Monday, 26 September 2011

Jim's column 24.9.11

Hugh Richmond was one of Coventry City’s star players in the early 1920s and I recently had correspondence from Hugh’s grandson Steve Richmond, who lives in the North East. Steve is researching his grandfather’s life, specifically his football career, and I was able to fill him in on some of the facts of his time at Coventry City. Steve was also able to give me a fair bit of information about Hugh that I didn’t know about.

Hugh Richmond was born in the small town of Galston near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1894. He was on Kilmarnock’s books before the First World War but did not play for Killie’s first team. Like most young men he went off to the war, with the Seaforth Highlanders, but was sent back from the front to complete his apprenticeship in the Great Munition Works on the River Clyde.

In 1916 he was recorded as playing for and captaining Scottish Second Division club Arthurlie but soon after the war ended he headed south and signed for Leicester City in March 1919. A tall man, Hugh could play at wing-half or centre-half, and had prodigious heading ability, which resulted in him getting the nickname, ‘Rubberneck’.

At Leicester he was loaned out to Nuneaton Town for a spell in 1920 and in three seasons at Filbert Street he played only 24 first team games for the Foxes but according to Steve he captained the reserves to the Central Alliance League title. He did however appear for Leicester’s first team in a famous Second Division game against Stockport County on the final day of the 1920-21 season. Stockport’s Edgeley Park ground was closed by the Football Association, presumably because of crowd disorder, and the game was switched to Old Trafford where it should have been behind closed doors. 13 spectators allegedly paid to watch the game, a Football League record low, although contemporary reports suggest there were around 2,000 people inside the stadium for the match.

In 1922 he arrived at Highfield Road and was soon a regular in the half-back line but often got switched to centre-forward where his heading prowess came to the fore. He scored twice in the 7-1 home win over Wolves on Christmas Day 1922 and the following season he appeared more often in attack than defence and netted 14 goals in 30 games including a hat-trick against Nelson in November 1923 and another Christmas Day brace, against Sheffield Wednesday.

In 1924-25 he struggled to win a place in the first team and made only 12 appearances, and in May 1925 he signed for Queens Park Rangers but played only 10 games in a frustrating season before heading to the North East to sign for Blyth Spartans in the North Eastern League.

Steve now takes up the story: In 1926 Hugh joined Blyth Spartans as Player Manager, and also Blyth's first professional player. In his first game at Blyth, they played the previous years champions Newcastle United Reserves. Headlines in the 'Sunday Sun' on 29th August 1926 read 'SHOCKS IN NORTH EASTERN LEAGUE' - 'SPARTANS LOWER CHAMPIONS COLOURS'. Hugh scored 2 goals, from centre half, in a 2-1 victory and 'Richmond was undoubtedly the star performer'.

Hugh's duties at the club also included managing the Blyth Wednesday league team,  and under his supervision they finished as Champions of their league in their first season, and runners up in their second season. In 1929 Hugh had to leave Blyth Spartans when financial difficulties meant that the club could not offer him new terms. In three seasons with Blyth he played 111 games and scored 28 goals. He then signed for Spennymoor United prior to the start of the 1929-30 season.

Spennymoor also hit financial difficulties part way through that season, although they finished the league campaign, they could not keep their professional players and Hugh played out his final season as a player with Bedlington United.

That was not the end of Hugh’s football career though. Steve tells me that in December 1937 he found a small piece written by 'Crofter' in the Blyth News/Ashington Post - 'FORMER BLYTH PLAYER' 'Hughie Richmond the ex-Spartans centre half is now acting as trainer for Ashington first team. I am glad to hear that Hughie has made a good impression in his new role, yet it was just the sort of information I could expect, because of having known him as a real enthusiast, with a likeable manner to earn the respect of officials and players met with in his football experience.

Hugh later worked as a fitter/turner in the workshops of Ashington Colliery. Ashington, of course is famous for its footballing sons, Jackie Milburn and Bobby and Jack Charlton. Hugh passed away in Bedlington in 1962.

A great story and a big thank you to Steve Richmond for sharing it with me.

Following last week’s story about Coventry City’s longest drought without a home goal, Mike Young, fellow Former Players Association committee member, was in touch to firm up the record number of minutes without a goal. He tells me that in 1919 City’s drought last 596 minutes. On 4 October Tommy Lowes scored City’s goal in the 1-2 home defeat to Leicester in the 50th minute. There then followed six goalless home games (four of them 0-0) before Billy Walker netted in the 16th minute of the 3-2 Christmas Day victory over Stoke City. City’s recent run that ended in the Derby home game was 413 minutes and we all hope that the 1919 record will never be tested!

