Monday, 26 August 2013

Gerry Baker RIP

On Saturday evening I received the sad news that former Coventry City striker Gerry Baker had passed away earlier that day, aged 75. Signed by by Noel Cantwell from Ipswich in 1967 Gerry played a key role in keeping the Sky Blues in Division 1 in their inaugural season in the top flight. Between 1967-69 Gerry made 34 league & cup appearances for the club before joining Southern League Margate. He won several US international caps by virtue of being born in New York and later played for Nuneaton Borough.

A full obituary will appear in next week 's column

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Jim's column 24.8.13

                                                 The 1908-09 team with Buckle far right on front row

This summer I have had contact with American Tom Ferner who it turns out is the Great, Great Grandson of former Coventry City player Harry Buckle. Buckle was a star of Coventry City for three seasons between 1908 and 1911. His arrival coincided with the club's move up from the Birmingham League to the Southern League in 1908. He was a feared left winger having won two Irish international caps and had previously played for Sunderland (in Division 1), Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers before moving to Highfield Road.

The club's directors appointed him as player-manager for the 1909-10 season and that campaign he helped guide the club to the FA Cup quarter finals defeating First Division Preston & Nottingham Forest before succumbing to Everton in front of a record 19,000 crowd at Highfield Road. This was a monumental achievement for a Southern League team & the proceeds of the run enabled the club to build a new grandstand (later superceded by the Sky Blue Stand in 1964).
Buckle was the club’s top marksman in his first two seasons and  contributed 44 goals in his 126 league and cup appearances before leaving Highfield Road In the summer 1911. Harry returned to his native Belfast, working (unusually for a  Catholic at the time) in the Harland & Wolff shipyards and played for Belfast Celtic, then Glenavon at the outbreak of World War 1 and in 1917 became secretary-manager of Belfast United as well as playing for them. He finished his footballing career from 1922-26 at Fordsons in Cork and won an Irish Cup Winners medal with them aged 45 in 1926 as player- manager before retiring in 1927!
Tom Ferner and his family knew little of their 'famous' relative & were grateful to learn of his football career in Coventry. Tom joined the Former Players Association as an Associate member & is hoping to get to the UK at some future date to learn more about his forefather's heritage.

Brunton Park, Carlisle was the scene of a convincing Sky Blues victory last Saturday with four goals scored without reply. For the second game running the team led 3-0 at half time a feat not achieved by a City team since 2007. This time City's defence kept their cool & a clean sheet to deservedly came back down the M6 with three points. It was a nice revenge for last season's results against the Cumbrians who under former Coventry youth team player Greg Abbott were the only side to do the double over the Sky Blues during the reign of Mark Robins. At half-time the side looked capable of emulating the City side of 1959 who won 6-1 at Brunton Park, a record post-war away win subsequently equalled in 2002 at Walsall.

One historical statistic that has passed me by this season was that in the games at Crawley & Leyton Orient the Sky Blues took the field with a record five Coventry-born players. Cyrus Christie, Jordan Clarke, Jordan Willis, Callum Wilson & Conor Thomas are all 'Covkids' and topped the record of four set up last season. I'm struggling to think of any more 'Covkids' who might breakthrough to the first team but I believe Lewis Rankin is one. The number of home-grown players coming through to the first team is a great credit to Gregor Rioch & his staff at the club's academy.

Last week's piece about John Galley prompted Graeme Baldwin to email me with his memories of the game against Rotherham at Christmas 1966. He was stood in the old Covered End that day & remembers the police having to save the pitch-invading City fan from a real thumping by John Galley. Graeme also remembers travelling to Rotherham a couple of days later to watch the return and getting beaten up by some Rotherham fans near the railway station.

I missed one high-scoring game from the last 50 years – the 1-8 home defeat in the League Cup to Leicester City in 1964. Chris Turner remembers it well as it was the only ever time he left Highfield Road before the end of a game. The final humiliation he recalls was a 30 yard goal from Leicester's full-back Richie Norman in front of the main stand. Richie, of course was manager at Nuneaton Borough after his playing days. Steve Thompson remembers it well too & thought the heavy defeat signalled the end of goalkeeper Bob Wesson's City career. In fact Bob was standing in that night for the cup-tied Bill Glazier who had recently been signed for a world record fee for a goalkeeper of £35,000. Wesson came back into the first team some five months later after Glazier broke a leg & played a further 40 odd first team games. The main cause for the heavy defeat to Leicester was the loss through injury of captain George Curtis. George was injured early in the game & was taken off when the score was 3-0 just before half-time. It was the season before the introduction of substitutes & City laboured on with 10 men & were no match for their First Division opponents.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Jim's column 17.8.13

Coventry City's first game outside of the city boundaries took place at Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium last Sunday and what a goal feast the small band of around 1,000 City fans witnessed. 3-0 ahead at half-time for the first time in over six years, Steven Pressley's young team ran out 5-4 winners over relegated Bristol City. 

