Sunday, 28 November 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 27.11.10

Since the formation of the Former Players Association in 2007 many ex-Coventry players have been tracked down and brought back to Coventry for a game or a function but a few have been very elusive and virtually impossible to find. Until recently one of those hard to find players was Alan Dugdale. Then, a few weeks ago I received an email from his brother Dave Dugdale who had found the FPA website ( whilst looking for memories of his brother on the internet. It transpired that Alan was making a rare visit from his home in the USA and we managed to get him from his brother’s home on Merseyside for the Leeds game. It was his first visit to Coventry for over 35 years and he was able to meet up with former colleagues Alan Green, Donal Murphy, Jimmy Holmes as well as former Physio Norman Pilgrim who treated Alan when he broke his ankle in 1972.

Whilst Alan was in the country I was able to interview him and I put the following questions to him:

Alan, how did you come to join Coventry City in 1969?

I was playing for Kirkby Schoolboys on Merseyside and Coventry’s Lancashire scout Alf Walton encouraged me to come down for a trial. I played at centre-half and they offered me apprentice terms with another Kirkby lad called Dennis Hogg, but Dennis never made the grade. I think Alf was responsible for finding Dennis Mortimer, Mick McGuire and Ivan Crossley, we all came from his patch (Jim: he also discovered Ernie Machin).

You were a member of arguably City’s finest youth team in 1970. What are your memories of the team?

It was a great bunch of lads who lived and played together. I remember the Youth Cup final with Spurs. They had a strong team which was quite physical with Graeme Souness , Steve Perryman and a good ‘keeper in Barry Daines. We drew over two legs and we drew a replay at Highfield Road before Spurs won the fourth game at Tottenham. I remember big crowds at Highfield Road and the matches were all hard-fought and there was little between the sides.

The following year you were in the England side that won the Little World Cup. What was that like?

There were three Coventry players, myself, Bobby Parker and Mick McGuire in the England team. I played out of position at right-back and the tournament was in Czechoslovakia. There was so much talent in the England squad with Trevor Francis, Peter Eastoe, Steve Daley and Martyn Busby. Most of the team were already regulars in their club’s first team. We beat Portugal in the final, 3-0 I think and Eastoe got a couple of goals. I think the former Wolves player Bill Shorthouse was the coach.

You made your first team debut against Chelsea at Highfield Road in 1972. Who was in the team at the time?

Joe Mercer and Gordon Milne had not long been there and I got picked at left back but I got carried off when Bill Glazier landed on my left ankle and it broke! Willie Carr, Dennis, Chris Cattlin, Mick Coop, Ernie Hunt were all at the club and Colin Stein and Tommy Hutchison arrived soon after and they brought a real buzz to the club. I was out injured for a few months but didn’t get a regular place until about a year later.

You were a regular first team player until 1977. Which City players did you really rate?

Tommy Hutch was the most skilful, Mick Ferguson was a great target man who could hold the ball up well and Barry Powell and Dennis were very skilful midfielders. The best defender, and I played alongside a lot in my time there, was John Craven. He and I just clicked when he arrived in 1973. My best friend was Alan Green – we used to room together on away trips.

In that time you played against all of the top British strikers. Who did you rate?

Malcom Macdonald and Trevor Francis were very hard to play against. Supermac was so strong and you couldn’t give him an inch, else he would unleash one. Franny Lee of Man City was difficult to play but the best was undoubtedly Kevin Keegan – he was so quick and you could never relax against him.

What happened after you left Coventry City?

I joined Charlton in 1977 but wish I had stayed to fight for my place at Coventry. Everything went wrong at Charlton. I didn’t get on with the manager Andy Nelson and I broke my leg playing for the reserves. I only played 30-odd games before I had a loan spell with Barnsley. In 1980 I went to play in USA with Tulsa Roughnecks. We had a good team with Alan Woodward (ex-Sheff United), Billy Caskey (ex-Derby) and Steve Earle (ex-Fulham). It was funny because one of my worst tackles (and there were a few!) was against Woodward at Highfield Road. My brother found it on youtube and we couldn’t believe I wasn’t sent off. We had some great times. After I finished playing I worked as a salesman for Pepsi Cola and Budweiser and have lived in the Tulsa area ever since. These days I live with my American wife in a mall town called Peggs about 50 miles from Tulsa. We have nine acres and we keep horse, they have become my passion in life. My health isn’t great but I love the outdoor life and cannot see myself returning to England.