If you would like to learn more about the advantages of joining the Association as an Associate Member (£10 per season) please contact the Membership Secretary Mike Young through the website or on 07528016870.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Jim's column 17.9.11

Finally the fans saw a goal for the Sky Blues at the Ricoh Arena. After 413 goalless minutes Lukas Jutkiewicz's 58th minute penalty broke the season’s home duck and was the first home goal since Marlon King's 5th minute effort on Good Friday against Scunthorpe United. In between there had been three goalless home games, two 0-0 draws and the opening day defeat to Leicester (0-1).

413 minutes is a record for the Sky Blues at the Ricoh, topping the previous worst of 361 minutes which occurred over the last four home games of 2006-07 and ended in the first home game of 2007-08, a 1-1 draw with Hull City.

The longest run without a home goal was set in the calamitous first season in the Football League in 1919-20. Then the Bantams, as City were known, failed to score in six successive home games. Goal-times are not available for that season but it will have been at least 540 minutes without a goal, and possibly as many as 600. Gordon Strachan's relegation team of 2001 went pretty close to that unwanted record, failing to score at home in 536 minutes between John Hartson's Easter Monday goal against Sunderland and an own goal by Stuart Pearce of Manchester CIty in mid-September. The run included two goal-less Premiership games (Liverpool and Bradford City) and the first three home games in the lower division (Wolves, Forest and Grimsby) after which the hapless Strachan was sacked.

Tim James emailed to say he found my piece on the lowest City home crowds a couple of weeks ago interesting but wondered if City had had lower crowds than the 12,292 for last season’s Doncaster game at Highfield Road. City’s lowest ever football league crowds at Highfield Road were as follows:

Crystal Palace
Div 3 South
Div 2
Newport County
Div 3 South

Div 2
Hartlepools U
Div 3 North

Div 3 South

Div 3 North

Div 3 South

New Brighton
Div 3 North

Crystal Palace
Div 3 South

*midweek afternoon game

Three of the four lowest were for midweek games played in the afternoon in the era before floodlights, whilst the three small crowds in the 1950s were, if memory is correct, midweek 5.30 kick-offs (so that the game could be completed before dusk).The 4,744 versus Hartlepools United in 1925-26 stands as the lowest Saturday home league crowd. The lowest Saturday crowd of the modern era (i.e. post 1967) was 7,478 against Watford on a miserably wet day in January 1986.

After City left the Premiership in 2001 there were nine league crowds lower than the 12,292 for last season’s Doncaster game:

10,872             Wimbledon      2003-04
11,557             Crewe              2003-04
11,796             Wimbledon      2002-03
11,797             Cardiff              2003-04
11,862             Bradford C      2003-04
11,966             Gillingham        2004-05
12,148             Wigan              2004-05
12,157             Preston            2004-05
12,226             Watford          2003-04

Not surprisingly Wimbledon feature twice – their away followings, which were never large, had dwindled to a handful – and, if memory serves me correctly, Cardiff fans were banned from the 2003-04 game.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Jim's column 10.9.11

Bill Hall emailed me this week with a couple of interesting questions. Firstly, he remembers back in the late 50's, possibly 1959 or 1960) that Coventry had a key promotion game at Highfield Road and just before the game kicked off the loudspeaker announcer asked if Jack Boxley (a City player at the time) was in the ground. Unfortunately he was not, and, a young player appeared on the left wing for the City. Bill wondered if his memory was playing tricks on him and asks if it is true, then what were the circumstances. The game in question was a Third Division game in February 1960 versus Bury. Jack Boxley's car broke down on the way from his home in Bristol to Highfield Road and third team full-back Brian Shepherd had to play in his place. Shepherd had played 20-odd games for the first team, so it wasn't his debut. City lost 0-1 to the Shakers, a defeat which dented their promotion hopes. Bury went on to win promotion to Division Two. I don’t think manager Billy Frith ever forgave Boxley as he rarely played for the club again that season and was released in the close season.

Bill also wanted to know City’s team in the FA Youth Cup final in 1970. In a classic series of games with Tottenham Hotspur, the Sky Blues’ youngsters, coached by 60s star Ron Farmer, unluckily lost in the second replay after each had won their home leg and the first replay at Highfield Road ended all square.
City’s team for the first of the four games was David Icke: Ivan Crossley, Jimmy Holmes, Dennis Mortimer, Alan Dugdale, Bobby Parker, Trevor Smith, Alan Green, Colin Randell, Mick McGuire and Johnny Stevenson. For the second and subsequent games Les Cartwright played in place of Smith.
Tottenham’s team included several players who had either already appeared in the first team or who went on to have notable careers away from White Hart Lane. Steve Perrryman was already a first team squad member and Graeme Souness went on to greater things at Middlesbrough and Liverpool. The centre-forward was Ray Clarke who had a good career in the lower divisions, helping Mansfield put the Sky Blues out of the League Cup in 1975, and later becoming City’s European scout during Gordon Strachan’s reign. 

