Sunday, 30 October 2016

Jim's column 29.10.16

Regular readers will know I try and look on the positive side of things and with all the doom and gloom around the football club at the moment I have to highlight the fact that after last week's consecutive home victories over Oxford and Rochdale, the team are now unbeaten in 13 competitive home games. They won the last three home games of last season, have won two and drawn five league games this campaign and won three cup ties at the Ricoh. The 13-game run equals the best run for the Sky Blues since the 1979-80 season when Gordon Milne's side recorded 14 without loss at home.

In the intervening 37 seasons there has only been one 13-game unbeaten run – in the 2005-06 season under Micky Adams, aided by the inspired signings of Dennis Wise and Don Hutchison. That was the first season at the Ricoh and the team lost three of the first eight games at their new home. Following the third defeat, on 2nd November to Stoke, the team didn't lose at home until Preston won 1-0 on 1st April 2006. The thirteen games (12 league and an FA Cup drawn tie with Middlesbrough) included eight wins and five draws. Last season Tony Mowbray's team went 13 league games unbeaten at home from the start of the season but the Northampton Cup defeat spoiled the run.

The 1979 run occurred in a golden two-year period of home form for the Sky Blues. Just before Christmas 1977 City lost a League Cup replay to Liverpool at Highfield Road but then won six straight home games before losing 2-3 to Aston Villa in March, then came a run of 16 without loss that stretched through to the following February when Tottenham lowered City's flag with a 3-1 victory. City then lost the next two home games to Man City (0-3) and West Brom (1-3), the latter on 3rd March 1979. They then embarked on the 14 game unbeaten home run before Stoke City won 3-1 at Highfield Road on 3rd November. So, in just under two years the Sky Blues lost just four games at home out of forty played, winning 24 and drawing 12. Even better was the period from December 1965 to August 1967 when Jimmy Hill's team lost only one home league game out of 32! Those were the days when it was a real pleasure to watch City at home.

The club record for unbeaten home games in all competitions is 19, set in 1925-26 (in Division Three North) and equalled in 1962-63. The best home runs are as follows:

19 1925-26 (Div 3N), 1962-63 (Div 3)
18 1952-53 (Div 3S)
17 1965-66 (Div 2)
16 1950-51 (Div 2), 1978-79 (Div 1)
14 1934-35 (Div 3S), 1935-36 (Div 3S), 1979-80 (Div 1)

Last Saturday we finally saw the Sky Blues break the Rochdale bogey. It was the seventh league meeting between the clubs and City's first victory. In addition the teams have met on seven occasions in cup games, including a League Cup game last season, and City have won only once (a 4-0 League cup win in 1991).

Keith Ballantyne was interested in Peter Denton's Sky Blue career and remembers the 1-0 win at Birmingham in November 1965 in which Peter played. Blues had been relegated from the First Division the previous season and were struggling near the foot of the table. City's goal came half an hour from the end of a tough, physical battle of 47 fouls, when Bobby Gould was sandwiched by two home defenders when he was through on goal. Ronnie Farmer, in his trademark cool manner, slotted home the penalty kick. City had a large following in the 26,000 crowd and the Sky Blue song echoed around St Andrews in the final half-hour. Keith correctly points out that Ken Hale, a favourite of his, played his last game for the club that day. He had received a lot of stick from the fans and Jimmy Hill had persevered with Hale but the signing of Ray Pointer a month or so later curtailed his first team opportunities and he moved to Oxford in March 1966.

Congratulations to the club's under 23 team who won 3-1 at Crystal Palace to record their seventh successive victory. Several readers have asked if this is a record for any Coventry team. The records of reserve games is somewhat patchy but seven wins equals the first-team record set in 1998 when Gordon Strachan was in charge. That team's run was as follows:

24 January Derby County (FA Cup) (h) 2-0
31 January Bolton (a) 5-1
7 February Sheffield Wed (h) 1-0
14 February Aston Villa (FA Cup) (a) 1-0
18 February Southampton (a) 2-1
21 February Barnsley (h) 1-0
28 February Crystal Palace (a) 3-0

As I write this I have just heard the sad news that former City player Brian Hill has passed away. Brian was the youngest ever City player in 1958 when he made his debut at Gillingham before his 17th birthday. He scored on his debut and is still the youngest City player to score a goal and the youngest to start a first-team game. I will write a full tribute to one of City's finest servants next week.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Jim's column 22.10.2016

The sad news of the passing of Peter Denton and my tribute last week prompted several emails. Long standing fan Kevin Ring remembered Peter as a very quick winger who but for the consistency of Ronnie Rees, Willie Humphries and Dave Clements who have been a regular first team player. Kevin pointed out that if more subs had been allowed in those days he would have probably had more chances of first team football.

