Sunday, 27 January 2013

Jim's column 26.1.2013

The fate of Coventry City's season could hinge on the next three games. The three home wins in 10 days have got the Sky Blues' faithful dreaming of a Wembley final and a possible play-off position. Someone asked me when City last won three home games in such a short period and I made a trawl through the records. In 1973, under Gordon Milne, they won three in 11 dayside early September. Then you have to go back to the early 1950s when there was always a glut of fixtures around Easter. In 1955 City won three home games in nine days but the best I could find was in 1954 when they won three Division Three South games in seven days. On Easter Tuesday (20th April) City beat Southampton 2-1 (goals from Gordon Nutt & Don Dorman), the following Saturday Bristol City were beaten 3-0 (Dorman & Eddie Brown 2) and two days later, in the final game of the season Norwich were beaten 1-0 (Nutt).

The Sky Blues now have two tough away league games followed by the home leg of the JPT (or Football League Trophy) against Crewe Alexandra. Today they travel to play their long standing nemesis, Preston North End at Deepdale, a ground they have never won a league game in 15 visits going back to 1949. They did manage a famous FA Cup win in 1909, as a Southern League side, and a League Cup win in 2000 but have always failed in league games, even in the momentous 1966-67 promotion season when they slipped up 3-2.  Things have also never been easy at home against Proud Preston and City have failed to beat their bogey team in the last four league meetings at the Ricoh with this season's games in League and JPT marred by physical and verbal intimidation from Graham Westley and his team.

Then, on Friday night, the team go to Bramall Lane to face many people's pre-season favourites for promotion. The Blades have slipped up badly in their last two home games, losing to Hartlepool and Yeovil, but have still only lost four league games all season. City's record there is mixed but they have won only once in their last eight visits, two seasons ago when a Gary McSheffrey goal was sufficient to take the points. Nothing less than four points from the two games will be good enough to keep those play-off hopes alive.

Those three home wins have included a rare occurrence for the Sky Blues - injury-time winners. James Bailey's 94th minute effort against Oldham, followed Leon Clarke's 94th minute winner in the JPT against Preston. In recent seasons City have been vulnerable in the added time - last season they lost in added time at Palace, Blackpool and at home to Burnley and Ipswich. They did however score injury-time winners against Leeds and Barnsley, the first since a Kevin Kyle late goal in a 2-1 win at QPR in 2007. Before that you have to go back to a Lee Hughes 92nd minute winner at home to Norwich in 2002. Suddenly however City have become masters at late goals; in addition to the two recent goals, Cody scored the winner at Oldham as the fourth official prepared the board and McGoldrick's third at Stevenage was in injury-time.

My appeal on behalf of Jot Shirley for a copy of the original Sky Blue Song was successful and Jot received an mp3 version of Ted Heath’s version from David Whitlock. Jot asked me to thank all those who responded. He also tells me he thinks he may have found a copy on CD as well. It appears on an album 'Decca Singles and Rarities volume 4'. Track 10 is 'Eaton Boating Song'. The title is mis-spelt but after listening to a 30-second sample on the Internet he thinks this is the track. He thinks the 'B' side on the original vinyl single was called 'Telegoon Toon' which also appears on the CD.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Jim's column 19.1.2013

Two excellent home wins in a week have ensured that the Sky Blues continue to compete on two fronts.  Last week's exciting Johnstone's Paint Trophy (or Football League Trophy) Northern Semi final win over Preston ensured the club reached the last four of a Cup competition for the first time since 1990 (I'm not counting the Birmingham Senior Cup or the FA Youth Cup). In 1990 John Sillett's team reached the semi final of the League Cup only to lose a two legged tie to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. The tie was settled in a thrilling first leg at the City Ground where a controversial penalty and a disputed second goal gave Forest a 2-1 victory, Steve Livingstone scoring for the City. A dour 0-0 at Highfield Road ensured Forest reached Wembley final for the second season running where they beat Oldham Athletic 1-0.

Two years earlier the Sky Blues had reached the semi final of the Simod Trophy and were the bookmaker's favourites to reach Wembley for the second season running as they faced lowly second division side Reading. The game, at Reading's old ground, Elm Park, ended 1-1 after 120 minutes and the Royals triumphed in a penalty shoot-out.

Several people asked me when City last scored two goals in injury time. The only occurrence I can recall in the modern era is an FA Cup tie at Leicester's Filbert Street in 1999. At 90 minutes the Sky Blues were hanging on to a 1-0 lead but injury time goals from Paul Telfer and Steve Froggatt gave a final 3-0 score line. I don't think City have ever scored twice in injury time to turn a losing game to a winning one before last week.

Now City are just a two-legged tie with Crewe Alexandra away from a trip to Wembley. Crewe's record in Coventry is poor - they have won only once in 10 visits and have lost eight of those games. Conversely City have a poor record in visits to the railway town. Their only victory was a 6-1 win in 2001-02 when Lee Hughes netted what was City's last away hat trick and they have lost their last four games at Gresty Road.

