Monday, 26 December 2016

Jim's column 24.12.2016

John Feeney is a collector of Coventry City memorabilia and recently gave me copies of two postcards of City teams from over 100 years ago asking for more details.

The first one is undated but has the names of the players. I'm pretty sure it was taken at Highfield Road before a game and the 11 players only ever played together once, on 17th September 1904 v Walsall. City won the Birmingham League game 2-0 with goals from Belton and Banks. The line up was: Harry Whitehouse: John Kearns, Billy Spittle, H Jones, H King, F Court, S Edwards, E Clive, Tom Belton, Bertie Banks (captain), G Archer. Also in the picture are secretary/manager Michael O'Shea (far right back row), trainer S Bullivant (far left, back row) and a G Beale who I cannot trace. The team are wearing royal blue shirts with white shorts.

The second postcard is of the 1912-13 squad which was playing in the Southern League and includes 25 players plus the secretary/manager Robert Wallace, the chairman David Cooke, two other directors Messrs Turrall (with a cigarette in his mouth) and Collingbourne, two trainers Eli Juggins and Tom Arnold, and the groundsman. The kit is royal blue with white sleeves and a white yoke. The players include the famous goalkeeper Bob Evans who was City's first international – he won 10 caps for Wales. This was Bob's last of five seasons at Highfield Road and he left for Birmingham the following summer.

Steve Bell was in contact recently asking about a couple of friendly games City played in Northern Ireland in May 1948. Under manager Billy Frith, City had finished 10th in Division Two with the help of a seven-game run-in with only one defeat. A week after the season ended City travelled by coach and boat to Belfast where on 10th May they met Linfield, winning 3-2 thanks to a Peter Murphy hat-trick. Two days later they were in Londonderry beating Derry City 5-0 with goals from Norman Lockhart (2), Plum Warner, Wally Soden and Alex McIntosh.

City's team for both matches was: Alf Wood: Harry Barratt, Dennis Tooze, Ron Cox, George Mason, Stan Smith, Plum Warner, Alex McIntosh, Ted Roberts, Peter Murphy, Norman Lockhart. Soden, recently signed from Boldmere St Michaels and who had made only one first team start, was a substitute for Roberts) in the Derry game – probably the first instance of the club using a substitute. The picture was taken at the start of that season & includes six of the team that played in Northern Ireland.

Whilst writing this column the news has come through that Russell Slade has been appointed as the club's new manager. Slade has a reasonable record in this division but of course is not the first Slade to sit in the club's managerial chair. In February 1931 Bill Slade, a director of the club, took over as caretaker manager following the departure of Jimmy McIntyre. Slade, who never played professional football, was in charge for 16 games until Harry Storer was appointed at the end of the season. Bill became manager of Walsall a year later and led them to their famous FA Cup victory over the mighty Arsenal in 1933 with a team that included five ex-City players that Slade had signed for the Saddlers.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and lets hope for a better 2017.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Jim's column 17.12.2016

Thursday night's defeat to Sheffield United was City's sixth straight league defeat – ironically with probably their best display of the six. The last time City lost five consecutive league games was four years ago just after the club were relegated from the Championship. Andy Thorn's final game in charge was a 2-2 home draw with Bury and Richard Shaw and Lee Carsley were put in temporary charge of the team. After a thrilling 3-2 League Cup win over Birmingham City, the caretaker duo were in charge for four league games, all of which were lost. A 1-0 loss at Crewe was followed by a 2-1 home defeat to Stevenage and away defeats at Tranmere (0-2) and Shrewsbury (1-4). Mark Robins took over as permanent manager and lost his first game in charge (a 2-1 home defeat to Carlisle).

You have to go back 43 years for the last occurrence of a City side losing more than five consecutive league games. For several months of the 1972-73 season City fans were drooling over the football produced by Joe Mercer and Gordon Milne's team. The signings in October 1972 of Colin Stein and Tommy Hutchison sparked an unbeaten run of eight games and three FA Cup victories took them to the sixth round for the first time in 10 years. The Cup run ended at Molineux and City's subsequent form collapsed -they won only one of their last ten games and lost the last seven in a row. The seven included home defeats to Leeds, Derby and Liverpool and away reverses at Everton, Sheffield United, Chelsea and Wolves. The team finished 19th after being 10th before the Wolves Cup-tie. There was no rational explanation for the collapse by a very strong and experienced side that in addition to Stein & Hutchison contained Willie Carr, Dennis Mortimer, Chris Cattlin, Roy Barry, Mick Coop and Brian Alderson. Older fans remember that team with fondness and overlook that end of season collapse.

There are only two occasions in which City have lost more than seven consecutive league games. In the 1924-25 relegation season from Division Two they lost eight in a row between early November and early January including heavy away defeats at Hull (1-4), Derby (1-5) and South Shields (1-4). The record run however was set in 1919-20 when City lost their first nine games after joining the Football League Division Two. The run, which commenced with a 5-0 opening day home defeat to Tottenham was:

Aug 30 Tottenham (h) 0-5
Sept 3 Leeds City (a) 0-3
Sept 6 Tottenham (a) 1-4
Sept 11 Leeds City (h) 0-4
Sept 13 Birmingham (a) 1-4
Sept 20 Birmingham (h) 1-3
Sept 27 Leicester (a) 0-1
Oct 4 Leicester (h) 1-2
Oct 11 Fulham (h) 0-1

Manager Will Clayton was sacked after the loss at Filbert Street and secretary Harry Harbourne took over in a caretaker capacity with the board of directors selecting the team until 22nd November when new boss Harry Pollitt arrived.

One of the most interesting stats from Thursday night was given to me by fellow historian Geoff Moore. Amongst other things he tracks players who have appeared at the Ricoh and tells me that Blades' substitute Leon Clarke set a record by appearing for his seventh different club at the stadium. He first played against the Sky Blues for Wolves at Highfield Road in 2004 and scored in a 2-2 draw. His first appearance at the Ricoh was in 2006 for Wolves then in 2010 he played there for Sheffield Wednesday and the following season he was in QPR colours as a substitute. In November 2012 he scored twice for Scunthorpe before joining City in January 2013. Since leaving City he appeared for Bury in the 6-0 hammering last season and on Thursday night took his total to seven as a brief substitute. Clarke, now aged 31, has played for seventeen different clubs, a number of them in more than one spell and according to Geoff has played for ten of the current League One clubs.

