Sunday, 23 November 2014

Jim's column 22.11.14

Two former Coventry City Academy players deserve congratulations this week after winning their first international caps. Cyrus Christie won his first full cap for the Republic of Ireland in their 4-1 victory over USA in Dublin on Tuesday night. He joins a select band of City products to have played for the Republic, becoming the sixth full cap after Peter Thomas, Jimmy Holmes, Gary Howlett, Dean Kiely and Barry Quinn.

Meanwhile Callum Wilson's progress to the top of the game continued with his first appearance for England under 21s. He came on as a substitute against France in Brest but couldn't stop the French winning 3-2. Callum follows a long line of City home-grown products who have pulled on a Young England shirt. England first played under 23 internationals in 1954 & Reg Matthews was the first City product to win a cap, in 1955 in a 5-1 victory over Italy at Stamford Bridge. Reg, of course went on to win full caps the following year. Since Reg there have been fifteen Academy products selected for either the under 23 side or its successor, the under 21s ranging from Dennis Mortimer & Garry Thompson through to Marcus Hall & Tony Dobson. Callum is the first however for ten years, since Calum Davenport played whilst a Tottenham player. Since Reg Matthews only four Academy products have gone on to win full caps: Jeff Blockley, Danny Thomas, Mark Hateley & Chris Kirkland.

Talking of Callum, this week I picked up a copy of the Banbury Guardian & read that another ex-Sky Blue, Shaun Jeffers is playing for Brackley Town in the Conference North. In the summer of 2013 some people were disappointed that Jeffers and not Wilson was released by City. In less than 18 months Wilson has progressed to England under 21s and may be on the radar of some Premiership clubs in the January window whilst Jeffers is plying his trade at Brackley. It's a funny old game.

Another former City striker is back as a manager in the same league. Andy Morrell was appointed boss of Tamworth a couple of months ago & is slowly turning things round for the Lambs. Two other former City players, Lee Hildreth & Donovan Simmonds have left the club recently.

Steve Pittam read my piece about City comebacks from two down & reminded me of one of the all-time great City recoveries. In November 1995 City entertained Wimbledon in a Premier League game. Both sides were struggling – City hadn't won in 13 league games (although had beaten Spurs 3-2 in that famous League Cup comeback a month earlier) & the Dons were without a win in 10. A Paul Heald own goal gave City an early lead before Paul Williams was shown a red card for handball in the penalty area & Vinnie Jones equalised from the spot. Goodman & Leonhardsen made it 3-1 for the Londoners by the hour mark before Dion Dublin pulled a goal back on 67 minutes. City were throwing everything at the Dons but ten minutes from time Richard Shaw was sent off for his second yellow card, leaving Ron Atkinson's men with nine players. Somehow City managed to equalise seven minutes from time through David Rennie & in a frantic finale Peter Ndlovu missed a glorious chance to win the game near the end.

My good friend Dave Long has been following the club since the early 1970s and remembers that when he first went to Highfield Road the kick-off time for Saturday games was 3.15 pm but at some stage came into line with other league sides and kicked off at 3pm. He wanted to know why City previously kicked off later & when did it revert to 3pm.

It was Jimmy Hill who introduced the 3.15 kick off time in 1962. There were two reasons for the change. Firstly, Hill revealed he had received requests from shift-workers whose shift ended at 3 pm and who could attend games if the kick-off time was adjusted. The second reason and possibly the more important reason was that the new 4.55 pm finish time would fit in neatly with the new ‘Sky Blue’ social club which would have a licence commencing at 5pm and members would not have to wait around for twenty minutes for a drink. Apparently he had been impressed with a similar club at Torquay the previous season where the home fans gathered in large numbers to have a drink after the game, missing the worst of the traffic and mulling over the game over a pint. There was a snag for fans unable to get to games. When the BBC did their classified results at 5pm it was rare for the final whistle to have blown at Highfield Road so the result was often not announced until after all the other results had been read.

The change back to 3pm occurred at the start of the 1972-73 season but I cannot find any information on the reasons for the switch, however it did coincide with Joe Mercer & Gordon Milne arriving at the club.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Jim's column 15.11.14

Once again the Sky Blues have been humiliated in a cup competition, Conference North side Worcester City dumping them out of the 2014-15 FA Cup at the first hurdle. This is the first time since 1959 that the club have failed to reach the Second Round of the competition – but at least that year they managed to force a replay with fellow Third Division side Southampton to ensure they were in the draw for the second round. You have to go back to 1956 to find the last time Coventry City weren't in the draw for the Second Round – that year they lost 2-1 at Swindon in the First Round.

