Monday, 27 September 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 25.9.10

Last Saturday’s 2-1 win at Ashton Gate was a welcome result after three games without a victory and, as has been widely reported, was City’s first league victory at Ashton Gate since 1963. Having said that, City have only played nine league games there in the intervening period, and have drawn four of those nine. In addition there have been three cup ties at Ashton Gate resulting in two draws and one win - a Mick Ferguson goal in 1976 gave the Sky Blues a victory in a League Cup tie.

Back in 1963 it was a solitary Ken Hale goal that earned the points in an evening game and took City four points clear at the top of Division Three. Ken’s goal, after only four minutes, was a shot that deflected of a defender’s leg and flew over Mike Gibson the Bristol keeper. Gibson had a much busier night than his opposite number Bob Wesson, who had little to do on his 23rd birthday.

I have said before that if City are going to be serious challengers for a top six place then a number of their bogey grounds will have to be more productive. City have failed at Millwall and Swansea but the win at Ashton Gate gives City fans some hope that other bogeys, such as Leicester, Cardiff and Preston may be exorcised.

This month is the 40th anniversary of City’s first ever European cup tie. In September 1970 City travelled to deepest Bulgaria to face Trakia Plovdiv in the first leg of their first round European Fairs Cup tie with Trakia Plovdiv. City won the away leg 4-1 with a hat-trick from John O’Rourke and a Neil Martin goal and then beat the Bulgarians 2-0 in the second leg with goals from Brian Joicey and Jeff Blockley.

The Former Players Association are planning a reunion of the 1970 City squad at the home game with Barnsley at the end of October and have organised for Trakia’s star player of 1970, Dinko Dermendjiev, to travel to Coventry for the reunion. With the sponsorship of Jason Dickens of The Jade Studio, the graphic designers, Dinko and an interpreter will be flying in from Bulgaria to attend the match and meet City’s players from 1970.

40 years ago a small band of around 50 City supporters travelled out with the team to Bulgaria and one of them, Rod Dean, informs me that another of the group was Bill Wilson, MP for Coventry South at the time. Rod also told me that Bill had passed away last month aged 97, a fact that had passed me by. Bill was not only an avid City supporter having been born and bred in the city, but also an outspoken shareholder whose objectivity would have been useful in the club’s boardroom at some periods over the last 50 years. Unlike other MPs who have jumped on the football bandwagon since the game attracted large amounts of money in the Premier League era, Bill had followed City’s fortunes since the 1920s and could wax lyrically about the golden era of the 1930s.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 18.9.10

There is an interesting match in the Conference Premier today when the Holdsworth brothers, David and Dean, become the first ever twins to face each other as managers. David is manager of Mansfield Town who travel to South Wales to face Newport County, managed by former City player Dean.

Dean, a striker in his playing days, had a brief spell at Coventry City in 2002-03 season making 17 league appearances and three cup appearances but managing just one goal in arguably City’s worst side of the last forty years. His sole goal however was a stunning curling shot against Cardiff in an FA Cup replay, City’s only home victory between Boxing Day and the end of the season in a slump that almost resulted in relegation. In March 2003 with City’s bankers on the doorstep demanding cost reductions Dean was released and joined Rushden & Diamonds.

Prior to joining the Sky Blues Dean had had a good career after starting as an apprentice at Graham Taylor’s Watford in the mid-1980s. In 1986, along with goalkeeper David James, Tim Sherwood and his twin David, he was part of an outstanding Watford youth team beaten in the FA Youth Cup by an even better City youth team who went on to reach the semi final, a year before they lifted the trophy. His first team chances were limited at Watford however and he went down the leagues to join Brentford where he was a success.

Dean had five years at Wimbledon followed by a similar period at Bolton and scored a good amount of goals for both clubs and after his spell at City he played for MK Dons, one of the few players to appear for the two Dons’ clubs. Later he became chairman of the PFA and has been boss at Newport since 2007. Last season he led his club to the championship of the Conference South with a record 103 points.

