the Legends a great ovation to celebrate our heritage.

After the game, around 5.30 the ex-players will be guests of the G-Casino and mingling with fans in the casino. The casino have been immensely supportive to the FPA this season and every home game has seen a former player making an appearance there. Thanks go to the key men at G-Casino Quinton Korsma and Paul Davis.

This week I received the sad news that two former City players from the 1950s died recently. Former goalkeeper Charlie Ashcroft passed away, aged 83 earlier this month and another Charlie, Dutton, died aged 75, last October but news of his passing has only just reached me.

As a twelve-year old Chorley-born Charlie was already six feet tall and the natural choice to play in goal at school. Liverpool spotted him playing for Eccleston Juniors in the Preston & District League. His full debut for Liverpool was a 7-4 win over Chelsea in September 1946 and he went on to make 89 appearances over nine years for the Reds as well as winning an England B cap.

He joined Ipswich Town and played under Alf Ramsey but after two seasons at Portman Road manager Harry Warren signed the six-foot two-inch keeper for City in 1957. He had previously broken an arm, which had not healed properly and he could not straighten it properly. Poor Charlie was on a hiding to nothing at Highfield Road, having to replace the famous Reg Matthews especially during one of the club’s worst post-war seasons. He started the season as first-choice keeper but in the fourth game of the season, a home defeat to Newport County, he was badly at fault for one of Newport’s two goals. The Newport winger, Thomas, handled the ball which ran loose to Ashcroft. City players appealed for the free-kick but the referee waved play on as City had the advantage. Then Charlie, obviously thinking he had awarded the free-kick, inexplicably threw it straight to Thomas who gleefully lobbed it into the goal. After the game a fuming Ashcroft and several other City players were adamant they had heard a whistle.

In the following game Ashcroft was dropped and replaced by 17-year old Graham Spratt. Soon afterwards manager Warren was sacked and replaced by Billy Frith and after a horrendous 7-1 defeat at Southampton in February 1958 Charlie was recalled for the shell-shocked Spratt as the team slid towards Division Four. He played in most of the remaining games that season before being transfer-listed in the summer, joining Chorley where he played for four years. He worked at the Royal Ordnance factory at Euxton and lived in Eccleston,near Chorley, where he built his own house. A keen cricketer, he was playing cricket at the age of 56.

Charlie Dutton was a crowd-pleasing centre forward signed by manager Harry Storer from Derby County as an 18-year old in 1952. Storer loaned him out to Rugby Town almost immediately and he scored prolifically for the non-league side including five goals in one game against Sutton Town. He scored on his City debut in a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth in September 1953 and a week later scored the winner in a 2-1 victory at Millwall. Despite three goals in six games he was back in the reserves when regular centre-forward Eddie Brown was fit. That tended to be the story of Dutton’s career at Coventry. When he left to join Northampton in March 1956 he had made 28 appearances and scored nine goals.

His stay at Northampton was short and he was soon at Lockheed Leamington where he found his scoring boots and later enjoyed a successful career in non-league football with Bedworth, Rugby, Hinckley Town and Brereton Social. Charlie spent his later years back in his home town of Rugeley but died after a long fight against Motor Neurone Disease.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 20.3.10

Tuesday night’s home defeat to Cardiff City put a large dent in Coventry City’s play-off hopes, especially after Saturday’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Plymouth Argyle. The gap between City and sixth-placed Cardiff is now five points and the Bluebirds have a game in hand.

In the face of some dreadful hype from supporters and the media I have urged a dose of realism for several weeks, pointing to the ambitious points total required for a play-off place and the fact that City faced home games with some of their bogey sides. Cardiff are one of those teams who have an impressive record in Coventry, having lost just once in the league since 1966, the final game of Dennis Wise’s short but impressive stay at the club. Cardiff boss Dave Jones is certainly getting his revenge on his former club who supposedly mistreated him after his 1979 transfer from Everton. Jones, like fellow signing Gary Collier, never recovered from a nightmare start in a defeat at Stoke on the opening day of the season, and started on nine games in almost three seasons. Since 2001 Jones has brought Wolves and Cardiff to Coventry on seven occasions and lost only once.

