Sunday, 28 April 2013

Jim's Column 27.4.2013

                                                   Bill Patrick - hat-trick scorer

Today is the last game of the season for the Sky Blues and a trip to Notts County’s Meadow Lane for the first time since 1992. The ‘Lane’ was a bogey ground for the Sky Blues in the old First Division with defeats in all four meetings between 1981-1992 including a 5-1 thrashing in 1982-83.

The home season ended last weekend with a disappointing home defeat to Leyton Orient – the first time Orient had won in seventeen visits to Coventry since 1922 when Clapton Orient won 2-1.

My mention last week of Noel Simpson breaking a leg at Highfield Road prompted several readers to send me their thoughts of the incident & memories of other tragic broken legs involving City players.

I spoke to former City player Lol Harvey about Simpson & he remembers Noel breaking his leg whilst playing for Exeter City (who he joined after leaving City in 1957). Jim Hone confirmed that the incident occurred after Simpson had left City but thought it was against Swindon. Mick Sanders recalls him breaking his leg near the centre circle. Barry Ireland remembers it being against Exeter in a game City won 6-1.

The game in question was on 9 November 1957 at Highfield Road & City did win 6-1 with goals from Bill Patrick (3), Charlie Timmins (penalty), Ken McPherson & Ray Sambrook. Noel Simpson, who had left City the previous summer after 270 appearances, was captaining Exeter and the Coventry Telegraph reported that Simpson was carried off after 35 minutes following a tackle with City’s Roy Kirk. The match report however describes his injury as ‘damaged knee ligaments’. Noel never played senior football again and retired the following summer, aged 36. The number of readers who remember the sound of the break seems to indicate the match report was incorrect about the nature of the injury. Several people also seem to think that the protagonists ‘hadn’t seen eye to eye’ prior to Simpson’s departure but it’s probably best to let those sleeping dogs lie.

Other readers remembered other broken legs with 83-year old George Hopkins, a former programme seller at Highfield Road recalling left winger George Ashall breaking his leg in a heavy clash with West Brom’s Stan Rickaby in 1947. Thirty-six year old Ashall, an England prospect before the war, never played football again.

Chris Lambert recalls loanee Craig Hignett suffering a hairline fracture at Bramall Lane in 2002 when he got in the way of a shot from United’s Peter Ndlovu.

Dean Nelson remembers Dave Bennett suffering a broken leg against Sheffield Wednesday at Highfield Road in 1988 but it was in fact against Derby. ‘Benno’ collided with Peter Shilton & came off worst. He later suffered further breaks playing for both Swindon and Sheffield Wednesday.

Peter Louch thought Peter Hill broke his leg in a Boxing Day game in the 1950s but I can find no records of this.

After my piece about Dan Dan the Rhyming Man a couple of weeks ago I had an email from Hag Harris, a City fan exiled in Lampeter, South Wales.

Dan's mini poems amused me as a young chap at Highfield Road and even now going through late 1950s and early 1960s programmes in my forested vastness warms my cockles!  Manager Billy Frith's notes are always worth a re-read as he rails against outrageous bad luck and misfortune, the 'London Press' and discontented barrackers.

Hag goes on to say that he looks forward to the definitive text on the '1920 Bury Affair' and ' The Life and Times of Arthur Lightening' and no, I am too young to have seen Clarrie play.

This is the last column of the season for me but look out for my usual statistical summary of the season next week. Thanks to everybody who has contributed to the column this season and have a great summer. Lets hope the warring parties can resolve their differences and we can watch the Sky Blues at the Ricoh next season.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Jim's column 20.4.13

                                                                Ronnie Rees

Some weeks ago Keith Ballantyne wrote to me regarding former City player Ronnie Rees. Keith was reminded of the Welsh winger after the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy debacle against Crewe. Keith remembers travelling to Gresty Road in 1966 for the FA Cup tie: ‘City trailed until the last few minutes until a Rees goal got them out of jail as I recall’.

You are correct Keith, Rees equalised in the 88th minute after Crewe had led from the ninth minute, when a Peter Kane shot went in off George Curtis’ face. Fourth Division Crewe’s chance of a giantkilling act had gone & two days later the Sky Blues convincingly won the replay 4-1 with goals from Dave Clements, George Hudson (2) & Ronnie Farmer (a penalty).

Keith recalls that Rees was City's only full international for some years, that at some stage he left for West Brom and that he featured in one if not two thrashings that we suffered at their hands. Like most of us children of the 60s his memory is sketchy but he thought Rees played in a 6-1 Sky Blues defeat.

Ronnie was only the fifth Coventry City player to win a full Welsh cap when he made his debut at the age of 20 against Scotland in October 1964. He went on to win 21 caps whilst he was with the Sky Blues, scoring two goals. He left City for West Brom in March 1968 after making 262 appearances for the club & scoring 52 goals. He wasn’t City’s only international during that time, Dave Clements made his debut for Northern Ireland in 1965 and also won 21 caps between then and 1971. Also during 1964-65 City regularly put out a side with two full internationals on the wings, Rees on the left and Northern Ireland’s Willie Hunphries on the right.