Six days after progressing in the JPT the Sky Blues returned to the Ricoh to put up arguably their best home performance of the season to defeat Tranmere, the league leaders. The Sky Blues' home form has been poor this season and a place in the play-offs will only be achieved if the majority of the remaining home games yield three points. I scoured the records for previous instances of the Sky Blues beating the league leaders and I believe the last time was in February 2009 when Wolves came to the Ricoh at the top of the Championship. Goals from Michael Doyle and Leon McKenzie gave City a 2-1 win with Sam Vokes replying for the visitors. Over 21,000 watched the game and saw Keiron Westwood save an injury time penalty from Ebanks-Blake. In 1997 City beat Premiership leaders Manchester United 3-2 at Highfield Road and in 1983 Bobby Gould's Sky Blues beat First Division leaders Liverrpool in a game remembered for a Terry Gibson hat trick.

George Ling wanted to know the club's record gate for a reserve game and the highest position the reserve team achieved.  The all-time record crowd for a home reserve game is 12,132 v QPR for a Football Combination game in 1964-65. The 1-0 win virtually assured City's reserves of promotion to Division 1 of the Combination, a reserve league for Southern clubs.  That attendance beat the previous record of 11,700 set in 1936 v Arsenal. This was the first home game of the season and the new 'promotion' stand (the old main stand which burned down in 1968) was seen for the first time but not used.

The highest average gate for reserve games was, I believe, set in 1965-66 when the average attendance was 6,342. In 1968 City joined the Central League (for Northern club's reserve teams) and in their second home game there was a crowd of 10,302 for the visit of Manchester United. I think this is the third highest reserve crowd of all time.

On the question of highest positions, the reserves were runners up in the Birmingham & District League in 1912-13, third two seasons running in the London Combination (1937-38 & 1938-39), 2nd in the Football Combination Division 2 in 1953-54 and again in 1964-65, and 2nd in the Central League in 1973-74 and 1979-80. On the basis that the Central League was always considered to be a stronger league than the Football Combination then the two second places in the 1970s are probably the highest achievements in reserve team history.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Jim's column 12.1.2013

                                                    George Stewart

Goal machine David McGoldrick left Coventry City last week after one of the finest goalscoring runs ever by a Coventry City player. In his three-month loan from Nottingham Forest he netted 16 league goals and two more in the JPT. His league goals make him the highest City scorer in a season since Dion Dublin in the 1997-98 season (that saw him finish as the joint leading scorer, with Michael Owen), in the Premiership and he did it in only 22 games. In the last 45 years only four players have scored more league goals in a season for the Sky Blues (Dublin, Ian Wallace, Terry Gibson and Mickey Quinn). McGoldrick’s scoring ratio is a phenomenal 0.72 and only bettered by three players in the club’s history. In 1933-34 Clarrie Bourton was injured and his stand-in Arthur ‘Rasher’ Bacon scored 16 goals in 14 games before the great man returned to the side. Bacon only played two more games over the next two seasons, scoring one further goal – overall scoring at a rate of 1.06 goals per game. In 1962-63 Terry Bly netted 25 goals in 32 league games (a ratio of 0.78) before Jimmy Hill controversially dropped him in favour of George Hudson. The third is Bourton himself who over a six-season career at Highfield Road scored 173 goals in 228 league games for a ratio of 0.76. By virtue of his longevity Bourton’s record is the most impressive but McGoldrick will be fondly remembered by City fans for many years to come.

Talking of impressive goalscorers I have just discovered the sad news that former City centre-forward George Stewart died in June 2011 aged 84. Stewart hailed from Buckie, a small fishing village in the North of Scotland, and as a teenager was playing for Buckie Thistle when he earned the nickname ‘seven-goal Stewart’ after scoring seven goals in consecutive games. Dundee spotted him and over the next eight years he built a formidable reputation in Scotland scoring goals for Dundee, and St Mirren, where he was leading scorer four seasons running. In 1954 he was in a contract dispute with St Mirren and signed for non-league Worcester City. Once the dispute was resolved he joined Accrington Stanley for £3,000 and became one of the most prolific scorers in the Football League. In four years at Peel Park the nippy striker scored 136 goals in 182 appearances as Stanley had their most successful period ever. The non-smoking teetotaller, George broke all of Stanley’s scoring records including five goals in a 6-2 win over Gateshead in 1954.

After Billy Frith signed him for Coventry in November 1958 he continued scoring and his partnership with Ray Straw helped City out of Division Four at the first attempt. He scored 15 goals in 25 games that season including four in City’s 6-1 win at Carlisle in February 1959 – the club’s biggest post-war away win (We could do with a similar result tomorrow!).

