Dublin-based Pat Sweeney was very sorry to hear of the passing of Jimmy Hill. He never saw him as player but remembers him taking the Sky Blues to Dublin in 1963.
He wrote to me:
'In the winter of 1963 there was "the Big Freeze" in Britain bringing football to stand still. The weather was not as bad in Ireland so some clubs came to train and play in Dublin. Coventry played Manchester United on a Saturday in late January/early February at Glenmalure Park, the then home of Shamrock Rovers. The ground was packed out to the end lines, a great game, ending in a 2-2 draw.
I was 15 years old then, there was no television, the only football news was in newspapers and Football Monthly'.
The winter of 1962-63 was the worst in living memory and City didn't play a game between Boxing Day and the last week in February. Game after game was called off because of snowbound or icy pitches as the country virtually ground to a halt. The FA Cup third round tie at Lincoln, scheduled for the first weekend of January was eventually played in March after 16 postponements because of snow or ice and this pattern was repeated all over the country.
At the end of January after the coming Saturday’s game at Shrewsbury was postponed, Jimmy Hill grasped the nettle. A call to Manchester United’s manager Matt Busby resulted in a hastily arranged friendly in Dublin. Hill always seeking publicity for the club, had realised that Ireland was far less badly hit by the weather and using his contacts in the Fair isle organised this tasty friendly. Hill had first tried Joe Mercer at Aston Villa but Joe’s players were worried about getting injured. Busby however was more adventurous and, like Hill, was desperate for his team to get some competitive play, and duly put out his strongest team including his expensive forward line of : Johnny Giles, Albert Quixall, David Herd, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton.
City flew out of Birmingham's Elmdon Airport on the Friday and the following day, when only four games were played on the English mainland, City and United met at Shamrock Rovers’ Glenmalure Park in a game that belied the two division’s difference in status. With United’s stars rattled by City’s enthusiasm City recovered from an early Quixall goal to lead 2-1 at half-time with goals from Ronnie Farmer and Jimmy Whitehouse. With Willie Humphries and Ronnie Rees giving Shay Brennan and Noel Cantwell an uncomfortable afternoon and Brian Hill marking Law like a limpet, City had chances to increase their lead. Bobby Charlton finally saved United’s red faces nine minutes from time with an equaliser but Coventry City had made a major impression, and also a few bob from a 15,000 crowd.Brian Hill
The following Saturday, again after another early postponement (a home game with Port Vale) City flew to Cork to play Wolves in a friendly. Whilst not the force they had been in the late 1950s, Wolves were in the top six in Division One (higher than Manchester United) and fielded experienced internationals Ron Flowers and Peter Broadbent. On a miserably wet day, the muddy pitch suited Wolves’ style perfectly and although City had chances in the first half, Wolves’ strength and experience told and they ran out 3-0 winners in front of a drowned crowd of 6,500.
Pat wanted to know the Sky Blues' line up on that Saturday in Dublin. They lined up as follows: Bob Wesson: John Sillett, Mick Kearns, Brian Hill, George Curtis, Ronnie Farmer, Willie Humphries, Ken Hale, Terry Bly, Jimmy Whitehouse, Ronnie Rees.
Dave Long found my attendance statistics last week very interesting and wanted to know when City had last had more than 15,000 for a night league game before the Walsall game, other than the famous Gillingham game last season. The Walsall crowd was 15,671 and was the largest night crowd, apart from Gillingham, since City were relegated from the Championship in 2012. That season they entertained Leeds in February and the attendance was 15,704 but there were over 3,200 Leeds fans at the game, which City won 2-1 with two Gary McSheffrey goals. You have to go back a further two years, to March 2010 for the previous largest crowd of City fans. City lost 1-2 to Cardiff in front of 16,038 and there were over 15,000 Coventry supporters present. Saturday's crowd of 17,140 takes the average for the season to 13,461, a 44% increase over last season's final average. Let's hope the two results last week were a minor blip and that the higher gates are maintained.
The long unbeaten home run came to an end last Saturday against Burton. The Brewers were the first side to win a league game at the Ricoh since last April when Crewe lowered the colours – a run of 13 without loss. It was the best run from the start of a season since 1955 when City's Third Division South side under the management of Jesse Carver (until New Years Eve) and then George Raynor, remained unbeaten in 15 home games before losing 1-0 to Northampton on the 18th February. This season's run did set a new record for City at the Ricoh, topping the 12-game run under Micky Adams in 2005-06 and was the best unbeaten home run since a 15-game run without loss under Gordon Milne between March 1978 and February 1979. I heard some fans moaning after the Burton loss but it is worth remembering the woeful home form of last season when between September and the season's end the team won only three home games out of 18. No wonder our crowds slumped to under 7,000.