Sunday, 14 October 2012

Jim's column 13.10.2012

                                                        Stan Smith

It is sad to report the death of former Coventry City player Stan Smith who passed away last Saturday at the age of 87.

Born in Coventry on 24 February 1925 Stan attended South Street School and Cheylesmore School and was a talented rugby player as well as excelling at the round ball game. In 1942, aged 17, whilst playing for Nuffield Mechanisation, he was spotted by a Coventry City scout and invited to play a couple of wartime games for the club. With many first team players in the armed forces the club often played promising youngsters from local football and Stan did not disappoint, playing right half in home victories over Walsall & Northampton Town.

Stan’s cousin, Rob Smith, told me about Stan’s wartime experience. Stan joined the Navy in 1943 and trained as a telegraphist or ‘spark’. He was on board the American-built aircraft carrier HMS Nabob on escort duties in the North Atlantic escorting troop and cargo convoys. After further duties in the North Sea supporting coastal attacks on Norway, HMS Nabob was assigned to find and sink the German super battleship Tirpitz (Operation Goodwood). On August 22nd 1944 while returning from a strike on Tirpitz, HMS Nabob was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Barents Sea and sustained heavy damaged with 21 killed and many injured. In spite of a further attack by the same U-boat she managed to steam into Scapa Flow under her own power, however the ship was judged not worth repairing and was decommissioned.

Stan then joined HMS Hunter and took part in the reoccupation of Malaya and Singapore from the Japanese. In particular she provided air support in the Andaman Sea hunting the cruiser Haguro, one of the last surviving major Japanese warships, which was eventually sunk off Sumatra trying to return to Singapore.  HMS Hunter entered Singapore harbour on September 10th 1945 and Stan fondly told the story that he was the telegraphist who took the message that the Japanese had surrendered and was given the honour of personally informing the captain.
On demob from the Navy Stan signed professional forms with City but could not break into the first team owing to the form of right-half Jack Snape. Then on 10 September 1947 he got his first team debut in a 1-3 defeat at West Brom and made 27 first team appearances in Billy Frith’s Second Division side that season, either at right or left-half. During that time he faced some of the top players of the era including Len Shackleton and Jackie Milburn (Newcastle) and Alf Ramsey (Southampton). His cousin Rob tells me that Stan told the story of his meeting with Shackleton, one of the most talented players of the period. ‘Shack’, who had been shadowed everywhere by Smith went up to Stan at the final whistle and said: ‘I’m going to have a bath now, are you going to follow me in there too?’

Stan only made four appearances the following season but was a regular in a strong reserve team until 1950 when he joined Swansea Town. He failed to win a place at Vetch Field and was soon reunited with his old City boss Billy Frith who was manager at Stafford Rangers. In early 1951 however he was back in the Coventry area and signing for Nuneaton Borough. Over the next four years he made around 150 appearances for Borough and he was captain of the side that pulled off a major FA Cup shock in 1953, defeating Third Division Watford 3-0. In the next round they held QPR to a 1-1 draw at Loftus Road but lost the replay 1-2 at Manor Park in front of 13,000 fans. Later that season Stan returned to Highfield Road as ‘Boro’ were guests in a floodlight friendly, losing 0-4. His final game for the ‘Boro’ was in 1955 when he suffered concussion in a game against Brierley Hill. It is believed he may have played for Bedworth Town after this time.

In later years Stan became an FA Coach and had success at Nuneaton, Coventry City (with the B & C teams) and coached on many FA courses. He also qualified as a physiotherapist and ran a practice from his home for many years as well as continuing his involvement with local football.  He leaves a widow Stella. Stan’s funeral is to be held at Canley Crematorium on Monday 22 October at 1.30 pm. Many thanks to Rob Smith and Scott Renshaw for their help in piecing together Stan’s life.

According to Geoff Moore Bournemouth goalkeeper David James became the oldest player to appear at the Ricoh Arena last Saturday. James, who was 42 in August, beats the previous record holder Teddy Sheringham, who was 41 when he played (and was sent off) for Colchester in 2007. Despite playing most of his career in the top division James has played against the Sky Blues on 20 occasions with five different clubs (Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham, Bristol City & Bournemouth). Amazingly he was on the losing side against City at Anfield on three occasions, most memorably in 1995 when Peter Ndlovu scored a hat-trick and in 1997 when his failure to catch two corners resulted in late goals for Dublin & Whelan. He was also in goal for Villa on the day that City were relegated from the Premiership in 2001. James, who started his career Watford actually appeared at Highfield Road in 1985 in a Youth Cup game for the Hornets.

The Sky Blues safely overcame York City in the Johnstone Paints Trophy, winning 4-0 at Bootham Crescent, the first time they have scored four goals in a game since October 2008 when they defeated Southampton 4-1 at the Ricoh.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Jim's Column 6.10.12

Coventry City finally won a league game at Boundary Park, Oldham on Saturday with a late Cody McDonald goal. It was City’s first league victory since the last Saturday in March (at Hull) and came after 14 games without a win – the worst run since the dreadful spring of 2003 when Gary McAllister’s team of loanees and raw youngsters went 16 matches without victory.

Oldham’s pitiful attendance of 4,022 was evidence how far the Sky Blues have fallen in recent years – the lowest league crowd to watch City since 2002 when 2,077 rattled around Selhurst Park watching a 1-0 City win over Wimbledon. Gates at Oldham have never been massive – when City played there three times in the Premiership/Division 1 in the early 1990s there were never more than 12,500 present – but in January 1964 they attracted 20,000 for a midweek game against Jimmy Hill’s Sky Blues. City’s players must have found it strange, going from playing in front of 58,000 at the Emirates to 4,000 at Boundary Park.

Gary McSheffrey reached a major milestone at Oldham, making his 250th first team appearance for his home town club. He became only the 29th  player in the club’s history to reach the figure and he is now level with the great Clarrie Bourton and close to overtaking Dave Clements (257) and Lloyd McGrath (258) in the all time list. He is also now up to tenth in the all-time City scoring lists having netted 70 goals in all competitions and is close to overtaking Dion Dublin (72) and George Hudson (75).

Next Tuesday the Sky Blues travel to York City’s Bootham Crescent in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – their first visit to the ground since August 1959 when 9,400 watched City gain a 1-1 draw thanks to a Jack Boxley goal. That was one of only two league visits City have made to the small ground in the shadow of York Minster. City’s most famous visit was an FA Cup third round visit in 1938 when they were joint top of the old Division Two (and the bookies favourites to get promotion) having lost only twice in 22 games. The Minstermen, languishing in the lower half of Division Three North pulled off the shock of the day beating the Bantams 3-2 in front of what was a record crowd at Bootham of 13,917. Somehow I doubt there will be that many in the ground next Tuesday.

Richard Whitehead was intrigued by my story of Tamworth born ex-City goalkeeper Horace Pearson the other week. Richard, a Villa fan who writes for the Times, hails from Wilnecote near Tamworth and reminded me that in the 1931 FA Cup final (Birmingham v West Brom) both goalkeepers hailed from Tamworth. The legendary international ‘keeper Harry Hibbs was between the posts for the Blues and Harold Pearson (Horace’s cousin) was in goal for the Baggies.