Sunday, 31 March 2013

Jim's Column 30.3.13

                                   Chris Chilton, who scored against Falkirk in 1971

John Green wrote to me recently to say that he had been visiting friends in Falkirk recently and had talked to some of the local supporters. They all agreed that Steven Pressley was doing he right thing by moving to England to manage the Sky Blues but were sad to losing a fine manager. One of the Falkirk supporters raised the topic of a two-legged game between Falkirk and the Sky Blues in the 1970s but did not remember much about the game or what the competition was but did remember that Man United boss Alex Ferguson played for Falkirk. John asks if I could supply some details of the games & confirm the Appearance of Ferguson.

The teams met in the now defunct Texaco Cup, a competition involving English & Scottish First Division sides who had not qualified for European competitions. City entered the Cup, sponsored by the oil company, for three seasons from 1971-74 with little success. The tie with Falkirk was played in September 1971 with City losing the first leg in Scotland 1-0 but winning the second leg 3-0 after extra-time at Highfield Road with goals from Chris Chilton, Ernie Hunt & Dennis Mortimer, to go through on aggregate 3-1. Alex Ferguson did play in both legs for the Bairns. City's team for the first leg was Glazier: Coop, Smith, Mortimer, Blockley, Parker, O'Rourke, Carr, Chilton, Hunt, McGuire sub: Barry. In the second leg Cattlin replaced McGuire, Young replaced O'Rourke.

Ian Harris of Radford posed an interesting question this week he points out that the club look set to play at least 58 competitive games this season (more if they reach the play-offs). Ian wanted to know if this is a record for the number of games played by the club in a season. The answer is yes it will be a record, topping the 1962-63 season when the team played 57 games. That season, severely disrupted by the bad winter, City played 46 League games, two League Cup ties and nine FA cup ties. Some people might argue that they played 57 1/2 games as the Colchester home game was abandoned at half-time because of fog. Ian also pointed out that they will also play 30 home games, another club record, topping the 29 set in 1962-63 and equalled in 1973-74.

Last week’s loss at Fratton Park was a rare away defeat for the team in a run stretching back to last October. It brought to an end a run of four league wins (five in all competitions) and was only the second away league defeat in 12 games since the reverse at Brentford on 23 October. This is undoubtedly the best away run since the club entered the League in 1919 and would have barely thinkable last season when the Sky Blues managed a single paltry away win. Several readers have asked about the ‘Brazil’ away kit and commented how lucky it has been. For the record the club have played 11 games in the change kit and won eight, drawn one and lost two (at Carlisle & Portsmouth). Once again this is a record for any ‘away’ kit the club have ever worn & highly unlikely to ever be topped. Older fans may point out that in 1969 we played two away games in green shirts and black shorts (the new green & black striped shirts weren’t ready at the start of the season), and won both, at West Brom & Ipswich, before retiring the quite dashing kit in favour of the stripes.

Gary McSheffrey hasn’t had a great season for the Sky Blues and the penalty miss at Portsmouth will not have helped his confidence. The miss was the first by a City player this season after five successful ones, strangely by five different players. Kevin Kilbane, John Fleck, David McGoldrick, McSheffrey himself and Carl Baker had all netted from the spot before last week.  Unfortunately Gary has set a club record which he won’t be proud of – the most substituted City player of all time. Before yesterday’s game he had been taken off in 21 of 26 league games in which he has started. The previous record, I believe, was held by Dele Adebola in 2005-06 – he was pulled in 16 games. Some statistics have been produced this week on the most substituted players of all time and Adebola is 9th on the list having been ‘subbed’ on 202 occasions. Top of the list is Robbie Blake with 237 substitutions and I see that by coincidence he was released by Doncaster in the week the list was published! McSheffrey by the way has been ‘subbed’ 139 times and is in 79th place in the list.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Jim's Column 23.3.13

                                    Steve 'Kalamazoo' Mokone with City coach George Raynor

Peter Hayward of Coundon wrote to me recently wanting to know more about Steve Mokone, who was the first black African to play in the Football League when he signed for Coventry City in 1956. Although he only played four games for the club his story is an amazing one that has been the subject of two books and a film!