Fellow City historian Paul O'Connor was also in touch to tell me that in July 1966 Middlesbrough offered £12,000 for him but he rejected the move and later whilst in the reserves Watford were interested in him. Paul also told me that whilst playing at Margate Peter broke his nose and even though things didn’t go well on the pitch following his move to Luton, he made an impression because he moved into coaching there in November 1969 but Paul was unaware of how long he was there in that capacity.

Alan Ludford remembers being at college with Peter in the 1960s when they were both on an accountancy course and remembers him as a 'very quiet lad who didn’t brag about being  on City’s books, he just got on with his work'.

John Docker, a former colleague of Denton's in the youth and reserve teams also contacted me. John, a Caludon Castle schoolboy, was a highly rated player who scored goals for fun at schoolboy level. He played in the 6-4 Youth Cup defeat to West Brom in 1963 and scored a goal direct from a corner as City came from 6-1 to give a strong Albion side, which included Tony 'Bomber' Brown, a shock. John was only just 16 at the time and went on to have two further seasons in the youth team and reminded me that the 1965-66 team was very strong and included Mick Coop, Pat Morrissey and a very young Willie Carr. John remembers a 3-1 victory over a Leicester City youth team with Peter Shilton in goal, with John netting one of the goals. This was when Jimmy Hill's labours in setting up a strong youth policy began to bear fruit, a policy which has generated so many players for the first team and continues to this day.
                                                     Coventry City youth team 1963-64
John signed full professional forms in 1965 and was a regular in the reserves but in 1967 he was loaned out to Torquay where he picked up a knee injury which would ultimately end his career. In 1968 he joined Irish champions Waterford on loan along with other Coventry youngsters Peter Thomas and John Matthews but his knee was a severe handicap. Following his return from Ireland he was released by City and after a brief spell with Rugby Town he began playing for Binley Woods but suffered a broken leg. He has lived & worked in Coventry for all of his life and occasionally goes to City games.

Other former playing colleagues Dudley Roberts and Dennis Oakes also sent their condolences and remembered Peter with fondness.

Regular reader Keith Ballantyne was in touch following last weekend's defeat at Charlton:

The Charlton scoreline replicates that of my first and only visit to the Valley, in October 1964. My father and I were seated in the ground's wooden stand and had taken an old - style 'klaxon' car horn with us. The most vivid recollection of this game I have was the amount of fireworks being let off in and around the ground in the run-up to November 5th. The game itself was nothing to write home about, Charlton scored early as I recall and had Mike Bailey playing for them. The only goal I can remember was scored after Bill Glazier had ended up on his backside and flailed an arm helplessly at the ball as it went in over him.  Please can you tell me the goal times.

The game that Keith refers to was on 31st October 1964 and Charlton did win 3-0 with goals from Eddie Firmani (12 mins), Roy Matthews (72) and Jack Kennedy (83). Glazier had recently been signed from Crystal Palace for a world record fee for a goalkeeper of £35,000 and England manager Alf Ramsey was at the Valley to watch Mike Bailey and Bill. The goal that Keith remembers was the first, when Firmani's shot struck Ron Farmer's leg and was diverted past the City keeper. Bill went on to make several good saves, averting a heavy defeat and Ramsey selected Glazier for his first Under 23 cap a week later. Looking at the newspapers for that weekend I noticed that league champions Liverpool had lost 0-2 to Manchester United and lay 19th in Division One. In the modern game I wonder if manager Bill Shankly would have survived that poor start to the 1964-65 season.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Peter Denton 1.3.1946 - 7.10.2016

Everyone at Coventry City and the Former Players Association were saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Denton last week.

Peter joined City straight from school in 1962 – soon after Jimmy Hill had arrived as manager. A diminutive right winger with a great turn of speed and a deadly shot, Peter hailed from Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and arrived in Coventry with his good friend Graham Saunders.