The passing of City’s oldest former player Norman Smith was covered earlier in the week. Norman was the last living player to play for the club before the Second World War (he made three appearances in the 1938-39 season). His death means that the oldest living player is now 90-year old Eric Dobbs who made is first appearance in April 1947.

Norman’s funeral takes place at Holy Trinity church on December the 8th at 12.30pm followed by a short cremation service at Canley crematorium at 1.30pm. It will be family flowers only and any donations if desired, will be going to the Help for Heroes charity via the funeral directors which are Grimmett and Timms, 118 Albany Rd, Coventry.

Geoff Moore tells me that Jack Cork’s appearance for Burnley at the Ricoh Arena last week means he has appeared for five different clubs at the stadium, all on loan. It’s a pretty amazing feat considering he is only just 21-years old. In addition to Coventry and Burnley he has played for Southampton, Watford and Scunthorpe. Several players have played for four different clubs including Chris Iwelumo, Wayne Brown and Jon Stead.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 20.11.10

Watching England lose 1-2 to a rebuilt French side at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday night, Nick Cook pointed out that the game ended with three former Coventry City players on the pitch in an England shirt.

2009 loanee Jordan Henderson made his England debut in midfield but was unable to make much impression in a game bossed by a strong French midfield. Henderson made ten appearances for the Sky Blues and looked impressive at the time but it is a sad indictment on the state of the national team that someone with so little experience in the Premier League (he had started only 23 games before this season) is thrown into the national team. One can only hope that the lad doesn’t let his mediocre display hinder his progress in the game.

Jay Bothroyd was also given his first cap as a second-half substitute and almost scored. At 28, Jay has far less time than Henderson to make his mark but his call-up is a testimony to his consistent performances over the last couple of years at Cardiff, where this season he has already notched 15 goals. Jay, who I believe is out of contract next summer, will undoubtedly go to the Premiership either with a Bosman move or with the Bluebirds. People say his time at Coventry was not a happy one but he is arguably one of the most skilful players seen in a Sky Blue shirt in the last ten years and he scored 17 goals in a side that thought they had the divine right to go straight back up after relegation. He scored some superb goals including a brace at Stoke in 2002 and a delightful chip at Crystal Palace the same year. He was on the England radar back in 2001 when he scored for England under 21s with a stunning overhead kick at Filbert Street. Nine years later he gets his chance.

The third ex-City man was Stephen Warnock who had an impressive season-long loan from Liverpool in 2003-04 and is the only loanee to be voted City’s player of the year by the fans. Arguably the best City loanee of all time, Stephen turned down a permanent move to Coventry believing he could make it at Anfield. Finally he had to move to Blackburn and then to Villa to further his career and on Wednesday won his second full cap.

To add even more local interest to the French game Leamington-born former Racing Warwick goalkeeper Ben Foster, won his fifth cap for his country. Ben is the first Leamington-born full England international since George Green of Sheffield United won eight caps in the 1920s.

Mark Stickings wanted to know who scored City’s goals at Crystal Palace in 1980-81 season. On 17 February 1981 City won the game 3-0 (against a very poor Palace side heading for relegation) and Gary Bannister and Tommy English (2) were City's goalscorers, all in the first half.

Dean Nelson tells me that he spotted that former City forward Eddie Johnson has signed for Portland Timbers who will be playing in the MLS for the first time next year. Johnson, who played for City in 2004-05, on a season-long loan from Manchester United, was the USSF Division Two’s joint leading scorer last season with 15 goals playing for Austin Aztecs, managed by former City assistant boss Adrian Heath. Eddie scored on his debut against Sunderland but managed only five goals in 26 league appearances and was given few opportunities following Peter Reid’s departure and Micky Adams’ arrival.

