Sunday, 27 December 2015

Tribute to Don Howe

Don Howe (1935-2015)
Don Howe, whose death at the age of 80 was reported this week, played a small part in the history of Coventry City, steering a poor team to First Division safety in the last season before the advent of the Premier League in 1992.

Wolverhampton-born Don had an outstanding playing career as a full-back with West Bromwich Albion and later Arsenal, making over 500 appearances and winning 23 caps for his country. A broken leg ended his career prematurely and he became a member of the Gunners' coaching staff. Under Bertie Mee Don developed a reputation as one of England's finest coaches and played a key role in the 1971 Double success. He left Highbury in the afterglow of that achievement to become manager at the Hawthorns but only succeeded in taking his former club down to Division Two. He returned to Highbury as coach under Terry Neill as Arsenal reached three successive FA Cup finals in the late 1970s and successfully combined this role with being assistant to England managers Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson before becoming Arsenal manager for two years in the mid-1980s.

In 1987 he became assistant to Bobby Gould at Wimbledon and helped the Dons to pull off their shock victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final. There followed a two-year spell as manager of QPR before the Sky Blues persuaded him to come to Coventry as assistant to Terry Butcher in November 1991. Two months later after a bad run of results and contract wranglings Butcher was sacked and Don took over the reins on the understanding that the kitty was empty and there was no money to spend.

Howe, despite inheriting a squad that included Stewart Robson, Kevin Gallacher and a young Peter Ndlovu, couldn’t avert an FA Cup replay defeat at Cambridge, courtesy of a goal from their powerful striker, Dion Dublin, but took action to stiffen City’s defence. This he was only able to do by depleting the team’s attacking strength. Drab, dour football was the consequence, and although only one game in nine was lost, the run included four goal-less draws and saw only four goals scored. The slow accumulation of points was enough to keep the threat of relegation at bay until mid-March, when City were overtaken by Sheffield United, Southampton and Tottenham, each of whom had put on a surge. 
Successive defeats by Tottenham and Arsenal meant that City would have to scrap for everything to survive. Deflected goals then cost them the points against both Notts County and Everton. On Easter Monday Lloyd McGrath was sent off in the televised clash with champions elect Leeds for deliberate handball, although TV replays suggested the ball had struck his knee and not his hand, and City lost again. 
One of the worst Coventry City sides in their 34-year top flight stay could afford to lose only so long as others beneath them were also losing. But Luton were stringing together a winning run, and beat Aston Villa in their penultimate game. It was just as well that City recorded their first home win since November, against doomed West Ham, for that set up a climactic final day at Villa Park. By that time Notts County and West Ham were already relegated, leaving Luton, who were two points behind City, to travel to Notts County. With the Sky Blues having a superior goal-difference, a draw was all they needed to survive.

Within twenty-one seconds City’s hopes of even a point looked thin, as their former hero Cyrille Regis put Villa ahead. News that Luton were winning at Meadow Lane, coupled with a second Villa goal, scored by Dwight Yorke, put City in the bottom three for the first time all season. The fans were almost resigned to relegation. Salvation came, not through a City fight-back, but in the shape of Loughborough University student Rob Matthews, who scored twice for Notts County to send Luton down.

Within days City announced that Don would be joint manager with Bobby Gould, recently sacked by West Brom. The idea was that Howe would retain responsibility for coaching and tactics and that the duo could repeat their success at Wimbledon. But his record and style – not to mention his decision to sign Les Sealey (who had bad-mouthed the club when leaving in 1983) on loan – had not endeared him to City fans. Howe, who had been suffering some heart problems, decided that the daily trip from his Hertfordshire home was too much, stepped down, and allowed Gould to recruit axed Bolton boss Phil Neal as his assistant.

After leaving Coventry he was a member of the England set up under Terry Venables before his final job in 1997, back at Arsenal, as youth team coach before retiring in 2003. He continued to pass on his advice to aspiring young coaches.

Don was unquestionably an outstanding club and national coach and respected by the top people in the game but he failed to achieve success as a club manager. In many ways he was similar to Dave Sexton, always happier in a tracksuit coaching than behind a desk or fielding questions at a press conference. After the passing of Jimmy Hill last week it is another great loss to English football.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Jimmy Hill 1928-2015

Jimmy Hill was a man of many talents and Coventry City and the City of Coventry benefited enormously from his time as manager and later chairman of the football club. In the 1960s I was one of the hordes of Coventry and Warwickshire boys who followed our very own Pied Piper down a golden path to success.

The five and a half years of his time as manager, from December 1961 to May 1967, remains the most exciting and momentous era in the history of the club. Nothing before or since, with the brief exception of the few weeks around Wembley 1987, can compare to those marvellous days which came to be known as the 'Sky Blue Era'. In a unique partnership with the go-ahead chairman Derrick Robins, he transformed Coventry City from an ailing Third Division side in a run-down stadium into the most progressive club in England that would grace the top flight for 34 years. 

Born in Balham, South London on 22 July 1928 Jimmy was first spotted by Reading manager Ted Drake whilst playing for his regiment whilst doing National Service in 1948. He never made the Reading first team and in 1949 after being released he joined Brentford where he soon got a first team chance as a centre-forward. Converted to a wing-half he spent three years at Griffin Park making 87 appearances before making the short journey to Fulham.

He spent nine happy years at Craven Cottage, mainly at inside-forward, before a knee injury ended his career and was a wholehearted and enthusiastic member of the team that almost reached Wembley in 1958 and won promotion to Division One in 1959. During his time there he became the chairman of the Professional Footballers Association and was instrumental in the abolition of the maximum wage for players in 1961, upsetting many stick-in-the mud club chairmen along the way. The first major beneficiary of his union success was his Fulham team-mate and England captain Johnny Haynes, who became England's first £100-a-week player.

It was a chance meeting with Derrick Robins at the 1961 Lord's Taveners' Ball in London which opened up the Coventry managerial opportunity for Jimmy. The two hit it off and Jimmy was offered the City manager's job but only if he had complete control – the first City manager to have such power. A 2-1 home FA Cup defeat by non-league Kings Lynn was the catalyst for change, although he had been offered the post a week earlier.

His first match in charge was a 1-0 home win over Northampton and although the team won four of his first five games in charge, by the end of the season City were in the bottom half of the Third Division with gates under 6,000. Coventry's younger fans would however remember his first Christmas in charge - he introduced a massively popular pop and crisps fuelled autograph session with the players. Jimmy knew how to nurture the next generation of fans and that simple act is still remembered by a generation of Sky Blue supporters.

Hill started making changes from the moment he walked into the club. He revolutionised the players' training, he removed the ban on players talking to the media and he sacked the complete back-room staff including loyal servants such as Alf Wood and Ted Roberts. Foreign clubs were invited to Highfield Road for floodlight friendlies, a fund-raising pool was launched and ground improvements planned.