Peter was an apprentice on the groundstaff, cleaning boots, sweeping the terraces and getting 'A' & 'B' team football on a Saturday, normally against local works or village teams and playing home games at City's training ground at Shilton. In his first season he played for the club's youth team in the FA Youth Cup alongside Bobby Gould, Dennis Oakes & John Burckitt. Sadly the young Sky Blues got a 5-0 home thumping from Port Vale in the First Round.

Dennis Oakes spoke fondly of Peter: 'As I remember he came to the club from Gorleston with Graham Saunders and they both went into digs with Alan Turner. Peter was a quiet lad and kept himself to himself. He kept his head down and was really the ideal young professional. They both joined as apprentices alongside myself, Bobby Gould, Dudley Roberts, Pat Morrissey,  Dave & John Matthews. He was a lively right winger who had an eye for a goal. He never changed, was a gentleman at 18/19 years of age and remained so the last time we met'.

The following season (1963-64) there was a stronger youth team with Dudley Roberts, Pat Morrissey and local teenage prodigy John Docker joining Peter and Bobby in the team. In the first round City's kids gave First Division West Brom a big shock, coming from 4-0 down, before losing 6-4 with Peter scoring one of the goals.

His performances were good enough to earn him a professional contract on his 18th birthday in March 1964 and the following season he was a regular in the successful reserve team. In front of crowds averaging over 6,000 the Sky Blues' reserves won promotion to Football Combination's First Division, thrilling the fans with 96 goals in 34 games.

Winning a first team call-up was hard – the number 7 shirt belonged to the consistent and influential Welsh winger Ronnie Rees. In early October 1965 City played Stoke in a friendly game and with Rees on international duty Peter was given his chance and scored in a 5-1 victory over the First Division side. A month later, following the 6-1 League Cup defeat at West Brom, Jimmy Hill made changes including switching Rees to the left wing and gave Peter his chance against Ipswich at Highfield Road. It was one of the youngest forward lines in the club's history – Denton (19), Dudley Roberts (20), Bobby Gould (19), Ernie Machin (21) and Rees (21). Within five minutes the pint-sized winger won a penalty and overall he made an impressive debut in the 3-1 victory with Roberts, Gould and Ronnie Farmer (penalty) scoring the goals.

Peter kept his place for the next three games, a 1-0 win at Birmingham and draws against Leyton Orient & Middlesbrough before returning to reserve team duty. Later that season he was back in the team as City's promotion push continued. He stood in for the injured Rees in a 4-1 FA Cup replay win over Crewe, starred in a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace and two weeks later scored his only senior goal in a 3-1 home win over Cardiff. It came after three minutes of the game when his fiercely driven cross from the by-line swerved freakishly and Dilwyn John in the Cardiff goal could only help the ball into the net. Ten minutes later it was 2-0 as Peter was tripped in the area & Farmer netted the penalty.
A week later he played in the 2-2 home draw with Bolton but appeared on the losing side for the first time on Easter Saturday at Portsmouth. His final appearance that season was a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough in the last home game of the season.

His form dropped in the 1966-67 Division 2 championship season and with Rees and Dave Clements performing consistently well and another right-winger John Key in the squad, Peter had to be content with reserve team football. In August 1967 he played his last first team game in a 3-1 home defeat to Nottingham Forest. In total he had made 11 first team appearances and scored one goal.

In early 1968 he joined Luton Town but things didn't work out for him at Kenilworth Road & he moved into non-league football playing for Canterbury City and Margate. He settled in the Luton area and worked for many years at Vauxhall Motors in the town whilst doing some part-time coaching. His son-in-law Wayne Shanley tells me that in the last ten years or so Peter has been a part-time waiter at the Green Man at Offley in Hertfordshire and latterly the Beefeater in Luton where he was very popular. He leaves behind Margaret, his wife of 46 years, three daughters and three grandchilden. He remained a Sky Blues fan and always looked out for their results. He was a member of the Former Players Association and earlier this year travelled up to Jimmy Hill's celebration service in the cathedral and attended Legends Day the following day.
                                                  Peter pictured at the JH service in February

His funeral will take place on Friday 28th October at 11.15 at the Vale, Stopsley, Luton and afterwards at the Jolly Topers pub in Round Green, Luton.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Jim's column 8.10.2016

Back-to-back wins in four days this week have lifted spirits amongst Sky Blues' fans. The league run of 10 without a win was finally ended at Port Vale and this was followed by a second victory in the Football League Trophy, Northampton becoming the latest victims.The victory in the Potteries was very welcome and ensures the club record of 19 without a win from the start of the season, set in 1919, stays intact.