I have become aware of a new website for reading and recording memories of Coventry. Launched by the Transport Museum anyone can leave their memories, however brief, about the city generally, the Football Club and other sports teams or just their life in Coventry. The site, is very quickly getting populated with memories and images and I noticed lots of great memories of the 1987 Cup Final including several from players at the time.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 13.11.10

Coventry City teams seem to have an aversion to large crowds at the Ricoh Arena. Last Saturday in front of the biggest league crowd since the move from Highfield Road in 2005, 28,184, admittedly boosted by over 6,000 Leeds fans, the Sky Blues came a cropper. It was the tenth occasion that over 25,000 have been at the stadium in its five-year life and the ninth time that the team have failed to win. The solitary victory came in January 2006 when high-flying Wolves were defeated 2-0.

The 25,000-plus crowds at the ground are as follows:-

31,407 Chelsea (FA Cup) 2009 lost 0-2
28,184 Leeds 2010 lost 2-3
28,163 West Brom (FA Cup) 2008 lost 0-5
28,120 Middlesbrough (FA Cup) 2006 drew 1-1
27,997 Wolves 2008 drew 1-1
27,212 Birmingham 2006 lost 0-1
26,856 Wolves 2006 won 2-0
26,723 Leicester 2006 drew 1-1
26,643 Leeds 2006 drew 1-1
26,343 West Brom 2007 lost 0-1

Even accounting for the large contingent of Leeds fans last week, I was staggered by the size of the crowd. I believed that it would take a lot more consistency from the team to bring the missing fans back to the Ricoh and that it would be a gradual thing. One parallel was in 1986-87 season when, after three years of surviving relegation on the last day of the season, John Sillett and George Curtis got the team playing attractive, winning football. The crowds that season, apart from a juicy League Cup tie with Liverpool and that epic Christmas game with Tottenham, only slowly increased from the 11,000 that watched the first game of the season against Arsenal to around the 13-14,000 level. The week before the quarter-final tie at Hillsborough under 13,000 were at Highfield Road to watch City play Wednesday in a league game. Two weeks later, admittedly with vouchers for semi-final tickets available almost 24,000 turned up for a league game with Oxford United.

Last week the crowd was 93% higher than the Barnsley crowd two weeks earlier and prompted Rod Dean to pose the question: when was the last time the City attendance doubled from one game to another?

I think the answer is 1993 when a home game with Southampton (2-0, Quinn and John Williams) was watched by 10,455. Nine days later 24,410 watched City lose 0-1 to championship chasing Manchester United, an increase of 133%. The post war record leap in gates was in 1962-63 season. On the first Saturday of December 1962 a crowd of 8,876 watched City beat Carlisle 3-2, at City’s next home game on 29 December there were 25,399 to see a 3-3 draw with Third Division leaders Peterborough. Christmas games back then traditionally attracted higher than normal crowds and three days earlier Jimmy Hill’s team had won 3-0 at Posh plus the fact that on the day of the Carlisle game heavy rain fell in the city, affecting the gate.

The record leap in home crowds however occurred in 1925 when on a wet Thursday afternoon in February an estimated 3,000 watched City beat Portsmouth 2-1 in a Second Division match. Nine days later for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday there was a crowd of 14,242, an increase of 350% on the previous game. Before the introduction of floodlights in the 1950s rearranged games were often played on midweek afternoons and drew low crowds.

City are at Crystal Palace today and should beware Spaniard Pablo Counago. Currently on loan at Selhurst Park from Ipswich, Pablo has an amazing record against the Sky Blues with seven goals in eight appearances for Ipswich. Last season he came off the bench to score the winning goal at Portman Road – lets hope Messrs Wood and McPake have learned their lesson.