Billy Sharp, who scored both Blades' goals in Thursday's game has now netted eight goals in nine games against the Sky Blues with four of them on live television. He netted in City's 0-4 defeat at Southampton in their final game in the Championship in 2012 and a header at Bramall Lane a year ago before Thursday's brace.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Jim's column 10.12.2016

Coventry City's miserable season hit another low on Sunday as they capitulated to League Two Cambridge United in their FA Cup clash. For the third season running the Sky Blues have been knocked out of the competition by a club from a lower status; Cambridge following Worcester City and Northampton Town as David's to City's Goliath. Few City fans travelled with confidence but the size of the defeat, 4-0, was a shock, being the club's heaviest loss to a lower status club since they first entered the Cup in 1895. Before Sunday City had lost only once by more than two goals to a lesser club – in 1922 as a Division 2 side they were defeated 3-0 at New Brighton from the Lancashire Combination in the equivalent of the First Round.

Another record set on Sunday was the four goals by Cambridge's Luke Berry – the first man to score four against the club in an FA Cup game. Berry has never been a prolific scorer – in 2014-15 he made 31 appearances for Barnsley and scored once – but it was a day to remember for him on Sunday. Berry is only the fourth opposition player to score four in a game since the war, the others being:-

1946-47 Jackie Gibbons (Bradford P.A. A) City lost 1-5
1983-84 Ian Rush (Liverpool A) City lost 0-5
2000-01 Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Chelsea A) City lost 1-6

Since JFH's four goals sixteen years ago, City have only had seven hat-tricks scored against them, and two of them came on successive Saturdays in 2013 when Nahki Wells (Bradford City) and Ryan Lowe (Tranmere) netted three each. The last FA Cup hat-trick by an opponent was by Colchester's Rowan Vine in 2004 in a 3-1 replay defeat at Layer Road.

I always rely on fellow City historian Geoff Moore when it comes to City's youngest and oldest teams and he has been in touch recently. City's youngest ever starting line up was at Manchester City in November 1980 when Gordon Milne put out a side with an average age of 21 years and 58 days.

That team was: Les Sealey (23), Steve Jacobs (19), Brian Roberts (25), Andy Blair (20), Paul Dyson (20), Gary Gillespie (20), Peter Bodak (19), Garry Thompson (21), Mark Hateley (19), Danny Thomas (19), Steve Hunt (24). Nine homegrown players plus Gillespie who was signed as a 17-year old.

Geoff informs me that the youngest starting team this season was Scunthorpe (h) with an average age of 22 years 59 days but for the FLT game at Wycombe last month the average was 21 years 120 days. That line up was:

Charles-Cook (22), Dion Kelly-Evans (20), Sterry (21), Finch (20), Turnbull (22), Harries (19), Lameiras (21), Rose (26), Maycock (18),Thomas (19), McBean (21).

At half-time Haynes (21), Jones (19) and Bigirimana (23) were introduced for Sterry, Rose and Lameiras, bringing the average age down to 20 years 274 days, the youngest Coventry City side on the pitch for a competitive game.

Robert Yates enjoyed my piece last week on the two memorable games 50 years ago. He wrote:

'I remember that season well, going to all the home games and selected away games, I was 18 that year, and not having my own car yet, took the trip to the Wolves game on the Red House coach, probably costing about 7/6d. I was on the South Bank at Molineux, rather conspicuous in my blue mac and sky blue 6 foot college scarf, but it was an incredible game, and with your details from the game, it could have happened yesterday, but I remember Gibson's goal at our end and as you say, a lot of Wolves pressure after that.

After Wolves had equalized, and were pressing hard, there was an amazing miss by Ernie Hunt, but some local guys behind me said, "Eh, you don't support this lot , do you mate?" after that City scored two more goals and I looked around and my local commentators had disappeared!

The Ipswich game was also incredible on the Friday night as they were top of the league at the time, and I remember the headlines in the Coventry Telegraph the next day; "Sky Blues G-men (Gould and Gibson) Grill the Leaders". John Key scored in both games and was a very under-rated player on the right wing.

Amazing, that then you had to catch up with the stories mainly in the 'Pink' and other papers, there was no local radio phone ins!'

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Jim's column 3.12.2016

This week marks the 50th anniversary of a significant time in Coventry City's history. In the first week in December 1966 the Sky Blues, who had had an up and down autumn, showed their promotion credentials by beating the Second Division's leading clubs twice in six days. On this day City travelled to Molineux and on a snow-bound pitch pulled off an unlikely 3-1 victory to knock the Wolves off the top. Then on the following Friday evening Ipswich Town, the new leaders, came to Highfield Road and were spanked 5-0. Those two results catapulted Jimmy Hill's team into the promotion race following a mediocre run of four defeats in eight games and an embarrassing League Cup exit to Third Division Brighton.

The key to the results was undoubtedly the recall to the side of summer record signing Ian Gibson. The diminutive Scot had fallen out with Jimmy Hill two months earlier and requested a move. The request had never been granted but he had been close to joining Newcastle before injuries forced Hill to recall the inside-forward on the last Saturday in November and he had turned in a master class in a 3-2 win over Cardiff.

Seven days later the Sky Blues gave one of the best performances of the Hill era against Wolves who were unbeaten at home since the opening day. Gibson scored after seven minutes, nipping in when Fred Davies failed to hold a fierce Ron Rees shot. From that point until half-time Wolves penned City back and with Ernie Hunt pulling their strings in midfield an equaliser looked on the cards. Somehow City survived until the break but five minutes into the second half Wolves drew level when Dave Burnside headed in.

