Sunday, 26 January 2014

Jim's column 25.1.14

The perception of many City's fans is that historically City have always conceded more late goals than they have scored so I thought it worthwhile doing some research on the subject. The table below shows that in the last two seasons in the Championship (under Aidy Bothroyd & Andy Thorn) the side conceded far more late goals than they scored.

Goals scored after 80 minutes (all games)

By City
By Opponents
2009-10 (Coleman)
2010-11 (Bothroyd/Thorn)
2011-12 (Thorn)
2012-13 (Thorn/Robins/Pressley)
2013-14 (Pressley)

Some fans will remember conceding late goals in those seasons to lose at Crystal Palace, Blackpool, Ipswich and at home to Norwich & Burnley to name but a few. In League One however City have definitely outdone their opponents. This season those 15 late goals for the Sky Blues have on 11 occasions resulted in wins or draws, and we are only just past the halfway mark of the season. Of course late goals that count for something (a win or draw) send the fans home buzzing - the late equalisers at Wolves, Preston at at home to Preston all seemed like victories at the time not to mention the late winners at Barnsley, Rotherham, MK Dons and at home to Hartlepool, Bristol City & Gillingham. On the other side of the coin it is clear that City are still vulnerable to late goals themselves. Of their four away league defeats, three have been because of goals after the 80 minute mark (Crawley, Port Vale & Swindon) plus the League Cup exit at Orient.

Dean Nelson, an avid City fan who has an amazing collection of videos & clips of City games not to mention hundreds of film clips of old Coventry, has been in touch asking for more information on a little-known City friendly game in 1963.
The winter of 1962-63 was the worst in living memory and City didn't play a game between Boxing Day and the last week in February. Game after game was called off because of snowbound or icy pitches as the country virtually ground to a halt. At the end of January after the coming Saturday’s game at Shrewsbury was postponed manager Jimmy Hill grasped the nettle. A call to Manchester United’s manager Matt Busby resulted in a hastily arranged friendly in Dublin. Hill always seeking publicity for the club, had realised that Ireland was far less badly hit by the weather and using his contacts in the Fair isle organised this tasty friendly. Hill had first tried Joe Mercer at Aston Villa but Joe’s players were worried about getting injured. Busby however was more adventurous and, like Hill, was desperate for his team to get some competitive play, and duly put out his strongest team including his expensive forward line of : Johnny Giles, Albert Quixall, David Herd, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton. On a day when only four games were played on the English mainland City and United met at Shamrock Rovers’ Glenmalure Park in a game that belied the two division’s difference in the club’s status. With United’s stars rattled by City’s enthusiasm City recovered from an early Quixall goal to lead 2-1 at half-time thanks to goals from Ronnie Farmer and Jimmy Whitehouse. With Willie Humphries and Ronnie Rees giving Shay Brennan and Noel Cantwell an uncomfortable afternoon and Brian Hill marking Law like a limpit City had chances to increase their lead. Bobby Charlton finally saved United’s red faces nine minutes from time with an equaliser but Coventry City had made an impression, and made a few bob from a 15,000 crowd.

The following Saturday, again after another early postponement (a home game with Port Vale) City flew to Cork to play Wolves in a friendly. Whilst not the force they had been in the late 1950s, Wolves were in the top six in Division One (higher than Manchester United) and fielded experienced internationals Ron Flowers and Peter Broadbent. On a miserably wet day, the muddy pitch suited Wolves’ style perfectly and although City had chances in the first half, Wolves’ strength and experience told and they ran out 3-0 winners in front of a drowned crowd of 6,500.

Last week I wrote a tribute to Albert McCann and David Selby, an Essex-based City fan who is also a director of Chelmsford City reminded me that Albert played for Chelmsford. David writes: 'He was released by Portsmouth in 1974 and went to play in South Africa where he no doubt played with Bobby Kellard, who was also in South Africa at the time. He made his debut for Chelmsford City in February 1976 some 6 weeks after Kellard had taken over as City Manager, as City lost 2-0 at Telford United and went on to make 11 appearances before leaving the Club at the end of the 1975-1976 season. He had originally signed a contract for a month but saw the season out. His second appearance saw City win 3-0 at home to Wimbledon to earn Kellard his first league win as Manager, at the eighth time of asking. He scored 1 goal for City, in a 4-0 home win over Wealdstone in April 1976'. Alberts's son Mark tells me that Albert found the travelling to Chelmsford too tiring and so joined Waterlooville (now Havant and Waterlooville) where another ex-Pompey player Jim Storrie was the manager. 
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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Jim's column 18.1.14


Former Coventry City player Albert McCann sadly passed away last week. Albert, or Albie as he was known by his colleagues, played the majority of his career at Portsmouth but spent the 1961-62 season with Coventry City.