The club was never out of the limelight and his innovations were admired nationwide. He introduced the Sky Blue train, Radio Sky Blue, pre-match entertainment, the Ryton training ground and the Sky Blue song as well as developing the ground into a modern, well-equipped stadium. Not everyone welcomed his innovations however and his critics said he was a gimmick merchant and riding on a horse in full hunting regalia around Highfield Road before a testimonial match played into the critic's hands.

Two of his many great attributes however were his ability to deal in the transfer market and the strength of his convictions and he was never afraid to make what were, at the time, unpopular decisions and see them through. The sale of 29-goal top scorer Terry Bly in 1963 was a case in point. The fans were in uproar when he was sold but within weeks it proved to be an inspired decision as Bly’s career tailed off and his replacement, George Hudson, became the most idolized player in the club’s history. Three years later there was further hullabaloo when Hudson was sold – hundreds of fans shunned City's big Cup match at Everton in protest and travelled to Northampton to see 'The Hud' make his debut. A year later when promotion was secured to Division One, Hill’s judgement was vindicated.

In the close season of 1962 Jimmy was given £30,000 to strengthen the team. He largely kept faith with the defence he had inherited, built around the man-mountain captain George Curtis, and used the money to buy a brand new forward line including a club record £12,000 on centre-forward Bly. He introduced a continental-style all-Sky Blue kit which soon got the local press calling the team the 'Sky Blues' and Jimmy, along with director John Camkin wrote the words to a club song to the tune of the Eton Boating Song. On the pitch the club reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup after an unforgettable victory over Sunderland at Highfield Road when an estimated 50,000 fans watched as City pulled of a giant-killing act with two late goals. The Cup run put the club back into the national limelight and although they missed out on promotion from Division Three they had almost doubled the average league crowd to 17,000 with massive away followings that were the envy of the top clubs in the land.

More changes came in 1963 with the sloping pitch levelled and work commencing on the 'Sky Blue Stand' to replace the rickety 1910 stand. A dazzling start to the 1963-64 season saw the team race away at the top – they were nine points clear on January 3rd – only to suffer a slump in the New Year. It was a great test of Jimmy's ability to motivate his players and he faced criticism from some fans. The nine-point lead was whittled away and their two closest rivals overtook them. Hill made two key strategic short-term signings and the collapse was arrested. A win on the final day over Colchester in front of almost 37,000 clinched the Third Division title.

The 1964-65 season started with five straight victories and the fans dreamed of successive promotions but it turned out to be a season of consolidation in Division Two. Jimmy didn't rest on his laurels however and splashed out a world record £35,000 fee for goalkeeper Bill Glazier and a similar sum for Chelsea full-back Allan Harris. The team however was still dominated by players who had cost little or nothing including Curtis, Ronnie Rees, Ernie Machin, Dietmar Bruck, Mick Kearns and Brian Hill.

The team made a serious challenge for promotion in 1965-66 but missed out by one point. The fans believed Hill's decision to sell their idol George Hudson in March had cost the club promotion and although Hudson's career went on a downward trajectory, many never forgave him for the act. 'JH' was confident that local boy Bobby Gould would score the goals but the fans needed a new hero & the club transfer record was smashed to bring Scottish midfielder Ian Gibson to Coventry.

Neither 'Gibbo' nor the team set the world on fire in the early months of 1966-67 and it seemed that Hill had made a major error in the transfer market. After a League Cup exit to lowly Brighton and with 'Gibbo' looking set to leave, JH was under pressure. Jimmy and his star player buried the hatchet and suddenly the team's form clicked. A run of 25 unbeaten games saw the Sky Blues win the Second Division title with the highlight being a victory over their closest rivals Wolves at Highfield Road in front of a record crowd of over 51,000. At the end of the match Jimmy conducted the thousands of fans on the pitch to a moving rendition of the Sky Blue Song. The crowds were flocking to Highfield Road to see the Sky Blue miracle and the club had the highest attendances of any Midland club with an average of over 28,000.

Jimmy oversaw more ground improvements that summer including the construction of the West Stand in twelve weeks, but behind the scenes a major story was brewing. Jimmy resigned on the eve of the club's debut in the First Division, to become Head of Sport for London Weekend Television. The news was a bombshell to both the supporters and players alike but his mind was made up. He later revealed that if Derrick Robins had met his request for a ten-year contract he would have stayed. After the impact he had on the club, many feel that it was a tragedy that Jimmy never took the opportunity to test his abilities at the highest level. Whether he would have been a success or not will never be known.

Jimmy was a natural on television and virtually invented the TV pundit role working alongside Brian Moore on 'The Big Match'. In 1973 he switched channels and joined the BBC and became the presenter of 'Match of the Day. His authoritative voice, insightful comments and sometimes controversial views not to mention his football knowledge made him a national treasure although 'the chin', as he was known, was often caricatured.

In 1975 he returned to Coventry City as their first paid managing director but times had changed and the club had serious financial difficulties. Although he turned things around not all of his ideas went down well with the supporters. In 1981 in an effort to combat hooliganism he spearheaded the club's move to make Highfield Road all-seated and then watched as crowds plummeted with fans put off by the sterile feel of the stadium, higher prices and inconvenient ticket arrangements.
An investment in North American football was unsuccessful and the club's and his personal investment was lost. In 1983 he stepped down as chairman of the club but stayed involved in football with stints as chairman of Charlton Athletic and Fulham, helping both clubs through difficult times. In 2011, in what would be his last public appearance, he unveiled his own statue at the Ricoh Arena. Sadly Alzheimer's Disease had taken hold and Jimmy spent his last days in a care home.

Throughout his whole multi-faceted career Jimmy Hill was always committed to innovation in every aspect of the game, and at all times believed supporters came first. His influence lives on at Coventry City and throughout the wider football world. He was a true legend.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Jim's column 19.12.2015

Coventry City's exciting eleven-game run without defeat in league games came to an end on Sunday at Bramall Lane in disappointing circumstances. The result was a travesty and the Blades could not believe their luck in finishing the game with eleven men, avoiding a goal when the ball clearly crossed the line and scoring the only goal with a deflection off Billy Sharp's shoulder. The Sky Blues had by far the better of the game and should have won comfortably.

As I have previously written, the run of 11 games, six wins and five draws, equals the run in the autumn of 2001 when Roland Nilsson took over from Gordon Strachan, and that was the best run since Jimmy Hill's 'Invincibles' in the 1966-67 Second Division promotion campaign. During that 25-game run City ground out a lot of results without playing well and after Christmas there were few attractive games. They won only four away games, drawing eight but at home they were unbeaten with eleven wins and two draws. Older fans will remember the backs to the wall draws at Rotherham, Crystal Palace and Bristol City and the scraped home wins over Norwich, Preston and Carlisle. My point is, I don't expect to see City play champagne soccer every week between now and the end of the season in order to win promotion.

Before today's game with Oldham, City, coincidentally, have 25 games remaining in League One and a repeat of the famous 1967 run would give them 15 wins and 10 draws for a total of 94 points and ample for automatic promotion. The fans just have to pray that they don't have one of their post-Christmas slumps.