Five points have therefore been dropped against two teams supposedly out of form and ‘there for the taking’ and City followers are again guilty of counting their chickens before they hatch. Numerous reasons will be put forward for the two relatively poor performances and, yes, it was a dreadful penalty decision that cost City a vital penalty on Tuesday but my theory is that the players and the management had been taken in by the play-off hype.

Chris Coleman is normally a stubbornly measured interviewee who rarely gets carried away, but ahead of the Cardiff game he admitted in the press to looking at the league table ‘400-500 times a day’. Whilst this is probably a wild exaggeration, the fact that he even looked at the table is not good news. Judging from the team’s second half performance he would have spent his time better preparing them or watching videos of his impressive opponents.

Returning to the number of points required for the play-offs, Geoff Moore has provided me with some statistics on the number of teams achieving 69 points or above in all divisions since the play-offs came into being. No club has ever got into the play-offs with less than 70 points and until you get above 72 points the chances of getting there are less than 50:50. Many believe that this season 69 or even 68 points will be enough but the stats do not support that. By the way in 2000 Bristol Rovers reached 80 points in Division Two and missed out on the play-offs, finishing 7th.

Points In top six Out of top six % in top six
81 10 0 100
80 13 2 87
79 13 0 100
78 17 1 94
77 8 0 100
76 18 1 95
75 17 2 89
74 16 8 67
73 17 5 77
72 13 11 54
71 10 12 45
70 5 25 17
69 0 21 0

More stats were requested by several people including Steve Pittam and Dave Long. It’s the common belief that the Sky Blues’ results are better when Sammy Clingan is in the team and this table goes some way to supporting that view.

I looked at the record of each player this season and calculated the number of points won as a percentage of the points available when they were playing. I have only included the starting line-ups as it gets too complicated with substitutes. If a player had started every league game this season his record would be: Played 37, won 13, drawn 11, lost 13, points 50 which is 45% of the points available. The results make interesting reading and the top ten players are:

Pl W D L Points % points
McPake 13 7 4 2 25 64.1
Bell 13 6 5 2 23 58.9
Baker 9 4 3 2 15 55.5
Clingan 23 10 8 5 38 55.1
Barnett 13 6 2 5 20 51.2
Wright 30 11 11 8 44 48.9
Gunnarsson 28 11 8 9 41 48.8
Westwood 35 13 11 11 50 47.6
Cranie 30 11 8 10 41 45.5
McIndoe 37 13 10 12 49 44.1

James McPake and David Bell amazingly have only been on the losing side twice each and are well ahead of the field at the moment, and Baker, who has started only nine games is also ahead of Sammy. The Irishman however has an impressive record and it was not a coincidence that the team slipped from 11th to 17th during his absence from the side in the autumn. Bell’s position in the table may surprise many fans who feel we haven’t seen his best form this term but City’s strong form since early December coincided with his return from injury and has allowed Chris Coleman to play a true wide player on the right.

Monday, 15 March 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 13.3.10

Another away victory last Saturday at London Road, Peterborough, strengthened City’s case for a play-off place and with some of their rivals stuttering the odds are falling on a miracle happening. City fans are quite rightly getting excited about the prospect of the team’s first foray into the play-offs but there is still a long way to go, with probably around 23 points from 11 games required. History tells us that as the race for a top six place reaches a climax the form of the leading protagonists will inevitably improve. City’s remaining home games look relatively easy but how often have we looked at fixtures and marked them down as a banker only to see our team blow an opportunity. As well, the recent home records against Cardiff, Preston and Watford are far from impressive. My advice to City fans is enjoy the ride – it’s so rare for us to be in contention for some glory and if the club’s recent history is anything to go by it might be some time before we get the chance again.