Albert was born in Maidenhead on 1 November 1941 and signed for Luton Town straight from school. He made his debut for the Hatters as an 18-year old in their First Division side but after only six appearances in two seasons manager Billy Frith snapped him up for a small fee in the summer of 1961. Bought as cover at inside-forward, he soon forced his way into the first team making his debut in a 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury as Frith rang the changes after a dismal League Cup defeat at Workington. After a number of games he was out of the side and was fortunate to miss the Kings Lynn FA Cup shock in November of that year. Jimmy Hill arrived at Highfield Road the following week but Albert didn't get a first team chance until February 1962. The recalled McCann put on a masterful display at Fratton Park in City's 2-3 defeat. He scored a goal and made a big impression on Pompey boss George Smith. Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph wrote: 'There was no doubting the introduction of little Albert McCann to the attack. His superb ball control got him out of tight spots on many occasions..... he looks a safe bet to stay in the side'.

Albert, with his trademark blond quiff, was a regular for the rest of the season in the number 10 shirt. He scored the winning goal in the 3-2 win at Peterborough, was one of few City stars in a disappointing end of season and looked set to play a part in JH's Sky Blue plans, then Pompey came in with an attractive £8,000 offer and Hill, anxious to bolster his kitty for the transfer market decided to cash in. In total Albert played 22 games for City, scoring three goals.

In the summer of 1961 as a young boy I can remember getting very excited that City had signed two Scottish internationals (McCann & Stewart Imlach) until my Dad pointed out that we had signed another McCann not Motherwell's international, Bert. In May 1962 I saw Coventry City for the first time when they played Lockheed in the Leamington Charity Cup game at the Windmill Ground. Albert played and I managed to get his autograph after the game; I still have that autograph today. The following week I attended my first game at Highfield Road and saw Albert play in a 4-2 defeat to Burnley in a match to celebrate the opening of the new Cathedral.

At Portsmouth Albert was a virtual ever-present for ten years in their Second Division side. Pompey never set the world alight in that era and their best season during the period was in 1967-68 when they looked promotion favourites for a large part of the season but faded & finished 5th. McCann made 372 appearances and scored 98 goals between 1962-73.

The following season he appeared against the Sky Blues in the epic cup-tie between the Sky Blues & Pompey that went to three games. In the first replay at Highfield Road with Pompey 0-2 down he 'mesmerized' the City defence, scoring one and making another to force another replay.  In 1967 he scored twice at Highfield Road as Pompey beat Hull City 3-1 in a FA Cup 3rd round 2nd replay, the second a wonder goal after a long and mazy dribble which older Portsmouth fans still talk about.

Former City player Dietmar Bruck remembers him well: 'Albie was a quiet but friendly guy who took a lot of banter in the dressing room because of his bow legs. He looked like he'd just climbed off a horse. He was a skilful player and his bow legs made it easy for him to do the step over trick which fooled a lot of defenders. I remember him from the cup ties with Portsmouth in 1963. He caused us a lot of problems at Highfield Road & for the second replay at White Hart Lane JH gave me the job of marking him. I didn't let him get a kick all night and we won 3-1. After he left he always played well against us for Pompey. When he came to Legends Day a couple of years ago we hadn't seen each other for 40 years but it seemed like 40 minutes'.

Albert was rewarded for his loyalty to Portsmouth with a Testimonial match against West Ham in May 1973. His popularity at Fratton Park can be measured by the fact that Pompey averaged under 10,000 that season but 22,000 fans turned out to pay homage to one of their legends. Soon afterwards Albert left Pompey & had a two-year spell in South Africa. After hanging his boots up he ran a newsagent's shop in the Portsmouth area for many years and later managed a care home. He joined the Former Players Association in 2010 and attended Legends Day in 2010 when he met up with many former playing colleagues who he hadn't seen for many years.

I also have to report the death of fellow CCFPA committee member Bob Bromage last week. Bob had been poorly for a while but it was still a shock to hear of his passing.  I had known Bob for a number of years, since he joined the committee in the early days of the foundation of the association. From the time he joined the committee Bob always came up with good ideas for the association and his knowledge of City's older players was second to none. He had been a City fan since the 1950s & had seen the ups and downs of our club. One of his main tasks on the committee was tracking down former players & he travelled all over the country to find them. He would regale us with tales of finally finding an elusive player & how he had spent several hours with them reminiscing about the old days - this is what he loved doing. When he retired not so long ago he was determined to spend even more time seeking out former players & visiting members who had fallen on hard times to see if the association could help them. Sadly he was diagnosed with cancer and his trips became a thing of the past. He will be remembered as a hard-working committee member who loved his football team. I speak on behalf of the whole CCFPA committee when I say he will be sadly missed and our thoughts are with Sandra at this sad time.

His funeral will take place at Canley Crematorium on Wednesday 22nd January at 2.30.
                                                                 Bob Bromage

Monday, 13 January 2014

Jim's column 11.1.14

There was another remarkable comeback at Oakwell last Saturday which saw the Sky Blues reach the fourth round of the FA Cup, only the second time they have achieved that as a Division 3 side the other being the famous FA Cup run of 1962-63.  It was also the first victory over a club from a higher division since they knocked out Blackburn Rovers in a Ricoh replay in 2009. The Fourth round draw has given City a plum draw at Emirates less than eighteen months after a 6-1 defeat there in the League Cup.