Mokone wrote to City for a trial after seeing their name in his local paper and Charles Buchan, the legendary Sunderland, Arsenal and England player, put up £100 for his fare. It took the South African authorities almost a year to issue Steve with his passport. ‘Kalamazoo’ as he was nicknamed had wonderful dribbling skills and devastating pace. His touch and trickery was something rarely seen in English Division Three and sadly were not appreciated by the club’s management at the time. He played just four first team games for City, scoring one goal before a disagreement over the long-ball tactics with manager Harry Warren saw him given a free-transfer.
Steve joined Dutch club Heracles of Almelo, a small town near the German border. In the 1957-58 season he helped them win the championship of Division 3 B and was voted player of the season by the fans. He played for Heracles for two seasons becoming a local legend, even appearing in a friendly game against Santos of Brazil for whom Pele appeared. There is a street named after Mokone in Almelo and one of the stands in Heracles’ Polman Stadion is also named after him.
In 1959 he tried his luck in the Football League again and joined Cardiff City, then a Second Division side. He played only two games for the Welsh side, but the club tried to force him to play through an ankle injury and Mokone refused; he was not selected for the first team again. After this he was on the books of Barcelona, Marseille, Barnsley and Torino (Italy) without staying with any of the clubs long enough to earn a contract.
In the mid 1960s he moved to the USA gaining three degrees and qualifying as a Doctor of Psychology. Mokone was arrested - and reportedly brutalised - by police in 1977 on a charge of credit card fraud, which Mokone says was fabricated. A day after his release, police arrested him and charged him with assaulting his wife. Mokone was found guilty and served nine years in jail. He has maintained his innocence all along. Dutch journalist Tom Egbers later discovered evidence that South African authorities had asked the American CIA to bring Mokone, who had been increasingly political in the US, to heel. After leaving prison – where he ran the library and the football team – he took up his psychology again before retiring with heart trouble in 1992. Now aged 81 he lives in Virginia, USA and is a Sports Ambassador for South Africa. He is a member of CCFPA & we still harbour hopes that one day he will return to Coventry.

To answer one of Peter's queries over the skilful South African I checked with former City player Lol Harvey who remembers Mokone (or Kalamazoo as he was nicknamed). Lol confirmed that Steve didn't play barefoot but did not wear shinpads. He remembers a reserve game at St Andrews when Mokone came into the dressing room with both legs severely bruised from rough tackling and advised the naive youngster to wear pads. Incidentally Peter I did recently see a photograph of Indian players at the 1948 Olympic Games playing a game barefoot.

Peter also remembers City playing a team called Walthamstow Avenue around this time and wondered if it was a Cup game and what the score was. Walthamstow were one of the top amateur teams of the 1950s (they drew an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford in 1953 before losing the replay). City were drawn at home to them in the FA Cup 1st round in 1957 and beat them 1-0. The club, who wore a distinctive dark and light blue hooped shirts, ceased to exist in 1988 and were merged with several other East London teams which eventually became Dagenham & Redbridge.

With all the doom and gloom surrounding Coventry City off the field with talk of administration (a disaster for all parties, in my opinion), liquidation, points deductions, etc it is good to report on some good news about the football club. The club's scouting network is being supplemented by a good number of former City players. In a unique tie up 18 members of the Former Players Association have offered their help to the club to spot talent. It's an idea mooted a while ago by 1970s full back Chris Cattlin who has a lot of the time for the Sky Blues after his eight-year spell at the club. Since the FPA mooted it to Steve Waggott former players from all over the country, including several in Scotland & the North of England have offered their services free of charge to the club. The players feel it is a great opportunity to put their football knowledge to good use and do something for the club that gave them something in the past. With resources tight all around the Football League Coventry City's head scout Graham Brown will  be able to get the former players to watch prospects & also make recommendations to the club.

