Sunday, 30 August 2015

Jim's column 29.8.2015

Coventry City's excellent start to the season came to an end at Walsall's Bescot Stadium last weekend but the result was overshadowed by the loss through injury of 18-year old starlet James Maddison. As I write, it looks like he is going to be out until the New Year in what is a serious blow to the club's promotion hopes. Nevertheless, the team's start to the season must be celebrated; I remind you that the club's best ever winning start to a season, five in a row in 1964-65, was followed by five successive defeats.

City have won their first two home league games, something they last did in 2010-11 when they beat Portsmouth (2-0) and Derby (2-1). You have to go back to 1989 for the last season that City won their first three home games. Under John Sillett the Sky Blues beat Everton (2-0), Manchester City (2-1) and Luton (1-0). Many of the 1987 Cup-winning side were still regulars, supplemented by players such as David Smith, Gary Bannister and David Speedie and the Man City win pushed City briefly to the top of the old Division One.

Like most City fans I was delighted to hear that Callum Wilson had scored a hat-trick for Bournemouth in their excellent 4-3 win at West Ham's Upton Park last Saturday. It is clear that Callum is going to the very top in the game and an England call-up must be on the horizon now with a big money transfer not out of the question. Several people speculated that it was the first Premier League hat-trick by a Coventry-born footballer and I am confident that it was. However, despite what Sky & much of the media would have us believe, football history didn't start when the Premiership was born in 1992. Cov-born Bobby Gould scored a top flight hat-trick for the Sky Blues against Burnley in December 1967. Gould had started the club's inaugural season in Division 1 on the substitute's bench but in the second game, at Forest's City Ground, he came on for the unlucky George Curtis who had suffered a broken leg after just four minutes. Gould scored twice as City held the previous season's runners-up to a thrilling 3-3 draw. He managed a further two goals in six games before suffering an injury at Newcastle. The injury kept him out for 11 games, of which City won only one and slid to the foot of the table. Gould returned for the home game with Burnley and no one could have expected the outcome. Ronnie Rees gave City an early lead and just before half-time Bobby smashed a 25-yard shot past Harry Thomson in the visitor's goal. Two early second half goals completed a 19-minute hat-trick for the returning striker with late goals from Burnley's Andy Lochhead & Ernie Machin completing the scoring. The rout was watched by 28,559, the second lowest crowd of that memorable season.
                                            Bobby Gould completes his hat-trick in 1967
Talking of hat-tricks, Dave Long read my piece last week about debutants scoring more than one goal & thought I had missed out Jim Melrose. He remembered Melrose scoring a hat-trick against Everton in a 4-2 win in 1982 but it wasn't his first game in a City shirt. The Scot, signed from Leicester in a swap deal involving Tom English, made his bow the previous Saturday at St Andrews, where he failed to find the net in a 0-1 defeat. Two other City players made their debut at Birmingham, Keith Thompson, brother of Garry, and Derek Hall, a young midfielder who never appeared in the first team again. Melrose had a stunning impact on arriving at the club – he followed up his hat-trick with a goal at Manchester City a week later, and both goals in a 2-2 draw at Fulham in the League Cup, to make it six goals in four games. Sadly his scoring fizzled out after that and he only managed a further four goals in 25 appearances.

John Coleman wanted to know more about a friendly the Sky Blues played at Luton in 1971. The game was played on the day of the fourth round of the FA Cup, as both teams had been knocked out in round three (City losing at Rochdale). City's boss Noel Cantwell and Luton manager Alec Stock got together and organised the friendly at Kenilworth Road. City won the game 2-1 with goals from Billy Rafferty & Jim Ryan (own goal) in front of 7,154. Cantwell picked a side comprising mainly of first team players along with several youngsters on the verge of the first team including goalkeeper Eric McManus, Mick McGuire & Rafferty.

The line-up was: McManus: Smith, Clements, Mortimer, Blockley, Parker, McGuire, Carr, Joicey, O'Rourke, Rafferty. Jim Holmes substituted for Clements and Colin Randell came on for McGuire.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Jim's column 22.8.2015

Three wins, nine points and Coventry City are top of the table. What a great start to a season that sees the club celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the 1935-36 Third Division championship side. I have been inundated with questions about the great start, Armstrong's scoring feats, etc.

The three-win run equals the start made in 1992-93, the inaugural season of the Premier League, under Bobby Gould. In August 1992, City followed up a 2-1 home win over Middlesbrough with two away wins in the capital at Tottenham (2-0) & Wimbledon (2-1) to become the first-ever leaders of the new 'Super League'.

The club's best ever start of victories was in 1964-65 when Jimmy Hill's newly promoted side took the Second Division by storm with five straight victories. A 2-0 home victory over Plymouth was followed by away wins at Ipswich & Bolton (both 3-1) and further home successes over Ipswich (5-3 in front of over 37,000) and Middlesbrough (3-0).