After leaving City, Rees played only one full season at the Hawthorns and appeared against the Sky Blues twice, scoring on both occasions. In City’s 4-2 home win in August 1968 he scored one of the Baggies’ goals, then repeated the feat in a 6-1 Baggies’ league win at the Hawthorns two months later.

In 1969-70 he had joined Nottingham Forest & amazingly repeated the scoring feat, netting in Forest’s 3-2 defeat at Highfield Road and their 4-1 defeat to the Sky Blues at the City Ground. He did appear against City twice the following season without finding the net. Ronnie won a further 18 full Welsh caps after leaving City, taking his total to 39. His club career ended at Swansea City in 1975 and he went to work at the Ford factory in the city but had to retire at the age of 51 after a stroke.

He still lives in Swansea with June, his Coventry-born wife and although Ron is in poor health he likes to keep abreast of news from the Sky Blues.

George Ling, a friend of many years standing through the Coventry City London Supporters Club, posed an interesting question recently: Did Noel Simpson ever break his leg playing for the club? George is confident he was present at Highfield Road when he heard an almighty crack and Simpson collapsed on the floor in front of the Main Stand at the Spion Kop end of the ground.

                                                                    Noel Simpson
I’m afraid I was unable to answer the question but Noel played for the club between 1948-1957, in an era when broken legs took a minimum of six months to recover from. Looking at Noel’s record I can find no periods of that length when he was absent from the side and think George’s memory is playing tricks on him. Perhaps an older supporter can throw some light on the question.

George also asked which players I could remember breaking a leg whilst playing for the club and a few immediately came to mind including George Curtis at Nottingham Forest in 1967, Roy Barry (v Sheffield Wednesday 1970), Dave Busst (v Manchester United 1996), Bill Glazier (v Man City 1965), Lloyd McGrath (v Ipswich (Simod Cup) 1988) & Jim Sanders (v Aldershot 1958). Do any readers remember others?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Jim's column 13.4.13

Young Ryan Haynes made a steady debut for the Sky Blues last Saturday in the 1-1 draw with Brentford. Born on 25 September 1995, the Northampton-born full-back was 17 years & 191 days old & many fans wondered where he comes in the list of youngest City debutants. He doesn't make the all-time top ten youngest but is the third youngest to make a full debut (i.e. starting a game) since we left the Premiership in 2001. Numerous younger players have made their debuts as substitutes in that time including Ben Mackey, Jordan Willis & Jonson Clark-Harris, the latter being the youngest ever at 16 years & 20 days, but only Isaac Osbourne & Conor Thomas were younger than Ryan when they made their full debut.

Isaac Osbourne was 16 years & 308 days old when he started his first game in a 0-0 draw against Gillingham in April 2003. He went on to make over 120 appearances in an injury interrupted career for the club. He has been at Aberdeen for the last two years but has suffered more injuries restricting his appearances for the Dons to 42 in that time but he did net his first ever goal in senior football this season.

Conor Thomas was 17 years & 92 days old when he started his first game for the Sky Blues, an FA Cup tie at St Andrews in January 2011. Earlier that month Conor had been a substitute in an earlier cup-tie against Crystal Palace. Days after making his first start he went on loan to Liverpool with a view to a permanent move. Things didn't work out however and Thomas moved back to Coventry later that season.

Going back to Ryan Haynes, he is the youngest full-back to don a City shirt since the great George Curtis made his first start in April 1956 as a left-back at Newport County. George, who switched to centre-half in 1958,  was 16 years & 351 days, and went on to make x appearances for the club.

The top ten youngest full debutants is:

1. Brian Hill (April 1958) 16 years 273 days
2. Isaac Osbourne (April 2003) 16 years 308 days
3. Perry Suckling (August 1982) 16 years 320 days
4. George Curtis (April 1956) 16 years 351 days
5. Dietmar Bruck (April 1961) 17 years 9 days
6. Colin Holder (April 1962) 17 years 73 days
7. Conor Thomas (Jan 2011) 17 years 92 days
8. Lol Harvey (Nov 1951)  17 years 101 days
9. Bobby Parker (March 1970) 17 years 137 days
10. Bobby Gould (October 1963) 17 years 140 days

Coincidentally Colin Holder was at the Brentford game, his first visit to the Ricoh & the first City game he had been to for many years.

In the programme for the recent Bury away game a local writer did an interesting article about Dan, Dan, the Rhyming Man, a poet who featured in the City programmes in the late 1950s & early 1960s. I had completely forgotten about the witty poems of Dan & thought I would dig out a few for this week's column. 

The first poem of Dan's I can find was in the home programme versus Southend United on 26 October 1957 soon after Billy Frith had returned to the club as manager following the departure of Harry Warren. Tucked away near the back of the 12-page programme is a two line poem with a clever reference to the club's nickname at the time (the Bantams) and new boss Frith. I believe it was Dan's first appearance in a match programme:

My opening rhyme is short and pithy.
Up the Bants, and well done Frithy.