Aidy Boothroyd was forced to change his starting line-up on Tuesday night after playing the same starting eleven for five games running. This is an extremely rare occurrence and last happened in December 1996 when Gordon Strachan was able to select this line up for five games in a row:

Ogrizovic: Telfer, Shaw, Paul Williams, Daish, Dublin, Richardson, McAllister, Huckerby, Whelan, Salako.

In those five games City won four and drew one game. The wins were at home to Newcastle (2-1), Leicester (a) (2-0), Leeds (a) (3-1), Middlesbrough (h) (3-0) and Sunderland (h) (2-2). The club record for number of games unchanged to my knowledge is seven. This occurred at the start of the 1954-55 (six wins and one draw), 1964-65 season (five straight wins and two defeats) and at the start of the 1973-74 season (four wins out of seven). It is not a coincidence that an unchanged side usually means good results.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 6.11.10

Cyrille Regis is a legend amongst Coventry City fans. Not only was he a member of the 1987 FA Cup winning team but he earned his place in City fan’s hearts with his skill, industry and above all the memorable goals which helped keep City in the old First Division before 1987 and made City such a strong outfit under John Sillett over the subsequent 3-4 years.

His autobiography, Cyrille Regis – My Story, was published last month and he is at today’s game with Leeds United signing copies of the book in the club shop immediately after the game. Cyrille played for Coventry City for seven seasons but freely admits that he didn’t really want to come to Coventry from West Brom in 1984 – he thought a big club was going to come in for him but the Sky Blues were the only interested party. His first two seasons at Highfield Road were a non-event and again he admits that he was not emotionally committed to Coventry until John Sillett and George Curtis took the reins in 1986. Bobby Gould signed Cyrille for £250,000 and was sacked two months later and Gould’s successor, Don Mackay, never played to Regis’ strengths but one story in the book surprised me. Apparently during Mackay’s reign City, supposedly desperate for cash, tried to sell Cyrille to Second Division Wolves for £40,000. Thankfully the City board had second thoughts and within twelve months Cyrille and City were a whole different proposition.

Cyrille speaks highly of Sillett’s role in rejuvenating his struggling career and the way Sillett changed the emphasis of the team’s game from using Regis as a target man to giving him the ball at his feet was a major factor in the club’s remarkable 1986-87 season. That season (and the FA Cup win especially) quite rightly get a lot of coverage in the book as does the post-Wembley celebrations which make modern-day footballers look like choirboys.

One major change in Cyrille’s life whilst he was at Coventry was his conversion to Christianity and the chapter dealing with his reasons sees Cyrille talk candidly about the emotional torment he went through.

The book reminded me of the phenomenal impact that Cyrille had when he arrived on the football scene with West Brom in 1977. City had a golden year but Cyrille’s emergence at the Hawthorns took the limelight away from Ian Wallace and Mick Ferguson’s goalscoring feats. The two teams vied to be the top West Midlands side that season and Albion, managed by Ron Atkinson, pipped City by one place, finishing sixth. Cyrille started the season as an unknown and finished as a First Division regular. His first appearance against the Sky Blues resulted in a 2-1 win for Albion but my notes of the game record that Regis, who had scored five goals in his first five games for the Baggies, was well shackled by Jim Holton. A year later ‘Big C’ was on the score-sheet twice as Albion hit City for seven at the Hawthorns but his finest goal against the Sky Blues was undoubtedly the sizzling 25-yarder in the 1982 FA Cup degeat at the Hawthorns, a goal not dissimilar to the one for City at Hillsborough in the quarter final tie in 1987.

He scored many other fine goals for the Sky Blues too including the winner when City won at Anfield for the first time in 1989 and one of the goals that ended the 51-year Villa hoodoo in 1988.

I have met Cyrille on a number of occasions and he is a charming man who talks knowledgeably about the game he loves. He is also a great supporter of the Former Players Association. His book is a down to earth honest assessment of his career and life, warts and all, and deserves to be a success.

