Sunday, 25 January 2015

Jim's column 24.1.15

Coventry City's under 18 team came a cropper in the FA Youth Cup at Manchester City last week, losing 8-2 to an expensively put together team of well-paid teenagers. Several readers wondered if it was the club's worst defeat in the competition. Since the Youth Cup was inaugurated in 1955 City's youth team have a fairly good record, winning the trophy once (in 1987) & being runners up on four occasions (1968, 1970, 1999 & 2000). The club's record prior to 1968, when the fruits of Jimmy Hill's emphasis on developing young talent started to emerge, was very patchy. Before this the club regularly had one or two outstanding youngsters but found it hard to put out consistent winning teams.

The worst defeat in the competition occurred just a few weeks before JH took over in November 1961. Aston Villa's juniors came to Highfield Road & inflicted a 9-1 defeat on Billy Frith's youngsters. Ralph Brown, a young Villa forward, netted seven of the goals with Fencott & a young George Graham scoring the others & Alan Cowin netting the consolation for City. City's team included just two youngsters who would break through to the first team – within a year left winger Ronnie Rees was a first team regular & a year later Bobby Gould was given his first team chance. Villa fielded five players with First Division experience & a further three also later made the first team.

By 1968 the conveyor belt of talent was beginning to churn out some excellent players & Jeff Blockley, Trevor Gould, Graham Paddon & Willie Carr were all in the class of '68. Carr's omission from the final – he was required for the first team's relegation battle – probably cost the club victory in the two-legged tie against Burnley.
                                                 1968 Youth team

City have also lost 6-1 on two occasions in the competition, in 1979 to Everton and in 1990 to Manchester City, both at home. The Everton result, in a quarter-final tie, was a surprise. City had a strong side with 10 players who would go on to represent the club at first team level & two, Danny Thomas & Mark Hateley, who would win full caps for England. City had scored 27 goals to reach the last eight with Tom English, Steve Whitton & Clive Haywood scoring for fun but came up against a very good Everton side including Kevin Ratcliffe & Steve McMahon. The match report says that Ratcliffe scored the sixth goal with a sol run from his own penalty area.

In 1990 the Manchester City side that hit six at High­field Road included several Mike Sheron & Michael Hughes, the latter whom played briefly for the Sky Blues in the Dowie era.

City's biggest victory in the competion came in 1957 when they defeated the then non-league Peterborough United 8-1. The goalscorers were Brian Hill (2), Mick Walters (2), Shropsall (2), England  & Charley. Hill & Walters went on to play for the first team & the side also included a young Arthur Cox who had to retire from playing soon afterwards & was later manager of Derby County.

A senior member of the City staff told me after the game at the mini Etihad stadium that the City lads froze on the night but that the game was part of the journey in football that can be brutal at times.

Keith Ballantyne wrote in after my recent tributes to the late Peter Hill & Ken Hale. He wrote:

I was too young to see Peter Hill play but I will always remember him dashing onto the pitch in a sky blue tracksuit with his bucket and sponge whenever someone was crocked. As for Ken Hale, my enduring memory of him was getting off the No.7 bus at Gosford Green with my Dad & I on a match day wearing a check sports jacket. I also remember his consolation goal in the 1-2 Cup defeat against Bristol Rovers, my second ever game at Highfield Road, my first having been the 3-0 win against Wrexham some weeks earlier.

Keith also wanted to know how many top flight clubs had been knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league sides since Sutton dumped City out in 1989. I'm pretty sure there has just been one, in 2013, when Luton Town pulled off a great victory at Norwich City's Carrow Road.

Tom Dentith, former chairman of the Coventry City Diamond Club, was saddened to read of the passing of Peter Hill. He wrote:

Your piece on Peter took me right back to the time I first became a City supporter and I remember him vividly. When the players returned to their football clubs after the war they were all experienced players in their twenties and thirties. It was quite a shock to see a player only seventeen years of  age looking so young  playing in the same team as much older men, Peter was the first teenager I saw  play for the City, other young players ,as you mentioned, soon followed from the Modern Machine Tool's Company  junior teams. Many thought at the time football  was a man's game until we saw the first teenager, Peter Hill, turn out in his blue and white CCFC shirt.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

JIm's column 17.115

Peter Hill (8.8.1931 – 8.1.2015)

A one-club man for all seasons.

