Sunday, 26 October 2014

Jim's column 25.10.14

Another disappointing away defeat at Oldham on Tuesday night saw the Sky Blues plunge to 20th place in League One. It was the tenth away league game without a win, since Steven Pressley's men won 2-1 at Crewe at the end of March. Of the side who started at Oldham only two appeared at Crewe that day, Andy Webster & Jordan Willis. The fact there are so many new faces in the side might be one of the reasons behind City's form but having said that the side went seven games unbeaten earlier in the season.

The run has to get a lot worse to match the woeful away record under Andy Thorn when the team went 21 away league games without a win between April 2011 & April 2012, or the club's worst ever run of 28 in the 1920s.

The defeat at Boundary Park was the worst league defeat since the 1-5 thrashing by Tranmere at home last season & the worst on the road in the league since the 0-4 at Walsall in 2013.

City's away following on Tuesday night, 223, was the lowest of the season and you have to go back to March 2012 to find the previous lowest when 211 brave souls travelled to Cardiff for a midweek 2-2 draw. City's average away following is currently 1,190, one of the best in the division.

Last Saturday league leaders Bristol City had almost 3,800 fans at the Ricoh to see them win 3-1. That was the best away following at the Ricoh since Birmingham City brought 5,700 supporters in March 2012. In a crowd of over 22,000 City drew 1-1 – Marlon King replying for Blues two minutes after Gary McSheffrey had put City ahead.

Last week's review of the George Raynor book attracted a lot of interest from readers. Graham Smith tells me that there is a feature film coming out in the next couple of months about the legendary Brazilian Pele and George Raynor, played by Irish actor Colm Meaney. Raynor was the Swedish coach in the 1958 World Cup final when a 17-year old Pele introduced himself to the world, scoring twice & helping Brazil to beat the Swedes 5-2.

Kevin Ring reminded me that there is another, much older book, written by Raynor himself - 'Football Ambassador at Large'. There is a whole chapter on Coventry City and his year long battle with Erle Shanks and the Coventry board and he talks about the couldn't care less attitude of some City players. In the new book Ashley Hyne mentions Raynor's autobiography, which was ghost-written by famous BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. It's publication in 1960 by Stanley Paul was controversial in that Raynor strongly criticised the Football Association, who took legal action which had the book removed from book shops but not before several thousand copies had been sold. The book later had the offending passages removed & was re-printed by the Soccer Book Club. If Raynor had any chances of a job in the FA the less than subtle comments in the book scuppered them. Kevin also tells me that George lived on the Binley Road, on the corner of Uxbridge Avenue & the property is still standing.

Reader Tom Cope posed an interesting question- how many corners were there in the 1987 FA Cup final? The answer is that over the full 120 minutes including extra time there were 17 corners, 12 to Tottenham & five to the Sky Blues.

Another reader Keith Ballantyne asked me who the second Coventry City player to win a full international cap for England. He knows that Reg Matthews was the first in 1956 when the Cov kid won five caps in goal and was never on the losing side. The second came 27 years later when Danny Thomas won two caps on a summer tour of Australia. Both games, played in Sydney & Melbourne, ended in draws & Danny (pictured below) started in Sydney but was only a substitute in Melbourne. The only other Coventry City players to win full England caps are Cyrille Regis (one cap v Turkey in 1987) and Dion Dublin (three caps in 1998).

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Jim's column 18.10.14

                                                        George Raynor

Sixty years ago next year Coventry City, then a struggling Third Division South outfit hit the back pages of the national newspapers by enticing top English coaches Jesse Carver and George Raynor from their well-paid positions as head coaches of AS Roma & Lazio respectively. It was seen as a massive coup by the City board & its chairman Erle Shanks & the highly respected men arrived in Coventry to a fanfare of publicity.

Carver, who had won Serie A with Juventus & built up a great reputation in Italy, would only stay at Highfield Road for six months, before being lured back to Italy with a massive salary but Raynor would stay for almost eighteen months. After Carver jumped ship George stepped into the manager's position but in the summer of 1956 he was demoted to coach again after the arrival of Harry Warren. Raynor was a football purist who had led Sweden to the Olympic gold medal in the 1948 London Olympics & third place in the 1950 World Cup. His ideas didn't sit well with Warren's out-dated & neanderthal tactics & when Sweden came again, seeking a man to lead them in their home World Cup in 1958, George was grateful to leave the primitive, up and under Third Division style of play.

Amazingly for a man who football has largely forgotten about, there have been two books published this year on George Raynor. Italian journalist Federico Farcomeni has written a short E-book of 64 pages entitled 'George Raynor- The Untold Story of English Football's Forgotten Giant' which makes for interesting reading and is available in Kindle form for only £1.53. Meanwhile Ashley Hyne has produced a far more meatier biography of Raynor entitled 'The Greatest Coach England Never Had'. Hyne's research is excellent, for instance he interviewed former City player Lol Harvey, one of the few ex-City men still alive who played under Raynor. Whilst the section about his time at Coventry are fairly brief the author weaves a story of a man misunderstood in his own country but revered in Sweden. Returning to Sweden in 1957 with just a year to prepare a team for the '58 World Cup he had the job of revitalising a team that had failed to qualify for the 1954 final stages & had regressed considerably since he had left them to go to Italy in 1953.

