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.

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