In City's last Third Division promotion season, 1963-64, the team started with three straight wins, followed by a draw & three more victories to make it six wins out of seven. There was an identical start in 1954-55 with Eddie Brown notching eight goals in seven games. Another good start came in 1934-35, with four consecutive wins with nine goals scored and four clean sheets. The team finished third that season.

One statistic that went largely unnoticed this week was that the club notched its fourth consecutive league victory, following the win at Crawley on the final day last season. You have to go back to December 2002 to find the last four straight league wins by City. Under Gary McAllister the team won at Stoke and Wolves on consecutive Saturdays, and then beat Derby 3-0 and Reading 2-0 on Boxing Day. Sadly they won only one more game until the end of the season!

You have to go back 17 years to the last run of five league victories. That was in February 1998 under Gordon Strachan when City were buzzing and if you include FA Cup games including the famous win at Villa Park it was seven wins in a row.
Adam Armstrong has taken League One by storm with five goals in three games, the best start ever by a City striker. In 1992 Mick Quinn arrived from Newcastle & netted four in his first three games but Adam will have a battle on his hands to match Quinn's haul of ten goals in his first six starts.

Armstrong emulated Reda Johnson's feat on the opening day last season by scoring two goals on his debut & became the 93rd player to score on his City debut and only the eighth to score more than one goal on his first Football League appearance for the club. The previous seven are:-
1928 Tommy Bowen v Norwich (h) 2
1954. Jack Lee v Crystal Palace (h) 2
1963.  George Hudson v Halifax (h) 3
1992.  Mick Quinn v Man City. (h)  2
1999.  Robbie Keane v Derby County (h)  2
2013.  Chris Maguire v MK Dons (a) 2
2014. Reda Johnson v Bradford City (a) 2

That makes Adam the first to score a debut brace at home since Robbie Keane's arrival in 1999 & the first ever at the Ricoh. He has some way to create a record for successive scoring games. That record is held by the legendary Clarrie Bourton who scored in nine consecutive league games in 1931-32 on his way to a record 49 goals for the season. The afore-mentioned Quinn netted in six consecutive league games in 1992-93 and Terry Gibson managed seven in a row in 1985-86 but that included League Cup & Full Members Cup ties. The most recent run of successive scoring came two seasons ago when Callum Wilson scored in five games in a row & narrowly failed to equalling Quinn's total by missing a penalty in the sixth game.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Jim's column 15.8.2015

A few months ago I heard from Jonathan Miller from Whitley Bay in Northumberland. His good friend Billy Fenwick, who is now in his 90s played for Blyth Spartans for many years but told him that his father, Alfred (Alf) Fenwick, played for Coventry City in the early 1920s.

I was able to send Jonathan a team photo from 1920 containing Billy's father and promised to write about Alfred & son Billy in this column. I wrote about Alf a few years ago but more information has come to light.

Alfred Randolph Fenwick was born in the mining village of Medomsley, near Consett in County Durham on 26 March 1891. He was the son of a mining engineer and grew up close to the Hamsterley Colliery where his father worked. 

It is known that he played for local team Craghead United before joining Hull City in 1910. In 1914 just as war was about to break out he signed for West Ham. There is no record of his war-time activities but after the war he briefly played for West Ham again before signing for City in December 1919. When he arrived the Bantams were six points adrift at the foot of Division Two without a win in 18 games in their inaugural Football League season. He made his debut in a 0-0 home draw with Clapton Orient but five days later, on Christmas Day he helped the team to their momentous first victory in the league. In front of 19,000 at Highfield Road, Stoke City were defeated 3-2. The Potters got their revenge on Boxing Day, winning 6-1 in the return but the Bantams were on the rise. Alf's steadying influence at left half, where he was an ever present for the remainder of the season, helped the club pull out of the relegation places, although the club needed the help of bribes in their final game against Bury to finally slink out of trouble.

He made 53 appearances for City over two seasons and scored one goal. According to excellent Blyth Spartans historical website, Alf gave up full-time professional football on leaving City in 1921 and returned to County Durham to work in the thriving local mines playing amateur football for Leadgate Park in the North Eastern League. In 1922 Billy’s father was encouraged to join Blyth Spartans and he took up at job at the Isabella Pit near Blyth. The Fenwick family moved to Blyth after they were given help by the club to find a new house in Tenth Avenue, Blyth.

In 1924 he played briefly for Ashington Town, then in Division Three North & the following season joined Halifax Town briefly. The last record of him playing was with Bedlington United in1926-27, coincidentally another-ex-City man, Hugh Richmond finished his playing career with the same club. Alf worked as an overman at the pit until he retired and during World War II he continued at the mine, as well as being in the Home Guard. He died in Northumberland in 1975 aged 83.

Alf recommended his nephew Austen Campbell to Coventry in 1921 but he was released after one game and later joined Blackburn Rovers and became an England international.