With the help of clever tactics & his own brand of motivation Raynor prepared his team with infinite detail & became the first Englishman to coach a team to the World Cup final. Unbeaten in the group stage, they went on to defeat USSR & holders West Germany to reach a final against the odds-on favourites Brazil. Sweden took an early lead but the silky skills of Garrincha, Didi & 17-year old Pele swept the hosts away in a 5-2 defeat. Raynor however was a Swedish national hero but when he returned to England a few months later the only job he could get was at Midland League Skegness.

One of the best stories in the book is about Sweden's meeting with the great Hungary side of the early 1950s. The Magyars were unbeaten in three years when Sweden arrived in Budapest just a week before Hungary were due to meet England at Wembley in what would turn out to be a watershed game for England. Raynor had done his homework & recognised the danger of Hidegkuti, the deep-lying centre-forward. He played a zonal marking system to counter Hidegkuti & instructed his forwards to close down their markers when they were not in possession (in modern parlance, a pressing game). The plan worked and Sweden got a creditable 2-2 draw. The arrogant English press saw the result & said England had little to fear from the Hungarians at Wembley. After the match Raynor met up with England manager Walter Winterbottom & gave him advice on how to play the Hungarians. Sadly Winterbottom ignored the advice, gave Hidegkuti the freedom of the pitch & England suffered their first home loss to continental opposition in an embarrassing 6-3 defeat.

George Raynor's death went unrecorded by the local & national press and he is still a largely forgotten man in football circles but Ashley Hyne's book does the man's fascinating life justice.

Today, the league leaders Bristol City are in town, rejuvenated by Steve Cotterill & boasting a couple of outstanding strikers in this division in Aaron Wilbraham & Kieran Agard. City did the double over them last season but it will take a massive effort to beat the Robins today. Cotterill's team have an amazing record at the Ricoh, winning four of the six meetings and drawing one. The only City victory was in the last meeting on Boxing Day 2011 when a Gary Deegan goal gave the Sky Blues their first win in 11 games.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Jim's column 11.10.2014

The big story of the week was Coventry Council's sale of their shares in ACL to Wasps RFC & the possible ramifications. The story obviouslyovershadowed events on the pitch – a welcome point against Crawley after three successive defeats & progress in the Football League Trophy (aka Johnstone's Paint Trophy) with a very young side.

The Crawley game was watched by a pitifully low crowd of 7,708 – the lowest home league crowd in the city since January 1986. Then City, struggling in the relegation zone, lost 0-2 to Graham Taylor's Watford for whom John Barnes scored both goals in front of 7,478. That was the lowest league crowd since April 1962 when the club had two end of season crowds under 6,000. Watford were making their second visit to Highfield Road in fourteen days having won 3-1 in an FA Cup Third round tie two Saturday's previously when the attendance was 10,500. Fourteen months after that miserably poor crowd the Sky Blues were at Wembley in the FA Cup final in front of 98,000! It shows how a club's fortunes can change in a short space of time.

On Tuesday night a crowd of 7,273, far more than many were expecting, attended the Exeter tie in the Football League Trophy. They witnessed a solid 3-1 victory from Steven Pressley's side who worked hard to break down a packed Exeter defence. With a 2-0 half-time lead Pressley was able to introduce two more of the promising under 18 side, George Thomas & James Maddison. The former made one appearance last term & Maddison was making his third appearance from the bench this campaign & both gave mature & exciting performances. With the Sky Blues also fielding youngsters Lee Burge, Aaron Phillips, Ryan Haynes, Jordan Willis & Conor Thomas I had a feeling that the side that finished the game was one of the youngest City X1s of all time.

The record youngest City X1 is the team that started versus Manchester City away on 22 November 1980 which had an average age of 21 years and 58 days. Geoff Moore who tracks this interesting statistic tells me that Tuesday's final X1 averaged just 21 days more, so it was probably the second youngest of all time and the youngest ever for a home game. For the second time this season the finishing line-up was comprised of nine home-grown players – a fantastic achievement by the club & the Academy set-up ably led until last season by Gregor Rioch.

Talking of Aaron Phillips, the youngest scored a superb brace of goals & supporters were asking if a full-back has ever scored a hat-trick for the club. I can find no record of a defender ever scoring three in a game. The last full-back to score two in a game was Steve Morgan in a 3-0 League Cup victory over Wycombe Wanderers in 1993-94 season and Steve Phelps reminded me that Brain Borrows got two in a 5-1 victory over Liverpool in December 1992. Over the years City have had very few prolific full-back goalscorers. Bobby McDonald scored a few goals as did Danny Thomas and of course Aaron's father David was playing at full-back when he scored at Sutton in 1989.
                                                                Steve Morgan              

Exeter, making their first trip to the city since 1958-59 season, had a vociferous band of almost 500 supporters who never gave up their chanting & were rewarded with a late consolation goal. Coventry is not a happy hunting ground for the Grecians; they have won only twice in 19 visits & the last time was back in 1934 in a Division Thee South Cup tie.

