Sunday, 15 January 2012

Jim's column 14.1.12

                                          Jim McInally on the day he signed for the Sky Blues

The honour of playing in the 1987 replica shirts did little to inspire the current Coventry City team to great heights and the club’s FA Cup run ended with a wimper almost before it had started. Since the club moved to the Ricoh Arena in 2005 City have won only four of the ten home FA cup ties, losing five of them, a pitiful record and a far cry from the excellent FA Cup record at Highfield Road. Between 1972 and 2005 the Sky Blues lost only four of 41 home ties in the competition. It is a similar story in the League Cup with two wins and three defeats since the move to Longford seven years ago. Years ago Birmingham City fans used to say St Andrews was cursed by a gypsy – I am beginning to wonder if the Ricoh is cursed because City seem incapable of beating all but the poorest sides there.

The Cup defeat at the hands of the Saints, the second of the season against a well-marshalled but hardly outstanding Championship side, means the Sky Blues have only reached the fifth round of the trophy twice in eleven seasons – a dreadful record when the club’s overall FA Cup history is considered. Over a hundred years ago the club carved out a giant-killing reputation by reaching the quarter-finals as a non-league side, beating two First Division clubs on the way, which was talked about in the city for years. Then in 1963 Jimmy Hill’s team sparked the Sky Blue Revolution by reaching the last eight as a Third Division club. Even under Iain Dowie and Chris Coleman the club pulled off shocks in the Cup competitions – frankly, it is hard to see the current side pulling off any shocks anywhere, whether in league or cup. One consequence of relegation this season would be City having to start their FA Cup campaign at the First Round stage for the first time since 1963-64. More potential banana skins for our beloved team!

Dean Nelson alerted me to two former City players plying their trade as managers in Scotland. Dean spotted former City defender Jim McInally as manager of Third Division Peterhead who faced Celtic in the Scottish Cup last week. City bought Jim from Nottingham Forest in 1986. He was one of three signings manager Don Mackay was allowed to make after the sale of Terry Gibson to Manchester United. The blond full-back played only five games in a City shirt and was never on the winning side. He is best remembered for scoring the best headed own goal I've ever seen in a 0-3 defeat at Arsenal. When John Sillett & George Curtis took over they managed to sell him and fellow Scot Dave Bowman to Dundee United, where they both had successful careers. Within a year Jim won the first of 10 Scottish caps and between 1986 and 1995 went on to play almost 300 games for Dundee United. Since retiring in 1999 Jim has been a coach at Celtic and manager at Irish club Sligo Rovers, Greenock Morton, East Stirling and since October Peterhead. Sadly his team failed to make an impression on the mighty Celtic and lost 0-3.

The other ex-City man managing north of the border is Colin Cameron. Former Scottish international Colin spent the 2006-07 season at the Ricoh after joining on a free transfer from Wolves but was released in 2007 whereupon he joined MK Dons. He returned to Scotland in 2008 and appeared for Dundee and Arbroath before joining Cowdenbeath as player/assistant manager in 2010. Last summer he was promoted to player-manager after Jimmy Nicholl left to join Kilmarnock and is doing a great job as Cowdenbeath are top of Division Two and have lost only twice all season. Despite being 39 years old, Colin has been a regular in the team and on 2 January scored his first goal of the season in the 4-0 thumping of East Fife. Last weekend his team gave Premier League Hibs a fright in the Cup before going down 2-3.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Jim's column 7.1.12

                                                 Lee Hurst, debutant at The Dell in 1991

It’s FA Cup Third Round day but sadly what was once one of the most exciting days in the domestic football calendar is now a mere shadow of its former self with so many clubs putting out weakened sides. The fans have got wise to it of course and gates at FA Cup ties this weekend will continue the downward trend see for the last 10-15 years. The decline in attendances is largely to do with the fact that clubs have such a large number of season ticket holders these days. Most clubs charge their season ticket holders extra for cup games and many supporters cannot afford £20 plus in the week after Christmas. City’s home gates in the competition in recent years bear this out. The big clubs may show little respect for the famous old competition but fans of lower division clubs will turn out in force when they get a smell of a Cup upset. Just last season only 8,000 turned out at the Ricoh for the Crystal Palace third round tie, less than half the crowd a week earlier when QPR were in town. But three weeks later over 5,000 City fans travelled to St Andrews for the fourth round tie. I read that Andy Morrell’s Wrexham are taking over 2,000 fans to Brighton for their big day out. Similarly I would expect Salisbury City, Tamworth and Stevenage to have the biggest away followings in their history for plum ties at Sheffield United, Everton and Reading respectively. The romance of the FA Cup lives on!

Today’s gate against Southampton will be affected by the Save Our City-organised protest but unless there is a sizeable following from the South Coast I wouldn’t expect the crowd to be much higher than last season’s Palace gate.