I have been bombarded with questions all week about other high scoring games involving the Sky Blues and have compiled a list of all those games where there were eight or more goals in the last fifty years:

1963-64 City 8 Shrewsbury 1
1963-64 QPR 3 City 6
1964-65 City 5 Ipswich 3
1964-65 City 1 Leicester 8 (League Cup)
1964-65 City 3 Rotherham 5
1964-65 City 5 Newcastle 4
1974-75 Middlesbrough 4 City 4
1977-78 City 5 Norwich 4
1981-82 Southampton 5 City 5
1983-84 Southampton 8 City 2
1985-86 City 7 Chester 2 (League Cup)
1985-86 City 4 Birmingham 4
1990-91 City 5 Nottm Forest 4 (League Cup)
2002-03 City 8 Rushden & Diamonds 0 (League Cup)
2004-05 City 6 Derby 2

It was the first 5-4 scoreline since the famous victory over Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in November 1990 when City led 4-0 before half-time only to be pegged back by a ten-minute Nigel Clough hat-trick before Steve Livingstone grabbed the winner. It was only the fourth time in the club's history that they have won 5-4 with the others coming in 1977 (the famous Christmas game when only a late Jim Blyth penalty save avoided a 5-5 draw with Norwich), 1965 (City led top of the table Newcastle 5-1, only to hang on to win) and 1963 (George Hudson netting a hat-trick on his debut). City have only once been on the receiving end of a 5-4 scoreline, at Southampton in 1950.

As expected the crowd at Sixfields was pitifully low and boosted by over 1000 Bristol City fans. the official attendance of 2,204 was just above the lowest home league crowd in the club's history, 2,059, set in February 1928 for a Monday afternoon 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace. A couple of readers pointed out that according to the Breedon Complete Record book published in 1991 there was a crowd of 1,660 v Hartlepools United in 1926. However there has subsequently been more research and the official league attendance records confirm the gate at this game was actually 4,744. My feeling is that the all-time low crowd will be broken before too long at Sixfields unless a good number of City fans have a change of heart and travel to Northampton.

I have a few reader's queries to cover over the coming weeks and will start with one from Dean Nelson who remembers Rotherham's John Galley being hit by a City fan in 1966 and seemed to think there was another instance. Galley, normally a centre-forward who had tormented City's defence (and scored a hat-trick on his Millers' debut) in the aforementioned 3-5 game in 1964, had taken over the 'keeper's jersey in the Christmas game at Highfield Road after regular 'keeper Alan Hill had broken his finger trying to stop a goal-bound Bobby Gould shot. Galley upset the City fans behind the old Covered End & one angry fan climbed over the wall & attacked Galley. Police dragged the culprit away & removed him from the ground but Galley was seen as the villain of the piece by the home supporters. City ran out 4-2 winners. If anyone can recall another incident where a fan attacked a visiting goalkeeper please let me know.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Jim's column 10.8.13

Saturday's opening day defeat at Crawley Town was unusual in that it was the first time Coventry City have lost an away game on the opening day of the season since 1995. Then Ron Atkinson's side, including big money signings Paul Williams, Paul Telfer & John Salako, lost 0-3 at St James' Park, Newcastle. In the seventeen intervening seasons the Sky Blues had only played away on four occasions and never lost:

2001 won 2-0 at Stockport
2005 drew 1-1 at Norwich
2007 won 4-1 at Barnsley
2012 drew 1-1 at Yeovil

The club's record on the first day of the league season has generally been good. Of the thirteen home games since 1995 only four have been lost:

1996 lost 0-3 to Nottm Forest
1999 lost 0-1 to Southampton
2000 lost 1-3 to Middlesbrough
2011 lost 0-1 to Leicester

Aaron Phillips' appearance as a substitute at Crawley meant he became the 885th player to wear the shirt in competitive football since the club joined the League in 1919. More importantly he became only the fifth City player to follow his father into the first team. His father, David, was a member of the 1987 FA Cup winning side and made 123 appearances for the club between his arrival from Manchester City in 1986 and his move to Norwich three years later. Let's hope it is the start of a long and successful career with the Sky Blues.

The other four father & sons to play for the club are:

Ted and Dudley Roberts
Bobby and Jonathan Gould
Tony and Mark Hateley
Gordon and Gavin Strachan

Talking of opening day games Keith Ballantyne emailed asking to be reminded of a postponed City game in London in the late 1980s. He remembers catching a train to London and being met by City fans telling him the game had been called off. The game in question was at Tottenham's White Hart Lane in August 1988 and the game was called off on the Saturday morning because the local authority would not issue a safety certificate to Spurs' new East Stand.  City also had an opening day game at Watford postponed in 2003 after Watford's on-loan striker Jimmy Davis was killed in a car crash on the M40 earlier that day. The Watford board called the game off in mid morning citing 'tragic circumstances' but it was several hours before the news of Davis' death were released.

