Last Saturday’s win at Scunthorpe’s Glanford Park was not only City’s first victory at the Irons’ new ground but also the first in the town. City had never played a league game there until 2008 but had lost on their two visits prior to Saturday as well as losing an FA Cup tie in 1935 when Scunthorpe were a Midland League side.
Even accounting for the freezing weather the attendance on Saturday was a pitifully low 4,397, making it the smallest league crowd to watch City since 2,077 were at Selhurst Park in 2002 to see City beat Wimbledon 1-0 with a Gary McAllister penalty. It was also the lowest crowd to watch any game in the Championship since 2006 when 4247 watched Colchester v Barnsley.
I have been reading Bobby Gould’s autobiography recently and if you want a Christmas present for a Coventry City fan I can certainly recommend it. His story is amusing and fascinating and takes you from Gould’s Coventry roots through a playing career that spanned 19 years and a management career that was even longer. To use an old cliché Bobby had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus and rarely stayed at any football club for very long.
By virtue of the fact that he had almost six years at Highfield Road as a player and two spells as a manager, the Coventry coverage in the book is quite substantial. Before Jimmy Hill signed him as an apprentice in 1962, Bobby had been ‘heartbroken’ to be told by Billy Frith that he wouldn’t make the grade with the team he supported. When Hill reversed that decision Bobby vowed to ‘run through a brickwall’ for JH and City supporters of a certain age will readily confirm that he did. His first team career did not start well and in 1966 he was given the unenviable task of replacing the ‘King’ of Coventry City, George Hudson, who had been controversially sold by Hill. The immensely skilful Hudson, in the fans’ eyes, could do no wrong whilst Gould for all his running and physical approach could never wear the mantle of Hudson. A year later however City were promoted and Gould had proved the doubting Thomas’s wrong by netting 24 goals.
There are some amusing stories of his time as a City player and he sheds new light on one of the more controversial days in the club’s history, the day Hill lost it with Ian Gibson. ‘Gibbo’, a club record signing in 1966, had not been too impressive in his first couple of months at the club and things came to a head at an away game at Carlisle. It is known that JH let rip at Gibson at half-time at Brunton Park and that the player came close to leaving City as a result but Gould reveals that Hill’s patience had been stretched by Gibbo’s antics on the long train journey north when in Bobby’s words: ‘he demonstrated a flatulence habit by using a naked cigarette lighter flame as a prop’. Gibson was left in the cold for six weeks before Hill buried the hatchet and recalled Gibson and City went on a 25-game unbeaten run that clinched promotion.
In 1983 Gould, a rookie manager with less than two years experience, was handed the City manager’s job for the first time. He walked into a dressing-room full of players angry at the treatment of previous manager Dave Sexton and in the main determined to leave the club. Gould’s career is littered with instances where he didn’t stay anywhere where he wasn’t wanted and when he arrived at Coventry he was determined not to try and keep any player who didn’t want to play for the club. As a result a whole generation of homegrown players were allowed to leave, many for less than their true worth but Bobby replaced them with a squad of players who would not only fight to the death but would also form the nucleus of the 1987 Cup winning team. Peake, Gynn, Bennett, Kilcline, Ogrizovic and Regis were all signed by Gould during this time. One funny story of that period concerns Les Sealey and the Coventry club car that he failed to return. Chief Executive George Curtis went with a chauffer and dozens of spare keys to Luton’s ground (Sealey had joined the Hatters) and emptied Les’s belongings onto the ground in his parking space before driving the recovered car back to Coventry.
Bobby admits that after a dream first six months he ‘lost it’ and City were lucky not to be relegated. He lasted less than 18 months in the job but in 1992 he returned for a second spell, an older and wiser man, having led Wimbledon to their 1988 FA Cup win in the meantime. Again things went well for a while and his wheeling and dealing made City a stronger outfit. Then Bryan Richardson became chairman and things went downhill fast. My one disappointment about the book is that it sheds little new light on their relationship and the reasons for Bobby’s resignation in the Loftus Road toilets after a 5-1 defeat. Many people involved with City during the Richardson era have remained silent over the man’s antics because of a so-called confidentiality clause in his severance agreement and maybe Bobby sensibly wants to avoid a libel case. Either way we will have to wait longer for the real reasons for his departure to come to light.
Bobby Gould is signing copies of his book 24 Carat Gould in Waterstones (Smithfield Way) next Wednesday (8th December) at 5pm.