It is sad to report the death earlier this week of former Coventry City player Eric Dobbs who passed away months after his 90th birthday.
Eric, a full-back, played only five first team games just after the Second World War but played a good number of reserve games over three seasons in the days when the club had a professional squad of 30 or so players.
Eric was born in October 1920 in the rural Norfolk village of Hingham – in the Angel Inn pub, which his family ran. In 1926 the Dobbs family left Norfolk to come to Coventry -presumably to work in the booming industrial town. They lived in Aldermans Green but later moved to Bedlam Lane, Foleshill. Eric’s nephew Chris Wilson tells me that their house would have been on the site of the Arena Park shopping centre, adjacent to the Ricoh Arena.
He attended Foleshill Church of England School but left at 14 to work as a painter and decorator with his father. In 1936 he was playing football for the Miners Arms team in Aldermans Green and from 1938 he was in City’s ‘A’ team as an amateur. In 1940 he enlisted with the Coldstream Guards, first as a PT instructor but later he saw action in North Africa and in Italy. In 1944 he was involved in the famous but bloody battle of Monte Cassino and was shot in the thigh.
He joined Coventry City as a professional in 1946, following his demobilisation, and played for the ‘A’ Team and the Reserves, occasionally playing at centre-forward. On Easter Tuesday 1947 he got a surprise call-up to the first team to play Swansea owing to injuries to Charlie Elliott and Billy Frith. Eric had to mark Swansea’s dashing winger Norman Lockhart, who later joined City.
On a wet afternoon City won 3-2 and Nemo commented on Eric’s debut: ‘Dobbs showed up prominently in conditions that did not help him at all’. Eric got another first team game before the season was over, playing in a 2-1 home win over Leicester.
His further three games came the following season and he played right-back in home wins over West Brom (1-0) and Fulham (5-2) and a home defeat to Leeds (1-2). At the end of the season he was released and joined Bristol Rovers. Sadly he failed to break into Rovers’ first team and a year later was back in the Midlands playing briefly for Kettering Town before signing for Lockheed Leamington under his former City team-mate Les Latham. Eric’s arrival at the Windmill Ground in 1949 coincided with the Brakes’ first season in the Birmingham Combination and the team finished last but one in the league. The following season however saw the team improve to ninth and win the Birmingham Senior Cup for the first time and Eric was in the team that beat Hereford United Reserves in the final after a replay. The first game, at Nuneaton, ended 2-2 but Lockheed won the replay at their own Windmill Ground 3-1 in front of a ground record 3,500. Earlier that season Eric scored a rare goal (from the penalty spot) in an 11-2 home win over Atherstone. The team picture, kindly supplied by Chris Wilson, shows the successful Lockheed team of 1950-51 with Eric far left on the back row.
Former City player and director Micky French played with Eric both for City Reserves and later at Lockheed. He remembers Eric fondly and used to get a lift to training in Leamington on the pillion of Eric’s motorcycle. I spoke to Micky this week and he had this to say: ‘Eric and I hit it off at Coventry and played a few reserve team games together. When I finished my National Service in 1950 and went to play for Lockheed he was there and we took up where we left off. He was a popular but quiet man who was very kind and honest. But on the field he was a good footballer with an extremely hard tackle and it was best to avoid him in training. He was a real old-fashioned defender and took no prisoners’.
After he left professional football Eric became a painter and decorator and later joined the machine tool company Skelcher and Rowe where he worked as a maintenance man. He was a keen golfer and played at Cosby Golf Club in Leicestershire. He is survived by his wife Joyce. Eric was one of the early members of the Former Players Association when it was formed in 2007 and attended the first Legends Day. He will be sadly missed by his friends and former team-mates in the Association. Until his death he was the oldest former city player, a mantle now taken up by Colin Collindridge who lives in Nottingham and was 90 last November.