Sunday, 10 August 2014

Jim's column 9.8.14

The new football season kicks off today for the Sky Blues with a trip to Yorkshire to face the Bantams of Bradford City. Here's hoping Steven Pressley's new look side can improve on City's shocking record at Valley Parade where only one victory has been gained in twelve visits, that was back in 1959 in the old Third Division. Last season City came very close, only to concede a 90th penalty which enabled Nahki Wells to complete his hat-trick and make the final result 3-3.

There has been sad news during the summer with three former City players passing away. In June Don Bennett, one of the last professional footballers to play first-class county cricket, died, followed in July by Bill Farmer & Billy Gray.

Bill(y) Gray (03/12/1931 – 18/07/2014)
Bill was born in Binley of Scottish parents in 1931. During the war he was evacuated for a time to Stonehouse in Scotland. He was a precocious young player who impressed playing for Binley Youth Club before graduating in 1946 to play for Modern Machine Tools which was effectively City's nursery side after the war. Bill impressed City's management & he was offered a professional contract in 1948, joining a host of other talented youngsters at Highfield Road. During his National Service he was a PT instructor in the army based on the Isle of Wight. A skilful wing-half, Bill got his chance in October 1951 as a stand-in for the injured Don Dorman. He made just two first team appearances, a 1-1 home draw with Birmingham & a 1-3 defeat at Leicester, before returning to the reserves. In 1954 he left the club & went to work at Morris Motors as a machinist whilst still playing football for Southern League Kettering Town. Before long however he was playing for Morris Motors in Coventry's local leagues. He later worked at the Jaguar plant.
Bill moved to Northumberland nine years ago to be close to his family but two years ago made a sentimental return to the city to attend the 2012 CCFPA Legends Day and met up with several of his former City pals including Lol Harvey & Trevor Lewis. His son Alan told me that he took a lot of persuading to attend that day arguing that nobody would remember him & that he would not go on to the pitch. He relented however, thoroughly enjoyed himself & spoke of nothing else for weeks afterwards. Sadly he succumbed to Parkinson's disease.

                                                                Billy Gray

Bill Farmer (24/11/1927 – 02/07/2014)
Born in Guernsey along with his better known younger brother Ron, the siblings were two of the few professional footballers to have come out of the Channel Islands. Bill cut his footballing teeth there with both St Martin’s FC and St Aubin’s FC. He then spent three seasons at Nottingham Forest, along with Ron, eventually making 58 first team appearances between the sticks between 1953-56. He had signed for non-league Brush Sports in Loughborough when Oldham Athletic came in for him in summer 1957 but he only had five first team outings for the Boundary Park club by the time he joined Worcester City for the 1958-59 season.
In the meantime in November 1958 brother Ron had been signed up from Forest by Bantam’s manager Billy Frith. Billy was persuaded to take a look at Bill as potential additional goalkeeping cover for the popular Arthur Lightening and brought him to Highfield Road in August 1959. In the event Bill only made a handful of reserve appearances for City and he soon moved on to Corby Town where he retired in 1960.

Don Bennett
(18/12/1933 – 12/06/2014)
Don Bennett, who died in June, grew up in an age when outstanding sportsmen could play more than one sport at the top levels. In the same era Willie Watson & Arthur Milton both represented England at both cricket & football & future City manager Noel Cantwell did likewise for Ireland. A prodigious cricketer in his youth in West London Don joined the Lords groundstaff on leaving school and at the age of 16 made his first-class debut for Middlesex. He went on to make almost 400 appearances for the county over 18 seasons as a right-handed middle order batsman and medium fast bowler. Football was his second love and he spent eight winters as a regular in Arsenal’s reserve team as a full back or left winger before Billy Frith signed him for Coventry City in 1959. He made his City debut on the wing in a 4-0 home win over Bournemouth but soon moved back to become first-choice right-back as City went close to promotion in his first season. Don was always a late starter in the football season owing to his cricket commitments; he never appeared before mid-September and was never photographed in the pre-season team picture. However apart from the first half dozen or so games of the season he was a regular until early 1962, making 77 appearances in a City shirt. After Jimmy Hill became manager in late 1961 Don lost his place & was released the following summer enabling him to concentrate on his cricket. In the 1960s he regularly supported Coventry players’ testimonials by bringing a Middlesex team to the Wellesbourne 6-a-side tournament. After retiring from cricket in 1968 he became a coach, and was responsible for a very successful Middlesex first XI until 1997, later becoming the club President.

                                                             Don Bennett

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