After Billy Sharp scored the winning goal on Sunday Benjamin Lipman enquired if Sharp was close to matching Richard Cresswell's scoring record against the Sky Blues. Sharp's record is good – five in seven games – but Cresswell has scored nine against us since 2001. Neither player is likely to overhaul the record holder, a certain Alan Shearer who netted 18 league and cup goals against us for three different clubs between 1991 and 2005. Other deadly strikers against City include Tony Cottee (14), Ian Rush (14) and Bob Latchford (13).

There was some cheer in the City camp last weekend – on Friday night the youth team beat Premier League Stoke City to advance into the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup for the second season running. It was the first victory over a Premier League side since 2003 when City beat Everton in round three before going out of the competition to Nottm Forest. The scorer of the only goal of the night at Leamington FC's Harbury Road ground was Bassala Sambou who has now netted all seven of City's goals in the competition.

He has already overtaken James Maddison's haul of six goals in last season's competition and a host of other City youngsters who have also netted six in one season including:

Bob Allen (1967-68), Trevor Smith (twice in 1969-70 and 1970-71), Steve Livingstone (1986-87), Andrew Ducros (1994-95) and Gary McSheffrey (twice in 1998-99 & 1999-00).

Only Tom English has scored more than Sambou. In 1978-79 the Sky Blues started in the qualifying rounds and English scored nine goals in ten cup games to set the record. Sambou has scored seven in three!
                                                            Tom English

Interestingly, of the six-in-a-season scorers only McSheffrey and Livingstone really achieved their potential and some would argue only Gary did.

Mick Samuel sent me an email this week to tell me about the passing of Eve Shirley. Eve and her late husband Jim ran the Sky Blue hostel for young players in Catherine Street during the time that Noel Cantwell was manager in the late 1960s. Many of City's outstanding youth players of that era would have been looked after by Eve and Jim. Eve passed away in Newquay, Cornwall, aged 91.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Jim's column 12.12.2015

Two weeks ago I wrote about the amazing speed of the goals in the Gillingham victory, pointing out that the four goals, scored in ten first half minutes, were the fastest four by a City team for almost 60 years and that Jacob Murphy's ten-minute hat-trick was the fastest by a City player since World War Two.

Keith Ballantyne, always ready with the killer question, apologised for being negative at such an exciting time but asked if City had ever CONCEDED goals at such a rapid rate of knots. He vividly remembers a 5-4 victory over Newcastle in the 1960s when City had a late collapse after leading 5-1.

That game was a Second Division game in January 1965 when the Magpies arrived at Highfield Road as league leaders. City were in devastating form and led 4-1 at half-time through a Marshall (og), Bobby Gould, Ken Hale & George Hudson. The score remained 5-1 until fifteen minutes from time when the visitors suddenly woke up and scored through McGarry (75 mins), Hilley (79) and McGarry again (87) – three goals in eight minutes. City just managed to hold on to take both points.

I can find a number of instances where City have conceded three goals quicker than that. The fastest came in 1983, soon after Bobby Gould took over as manager for the first time. City lost 5-2 at West Ham and the Hammers scored three goals in three minutes through Dave Swindlehurst (2) and Steve Whitton. The previous season, down the road at White Hart Lane, City conceded three goals in five minutes in a 4-0 defeat with Gary Brooke netting all three including a penalty. It is probably the fastest hat-trick ever against City and Brooke, normally not a prolific scorer, only scored two more goals in the remainder of the season.

The Sky Blues conceded three in six minutes at Molineux (1-3) in 2002 and three in seven minutes at Notts County (1-5) in 1983, at West Brom (1-6) in a League Cup tie in 1965 and in a 2-4 home defeat to Ipswich in 1982.

I also looked at games in which City let in four goals in quick succession and three games stand out. The record has to be at Highbury on the last day of the 1990-91 season. Arsenal were parading the League Championship trophy but City were giving the Gunners a good game. With 14 minutes remaining Arsenal led 2-1 and the result was in the balance. Then Arsenal stepped up a gear. Alan Smith made in 3-1 (76 minutes), Anders Limpar scored two to complete his hat-trick (78 and 85 minutes) and Perry Groves made in 6-1 (86 minutes) to make it four goals in 10 minutes.

City's 6-1 defeat at Bayern Munich in 1970 is still the largest defeat by an English team in a European competition, a record that Arsenal went close to emulating in the same city this season. On that wet night stand-in goalkeeper Eric McManus let in four goals in 15 first-half minutes.

At Stamford Bridge in 2000 City had a nightmare. After 24 minutes goalkeeper Chris Kirkland was sent off for supposedly bringing down Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, a decision later overturned, and JFH scored the resulting penalty. The goal flood started in the 42nd minute when Jimmy scored his second and in the next sixteen minutes he scored two more with a Zola goal sandwiched between them. The final result was 6-1 and it would turn out to be substitute goalkeeper Alan Miller's only appearance for the club.

Three weeks ago I included a photograph of Jimmy Hill taken in 1964 with the Third Division trophy alongside what I described as a gnome. I wondered if any reader might know more about the gnome and Siobhan Kelly pointed out that it was a leprechaun and someone probably gave it him for good luck!

It is sad to hear of the death of former Sheffield United and England goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson. Alan made 674 appearances for Sheffield United and won five England caps in the late 1950s. After retiring he became one of the most respected goalkeeping coaches was also employed by the Sky Blues as a goalkeeping coach during Gary McAllister's time. Alan, at five foot nine inches, one of the smallest ever England goalkeepers, was in goal for the Blades in the first top flight game at Highfield Road in 1967. In a 2-2 draw he had a solid game but was beaten by a John Key header and a long-range effort by Dietmar Bruck. I am sure the tribute to him at Bramall Lane tomorrow will be moving.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Jim's column 5.12.15

Last Saturday's home draw with Doncaster stretched the Sky Blues' unbeaten league run to eleven games and equalled the best run by a City team since 1966-67. It pults the current team level with the 11-game run without loss at the start of Roland Nilsson's managerial career in the autumn of 2001. As I said last week the 1966-67 team under Jimmy Hill went 25 league games unbeaten. If Tony Mowbray's side avoid defeat at Bramall Lane next Sunday they will clock up the best run for 48 years.

Over the last few weeks as City's season has developed into something quite exciting, numerous readers have asked me how this season compares to the best seasons of the past. So I decided to check the stats and can report that after 20 games Tony Mowbray's team have the second best points record by a Coventry City side the club joined the Football League in 1919. The table below shows the best twelve seasons and compares the record after 20 games. Before 1981 two points were awarded for a win so I have adjusted the points total to reflect that.