For those City fans not travelling to Northampton tomorrow (and there will be many) I urge you to support the charity game at the Ricoh Arena. In a game arranged by the Former Players Association, supported by the Sky Blue Trust & the Diamond Club, a Coventry City Legends XI take on a Midlands all stars XI, kick off 2pm. The game, to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the formation of Singers FC, will raise money for various charities including the Acorns Children's Hospice. As I write this several City former players have pledged their services including Noel Whelan, Darren Huckerby, Dave Bennett & Claus Jorgensen. It promises to be a fun afternoon. More details can be found at

Meanwhile at Sixfields Stadium the Sky Blues take on Bristol City. A very small crowd is expected & many people have asked me this week what is the lowest crowd for a City league game. The record low was set in February 1928 when 2,059 attended a Monday afternoon game against Crystal Palace in a Third Division South fixture. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. There was a smaller crowd for a competitive game at Highfield Road – in October 1985 1,086 turned up for a meaningless Full Members Cup group game against Millwall. Earlier results meant that neither club could progress in the competition but the game went ahead & ended 1-1.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Jim's column 3.8.13

Like most Coventry City fans I am frustrated at the current state of the club I love and fearful for its future. At the end of last season I think I realised that there wasn't going to be quick solution to the deep-lying issues between the main protagonists & vowed not to spend a lot of time worrying about something I could do little about. I refused to let it ruin my summer & proceeded to reduce my browsing of websites and social media to ensure my blood pressure stayed at sensible levels.

I had a feeling that the ACL/SISU disagreement would not be resolved - and we all know it's not just about the rent - and that the club would not be playing at the Ricoh this season, but it was still a shock to hear we would be playing at Northampton. A lot of supporters have indicated they will not watch the club outside Coventry but many have said they will travel. The decision is a difficult one for fans but also a personal one and whatever fans decide to do should be respected by those with an opposite opinion. Once I have returned from my holidays I will be watching games at Sixfields - I support the team irrespective who the owners are & am not going to desert my team after 51 years of support. Sadly some good friends have taken the opposite view & I will greatly miss their company this season.

Therefore barring a late change of hearts by the warring parties, next Sunday will see the first ever Coventry City 'home' game at Sixfields Stadium when relegated Bristol City are the visitors. Before then there are two away games, Today City travel for only the second time to Crawley Town before a League Cup trip to London's East End for the second season running. It was Dagenham & Redbridge last season and Leyton Orient this season. 

Orient's Brisbane Road holds happy Cup memories for the Sky Blues and older fans will remember the League Cup victory in 1965 and the FA Cup third round victory in 1973. In the former, a second round tie, City beat their fellow Second Division opponents 3-0 with goals from George Hudson, Ernie Machin & Alan Harris (his only ever goal for the club). Eight years later Gordon Milne's side were a division above the Os & ran out 4-1 winners with a scintillating attacking display. The goals came from Brian Alderson (2), Willie Carr and Tommy Hutchison, watched by a crowd of 12,272.

This season's kick off in the Football League is the earliest in the League's history and a full two weeks earlier than last year. It's a far cry from the arrangements 100 years ago when football had a gentleman's agreement with the cricket authorities not to start league games until September. Even until 1947 the league didn't kick off until the last Saturday in August. I understand the clubs want less midweek games, because they are losing money due to televised Champions League games, and more Saturday games. Starting the new campaign on the first weekend of August to my way of thinking, crazy. With most schools only having broken up ten days ago many supporters with school-age children will still be on their holidays & unable to attend.

City will face some different opponents this season with Wolves, Peterborough & Bristol City coming down from the Championship & Rotherham, Gillingham, Port Vale & Bradford City coming up from League Two. All of these clubs with the exception of Port Vale have met the Sky Blues in the seasons since relegation from the Premiership in 2001. Vale have not been on City's league fixture list since 1963-64 when the clubs met home and away on consecutive days at Easter 1964, both games ending 1-1. City were stuttering towards the finish line in the Third Division championship race and over 29,000 were at Highfield Road on a Tuesday evening. City's post-war record at Vale Park is poor with only one win, and one draw in six visits to Burslem. Again older fans will remember the titanic tussles in 1958-59 when both clubs were pushing from promotion from Division Four. The fixtures attracted massive crowds - 28,000 at Highfield Road and 20,000 at Vale Park, with City winning 1-0 at home and losing 0-3 away.