On Tuesday evening Coventry City will run out to a crowd approaching 30,000 for their JPT Northern Area final first leg tie with Crewe Alexandra. Although the match is already a sell-out for Coventry fans, the final attendance is difficult to predict because of Crewe’s unsold allocation of tickets and how many seats will be unavailable because of segregation. We do know that City have sold ‘over 28,000’ tickets and that means that a new record will be almost certainly be set for the competition for a non-final match. The record, 29,901, was set two years ago at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium for their area final with MK Dons.
The ground record at the Ricoh is 31,407 for the Chelsea FA Cup fifth round tie in 2009 and largest crowds since the stadium was opened in 2005 are:-
31,407 v Chelsea (FA Cup) 2008-09
28,184 v Leeds United 2010-11
28,163 v West Brom (FA Cup) 2007-08
28,120 v Middlesbrough (FA Cup) 2005-06
27,992 v Wolves 2007-08
27,212 v Birmingham 2006-07
26,856 v Wolves 2005-06
26,723 v Leicester 2005-06
That record is highly unlikely to beat topped but it will be the second highest Ricoh crowd in the eight years that the stadium has been open. It will also be City’s biggest home crowd for a night game for 32 years – in 1981 35,411 watched the League Cup semi final first leg against West Ham.
The Coventry element of the crowd is going to be close to 29,000 and one of the biggest ‘home’ contingents for a long, long time. Bearing in mind that for the Chelsea game there were around 5,500 away fans, the home element was in the region of 26,000. That attendance was the largest for a Coventry home game since before Highfield Road was made all-seater in 1981 – the aforementioned West Ham League Cup game. I seem to remember that there were around 5-6,000 Hammers’ fans that night, making the ‘home’ following 29-30,000. So I think you have to go back to 1977 when Liverpool came to Highfield Road for a League Cup replay (they won 2-0) when the attendance was 36,105 and I ‘m pretty certain that there weren’t too many Liverpool fans for an evening match five days before Christmas.
Keith Ballantyne was in touch after the recent Tranmere home game and said he remember City playing Tranmere at Highfield Road in the FA Cup in early 1968. It was the first time he went into the, then new, West End terraces. The teams drew 1-1 but Tranmere pulled off a Cup shock by beating the Sky Blues 2-0 in the replay at Prenton Park. Keith thought that Tranmere’s former City centre-forward George Hudson did not play in that match at Coventry, but took part in the replay and scored.
He asked me to clarify that point and also asked if any other ex-City players had featured in any of our other Cup disasters, including the infamous Kings Lynn game in 1961.
‘The Hud’ played in both the cup-ties in 1968 and missed a good chance in the first game. In the replay he scored the second goal (George Yardley scored the first) in the Cup upset in front of an excited Prenton Park crowd of 20,996. Hudson, who had controversially been sold to Northampton by Jimmy Hill in 1966, had joined Tranmere from the Cobblers in January 1967 but his goalscoring form was on the wane and just over a year later he was released by Tranmere and his professional career was over.
As for other ex-Sky Blues to appear in FA cup shocks against their former club I can think of Gary Bannister (for Sheffield Wednesday) in 1984 and Louis Carey (for Bristol City) in 2007. The Owls, then a Second Division side, knocked out the Sky Blues, a First Division outfit at the time, in a 3-2 win at Hillsborough. Bristol, a league below City in 2007, beat City 2-0 in the Ricoh Arena replay after a 3-3 draw at Ashton gate. I am sure there are more.