Many thought this would be the end of the Sky Blues but heroic defensive work and numerous brilliant saves by Glazier with a touch of luck enabled City to come through 25 minutes of extreme pressure and then snatch another goal. Kearns' long cross-field clearance found John Key who advanced before unleashing a strong shot that Davies might have stopped. Eight minutes from time City counter attacked again and Rees, dangerous every time he got the ball, made it 3-1 with a low cross-shot. Minutes later the Welsh winger almost made it four when he hit the cross-bar but that would have been a bit too much.

Six days later on a wet Friday evening Ipswich were put to the sword with a exciting attacking display described by Nemo as: ‘probably their best performance in the Second Division and on a par for skill and excitement with the great victory over Sunderland in 1963.’

Gibson was the architect and despite a first-half hat-trick from Bobby Gould, his first in senior football, the best goal of the night was the fifth, from the cheeky Gibson who chipped the ball over seven defenders to find the top of the net and guarantee himself enduring cult status with City fans.
                                                      Bobby Gould completes his hat-trick
After the weekend’s games City, suddenly, were not in the chasing pack but in the leading pack in a very bunched top half of Division Two:

Pl Pts
1. Wolves 20 26
2. Ipswich 21 26
3. SKY BLUES 20 25
4. Carlisle 21 25
          1. Hull City 21 23
          2. Huddersfield 20 23
          3. Crystal P 20 23
          4. Blackburn 20 23
          5. Millwall 20 23

The Sky Blues didn't hit the top spot until the first Saturday in 1967 following a 1-1 draw at St Andrews and stayed there until the end of March when Wolves sneaked ahead of them. By then the two Midland giants were odds-on favourites to win the two promotion places and it became a two-horse race for the title won, of course by City.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Jim's column 26.11.2016

Two away defeats in four days made it a bad week for the Sky Blues and pushed them back into the dog-fight at the foot of the table. The 4-1 defeat at Oxford was embarrassing and the biggest league loss since the Oldham away game last season when City succumbed to the same score. Conceding three goals in the first half is not a common occurrence but it was the first occasion since Tranmere trounced Steven Pressley's team 5-1 at Sixfields three years ago. Other infamous games that were 0-3 to the opposition at the break include the 7-1 defeat at West Brom, the 3-1 home defeat to Everton in the Premier League relegation season and the 4-1 home defeat to Bristol City in 2011. The last time City trailed 4-0 at half-time was an end of season game at Plymouth in April 2009 when Chris Coleman's team managed to keep the score at four. As far as I can ascertain no City team have trailed 0-5 at half-time.

It was City's first competitive visit to Oxford since the 1980s when the clubs met three seasons running in the old Division One. A Wayne Turner goal earned City the points in 1985-86 but the two subsequent games were won by Oxford with John Aldridge and Dean Saunders amongst the scorers.

At least the team recovered some pride at Bolton on Tuesday evening, losing 1-0 but giving a spirited second half display. The two sides had not met in a competitive game since 1998 when City recorded a 5-1 defeat at the Reebok. The defeat ended an unbeaten run of seven league and cup games in Bolton stretching back to 1965 when Wanderers beat Jimmy Hill's team 4-2 thanks to two Wyn Davies goals. Before Tuesday night City had only suffered that one defeat in the town.

Steve Bell emailed me asking for details of a friendly game at Highfield Road in 1968. City's strong youth team (they reached the final of the Youth Cup that season) were asked to play an England Youth XI to help prepare them for what was known as the Little World Cup but was actually the European Youth Championships. City's best players, Willie Carr and Graham Paddon, were missing - Paddon was playing for the England XI and Carr was in the first team squad battling relegation and wasn't risked. I have reproduced the team sheet and older fans will recall many of the opponents, some of whom were already playing league football. Newcastle's Alan Foggon and Sheffield United's Tony Currie had played First Division football with the latter recently scoring on his debut after a £26,000 move from Watford. Winger Dave Thomas had appeared for Burnley at Highfield Road earlier that season whilst Charlton's Paul Went had almost 80 league games under his belt after debuting as a 15-year old. How many 18-year olds have got those levels of experience today?Thomas and Currie both went on to win full caps for England and all but the goalkeeper Sheffield Wednesday's Gary Scothern played league football.
                                                 Team sheet from the friendly game in 1968

In City's team that night there was the infamous David Icke in goal but strangely only Jeff Blockley and Trevor Gould from an outstanding team went on to make the first team.

The teams lined up as follows: City: Icke: Crossley, Hill (G), Gould (T), Blockley, Wilks, Taylor, Allen, Peachey, Dobbing, Sinclair. Sub: Farmer.
England: Scothern: Evans, Burton, Bunkell, James, Went, Hoy, Foggon, Duffy, Thomas, Paddon. Sub: Currie.
                                                 City's Youth team 1968

England won the game 4-1 with goals from Duffy, Hoy, Foggon and Evans with Brian Taylor replying for City. Two months later in France England failed to get past the group stage in the Little World Cup.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Jim's column 19.11.2016

The Sky Blues unbeaten run that stretched back 14 games in all competitions to last April came to an end on Saturday at the Ricoh when Scunthorpe United did a smash and grab raid. Cov kid Graham Alexander has built a strong outfit and most people watching thought they were the best side City have faced at home this season.

The run, which comprised of eleven league games (six wins, five draws), two EFL Trophy ties (both won) plus a League Cup victory, was the best by the club since the late 1970s. In 1979-80 Gordon Milne's side went 14 without loss at home and the season before 16 without loss.

Before Saturday's defeat the team had also won four home games in a row – something they hadn't done since early 2007. Then, Iain Dowie's arrival as the replacement for Micky Adams sparked four wins, all in the league:

20.2.2007 Southampton (h) 2-1
4.3.2007 Hull City (h) 2-0
13.3.2007 Wolves (h) 2-1
17.3.2007 Barnsley (h) 4-1

However any hopes of reaching the play-offs were dashed by three straight home defeats (to Preston, QPR & West Brom). Interestingly Dele Adebola, not always a regular starter under Adams, netted four of the ten goals in those four games. The last time that City won five home games in a row was February/March 2002 under Roland Nilsson.

