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 www.ccfpa.co.uk
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.