Sunday, 27 November 2016

Jim's column 26.11.2016

Two away defeats in four days made it a bad week for the Sky Blues and pushed them back into the dog-fight at the foot of the table. The 4-1 defeat at Oxford was embarrassing and the biggest league loss since the Oldham away game last season when City succumbed to the same score. Conceding three goals in the first half is not a common occurrence but it was the first occasion since Tranmere trounced Steven Pressley's team 5-1 at Sixfields three years ago. Other infamous games that were 0-3 to the opposition at the break include the 7-1 defeat at West Brom, the 3-1 home defeat to Everton in the Premier League relegation season and the 4-1 home defeat to Bristol City in 2011. The last time City trailed 4-0 at half-time was an end of season game at Plymouth in April 2009 when Chris Coleman's team managed to keep the score at four. As far as I can ascertain no City team have trailed 0-5 at half-time.

It was City's first competitive visit to Oxford since the 1980s when the clubs met three seasons running in the old Division One. A Wayne Turner goal earned City the points in 1985-86 but the two subsequent games were won by Oxford with John Aldridge and Dean Saunders amongst the scorers.

At least the team recovered some pride at Bolton on Tuesday evening, losing 1-0 but giving a spirited second half display. The two sides had not met in a competitive game since 1998 when City recorded a 5-1 defeat at the Reebok. The defeat ended an unbeaten run of seven league and cup games in Bolton stretching back to 1965 when Wanderers beat Jimmy Hill's team 4-2 thanks to two Wyn Davies goals. Before Tuesday night City had only suffered that one defeat in the town.

Steve Bell emailed me asking for details of a friendly game at Highfield Road in 1968. City's strong youth team (they reached the final of the Youth Cup that season) were asked to play an England Youth XI to help prepare them for what was known as the Little World Cup but was actually the European Youth Championships. City's best players, Willie Carr and Graham Paddon, were missing - Paddon was playing for the England XI and Carr was in the first team squad battling relegation and wasn't risked. I have reproduced the team sheet and older fans will recall many of the opponents, some of whom were already playing league football. Newcastle's Alan Foggon and Sheffield United's Tony Currie had played First Division football with the latter recently scoring on his debut after a £26,000 move from Watford. Winger Dave Thomas had appeared for Burnley at Highfield Road earlier that season whilst Charlton's Paul Went had almost 80 league games under his belt after debuting as a 15-year old. How many 18-year olds have got those levels of experience today?Thomas and Currie both went on to win full caps for England and all but the goalkeeper Sheffield Wednesday's Gary Scothern played league football.
                                                 Team sheet from the friendly game in 1968

In City's team that night there was the infamous David Icke in goal but strangely only Jeff Blockley and Trevor Gould from an outstanding team went on to make the first team.

The teams lined up as follows: City: Icke: Crossley, Hill (G), Gould (T), Blockley, Wilks, Taylor, Allen, Peachey, Dobbing, Sinclair. Sub: Farmer.
England: Scothern: Evans, Burton, Bunkell, James, Went, Hoy, Foggon, Duffy, Thomas, Paddon. Sub: Currie.
                                                 City's Youth team 1968

England won the game 4-1 with goals from Duffy, Hoy, Foggon and Evans with Brian Taylor replying for City. Two months later in France England failed to get past the group stage in the Little World Cup.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Jim's column 19.11.2016

The Sky Blues unbeaten run that stretched back 14 games in all competitions to last April came to an end on Saturday at the Ricoh when Scunthorpe United did a smash and grab raid. Cov kid Graham Alexander has built a strong outfit and most people watching thought they were the best side City have faced at home this season.

The run, which comprised of eleven league games (six wins, five draws), two EFL Trophy ties (both won) plus a League Cup victory, was the best by the club since the late 1970s. In 1979-80 Gordon Milne's side went 14 without loss at home and the season before 16 without loss.

Before Saturday's defeat the team had also won four home games in a row – something they hadn't done since early 2007. Then, Iain Dowie's arrival as the replacement for Micky Adams sparked four wins, all in the league:

20.2.2007 Southampton (h) 2-1
4.3.2007 Hull City (h) 2-0
13.3.2007 Wolves (h) 2-1
17.3.2007 Barnsley (h) 4-1

However any hopes of reaching the play-offs were dashed by three straight home defeats (to Preston, QPR & West Brom). Interestingly Dele Adebola, not always a regular starter under Adams, netted four of the ten goals in those four games. The last time that City won five home games in a row was February/March 2002 under Roland Nilsson.

