Monday, 14 November 2011

Jim's Column 12.11.11

Coventry City’s poor form continued last week with a home defeat to the league leaders Southampton. Even with the club’s diverse recent records this was still a surprise to me as City have a tremendous record against the Saints. Saturday’s match was the 55th league encounter between the two clubs in Coventry and the victory was only Saints’ seventh win in the city, and the first since the opening day of the season in 1999.  Between 1950 and 1987 the Saints travelled to Highfield Road for 26 league encounters and failed to win a single game with City winning eighteen games including heavy defeats in Saints’ two promotion seasons 1959-60 (4-1) and 1965-66 (5-1). The latter being the momentous game when George Hudson scored his memorable goal by flicking the ball over Saints’ centre-half Tony Knapp and racing around the statuesque stopper to volley home.

Now the Saints are setting the pace in the Championship with an interesting blend of experienced players and youth from one of the most productive youth schemes in the country that in recent years has helped fund the club’s revival with sales of starlets like Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Another City youngster made his debut as a substitute last weekend. Jordan Willis is just a couple of months past his 17th birthday but his appearance in a first-team shirt earns him a place in the top ten youngest City debutants which now reads thus:-

1. Jonson Clark-Harris (Aug 2010) 16 years 20 days
2. Ben Mackey (Apr 2003) 16 years 167 days
3. Gary McSheffrey (Apr 1999) 16 years 198 days
4. Brian Hill (Apr 1958) 16 years 273 days
5. Isaac Osbourne (Apr 2003) 16 years 308 days
6. Perry Suckling (Aug 1982) 16 years 320 days
7. George Curtis (Apr 1956) 16 years 351 days
8. Dietmar Bruck (Apr 1961) 17 years 9 days
9. Conor Thomas (Jan 2011) 17 years 71 days
10=. Jordan Willis (Nov 2011) 17 years 73 days
10=. Colin Holder (Apr 1962) 17 years 73 days

Coventry-born Jordan, who is one day younger than Conor Thomas when Conor made his debut as a substitute against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup in January, is the third youngster to join the top 10 in the last fifteen months.

Jim Ridley wrote to me recently and remembers that in the 1970s he watched Northern Ireland play a full international against Portugal at Highfield Road. He cannot remember the details and asked me to refresh his memory and tell him if the great Eusebio played for Portugal.

The game, a World Cup qualifying game, was played at Highfield Road on 28 March 1973.  The civil unrest in Northern Ireland at the time forced the Irish Football Association to seek alternative venues for their home games and this was the first game played outside the province. The Irish team featured several famous names including Tottenham’s world-class goalkeeper Pat Jennings, former City midfielder Dave Clements, who had left City eighteen months earlier to join Sheffield Wednesday, and Martin O’Neill of Nottingham Forest who would later become a very successful manager with Leicester and Celtic. Sadly George Best had announced his international retirement and did not play. The Portuguese, whilst not the force they had been at the 1966 World Cup, were favourites to qualify from a group that also included Bulgaria and Cyprus, the latter had severely dented Northern Ireland’s chances by beating them in Cyprus a month earlier. Two stars of the 1966 Portugal team were still in the team, Eusebio, the star striker and Simoes, a classy winger in his day. Eusebio scored a penalty equalising O’Neill’s earlier goal and the game, watched by a crowd of 11,273, ended 1-1. Later the Irish played internationals at Fulham’s Craven Cottage, Hillsborough, Anfield and Goodison Park.

On 16 March 1968 two brothers were taken to Highfield Road for the younger one’s birthday treat to watch the Sky Blues play Manchester United for the first time in the First Division. The younger brother Paul Moses was a United fan and emailed me with his memories of the game. They were on the terraces and as the crowd got bigger and bigger (the attendance was 47,111, the second highest in the club’s history) the police allowed children on to the running track. City won a memorable 2-0 victory over the Reds who were three games away from lifting the European Cup but whose supporters blamed the defeat on a long midweek trip to Poland. The result was a crucial one for both clubs as City eventually avoided relegation by just one point whilst United were pipped at the Championship post by their Manchester rivals by two points. A different outcome that day would have relegated City and handed the title to United.

Paul and his brother Peter wanted to know City’s line up from that game. It was as follows:

Glazier: Bruck, Cattlin, Machin, Setters, Clements, Hannigan, Hunt, Martin, Tudor, Carr.  Ernie Hunt and Chris Cattlin made their debuts for the Sky Blues and Ernie Machin and Maurice Setters scored City’s goals.

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