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.

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