Regular reader Keith Ballantyne emailed me after I mentioned Dudley Roberts a few weeks ago wanting to no more of his career at City. He was the son of post-war City hero Ted Roberts who was renowned for his heading ability, a skill Dudley inherited and displayed by scoring prolifically at Cheylesmore School. After joining the Sky Blues as an apprentice in 1961 he was converted to a defensive wing half and played in City’s youth team with Bobby Gould and Pat Morrissey. In the autumn of 1965 he was called up to play at centre-forward for the reserve team after injuries to the regular strikers. Impressive performances earned him a first team call-up at Preston and he did not let the side down.

Four days after his debut Dudley played an important role in a 3-2 League Cup win at Maine Road and had a goal disallowed. His home debut against Charlton coincided with his 20th birthday and he celebrated with two goals in a 3-1 win, one a close range shot from a Ken Hale cross, the second a trademark header. Goals against Plymouth, Portsmouth and Ipswich took his total to five in five. He missed several games through injury and when he was fit Jimmy Hill had signed Bury’s Ray Pointer to boost the attack.

Dudley made only five further appearances, one of them at right back during an injury crisis. When star striker George Hudson was controversially sold to Northampton his place went to Bobby Gould and Dudley stayed in the reserves. Dudley did not appear in the first team during the promotion season but was a virtual ever-present for the reserves. In Division 1 he made only one appearance, at Hillsborough in Jimmy Hill’s last game in charge.

In March 1968 he joined Mansfield Town for £6,000. He went straight into the first team at Field Mill and for the next six years he was a prolific scorer for the Stags. In total he scored 73 goals in 231 appearances and was the Third Division’s leading scorer in the 1970-71 season. Several big clubs expressed an interest in him and Mansfield rejected bids of £60,000 from top-flight clubs.

In 1974 he joined Scunthorpe where he had two successful years adding 17 more goals to his overall tally before a serious knee injury ended his career.

In 1969 he had married Rose McNulty, the original Sky Blue Rose from the Jimmy Hill era. Rose had been the first recorded voice that kept City fans up to date with news on the telephone in the days before mobile phones and text services. Rose and Dudley still live in Mansfield. Dudley spent 21 years with the Electricity Board and is now semi-retired, helping out with a local photographer. He has attended various CCFPA events and is a true gentleman.

On Thursday evening I had the pleasure of attending the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Coventry City London Supporters Club. Back in 1976 Colin Heys, a Kent-based fan known to many of City's travelling fans, put a small advert in the Tottenham v City programme asking any Coventry supporters living in London or the South East to contact him with a view to forming a club. At the first meeting, held at a West End pub, there were eleven of us and three of the founders, myself, Neil Hadden and Rod Dean were there on Thursday to celebrate 40 years. Former player Chris Cattlin was the guest of honour at the dinner and have an excellent speech on an emotional night of memories.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Jim's column 12.11.2016

There was nothing to play for on Wednesday night at Wycombe other than home advantage in the first of the knockout stages of the Football League Trophy, a somewhat devalued competition since the inclusion of several club's Under 23 teams. The game did however qualify as a competitive first team game and has to be included in the club's historical records. The 250-odd City fans who made the trip to Adams Park saw three interesting records set.

Firstly, the Sky Blues came from 0-2 behind to win a competitive game for only the fourth time in the last thirty years and the first time in an away game since 1970. After failing to come back from a two-goal deficit in almost twenty years, City have now done it three times in three seasons with Peterborough on the receiving end in the last two seasons.

2016-17 Wycombe Wanderers (FL Trophy) 4-2
2015-16 Peterborough (h) 3-2
2014-15 Peterborough (h) 3-2
1995-96 Tottenham (League Cup) (h) 3-2
1985-86 Southampton (h) 3-2
1980-81 West Ham (League Cup) (h) 3-2
1970-71 Derby (a) 4-3
1963-64 Peterborough (h) 3-2

You have to go back to that famous win at Derby's Baseball Ground in 1970 for the last such away result. City were not only 0-2 down but had seen their new £100,000 record signing Wilf Smith stretchered off in the first few minutes. Kevin Hector and Alan Hinton put the Rams 2-0 ahead in the first thirteen minutes but goals from Neil Martin & Dave Clements pulled City level by half-time. Martin put City ahead early in the second half before John McGovern made it 3-3. Bill Glazier saved a Hinton penalty before Willie Carr popped up with the winner two minutes from time.