Unlike many fans and media correspondents I refuse to get too excited about City’s elevation to fourth place last Saturday following the victory at Bramall Lane. There is a long way to go this season and I remind friends that the last time City were in such an exalted position, in April 2002, they managed to lose six of their last seven games, miss out on the play-offs and snatch disaster out of the jaws of success.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 30.10.10

Last Saturday was one of those days when everything in the Sky Blue garden looked rosy. A convincing 3-0 home win over Barnsley and a memorable celebration of the 40th anniversary of the club’s one and only European campaign.

Eleven former Coventry City players from 1970 returned for the day and the non-appearance of Ernie Machin and Ian Gibson (through health issues) did not mar a wonderful occasion. A number of the squad, for example Willie Carr, Roy Barry, Chris Cattlin and Mick Coop, have become regular visitors since the Former Players Association was formed almost four years ago, but Ernie Hannigan made his first visit to a City game for over 30 years during what was a flying visit to the UK from his home in Western Australia. The former flying winger, Noel Cantwell’s first signing as a manager in 1967, has retained his broad Scottish accent and had the party in stitches with his stories.

Noel Cantwell’s daughter, Kate, who was born in Coventry in 1970, represented her late father and was accompanied by Noel’s two grandsons. Her father finally received some recognition in Coventry after his death in 2005 was ignored by the club. Saturday’s occasion sadly coincided with the death of one of Noel’s closest friends in football, Malcolm Allison. Allison, who with Joe Mercer, guided Manchester City to so much glory in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was offered the Coventry manager’s job in 1967 but leaked the news to the press forcing chairman Derrick Robins to withdraw the offer and hand the job to Cantwell.

The star of Saturday’s show however was Bulgarian legend Dinko Dermendjiev. The man who played for Trakia Plovdiv in both games against City in 1970 flew in from Bulgaria with his interpreter Nicky Dafovsky. Nicky, it transpired, has been a City fan since the 1980s and speaks fluent English. Dinko, we discovered is revered in Bulgaria and considered to be the finest player ever produced by the country. He was a charming man and was overwhelmed with emotion for the reception he received from the former players and Coventry fans. Reminiscing about the games in 1970 he told me that in Bulgaria Trakia had been strong favourites to beat Coventry but the Sky Blues were one of the best organised foreign sides ever to play in Plovdiv and outclassed Trakia and the fans still talk about the games 40 years later. As he left Coventry an emotional Dinko said that Coventry would always be in his heart and vowed to return soon.

After the game the whole party was introduced on the stage at the G-Casino and the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Dinko, who very quickly learned the words to the Sky Blue Song and joined in a vociferous rendition of the club song. Later in the evening Dinko talked to Willie Carr for half an hour and despite neither being able to speak each other’s language managed to communicate through the global language of football. The atmosphere in the casino was absolutely electric and thanks go to Quintin Korsma Of the G-Casino for his wonderful support. Additional thanks go to Jason and the lads the Jade Studios for sponsoring Dinko’s trip and the CCFPA patrons and club’s Associate Directors, especially John Clarke, for their financial support for the event.

There are some excellent photographs of the day’s events at the FPA website

On the field City recorded their biggest win for over two years, since the 4-1 home victory over Southampton in October 2008. The most common question I was asked in the casino on Saturday evening was regarding City’s goalscorers against Barnsley. Carl Baker and Jordan Clarke both scored after coming off the bench, the first time this has ever happened in a league game. There was one occurrence in an FA Cup tie in 1999 when Cedric Roussel and John Eustace came off the bench to score in a 3-0 win at Norwich.

It was also a rare occurrence for two Coventry-born players (McSheffrey and Clarke) to score in the same game. The only other occurrence in the club’s league history was in January 2002 at Selhurst Park when McSheffrey and Marcus Hall netted in a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.

Finally, the win lifted the Sky Blues into the top six of the Championship, the first time they have been as high in the table (other than very early in the season) since January 2003. Perhaps at last there is a glimmer of hope for City’s long-suffering fans. A note of caution however, back in 2003 Gary McAllister’s team won only once in 20 games and slumped from sixth to end the season in 20th place.