As I wrote last week, this month sees the 80th anniversary of Coventry City's first ever promotion in the Football League from Division Three South. This week in 1936 saw City, the league leaders, play their nearest rivals Luton Town twice in three days. Going into the first game, at Kenilworth Road, on Saturday 25th April 1936 only goal average separated the teams who both had three games to play. Only one team was promoted in those days and there were no play-offs - it had become a two-horse race for the promotion place (and title).
The game was billed as a battle beaten the two goal machines. City had the legendary Clarrie Bourton who, whilst not scoring at the prolific rate of his record-breaking 1931-32 season when he netted 49 league goals, had scored 21 goals. Leading the Hatters' forward line was 22-year old Joe Payne. Nominally a wing-half, two weeks earlier he had been moved to centre-forward because of injuries and had netted 10 goals in a 12-0 thrashing of Bristol Rovers – a League individual scoring record.
City captain George Mason shakes hands with Luton skipper George Fellowes at Kenilworth Road.
In front of a ground record crowd of 23,559, Payne netted for the home side in the first half but Bourton equalised 12 minutes from time to keep City top on goal average. On the same day Aston Villa's relegation from Division One was confirmed – their first since they had been founder members of the Football League in 1888.
Two days later the action moved to Highfield Road for a game re-arranged because of bad weather in December. According to the Midland Daily Telegraph, City’s officials anticipated a new record gate and manager Harry Storer announced that an expert ‘packer’ had been employed to ‘ensure that no standing space on the terrace and popular side will be wasted’. The game kicked –off at 6.15, too late according to the night-shift workers who would have to leave the match before the end to ‘clock-on’ at 8pm, and the gates were opened at 5 pm.
A crowd of 42,809, over 11,000 more than the record set at an FA Cup tie against Sunderland six years previously, crammed into the ground to watch a tense game end 0-0.
The following day the Midland Daily Telegraph under the headline “A Scene Of Chaos”, described the aftermath: ‘Highfield Road looked this morning as though it had been struck by a tornado last night. Cartloads of paper and other rubbish was left behind by the record crowd ..…. while the condition of the barriers smashed to match-wood on the Swan Lane side, near to the corner of the old stand, provided ample evidence of the crush.’
A rare football-orientated editorial in the Midland Daily Telegraph summed up one of the most memorable nights in the club’s history: ‘Coventry has never witnessed such a spectacle before – an attendance nearly equal to a quarter of Coventry’s entire population lined the ground, perched on the top of stands, clung to advertising signs, fences and posts. Hundreds sat on the grass close to the touchline; humanity was packed as close as it could be within the capacious Highfield Road enclosure, and yet thousands who went to see the match had perforce to remain outside.’
It was reported that a large number of people ‘gate-crashed’ one of the entrances and one Nuneaton ‘enthusiast’ sent a postal order for one shilling in lieu of his admission. He admitted walking in through the broken gate but evidently thought the game and the occasion was so worthwhile that he paid his ‘honest-bob’ for it.
Amazingly no one was hurt despite some madcap jinks by some spectators to get a better view. On the top of the Spion Kop ‘rows of stones’ were erected by supporters in order to get a better view of the action. The MDT speculated that ‘many tons of packing from the back of the banks must have been pulled up’ to form a makeshift grandstand. A major disaster must have been narrowly averted. Spectators climbed advertising hoardings, the old wooden scoreboard on the Kop and onto the roof of the covered end as well as being forced from uncomfortably packed terraces onto the perimeter of the pitch, pre-dating the scenes 31 years later when 51,452 were shoe-horned in for the famous Wolves game. The newspaper hypothesized that to enable a capacity for 60,000 would ‘not entail much alteration to existing conditions’.
The draw left City with what looked like the easy task of beating Torquay in their final game five days later to clinch promotion but they would be without captain George Mason, injured in the first Luton game. Luton travelled to QPR ready to pounce if Coventry slipped up. Another big crowd at Highfield Road was expected for what promised to be a momentous game.
Congratulations to Adam Armstrong for being selected for the PFA League One team of the season. Since the PFA awards were instigated in 1974 only five City players had previously been recognised in this way. Armstrong follows Danny Thomas (1983), Kieron Westwood and Danny Fox (2009), Leon Clarke (2013) and Callum Wilson (2014).
Finally, BBC CWR's Clive Eakin has confirmed that Andy Rose was on the pitch for 35 seconds before he scored the winning goal against Bradford last week. This is 12 seconds longer than the record set by Wayne Andrews at Barnsley in 2006. His goal was also timed at 12 seconds from the referee's whistle restarting play after the stoppage – this is around four seconds longer than Kevin Drinkell's goal against Villa in 1990, if the goal time is judged from the referee's restart of the game.