Unlike Dean, David, a central defender, did make the grade at Watford and made over 250 appearances for the Hornets between 1986-96 before shorter spells at Sheffield United and Birmingham City. He played his part in the Sky Blues history when in 1998 he scored the very late equaliser for the Blades in the FA Cup sixth round replay at Bramall Lane. The goal took the game to extra-time and ultimately a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out which ended City’s hopes of a semi-final appearance that their performances that spring probably deserved.

David managed Ilkeston Town prior to arriving at Mansfield’s Field Mill in 2008 and his team have made a good start in their third season in the Conference. I will be looking out for the result of this unique game with interest.

There have been a lot of negative comments from City supporters since last weekend and I find it hard to join the chorus of criticism. City have picked up just one point from their last three league games, a home draw sandwiched by away defeats at Millwall and Swansea. Let’s put those results in context. Millwall are unbeaten at home in over 20 games stretching back to last November and are always difficult to beat on their own patch. When Carl Baker was sent off City were holding their own at 1-1 and with 11 men would have got a result. Swansea too are a hard nut on their own ground, losing only three games at the Liberty Stadium in the whole of last season. After a woeful first half City had chances to level the game with a much improved second half performance. The Leicester performance was dire but in mitigation it was a local derby and they are rarely thrillers. Paolo Sousa has got Leicester playing the passing game and they keep possession well making it hard for opponents to get the ball and play themselves. For all the visitor’s possession however City defended well (something they often failed to do last year) and got a valuable point. Leicester showed that the early form was deceptive with a good victory over Cardiff in midweek. Some fans are saying that we are worse off than last season but after six league games last season we had lost our home record (to Swansea) and got a terrible thumping at Blackpool. I think City fans should be patient and judge progress when the season is more advanced than now.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 11.9.10

Today is the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 disaster in New York when over 3,000 people lost their lives when terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers in Manhattan.

Geoff Wakelin tells me he is giving away his sister-in-law at her wedding today. He and the groom are both ardent City fans - Geoff watched my first City game 53 years ago when Ray Straw scored the winning goal – but he doesn’t say which game!

He was preparing his speech for the wedding reception and wanted to know whether City have ever played and won in any year on September 11th.

They have played 18 league games on that fateful day plus two League Cup ties, one of which, at Peterborough, was on the evening of the awful events in 2001. I remember that night very well – everyone was numb from watching the tragedy unfold in Manhattan on television and the game seemed very insignificant after the goings-on across the Atlantic. Gordon Strachan had been sacked two days earlier and Roland Nilsson and Richard Money were in charge of a City team desperate for a result for the new management team. The game sparked into life in the last two minutes of the ninety minutes when first Magnus Hedman punched a corner into his own net to make it 2-1 to Posh, then with 10 seconds left on the clock Lee Carsley hit a right-foot drive from just inside the penalty area to level the scores and take the tie to extra time. There were no further goals in the extra thirty minutes and the game went to a penalty shoot-out. City won the shoot-out 4-2 but not before Hedman crowned a miserable night by failing to score City’s fourth penalty to clinch the tie. His weak shot straight into the goalkeeper’s hands meant Lee Carsley had to send the Posh keeper the wrong way to secure the victory.

Looking at the list of previous games on this day, it is 34 years since City last won on 11 September. They beat Norwich 2-0 with goals from Mick Ferguson (his fourth in four games) and a Duncan Forbes own-goal. A disappointing game was watched by only 12,948, City’s smallest home gate for over 10 years.

A more memorable game was in 1999 when a strong Leeds side came from behind twice to win 4-3 at Highfield Road. Proving what famous football writer Brian Glanville calls the immutable law of the ex, Gary McAllister scored a penalty for City against his former club before Darren Huckerby netted for Leeds. Huckerby had left City just weeks earlier for £6m but would be a flop at Elland Road scoring just two goals in 40 appearances. John Aloisi and Youssef Chippo were City’s other scorers whilst Lee Bowyer, Ian Harte (penalty) and Michael Bridges netted for Leeds.

