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.