Sunday's tame capitulation to a side three divisions below them, was the seventh defeat suffered at the hands of a non-league team since the club were elected to the Football League in 1919. The full list of those previous giant-killers is: Rochdale (1920), New Brighton (1922), Worksop (1925), Scunthorpe (1935), Kings Lynn (1961) & Sutton United (1989). The majority of City's non-league victors have been one or two levels below them in status, the major exception being Sutton, who were four levels below the Sky Blues in 1989. Sunday's embarrassment must therefore rank as the second worst ever, after Sutton. Interestingly only one of those embarrassing defeats has cost the Coventry manager his job, Billy Frith making way for Jimmy Hill four days after the Kings Lynn debacle, although JH did reveal in his biography that Derrick Robins had offered him the manager's job before the Kings Lynn game but he didn't decide to take it until after watching City fall to defeat against the Linnets, sitting incognito in the stand. Frith was already a marked man before the Cup game.

The Worcester result was not helped by the red card given to young goalkeeper Lee Burge, an action which has earned him much criticism from the management and supporters. Lee became the first City goalkeeper to be sent off in an FA Cup game and only the fourth ever to be given marching orders. 
Steve Ogrizovic  was sent off for handling outside the box in a League Cup tie at Wolves in November 1995, City going on to lose 2-1. 
Chris Kirkland received his red card at Stamford Bridge in October 2000 – a bad decision that enabled Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink to stroke home the penalty for the first of his four goals in Chelsea’s 6-1 romp. 
Ian Bennett got his marching orders at home to Stoke in February 2005 – again for handling outside the box – and, with no keeper on the bench, midfielder Stephen Hughes took over between the sticks to help earn the Sky Blues a 0-0 draw.

Mick Williams from Coundon was in touch with me recently. Last month he celebrated 52 years as a supporter of Coventry City. His first game was in 1962 against Hull City in the old Third division which ended in a 2-2 draw in front of over 11,800 fans at Highfield Road (Willie Humphries & Roy Dwight scoring for the Sky Blues). This is what he wrote about that day:

When the day arrived I remember being a very exited seven-year old and was looking forward to wearing "the football scarf" that I had seen in one of cupboards in our house. However, Dad told me that under no circumstances would I be wearing the "football scarf" and that I would soon see why not. When the time came we walked from our house in St Margaret Road that was just the other side of Gosford Green to Highfield Road and which lay in the shadows of those strange looking lights that reached up into the sky on top of those criss cross pylons. As the teams took the field it seemed unfair to me that I had been forbidden to wear the "football scarf" as one of the teams were kitted out in exactly the same colour as the said item. Dad explained to me that the team that we were supporting were the one playing in Sky Blue and not yellow and black and that the "football scarf" was in fact the scarf that he wore for watching our speedway team the Brandon Bees as they were then known.

And so the love affair began. I have been on the roller coaster all the way through (except we didn't go to Sixfields) from then through to today and my partner and I have our season tickets in block 36 at the Ricoh. It's a bit ironic that we are now in a league position that is lower than all of the previous years of my support and gates that are also significantly lower. I guess the only way is up.

He also related a humorous story:

I'm not sure what year it would have been but I was still a youngster. One weekday evening my Dad had returned home from work and was sitting in his chair reading the Telegraph sports page when he looked up and said "I didn't realise we were playing at home tonight". He told me to hurry up and put my coat on and not to forget my hat and scarf. We walked at a hurried pace down St Margaret Road, Dad virtually dragging me along with his hand clasped firmly around mine. We walked faster and faster and even ran across Gulson Road and then into Gosford Green. It was then that the pace became a little more relaxed. In fact the pace became so relaxed that half way across we came to a stand still with Dad telling me "take of your hat and put it in your pocket" and also "pull your collar up over your scarf". We then did a full turn-around and headed for home. Just to say I was a bit confused was an under-statement, I was also very disappointed. I guess it may have been the lack of parked cars in the streets that may have first stirred Dad's suspicions but I think what really confirmed his thoughts would have been the lack of illumination from the floodlights as we walked across Gosford Green. It was some time before Dad owned up to what had actually happened. Sitting in his chair that evening with his copy of the Telegraph he had indeed read that we had a game that night..........AT THE "CITY" GROUND....... in Nottingham.

