Monday, 31 March 2014

Jim's column 29.3.14

Coventry City's topsy-turvy season (when has it been anything else for the Sky Blues?) saw the team succumb to Brentford, arguably the best side in the division, on Saturday and then on Wednesday evening, with relegation clouds gathering, relieve some of the pressure with an ugly but vital 1-0 win over bottom the table Stevenage. The Brentford loss was despite taking an early lead with Callum Wilson's 19th league goal of the season. The accolade of being the highest City scorer since 1967, currently held by Ian Wallace (21 in 1977-78), was now in sight. Then on Wednesday evening at home to Stevenage the dynamic young striker failed from the penalty spot & his run of five scoring league games came to an end, one short of Mick Quinn's six in a row in 1992.

The goals against Brentford & Stevenage took City's league total for the season to 68 & long-suffering fan Colin Heys wanted to know when a City team last scored that many goals. With still eight games to play they have now eclipsed last season's total of 66 and the 67 scored in 2003-04 and could beat the highest total since the club came out of the old Second Division in 1967. That was 75 goals, again set in the 1977-78 season when strikers Wallace & Mick Ferguson were on fire & superbly served by wingers Ray Graydon & Tommy Hutchison. The team scored 75 from 42 games & included two five-goal hauls & four four-goal hauls & only five games in which they failed to score.

On the opposite side of the coin the team have now conceded 68 League goals & are heading for one of their worst defensive performances since World War 2. The most goals conceded in a season since the war was in 1956-57 season when in 46 Division Three South games the team, managed by Harry Warren, shipped 84 goals.

Since the club reached the top flight for the first time in 1967 there have been some pretty miserable defensive seasons, namely:

71 1985-86 & 1967-68
73 2004-05
77 1983-84

One common factor in all these four seasons is that the Sky Blues were fighting relegation until the final or the penultimate game. I hope that is not an omen.

Declan Murphy was in contact with me regarding two friendly matches between Coventry & Tottenham at Highfield Road in the 1960s. In April 1964 in the week after Jimmy Hill's team had clinched the Third Division championship City were scheduled to play Brazilian club side FC America but the FA refused to sanction the game. Hill persuaded Spurs to fill the gap at short notice and Bill Nicholson brought their First Division side to Coventry for a friendly game. It gave the fans a chance to applaud their heroes one by one as they were presented to them in the centre circle before the game. The team were then joined on the pitch by the manager, chairman Derrick Robins and Hill’s back-room team, Pat Saward, Alan Dicks and Peter Hill. Robins thanked the crowd for their wonderful support, and led the players in a rendition of ‘Three cheers’ for their loyal supporters. Spurs, missing only Jimmy Greaves and Maurice Norman from their first team, gave a scintillating display of football and won 6-5 in front of 15,638 with Les Allen scoring an 11-minute hat-trick. Spurs’ Welsh international winger Cliff Jones later said: ‘It was a bit of an experience to see a crowd of 15,000 turn out so quickly for a friendly match. I don’t think I’ve heard a crowd shout so much at a friendly match.’  Spurs' Scottish international, who was tragically killed that in a lightning strike on a golf course that summer, possibly played his final game in a Spurs shirt that night.

The scorers were Hudson (2), Kirby, Farmer, Newton (City) and Saul (2), Allen (3) and White (Tottenham). It was probably the busiest week in the club's history with five games in five days as the Brazilians finally got clearance to play on the Thursday. This was their programme that week:

Saturday: Beat Colchester 1-0 to clinch championship. Players & wives at celebration dinner at Hotel Leofric.
Sunday: Day off.
Monday: City play a Dublin XI in Dublin (lose 3-4)
Tuesday: Tottenham game followed by a celebration banquet at the Council House.
Wednesday: Testimonial game at Bedworth (win 4-0)
Thursday: A very tired City lose 2-5 to FC America.
Friday: City travel to Eastbourne for a testimonial game (win 3-1)

In all five games City put out a strong side with several players playing all five friendly games but the following week they got their bonus for winning promotion – a two week trip to Spain.

Almost exactly a year later Tottenham returned to Highfield Road for a repeat game and this time won more easily, 3-0 with goals from Low, Mullery and Saul in front of 13,660.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Jim's column 22.3.14

Coventry City pulled off a rare feat on Sunday in the home game with Port Vale. 0-2 down going into the last ten minutes, goals from Jordan Clarke & Callum Wilson secured a valuable point. The rare feat was coming from two goals behind to draw & it was the second time that the team have done it since Steven Pressley arrived as manager just over a year ago. In March last year in Pressley's first home game in charge, the side were down 0-2 to Colchester but goals from Callum (his first senior goal) and Carl Baker won the point. That was first time  City had got a draw from 0-2 down since a 2-2 home draw with Middlesbrough in 2009.