Today’s home game with struggling Plymouth Argyle gives the Sky Blues the chance to achieve their best run of league wins for eight years. Victory would mean a fourth success in a row and the best since December 2002 when under the managership of Gary McAllister the team beat Stoke (a), Wolves (a), Derby (h) and Reading (h). The mini-run took City to sixth place in the Championship and earned Gary the manager of the month award. Unfortunately the wheels fell off and the Sky Blues recorded just one victory in the remaining 21 games and missed relegation by a whisker. It is 12 years since a City team won five in a row – Gordon Strachan’s impressive side in 1997-98.

Mick Sanders enjoyed the short obituary to Birmingham goalkeeping legend Gil Merrick a couple of weeks ago. The article reminded him of one of his earliest City memories - George Mason's testimonial match in April 1953. He recalls it was between Coventry City and a Midlands All Star XI. City’s forward line was strengthened by two guests, Derby’s former England man Jack Stamps and Cardiff’s former City player Ken Chisholm. Merrick played in goal for a team that included the famous flying Wolves wingers Johnny Hancocks and Jimmy Mullen. The game, watched by a crowd of 11,143 was a thrilling exhibition match and ended in an 8-5 win for the All Stars for whom Arthur Rowley scored three goals, Hancocks 2, Peter Murphy, Ronnie Allen and a Martin McDonnell own goal. City’s scorers were Stamps (3), Barry Thomas and Eric Johnson. As Mick points out in his email, it was an opportunity to see some of the top players of the day including some of the mighty Wolves team and the great Gil Merrick in goal.

The acceptances are flying in for this year’s Legends Day and it is expected that around 50 former Coventry City players will be attending the event at the Sheffield Wednesday home game at the end of the month. The Former Players Association are organising the event and acceptances have been received this week from such luminaries as Neil Martin, Alan Green, John Williams and Wilf Smith.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Scunthorpe means the Sky Blues stay in the race for a play-off position in the Championship. It is a tall order but a continuation of the current form could push the club into the top six and a first ever play-off situation.

The 2-1 victory was the first ever league win over the Iron, although the clubs have met on only four occasions. The victory took City to 46 points from 34 games and it is interesting to note the points total at the same stage in previous seasons.

2001-02 56 (final points: 66 11th)
2002-03 46 (final points: 50 20th)
2003-04 49 (final points: 65 12th)
2004-05 35 (final points: 52 19th)
2005-06 44 (final points: 63 8th)
2006-07 41 (final points: 56 17th)
2007-08 39 (final points: 53 21st)
2008-09 47 (final points 54 17th)

Assuming City are going to need around 72 points to reach the play-offs, they will require 26 points from 12 games. Their best last 12 games in the last eight years was 19 points in 2005-06, the year Dennis Wise dragged City up by their boot-straps. Surprisingly City have been in as good a position or better on four previous occasions, even in the dreadful 2002-03 season, and blown play-off chances. In their first season after relegation they had 56 points at this stage and looked a better than good bet for a play-off position.

The Scunthorpe victory made it seven home league games without defeat since Newcastle won at the Ricoh in early December, the best run since 2005-06 when in the Wise revival City went eleven games without a home defeat from November until the end of the season.

Leon Barnett suffered the ignominy of red cards in two successive appearances by virtue of his two yellow cards against Scunthorpe. For once the dismissal did not stop City taking all the points, the first time that has happened since March 2004 when loanee Peter Clarke was ordered off in the first minute at Ninian Park but City won 1-0 thanks to a Gary McSheffrey penalty. Since then City have had 18 players dismissed and never won a game.

Leon joins an elite group of nine City players sent off twice in a season. The full list is Paul Cook, Liam Daish, Paul Williams, Dion Dublin, David Burrows, Lee Hughes, David Thompson and Kevin Kyle. He is not the first player to receive successive red cards though; Dion also achieved that feat in 1996-97 season being ordered off against Sunderland (home) and Blackburn (away). Kyle went close to emulating him two years ago, ordered off in two successive starts (Blackpool (a) and Burnley (h)) but he had an innocent substitute appearance between those games.