Regular reader Keith Ballantyne emailed me after I mentioned Dudley Roberts a few weeks ago wanting to no more of his career at City. He was the son of post-war City hero Ted Roberts who was renowned for his heading ability, a skill Dudley inherited and displayed by scoring prolifically at Cheylesmore School. After joining the Sky Blues as an apprentice in 1961 he was converted to a defensive wing half and played in City’s youth team with Bobby Gould and Pat Morrissey. In the autumn of 1965 he was called up to play at centre-forward for the reserve team after injuries to the regular strikers. Impressive performances earned him a first team call-up at Preston and he did not let the side down.

Four days after his debut Dudley played an important role in a 3-2 League Cup win at Maine Road and had a goal disallowed. His home debut against Charlton coincided with his 20th birthday and he celebrated with two goals in a 3-1 win, one a close range shot from a Ken Hale cross, the second a trademark header. Goals against Plymouth, Portsmouth and Ipswich took his total to five in five. He missed several games through injury and when he was fit Jimmy Hill had signed Bury’s Ray Pointer to boost the attack.

Dudley made only five further appearances, one of them at right back during an injury crisis. When star striker George Hudson was controversially sold to Northampton his place went to Bobby Gould and Dudley stayed in the reserves. Dudley did not appear in the first team during the promotion season but was a virtual ever-present for the reserves. In Division 1 he made only one appearance, at Hillsborough in Jimmy Hill’s last game in charge.

In March 1968 he joined Mansfield Town for £6,000. He went straight into the first team at Field Mill and for the next six years he was a prolific scorer for the Stags. In total he scored 73 goals in 231 appearances and was the Third Division’s leading scorer in the 1970-71 season. Several big clubs expressed an interest in him and Mansfield rejected bids of £60,000 from top-flight clubs.

In 1974 he joined Scunthorpe where he had two successful years adding 17 more goals to his overall tally before a serious knee injury ended his career.

In 1969 he had married Rose McNulty, the original Sky Blue Rose from the Jimmy Hill era. Rose had been the first recorded voice that kept City fans up to date with news on the telephone in the days before mobile phones and text services. Rose and Dudley still live in Mansfield. Dudley spent 21 years with the Electricity Board and is now semi-retired, helping out with a local photographer. He has attended various CCFPA events and is a true gentleman.

On Thursday evening I had the pleasure of attending the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Coventry City London Supporters Club. Back in 1976 Colin Heys, a Kent-based fan known to many of City's travelling fans, put a small advert in the Tottenham v City programme asking any Coventry supporters living in London or the South East to contact him with a view to forming a club. At the first meeting, held at a West End pub, there were eleven of us and three of the founders, myself, Neil Hadden and Rod Dean were there on Thursday to celebrate 40 years. Former player Chris Cattlin was the guest of honour at the dinner and have an excellent speech on an emotional night of memories.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Jim's column 12.11.2016

There was nothing to play for on Wednesday night at Wycombe other than home advantage in the first of the knockout stages of the Football League Trophy, a somewhat devalued competition since the inclusion of several club's Under 23 teams. The game did however qualify as a competitive first team game and has to be included in the club's historical records. The 250-odd City fans who made the trip to Adams Park saw three interesting records set.

Firstly, the Sky Blues came from 0-2 behind to win a competitive game for only the fourth time in the last thirty years and the first time in an away game since 1970. After failing to come back from a two-goal deficit in almost twenty years, City have now done it three times in three seasons with Peterborough on the receiving end in the last two seasons.

2016-17 Wycombe Wanderers (FL Trophy) 4-2
2015-16 Peterborough (h) 3-2
2014-15 Peterborough (h) 3-2
1995-96 Tottenham (League Cup) (h) 3-2
1985-86 Southampton (h) 3-2
1980-81 West Ham (League Cup) (h) 3-2
1970-71 Derby (a) 4-3
1963-64 Peterborough (h) 3-2

You have to go back to that famous win at Derby's Baseball Ground in 1970 for the last such away result. City were not only 0-2 down but had seen their new £100,000 record signing Wilf Smith stretchered off in the first few minutes. Kevin Hector and Alan Hinton put the Rams 2-0 ahead in the first thirteen minutes but goals from Neil Martin & Dave Clements pulled City level by half-time. Martin put City ahead early in the second half before John McGovern made it 3-3. Bill Glazier saved a Hinton penalty before Willie Carr popped up with the winner two minutes from time.

Secondly, Ryan Haynes became only the fifth City substitute to score two goals coming off the bench. Some people have called the second goal as an own goal but I am crediting to Ryan in the absence of any official decision. The other four two-goal subs were:

Bobby Gould v Nottingham Forest (a) 1967-68
Jay Bothroyd v Rushden & Diamonds LC (h) 2002-03
Patrick Suffo v Torquay LC (h) 2004-05
Chris Maguire v MK Dons (a) 2013-14

Thirdly, the crowd of 912 at Adams Park for this dead rubber was the lowest crowd to watch a City first-team competitive game since 1930 when 683 watched a 2-2 draw between Merthyr Town and Coventry in the old Division Three South. The game, played at Merthyr's Penydarren Park took place on a Monday afternoon in April and the home side were bottom of the league having lost their previous two games 0-10 and 1-5. At the end of the season despite winning three of their last five games, they finished bottom and were voted out of the league. That crowd is the lowest to watch a Coventry City league game.

Last weekend the crowd at Morecambe (1,732) was the lowest to watch a Coventry City FA Cup tie since 1914 when the Bantams, a Southern League side at the time, travelled to Glossop, then a Second Division side, for a 6th round Qualifying tie. Only 539 paying customers watched the tie which Glossop won 3-1. Glossop, who had one season in the First Division, finished bottom of Division Two that season and after the war were not re-elected to the League. They have been a non-league side ever since.

