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.

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