Just over a year since Callum's first goal against Colchester and we are now marvelling at his stunning form which has harvested 19 goals this term. As I wrote last week his 18th league goal on Sunday brings him level with Dion Dublin (1997-98) as the most successful strikers in one season since Ian Wallace scored 21 in 1977-78. Who would bet against Wilson topping Wally's haul?

Callum's superb late strike against Port Vale was his fourth in consecutive league games a feat not achieved by a Coventry player since Marlon King in April 2011. The next target for Callum is the six in a row which Micky Quinn achieved in his first six games in a City shirt in 1992-93. The club record is nine held, of course, by the legendary Clarrie Bourton in 1932. In 1985 Terry Gibson scored in seven consecutive games but his run included two League cup games & a Full Members Cup game.

Sunday's starting line up was one of the youngest to appear for the club with an average age of 22 years & 329 days. That included two players (Murphy & Baker) who are over 30. Friend Geoff Moore who keeps tabs on this statistic pointed out that if either Billy Daniels or Lee Burge had started instead of Baker or Murphy it would have been the youngest starting line up in the club's history, with an average age of under 21, beating the record set in 1981 at Maine Road of 21.18 years.

Harry Hennessey asked me on Twitter this week if I could list the Bayern Munich side that played against Coventry City in 1970 in that famous European Fairs Cup second round tie. The Bayern side which included four of the West German national side that had reached the World Cup semi finals just four months previously was:

(1st leg in Munich) Maier: Hansen, Koppenhofer, Beckenbauer, Scwarzenbeck, Roth, Zobel, Mrosko, Schneider, Muller, Brenninger.

For the return game in Coventry Pumm replaced Roth and Uli Hoeness replaced Schneider. Hoeness, who was only 18 at the time and in his first season with Bayern, was recently jailed for tax evasion. I'm sure most City fans don't need reminding that Bayern triumphed 6-1 in the first leg before the Sky Blues regained a bit of pride by winning the second leg 2-1. The goals in the first game were scored by Schneider 2, Muller 2, Schwarzenbeck & Roth with Ernie Hunt replying. At Coventry Neil Martin & John O'Rourke scored with Hoeness replying. Bayern reached the quarter finals of the competition before going out to Liverpool who themselves lost to eventual winners Leeds United in the semi-final. In the final Leeds beat Juventus over two legs and on the away goals rule.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Jim's column 15.3.14

Two away defeats in four days have increased the pressure on Steven Pressley & the Sky Blues & once again they are looking over their shoulders at the teams fighting to get away from the bottom four in League One. The result at Gillingham on Tuesday night was a pretty disastrous one but was a unique game in Coventry City's history being the first time that four penalties were scored in a game involving the club. Gillingham's Adebayo Akinfenwa scored two from the spot with Callum Wilson & Carl Baker netting for the Sky Blues. I am certain that there has not been another instance of four penalties scored in a City game since the Second World War but some of the pre-1939 penalty scorers are a bit uncertain.

There has been two post-war instances when four penalties have been awarded. The first was a game at Leicester City's Filbert Street in 1977. City's Mick Coop netted twice from the spot with Jon Sammels replying for the Foxes but Leicester's first penalty by Dennis Rofe was saved by Jim Blyth. City won the game 2-1. The second was in September 1990 at Highfield Road against Nottingham Forest when City were awarded three penalties. Brian Kilcline scored one and missed one, Forest's Nigel Jemson scored from the spot and added a second from open play before Brian Borrows netted City's third penalty two minutes from time to rescue a point in a 2-2 draw.

Akinfenwa is not the first opponent to score two penalties in a game against the Sky Blues - Liverpool's Jan Molby managed three in the League Cup tie at Anfield in 1986 and other players to match Akinfenwa include Swindon's Jan Age Fjortoft (1994), West Ham's Ray Stevens (1984), Tottenham's Glen Hoddle (1980), Manchester City's Gary Owen (1978), West Ham's Geoff Hurst (1969) and Sunderland's Neil Martin (1967). I think Martin is the only opposing player to score two penalties at Highfield Road and he later scored two penalties in a game against Crystal Palace for the Sky Blues.

Another interesting statistic from Tuesday night's game was that stand-in captain Dan Seaborne became the first City player to receive a red card in a league game this season. Earlier in the season Dan was punished with a three-match ban after video evidence showed he had committed a red card offence against Oldham. Carl Baker was, of course, shown a red card in the League Cup tie at Leyton Orient this season. With only one red card last season (Jordan Stewart at Walsall) it is now almost two years since a City player was sent off in a home game - that was Richard Keogh in the final home game in the. Championship.

