Last week I wrote about a game against Sheffield Wednesday in 1970 when Roy Barry, City's inspirational captain at the time, suffered a broken leg. Today I'm writing about an earlier home game with the Owls – this week in 1952, when defeat for City meant almost certain relegation.
I met Arthur Warner from Binley at a recent Diamond Club lunch and he told me that his first City game was that infamous home game with Sheffield Wednesday. Arthur was six years old and does not remember anything of the game, other than that it was a large crowd which he found a bit overwhelming but nevertheless he enjoyed the experience and was hooked on the atmosphere from that moment. His Dad always told him that City were relegated and the Owls were promoted that day and asked me to provide some more details of the game.
Having led Division Two at the start of 1951, a poor run saw them finish seventh in the table and their poor form continued into 1951-52. There had been no new signings in the close season and it was an ageing team. A run of 11 games without a win in the autumn had made it an uphill task to avoid the drop but Harry Storer's team at least improved their home form.
The club went into the transfer market in February, buying their former Welsh international centre-forward George Lowrie from Bristol City but the veteran Lowrie failed to produce the spark needed, scoring just three goals in 12 games. Then in March Storer made the double signing of centre-forward Eddy Brown and centre-half Roy Kirk. The class of both men was quickly visible, but things had gone too far for them to stem the tide.
Four days earlier a 5-2 win over Luton Town, their fourth home win in five games, seemed to have pulled them clear with two games remaining. Wednesday however were top of the table and needed just one more victory to clinch promotion to the top flight. It was a day of destiny.
Over 26,000 had watched the Luton game, one of the biggest crowds of the season, and there was even more interest in the Wednesday game, who themselves had a big following. When the game started there were 36,331 in the ground – a crowd that was not to be topped for another 11 years.
There was added drama too, of a late team change. Goalkeeper Bill Gilbert, who had been down to play, had reported at the ground troubled by a shoulder injury. Reserve Peter Taylor was playing for the reserves at Norwich so young Derek Spencer, who had played only three reserve games since being signed from Lockheed Leamington, was thrust into action.
It was to be a cruel baptism for the young 'keeper – Wednesday took the lead after just 90 seconds. A footballing phenomenon by the name of Derek Dooley, who had scored 44 goals in 28 games, shot through a gap in the home defence and rocketed a right-foot drive into the net. City struggled to get back on terms and held their own for most of the remainder of the game, Dooley put the result beyond doubt two minutes from the end with his second goal past the luckless Spencer.
With no real time score-lines in those days it was several minutes before the players, directors and fans were aware of results elsewhere. Then the news came through: Hull, Swansea and QPR – the sides below Coventry – had all won. With one game remaining, at Leeds, the City were 21st in the table and needed others to lose to keep them up. In the end City lost at Leeds and their rivals all avoided defeat to confirm Coventry's relegation to Division Three.
City's team that fateful day was: Derek Spencer: Martin McDonnell, Dick Mason: Don Dorman, Roy Kirk, Les Cook: Les 'Plum' Warner, Ian Jamieson, Eddy Brown, Noel Simpson, Norman Lockhart.
I can always rely upon Keith Ballantyne for unusual questions and this week is no different. He asks: Which team have had the same shirt sponsors in all four divisions including the Premier League? The answer, he tells me, is Bradford City who have been sponsored by JCT600 a car dealership for many years.