Tuesday night's attendance was another pathetically low 2,085, six less than the West Ham game in the same competition, and therefore the lowest since that infamous game v Millwall in 1985. Since writing about that game a few weeks ago I have been doing some more research and discovered from the club's attendance books, that the crowd, reported as 1,086 at the time, was later revised slightly to 1,111. With the Sky Blues now through to round two, one can only hope that crowds will pick up.

It was an exciting start to the match on Tuesday with two goals in the first ninety seconds. Dan Agyei netted with a brilliant solo effort initially-timed at 24 seconds before Marc Richards equalised after 60 seconds. Several City fans have pointed out that Agyei's goal was scored after 20 seconds and having watched the clip on Sky Blue Player I have concluded that it hit the net 19.5 seconds after the kick-off. Many fans were wondering if Agyei's effort was the fastest goal by a City player but sadly this is not the case. It was however the fastest goal at the Ricoh since the move there in 2005 – beating the 27-second goal by Reading's Grzegorz Rasiak in the Royals 3-1 victory in 2009. The previous fastest by a City player at the ground was Clinton Morrison 37-second effort in a 2-2 draw with Ipswich in 2008. It was also the fastest by a Sky Blue man for fourteen years – since Gary McSheffrey netted after 12 seconds against Colchester United in a League Cup tie at Highfield Road.

Goal-times in pre-war games are notoriously dubious and the fastest City goals that I have recorded are:

Eddie Brown
12 secs
Gary McSheffrey
Colchester (LC)
12 secs
Youssef Chippo
13 secs
Mark Hateley
14 secs
Jimmy Whitehouse
Lincoln (FAC)
15 secs
Mick Ferguson
25 secs
Gerry Daly
27 secs
Steve Livingstone
28 secs
Peter Murphy
30 secs
Gordon Nutt
30 secs

My recent piece about the 1967 game at Highfield Road against West Ham for the Winston Churchill Trophy generated a lot of interest and David Whitlock emailed to say he has the programme and was at the game as a 13-year old. Paul Richardson also emailed to point out that he and several of his school friends went to the Friday night game specifically to watch the three West Ham World Cup stars. In those days there were few opportunities to see the real stars of British football – BBC's Match of the Day only featured one game and ITV's Star Soccer focused on Midland clubs – and there was no wall to wall coverage of domestic football. For Coventrians this was one of the first chances to see Messrs Moore, Hurst and Peters (although Peters was ruled out of the game with injury) since the 1966 World Cup final. Paul became a City fan that night and remains one to this day. I've had no responses to my question: 'What happened to the trophy?' although West Ham contacts have confirmed that it isn't in their trophy cabinet. I have to conclude that Coventry City kept the trophy after the West Ham game and it was destroyed in the Main Stand fire twelve months later.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Jim's column 1.10.2016

In another tumultuous week for the Sky Blues Tony Mowbray became the 25th Coventry City manager to leave the club in the forty nine years since Jimmy Hill stepped down to join ITV in 1967. Rarely do Sky Blues' managers resign without a job to go to – of the seven managers in the SISU reign, only Mark Robins wasn't sacked and he went to a more lucrative position.

Tony's record in his nineteen months as boss is very good compared to many of his predecessors. Of the 25 managers post-JH only four, Mark Robins, Eric Black, Roland Nilsson and Iain Dowie, have a better win percentage, and only Robins, Black & Nilsson have a higher points percentage.

Mowbray joined the club in early March 2015 after Steven Pressley had been sacked and Neil McFarlane and Dave Hockaday had been in temporary charge for two games. City were 20th in League One with only one win in nine games and a crowd of under 7,000 had watched Pressley's last home game in charge – the relegation clouds were hovering. With no transfers allowed Tony was only able to bring in Tottenham's Grant Ward on an emergency loan and just had to get the best out of the squad he had inherited. He failed to lift the Sky Blues' home form, winning just one of seven at the Ricoh but six unbeaten away games including four wins steered the Sky Blues to safety even though there were some nail-biting moments on the final day at Crawley.