Red cards are one way of measuring a team's discipline and the above are positive signs for the Sky Blues. However another measure is the number of penalties conceded and the Sky Blues' record this term is appalling with the total now 11 in 35 league games. Admittedly Joe Murphy has saved four of them (a record for a City keeper) the total is the worst in the club's history, surpassing the 10 conceded in 2004-05.

Back to a positive statistic & Callum Wilson's goalscoring feats. Three goals in the last three games has taken his league total to 17 in 27 games and he is now joint top of the League One scorers. He has scored more league goals in a season than any other City player since 1997-98 when Dion Dublin topped the Premiership scoring lists (with Michael Owen) with 18 goals.

With eleven league games remaining Wilson is capable of overhauling some other all-time great  City scorers. Over the last 50 years the top seasonal scorers are as follows:

24 George Hudson 1963-64
24 Bobby Gould 1966-67
21 Ian Wallace.  1977-78
19 George Hudson 1964-65
18 Dion Dublin  1997-98
17 Callum Wilson 2013-14
17 Mick Quinn 1992-93
17 Terry Gibson 1983-84

Callum's efforts this season are outstanding especially when you consider he was only a fringe player with only one senior goal to his name before the season kicked off.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Jim's column 8.3.14

Last Sunday's 0-0 draw at home to Shrewsbury was a very rare occurrence - the first goal-less draw in a Coventry league game since 17 March 2012.  That day Andy Thorn's side grabbed a point at Watford to end a dreadful sequence of 10 away defeats stretching back to October 2011 and kept their first clean sheet on the road of what was a dire season that culminated in relegation from the Championship. Of the side that won a point at Vicarage Road only Joe Murphy & Jordan Clarke are still at the club. The last home game to end  0-0 before Sunday was also against Watford, earlier in the same season.
Sunday's clean sheet was the first that City have kept in 16 league games -since the 3-0 home win over Notts County in early November. When I checked the records I realised that it was the club's worst run without a clean sheet for thirty years. Between Christmas 1983 and August 1984 Bobby Gould's team failed to keep a clean sheet for 22 league games. The worst run in the club's league history is 23 set in the 1956-57 Division Three South season.

On Wednesday evening the Sky Blues got back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Walsall. Callum Wilson was back on the score-sheet after his two-month absence and netted his 15th league goal of the season to draw level with Leon Clarke in the scoring charts. This is the first season for 35 years that two Coventry players have netted 15 league goals (Ian Wallace & Mick Ferguson were the last in 1977-78). Callum is now one goal short of McGoldrick's 16 league goals last season which was the best haul by a City player since Dion Dublin's 18 in the Premiership in 1997-98, and on the evidence of Wednesday night's performance looks well capable of smashing that record.

Following my piece about the origin of the Bantams nickname used by the club from 1908 and 1962 I had several readers give me their view. Graham Smith, author of Sky Blue Heaven, wrote: 'Regarding the Bantams nickname, I can add some detail to how it came about. When I was researching my book "Sky Blue Heaven" at Coventry library in the Evening Telegraph archives, I found the sequence of articles that led to the name.

To summarise, as you said, in 1908, "Nemo" invited ideas for a club nickname. There was a suggestion "that the three geese that promenade themselves about at Highfield Road would make a good mascot."

On November 7, 1908 a reader from Berry Street offered the name "The Bantams" saying "it is a good sporting name and judging by the weight and physique of the Southern League teams...City are surely the lightweights...Perhaps one of our fur and feather supporters will be kind enough to present a bantam to the club as a mascot." Nemo reckoned it to be "Not half a bad idea."

Nevertheless, other ideas kept coming, including ,"The Pedallers," (cycle industry) and "The Watchdogs," (watchmaking), "The Sinners," "The Terriers," "The Chickens" and "The Pip-Pips." But, by the end of the month, Nemo was referring to the teams as the Bantams.

Incidentally, in 1922, City nearly became "The Scrapers." A ballot was held to coincide with the change of colours to green and red halves. The prize of two guineas attracted ideas such as "The Velocipedes" and "The Oojahs," but retaining the Bantams name was the overall winner.

Mike Young also sent me copies of the above fascinating articles from the Midland Daily Telegraph which confirms the above. He had also heard it said that an enthusiastic supporter's donation of a pair of bantams cemented the deal and that the club were named after a make of car constructed in the City at the time. I have heard the 'Singer Bantam' story before and don't buy it as the car was only launched in 1935.

 In last week's tribute to former City player Gordon Nutt there was a picture of the club's youth team from 1949 & several readers have tried to name all the players. Former player Lol Harvey was at the club at the time & could name most of the people in the picture. 