Last week’s comment about the fact that it had been 343 days since the club last signed an outfield player (between Marlon King and Cody McDonald) prompted fellow City historian Paul O’Connor to send me an email. Whilst he thought the statistic interesting he thought it was a bit disingenuous as we had bought players (Murphy and Dunn) in the meantime. It did however remind him of the stability of the squad in the John Sillett era when he signed Dougie McGuire on 10 August 1988 for £40,000 followed by Keith Thompson on a free transfer from Oviedo in September 1988 (he wasn’t sure of date), but it was not until 28 June 1989 that he bought Peter Billing from Crewe Alexandra for £120,000. He also pointed out that those were the days of unrestricted signings during the season, until the traditional March transfer deadline. This had been the second consecutive season of little transfer activity as 1987-88 only saw the arrival of  David Speedie and Gary Bannister and followed Sillett’s comments on signing Speedie that ‘from now on Coventry City will be shopping at Harrods not Woolworths’.

The subscribers’ list for my new book ‘Sky Blue Revolution’ has now closed but the book can be ordered at . The book will be available in the shops before the end of the month.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Jim's Column 3.9.2011

After all the bad news and poor start to the season the Sky Blues bounced back with a great 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough. It is only the third point out of 24 that City have gained at Boro’s Riverside stadium since it was opened in 1995. Back then City’s briefly exciting Brazilian (with a Portuguese passport), Isaias, became the first opposition player to score there but City lost 1-2. Since then City have also travelled there twice in Cup competitions and come home empty handed. The result also ended Boros’ excellent run of five victories and credit is due to Andy Thorn and his team for a gutsy display. Tony Mowbray’s team have picked where they left off last season and now have only lost once in 17 games. The former West Brom and Celtic boss is doing an excellent job after Gordon Strachan's disastrous reign at Boro. Like City Boro are now forced to sell their best players to make ends meet in the Championship but thankfully for them they have a fine array of homegrown talent to fall back on.

Michael Mifsud was back in the news again recently, for finally signing a long-term contract for a club. The diminutive Maltese striker who made such a strong impression at Coventry City in 2007-08 when he netted 17 league and cup goals has signed a four-year deal with Maltese club Valetta. Steve Nichols from Canley sent me this picture taken of Mifsud and the following week MM celebrated his good fortune by scoring both goals for his country in their 2-1 win over Central African Republic. I wonder if Michael reflects on his time in England and wishes he had re-signed for City when he had the chance in the summer of 2009 or joined Bristol City or Sheffield United that same year when he had what sounded like attractive offers on the table. Stories at the time suggested either he or his agent (or both of them) jettisoned the move by asking for too much money. Whatever happened Mifsud has spent almost two year in the wilderness but strangely still been selected for the Malta national team for whom he is the captain.

Few Coventry fans will remember Michael O’Neill a left-winger who made six appearances for the club between 1996-1998. His City career was blighted by injury and he never reproduced the form that earned him 33 Northern Ireland full caps. His managerial career has been slowly developing and last week he took his team, Shamrock Rovers to the group stages of the Europa League by virtue of a two-leg win over Partizan Belgrade.

For some years now those City fans who track down former players have tried in vain to find any information about Harry Bull, who played for Coventry City just after the Second world war. During the summer it came to light that Harry had died in Nottingham aged 80 on 4 April 2006. Harry’s story is one that has always touched me. Although born in Birmingham he was the son of a chef who moved to Nottingham where Harry grew up. A Nottingham friend of his, Dennis Daft, was invited to Coventry for a trial and Harry, just out of the Navy, and another friend, Peter Taylor, later to play for City and be Brian Clough’s number two at Derby and Forest, came along for the ride. Dick Hill, the Coventry trainer, saw Harry standing watching the trial match and asked him if he wanted to join in. Harry did well and was signed up by City whilst Dennis got the thumbs down and returned to Nottingham heartbroken. Harry only played one first team game for City at centre forward in the final game of 1948-49 season. He suffered a leg injury which curtailed his career at City and in 1950 he moved to Rugby Town. He worked in the maintenance department at Boots in Nottingham and subsequently became a milkman with Nottingham Dairies until his retirement in 1990.

As I write this it seems likely that the Sky Blues have signed an outfield player, Cody McDonald from Norwich City. Nick Cook emailed me to point out that it had been 343 days since the club last signed an outfield player and surely that was a record. Other than goalkeepers Joe Murphy and Chris Dunn, Marlon King was the last signing, last September. I am sure it must be a record, other than in wartime.