Steven Pressley's team just don't know when to give up and they have now come back from a goal down to get a result in their last four games, three of which have resulted in victories. This season they have now come back from a goal down to win on five occasions (MK Dons, AFC Wimbledon, Peterborough, Rotherham and Barnsley) this season, all in the last six weeks and a record surely beckons.

My goal time records are incomplete before the early 1960s but since then the most comebacks to win has been six, achieved in 1962-63, 1977-78 and last season.

Last season the team came from behind to win against:

Birmingham (h) League Cup
Walsall (h)
Stevenage (a)
MK Dons (a)
Preston (h) JPT
Scunthorpe (a)

The news of the passing of the great Eusebio was very sad & took my mind back to the 1960s and the early years of the European Cup. British television gave little coverage to the competition unless an English club was involved but always broadcast the final. I remember as a boy watching the 1962 final between Benfica & Real Madrid with grainy black and white images relayed from Amsterdam. Real were probably past their peak but Di Stefano, Puskas & Gento were still world stars and they were expected to beat the Portuguese upstarts. A First half Puskas hat-trick gave Real a 3-2 lead but after the break Benfica equalised and the young, virtually unknown, Eusebio took over, causing all sorts of problems with his electric pace  and dynamic shooting. He scored twice in five minutes to make it 5-3 and guaranteed the trophy went to Lisbon. 

It was the same scoreline at Goodison Park in 1966 World Cup quarter final. Portugal were heading for a shock exit 3-0 down to the little men from North Korea when Eusebio got his act together and scored four goals to take Portugal through to a semi-final against England. Fortunately England got the better of him (or Nobby Stiles did) in the semi final and although Euesbio did score England triumphed to reach the final.

During those golden years of football Eusebio was Pele's only rival as the best player on the planet and in 1973 news broke that he would be appearing at Highfield Road for Portugal against Northern Ireland who had to play matches away from Ulster because of the troubles. Several readers have reminded me of the game, which ended 1-1, and believed they had seen Eusebio and George Best in the same game. Sadly they are mistaken, George was out of football at the time & wasn't selected by his country but Eusebio played, showed many of his great touches and scored a penalty which turned out to be his final international goal. Sadly there were only 11,000 at Highfield Road for what remained the only full international ever played on the ground.
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Monday, 6 January 2014

Jim's column 4.1.14

An excellent holiday period saw the Sky Blues claim seven points from three games & push up to 10th place in League One. But for a poor refereeing decision & some wayward finishing against Oldham it would have been maximum points from the festive programme. 

Both wins were terrific performances with the 4-2 win over Peterborough the first time City have twice come from behind to win a home league game since Chelsea were defeated 3-2 at Highfield Road on the opening day of the 1997-98 season. That day Dion Dublin scored a hat-trick and Leon Clarke should have had three but had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside. 

In the Boxing Day game and on New Years Day at Rotherham a poor first half display was followed by a scintillating second half that saw deficits overturned. City have now come from behind to win on four occasions and to draw three times - the second best record in the division and a remarkable record when you consider that just over a year ago the team hadn't come from behind to win for over three years.

Former City academy players took the honours for opposing teams over Christmas with three of them netting in successive games against the Sky Blues. Swindon's Miles Storey started the run with the late winner at the County Ground in another winless day in Wiltshire - only one win in 13 league visits there since 1952. On Boxing Day Shaun Jeffers, released by the Sky Blues last summer, netted Posh's first goal and then City's youngest ever debutant, Jonson Clarke-Harris, released in 2012, scored Oldham's goal in the 1-1 draw. I don't count Storey as a former player as he never made the first team but it still means that four ex-Sky Blues have netted this season - Cody McDonald (Gillingham) and Chris Birchall (Port Vale) being the earlier ones.

The immutable law of the ex, as the famous football writer Brian Glanville described it, came into force but whilst it seems that ex-City men always score against us the statistics don't bear this out. For example Stern John played against City six times after he left before he netted and numerous prolific scorers never scored after departing. Readers wanted to know which ex-players had scored for more than one club after leaving and there a number including Bobby Gould (Wolves, Bristol C & West Ham), Ronnie Rees (WBA & Forest), Dion Dublin (Villa & Leicester), Darren Huckerby (Leeds & Man City), Robbie Keane (Spurs & Leeds) and Stuart Pearce (Forest & Man City). The best ever effort by an 'ex' though was probably the famous England test cricketer Patsy Hendren. He left City in 1911 after a brief career but came back to haunt us fifteen years later as a veteran of 37 playing for Brentford. In a 7-3 thumping at Griffin Park Patsy helped himself to four goals in what was his final season as a player.

I am not one for mid-season statistics but I have to mention Leon Clarke's scoring achievements in the calendar year of 2013. In 39 starts plus two sub appearances in the year Leon netted 27 goals in all competitions which is the best by a City player since 1963 when George Hudson netted 31 goals. Other City plays to have prolific years are the legendary Clarrie Bourton who netted 43 in 1932, 35 in 1933 and 30 in 1934, George Lowrie 39 in 1947 and Ray Straw 33 in 1958.  Leon is up there with the goalscoring giants of Coventry City's glorious history. We can only hope and pray that he stays at the club through the transfer window.

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