Another new football season starts today. For Coventry City it is the eleventh successive season in the Championship -following Preston’s relegation they are the longest serving club in the old Second Division - and my 50th season following the club. Little has changed at the football club in the close season with financial pressures and takeover talk dominating the local media and fans’ forums. Three of last season's better players have departed but none of the moves were surprising. Keiren Westwood has gone to the Premiership and will be tested by the best at Sunderland. Aron Gunnarsson will be plying his trade at Cardiff City but in my view will have a hard battle to get a game in one of the best midfields in the division last term. The third man, Marlon King, has departed acrimoniously for Birmingham City and must be wondering what he has walked into as the St Andrews club threatens to implode. My overall view on the moves is that only King's goals will be missed. Aron's form since his splendid inaugural season has been patchy and a fit Gary Deegan plus the emerging talents of Conor Thomas and Gael Bigirimana will amply counter the Icelander's departure. Joe Murphy too, should be good enough to fill Westwood's shoes. The problem will be goals and we can only hope that either a new striker is signed soon, or that the hugely promising Lukas Jutkiewicz adds more goals to his blossoming performances, or Freddy Eastwood finally fulfils the enormous expectations we all have for him. Whilst I am not as downbeat as most City fans about the prospects for the new season Andy Thorn and Steve Harrison will have to get more out of what is not a small squad than their two predecessors achieved. Injuries will again play a part and it is hard to believe that the Sky Blues will have the bad luck they had in that department last season when Deegan, McPake, Turner, Clingan and Bell were all out for long spells. I don't subscribe to the view that the club will have a relegation battle but then I don't expect them to be pressing for a playoff spot - not that they have been in that position for the last nine seasons. It may be that a sale of one of the better players is forthcoming to fund some purchases. Older fans may remember a similar scenario in early 1986 when with the City in a perilous state Terry Gibson was sold to Manchester United for an inflated £650,000 and most of the money was used to buy three new players (Nick Pickering, Alan Brazil and Jim McInally). Ultimately only Pickering of the trio was a success but just over twelve months later virtually the same squad won the FA Cup. In other words, sometimes a club has to sell to move forward.
Whilst on the subject of history I remember similarly depressing pre-seasons in 1969, 1977, 1986 and 1997 when after desperate relegation battles there was little or no money spent on players and the team was tipped to be favourites for the drop. In all these years the team defied their critics and had immensely successful campaigns. In 1969 Noel Cantwell’s team finished sixth and qualified for Europe. In 1977 Gordon Milne’s attacking team, spearheaded by Ian Wallace and Mick Ferguson, scored 75 goals and missed out on Europe by a whisker after the most entertaining season of the last 40 years. In 1986 John & George put a backbone into a mixed bag of players and won the FA Cup. Whilst in 1997 Gordon Strachan’s team left relegation worries behind them and but for a shoddy penalty shoot-out defeat at Bramall Lane may have got to Wembley again.
Two weeks ago Derek Henderson sadly passed away, aged 82. Nemo, which was his by-line for many of his 15 years as the main football writer on the Coventry Telegraph, kept City fans abreast of the news from Highfield Road in the era before multi-media and mass coverage of the sport. For most of his time reporting on the club he was the only source of news for supporters. He was there for the arrival of Jimmy Hill in 1961 and has often been credited as the man who came up with the nickname ‘the Sky Blues’ after Hill introduced the new kit in 1962. In those days Derek travelled to away games on the team bus and had virtual unlimited access to the manager and players. He never abused that privilege and was always the soul of discretion.
I was interested in City’s facts and figures from an early age and in the summer of 1969 I wrote to Derek asking for help in compiling some information. He replied promptly, inviting me, and a friend, to visit the Telegraph offices and access the personal scrapbooks of his time covering the City. Over a number of Saturdays I built up the basis of my club records, this is the days before the Rothmans and Sky annuals, and internet websites. His kindness at that time is impossible for me to forget and many years later, after he had retired to his beloved Devon, we had telephone chats and emails about the club’s history and his time in Coventry. His style of writing, which demonstrated a passion for football and for his adopted team, Coventry City, made reading his match reports a great pleasure and influenced my football writing years later.
I am tempting providence I know but on form City should win today. Since being relegated from the Premiership in 2001 City have never lost on the opening day of the season. They have won eight and drawn two of their 10 opening games and have won the last five. It is a remarkable record and lets hope they can keep the run going today against the Foxes.