Home (W-D-L)
Away (W-D-L)
1935-36 (D3 South)
1st (P)
1937-38 (D2)
1950-51 (D2)
1954-55 (D3 South)
1955-56 (D3 South)
1958-59 (D4)
2nd (P)
1959-60 (D3)
1963-64 (D3)
1st (P)
1965-66 (D2)
1966-67 (D2)
1st (P)
2001-02 (D2)
2015-16 (D3)

*points total adjusted where 2 pts for a win (pre 1981)

The best season was in 1963-64 when after 20 games City lead the table by two points from Crystal Palace in mid-November. By 3rd January they had extended that lead to nine points but then had a collapse and failed to win in 11 games. They steadied the ship and won promotion on the final day of the season. Other interesting points of note are:-
  • the promotion teams of 1936, 1964 and 1967 had all lost their unbeaten home records by this stage of the season.
  • After being in contention after 20 games on eight occasions in the 50s & 60s, the club have only been 'up there' twice in the last 49 years but 34 of those years were spent in the top flight.
  • Only once before (in 1937-38) have the team lost less than three games at this stage. In 1937-38 the second defeat came in game 20 (at Bramall Lane on Christmas Day)

On the question of the unbeaten home league run, extended to 10 after the Doncaster draw, this team are just two games short of equalling the best run without loss since the move to the Ricoh in 2005. In that first season following the move from Highfield Road, the team suffered a 2-1 home loss to Stoke on 2nd November, but then they did not lose again until 1st April when Preston won 1-0. The twelve-match unbeaten run included six straight wins between January and March.

Terry Butcher's reign as City manager is not remembered with much fondness but after he lost his first home game against Liverpool in November 1990, his team didn't lose again until the opening game of the next season – a total of 12 games. The best post-war run is 17 achieved three times (1952, 1958-59 and 1965-66), whilst the all-time club record is 19 unbeaten home games, set in 1925-26 season (in Division Three North).

The current unbeaten home start of 10 games is the best for a City team since the 1978-79 season when no team lowered City's colours until February – a total of 11 home games. The best ever was Jesse Carver's 1955-56 team that was unbeaten in its first 15 games from the start of the campaign until 18th February 1956, although by the time the run had ended Carver had left the club to take up a position as coach of Inter Milan.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Jim's column 28.11.15

Last Saturday was a day that will be remembered by Coventry City fans for many a year. For their team to score four goals in a game is a rare enough event (it was only the sixth time in ten seasons since the move from Highfield Road) but to score four in ten minutes left City's long-suffering fans open-mouthed in disbelief. For people like me that follow the club's history and stats, it was a dream day. I don't apologise for focusing this week on some of the records that Tony Mowbray's men are setting.

City's goals were officially recorded at: 33m 59s, 36m 11s, 40m 06s and 43m 12s. I had to scour the record books to find the last time a City team scored four as quickly in a competitive game. I had to go back almost 60 years, to September 1956 in a home game with QPR in Division 3 South. With 13 minutes remaining the score stood at 1-1 then City went mad with goals from Pat Woods (77mins (own goal)), Ken McPherson (81 & 85 mins) and Dennis Churms (83 mins) to make the final score 5-1. That was four goals in eight minutes. The only other quickest salvo of goals in the post-war period came in a 6-0 home win over Newport County in a 2nd Division game in January 1947 when Ted Roberts, George Ashall and George Lowrie (2) scored four goals in 10 minutes between the 59th and 69th minutes. Pre-war goal-times are notoriously suspect but there may have been a faster four goals than eight minutes. I did discover a friendly game at Nuneaton in 1967 when City scored four in seven minutes in a 7-3 victory with John Tudor netting all four.

Moving on to Jacob Murphy's hat-trick – only the second by a City player since the move from Highfield Road (Freddy Eastwood scored the other against Peterborough in 2009), which was timed at 10 minutes. The question on Saturday evening was, was it the fastest hat-trick ever by a City player. I quickly ascertained that it was the fastest in the post-war era, beating Peter Hill's 15-minute spree in a 3-0 home victory over Leyton Orient in September 1952. Fellow historian Mike Young helped me out with the pre-war years and identified some spectacular feats. In 1928 a gentleman called Walter Johnstone  scored three in nine minutes in a 6-1 home win over Merthyr Town in Division Three South. Johnstone, signed from Falkirk in 1927, played only 31 games for the club, scoring 12 goals in total. Two weeks after his quickfire hat-trick he signed for Walsall but played only three games for the Saddlers before returning to Scotland where he fell off the radar. That  feat was equalled in 1933 by Billy Lake who scored three in nine minutes in a 7-0 thrashing of QPR. And five years later, Lake was at it again, hitting three goals in 10 minutes in a 4-1 win at Luton..
                                                     Billy Lake                       

I thought the legendary Clarrie Bourton, who netted six hat-tricks in 1931-32 alone, might have scored a faster one but his quickest was in a 6-1 home win over Bournemouth in his momentous season. He scored three of his five goals in 12 minutes!

Prior to Murphy, the last player to score a first half hat-trick was Kevin Gallacher against Nottingham Forest in that famous 5-4 League Cup victory in November 1990. The last in a league game was Willie Carr against West Brom in a 3-1 home win in August 1969.

On the question of goal times, Ellis Romero asked when did the Sky Blues last lead a game 4-0 at half-time. The answer is 2005 in that famous last game at Highfield Road against Derby. Goals from McSheffrey (2), Adebola & John, gave City a 4-0 half-time lead and John and Whing scored after the break with Derby scoring two in reply to make the final score 6-2.

The win over Gillingham which took City to the top of League One, was City's fourth successive league victory, something they had not done since December 2002. Then, with Gary McAllister in charge the team beat Stoke and Wolves (away) and Derby and Reading (home). Unfortunately the roof fell in and the side only won once in the next 21 league games and escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth. By coincidence the Sky Blues went top of the league exactly 50 years after going top of Division Two with a 1-0 win at Birmingham under Jimmy Hill.

The draw on Tuesday night at Bradford City extended City's unbeaten league run to ten games – the best run by a City team since 2001-02 when Roland Nilsson's managerial career commenced with an 11-game unbeaten run. That was the best unbeaten run since Jimmy Hill's Division Two championship team of 1966-67 went 25 games unbeaten – a feat never likely to be repeated. After a defeat at Huddersfield on 19th November 1966 the Sky Blues did not lose another game. Jimmy Hill's team of 1962-63 went 15 unbeaten in the league, and 22 unbeaten including Cup games whilst before the war, Harry Storer's side started the 1937-38 season with a 15-game run without loss and two wins at the end of the previous season meant it was a run of 17 unbeaten in total.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Jim's column 21.11.15

Matt Kite reminded me this week that we are approaching the 40th anniversary of Coventry Sporting's famous FA Cup run which saw them get the scalp of league club Tranmere Rovers. Matt is the son of David Kite who was the manager of Sporting at the time and both father and son have been big City fans for many years.

After progressing through the FA Cup Qualifying rounds, Sporting reached the First Round proper for the first and only time in their history. The draw paired them with Tranmere and it was quickly clear that their small ground at Kirby Corner would be unable to cope with a sizeable crowd. Coventry City stepped in and offered to host the tie at Highfield Road. On 22 November 1975 Sporting pulled off a major giant-killing act, beating their high-flying Division Four opponents 2-0 with both goals scored by 19-year old Rolls Royce apprentice Stewart Gallagher. A crowd of 4,565 watched the tie and gave a massive financial boost to the part-timers .