If the Sky Blues manage to win the replay they will face the winners of the Dover v Cambridge United replay on the weekend of 5 December. City have never played Dover but were the victims of a Cambridge giant-killing act in 1992 when a Dion Dublin goal earned Cambridge a 1-1 draw at Highfield Road and cost Terry Butcher his job as manager. By the time of the replay, Don Howe was in charge but Dublin scored a late winner in a goalmouth scramble after Oggy had saved Dion's penalty.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

A tribute to Brian Hill

Brian Hill 
Born 31 July 1941 
Died 27 October 2016

Brian Hill was a footballer from bygone era. A modest, loyal, hard-working, self effacing man dedicated to his sport. He passed away last week aged 75 after a long fight with Alzheimer's. Between 1958 and 1970 he made 286 appearances for Coventry City, playing in every outfield position and appearing in five different divisions of the League as well as playing European football in that memorable 1970-71 season. He was never a spectacular player but always got through a prodigious amount of work and though often under-appreciated by the fans he was a key man in Jimmy Hill’s team of the 1960s.

Until 16-year olds Gary McSheffrey, Ben Mackey and Jonson Clark-Harris came on to the first team scene as substitutes Brian was Coventry City’s youngest ever player. He held the record for forty years since his goalscoring debut against Gillingham in 1958 and remains to this day the youngest ever starter for the club as well as the youngest goalscorer.

He was still three months short of his seventeenth birthday when he made his debut in what was City’s last ever game in the old Division Three South. The old South and North sections were reorganised into the new Divisions Three and Four in the summer of 1958 and a poor City side had failed to finish in the top half of the table, which would have qualified them to be in Division Three. It had been a miserable season - a thirteen-game run without a win from Boxing Day to mid-March had consigned them to the new basement division – and manager Billy Frith, who had taken over a shambles the previous September, was already planning for the new league by blooding youngsters.

Brian had been impressive in the FA Youth Cup playing at centre-forward and scoring four goals in three ties that season. Looking back Brian had only dim and distant memories, he told me some years ago, “I think I only got a game because the season was as good as over and it was a chance for the manager to look at some of the kids. I had barely played for the reserves before and it was a big surprise to play for the first-team.”

Born in Bedworth, Brian was a prolific sportsman at Nicholas Chamberlain School, representing Warwickshire Schools at football and cricket. After leaving school in 1956 Brian went to work at the Jaguar factory but after a few months he was invited to trials with City and was offered an apprentice contract. In April 1958 with both main strikers Ray Straw and Jimmy Rogers injured Frith decided to play Brian at inside-right and his namesake Ray at centre-forward in the final game on a warm early summer’s evening in Kent. Ray was six years older than Brian and had played ten games since joining from Redditch Town the previous November. With Peter Hill at inside-left City played three Hills in the side for the first time.

Brian had a dream start to his career when, with only seven minutes on the clock he scored. Nemo in the Coventry Evening Telegraph described it in glowing terms.

“He took just seven minutes to score, and what a peach of a goal it was. The ball came down the middle. Brian took it in his stride and drove it grass-high into the corner with the aplomb of a veteran.”

City were well on top for the first half an hour, playing, according to the match report, some of their best football for weeks but after the interval the home side picked their game up and they won the game 3-2.

For the next four seasons Brian struggled on as an average inside or outside left but played less than 40 first team games. In November 1961 he was at inside left in the side beaten by Kings Lynn in that infamous FA Cup tie that heralded the departure of Frith and the arrival of Jimmy Hill as manager.

Jimmy watched that game incognito in the stands and later in his autobiography wrote: 'against Northampton....I picked my first league eleven, dropping Brian Hill from the number 9 position, in which he had played against Kings Lynn, and telling him that when he came back into the side it would be to stay, but positively not as a striker'.

This is one of the first examples of Jimmy's uncanny ability to identify the best position for players – later examples were Dietmar Bruck, Mick Kearns and Dave Clements. Hill, recognising Brian's strength as his major asset, converted him into a defensive half-back and he took to the new role like a duck to water. In the 1962-63 season he became a regular in the team playing 47 games, earning a reputation as a tough tackling man-marker, he was even tipped for England under-23 honours in 1965.

Brian was first choice at either wing-half or full-back until 1967 except when his niggling hamstring injuries kept him on the sidelines but it seemed whenever he returned to the side their fortunes picked up. If there was a key man to be marked Brian usually got the job and he had some memorable tussles with Manchester United’s Dennis Law and Tottenham’s Jimmy Greaves and usually came out on top.

Fan David Walker remembers Brian with fondness and especially the Manchester United FA Cup tie in 1963 when Brian marked Denis Law, at the time the most expensive footballer in British football and the deadliest of strikers. 'Brian was one of the most under-rated players we ever had. My assessment of Brian was that often you hardly knew he was on the pitch, but his opposite number would hardly get a look in all match, such was his efficiency as a defender. Perhaps the most over-riding memory was the famous cup tie against Manchester United in 1963. We may have lost, but standing there, on the terraces, I remember that at the end of the match, as the players came off, Denis Law, who had had a very quiet game, picked up a handful of mud and threw it at Brian!
Frustration coming out perhaps.'

After promotion in 1967 Hill did not look out of his depth in the First Division and had a dramatic moment at Fulham when he came off the substitute’s bench to score his first league goal for over four years to earn City a valuable point. In his last two years he was restricted to 13 appearances and normally called upon to do specific marking jobs. He was only on the losing side twice during that period and there were some memorable marking jobs that he carried out. In March 1970 he put a dent in Everton's championship hopes with his “job” on Alan Ball in the 0-0 draw at Goodison and in one of his final games at Anfield later that year he was lauded for his performance in another 0-0 that earned the Sky Blues' first ever point at the ground. In the same month he was on the winning side as City beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the home second leg of their Fairs Cup tie.

The club laid on a deserved testimonial game for him in 1969 with Brian Clough’s Derby County providing the opposition in a 1-1 draw.