City and the Saints have been drawn against each other three times previously in the competition and Saints have the edge having progressed twice to City’s once. It is exactly 100 years ago that City won the first FA Cup encounter, 2-0 at the Dell. ‘Boxer’ Turnbull and Harry Parkes scored the goals in front of a 12,500 crowd. City, who had a reputation as giantkilling in those days, by virtue of their famous 1910 Cup run, were rewarded with a plum home tie with First Division Manchester United but in front of a 17,000 Highfield Road crowd were thumped 5-1.

The second encounter with the Saints came in the first round in 1959 when the clubs were vying with each other for promotion from Division Three. City failed to capitalise on home advantage and were held 1-1 and got a 5-1 hammering in the replay at the Dell. It was a similar story on the last occasion the clubs were drawn against each other, in the fourth round in 1991. An Alan Shearer penalty cancelled out a Brian Kilcline goal in a 1-1 draw at Highfield Road and an injury-hit Sky Blues travelled to the Dell more in hope than conviction. Missing key players Trevor Peake, Paul Edwards, David Speedie and Kevin Gallacher, they were further hampered by an early injury to Steve Ogrizovic. Goals from Jimmy Case and Rod Wallace sent Saints through to round five but City were lucky to get away with only a two-goal defeat. One City youngster, midfielder Lee Hurst, made his debut as a substitute that night, coming on to play out of position at left back.

The defeat at West Ham made it 14 away league games without a victory for the Sky Blues and some readers wondered if a record was getting close. The club record is 28 away games without a win set over two seasons between January 1924 and April 1925. The latter season, 1924-25, saw City relegated from Division Two – hope that’s not an omen. The post-war record is 25 set between November 1954 and December 1955, whilst the worst run since relegation from the Premiership was 16 between March and December 2005 when Micky Adams was in charge.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Jim's column 31.12.11

                                                        The donkey-kick outlawed in 1971.

Andy Thorn’s Sky Blues finally came good on Monday with a heart-warming Christmas victory over Bristol City thanks to Gary Deegan’s second half goal. Today sees the final game in what has been the most miserable year in the club’s Football League history. Monday’s victory was only the seventh League victory of the year and another win is required over Brighton today if we are to avoid the club record low for a year. A win would take the points total for the year to 40. In 2003 Gary McAllister’s team managed eight wins from 46 games and accumulated 42 points.

Before City were relegated from the Premier League in 2001 they had an outstanding Christmas home record. In the 48 years between 1953 and 2001 only five sides lowered City’s colours at Highfield Road in games played between Christmas Eve and New Years Day. In that time City played almost forty games. The victors were:

1979-80            Nottm Forest  0-3
1981-82            West Brom    0-2
1984-85            West Ham     1-2
1985-86            Ipswich            0-1
1994-95            Tottenham        0-4

No visiting side won at the famous old ground between 1953 and 1979 and there were some memorable Christmas games including the 5-4 over Norwich in 1977, the 3-2 wins over Manchester United (1997) and Arsenal (1999) and the famous 3-0 battering of Aston Villa in 1992.

Since 2001 however City’s excellent Christmas form has deserted them and of twelve home games in eleven seasons the Bristol win was only the fifth victory with five defeats and two draws.

The victory ended a terrible run of results, eleven games without a win. That run equalled the poor run at the end of the 2009-10 season which cost Chris Coleman his job but is not the worst in recent memory. In 2003 City went 16 games without a win straddling the 2002-03 season and the start of the following season.

Bemoaning City’s dreadful position George Ling emailed asking what the record lowest points total is in the Championship. I haven’t got all my record books to hand but can confirm that the lowest total since the division was increased to 24 clubs (and therefore 46 games) in the late 1980s, was 26 by Stockport County in 2001-02. By coincidence that season Stockport were the first club City met after being relegated from the Premiership – City won 2-0 at Edgeley Park. In 1983-84 Cambridge United finished bottom of the old Division Two with 24 points from 42 games.

Welsh club Bangor City’s historian Huw Pritchard was in touch with me recently after discovering a programme of a game between Bangor and the Sky Blues from 1971. He wanted information about the friendly game played on 17 May and I was able to furnish him with some details.

City lined up as follows: Eric McManus: Jimmy Holmes, Chris Cattlin, Ernie Machin, Bill Asprey, Brian Alderson, Ernie Hunt, Billy Rafferty, John O'Rourke, Willie Carr, Dennis Mortimer. Asprey, a former Stoke City defender, was City’s first team coach at the time.

Bangor, then a top non-league side playing in the Northern Premier league, strengthened their side by including several guests from the First Division. Manchester United’s Shay Brennan, Manchester City’s Tony Book, Liverpool’s Ron Yeats and former England captain Jimmy Armfield (Blackpool) evened up the teams and helped Bangor to a 4-2 victory. Their goals were scored by McGowan, Conde and Fleming (2) while Rafferty and O’Rourke replied in front of an estimated 5,000 crowd. According to match reports Willie Carr and Ernie Hunt attempted the donkey-kick, possibly for the last time in a public match before it was outlawed that summer.