In the second round Sporting, whose assistant manager was former City and England goalkeeper Reg Matthews, were given another home tie, this time the visitors were Third Division Peterborough United. The fans were dreaming of another victory followed by a tie with Coventry City in round three. Posh however, managed by former City boss Noel Cantwell, had other ideas and shattered the dream, winning 4-0 in front of over 8,500 fans at Highfield Road.

It's a massive game at the Ricoh Arena today with league leaders Gillingham in town for the top v second clash. With the teams level on points and separated by a single goal, the winners will be league leaders tonight. There was much speculation on Twitter this week about the last time the Sky Blues were the league leaders other than at the start of the season. In 2001-02 City were top of the Championship for one day at the end of October after a 10-match unbeaten run culminating in a 2-0 home victory over Sheffield Wednesday, remembered for a superb goal direct from a free-kick from Youssef Safri. The following day Wolves beat Burnley 3-0 to leapfrog City and Roland Nilsson's team never reached those heady heights again.

Prior to 2001 City had not been in top place in any league apart from brief spells in the early weeks of 1992-93 and 1989-90. You have to go back to the Jimmy Hill for the last time the club were in the top position for any length of time. In 1966-67, the Second Division Championship season the Sky Blues were slowish starters and did not hit top spot until a win at St Andrews on 7th January. They kept top spot until the end of March and only regained it during the final match of the season as they leapfrogged Wolves to snatch the title.

By coincidence, fifty years ago this weekend the Sky Blues hit the top spot in Division Two following a 1-0 win at St Andrews. They stayed there one week and missed out on promotion by one point, having to wait a further season to reach the First Division.

Another question, from Moz Baker, was: when was the last time that Sky Blues were involved in a top v second game in any division? My immediate reaction was to say the Wolves game at Highfield Road in 1967 when 51,452 watched City beat their West Midland rivals in the Second Division. Phil Fisk on Twitter reminded me that early in the 1992-93 season, second-placed City hosted league leaders Norwich City. Peter Ndlovu replied to an early Ian Crook strike by the Canaries and the game ended 1-1. In the Premier League's inaugural season Bobby Gould's Sky Blues never got as high as second again and finished 15th. There was also an early season game in 1978-79 when City, unbeaten in their first five games, were second and travelled to Anfield to face leaders Liverpool. City lost 1-0 to a Graeme Souness goal.

There was sad news last week that former City goalkeeper Marton Fulop had lost his fight against cancer and died at the young age of 32. The Hungarian joined City on loan from Tottenham in October 2005 after Stephen Bywater was recalled by West Ham. City were in the bottom three in the Championship when he arrived but he kept a clean sheet on his debut, a 1-0 home win over Luton. Dennis Wise is credited for City's remarkable turnaround that season but Fulop has to take a lot of credit too. He gave the defence great confidence and he was only on the losing side twice in 18 games at the Ricoh as the new stadium became a fortress for the only time. City finished eighth that season – their best finish in eleven seasons in the Championship – and Fulop played 33 league and Cup games under Micky Adams.
                                                    Marton Fulop

In late 2006 Roy Keane signed him for Sunderland and he played sporadically for the Wearsiders over the next four seasons, interspersed with loans at Leicester, Stoke and Manchester City. In 2010 he rejoined Keane at Ipswich and was a regular in their Championship side for one season before a move to West Brom where he warmed the bench as back up for Ben Foster under Roy Hodgson for the 2011-12 season. His final move took him to Greek Superleague side Asteras Tripoli and he won a Greek Cup runner-up medal with them in 2013. Marton won 24 full caps for Hungary and would have won more but for the form of Gabor Kiraly.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Jim's column 14.11.2015

The less said about City's FA Cup exit to Northampton last Saturday the better. I will only point out that in Coventry City's three championship seasons of the 20th century they made early Cup exits. In 1935-36 under the legendary Harry Storer, City lost to non-league Scunthorpe United in a First Round replay – a major shock, but one that was quickly forgotten as the Bantams raced to the title. In 1963-64 City lost at home to Bristol Rovers in Round 2, following a simple 6-1 win at non-league Trowbridge. Three years later Jimmy Hill's team fell at the first hurdle in the FA Cup to Newcastle United in a classic 4-3 game at Highfield Road, after a humbling League Cup exit at home to Third Division Brighton. I'm not suggesting that City are going to win the League One championship but illustrating that Messrs Storer & Hill (our most successful managers of all-time) knew the importance of keeping the focus on the league when putting in a strong promotion challenge.

For a change this week I thought I would write about two books with Coventry City connections that have landed on my desk recently. Firstly, Steve Phelps has produced 'Sky Blue Heroes' which tells the story of the 1986-87 season which of course culminated in the Sky Blues winning the FA Cup. Using a combination of press cuttings and the personal stories from players, club staff, supporters and journalists, Steve uses a chronological timeline and it works really well. I thought I knew everything about that season, especially the cup run but there are some great stories never heard before. For example, the fact that Graham Hover, the club's secretary at the time, kept the club's Cup Final ticket allocation under his bed for safety. Then the story, related by Lloyd McGrath, of what happened in the dressing room at half-time in the semi-final at Hillsborough. City were trailing 1-0 to Leeds and had not performed in the first 45 minutes. Lloyd, not normally known as outgoing, started to sing 'Here We Go, here we go' and suddenly the whole of the dressing room had joined in. One can only imagine the effect the cacophony must have had on the Leeds players on the other side of the thin walls. There is humour: Geoff Foster's nightmare trip on a bus to Sheffield, and sadness: the tears of a young Lee Corden. The book is full of lovely personal stories and it will bring back lots of memories for Sky Blues fans everywhere.

Steve has managed to get several of the 1987 squad to attend his book signing at Waterstones in Coventry on Friday 27th November from 5.30 – 7.30. At the time of writing this, he is confident that Messrs Bennett, Regis, Ogrizovic, Peake & Gynn will there as well as 'Moxey' the mystery man who appeared on many of those memorable photographs taken on the Wembley pitch after the final whistle. 'Moxey' was in fact, Steve Cockrill, an apprentice who became John Sillett's lucky mascot during the Cup run.

The second book is very different. Bryony Hill, the wife of Jimmy Hill, has written a heart-warming book about her life with JH entitled 'My Gentleman Jim – A Love Story'. Jimmy, who has been struck down by Alzheimer's, has been in a care home for three years – his last public appearance was the unveiling of his statue at the Ricoh Arena. Bryony, who has published several books on gardening and cookery as well as novels, is a natural, easy-to-read author and reminds the reader of JH's varied and successful career as a player, manager, director, chairman, union negotiator as well as a consummate broadcaster. She describes funny and moving stories of their time together, the majority of which involve a host of celebrities from all sports and film and television. We also see another side of the multi-talented JH – a romantic, with a talent for poetry!