Great memories Mick!

The Former Players Association are enjoying being back at the G-Casino after home matches with Billy Bell interviewing the day's special guest on stage. Today, 1987 hero Greg Downs is the guest but I have been asked to tell fans that his appearance on stage will be delayed until 5.45 to enable the England-Slovenia game to be shown on the large screens. So if you want to watch the England game & see Greg get down to the casino after the game.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Jim's column 8.11.14

The FA Cup campaign starts for the Sky Blues tomorrow with a visit from Conference North side Worcester City. It is the third time the City have met Worcester in the competition since we joined the Football League in 1919 – the most head-to-head games with any non-league side. The first meeting was in 1960, in the first round at St George's Lane, Worcester. Coventry ran out easy winners, 4-1, with two goals apiece for Ronnie Farmer & Billy Myerscough. Then in 1983 Worcester reached the third round & travelled to Highfield Road. An early Paul Moss penalty shook Coventry & although Steve Whitton soon levelled & Mark Hateley made in 2-1 before half-time, Worcester battled on & only conceded a third & final goal from Whitton in the 85th minute. They also met Worcester twice between 1905-1907 when the clubs were both in the Birmingham League and honours were even.

Several readers have asked me to list all the non-league sides City have faced in the competition. Tomorrow will be the 20th such meeting since the club joined the Football League & the results are as follows:

1920-21 v Rochdale (a) 1-2 after 1-1 draw
1922-23 v New Brighton (a) 0-3
1925-26 v Worksop (a) 0-1
1926-27 v Kettering (a) 3-2
1929-30 v Bath City (h) 7-1
1932-33 v Guildford C.(a) 2-1
1934-35 v Scunthorpe & Lindsey (h) 7-0
1935-36 v Scunthorpe & Lindsey (a) 2-4 after 1-1 draw
1952-53 v Bishops Auckland (a) 4-1
1957-58 v Walthamstow Avenue (h) 1-0
1958-59 v Weymouth (a) 5-2
1960-61 v Worcester City (a) 4-1
1961-62 v Kings Lynn (h) 1-2
1963-64 v Trowbridge (a) 6-1
1982-83 v Worcester City (h) 3-1
1988-89 v Sutton United (a) 1-2
1996-97 v Woking (a) 2-1 after 1-1 draw
2008-09 v Kidderminster (h) 2-0
2012-13 v Arlesey T (h) 3-0

Last week's piece about games in which City have conceded a two-goal lead to lose prompted a comment from Keith Ballantyne.
'I may be wrong on this, but I have a vivid memory of going to Nottingham Forest in late 1985 or early 1986. It was freezing cold and I'm sure City went  2-0 up in 20 minutes, but finished on the wrong end of a 5-2 thumping. I think Stuart Pearce and Ian Butterworth played for Forest, this being their first season since joining from City, and Des Walker was outstanding at the back with them. I wonder what happened to Butterworth, as his career came nowhere near to reaching the height of Pearce's.

Keith is quite correct. It was actually January 1st 1986 & City took a two-goal lead through Cyrille Regis & Micky Adams inside 20 minutes. They still led at half-time despite a Neil Webb goal in the 40th minute. After the break Brian Clough's team ran riot, netting a further four goals with Webb completing his hat-trick & Johnny Metgod & Peter Davenport scoring the others. Gates this season were at their lowest ebb & only 13,860 watched the game on an icy pitch. To illustrate how poor attendances were, the following week there were only 10,300 at Highfield Road for the visit of Aston Villa. As for Pearce & Butterworth, neither appeared in the Forest side that day. Whilst Pearce had a long and successful career at the City Ground, Butterworth stayed there only one season, making 27 appearances, before joining Norwich. At Carrow Road he made around 250 appearances over eight seasons. He had a successful coaching career with Darlington, Cardiff, Bristol Rovers, Hartlepool & Norwich City. He is now chief scout at QPR & was spotted at a City game at Sixfields last season.
                                                 Ian Butterworth

Latest loan signing Gary Madine arrived at the club last week for his second spell. It is five years since his last loan spell which consisted of nine appearances from the bench & five non-appearances. In total he played 55 minutes of football and failed to net but last Saturday at Orient he surpassed that total in his first start for the club. Madine is in good company with a number of players who have made many substitute appearances before starting a game. Gary McSheffrey made 11 appearances & Callum Wilson eight at the start of their careers. Before last Saturday Gary shared a record with Mathieu Manset of the most sub appearances (nine) without starting a game in one season. Wayne Andrews holds the record of the most sub appearances without ever starting a game ever – he was sub on 10 occasions over two seasons during Micky Adams' reign at the club.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Jim's column 1.11.14

With the Sky Blues losing 0-2 to Peterborough at half-time last Saturday few City fans would have been prepared to back a City victory, but even less would have bet on that outcome if they had realised that the team had failed to comeback from two down in 19 years!