Kevin Ring found last week's piece about the 1964 friendly with Brazilian America FC interesting & remembers attending the game. He recalls that the old Atkinson's Stand had been demolished in the few days since the final league game with Colchester, leaving the two wing stands (that had been erected during the 1963-64 season) either side of a big gap of rubble. In the subsequent weeks the centre blocks of the new Sky Blue Stand were erected in time for the start of the new season. He pointed out that in the Jimmy Hill era the club played many foreign sides in friendly games at the old stadium including Slovan Bratislava, TSV Aachen, Ferenvaros of Hungary & Stade Francais, several of whom were 'big' clubs in Europe at the time.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Jim's column 4.10.14

Keith Ballantyne emailed me a question in the summer regarding Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Keith had read somewhere that Kasper had played for Coventry City & had no recollection of this. He did indeed play for the Sky Blues in 2008. Manager Chris Coleman signed the then 21 year-old Manchester City on loan in mid-March until the end of the season. Kasper, son of Manchester United legend Peter, replaced Andy Marshall in goal & played the last nine games of the season. He made his debut in a 0-0 home draw with Sheffield Wednesday & only appeared on the losing side three times. City were desperately close to the relegation zone after defeats at Watford & at home to Stoke but a 5-1 win at Colchester & a home draw with Wolves set up a dramatic final day of the season in the Championship. With Scunthorpe & Colchester already relegated any of the five teams immediately above them could fill the third relegation spot. The five were Southampton, Leicester, the Sky Blues, Sheffield Wednesday & Blackpool. City had a two point advantage over Leicester & the Saints & knew that as long as they had as good or better result than either team they were safe. City were away to Charlton, Saints were at home to Sheffield United & Leicester were at promotion-chasing Stoke.
An estimated 3,500 Sky Blue fans travelled to The Valley for the Sunday afternoon showdown but the players had a nightmare afternoon. They were a goal down as early as the fourth minute after Schmeichel, so safe up until that point, made a bad mistake, and fell two down in the 19th minute. Mifsud got a goal back but another mistake from the keeper left City 3-1 down at the start of the second half and developments elsewhere left them sweating on Leicester's result at Stoke. Blackpool, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton both moved towards safety after getting ahead in their games as City lost another goal.
At 4-1 the game at the Valley became a non-event and all ears were tuned in to Stoke versus Leicester. At some stage Stoke realised they were promoted and their result against Leicester was immaterial. The desperate Foxes hit the post and Stoke keeper Carlo Nash pulled off two top saves to deny the goal that would have sent City down and saved Leicester from the drop.
Kaspar Schmeichel never played for the Sky Blues again & returned to Manchester City. In 2009 he joined Notts County, followed a year later with a transfer to Leeds. He arrived at Leicester in 2011 & has subsequently made over 150 appearances for the club as well as winning six full caps for Denmark.
City fan Martin Oliver sent me a fascinating email in the summer. When he was living in Brazil some years ago he knew an ex-footballer called "Paulo Pedro" who was one of the first Brazilian players to play in Europe (with Benfica). When he learned that Martin supported Coventry City he told me he played against them when he was playing for America de Rio De Janeiro. He remembered them visiting England and playing against Arsenal in a friendly then coming up to Coventry (who they had never heard of) only to be welcomed by a stadium full of screaming fans and a guy riding round the pitch on a horse.
Some of these 'facts' are true but others aren't. City did play a friendly against a Brazilian side called America FC in 1964, the week after they clinched the Third Division championship. However I can find no record of them playing Arsenal in the same trip. The story about a man on a horse is interesting because three years later Jimmy Hill donned his hunting gear & rode around the Highfield Road pitch before a friendly with Liverpool.
I have checked the line-ups for the America friendly in 1964 & they did have a player called Carlos Pedro playing for them – whether it is the same gentleman as Paulo Pedro or not I don't know but the Brazilian does seem to have some knowledge of a game at Coventry fifty years ago.
For the record City lost the friendly 2-5 with George Hudson netting both goals. It was 2-2 at half-time but a tired City ran out of steam in the second half. The week after the famous Colchester home victory which sealed the title the team played friendly games on five consecutive nights. On the Monday they played a Dublin XI in Ireland (lost 3-4), Tuesday was Tottenham at home (lost 5-6), Wednesday was Bedworth Town (won 4-0), Thursday was the America FC game & Friday the team travelled to Eastbourne (won 3-1). For their efforts the Sky Blues' players were taken to Wembley for the FA Cup final on the Saturday & three weeks later jetted off to Spain with wives for a holiday.