Sep 11 1919 h Leeds C L 0-4 1919-20 League
Sep 11 1920 a Blackpool L 0-4 1920-21 League
Sep 11 1926 h Charlton Ath W 1-0 1926-27 League
Sep 11 1937 a Bury W 2-0 1937-38 League
Sep 11 1946 a Newcastle U L 1-3 1946-47 League
Sep 11 1948 h Bradford PA W 2-0 1948-49 League
Sep 11 1950 h Birmingham W 3-1 1950-51 League
Sep 11 1952 a Northampton L 1-3 1952-53 League
Sep 11 1954 a Torquay U W 2-1 1954-55 League
Sep 11 1962 a Watford L 1-6 1962-63 League
Sep 11 1965 a Bristol City D 1-1 1965-66 League
Sep 11 1971 h Nottm Forest D 1-1 1971-72 League
Sep 11 1973 h Man. City W 2-1 1973-74 League
Sep 11 1976 h Norwich C W 2-0 1976-77 League
Sep 11 1982 h Arsenal L 0-2 1982-83 League
Sep 11 1993 a Aston Villa D 0-0 1993-94 League
Sep 11 1999 h Leeds U L 3-4 1999-00 League
Sep 11 2001 a Peterborough W 2-2* 2001-02 League Cup
Sep 11 2002 h Colchester U W 3-0 2002-03 League Cup
Sep 11 2004 a Leeds U L 0-3 2004-05 League

* City won 4-2 on penalties, after extra time.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


After City’s defeat at the New Den last week manager Aidy Boothroyd described City as ‘soft’ and any fan knows that soft sides do not get results at Millwall. The defeat means it is 55 years since City’s last victory in Docklands – 15 league and cup games. Most City fans know what Aidy means and have watched too many ‘soft’ capitulations by the Sky Blues over recent seasons. If City want to be serious promotion contenders they will have to toughen up and grind out results at places like Millwall. The last Coventry City team to win promotion, Jimmy Hill’s 1967 team, were past masters at picking up points when playing poorly. Mind you the 1967 team failed to win at Millwall, losing an early season game 1-0.

Last week I commented on the small crowd at the Ricoh Arena for the home game with Derby County – the smallest crowd to watch a City home game since 2005 – and last Saturday I noted the dip in attendances across the Championship as a whole.

Of the 12 games played last weekend only two were watched by a crowd higher than last season’s average crowd. At Millwall just over 11,000 watched City’s defeat compared to last season’s average of 10,834 and at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium a similar crowd watched the Yorkshire derby with Hull City. All other 10 games were watched by smaller than last season’s average crowds including Sheffield United 19,000 (last season’s average 25,000), Derby 25,000 (29,000) and Leicester 19,000 (24,000). Whilst all three of the clubs above have had mediocre starts to the season I know that they all have less season ticket holders than last campaign. In addition the gates at Ipswich, Forest, Scunthorpe and Swansea confirm the downward trend in this league.

So Coventry City are not the only club affected by falling attendances and I suspect it is a result of the economic situation the country finds itself in combined with England’s poor showing in this summer’s World Cup.

