Sunday, 31 August 2014

Jim's column 30.8.14

It promises to be a memorable night at the Ricoh on Friday night with a large crowd expected for the homecoming from Northampton against Gillingham. City haven't had a home league crowd over 20,000 since March 2012 when the visit of Birmingham City attracted 22,240 to see a 1-1 draw. There were of course 31,054 for the Crewe game in the JPT Regional final in February 2013.

I thought I would take the opportunity to answer some of the questions I received during the summer. One question regarded this year's FA Cup final when Arsenal came from 0-2 down to beat Hull City. Several people asked me when that had last happened. It was 2006 when Liverpool trailed West Ham 0-2 only to force a 3-3 draw & win the trophy on penalties in Cardiff. The last time a team managed it at Wembley and without needing penalties was in 1966 when Everton came from two down to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 with goals from Mike Trebilcock (2) & Derek Temple. That year also saw Coventry City go out of the FA Cup to the eventual winners - City losing 3-0 at Goodison Park in the fifth round. Of course City also lost to the eventual winners this season – at Arsenal in January. In answer to Craig Richards' question this was the sixth occasion. The others being 1963 (Manchester United), 1966 (Everton), 1981 (Tottenham), 1985 (Manchester United) and 2009 (Chelsea). One other interesting statistic from the FA Cup final was that Hull City were the first team to score twice in the 90 minutes and not win since Tottenham in 1987.

Dean Nelson sparked some interest on Twitter this week by pointing out the 46th anniversary of a famous evening victory over West Brom at Highfield Road. A first-half hatrick from Ernie Hunt plus a goal from Ernie Machin took City to a 4-2 victory over the Baggies – a repeat of the scoreline a year earlier in City's inaugural First Division season. The real star of the show however was Ian Gibson or 'Gibbo' as he was known by all City fans. 'Gibbo' had been left out of City's first two games of the season & had left manager Noel Cantwell in no doubt of his feelings – he wanted a move. After losing the opening two games Cantwell recalled him for the first home game against West Ham but the mercurial Scot had had a quiet game. Against Albion however he was at his irresistible best. City went ahead in the second minute when a challenge by John Kaye on Gerry Baker resulted in a penalty which the cheeky Hunt slotted past Rick Sheppard. On 15 minutes a stunning 35-yard ball from Gibbo found Hunt who slammed in a second. Former City man Ronnie Rees pulled a goal back two minutes later but Hunt struck again on 25 minutes after a jinking run by Gibbo. Machin added the fourth in the second half before a later Tony Brown effort completed the scoring. Gibson was given a standing ovation for what for me was one of the finest individual performances I have ever seen from a City player. After the game Cantwell was generous in his praise of the wee Scot, saying: 'I would be mad to sell Gibson'.

Almost exactly a year later City defeated Albion again at Highfield Road in the first home game of the 1969-70 season. Albion had been big spenders in the close season but injuries meant they had to give a debut to 19-year old goalkeeper Gordon Nisbet. Nisbet, later to convert to a full-back, had a nightmare first-half & conceded three goals from Willie Carr, playing as a striker alongside Neil Martin. Krzywicki pulled one back but City ran out 3-1 winners. A week later they completed the double with a 1-0 victory at the Hawthorns. City certainly had the Indian sign over Albion in those days.

Following my piece on Coventry City's overseas-born players I had a few questions. Ed Blackaby wanted to know if Michael Petrasso, a loanee from QPR last season, was the first Canadian to play for the club. Yes, Ed, he was, and although new signing Simeon Jackson is a Canadian international he was born in Jamaica. Clive Baskerville pointed out that Cyrille Regis, like Arphexad & Negouai, was also born in a French overseas departement, French Guyana, which qualifies him as the 16th French-born City player.

Talking of Christian Negouai (born in Martinique), Mark Page & several other readers had no recollection of this player. He was a loan player from Manchester City who played two games in 2004-05 soon after Micky Adams took over as manager. He was primarily a defensive midfielder who could also play as a striker. He made his two appearances at Newcastle in an FA Cup defeat & two weeks later in a home league defeat to Burnley. He was substituted in the latter game after a particularly uninspiring performance & returned to Man City soon afterwards. Injuries blighted his career which took him back to the continent with Standard Liege, Norwegian club Aalesund & Brussels. Whilst playing for Liege Christian was credited with the fastest goal in Belgian league history, netting after just 11 seconds.

If you have a question about Coventry City's history send me an email at & I will attempt to answer it.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Jim's column 23.8.14

Two more overseas-born players have already made their debuts in a Sky Blue shirt this season. Simeon Jackson came off the bench for ten minutes or so of action against Barnsley on Tuesday night following Reda Johnson's introduction at Bradford. Jamaican-born Jackson, who grew up near Toronto & has won international honours for Canada, has been a prolific scorer for Rushden & Diamonds & Gillingham in the past whilst the French-born Benin international Johnson was a popular player at Hillsborough.

It set me thinking about the number of Coventry City players born outside the UK & Ireland and I discovered we are nearing the 100 mark. This season's debutants, Jackson and Reda Johnson take the total to 96.