Bryony has had a terrific strain on her these last few years as Jimmy succumbed to the terrible disease but her love for him shines through. The section of the book on Alzheimer's is brief but superb. I have personal experience of the devastating effects of the disease and Bryony, from her gruelling experiences with Jimmy, has defined her 'rules' for coping with sufferers and it is something I wish I had read a few years ago.

Strictly speaking it is not a football book but is of interest to Coventry City fans of a certain age who recognise his enormous achievements in football in general and especially to the Sky Blues. He left his mark on football and our football club for ever.

One of many photographs in her book was of JH and the Third Division championship trophy, won by the Sky Blues in 1964. I've never seen this picture before and wondered if anyone knew the relevance of the garden gnome in the picture.

Bryony has a book signing at next Saturday's home game with Gillingham. She will be signing copies of her book in the Family Zone between 1.30 and 2.30.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Jim's column 7.11.15

Two home wins in four days have lifted the Sky Blues to within one point of the League One leaders, Walsall, and excited the Ricoh faithful. Six points, seven goals, with four of them from the goal machine Adam Armstrong. He just cannot stop scoring at the moment and is setting new records every week. He has now netted 12 league goals in his first fourteen games, the most impressive start to a Coventry City goalscoring career since Mick Quinn scored fourteen goals in his first fourteen games in 1992-93. The legendary Clarrie Bourton netted 1eighteen goals in his first fourteen games in 1931.

His two doubles in the past week have taken his total to five doubles in the league already and emulates Quinn's feat that season. You have to go back more than 50 years to find the previous scorer of five League doubles – in the 1963-64 promotion season George Hudson netted six, one of which was a hat-trick, something that Armstrong must surely score soon. In the intervening years several players have scored five doubles in League & Cup including Leon Clarke two years ago, David McGoldrick in 2012-13 and Michael Mifsud in 2007-08.

On Saturday against Peterborough he became the first City player to score 10 league goals before the end of October since Mick Ferguson in 1977-78. In 1963-64 the legendary George Hudson had scored 14 by the end of October and added a further six in November!

City fans are just praying that his club, Newcastle, don't recall him to St James' Park and instead perhaps consider letting him stay for the season.

The Sky Blues are one point of automatic promotion pace. I believe an average of two points a game (92 points total) will ensure a top two finish and therefore avoid the risky play-offs. Only once in the last twenty seasons would that total have failed to get automatic promotion. After 16 games played and 31 points gathered, City are close to that target.

Poor old Peterborough must dread playing the Sky Blues away. For the second season running they lost after leading 2-0 at half-time. Last season goals from Ryan Haynes, Jim O'Brien and Frank Nouble gave City the points with the first two goal turnaround for 19 years. Almost a year to the day City repeated the feat, but left it till injury time to secure the points. Two years ago at Sixfields Posh also lost 4-2 to the Sky Blues after leading 2-1 at half-time.

Tuesday night's game was another thriller with some vibrant attacking, four great goals and a somewhat scary period in the second half when a desperate Barnsley team threw everything at a tired City. The final score of 4-3 was the first such scoreline in a City match since 2001 when in Roland Nilsson's first home game as manager following the departure of Gordon Strachan, the Sky Blues beat Manchester City 4-3. It was also the first time City fans have seen seven goals in a game at the Ricoh since the first season when on Dennis Wise's debut the Sky Blues beat Derby 6-1.

In Derby's defence that day was a youngster called Lewin Nyatanga who must dread playing at the Ricoh. He was in Barnsley's back four on Tuesday night in what was his eighth visit to the stadium- more than any other player other than Jobi McAnuff. Thanks to Geoff Moore for that fact. In eight visits the Welsh international has been on the winning side just once (for Bristol City in 2010) and he has conceded 23 goals (almost three a game) with Derby, Bristol City and Barnsley).

It is sad for me to report the death of former City player Ken Cornbill. Birmingham-born Ken passed away on 13th October, aged 78. He was on City's books for 3-4 seasons in the 1950s and although he never appeared for the first team, was a regular for the reserves in that period. Ken, a speedy right-winger with a great cross, was released by City in 1960 and joined Lockheed Leamington. According to Leamington historian Paul Vanes he made a winning debut at Hednesford on December 3rd when the Brakes triumphed by the odd in five and he played at least 17 games scoring 4 goals that season. With another ex-City man Ernie Ward playing at the top of his form, Ken had to settle for a place in the Reserves. The following season he appeared at least 16 times and netted a solitary goal and as a boy I saw him play at the Windmill Ground. In 1963 he joined Tamworth and it is believed he also played for Hednesford & Kidderminster. Away from football he had jobs selling cigarette machines to pubs and as a fork-lift driver in a carpet factory. In retirement he lived in Telford and attended City's Legends Day in 2013.
                                                         Ken Cornbill in 1959

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Jim's column 31.10.2015

On Saturday at Swindon, Reice Charles-Cook broke Steve Ogrizovic's post-war Coventry City record for the most consecutive minutes without conceding a goal. He passed Oggy's record in the 78th minute and at that stage it looked like a good day all round for the Sky Blues as they led 2-0 and looked on course for another away victory. Then, as so often happens at the County Ground, the home side roused themselves & with five minutes to go, netted once before scoring an added-time equaliser from the penalty spot.

Reice's record of 580 minutes left him 28 minutes short of the all-time club record, set, as I wrote last week, in 1934 by Horace Pearson.

During the debate over clean sheets, several people have asked me which City goalkeeper holds the record for the most clean sheets in a season. The most by the team in a league season is 18, achieved in 1938-39 and 1958-59. In the latter season, the Division 4 promotion campaign, City used four goalkeepers and three of them, Arthur Lightening (9), Alf Wood (5) and Alf Bentley (4), shared the clean sheets. In 1938-39 Bill Morgan set the record by keeping 17 in 41 games, the other being Alf Wood in his sole game between the sticks. Bill Glazier came close to equalling Morgan's record with 15 in 1968-69 and 16 in 1970-71. Oggy's best season was 1987-88 when he kept 15 clean sheets in 40 games.

Swindon's County Ground has rarely been a happy hunting ground for the Sky Blues and although they have two FA Cup victories there (1966 & 2001), they have failed to win a league game there in nine attempts since the last in December 1960. The Robins also love playing in Coventry – they have won all three encounters at the Ricoh and City last beat them in the league in 1964. Even in Swindon's one season in the Premier League, in 1993-94, in which they won only five games all season, they managed to thump City 3-1 at home and take a point home from Highfield Road with a last minute equaliser.

In the last four seasons City have thrown away a lead at Swindon and squandered nine points in the process. Definitely one of City's hoodoo grounds.
2012-13 leading 2-0 with 13 minutes left – final score 2-2
2013-14 leading 1-0 with 14 minutes left – final score 1-2
2014-15 leading 1-0 with 18 minutes left – final score 1-1
2015-16 leading 2-0 with 5 minutes left – final score 2-2

The FA Cup draw paired City with old rivals Northampton Town for what will be the two club's first competitive meeting since the Third Round FA Cup tie in January 1990. That game resulted in an embarrassing 1-0 defeat for City who were 11th in the old First Division at the time and on the verge of a League Cup semi-final place. The Cobblers were 11th in Division Three & shocked John Sillett's team with the only goal coming from Steve Berry. The game took place on the Cobblers' old ground, the County Ground which they shared with Northamptonshire cricket team and which had only three sides.

