Sunday, 15 February 2015

Jim's column 14.2.15

On Tuesday evening the Sky Blues' shrinking attendance fell to a new 50-year low with only 6,885 fans paying for the privilege of watching another poor home performance against Scunthorpe. The attendance was the lowest for a league game in the city since Easter Monday 1962 when 5,965 turned up for a 1-1 draw with Bristol City. The circumstances of that game are interesting however. Jimmy Hill had taken over as manager the previous November but his honeymoon period was over & his early impact on the team's fortunes had petered out. The side had won just once in six games & a final position well below halfway in the old Division Three was certain. A crowd of almost 14,000 had watched his first home game but the disillusioned fans had drifted away & only one of the previous five home games had attracted over 9,000. The Port Vale home game a week earlier had attracted 5,894.

Hill had his plans & was on the verge of the inspired signings of Willie Humphries & John Sillett but the fans had little or no inkling that the most exciting period in the club's history was just around the corner. Now, 53 years later, few City fans would dare to think things will change so dramatically at the club.

The even more worrying statistic is the club's average attendance this season. Even with the inflated crowd of 27,000 for the Gillingham game, the average is currently 9,320. With gates unlikely to improve between now & the end of the season, the final figure will be lower not higher. Leaving aside last season at Northampton, that average is the worst in the club's Football League history. Only twice since 1919 has the average fallen below 10,000, in 1925-26 & 1927-28 seasons. In 1925-26 the team were playing their first and only season in Third Division North, having been relegated from Division Two the previous year. They went from playing teams like Chelsea, Wolves & Manchester United to facing tiny clubs such as New Brighton, Ashington, Nelson & Durham City. Gates started at the 15,000 level but despite remaining unbeaten at home in 16 games up to the end of March crowds dwindled, especially after Christmas and there were several crowds under 6,000 with the lowest 4,744 to see a 5-2 victory over Hartlepool in the final home game. The average was 9,505. Two years later, with the team now switched to Division Three South the crowds peaked at 15,000 for the visit of Plymouth in September but were under 9.000 by Christmas. The average was skewed somewhat by a Monday afternoon game in February when 2,059, the lowest ever league crowd at Highfield Road, watched a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace. The side won only five home games all season and finished 20th of 22 teams with a final average attendance of 9,388. At the moment that is the lowest average in club's league history (barring Northampton). That record will go this season.

Interestingly the lowest post-war average was in 1982-83 when, at the all-seater stadium Dave Sexton's side averaged 10,552.

Lifelong City fan Dave Long asked me to provide the details of the FA Youth Cup final game against Arsenal in 2000. It was his daughter Esme's first trip to Highfield Road.

It was the first leg of the two legged final & City were in the final for the second year running, having lost to West Ham the previous year. The game took place on 4 May 2000 and the teams lined up as follows:
City: Gary Montgomery: Richard Spong, Daniel Hall, Craig Strachan, Calum Davenport, Tom Cudworth, Lee Fowler, Robert Betts, Gary McSheffrey, Simon Parkinson (sub Jason Ashby), Craig Pead (sub Martin Grant).

Arsenal: Graham Stack: Israel da Silva, Nicolo Galli, Liam Chilvers, John Halls, Steve Sidwell, Rohan Ricketts, David Noble, Jerome Thomas, Jay Bothroyd, Graham Barrett.

Arsenal, coached by former City manager Don Howe, were without their star player, Jermaine Pennant, allegedly a £2m signing from Notts County the previous year, but still fielded eleven youth internationals. City, coached by Richard Money, started strongly but were undone by three Arsenal goals in 21 minutes after half-time. Thomas, Barrett and Sidwell netted & although Gary McSheffrey scored a late goal it was a comfortable victory in front of 10,280.

In the second leg at Highbury the following week Arsenal won 2-0 with goals from Bothroyd & Sidwell to lift the trophy 5-1 on aggregate. Messrs Bothroyd, Barrett & Ricketts all subsequently played for the Sky Blues. Of the excellent young Arsenal side only Barrett, Pennant & Ricketts appeared in an Arsenal league line-up – and none of them made more than 12 appearances – whilst only Bothroyd & Barrett won full caps for their country. Six of the Coventry side made it through to the first-team with McSheffrey & Davenport having successful careers.


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