I heard this week of the death on 12th March of Norah Mercer, the widow of former Coventry City manager and director, Joe Mercer. Throughout her life Norah supported Joe wonderfully. She played a big part in Joe’s football career from the moment her father helped get him to Goodison Park as a youngster; through the highs and lows of an amazing playing career with Everton, Arsenal and England; on to the managerial ups and downs with Sheffield United, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Coventry City and that great but brief spell as England boss; and on to retirement and illness and so on. Joe passed away on his 76th birthday in 1990 but Norah continued to show interest in football becoming a regular visitor to Manchester City and a frequent visitor to Joe’s other clubs. Some years ago Jenny Poole, the former secretary to Coventry City’s managers from the late 1960s, told me that Joe & Norah were so kind to her as a young girl in the 1970s & kept in touch with her for many years after Joe retired and left the club.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Jim's column 16.3.2013

 Coventry City's topsy-turvy season continued this week and is actually getting a little predictable. The Sky Blues impressive away form continued with an away win at Scunthorpe, a club record 11th league win on the road beating the 10 by Noel Cantwell's Europe-bound team in 1969-70. Then, three days later, the depressing home form continued with a 2-2 draw with lowly Colchester United. Yet another late goal by Carl Baker saved City's bacon and kept the embers of the play-off fire glowing slightly. It will need a miracle or a serious collapse by at least two of the teams ahead of them in the table for the Sky Blues to seal a place even if administration is avoiced. They probably can't afford to lose more than two of the remaining eight games and having failed to win three league games in a row all season that seems too tall an order. No City team has won three consecutive league games since December 2010 when, under Aidy Boothroyd, home wins over Burnley & Middlesbrough sandwiched a win at Scunthorpe.

The away form continues to be impressive and another club record is just around the corner - most away goals in a season. The record was set in 1963-64, the Third Division Championship season, when the team won eight away games and scored 36 goals. The current team have scored 34 goals on the road and look certain to overhaul the record. One would have thought City's team of the early 1930s would have scored more away goals - between 1931 & 1936 Harry Storer's team scored 100 goals in four out of five seasons but Storer's team's strength was at home where they scored 70 or more goals in those four seasons. The best away haul by the 'Old Five' team was 34 in 1931-32 (Clarrie Bourton's golden season when he scored 49 league goals) when ironically they won only one away game all season.

I would like to welcome Sky Blues' new manager Steven Pressley who arrived last week from Falkirk. Pressley is City's fifth manager of the season, easily a record, even for Coventry City. The most managers in a season previously was in 2003-04 when Gary McAllister stood down owing to his wife's health, replaced by Eric Black who was then cruelly jettisoned by the board in favour of Peter Reid who had just one game in charge (a fine win over play-off bound Crystal Palace). Pressley is the 38th permanent manager of the club since the club joined the Football League in 1919 and the 12th since the club left the Premiership in 2001. He is also the 10th former City player to be given the job, the others being Jimmy McIntyre, Billy Frith, Bobby Gould, George Curtis, John Sillett, Gordon Strachan, Roland Nilsson, Gary McAllister and Micky Adams. I don't count Terry Butcher who was recruited as Player-Manager. In addition, as Ken Foster, several other former players have been 'caretaker' managers including Lee Carsley, Richard Shaw, Steve Ogrizovic, Trevor Peake and Charlie Elliott. Coincidentally Pressley and I have something in common - we were both born in Elgin, Scotland, albeit 21 years apart.

Ed Blackaby found the article about Coventry City's loan players interesting and sent me his Best Loan XI, which I find hard to argue too much with:

Luke Steele
Richard Duffy
Dean Leacock
Gary Caldwell
Stephen Warnock
Jordan Henderson
James Bailey
Oliver Norwood
Jack Cork
David McGoldrick
Craig Hignett

Personally I was not a big fan of Cork and would prefer Johnnie Jackson to him in midfield and Marton Fulop would get my nod in goal.

Ed also wanted to know if Errington Kelly, who was in the 1983-84 team picture, ever played a first team game for the Sky Blues. Born on the island of St Vincent in the Caribbean, Kelly had been on the books of Bristol Rovers under Bobby Gould, prior to Gouldy's first spell as manager in 1983. Kelly joined the Sky Blues that summer and did feature in a couple of pre-season friendlies but failed to break through to the first team. In early 1984 he joined Peterborough and made over 100 appearances over five seasons.

Sue Standbridge sent me an old Coventry City team picture and asked if I could help with the players' names as her parents were scratching their heads over most of the players.

The picture is from 1948-49 season and the players (and officials) are as follows:

Back Row (L to r): Harry Barratt, Don Dearson, Dick Mason, Dennis Tooze, Alf Wood, Les Latham, Len Wilford, Fred Gardner, Unknown.

Third Row: Tom Crawley (Assistant trainer), Harry Bull, Jack Snape, Jack Evans, Stan Smith, George Mason, Wally Soden, Ron Cox, Jack Lovering, J Llewelyn, Bill Morgan (Trainer).