Although Peter Hill was born & brought up in the Derbyshire village of Heanor he made his home in Coventry & gave his heart to Coventry City. Arriving in the city in 1947 as a 16-year old, he had a 16-year playing career with the club, followed by five years as the club trainer under Jimmy Hill. Later in life he returned to the club for a number of years as the kit-man at Ryton.

Educated at Heanor Grammar School, Peter was one of many Derbyshire youngsters brought to Highfield Road in the years following the war. His performances for Ilkeston team Rutland United caught the attention of several league clubs & Peter's father urged him to reject Derby County & sign for Coventry. He cut his teeth with City’s nursery club Modern Machine Tools FC alongside many other talented teenagers and played in the Coventry Works League. Lol Harvey, another son of Heanor, and four years younger than Peter, was a pal of Peter's younger brother Eric, and speaks highly of Peter: 'Growing up he was a natural sportsman & could have had a career in cricket he was that good. He was a very skilful footballer; in those days inside-forwards were expected to get up and down the pitch & needed lots of stamina, Peter had the skill & the stamina & scored more than his fair share of goals.'

His senior career started when legendary manager Harry Storer, recently back in the chair at Highfield Road after three years in charge at St Andrews, handed Peter his debut as a 17-year old at Sheffield Wednesday in a Second Division game in February 1949. Playing at inside-right, he was the club's youngest debutant at the time, aged 17 years & 181 days. He was truly a boy amongst men in a side with an average age of over 30 with team-mates such as Alf Wood, George Mason & Ted Roberts, all who had played for the club before the war. City lost 1-2 to Wednesday that day but the match report in the Coventry Telegraph was complimentary about him: 'Even under the trying conditions prevailing the five-man attack into which the 17-year old Peter Hill fitted so promisingly.... were much too good for the Sheffield defenders. Many of the 608 inhabitants of the Derbyshire village of Heanor turned out to see Hill fulfil the highest expectations at inside-right. He had a real hand in City's goal and his display all-through was another encouraging feature of his team's display. He fitted in so well that in not a single instance did he fail as a necessary adjunct to the City's scheme.' 
                                 The bus ready to go to Sheffield in 1949. Peter is far right.

He played two more games that season, a 0-0 draw at Chesterfield probably watched by another big contingency from Heanor, and a home debut in a 1-1 draw with QPR. In the latter game Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph wrote: 'Young Peter Hill was playing with the coolness of a veteran'. In between times he was honing his skills in the Football Combination with the reserves alongside players like Jack Evans, Iain Jamieson, Peter Taylor & Trevor Lewis as well as carrying out the mundane jobs that fell to apprentices in those days, such as cleaning boots & sweeping the terraces. Peter was a slight teenager - the City squad list that season showed him standing just 5 foot 5 ½ inches & weighing 9 stone 1lb

The following season, 1949-50, he played five first team games & scored his first goals, netting in consecutive games against Preston & Swansea but in 1950-51 he was restricted to just one game because of the outstanding form of Welsh international Bryn Allen & Peter's obligatory two-year spell in the Royal Artillery doing his National Service. In 1951-52 City were relegated & Peter returned from the Army in the October & played five games before becoming a regular in Division Three South the following campaign. In September 1952 he scored his first hatrick in a 3-0 home win over Leyton Orient, including two rare headed goals & around this time it was common knowledge that Arsenal were interested in signing him.

The years from 1952 to 1958 were dark days for the club with managers coming & going, boardroom disagreements & financial crises & Peter was the one constant through the period. Playing at either inside-right or left, he was never a prolific scorer but scored his fair share of goals & reached double figures on three occasions. During his time as a first team player there were three other Hills at the club which often was a cause of confusion for the press-box. Once, at Gillingham in 1958, three Hills played in the same team, Peter, Brian, a 16-year old debutant who scored, and Ray, a little-used forward. Peter & Brian both netted to increase the confusion. Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph commented: 'Yes, there's gold in them thar Hills'. Earlier Peter also played alongside Jimmy Hill, not the man later to become City's manager, but a fellow product of Modern Machine Tools. The goals kept on flowing & he netted another hatrick in a 6-0 victory over Aldershot in 1957-58.
                                                  Peter as a player in the 1950s

In 1958, after City were relegated to Division Four, manager Billy Frith switched Peter to the right-wing where his speed was put to best advantage – he was a natural on the wing & gave many full-backs a nightmare time. Injuries restricted him to 25 league appearances in 1958-59 but he was the creator of chances for the prolific scorers Ray Straw & George Stewart as the Bantams sealed promotion back to Division Three as runners up. Ankle & knee injuries kept him out of the promotion run-in & would hamper his later career. Lol Harvey remembers Straw telling Peter that season: 'get that ball into the near post & I will score'. His crossing was a feature of his game. His 11 years service at the club was rewarded in 1958 with a testimonial & his former manager Storer brought his Derby County side to Highfield Road for the occasion.

