Sunday, 8 February 2015

Jim's column 7.2.15

John Woodfield, a City fan who has followed City since the 1950s & sits behind me at games, wanted information about friendly games played at Highfield Road in the 1960s against Scottish club Greenock Morton. In the 1960s Morton (as they were then known) were the up and coming Scottish club & often referred to as the Scottish Sky Blues because of their innovative ideas and modern thinking. In 1964 as the Sky Blues were winning the Third Division, Morton were winning promotion to the top flight in Scotland for the first time in 12 years & had a deadly striker called Allan McGraw who scored 51 goals.

Morton boss Hal Stewart apparently rang Jimmy Hill to suggest that the clubs play a couple of friendlies & that someone might put up a trophy. Unfortunately it was impossible to get permission for another competition so JH called the game at Highfield Road in October 1964, the first leg of the unofficial 'Most Progressive Clubs Cup'. The game took place just a week after the signing of goalkeeper Bill Glazier for a world record £35,000. Glazier had made his debut at Portsmouth three days earlier but his first appearance at Highfield Road attracted a crowd of 17,029. Morton, despite being without the goal-machine McGraw, raced into a two goal lead & it wasn't until the last 20 minutes that City got their act together with John Mitten & George Hudson netting to rescue a draw.

The clubs had the re-match at Morton's Cappielow Park in March 1965, won 3-1 by Morton who included four Danish players including international Kai Johansen, a real novel signing in those days.

In November 1966 Morton returned to Highfield Road for another friendly. The Sky Blues were struggling to live up to their billing as Second Division promotion favourites & lay sixth in the table having already lost six out of 18 league games & exited the League Cup to Third Division Brighton. Three days earlier Hill had recalled Ian Gibson after six weeks in the reserves & the irrepressible Scot had dazzled in a 3-2 win over Cardiff. Only 4,098 fans turned up on a bitterly cold night to see a relatively young Sky Blues team inflict only Morton's second defeat of the season. JH gave debuts to Willie Carr & Trevor Shepherd alongside other inexperienced youngsters Peter Thomas, Mick Coop & John Burckitt. Gibbo was in devastating form, setting up the first two goals for Ronnie Rees & Shepherd with Bobby Gould heading the third in the 3-2 victory. The following Saturday the Sky Blues won 3-1 at Molineux & set off on a 24 game unbeaten run that went through to the end of the season & the club's promotion to Division One for the first time. John says that Morton playing in a fluorescent orange kit which was very unusual at the time & has stuck in his memory almost 50 years later.

My colleagues on the Telegraph Sports Desk unearthed a lovely old photograph of another friendly game from August 1983 against the Zimbabwe national team. It had been the summer of hell for new manager Bobby Gould since his arrival in May. Seven first team players, including Mark Hateley, Danny Thomas & Gary Gillespie, had rejected new contracts & left the club & Bobby had the task of rebuilding the playing staff. He signed eleven players & gave trials to several others. The game against Zimbabwe was fulfilling a reciprocal agreement following City's tour of the African country the previous May & gave the fans (around 3,000) an opportunity to see some of the new faces. As it turned out only three of the new signings started the game & one of those, Charlie George, would have his trial ended soon afterwards without playing a competitive game.
                                              City v Zimbabwe 1983

The Sky Blues lined up as follows: Perry Suckling: Peter Hormantschuk, Brian Roberts, Martin Singleton, Ian Butterworth, Steve Jacobs, Dave Bennett, Gerry Daly, Charlie George, Terry Gibson,
Keith Thompson. Goalkeeper Tim Dalton, Steve Hunt, Derek Hall & newcomer Graham Withey came on as second half substitutes & goals from Withey & George gave City a 2-0 victory. City fans would have to wait a little longer to see other new signings such as Ashley Grimes, Micky Adams, Micky Gynn, Dave Bamber & Trevor Peake.

The question on social media last Saturday evening after the 2-2 draw with Rochdale was when was the last time two loan players scored on their Sky Blues debut. I was amazed that so many people (including some of the local media men) had forgotten that it was just over a year ago that Chris Dagnall & Chris Maguire scored the goals in City's 3-1 victory at MK Dons. Both those players left soon afterwards and neither scored again for the club. Let's hope the same fate does not afflict Messrs Samuel & Odelusi. This season has now seen four players scoring on their debut with Reda Johnson (v Bradford C) & Frank Nouble (v Gillingham) the others.

Thomas Murden asked me what the highest number of drawn games in a season is for Coventry City. He wonders that with nine draws already whether the tem might be close to a record. The answer is we are some way off the record of 17 set in 1962-63 (Jimmy Hill's first full seasonin charge). Those 17 came in 46 games but the highest percentage of drawn games came in 1997-98 when Gordon Strachan's side drew 16 out of 38 games. The Sky Blues finished 11th that season, their highest final position in the last 25 years & if just half of those drawn games had been won they would have finished fifth, one point outside the Champions League places.

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