Second Row: Dick Hill (Coach), Billy Frith (Manager), Walter Brandish (Director), Keith Moulton (Director), H E Jones (Director), Frank Stringer (Chairman), Walter Young (Director), Phil Mead (Director), Dr WD Coghill (Medical Officer), Bernard Hitchiner (Secretary).

Front Row: Dennis Simpson, Trevor Lewis, Les Warner, Fred Bett, Ted Roberts, Peter Murphy, Norman Lockhart, Alec McIntosh, Ted Shore.

If anyone recognises the player on the far right of the back row please let me know.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Jim's column 9.3.2013

The seventh annual Coventry City Legends Day was a great success with 48 former players hosted by the Former Players Association at last weekend’s home game with Swindon Town. The bad result and poor performance didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the ex-Sky Blues and a great time was had by all. As usual there were emotional moments and this year’s was when Lol Harvey met former teammate Ronnie Waldock for the first time since 1954. The two grew up in the same town, Heanor in Derbyshire, but had not been in touch since Ronnie or ‘Polly’ as he was known, was sold to Sheffield United. After the match the traditional party took place in the G-Casino and included a moving rendition of Moon River from the legendary Ernie Hunt and a full-throated Sky Blue Song from all present. More information and pictures can be found at

On Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Sexton, son of the late Dave Sexton, City’s manager 1981-83. Chris spoke about his father’s ability to remember everything about games without taking notes. A young Chris used to go to matches with his Dad when Dave was scouting as part of the England set up. All around them scouts and journalists would be making notes but Dave just watched the match. When he returned home he could recall everything about the game and would write his report from memory.

Deputy Chairman John Clarke resignation from the football club board this week is sad. John has been a City fan since the 1960s and his passion for the club is undimmed. I would like to thank him for the staunch support he has given the Former Players Association. When the Association was formed in 2007 he wanted to be involved from the outset and became the Founding patron, every year raising money from the directors and Associate directors to support us. With the current state of affairs at the football club I am not surprised he is standing down. The impact on his family and working life over the last two years must have been enormous and he has always handled himself in a dignified manner despite some vitriolic abuse. 

Several fans have told me about goings on at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground on Tuesday night. Ex-City player Andy Morrell is manager at the Conference club and has surrounded himself with a bevy of ex-Sky Blues. On Tuesday five ex-City men played in the 4-1 victory over Ebbsfleet which keeps their promotion campaign on track and three of them scored. Dele Adebola, on loan from Rochdale, netted after three minutes with Kevin Thornton scoring the third after half an hour. With the referee about to blow for half-time Robert Ogleby, a former City youth player, made it 4-0. Stephen Wright also played and Morrell himself came on as a substitute in the second half.  The common question was have three-ex-City players ever scored for another team. The answer is yes, back in the 1930s. There were strong links between City and Walsall and in 1932 City director Bill Slade left the club to become manager of Walsall. He signed several City players to add to a couple they already had and for a couple of seasons there were regularly 6-7 ex-City men in the Saddlers Third Division North team. In 1933 Walsall pulled off one of the biggest Cup shocks of alltime, beating Arsenal at Fellows Park. The Walsall team wore City’s blue and white shirts that day and the whole forward line were ex-City players with two, Gilbert Alsop and Bill Sheppard scoring the goals in the 2-0 victory.  There were numerous occasions when three ex-City men notched goals for the Saddlers and I found one game, a 5-3 win over Tranmere in 1934 when four scored goals (Alsop, Sheppard, Freddie Lee and Reuben Woolhouse).

Talking of Dele Adebola, I learned this week that he holds the record for the most substitute appearances in a career. Up to this week he has made 196 league appearances as a substitute plus a further 30 in Cup games. Wrexham is the 13th club of his career which started at Crewe back in 1993. 48 of those sub appearances were whilst he was at Coventry.