Peter returned to the side to aid City's attempt at a second successive promotion & scored a stunning goal from the right wing in the promotion battle with Norwich in April 1960, watched by almost 28,000 at Highfield Road, but they just missed out on promotion to Division Two. That season he also pitted his wits against First Division opposition as City became the first non-First Division side to lift the Southern Floodlit Cup (a pre-League Cup competition), beating top flight sides Fulham & West Ham on the way. The match report from the Fulham victory describes Peter as 'outshining England captain Johnny Haynes' & in the final he came up against a young Bobby Moore.

1960-61 was his last season as a regular & he had his best scoring record with 12 league goals in a struggling City team. Injuries kept his first team appearances down in 1961-62 but in November 1961 he was a member of the City team humbled by Southern League Kings Lynn in the FA Cup, an event that sparked the arrival of Jimmy Hill as manager. His widow Barbara told me that he knew after the Kings Lynn game that it was time to pack in & Peter made one final senior appearance, at home to QPR in March 1962, before hanging up his boots at the premature age of 30. A succession of bad knee injuries had taken their toll on him but Jimmy asked him to stay on & be the first-team trainer. He became the man with the 'magic sponge' & was the first man on the scene to tend the serious injuries of Ernie Machin, Bill Glazier & George Curtis.
                                                   Peter as trainer in the Jimmy Hill era

Peter played 309 senior games for the club, the third highest by a City player at the time, and still the 14th highest of all-time. His 78 senior goals is second only to Ray Straw in the post-war period, and the fifth highest in the club's history.

After leaving the club in 1967 he went to work at the Morris factory at Courthouse Green alongside former City team-mate Harry Barratt but continued to be a regular at Highfield Road games with Barbara. In 1988 manager John Sillett asked him to return & be the club's kit man. He became a key man at the club, especially on match-days, responsible for ensuring that everything went like clockwork behind the scenes. Steve Ogrizovic has fond memories of Peter's spell in the role: 'Pete was very popular, down to earth & helped the club's management keep players feet on the ground. Because he had played & been involved in football most of his life he knew what was required of his job & he could talk for hours about the old days – he must have described every one of his 78 goals!'

Peter finally retired around 1996 but not before he had groomed the current kit-man Andy Harvey as his replacement. Andy describes Peter as 'very quick witted & at times he could appear to be cantankerous but underneath he was a loving man who loved watching & talking about football. He was totally dedicated to Coventry City'.

I met Peter about 15 years ago & loved time in his company. He could talk about football for hours on end & had lovely stories of the characters from the game in the 1950s & 60s. He never had a bad word to say about anyone & was a lovely man.

Lol Harvey, his teammate in the 1950s sums up Peter as: 'a terrific man, always helpful and a great man for getting you out of trouble on the pitch. A true gentleman'.

The Funeral will take place on 2 February at 11.15 am at Canon Hill Chapel, Canley Crematorium. Barbara has requested no flowers but donations can be made to the Salvation Army & the British Legion via the Co-op Funeral Service at 184 Ansty Road.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Jim's column 10.1.15

Three men who played key roles in Jimmy Hill's Sky Blue revolution in the 1960s have sadly passed away in the last week. Former players Peter Hill, aged 83, and Ken Hale, 75, and Alan Leather, the club secretary from 1966-1968, died aged 83.