For the next league game Dan had expanded to four lines & made reference to a floodlit friendly victory against Partick Thistle:

The floodlight game with Partick Thistle
Stopped every pessimistic whistle,
Repeat the dose, let the League heads roll,
And make a one-way route to goal.

From 1957 to 1961 Dan graced the pages of the City programme. I had a theory that Billy Frith and Dan were one and the same. Beyond the fun there was something rather school masterly about the poems, with references to history, geography & literature, and in the years between his two spells as City manager, between 1948 & 1957, Billy had been a schoolteacher and risen to the post of head of a local school. I contacted Billy's son John who was adamant that Dan wasn't a nom de plume of his father.

By 1960 Dan's poems had further expanded to six and sometimes eight lines and the Bury programme featured a classic from the City v Bury programme 1960:

In Bell Green and Barnsley, Binley and Brighton
Some call our guests 'Burry' though 'Berry's' the right'un
But why should we bother if diction's in doubt
Provided the Bantams can cancel them out.
So let's silence the grumblers, the old belly-achers
By extracting two points from this team called the 'Shakers'

If anyone can shed any light as to the identity of Dan please contact me as I would love to know.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Jim's column 6.4.13

                                                 City's goal v Walthamstow Avenue 1957
Two weeks ago I mentioned Coventry City's FA Cup First round tie in 1957 against non-league Walthamstow Avenue. Arthur Warner of Binley wrote to me with his memories of the game:

They were a strong amateur team as you said- I remember they gave City one hell of a game. I was behind the goal on the Kop with the lads again-aged 12-nearly 20,000 crowd (19,064 to be precise). Big Ken McPherson scored the only goal, at the Kop end , towards the end of second half if my memory serves me right. I am sure that Walthamstow  played in green and white hoops and City played in red as both teams normal colours were blue.

Rod Dean too, has vague memories of the game: 'It was 56 years ago! I seem to remember Walthamstow in quartered shirts and City in red'

I did a bit of research and found an old newspaper picture from the game (of McPherson's goal I think) and of the two players in the background the closer one is wearing a quartered shirt (green, I suspect) and is a Walthamstow player. The other looks like City player Ray Sambrook, and is wearing City's away kit of that time, red shirts and white shorts. Both teams would have changed shirts because of the colour clash to comply with the FA rules at the time. The match report says that the amateur side had been the superior team in the first half but after a half-time lecture from manager Billy Frith, City improved a lot and McPherson scored the only goal after 56 minutes.

Arthur also remembers Steve 'Kalamazoo' Mokone who I wrote about two weeks ago:

Concerning Steve Mokone, I was at the game in October 1956 when steve scored his only goal for City against GIllingham -we won 4-1, and the crowd of nearly 17,000. I was behind the goal, at the Kop end where all us young ones went in those days. i am sure he scored it at the covered end- later known as the West end. i do remember that he picked the ball out of the  back of the net,  put it under his arm, and ran back to centre circle, waving to the crowd, and placed it on the centre-spot, amid great cheering from the crowd. He was a exciting talent to us young ones and was like a breath of fresh air in the games I saw him play- first team and reserves. The football was pretty grim under Harry Warren I seem to remember.

Alan Gamble of Longfollow Road also has fond memories of Mokone:

I was 9 years old “city fan “and used to go to South Street School, after school a crowd of us would have a kick about at the bottom of Days Lane by the Vauxhall Tavern. One day Kalamazoo joined us, he was really friendly and mesmerized us with his skills, and I got his autograph and treasured it, until sadly lost it in a house move 20+ years ago.

CCFPA committee member Mike Young has been in contact with ‘Kalamazoo’ who recently celebrated his 81st birthday and lives in Virginia, USA. He is a member of the FPA & would love to come over for a Legends Day however his health is not great but has promised to try and make it next year. 

What a disastrous result at Walsall, although by many accounts it wasn't that bad a performance but the red card for Stewart, City's first sending off of the season, and a stunning display of finishing by Walsall saw City beaten. It was their biggest league defeat of the season and the largest since the final day defeat at Southampton last season. In fact before Monday the team had only conceded more than two goals once in league games (at Shrewsbury in September).

I have written about City's topsy-turvy form, 11 away wins but only seven at home but there is another fascinating feature about the league record this season. Looking at a league table based on games against top half sides the Sky Blues are top of the league but on a table based on games against bottom half sides the Sky Blues are 17th. City have performed far better against the top sides & have done the double over Doncaster and Bournemouth and taken four points off Sheffield United and MK Dons. Conversely their form against lower sides has been dire with Shrewsbury & Carlisle doing the double over them and teams like Stevenage and Scunthorpe winning at the Ricoh. The Good Friday win over Doncaster Rovers was the second time this season that the Sky Blues have beaten the league leaders following the win over Tranmere in January.