The teams have met in the FA Cup on two other occasions, in 1930 and 1954. City triumphed at the County Ground in both games. In 1931 goals from Frank Bowden & Billy Lake gave City a 2-1 success, whilst in 1954 the game was won by a freak 80-yard shot by Roy Kirk that caught former City goalkeeper Alf Wood, off his line, and bounced into the net.

On the subject of freak goals at Northampton, regular reader Arthur Warner wrote to me this week concerning such a goal at the County Ground. Arthur wrote:
My memory took me back to when I was about 11 or 12 years of age and I witnessed a very bizarre and embarrassing own goal by Charlie Ashcroft who was in goal for City. It was in the mid fifties when my Dad took me to Northampton on the train to see the City play the Cobblers at the County ground,that they shared with the County cricket team. We were in the covered end, behind the goal, when Charlie Ashcroft took a goal kick, and Roy Kirk was standing in the centre half position with his back to the goal. Charlie's goal kick hit Roy on the back of head and went into our net for an own goal. I know that the City lost 4-0, so could you please research the details to see if I am dreaming or not. 
                                                              Roy Kirk

You aren't dreaming Arthur. The game in question was in August 1957 and City got a 4-0 thumping from the Cobblers. They conceded two penalties in first twenty minutes, both scored by Maurice Robinson, then late in the first half, 'keeper Ashcroft's woeful kick hit full-back Kirk and, as you thought, rebounded into the net to make it 3-0. Poor Kirk, the hero with his 80-yard goal three years earlier, was now the unluckiest man on the pitch but no blame could be put at his door.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Jim's column 24.10.2015

What a week for Coventry City's goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook who wrote himself into the record books on Saturday against Blackpool with his third clean sheet in a row. He becomes the first City keeper not to concede a goal in his first three league games for the club. When you consider the great custodians the club has had over the years, from Jerry Best in the 1920s, through Bill Morgan in the 1930s, Alf Wood in the 1940s, Reg Matthews in the 1950s, Bill Glazier in the 1960s and of course Oggy, for what seems like forever, none of them matched Reice's record. Then, at Rochdale on Tuesday evening, he proceeded to do it again in a 0-0 draw. If you include the clean sheet at Yeovil in the JPT game then Charles has played five and a half games (or 495 minutes) since he conceded a goal to Donal McDermott on his debut at Rochdale in the League Cup.

On three occasions since the war City have achieved five consecutive clean sheets. In October 2001 Roland Nilsson's team won four and drew one without conceding, in early 1992 Steve Ogrizovic was between the posts as City's defence was not breached in five games and in October 1982 Les Sealey achieved the feat. In 2001 two 'keepers shared the honours with Magnus Hedman playing in the first two games and Andy Goram in the latter three. In total the team went 491 minutes without conceding.

In 1992, under the managership of Don Howe, the run included four 0-0 draws and a solitary 1-0 win. After Manchester City's David White netted the only goal of a defeat at Maine Road on 18 January, the Sky Blues won 1-0 at Crystal Palace (David Smith scoring), then drew four goalless games in a row – Liverpool (h), Southampton (a), Manchester United (h) and Norwich (h). On 7 March City travelled to Hillsborough and there were only seven minutes remaining on the clock when Viv Anderson scored to equalise Kevin Gallacher's earlier goal. That added up to 572 minutes without a goal past Oggy. So another clean sheet at Swindon would take Reice past Oggy's post-war record. (Stop press: Reice went 85 minutes without conceding at Swindon, setting a new post-war record of  580 minutes without a goal going past him)

Oggy's effort just pipped Sealey's record of 558 minutes in 1982 with five clean sheets: Notts County (h) 1-0, Watford (a) 0-0, Fulham (League Cup) (h) 0-0, Norwich (h) 2-0 and Aston Villa (h) 0-0. The Fulham game went to extra-time and the run came to an end somewhat abruptly with a home defeat to lowly Second Division Burmley in the League Cup.

For the club record you have to go back to 1934 when the club kept six clean sheets in a row, straddling two seasons. Harry Storer was the manager at the time and the goalkeeper was Horace Pearson. After a 3-1 defeat at champions-elect Norwich had ended their promotion hopes, Storer was determined to finish as runners up to the Canaries (only one team promoted in those days). A week later City ripped Bristol City apart, with a club record 9-0 victory and Clarrie Bourton netted four goals. A week later the season ended with a 0-0 draw at Clapton Orient. The 1934-35 season started with four consecutive clean sheets: Northampton (h) 2-0, Clapton (a) 1-0, Bournemouth (a) 2-0 and Clapton (h) 4-0, before on September 8th at Highfield Road, Pearson was beaten by Watford's Jimmy Poxon in the 43rd minute in a 1-1 draw. In total Pearson went 608 minutes without conceding.
                                               Horace Pearson in 1934

So the leader board looks like this:

608 minutes Horace Pearson
572 Steve Ogrizovic
558 Les Sealey
495 Reice Charles-Cook
491 Magnus Hedman/Andy Goram

Finally, before I leave the subject of clean sheets, Richard Home asked what is the club record for clean sheets in a season. The record was set in 1958-59, the Fourth Division promotion season under Billy Frith. The team kept 18 clean sheets out of 46 league games, 15 of them at home. This season Mowbray's team have kept seven out of 13 games, an average which, if were to be continued, would break the record.

The Rochdale result was City's best outcome at Spotland in eight visits stretching back to 1921. Previously they had lost six and although they drew there in the League Cup earlier this season, they lost the tie on penalties. So maybe that is progress!

It was a very disappointing crowd at Rochdale of 2,495 - the lowest to watch a City away league game since 2002 and the third lowest in the post-war era. If you take the City following out the home crowd was less than 2,000.

Since the war there have been five crowds under 3,000:
2,077 v Wimbledon 2002-03
2,275 v Southport 1958-59
2,495 v Rochdale 2015-16
2,607 v Halifax 1961-62
2,866 v Scunthorpe 2014-15

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Jim's column 17.10.2015

Another great result at Fleetwood last week cemented City's place in the top six of League One. With Steven Pressley's appointment as Fleetwood's manager ahead of the game I was fearing the 'new manager bounce' but City finished the stronger side and snatched a deserved winner in the final minute courtesy of ex-player Richard Wood. The last former City player to score for us was Jon Stead against Bristol City in 2011-12 in the defeat at Ashton Gate that virtually condemned us to relegation.

City left it late at Fleetwood and it was the second time this season that a goal at the death has won them the points, the other being in the 3-2 home win over Crewe. In contrast City haven't so far gone down to a late defeat this term, something that has been very familiar in the last few years.