Ken Hale was born in Northumberland at Blyth in September 1939 & joined Everton as an apprentice on leaving school in 1955. His stay on Merseyside was short & he soon returned home when Newcastle, the club he had supported as a boy, wanted to sign him. A talented goal-scoring inside-forward, Ken made his first team debut at White Hart Lane as an eighteen-year old at Christmas 1957. He combined his football career with an apprenticeship as an electrician with the National Coal board. Competition for places at St James' Park was tough however and in four seasons he made only eight appearances in First Division games, scoring two goals. It was only in 1961-62, after Newcastle had been relegated to Division Two that Ken got a longer run in the first team scoring seven goals in 11 games playing alongside luminaries such as Ivor Allchurch & Ken Leek. Joe Harvey took over as manager of Newcastle in 1962 & although Ken had scored six goals in 11 games (including two past former City 'keeper Arthur Lightening making his debut for Middlesbrough) Harvey was happy to let him join the Sky Blues for £10,000 just before Christmas. In total he scored 16 goals in 35 games for the Magpies.

When he arrived at Highfield Road one City player already knew Ken well – Mick Kearns had played in the same British Army representative side whilst doing their National Service. Ken & Mick went on a tour of the Far East with the Army & Ken played for a very strong Army XI against City in early 1962.

Blond-haired Ken made his bow for City at Notts County on 15 December 1962, replacing Hugh Barr in a 1-1 draw, but his appearances were restricted by an Achilles injury in that weather-battered season that saw the Sky Blues reach the FA Cup sixth round. On his home debut the following week he scored City’s second goal against Colchester but the game was abandoned at half-time because of fog & the goal didn’t count. He scored his first ‘official’ goal in the home win over Barnsley 'a booming shot' and scored the late equaliser (a ‘screamer’ according to Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph) in the 1-1 draw at Portsmouth in the fourth round. The following season Hale was first-choice at inside-forward and netted 16 league goals, 13 of them before the turn of the year, as City marched to the Third Division title. His understanding with winger Willie Humphries and centre-forward George Hudson seemed telepathic at times & he was undoubtedly one of the best players in the division that season.
                                                   1964-65 team picture

In Division Two Ken did not look out of place and netted nine goals in 32 games as City consolidated their position in the higher league and in January 1965 he was the architect of City's remarkable 5-4 victory over Newcastle, the then league leaders. He scored a penalty & had a hand in most of the goals against his favourite team. In 1965-66 his form dipped & along with Ernie Machin he became a target of unwarranted barracking from some sections of the Highfield Road crowd. Jimmy Hill stood by him however and Ken returned to the side & scored a ‘stunning’ goal against West Brom in the League Cup. The arrival of Ray Pointer signalled the end of his Coventry career and on transfer deadline day in March 1966 (the same day George Hudson was sold to Northampton) Ken joined Oxford United for £8,000, after 111 appearances and 33 goals.

In three seasons at the Manor Ground Ken made 72 appearances and scored 13 goals, played alongside Ron Atkinson & was in the U's 1967-68 Third Division championship side. He joined Darlington in May 1968 & made almost 200 appearances for the Quakers over five seasons before joining Halifax as a player-coach. In 1974 he was appointed manager of Hartlepool where he stayed for 2 ½ years.

After retiring from football Ken & his wife Joan bought a newsagent's business in Sunderland & later he went to work as an administrator in the NHS. They had two sons & a daughter with eight grandchildren. Ken was tragically struck down with Alzheimer's a number of years ago & died peacefully on Monday.

Jimmy Hill brought Alan Leather to the club in October 1966 & he stayed in the role for two years. He played as an amateur for Enfield & Tufnell Park in the 1950s before becoming a football administrator first with the South East Counties League, and later as assistant secretary with Tottenham Hotspur during their golden period of the early 60s. In 1966 he was seconded to the World Cup organisation & was liaison officer to the successful England team. He replaced Paul Oliver as secretary at Highfield Road & during his time with the Sky Blues he saw the side win promotion to Division 1 as well as overseeing the building of two new stands & an increase in season ticket sales from 5,500 to 11,000.  After the Main Stand burnt down in March 1968 Alan rallied the troops & somehow got the ground in a fit state for the visit of Manchester United ten days later dealing with all of the ticketing and other challenges with a cool head. The game, in front of City’s second biggest crowd of all-time of 47,111, went like clockwork thanks to Alan’s administrative skills.
                                                             Alan Leather

Alan however never really settled in the Midlands and in 1968 the club released him & soon afterwards he became secretary at Crystal Palace with whom he had a long and successful career. He was the Honorary Secretary of the Football Secretaries & Managers Association, a fore-runner of the modern day League Manager's Association, of which he remained an enthusiastic member until his death.