But first senior goals from Ryan Haynes & Jim O'Brien & a swash-buckling third from Frank Nouble secured a famous 3-2 victory over Posh. I was aware that City had not achieved a comeback from two down since a League Cup victory over Tottenham at Highfield Road in 1995 when trailing at half-time through goals by Chris Armstrong & a Dave Busst own goal, Ron Atkinson threw Dion Dublin on & watched as goals from Peter Ndlovu (a penalty), Dave Busst & John Salako secured a third round victory. What I hadn't realised until I did my research was that two goal turnarounds are few & far between for the Sky Blues. In fact Saturday's was only the ninth such comeback since World War 2. The last five before last week were:

1995-96 Tottenham (League Cup) (h) 3-2
1985-86 Southampton (h) 3-2
1980-81 West Ham (League Cup) (h) 3-2
1970-71 Derby (a) 4-3
1963-64 Peterborough (h) 3-2

It wasn't the first time that Posh were on the wrong end of a three-goal comeback - the only comeback in the Jimmy Hill era was in a dramatic victory over Posh in the autumn of 1963. Peterborough's record at Coventry is extremely poor. Since they arrived in the Football League in 1959 they have played nine away games against City but having won on their first visit in 1961 they have lost seven & drawn one of the subsequent games.

When the dearth of similar comebacks was revealed many readers wondered how often we have been on the receiving end of a comeback from two down. Since World War 2 there have been 14 instances, four of them in the last 14 years. The last five will bring bad memories to some City supporters:

2008-09 Watford (h) 2-3
2002-03 Ipswich (h) 2-4
2000-01 Aston Villa (a) 2-3
1999-00 Charlton (FA Cup) (h) 2-3
1987-88 Southampton (h) 2-3

Four of the five were at home with the Villa Park defeat the result that condemned the Sky Blues to relegation from the Premier League & the Charlton Cup defeat (a last minute Jonathan Hunt goal sending City out of the Cup) was for me the start of the club's slow & sad decline to where they are today.

James Maddison didn't get on to the pitch last week but did celebrate a milestone by scoring his first City goal at Oldham's Boundary Park four days earlier. James, who is not 18 until later this month, scored with the help of a deflection off a defender but became the fourth youngest goalscorer in the club's history. The ten youngest are now:

1. Brian Hill v Gillingham (a) 1957-58 16 years 273 day
2. Colin Holder v Shrewsbury (a) 1960-61 17y 78d
3.Tom English v Bristol City (h) 1979-80 17y 307d
4. James Maddison v Oldham (a) 2014-15 17y 332d
5. Willie Carr v Charlton (FAC) (h) 1967-68 18y 21d
6. Peter Hill v Preston 1949-50 (a) 18y 33d
7.Ellis Lager v Bournemouth (h) 1935-36 18y 93d
8. Conor Thomas v Blackpool (a) 2011-12 18y 94d
9. Bobby Gould v Mansfield (LC) (h) 1964-65 18y 124d
10. Steve Sedgley v Oldham (LC) (h) 1986-87 18y 155d
                                                     Brian Hill

Keith Ballantyne asked me how many appearances Spanish International Vicente Engonga made for the Sky Blues during his brief spell at the club in 2002-03. Engonga, a defensive midfield player who played over 350 La Liga appearances for Celta Vigo, Valencia & Mallorca & won 14 Spanish caps, joined City on a short-term contract in February 2003. City were struggling badly at the time (they went 21 league games with only one win during that spring) and in his eight appearances (including three as a substitute) he made little impact on the club's woeful form.

He played in the following games:

Rotherham (a) lost 0-1
Bradford City (h) lost 0-2
Grimsby (a) sub won 2-0
Preston (a) sub drew 2-2
Derby (a) sub lost 0-1
Stoke (h) lost 0-1
Gillingham (h) drew 0-0
Millwall (a) lost 0-2