Coventry City’s turnover of players has not been extraordinary (34 players used to date and the record is 44) but in the last three league games I think some kind of record was set. Of the 10 outfield players in all three games, none of them had appeared in the first game of the season at Yeovil in August. Of the ten who played at Yeovil, three have left the club (Kilbane, Hussey and Brown), three were on the bench (McDonald, Clarke & Fleck), one (Wood) is injured, one (Daniels) has not been heard of for some time and two (Barton & Ball) may be in line for a recall soon. Goalkeeper Joe Murphy, of course, has been Mr Consistency, an ever-present in the league and missing in all but a game and a half in Cup games, the half being that suicidal second half against Crewe in the JPT.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Jim's Column 2.3.2013

It's Legends Day at the Ricoh Arena again today and whilst preparing to write this week’s column I looked back two years to see what I said about Legends Day 2011. Then it coincided with a new board at the football club and I wrote the following:

The faces in the boardroom are mostly new but the owner, SISU, is unchanged and little was said to reassure the long-suffering fans that much will change. SISU have had three years to progress the stadium ownership issue and have achieved little. Before SISU, Paul Fletcher, easily the best Chief Executive in the modern era in my opinion, resigned in frustration at the lack of progress with the owners of the stadium (and too much tinkering from a chairman who thought he knew best). In the three years since SISU saved the club in the last crisis there has been little or no progress on the playing side. On Wednesday the new chairman (Ken Dulieu) got off to a bad start when his assertion that a meeting was planned with the council was exposed as a myth by council leader John Mutton.

One way forward may be for all the parties (including the politicians) to get off their high horses, stop posturing and sit down together and thrash out a solution that benefits the football club’s supporters and the city of Coventry. Until that happens our football club will just stagger from this disaster to the next.

Sadly I could have written virtually the same piece today as the stadium issue (and it's not just about rent) rumbles on unresolved. None of the parties in this whole sordid soap-opera is blameless but having rejected the Manhattan Capital Partners and Paul Fletcher in 2007 and SISU subsequently, I just wonder who Coventry Council and the Higgs Trust would do business with. When one scans the owners of Premiership and Football League sides I struggle to find many who would surely satisfy the council's criteria. In the intervening two years the club's on-field fortunes have slipped and no prospective owner would countenance buying the club without the stadium issue removed as the club is financially unsustainable in its present state. Unless of course a Russian or Arab oligarch is prepared to bank roll the club - but would the council deal with them?

Back to something far more important today - the seventh annual Legends Day, organised by the Former Players Association, with around 50 former players planning to attend. All eras are well represented especially the 1970s with some of the great names from that decade including Colin Stein, Tommy Hutchison, Roy Barry, Willie Carr and Ernie Hunt amongst others. The traditional half-time parade will take place so I urge you to be in your seats to give these great servants of the club a rousing reception that befits their status. After the game the legends will be in The G-Casino to meet the fans and have some fun on stage. It promises to be another great day. I am not too modest to say that in the six years since the inaugural Legends Day the Former Players Association have achieved all that it set out to. That was to bring the former
 players and managers back to the club to meet their old colleagues and ensure their place in the club’s history was properly recognised.  To all my fellow committee members and all the friends who give their time to help us at our events, a massive thank you.

Tuesday night's victory at Bournemouth (the first league win there since 1957) was the 10th away win of the season and equalled the record set by Noel Cantwell's team in 1969-70.  With three away wins in Cup competitions (Dagenham & Redbridge, York & Crewe) City's travelling army have had much more to shout about than last season when only one away win was achieved all season.  My away following records only go back to 2006 but this season’s league average is currently 1,153 which is the best since my records begin. Last season an average of 918 followed the team so that is a 25% increase, in a lower division. One wonders if the home gates would have seen a similar increase if the home form had been as impressive.

Southampton’s central defender Aaron Martin arrived on loan this week and made his debut at Bournemouth. By all accounts it was an impressive debut by the 23-year old. Aaron becomes the tenth loanee used by the Sky Blues this season. This is just one short of the club’s highest number, 11 used in 2002-03. For me that was the worst season I have ever witnessed as a fan and the quality of the loanees was generally poor. For the record the magnificent eleven were:

Steve Walsh, Gary Caldwell, Richie Partridge, Brian Kerr,  Craig Hignett, Jamie McMaster, Dean Holdsworth, Juan Sara, Vicente Engonga, Christian Yulu, Matt Jansen.

My views on loan players was previously tainted by the poor quality of players acquired in the early seasons out of the Premiership but this season the quality has generally been far superior than in previous campaigns and players like Bailey, McGoldrick and Leon Clarke have turned our season around.