2015-16 was undoubtedly the best season the club has enjoyed in over a decade with an unbeaten home record until mid-January, goals galore from loanees Armstrong and Murphy and some outstanding team performances. City fans will reminisce about the 3-2 comeback against Peterborough and the 4-1 victory over Gillingham that took us to the top of the table. But after the 6-0 win over Bury, the biggest win for over 50 years, the wheels fell off and a run of ten games with one win saw City slip out of the play-off places.

Four wins out of five at the back end of the season ensured an eighth place finish, the best for many years, and raised hopes that with some shrewd trading in the close season that this campaign would see City making an even more serious challenge for promotion. Sadly the summer activity left City with a weaker squad and to date the loanees have not made the impact that Armstrong, Murphy and Kent made last year. After the worst start to a season for almost 100 years, something had to give and Tony, being an honourable man, decided to step down.

I had the pleasure of meeting Tony on several occasions and about a year ago I offered to give him a presentation on the club's history at Ryton. The slide show would normally take about 45 minutes but his interest was so great that after 2 ½ hours we were still chatting about football in general and Coventry City in particular. Having met most of his predecessors over the years, Tony is the nicest and most approachable – he is a true gentleman in a sport where there are many disreputable characters and his insistence on not receiving a severance package is testament to this. He is a football fanatic as well as a football purist and the latter probably contributed to his ultimate failure at the club. The majority of the clubs in League One play what I would describe as Caveman football with teams of giants and a football philosophy to stop their opponents at all costs. Mowbray's team always tried to play football but as we saw after Christmas opposition teams could easily frustrate us, especially if we weren't totally on top of our game.

The search is underway for Mowbray's replacement and there are scores of ex-managers looking for work. With revenue at an all-time low, the restrictions of Financial Fair Play not to mention the fact that a large swathe of fans are unhappy, means that it could be a poison chalice to take the job. The state of things off the pitch may put off some candidates but others will be out to rebuild their managerial career and break the hoodoo that has seemed to afflict so many Coventry City managers (before and since SISU bought the club).

                   games    w      d       l           F   -  A        GD   Pts   Win % Pts %
Mark Robins 25 13 5 7 45 27 18 44 52.00% 58.67%
Eric Black 23 11 3 9 38 24 14 36 47.83% 52.17%
Roland Nilsson 40 19 5 16 56 48 8 62 47.50% 51.67%
Tony Mowbray 59 24 16 19 82 64 18 88 40.68% 49.72%
Iain Dowie 43 16 9 18 49 63 -14 57 37.21% 44.19%
Micky Adams 90 31 24 35 113 124 -11 117 34.44% 43.33%
John Sillett 128 44 37 47 143 169 -26 169 34.38% 44.01%
Gordon Milne 336 110 99 127 426 496 -70 429 32.74% 42.56%
Terry Butcher 49 16 11 22 56 60 -4 59 32.65% 40.14%
Don Mackay 60 19 11 30 72 93 -21 68 31.67% 37.78%
Phil Neal 58 18 18 22 56 74 -18 72 31.03% 41.38%
Peter Reid 29 9 8 12 36 45 -9 35 31.03% 40.23%
Noel Cantwell 187 58 56 73 206 243 -37 230 31.02% 41.00%
Dave Sexton 84 26 20 38 104 121 -17 98 30.95% 38.89%
Joe Mercer 42 13 9 20 40 55 -15 48 30.95% 38.10%
Aidy Bothroyd 36 11 8 17 38 46 -8 41 30.56% 37.96%
Steven Pressley 87 26 28 33 115 135 -20 106 29.89% 40.61%
Bobby Gould II 54 16 19 19 66 73 -7 67 29.63% 41.36%
Bobby Gould I 63 18 15 30 62 78 -16 69 28.57% 36.51%
Gordon Strachan 183 52 52 79 203 262 -59 208 28.42% 37.89%
Chris Coleman 107 30 35 42 112 140 -28 125 28.04% 38.94%
Gary McAllister 68 17 25 26 73 91 -18 76 25.00% 37.25%
Ron Atkinson 64 14 24 26 64 92 -28 66 21.88% 34.38%
Andy Thorn 59 12 21 26 61 81 -20 57 20.34% 32.20%
Don Howe 19 3 8 8 10 18 -8 17 15.79% 29.82%

(league games only)