I will write about Peter Hill’s career next week.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Jim's column 3.1.15

In the days when the FA Cup was seen to be the greatest football competition in the world, today, Third Round day, was the most exciting day in the football calendar, when the big clubs joined the cream of the smaller clubs including a few non-league minnows. Every year the draw paired Davids with Goliaths & invariably there would be shocks. Giantkillers such as Yeovil, Hereford United, Blyth Spartans, Altrincham &, of course, Sutton United, would grab the headlines & massive crowds would watch the 32 ties played in all sorts of weather & pitch conditions, often involving snow & ice. For many, especially Premiership clubs, the competition has lost some of its glamour, with big clubs fielding weaker line-ups & fans shunning the Third Round, mainly because of exorbitant ticket prices. But for teams outside the top flight there is still a lot of magic in the competition – the chance to get the scalp of a big club or even just get a big cut of a large gate but often just a good day out for the fans. I haven't done the research but I reckon the away followings of teams travelling to a team from a higher division in the FA Cup are amongst their biggest of the season. For instance in the last two seasons City took large followings to Tottenham, Barnsley & Arsenal, and if you go further back there were great numbers who trekked to Blackburn (twice), Portsmouth & Birmingham City since we left the Premiership in 2001. Similarly clubs of a lower status have brought substantial followings to the Ricoh in recent years including Millwall, Kidderminster & Worcester City this season. I think this illustrates my point that the FA Cup may have lost some of its glamour for the 'big boys' but not for the smaller clubs & their fans who relish the chance to topple a giant & get that 'day in the sun'.

Sadly this weekend the Sky Blues are not involved in the Cup – the first time they haven't played in the Third Round since 1964 when City fans at least could bask in the fact that their team were eight points clear of the field in the old Division Three.

The Christmas results were disappointing, especially defeat at Doncaster, a side with the worst home record in the division with only one win and six goals to their name. The double sending-off of Adam Barton & James Maddison didn't help of course & it was the fifth time in the club's league history that they have had two players dismissed in the same game. Four of those five incidents have occurred in the last 20 years when dismissals have become far more common place. Prior to the 1980s it was rare for players to get their marching orders for anything other than fisticuffs & City had their share of wannabe boxers. George Hudson, Maurice Setters, Noel Simpson, Ian Wallace & Jimmy Holmes all saw red for striking an opponent, albeit that a number of them were severely provoked.

The first double sending off happened at Hull City's Anlaby Road ground in February 1920 when Billy Walker & Jock Blair got their marching orders, along with one Hull player. Nine-men City managed to hang on to a 1-0 lead to record only their fourth victory in 31 games of a miserable season. According to the Midland Daily Telegraph, courtesy of fellow City historian Mike Young, it was 'the roughest (game) seen on the Hull ground this season'. The home crowd felt Coventry were very much the aggressors but Nemo in the MDT said that 'it was Hull who had commenced the dirty business'. Walker was ordered off for a foul before Blair & Hughes, the Hull left-winger, clashed, there was an altercation, and the referee ordered both players off. City were reduced to eight men shortly afterwards when Copeland was carried off injured but City held out to inflict only Hull's second home defeat of the season.

Fast-forward to November 1995 & Highfield Road with Wimbledon the visitors. With City leading 1-0, Paul Williams was shown red by referee Robbie Hart after 27 minutes for handling the ball in the area. Vinnie Jones converted the penalty & the Dons took advantage of the numerical advantage & went 3-1 ahead. City pulled one goal back but with 10 minutes left Richard Shaw was shown his second yellow card & was off. Somehow nine-men City levelled through David Rennie & should have clinched the victory in the last minute but Peter Ndlovu missed a good chance.

Just over two years later the Sky Blues had two men ordered off at Villa Park in a 3-0 defeat. Paul Williams was the villain again with two bookings before Gary Breen was unlucky to get a red card from Graham Barber in the last minute, for pushing Gary Charles. Villa's scorers were Stan Collymore & substitutes Lee Hendrie & Julian Joachim.

The fourth instance of two red cards was in 2003 at Preston. With an hour gone & City 1-2 down but making great efforts to gain their first ever league win at Deepdale, Patrick Suffo landed a right hook on Marlon Broomes & referee Eddie Evans showed a straight red. Preston increased their lead before Michael Doyle threw a punch at Lee Cartwright & saw red. Preston ran out 4-2 winners.