Keith Rogers who sits behind me in the East Stand and has been a City fan for around 50 years, has asked me if we have ever scored a winner so late in the game. Wood's goal was timed as the 90th minute and there are several examples of the team scoring in added time. At Crawley last season, James Maddison scored in the 91st minute, and in 2011-12 both Leon Clarke and James Bailey netted winners in the 94th minutes against Preston (JPT) and Oldham respectively.

Keith's question reminded me that it would be worthwhile updating my stats on late goals. The table below shows the number of goals scored and conceded after the 80th minute in games.

Goals scored after 80 minutes (all games)

By City
By Opponents
2009-10 (Coleman)
2010-11 (Bothroyd/Thorn)
2011-12 (Thorn)
2012-13 (Thorn/Robins/Pressley)
2013-14 (Pressley)
2014-15 (Pressley/Mowbray)
2015-16 (Mowbray)

The statistics disprove the theory that City concede more late goals than they score. It was certainly the case in the Championship and those goals hastened relegation, but since 2012 the Sky Blues have the upper hand, including this season where City have yet to concede a late goal. Another interesting fact is that of the 13 late goals scored last season eight of them were winning goals.

On the question of statistics, Craig Evans asked whether 22 points from the first 11 games of a season is a record. Craig, it is the best haul of points from 11 since a win was upgraded from two to three points in 1981. If three points had been awarded prior to 1981 then only two seasons better this term's figure. In 1963-64 the team would have won 23 points from 11 and in 1937-38 Harry Storer's team would also have reached 23 points. It's a good omen; in 1964 City won the Third Division title and in 1938 they finished fourth in the old Second Division. 

Two weeks ago I asked for help recognising former City player Horace Matthews from an old team picture of AWA Baginton taken in 1942-43. Regular reader Ron Dickinson contacted me to say that he was pretty certain that Horace is second from the left in the back row. Ron writes: 'The team captain was Bill Beaufoy, in the centre of the front row, behind the big trophy. Beaufoy was a leading player in junior soccer in the war and possibly played a few games for City's reserves.'
                                              AWA Baginton 1942-43

'Probably the best known member of the team was Bob Ward (front row, second from the right, behind the smaller trophy), who also went on to play for Coventry City and was later trainer at Bedworth Town and Lockheed Leamington. Bob was a jovial person yet regarded as a bit of a 'hardman'. I remember seeing him play at Villa Park in the mid week FA Cup game at Villa Park in 1946. It was an early afternoon kick off (no floodlights in those days) and the coach driver made a detour to pick up three of us from school at lunch time to take us to Villa. The City finished with ten men and the newspaper headline the next day referred to them as the "10 commandos". The player sent off was Bob'.

Ron is correct. The first FA Cup competition after the war was played before the Football League commenced and the FA decided to make all ties up to the semi-final, two legged. City were drawn against Villa and beat them 2-1 at Highfield Road on Saturday 5th January. The second leg, four days later, is the game that Ron remembers and Villa won 2-0 to make it 3-2 on aggregate.

Still on the subject of Horace Matthews, Bobby Gould kindly sent me a picture of the full Coventry City staff from 1965 with Horace's son John, who later became such a success in Ireland, pictured third from left in the third row.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Jim's column 10.10.2015

The Sky Blues bowed out of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy at League Two Yeovil on Tuesday evening after losing a penalty shoot-out for the second time this season.

It was the fifth penalty shoot-out City have been involved with in the last four seasons & after winning the first two (Burton and Sheffield United in 2012-13), they have now lost three in a row (Leyton Orient 2013-14 and Rochdale and Yeovil this season). Prior to 2012 the Sky Blues had only ever taken part in three penalty shoot-outs since they were introduced into domestic games in 1976. In 1988 City lost at Reading in a Simod Cup semi-final, in 1998 they lost to Sheffield United in an FA Cup quarter final replay and in 2001 they won a League Cup tie at Peterborough. Their overall record therefore is played eight, won three, lost five.

Admittedly on Tuesday night City had a much-changed line up from the sparkling win over Shrewsbury and were missing the speed merchants, Armstrong and Kent, but it was a poor outcome from the first hurdle on the road to Wembley. Many fans will say: 'at least we can concentrate on the league now' which is something Jimmy Hill did as manager in the 1963-64 and 1966-67 promotion seasons. In the former season, Hill, remembering how the previous season's FA Cup run had damaged the team's promotion hopes, was not unhappy to leave both major Cup competitions early on. Then in 1966-67 the team tumbled out of the League Cup at the first hurdle to Third |Division Brighton and left the FA Cup at the first attempt in a 3-4 thriller with Newcastle at Highfield Road. Hill never openly admitted to a lack of interest in the Cups in those seasons but it was common knowledge that he wasn't that upset about the defeats which enabled him to focus on promotion.
On Twitter the other day, someone posed the question: Did Coventry City ever have a player called Andy Williams, and the answer is yes.

Andy was born in Dudley in 1962 and was late coming into professional football after serving an apprenticeship at a local firm which gave him accountancy qualifications. He played as an amateur for Dudley Town and was appearing for Solihull Borough in his spare time when Coventry City spotted him in 1985. Don Mackay was the City manager at the time and Andy took two weeks off work to have a trial with the Sky Blues. A midfield player, he appeared in two reserve games and did enough to warrant an offer of a full-time professional contract.

Within a few months he was given his chance in the first team, as a substitute in a 0-3 home defeat to Liverpool, when he came on for Greg Downs in the 73rd minute. City had an injury crisis at the time and Graham Rodger also made his debut and young striker Gareth Evans played only his second game.
                                                          Andy Williams
Andy went back to the reserves but got another chance in early 1986 with his first start, at home to Aston Villa as a stand-in for the injured Dave Bennett in a 3-3 draw and he set up a goal for Cyrille Regis.

Andy played in a 1-0 win at Oxford and a 2-3 defeat at Newcastle however manager Mackay bought another midfielder Nick Pickering soon afterwards and Andy was unable to win a first team place, other than on the bench. The following season, after one further substitute appearance he was on his way to Rotherham United with Evans in exchange for Dean Emerson.

Rotherham, a struggling Third Division club at the time, were boosted by the arrival of the two youngsters and Williams scored the winning goal against Bolton on his debut, while Evans finished as the club’s leading scorer with 11 goals. Andy played 87 games over two seasons with the Millers before joining Leeds United in 1988. He was never a regular at Elland Road but over four seasons made 50-odd appearances including 15 games in the 1990 Second Division championship team alongside Gordon Strachan, David Batty and Gary Speed.

In 1992 he joined Notts County, then a First Division side, but couldn’t keep them in the top flight. He returned to Rotherham in 1993 but failed to have the same impact at Millmoor as the first time around and moved on to Hull City two years later. He returned to Coventry with the Tigers for a League Cup tie in 1995 but was on the losing side. His last league appearances were for Scarborough in 1996-97.

The last I heard, Andy was based in the Rotherham area and ran the local council rents arrears office, putting the knowledge he gleaned before his playing career to good use.