Back row (L to R): Ces Barratt (coach) (father of Harry Barratt), ? Bates, John Quinney, Reg Matthews, Bill Lovett, Albert 'Bulldog' Sneddon, unknown, Harry Moore (trainer).
Front row (L to R): Gordon Nutt, Philip Cresswell, unknown, unknown, Billy Watson.
Can anyone fill in the gaps?

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Tribute to Gordon Nutt (1932-2014)

Gordon Nutt (1932-2014)

                                                      Gordon Nutt

It is sad to report the death this week of former Coventry City player Gordon Nutt. Gordon, a home-grown player, played 82 games for the club between 1951-54, scoring 11 goals. Sadly he was one of the many good young players sold by the club to balance the finances in that era.

Born in Birmingham on 8 November 1932 Gordon was the eldest of five children & grew up in South Yardley. He starred as a schoolboy footballer & represented Birmingham Schools.

After leaving school he joined Coventry City as a 16-year old apprentice and quickly became a regular in the Modern Machines team, which was actually the club's 'A' team. Gordon was a skilful right-winger who loved to take on his full-back and have a crack at goal. He was one of a number of outstanding youngsters being groomed by the club for the future. His team-mates like Reg Matthews, Frank Austin, Lol Harvey, Peter and Jimmy Hill and Ray Sambrook could have formed the nucleus of the club for ten years but sadly the majority were later sold to bigger clubs.

The club's regular right-winger was the veteran Leslie 'Plum' Warner and Gordon's first-team chances looked slim. However at Christmas 1951 with Warner injured Gordon was given his first team debut and scored in a 1-2 home defeat to Blackburn. In the Pink match report Nemo described Nutt as ‘the pick of the home forwards’ and ‘gave the English international full-back (Bill) Eckersley quite a busy afternoon’.

He obviously impressed the manager too because he retained his place & played a key role in City's 4-1 FA Cup third round win over Leicester in mid-January. City lost at First Division Burnley in round four & Gordon was back to the reserves after six first team games. With Gordon called up for his National Service with the Army. There he befriended the future Manchester United & England centre-forward Tommy Taylor and represented the Army at football. Army duties however restricted his appearances for City and his opportunities were few and far between. City were relegated to Division Three in 1952 and the veteran Warner retained his place on the wing until early 1953 when Gordon was promoted again & quickly made the number 7 shirt his own. In 1953-54 Gordon scored one of the fastest goals in the club’s history when in a 2-0 home win over Walsall he netted after just 30 seconds.

He was a virtual ever-present for the next eighteen months & became a very popular player with the fans. City however failed to bounce back into Division Two & with gates falling economies were forced on successive of managers. The bright young players seen as the club's future had to be sold to prop up the club. Gordon was one of the first to leave in December 1954, signing for First Division Cardiff for £18,000.

In the summer of 1955 he was selected in the FA touring party to the West Indies and played alongside future City manager Jimmy Hill & future England manager Bobby Robson.

He failed to fulfil his potential at Ninian Park however and after 17 games (and three goals) he was on the move again. In September 1955, after impressing for Cardiff reserves against Arsenal the Gunners boss Tom Whittaker decided to sign him and Mike Tiddy for a combined fee of £20,000.

Within hours of signing Gordon made his Arsenal debut in a 1-3 defeat at Sunderland but a week later scored the winning goal in a 1-0 home victory over Aston Villa. Over the next five years he made 51 appearances including the famous 4-5 defeat by Manchester United just a few days before the 1958 Munich disaster when he faced his old army friend Tommy Taylor. Gordon played alongside many Arsenal greats including Jack Kelsey, David Herd, Cliff Holton, Tommy Docherty & Dave Bowen.

After leaving Arsenal in 1960 he had a season at Southend (18 games – 2 goals) followed by a year in Holland with PSV Eindhoven before returning to England to play non-league football with Hereford United, Rugby Town & Bexley United. In 1965 he emigrated to Australia and after briefly playing for Sydney Croatia & Manly FC he set up a successful film lighting company in Sydney. Nutt & his family moved to Tasmania in 1991 and he was president & head coach of the Tasmanian Soccer Schools for a decade, passing on his wealth of experience and skill to players and coaches across the state. He also used his contacts with English football to send talented Tasmanians for trials with Arsenal and other clubs.

He returned to Coventry in 2008 for the first time for many years and attended the Legends Day where despite suffering from dementia he enjoyed the company of many old colleagues. I have fond memories of his joy at being reunited with former City colleagues Charlie Timmins, Barry Hawkings & Lol Harvey.

                                                        Gordon at 2008 Legends Day

Described by everyone who met him as a true gentleman, Gordon is survived by his wife Jennifer and son Asher. He also has two surviving sisters, one of whom Shirley Shakespeare still lives in Birmingham and helped me with information about Gordon. His funeral took place in Cygnet, Tasmania yesterday.