It is sad to report the death this week of former Coventry City left winger Jack Boxley at the age of 84. Jack made his name at Bristol City and was a member of their Third Division South championship side in 1954-55 before a move to Coventry in 1957 for whom he made 94 appearances scoring 18 goals.
Cradley-born Jack caught several league club's attention playing for Stourbridge in the Birmingham League as a 19-year old and Bristol City had to pay £2,000, a large fee for a non-league player, to aquire him in October 1950. Within a week Jack made his debut in a 2-1 home win over Newport County alongside former Coventry centre-forward George Lowrie. In 1951-52 he overcame a serious leg injury and between 1950 and 1956 made 200 starts for the Robins, netting 34 goals and was a major contributor to many of centre-forward John Atyeo's 100 plus goals. The 1954-55 championship side racked up 70 points (when there were two points for a win) and 101 league goals and Boxley rightly became a Legend in Bristol. Atyeo and Boxley were best friends and were best men at each other's wedding.
In 1956-57 Jack lost his first team place at Ashton Gate and in December 1956 City manager Harry Warren, using the money raised by the sale of Reg Matthews to Chelsea, signed Jack and his Bristol teammate Jimmy Rogers, a goalscoring inside-forward. In an inauspicious first game – against Crystal Palace at Highfield Road – the floodlights failed and the game was abandoned after 51 minutes at 0-0. Seven days later Boxley scored on his full debut as City won their first away game of the season 3-2 at Southend. But the club was in a mess with large debts, falling crowds and their lowest league position since the 1920s. Boxley started on the left-wing, and scored four goals in his first five games, but was soon switched inside to accommodate the young home-grown starlet Ray Sambrook.
In 1957-58 City's problems came to a head – manager Warren was sacked and Billy Frith returned as manager but was unable to stop the club finishing in the lower half of the division which meant they would be placed in the new Fourth Division. Jack played a small part in the 1958-59 promotion season, making 15 appearances and scoring one goal before losing his place to Alan 'Digger' Daley.
Back in Division Three City made a strong promotion challenge in 1959-60 and in late February laying third in the table, they faced second placed Bury at Highfield Road. It was a day for drama, with a big crowd (over 21,000) there to see it happen. In Bristol the drama was unfolding. Jack, who still lived and trained in Bristol, was travelling up to Coventry on the morning of the match when his car broke down. He never made the match and Coventry with no ready-made stand-in to take his place, had to pull young full-back Brian Shepherd from the 'A' team playing locally that morning. City played like a team with a vital part missing and lost 1-0 and it was the beginning of a slump that ended the team's promotion hopes. Jack only made two more appearances for City and re-joined his beloved Robins the following August.
His return to Ashton Gate was not a great success. He made only 13 appearances and although he failed to score a league goal he did manage Bristol's first-ever goal in the League Cup in a 1-1 draw with Aldershot. Released by the Robins the following summer, Jack played for Chippenham Town in the Western League before hanging up his boots. He married Patricia and brought up a family in Long Ashton and in 2014 was voted into the Bristol City Hall of Fame and was a regular at Ashton Gate for many years. This week his daughter Lisa Bardens told the Bristol City website that her father, like many former footballers, had been suffering from dementia.
Swindon Town came to Coventry last week and escaped with their impressive unbeaten league record against the Sky Blues intact. The clubs have met 11 times since City's last victory in the fixture – in October 1964. Swindon have won six and drawn five of those games since goals by Ernie Machin, George Hudson and Ken Hale earned Jimmy Hill's side a 3-2 home win in 1964.
Regular reader Keith Ballantyne asked what was the last competitive appearance in a City shirt by an outfield member of the 1987 F.A.Cup winning side ?
The answer is Lloyd McGrath who on 10th April 1994 came on as a substitute, coincidentally versus Tottenham at Highfield Road. City won 1-0 with a Peter Ndlovu penalty. Gary Mabbutt also played that day. Another hero of '87, Brian Borrows, who tragically missed out at Wembley through injury, played on for three more years making the last of his 488 appearances in a City shirt against Derby County on 3rd May 1997.