Secondly, Ryan Haynes became only the fifth City substitute to score two goals coming off the bench. Some people have called the second goal as an own goal but I am crediting to Ryan in the absence of any official decision. The other four two-goal subs were:

Bobby Gould v Nottingham Forest (a) 1967-68
Jay Bothroyd v Rushden & Diamonds LC (h) 2002-03
Patrick Suffo v Torquay LC (h) 2004-05
Chris Maguire v MK Dons (a) 2013-14

Thirdly, the crowd of 912 at Adams Park for this dead rubber was the lowest crowd to watch a City first-team competitive game since 1930 when 683 watched a 2-2 draw between Merthyr Town and Coventry in the old Division Three South. The game, played at Merthyr's Penydarren Park took place on a Monday afternoon in April and the home side were bottom of the league having lost their previous two games 0-10 and 1-5. At the end of the season despite winning three of their last five games, they finished bottom and were voted out of the league. That crowd is the lowest to watch a Coventry City league game.

Last weekend the crowd at Morecambe (1,732) was the lowest to watch a Coventry City FA Cup tie since 1914 when the Bantams, a Southern League side at the time, travelled to Glossop, then a Second Division side, for a 6th round Qualifying tie. Only 539 paying customers watched the tie which Glossop won 3-1. Glossop, who had one season in the First Division, finished bottom of Division Two that season and after the war were not re-elected to the League. They have been a non-league side ever since.

If the Sky Blues manage to win the replay they will face the winners of the Dover v Cambridge United replay on the weekend of 5 December. City have never played Dover but were the victims of a Cambridge giant-killing act in 1992 when a Dion Dublin goal earned Cambridge a 1-1 draw at Highfield Road and cost Terry Butcher his job as manager. By the time of the replay, Don Howe was in charge but Dublin scored a late winner in a goalmouth scramble after Oggy had saved Dion's penalty.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

A tribute to Brian Hill

Brian Hill 
Born 31 July 1941 
Died 27 October 2016

Brian Hill was a footballer from bygone era. A modest, loyal, hard-working, self effacing man dedicated to his sport. He passed away last week aged 75 after a long fight with Alzheimer's. Between 1958 and 1970 he made 286 appearances for Coventry City, playing in every outfield position and appearing in five different divisions of the League as well as playing European football in that memorable 1970-71 season. He was never a spectacular player but always got through a prodigious amount of work and though often under-appreciated by the fans he was a key man in Jimmy Hill’s team of the 1960s.

Until 16-year olds Gary McSheffrey, Ben Mackey and Jonson Clark-Harris came on to the first team scene as substitutes Brian was Coventry City’s youngest ever player. He held the record for forty years since his goalscoring debut against Gillingham in 1958 and remains to this day the youngest ever starter for the club as well as the youngest goalscorer.

He was still three months short of his seventeenth birthday when he made his debut in what was City’s last ever game in the old Division Three South. The old South and North sections were reorganised into the new Divisions Three and Four in the summer of 1958 and a poor City side had failed to finish in the top half of the table, which would have qualified them to be in Division Three. It had been a miserable season - a thirteen-game run without a win from Boxing Day to mid-March had consigned them to the new basement division – and manager Billy Frith, who had taken over a shambles the previous September, was already planning for the new league by blooding youngsters.

Brian had been impressive in the FA Youth Cup playing at centre-forward and scoring four goals in three ties that season. Looking back Brian had only dim and distant memories, he told me some years ago, “I think I only got a game because the season was as good as over and it was a chance for the manager to look at some of the kids. I had barely played for the reserves before and it was a big surprise to play for the first-team.”

Born in Bedworth, Brian was a prolific sportsman at Nicholas Chamberlain School, representing Warwickshire Schools at football and cricket. After leaving school in 1956 Brian went to work at the Jaguar factory but after a few months he was invited to trials with City and was offered an apprentice contract. In April 1958 with both main strikers Ray Straw and Jimmy Rogers injured Frith decided to play Brian at inside-right and his namesake Ray at centre-forward in the final game on a warm early summer’s evening in Kent. Ray was six years older than Brian and had played ten games since joining from Redditch Town the previous November. With Peter Hill at inside-left City played three Hills in the side for the first time.

Brian had a dream start to his career when, with only seven minutes on the clock he scored. Nemo in the Coventry Evening Telegraph described it in glowing terms.

“He took just seven minutes to score, and what a peach of a goal it was. The ball came down the middle. Brian took it in his stride and drove it grass-high into the corner with the aplomb of a veteran.”

City were well on top for the first half an hour, playing, according to the match report, some of their best football for weeks but after the interval the home side picked their game up and they won the game 3-2.

For the next four seasons Brian struggled on as an average inside or outside left but played less than 40 first team games. In November 1961 he was at inside left in the side beaten by Kings Lynn in that infamous FA Cup tie that heralded the departure of Frith and the arrival of Jimmy Hill as manager.