His final game was on Boxing Day 1970 in a 1-1 home draw with West Brom when he conceded the penalty that gave the Baggies a point. In March 1971 he went on loan to Bristol City, managed by Alan Dicks, his former assistant manager at Coventry, and helped them to avoid relegation to Division 3. Later that year he joined Fourth Division Torquay United for £5,000 but lived and trained in Coventry for two years making over 50 appearances for the Gulls.

Four City players played in all four divisions of the league during City’s rise from 1958 to 1967, Hill, George Curtis, Ron Farmer and Mick Kearns, and Brian was the last one of the famous four to leave the club. The four made over 1500 appearances for the club between them and his departure brought the famous era of the club to an end.

One of the famous four, Ron Farmer, told me, 'Brian was a quiet lad, I never saw him lose his temper on or off the pitch and I can't remember him having a bad game. He was a great tackler and Jimmy always had him mark the opponent's danger man. I'm very sad to hear of his death'.
Mick Kearns made his debut a few months before Brian and the pair played together many times. He talked affectionately about Brian, 'Off the field he was the most unassuming man, there was no side to him and he never get ruffled. On the pitch he was a great athlete who always gave 100% and would play whatever role he was asked to do'.

Another friend and playing colleague was Bill Tedds who grew up with Brian in Bedworth and followed him to Highfield Road as an apprentice. 'Brian and I were very close in our teens, we did everything together, even going on holiday with each other. He wasn't the tallest player but he was as strong as an ox and ideally suited to be a defender. He was fanatical about weight-lifting and I'm sure that was the cause of some of his muscle injuries. But for injuries I'm sure he would have won international honours for England.'

After two seasons at Torquay at the age 31 Brian retired from the professional game and returned to the Midlands. He went to work at Jaguar and played briefly for Bedworth United, who were managed by his former City teammate Gerry Baker.

He worked on the Jaguar production line for 18 years and then had ten years as a driver for HSBC Bank before retiring in 2003. He leaves his wife Margaret, a son, two daughters and six grandchildren who, in his retirement, he doted on.

Brian's funeral takes place on Tuesday 15 November at 10.15 at All Saints Church in Bedworth, followed by a cremation. I am sure there will be a big turn out of friends and former colleagues for a great servant of Coventry City.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Jim's column 29.10.16

Regular readers will know I try and look on the positive side of things and with all the doom and gloom around the football club at the moment I have to highlight the fact that after last week's consecutive home victories over Oxford and Rochdale, the team are now unbeaten in 13 competitive home games. They won the last three home games of last season, have won two and drawn five league games this campaign and won three cup ties at the Ricoh. The 13-game run equals the best run for the Sky Blues since the 1979-80 season when Gordon Milne's side recorded 14 without loss at home.

In the intervening 37 seasons there has only been one 13-game unbeaten run – in the 2005-06 season under Micky Adams, aided by the inspired signings of Dennis Wise and Don Hutchison. That was the first season at the Ricoh and the team lost three of the first eight games at their new home. Following the third defeat, on 2nd November to Stoke, the team didn't lose at home until Preston won 1-0 on 1st April 2006. The thirteen games (12 league and an FA Cup drawn tie with Middlesbrough) included eight wins and five draws. Last season Tony Mowbray's team went 13 league games unbeaten at home from the start of the season but the Northampton Cup defeat spoiled the run.

The 1979 run occurred in a golden two-year period of home form for the Sky Blues. Just before Christmas 1977 City lost a League Cup replay to Liverpool at Highfield Road but then won six straight home games before losing 2-3 to Aston Villa in March, then came a run of 16 without loss that stretched through to the following February when Tottenham lowered City's flag with a 3-1 victory. City then lost the next two home games to Man City (0-3) and West Brom (1-3), the latter on 3rd March 1979. They then embarked on the 14 game unbeaten home run before Stoke City won 3-1 at Highfield Road on 3rd November. So, in just under two years the Sky Blues lost just four games at home out of forty played, winning 24 and drawing 12. Even better was the period from December 1965 to August 1967 when Jimmy Hill's team lost only one home league game out of 32! Those were the days when it was a real pleasure to watch City at home.

The club record for unbeaten home games in all competitions is 19, set in 1925-26 (in Division Three North) and equalled in 1962-63. The best home runs are as follows:

19 1925-26 (Div 3N), 1962-63 (Div 3)
18 1952-53 (Div 3S)
17 1965-66 (Div 2)
16 1950-51 (Div 2), 1978-79 (Div 1)
14 1934-35 (Div 3S), 1935-36 (Div 3S), 1979-80 (Div 1)

Last Saturday we finally saw the Sky Blues break the Rochdale bogey. It was the seventh league meeting between the clubs and City's first victory. In addition the teams have met on seven occasions in cup games, including a League Cup game last season, and City have won only once (a 4-0 League cup win in 1991).

Keith Ballantyne was interested in Peter Denton's Sky Blue career and remembers the 1-0 win at Birmingham in November 1965 in which Peter played. Blues had been relegated from the First Division the previous season and were struggling near the foot of the table. City's goal came half an hour from the end of a tough, physical battle of 47 fouls, when Bobby Gould was sandwiched by two home defenders when he was through on goal. Ronnie Farmer, in his trademark cool manner, slotted home the penalty kick. City had a large following in the 26,000 crowd and the Sky Blue song echoed around St Andrews in the final half-hour. Keith correctly points out that Ken Hale, a favourite of his, played his last game for the club that day. He had received a lot of stick from the fans and Jimmy Hill had persevered with Hale but the signing of Ray Pointer a month or so later curtailed his first team opportunities and he moved to Oxford in March 1966.