During the 1959-60 season he suffered an injury and lost his place to Ken Satchwell. In 1960 he joined Carlisle before returning to Buckie Thistle a year later. He retired from playing in 1962 and worked as a ship’s chandler and for a local draper in Buckie for many years.

Many words have already been written about City’s tremendous JPT victory over bogey-side Preston. Playing on a Thursday is a very unusual experience for Coventry City. Other than when Boxing Day or New Year’s Day fell on a Thursday, this was the first home game on a Thursday since 1985, and only the fifth time since the war. In 1985 City had a fixture backlog owing to a flu bug around Easter that caused several postponements. City were left needing to win their last three games to avoid relegation and the penultimate game was at home to Luton Town on Thursday 23 May. A late Brian Kilcline goal ensured City’s relegation battle went to the final game, at home to champions Everton on the following Sunday (which they won 4-1). The most famous Thursday game was probably the 2-2 draw with Bristol City in 1977, a result which ensured both clubs avoided relegation at the expense of Sunderland who lost 0-2 at Everton on the same night. Many Sunderland fans still hold a grudge against City and the then chairman, Jimmy Hill, for flashing the Sunderland score on the scoreboard and prompting the teams to stop playing.

Jot Shirley has been in touch regarding the Sky Blue Song. A long-serving City fan, Jot is trying to obtain a copy of the original recording of the song– believed to be by the Ted Heath Orchestra. It was issued as a 45 rpm single in the 1960s but Jot has been unable to trace the song on the internet. If anybody can help Jot, please drop me an email.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Jim's column 5.1.2013

Happy New Year to all my readers. Here’s hoping the Sky Blues’ recent form continues into 2013 and that the skies over Coventry are brighter than in the last few years.

Before Christmas I commented on City’s amazing away form and that continued over the Christmas programme and City have now won six consecutive away league games – smashing the four game record run set in 1963 and equalled in 1992 and 2004. The wins over Stevenage and MK Dons were especially satisfying in that in both games the team came from behind to win – for the first time in away games since September 2009 at Watford. That night City won 3-2 thanks to a late Leon Best goal. At Milton Keynes they twice came from behind to win – something unheard of since an opening day Premiership victory over Chelsea in 1997!

The away form is a fitting reward to the Sky Blue Army who follow City away and have had to put up with some dire away form in the last three seasons. City’s away followings are 40% higher this season with an average of over 1200 following the massive turnout of 4,988 at MK – the highest away league following since the Villa Park funeral in 2001.  Before this season the long-suffering Sky Blue Army had seen just 16 away league wins in four seasons (92 games) and to date this season they have witnessed seven wins out of 13 plus two cup wins and seen just one defeat (at Brentford) since Mark Robins arrived in October.

Sadly the home form still gives cause for concern and Shrewsbury provided the banana skin on New Years Day, completing an unlikely double with their first away win of the season and their first ever victory in Coventry not to mention ending a 10-game unbeaten run – the best by a City side for ten years. The Shrews had previously drawn four and lost eight of their games at Highfield Road, including a 8-1 hammering in October 1963 – the last time City scored more than six in a league game. City’s home league form is very poor with only three wins in 13 games and a big improvement will be necessary if a serious play-off challenge is going to be made.

Another record went west on New Years Day; the Sky Blues had scored in 24 consecutive league and cup games and were heading for the club record of 29 set in the 1966-67 promotion season. The run was however the second best of all-time.

People have been asking if promotion is a realistic option this season and I have looked at the last ten season’s statistics for League One. To finish in the top two automatic places has historically required 83 or more points. On two occasions in those ten years the second placed team required less (77 in 2005-06 and 80 in 2004-05) but last season, in a steel city scramble, Sheffield Wednesday needed 91 to pip the Blades into second place. To reach 85 points say, City would require 48 points from their remaining 20 games or 15 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats. That, to me, sounds a tall order. A more realistic challenge would be for a top six place to go into the play-offs. In the last ten years 71 points has been sufficient to get sixth place on four occasions but in 2003 you needed 81 points and in 2010 80 points. The average to clinch a top six place seems to be around 75 points and City would need a further 38 points from 20 games or 11 wins and five draws. A top six place would require a mammoth effort from Mark Robins’ team.

Thanks to fellow City historian Lionel Bird for his assistance over the question of the nickname ‘Oysters’ used in the original Sky Blue Song. I was under the impression that the Oysters was an old nickname for Colchester United which had been superceded by the nickname the Us. But it turns out that an earlier amateur club in the town, Colchester Town formed in October 1873, had the nickname the Oysters and were the original tenants of Layer Road.  Town folded in December 1937 but for a short time had co-existed with Colchester United who were formed in March 1937 and adopted the nickname the Us from the very beginning.  It appears that both clubs were independent of each other with United never being referred to as the Oysters.  The mystery now is that when the words to the Sky Blue song were penned by Messrs Hill and Camkin in 1962 were they mistaken about the nickname of Colchester United or did they just prefer Oysters to the Us?