Jimmy watched that game incognito in the stands and later in his autobiography wrote: 'against Northampton....I picked my first league eleven, dropping Brian Hill from the number 9 position, in which he had played against Kings Lynn, and telling him that when he came back into the side it would be to stay, but positively not as a striker'.

This is one of the first examples of Jimmy's uncanny ability to identify the best position for players – later examples were Dietmar Bruck, Mick Kearns and Dave Clements. Hill, recognising Brian's strength as his major asset, converted him into a defensive half-back and he took to the new role like a duck to water. In the 1962-63 season he became a regular in the team playing 47 games, earning a reputation as a tough tackling man-marker, he was even tipped for England under-23 honours in 1965.

Brian was first choice at either wing-half or full-back until 1967 except when his niggling hamstring injuries kept him on the sidelines but it seemed whenever he returned to the side their fortunes picked up. If there was a key man to be marked Brian usually got the job and he had some memorable tussles with Manchester United’s Dennis Law and Tottenham’s Jimmy Greaves and usually came out on top.

Fan David Walker remembers Brian with fondness and especially the Manchester United FA Cup tie in 1963 when Brian marked Denis Law, at the time the most expensive footballer in British football and the deadliest of strikers. 'Brian was one of the most under-rated players we ever had. My assessment of Brian was that often you hardly knew he was on the pitch, but his opposite number would hardly get a look in all match, such was his efficiency as a defender. Perhaps the most over-riding memory was the famous cup tie against Manchester United in 1963. We may have lost, but standing there, on the terraces, I remember that at the end of the match, as the players came off, Denis Law, who had had a very quiet game, picked up a handful of mud and threw it at Brian!
Frustration coming out perhaps.'

After promotion in 1967 Hill did not look out of his depth in the First Division and had a dramatic moment at Fulham when he came off the substitute’s bench to score his first league goal for over four years to earn City a valuable point. In his last two years he was restricted to 13 appearances and normally called upon to do specific marking jobs. He was only on the losing side twice during that period and there were some memorable marking jobs that he carried out. In March 1970 he put a dent in Everton's championship hopes with his “job” on Alan Ball in the 0-0 draw at Goodison and in one of his final games at Anfield later that year he was lauded for his performance in another 0-0 that earned the Sky Blues' first ever point at the ground. In the same month he was on the winning side as City beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the home second leg of their Fairs Cup tie.

The club laid on a deserved testimonial game for him in 1969 with Brian Clough’s Derby County providing the opposition in a 1-1 draw.

His final game was on Boxing Day 1970 in a 1-1 home draw with West Brom when he conceded the penalty that gave the Baggies a point. In March 1971 he went on loan to Bristol City, managed by Alan Dicks, his former assistant manager at Coventry, and helped them to avoid relegation to Division 3. Later that year he joined Fourth Division Torquay United for £5,000 but lived and trained in Coventry for two years making over 50 appearances for the Gulls.

Four City players played in all four divisions of the league during City’s rise from 1958 to 1967, Hill, George Curtis, Ron Farmer and Mick Kearns, and Brian was the last one of the famous four to leave the club. The four made over 1500 appearances for the club between them and his departure brought the famous era of the club to an end.

One of the famous four, Ron Farmer, told me, 'Brian was a quiet lad, I never saw him lose his temper on or off the pitch and I can't remember him having a bad game. He was a great tackler and Jimmy always had him mark the opponent's danger man. I'm very sad to hear of his death'.
Mick Kearns made his debut a few months before Brian and the pair played together many times. He talked affectionately about Brian, 'Off the field he was the most unassuming man, there was no side to him and he never get ruffled. On the pitch he was a great athlete who always gave 100% and would play whatever role he was asked to do'.

Another friend and playing colleague was Bill Tedds who grew up with Brian in Bedworth and followed him to Highfield Road as an apprentice. 'Brian and I were very close in our teens, we did everything together, even going on holiday with each other. He wasn't the tallest player but he was as strong as an ox and ideally suited to be a defender. He was fanatical about weight-lifting and I'm sure that was the cause of some of his muscle injuries. But for injuries I'm sure he would have won international honours for England.'

After two seasons at Torquay at the age 31 Brian retired from the professional game and returned to the Midlands. He went to work at Jaguar and played briefly for Bedworth United, who were managed by his former City teammate Gerry Baker.

He worked on the Jaguar production line for 18 years and then had ten years as a driver for HSBC Bank before retiring in 2003. He leaves his wife Margaret, a son, two daughters and six grandchildren who, in his retirement, he doted on.

Brian's funeral takes place on Tuesday 15 November at 10.15 at All Saints Church in Bedworth, followed by a cremation. I am sure there will be a big turn out of friends and former colleagues for a great servant of Coventry City.