Congratulations to the club's under 23 team who won 3-1 at Crystal Palace to record their seventh successive victory. Several readers have asked if this is a record for any Coventry team. The records of reserve games is somewhat patchy but seven wins equals the first-team record set in 1998 when Gordon Strachan was in charge. That team's run was as follows:

24 January Derby County (FA Cup) (h) 2-0
31 January Bolton (a) 5-1
7 February Sheffield Wed (h) 1-0
14 February Aston Villa (FA Cup) (a) 1-0
18 February Southampton (a) 2-1
21 February Barnsley (h) 1-0
28 February Crystal Palace (a) 3-0

As I write this I have just heard the sad news that former City player Brian Hill has passed away. Brian was the youngest ever City player in 1958 when he made his debut at Gillingham before his 17th birthday. He scored on his debut and is still the youngest City player to score a goal and the youngest to start a first-team game. I will write a full tribute to one of City's finest servants next week.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Jim's column 22.10.2016

The sad news of the passing of Peter Denton and my tribute last week prompted several emails. Long standing fan Kevin Ring remembered Peter as a very quick winger who but for the consistency of Ronnie Rees, Willie Humphries and Dave Clements who have been a regular first team player. Kevin pointed out that if more subs had been allowed in those days he would have probably had more chances of first team football.

Fellow City historian Paul O'Connor was also in touch to tell me that in July 1966 Middlesbrough offered £12,000 for him but he rejected the move and later whilst in the reserves Watford were interested in him. Paul also told me that whilst playing at Margate Peter broke his nose and even though things didn’t go well on the pitch following his move to Luton, he made an impression because he moved into coaching there in November 1969 but Paul was unaware of how long he was there in that capacity.

Alan Ludford remembers being at college with Peter in the 1960s when they were both on an accountancy course and remembers him as a 'very quiet lad who didn’t brag about being  on City’s books, he just got on with his work'.

John Docker, a former colleague of Denton's in the youth and reserve teams also contacted me. John, a Caludon Castle schoolboy, was a highly rated player who scored goals for fun at schoolboy level. He played in the 6-4 Youth Cup defeat to West Brom in 1963 and scored a goal direct from a corner as City came from 6-1 to give a strong Albion side, which included Tony 'Bomber' Brown, a shock. John was only just 16 at the time and went on to have two further seasons in the youth team and reminded me that the 1965-66 team was very strong and included Mick Coop, Pat Morrissey and a very young Willie Carr. John remembers a 3-1 victory over a Leicester City youth team with Peter Shilton in goal, with John netting one of the goals. This was when Jimmy Hill's labours in setting up a strong youth policy began to bear fruit, a policy which has generated so many players for the first team and continues to this day.
                                                     Coventry City youth team 1963-64
John signed full professional forms in 1965 and was a regular in the reserves but in 1967 he was loaned out to Torquay where he picked up a knee injury which would ultimately end his career. In 1968 he joined Irish champions Waterford on loan along with other Coventry youngsters Peter Thomas and John Matthews but his knee was a severe handicap. Following his return from Ireland he was released by City and after a brief spell with Rugby Town he began playing for Binley Woods but suffered a broken leg. He has lived & worked in Coventry for all of his life and occasionally goes to City games.

Other former playing colleagues Dudley Roberts and Dennis Oakes also sent their condolences and remembered Peter with fondness.

Regular reader Keith Ballantyne was in touch following last weekend's defeat at Charlton:

The Charlton scoreline replicates that of my first and only visit to the Valley, in October 1964. My father and I were seated in the ground's wooden stand and had taken an old - style 'klaxon' car horn with us. The most vivid recollection of this game I have was the amount of fireworks being let off in and around the ground in the run-up to November 5th. The game itself was nothing to write home about, Charlton scored early as I recall and had Mike Bailey playing for them. The only goal I can remember was scored after Bill Glazier had ended up on his backside and flailed an arm helplessly at the ball as it went in over him.  Please can you tell me the goal times.

The game that Keith refers to was on 31st October 1964 and Charlton did win 3-0 with goals from Eddie Firmani (12 mins), Roy Matthews (72) and Jack Kennedy (83). Glazier had recently been signed from Crystal Palace for a world record fee for a goalkeeper of £35,000 and England manager Alf Ramsey was at the Valley to watch Mike Bailey and Bill. The goal that Keith remembers was the first, when Firmani's shot struck Ron Farmer's leg and was diverted past the City keeper. Bill went on to make several good saves, averting a heavy defeat and Ramsey selected Glazier for his first Under 23 cap a week later. Looking at the newspapers for that weekend I noticed that league champions Liverpool had lost 0-2 to Manchester United and lay 19th in Division One. In the modern game I wonder if manager Bill Shankly would have survived that poor start to the 1964-65 season.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Peter Denton 1.3.1946 - 7.10.2016

Everyone at Coventry City and the Former Players Association were saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Denton last week.

Peter joined City straight from school in 1962 – soon after Jimmy Hill had arrived as manager. A diminutive right winger with a great turn of speed and a deadly shot, Peter hailed from Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and arrived in Coventry with his good friend Graham Saunders.

Peter was an apprentice on the groundstaff, cleaning boots, sweeping the terraces and getting 'A' & 'B' team football on a Saturday, normally against local works or village teams and playing home games at City's training ground at Shilton. In his first season he played for the club's youth team in the FA Youth Cup alongside Bobby Gould, Dennis Oakes & John Burckitt. Sadly the young Sky Blues got a 5-0 home thumping from Port Vale in the First Round.

Dennis Oakes spoke fondly of Peter: 'As I remember he came to the club from Gorleston with Graham Saunders and they both went into digs with Alan Turner. Peter was a quiet lad and kept himself to himself. He kept his head down and was really the ideal young professional. They both joined as apprentices alongside myself, Bobby Gould, Dudley Roberts, Pat Morrissey,  Dave & John Matthews. He was a lively right winger who had an eye for a goal. He never changed, was a gentleman at 18/19 years of age and remained so the last time we met'.

The following season (1963-64) there was a stronger youth team with Dudley Roberts, Pat Morrissey and local teenage prodigy John Docker joining Peter and Bobby in the team. In the first round City's kids gave First Division West Brom a big shock, coming from 4-0 down, before losing 6-4 with Peter scoring one of the goals.

His performances were good enough to earn him a professional contract on his 18th birthday in March 1964 and the following season he was a regular in the successful reserve team. In front of crowds averaging over 6,000 the Sky Blues' reserves won promotion to Football Combination's First Division, thrilling the fans with 96 goals in 34 games.