The 96 include a number of players who were born to British parents (eg David Phillips & Terry Butcher) and others who subsequently took British nationality (eg Wilf Smith, Gerry Baker & Dietmar Bruck).

Of the 96, all but 17 have made their debuts since the Premier League started in 1992 illustrating the influence of foreign players on English football in the last twenty years. Two South African-born players, Fred Gibson & Percy Mackrill, were the first foreign-born players in the 1920s & Basque refugee Emilio Aldecoa was the first post-war foreigner in 1945-46 and went on to play for Barcelona & Spain. Then in the 1950s & 60s we had the Black South African Steve 'Kalamazoo' Mokone who thrilled the crowds but frustrated the coaches, Indian-born winger Nelson Stiffle whose stay was brief & legendary White South African goalkeeper Arthur Lightening.

The foreign legion have had mixed results with the club. From the dazzlingly skilful Peter Ndlovu in the 1990s to the instantly forgettable Ukrainian Alex Evtushok, from the legendary Swede Roland Nilsson to the catastrophic Italian goalkeeper Rafaele Nuzzo. How many City fans can remember the Australian Jamie McMaster, the Spaniard Vicente Engonga or the Congolese Chrstian Yulu. Sadly, too many of the club's imports have been useless.

Which countries have provided the most players to Coventry City? The answer is France with 15, easily outstripping its nearest rival Belgium who have provided six. The 15 Frenchmen include two born in French overseas departements (Pegguy Arphexad from Guadeloupe & Christian Negouai from Martinique) plus a raft of failures such as Jean Guy Wallemme, Youssef Sofiane, Kevin Malaga & Fabien Debec. A number of the French-born players have also represented their father's country at international level including Reda Johnson (Benin), Yazid Mansouri (Algeria) & Faysal El Idrissi (Morocco).

The most successful country for imports is probably Morocco with all three of their players having successful careers at City (Hadji, Chippo & Safri), closely followed by Sweden, who provided the peerless Nilsson, the safe hands of Hedman, offset by the rarely seen talents of Thomas Antonelius (or was it Gustafsson).

The top countries are as follows:
France 15 players
Belgium 6
South Africa 5
Denmark 5
Australia 4
Jamaica 4

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Jim's column 16.8.14

What a Coventry City debut at Bradford for new captain Reda Johnson. The French-born son of an American Beninese father & an Algerian mother not only became the first Coventry City central defender to score on his debut but then added a second goal to become only the seventh City player to score more than one goal on his first Football League appearance.
Reda was the 89th City player to score on his competitive debut since City joined the League in 1919, and follows the following to score more than one: 
1928 Tommy Bowen v Norwich (h) 2
1954. Jack Lee v Crystal Palace (h) 2
1963.  George Hudson v Halifax (h) 3
1992.  Mick Quinn v Man City. (h)  2
1999.  Robbie Keane v Derby County (h)  2
2013.  Chris Maguire v MK Dons (a) 2

Sadly his goals were unable to help City avoid defeat at Valley Parade & it is now 55 years & 13 visits without a win there. The Sky Blues equalled another record last Saturday by taking the field with seven debutants and then using Shaun Miller to make it eight new men in total. That equalled the club's post-war record set in 2003 when Gary McAllister used seven debutant starters plus one new sub in a League Cup tie against Peterborough at Highfield Road. For the record those debutants eleven years ago were: Scott Shearer, Stephen Warnock, Patrick Suffo, Michael Doyle, Dele Adebola, Graham Barrett, Claus Jorgensen with Andy Morrell a substitute. City won 2-0 with goals from Adebola & Barrett.

On Wednesday evening the Sky Blues were dumped out of the League Cup by Cardiff City to extend City's poor recent record in the competition. Only once in the last six seasons have they progressed past the First Round. Cardiff joined Hartlepool, Morecambe, Bury & Leyton Orient as first round victors over City. The one exceptional season in the last six was two seasons ago when Andy Thorn managed the side to a victory at Dagenham & Redbridge before handing over to caretaker Richard Shaw who inspired an exciting win over Birmingham City -one of only three League Cup victories at the Ricoh. By the time the third round tie at Arsenal was played, Mark Robins was in charge & he oversaw a brave but heavy defeat at the Emirates. City's record in the League Cup might seem poor but I read this week that Ipswich have lost to lower league opposition in nine of the last 12 seasons.

As expected the attendance for the Cardiff game was the smallest for a League Cup tie involving the Sky Blues since the competition was inaugurated in 1960. The previous low was 1,904 at Dagenham two years ago & the previous home low was 5,519 for a second round game in October 1985 when Chester were the visitors to Highfield Road & were comprehensively defeated with Cyrille Regis grabbing five goals in a 7-2 victory.

Steve Menary wanted to know about City's pre-season friendlies in 1992-93 season. Under new manager Bobby Gould, the team played the following games:

20 July 1992 Morton (a) 2-2 Scorers; Bowen & Ndlovu.
22 July 1992 Clydebank (a) 1-0 Flynn
25 July 1992 Airdrie (a) 1-1 Sansom
8 August 1992 Brescia (at St Andrews) 1-0 D Smith (International tournament)
9 August 1992 Birmingham (at St Andrews 0-1 (International tournament)

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