Dean Nelson sent me a picture of an old programme (see image) recently asking if I could provide more information about it. In February/March 1989 the Bermuda Football Association invited the Sky Blues and Middlesbrough to their island for a series of friendly games. City were lying in fourth place in the old First Division when they left the cold English winter for a warm break in the sun, one place behind Millwall where they had lost 1-0 the previous Saturday. The opening game saw City facing Boulevard Community Club, a team of Rastafarian amateurs who were one of Bermuda’s top club sides. Goals from Gary Bannister, Dean Emerson, Cyrille Regis and Dave Bennett gave City a 4-0 victory. City ended their brief sojourn on the sunny Atlantic island with a 2-1 victory over ‘Boro with goals from Regis and a late winner from substitute Howard Clark. City’s players described the rock hard pitch at the PHC Stadium where all the games were played, as ‘disgraceful’. Manager John Sillett was a little more diplomatic, calling it ‘a little bumpy’.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 28.8.10

Last Saturday’s 2-1 home win over Derby County lifted the Sky Blues to fourth place in the Championship after three games. It meant that the team had won its first two home games for the first time since moving to the Ricoh Arena in 2005 - in fact it was the first time since 2002 when Gary McAllister’s team beat Sheffield United and Crystal Palace in their first two home games.

Sadly the attendance was a pitifully low 13,139 - the lowest home league crowd ever at the Ricoh and the lowest since February 2005 when 12,148 were at Highfield Road for a 1-2 defeat to Wigan. No doubt the poor weather and the Sky live television coverage had an impact last week but the prices charged to ‘walk-up’ supporters is undoubtedly a big factor in these economically trying times. Even more worryingly about Saturday’s gate is that it is almost two thousand lower than the previous lowest Saturday home gate, set against Barnsley last January. Perhaps the low crowd will persuade Ray Ranson and his team to review their policy in this area.

Lowest gates at the Ricoh 2005-10

1. 13,139 v Derby Co. (2010-11)*
2. 14,036 v Scunthorpe (2007-08)
3. 14,326 v Sheffield United (2009-10)
4. 14,621 v Burnley (2008-09)
5. 14,992 v Cardiff (2008-09)
6. 15,031 v Barnsley (2009-10)*
7. 15,035 v Barnsley (2008-09)
8. 15,149 v Swansea (2008-09)
9. 15,165 v Reading (2009-10)*
10. 15,190 v Peterborough (2009-10)*
* Saturday home games

Who would bet on a City victory at Millwall this afternoon? It is the Sky Blues’ first visit to the New Den for five years and history and form is against them. City have not won at Millwall (Old or New Den) in 14 league and cup games stretching back to their last win on Boxing Day 1955. Millwall have a tradition for strong home form and hold a Football League record of 59 unbeaten home games between 1964 and 1966. They are currently unbeaten at home in 19 league and cup games, the last defeat being by Wycombe Wanderers last November.

Alan Wainwright asked me about a great goal of the past. He wanted to know at which end of Highfield Road did George Hudson score his memorable goal against Southampton. After checking with my fellow City historian Rod Dean I was able to confirm that ‘The Hud’s’ classic goal was scored at the Covered End (the City end) in September 1965.

George scored many great goals for the club but this was arguably his most memorable goal when, with his back to goal he flicked the ball over Southampton centre-half Tony Knapp's head, turned, then casually headed past a startled keeper. City won the Tuesday evening game 5-1, having lost 1-0 to the Saints at the Dell a week earlier. At the end of that season the Saints pipped the Sky Blues to promotion by one point.

Kevin Ring tells me that former City youngster Craig Faulconbridge is still playing professional football at the age of 32. The Nuneaton-born striker was on City’s books for several years as a teenager and got close to a first team call-up after a couple of substitute appearances in pre-season friendlies in 1996 before a broken leg hampered his progress. Manager Gordon Strachan let him go on loan to Dunfermline in 1998 and he scored a memorable goal for the Pars which effectively wrecked Celtic’s title hopes and handed the league to Rangers. Competition for striking places at Coventry was fierce with Dublin, Huckerby and Whelan in great form and a further loan to Dunfermline and another to Hull City preceded Craig’s release from City in 1999. Craig joined Wrexham and played over 100 games in three years at the Racecourse Ground before another three years at Wycombe Wanderers. After spells at Oxford City and Carshalton he joined Woking last season and helped them reach the Blue Square South play-offs and Kevin tells me that this season he is a fixture in Woking’s first team.