Dean Nelson emailed me this week. He has recently acquired a City programme from 1964 and wanted more information on the game. It is a friendly game at Highfield Road against the Great Britain Olympic XI played on Monday 2 March 1964. City produced a full programme but only 4, 827 turned up on a cold night for a game the British team used as a warm up for an Olympic qualifying tie in Greece the following week. City, top of the Third Division at the time, put out a virtual first team, but failed to score against what was a team of amateurs as at the time professional players were not allowed in the Olympic Games. According to the match report the Amateurs soaked up City pressure with a ‘defensive barrier formation’ and then snatched the only goal of the game twenty minutes from time through Hendon forward J Quail. The British team may have kept City at bay but a week later in Athens the roof caved in and they lost 4-1 and went out of the Qualifying competition and failed to go to the Olympics in Tokyo that summer.

City’s team that night was: Dave Meeson: John Sillett, Mick Kearns, Brian Hill, George Curtis, Ron Farmer, Willie Humphries, Graham Newton, George Hudson, Dietmar Bruck, Ronnie Rees.

The planning for this years Legends Day is well underway and many former Coventry City players will be attending the event at the Sheffield Wednesday home game at the end of the month. The Former Players Association are organising the event and already signed up to come are Dennis Mortimer, Tommy Hutchison, Willie Carr and Ernie Hunt. The half-time pitch presentation, such a hit in previous years will take place again.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 27.2.10

Regular reader Peter Louch recollects a Rugby Union game being played at Highfield Road around 1958 and asks if I had any details of it.

The game Peter remembers took place on 19 February 1958 when the touring Australian team were defeated 8-3 by a Midland Counties XV. Around 8,000 spectators watched a good game on a pitch described by the Coventry Evening Telegraph as having ‘very little grass but well rolled’. Coventry Rugby Club were the top club side in the country and the Warwickshire team, comprising mainly of Coventry players would win the County Championship, the premier domestic competition in those days, in seven out of the next eight years. That day there were ten ‘Cov’ players in the Midland team and their ‘star’ winger Peter Jackson, who had scored England’s winning try against the Wallabies two weeks previously, made the only try of the game for captain Fenwick Allison.

There had been two previous Rugby Union games at the ground. In 1924 the All Blacks had played Warwickshire and in 1952 the South African Springboks had played a Midland Counties XV. A few weeks later it was suggested that Warwickshire play the County Championship final at Highfield Road. Their opponents, Cornwall, planned to bring 4,000 fans and it was doubtful that Coundon Road could accommodate everyone who wanted to see the game. After some discussion it was decided it was impractical and the game went ahead at Coundon Road.

Next Saturday City travel to Peterborough for a league game for the first time since 1964. They did play a League Cup tie at London Road on the fateful day of 11 September 2001 (and won on a penalty shoot-out), a game which in hindsight should not have gone ahead with the shocking news from New York. That was Roland Nilsson’s first game in charge, just days after the departure of Gordon Strachan.

That last league visit witnessed one of the largest City away followings (before the Cup treks of ’87) as an estimated 12,000 fans travelled the 50 or so miles to attempt to clinch promotion from Division Three in the penultimate game of the season. City failed to perform on the night, losing 2-0 to goals from Peter Thompson & Derek Dougan, and were left having to beat Colchester on the final day to clinch promotion. The crowd next Saturday is likely to be a lot less than that famous game in 1964, that night there was a Peterborough league record 26,307.

Last week’s game at St James’ Park, Newcastle was watched by 39,334, the largest crowd to watch a Coventry City league match since they dropped out of the Premiership in 2001. City’s final away match that season, that infamous game at Villa Park on 5 May which sealed City’s fate was attended by 39,761. Since then there have been only two league gates of more than 30,000 – at Manchester City in 2002 (33,335) and at Sunderland in 2007 (33,591). The largest home league crowd is 27,992 for the visit of Wolves in April 2008.