 Alf's son William Randolph Fenwick (known as Billy) was born on 13th August 1920 at Shotley Bridge near Consett in County Durham. He was a plasterer by trade but inherited his father's football skills. He played for Blyth Spartans from 1937-1955 but had a spell at Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager (1938-39). During World War II he served in the RAF in India for four years. In 1946 he had trials at Blackburn Rovers and was offered a professional contract but chose to remain in Blyth where his wife Lily was expecting their only child, Jacqueline.

He later played for  Ashington, North Shields and Cramlington Welfare during a boom time for North Eastern Amateur football. After he hung his boots up he returned to Blyth Spartans to become trainer in 1957 and occupied various roles at the club over the next 40 years including a brief spell as manager. Billy was 95 this week & until he went into a care home recently, still attended Spartans home games.

Billy had an elder brother, Alfred Leslie Fenwick (known as Les), who spent time at Sheffield Wednesday before World War II & was transferred to Reading in the summer of 1939. Les made his Reading debut the week before war was declared and after the war was too old to play. He also gave good service to Blyth Spartans,.  

Unusually there were at least nine other players, apart from Alf Fenwick, who played for both Blyth Spartans and Coventry City's first team. The full list along with the year they signed for Coventry is:
- George Davison (1913)
  • Lance Swindale (1921)
  • Norman Findlay (1921)
  • Arthur Ormston (1922)
  • Hugh Richmond (1922)
  • Andrew Yorke (1923)
  • George Reay (1930)
  • John Watson (1934)
  • Brian Joicey (1969)

Jim's column 8.8.2015

A new football season starts today & every Coventry City fan will be hoping their side can put together a strong promotion challenge in order to regain their place in the Championship which they lost in 2012. To achieve a promotion place will require much more consistency than in the last three seasons & a much better home record. Last season the Sky Blues won only 27 home points, out of a possible 69, and in the 15 years since they dropped out of the Premiership they have only gained more than 40 home points once, in 2005-06 when Dennis Wise inspired an exciting home record. That season, under Micky Adams, City won 43 home points and a similar haul last season would have pushed them into the play-offs. Last season's automatically promoted clubs, Bristol City & MK Dons, won 53 and 51 points respectively, whilst the previous season Wolves (55) and Brentford (58) bettered that. In the new campaign manager Tony Mowbray will be hoping for a home points total close to 50 which, if achieved, would require only a slightly improved away record to get the team into contention for a top two placing. A good home record would almost certainly push attendances higher & allow Mowbray to invest more money on the pitch.

City will face seven different teams in this campaign. Bristol City, MK Dons and Preston were promoted & replaced by Millwall, Wigan & Blackpool. Notts County, Crawley, Leyton Orient & Yeovil were relegated & replaced by Burton Albion, Shrewsbury, Bury & Southend. City fans will be glad to see the back of Preston & face a trip to Deepdale, the team's bogey ground where City have never won a league game in 18 visits stretching back over 60 years. Today's opponents Wigan will surely be strong contenders for promotion & I also expect challenges from Sheffield United, Doncaster, Bradford City & Swindon. It seems only yesterday that Wigan & Blackpool were in the Premiership & whilst the latter club have unique issues with the club's owners, it still surprises me that clubs relegated from the top flight cannot manage their finances better despite enormous parachute payments that weren't available to the Sky Blues in 2001.

Burton Albion, who only joined the League in 2009, will be playing City for the first time in a Football league game. The teams did meet at the Ricoh in a Football League Trophy (JPT) game three years ago which City won 10-9 on penalties after a goalless draw. Albion were only formed in 1950 but City did meet their predecessors from the brewery town, Burton United, in the Birmingham League in 1907-08 (both clubs winning their home games). They also met Burton Swifts, then a League side, in an FA Cup tie in 1895 with Swifts winning 2-0 at Stoke Road. All of the other new opponents have faced the Sky Blues at some time over the last 5-6 years with the exception of Wigan, who last met Coventry in 2004-05. That season Wigan won promotion to the Premier League for the first time & beat the Sky Blues 4-1 at home and 2-1 at Highfield Road. In the four league meetings between the clubs City have never won, but did beat the Latics in an FA Cup replay at their old Springfield Park ground in 1991. Then a Third Division outfit, Wigan gave Terry Butcher's side a major fright & the performances of Ray Woods & Peter Atherton won them moves to Highfield Road soon afterwards.

I had lots of interesting correspondence over the summer & will try & deal with it over the coming weeks. First of all, a fascinating picture sent to me by Dave Coulson. Peter Hill's widow, Barbara, gave Dave the photo, probably taken at City's training ground at Anstey around 1960. It shows, from left to right: Alf Wood (trainer), player hidden, Dietmar Bruck, Nelson Stiffle, Frank Kletzenbauer, Frank Austin, Ray Straw, Bill Myerscough, Ronnie Farmer & Peter Hill. The Indian-born Stiffle, who had made his name in Bournemouth's FA Cup giantkilling run of 1957, joined City in the close season of 1960 & Ray Straw left the club at the end of 1960-61, which places the picture sometime during that season. After being strong promotion challengers in 1959-60, it was a disappointing campaign which saw City finish 15th in Division Three.