Winning a first team call-up was hard – the number 7 shirt belonged to the consistent and influential Welsh winger Ronnie Rees. In early October 1965 City played Stoke in a friendly game and with Rees on international duty Peter was given his chance and scored in a 5-1 victory over the First Division side. A month later, following the 6-1 League Cup defeat at West Brom, Jimmy Hill made changes including switching Rees to the left wing and gave Peter his chance against Ipswich at Highfield Road. It was one of the youngest forward lines in the club's history – Denton (19), Dudley Roberts (20), Bobby Gould (19), Ernie Machin (21) and Rees (21). Within five minutes the pint-sized winger won a penalty and overall he made an impressive debut in the 3-1 victory with Roberts, Gould and Ronnie Farmer (penalty) scoring the goals.

Peter kept his place for the next three games, a 1-0 win at Birmingham and draws against Leyton Orient & Middlesbrough before returning to reserve team duty. Later that season he was back in the team as City's promotion push continued. He stood in for the injured Rees in a 4-1 FA Cup replay win over Crewe, starred in a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace and two weeks later scored his only senior goal in a 3-1 home win over Cardiff. It came after three minutes of the game when his fiercely driven cross from the by-line swerved freakishly and Dilwyn John in the Cardiff goal could only help the ball into the net. Ten minutes later it was 2-0 as Peter was tripped in the area & Farmer netted the penalty.
A week later he played in the 2-2 home draw with Bolton but appeared on the losing side for the first time on Easter Saturday at Portsmouth. His final appearance that season was a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough in the last home game of the season.

His form dropped in the 1966-67 Division 2 championship season and with Rees and Dave Clements performing consistently well and another right-winger John Key in the squad, Peter had to be content with reserve team football. In August 1967 he played his last first team game in a 3-1 home defeat to Nottingham Forest. In total he had made 11 first team appearances and scored one goal.

In early 1968 he joined Luton Town but things didn't work out for him at Kenilworth Road & he moved into non-league football playing for Canterbury City and Margate. He settled in the Luton area and worked for many years at Vauxhall Motors in the town whilst doing some part-time coaching. His son-in-law Wayne Shanley tells me that in the last ten years or so Peter has been a part-time waiter at the Green Man at Offley in Hertfordshire and latterly the Beefeater in Luton where he was very popular. He leaves behind Margaret, his wife of 46 years, three daughters and three grandchilden. He remained a Sky Blues fan and always looked out for their results. He was a member of the Former Players Association and earlier this year travelled up to Jimmy Hill's celebration service in the cathedral and attended Legends Day the following day.
                                                  Peter pictured at the JH service in February

His funeral will take place on Friday 28th October at 11.15 at the Vale, Stopsley, Luton and afterwards at the Jolly Topers pub in Round Green, Luton.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Jim's column 8.10.2016

Back-to-back wins in four days this week have lifted spirits amongst Sky Blues' fans. The league run of 10 without a win was finally ended at Port Vale and this was followed by a second victory in the Football League Trophy, Northampton becoming the latest victims.The victory in the Potteries was very welcome and ensures the club record of 19 without a win from the start of the season, set in 1919, stays intact.

Tuesday night's attendance was another pathetically low 2,085, six less than the West Ham game in the same competition, and therefore the lowest since that infamous game v Millwall in 1985. Since writing about that game a few weeks ago I have been doing some more research and discovered from the club's attendance books, that the crowd, reported as 1,086 at the time, was later revised slightly to 1,111. With the Sky Blues now through to round two, one can only hope that crowds will pick up.

It was an exciting start to the match on Tuesday with two goals in the first ninety seconds. Dan Agyei netted with a brilliant solo effort initially-timed at 24 seconds before Marc Richards equalised after 60 seconds. Several City fans have pointed out that Agyei's goal was scored after 20 seconds and having watched the clip on Sky Blue Player I have concluded that it hit the net 19.5 seconds after the kick-off. Many fans were wondering if Agyei's effort was the fastest goal by a City player but sadly this is not the case. It was however the fastest goal at the Ricoh since the move there in 2005 – beating the 27-second goal by Reading's Grzegorz Rasiak in the Royals 3-1 victory in 2009. The previous fastest by a City player at the ground was Clinton Morrison 37-second effort in a 2-2 draw with Ipswich in 2008. It was also the fastest by a Sky Blue man for fourteen years – since Gary McSheffrey netted after 12 seconds against Colchester United in a League Cup tie at Highfield Road.

Goal-times in pre-war games are notoriously dubious and the fastest City goals that I have recorded are:

Eddie Brown
12 secs
Gary McSheffrey
Colchester (LC)
12 secs
Youssef Chippo
13 secs
Mark Hateley
14 secs
Jimmy Whitehouse
Lincoln (FAC)
15 secs
Mick Ferguson
25 secs
Gerry Daly
27 secs
Steve Livingstone
28 secs
Peter Murphy
30 secs
Gordon Nutt
30 secs

My recent piece about the 1967 game at Highfield Road against West Ham for the Winston Churchill Trophy generated a lot of interest and David Whitlock emailed to say he has the programme and was at the game as a 13-year old. Paul Richardson also emailed to point out that he and several of his school friends went to the Friday night game specifically to watch the three West Ham World Cup stars. In those days there were few opportunities to see the real stars of British football – BBC's Match of the Day only featured one game and ITV's Star Soccer focused on Midland clubs – and there was no wall to wall coverage of domestic football. For Coventrians this was one of the first chances to see Messrs Moore, Hurst and Peters (although Peters was ruled out of the game with injury) since the 1966 World Cup final. Paul became a City fan that night and remains one to this day. I've had no responses to my question: 'What happened to the trophy?' although West Ham contacts have confirmed that it isn't in their trophy cabinet. I have to conclude that Coventry City kept the trophy after the West Ham game and it was destroyed in the Main Stand fire twelve months later.