This week in 1936 City clinched the Third Division South title – the club's first ever Football League promotion.
The two draws against their closest challengers Luton had left City with what looked like the easy task of beating mid-table Torquay at home in their final game to clinch promotion. But they would be without their inspirational captain George Mason, injured in the first Luton game. Luton, meanwhile, travelled to QPR ready to pounce if Coventry slipped up. Another big crowd at Highfield Road was expected for what promised to be a memorable day.
The programme had few words, but ‘From The Board Room’ spoke of the momentous occasion: ‘Today, in our last game, we play the most vital match of the season, probably the most vital game in the history of the Club. A win to-day definitely gives us second division status next season, a dream all interested in the affairs of our Club have had since that tragic year when we were relegated to the third division. Assuming our dream comes true, it has taken a long time, much anxiety and strenuous effort to achieve this, and the heroic way our team, often with several reserves owing to the unusual crop of injuries from which we have suffered this season, have fought in the interests of this is difficult to describe in words.’
The gates were opened at 1pm, two hours before the kick-off, with several hundred already queuing impatiently outside the turnstiles. By 2, when the band started up, it was estimated that there were already 12,000 in the ground, many of whom had come straight from work – the majority of Coventry factories worked a 5½-day week in those days – and were ‘enjoying an alfresco meal’. The frightening scenes from the previous Monday were not repeated, and the queues at turnstiles were tiny compared to the Luton game. The longer than usual music programme kept the spectators entertained and a bandsman arriving late caused the biggest cheer of the pre-match activity. The ‘tardy’ bandsman was cheered every step he made until he was ready for action.
As the teams ran out, hundreds of young boys poured over the barriers to squat on the edge of the pitch, and the police had to ensure they stayed back away from the touchlines. After a nervous and goalless first hour, City were awarded a penalty with twenty minutes left. George McNestry, normally deadly from the spot, drove the ball straight at the goalkeeper and minutes later Torquay broke away and scored through Les Dodds. Luton were drawing, which meant promotion was slipping away. City piled on the pressure and were awarded another penalty. This time stand-in skipper Ernie Curtis converted, and with three minutes remaining Fred Liddle dribbled along the by-line and slid a pass to Clarrie Bourton, who netted the winning goal. At the final whistle the jubilant City fans in the 30,614 crowd stormed onto the pitch. The players, sensing what was about to happen, ‘made a dive for the player’s exit.’ The Torquay men managed to escape and one or two City players as well, but the rest ‘were swallowed up in the avalanche of people’. Bourton, Curtis, Elliott, Frith and McNestry were ‘hauled into the air’ and carried by excited fans. ‘Hundreds of hands’ sought to pat the players on the back or shake their hands – ‘anything to touch these idols’. At one stage, matters seemed to be getting out of hand, but the crowd carefully ‘chaired’ their heroes to the entrance to the dressing room. With the players safely inside the dressing room the crowd turned their attention to the directors box, where Alderman Fred Lee, the club president, stood with a microphone installed especially for the occasion. Before speeches could start, however, the crowd set up a chant: ‘We want Mason.’ Soon afterwards the players, led by the injured Mason – who had spent the second half pacing around Gosford Green, too nervous to watch the game – and Leslie Jones, who also missed the game, entered the box to ‘deafening’ cheers. When they subsided Alderman Lee spoke: ‘What a happy moment we live in. After years of toil we have just achieved the greatest success in the history of Coventry City FC.’ Mason stepped up to the microphone to renewed cheers. He was too overcome with emotion to make a sensible contribution but thanked the supporters for the reception. Similarly Bourton, called to the microphone by an incessant ‘We want Bourton’, thanked the crowd in a short but emotional speech. Finally manager Storer was pushed to the mike and said: ‘You have done as much to win promotion as we have. We could not have done it without your loyal and continued support.’
The huge crowds for the last two games lifted the average to 19,232, the highest in the club’s history and the best in the Third Division again. The team dropped only three home points all season – Aldershot ruining the Christmas morning game by winning 2-0. They finished as champions on 57 points, one point ahead of Luton who would follow them up the following season.
This is the final column of the season – next week I will be doing my stats review of the campaign. Many thanks for all your emails and questions throughout the season. Keep them coming over the summer and I will endeavour to answer them next season.