Sunday, 25 September 2016

Jim's column 24.9.2016

City's poor start continued last weekend with a goalless draw with Oldham, making it eight league games without a win. It is the worst run since 2014 when Steven Pressley's side failed to win any of their last seven games and then lost at Bradford City on the opening day of 2014-15. You only have to go back to 2012 for the last time there was a longer run – 14 games without win - the last six in the Championship and the first eight games of the 2012-13 season. That bad start in 2012-13 was when Andy Thorn was relieved of his duties after three draws and Richard Shaw took over temporarily until Mark Robins arrived and ended the slump.

Lots of readers wanted to know if the current bad start is the worst by a Coventry City side. The most horrendous start was in City's inaugural Football League campaign of 1919-20 when the Bantams went 19 games without recording a single victory. With 14 defeats and just five points on the board, City were bottom of Division Two, five points adrift of the 21st placed team. Finally, on Christmas Day, Stoke were defeated 3-2 for the first victory. The team's form picked up after Christmas but they only avoided re-election (there were only two divisions at the time) by bribing Bury to lose the final game of the season.

Since 1919 the club has failed to gain a victory in its first eight games on three occasions – this season, the afore-mentioned 2012-13 and 1974-75. On 21 September 1974 City were bottom of Division One having drawn three home games, and lost one and drawn one and lost three away games. On paper the Sky Blues had a strong team with Dennis Mortimer, Tommy Hutchison, Colin Stein and David Cross all regulars but things didn't gel. Game nine saw City entertain Luton Town, the only other team without a win, and the knives were being sharpened against Milne. One of the lowest crowds at Highfield Road since promotion seven years previously, under 16,000, saw City gain their first victory, 2-1 with goals from Stein and Cross. The win sparked a six-game unbeaten run that lifted them well up the table and they finished the season comfortably in 13th place and Milne went on to manage City for a further six years.

I'm always looking out for some positives and although the team haven't won a league game yet they are now unbeaten in nine home league and cup games. They won the last three home games last season and two cup-ties this season plus the four home draws. It may be clutching at straws but it's home defeats that gets me down the most!

At the Diamond Club lunch this week (which I unfortunately couldn't attend) another great servant of the club, Willie Carr was the guest of honour. In preparation for the lunch Diamond Club chairman Alan Ludford
asked me where Willie stood in the all-time list of midfield goalscorers for the club. The top 10 all-time list is:

1. Peter Hill 78
2. Ronnie Farmer 52 (including 21 penalties)
3. Micky Gynn 45
4. Ernie Machin 39
5. Gary McAllister 38 (including 16 penalties)
6. Willie Carr 37
7. Steve Hunt 34
8. Don Dorman 31
9. Dave Clements 30
10= Barry Powell 28
10= Carl Baker 28

Some of these players were, in the old days, better known as wingers but it is interesting to compare goals to games ratios. Most of the above played 250 or more games including Hill who made over 300 appearances. The best ratio (0.32) was Dorman who scored 31 in 94 games between 1951-54, although some fans may argue he was a forward not a midfield player. He and Peter Hill (0.25) played in an era where there were a lot more goals. The best ratio for the modern era from the top ten is a close run thing between Steve Hunt and Barry Powell (0.16), closely followed by Micky Gynn and Carl Baker (0.15). Gerry Daly doesn't qualify for the top ten but managed 22 goals in 101 games, a ratio of 0.22!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Jim's column 17.9.2016

This week I am going back almost 50 years in response to a request from West Ham historian Roger Hillier. He contacted me in the summer asking about the Sir Winston Churchill Remembrance Trophy game between the Sky Blues and the Hammers in March 1967. The Sky Blues were flying high at the top of Division Two whilst the Hammers were mid-table in Division One. On the first weekend of March both teams had a free weekend (it was the first Wembley League Cup final on the Saturday and many clubs rearranged fixtures) and Jimmy Hill wanted to test his side against top-flight opposition. The trophy had been played for two years earlier when Fulham beat the Sky Blues at Highfield Road. West Ham, with their trio of World Cup winners, Moore, Hurst and Peters, were the ideal opponents for another game for the impressive cup.

Hill put out his first choice team whilst West Ham boss Ron Greenwood, a former playing colleague of JH's at Brentford, rested several first teamers but included World Cup winners Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. The third member of the illustrious trio, Martin Peters, was ruled out with an injury. A higher than expected crowd of 18,524 watched a thrilling drawn game, topped off by a novel penalty shoot-out that West Ham won.

City started the stronger side and Ian Gibson ripped open the visitors defence twice in the early exchanges. First, Gibbo broke the West Ham offside trap, running on to a Machin pass to dribble around goalkeeper Alan Dickie before planting the ball into the net. Then less than a minute later he split the defence to find Bobby Gould who chipped the ball perfectly for Machin to head what was described by Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph as 'a goal of sheer poetry'.

Former England winger Peter Brabrook hit the foot of a post before cracking home a Hurst pass on 30 minutes as the Hammers fought back. At half-time young Coventry-born goalkeeper Martin Clamp replaced Bill Glazier and John Tudor came on for Dietmar Bruck and Clamp was immediately in the firing line. A Brabrook 'banana' shot deceived the young 'keeper and went in off a post on 48 minutes and nine minutes later a Hurst shot took a deflection that left Clamp stranded to make it 3-2.

On 72 minutes City were level after a terrific melee in the West Ham penalty area. Dickie pushed a Machin header on to the post, Rees had a return effort blocked and Machin finally drove the ball home.

By mutual agreement a penalty shoot-out decided the destination of the cup and in a best of 11 shots contest, West Ham won 9-7. Mrs J Leese, the wife of the editor of the Coventry Telegraph presented the trophy to Bobby Moore as hundreds of milling youngsters engulfed both sets of players.

Roger's request for information set me wondering what happened to the trophy. Did West Ham take it back to London and keep it or perhaps it stayed in the Highfield Road trophy cabinet and was one of those destroyed in the fire a year later. If anyone knows any more about the trophy please let me know.

Roger contributes articles to an excellent West Ham website that can be found at

Earlier this year I wrote about Margaret Crabtree's search for the 1968 Bantams Ladies football team and published a photo of the team. I'm pleased to say that Margaret has informed me that she has tracked down 12 of the team and they have held a reunion this summer. They are in touch via social media and sharing stories from their playing days. She sent me this photograph of the former players she has tracked down:

Team:- Back: (Left to right) Ann Stevens, Lesley Gibson, Reg Berry (Manager), Margaret Crabtree, Joy Black;
           Middle: (Left to right) Janet Kennedy, Ann Law;
           Front: (Left to right) Avril Parham, Liz Stevens, Terri Beales, June Hart, Maureen Tizick.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Jim's column 10.9.2016

After the small crowds at the Ricoh Arena for the League Cup and Football League Trophy games several people have asked me for more details about the game which attracted the lowest ever crowd for a City game in 1985 - a Full Members Cup tie against Millwall that attracted only 1,086 fans to Highfield Road.

Following the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, English clubs were banned from European competitions and the Football League decided to introduce two new domestic competitions to help compensate clubs for the reduction in income. The Football League Super Cup was launched for the six sides who would have played in Europe and a subsidiary competition, the Full Members Cup (FMC) was inaugurated for the remaining First and Second Division sides.

By the time the draw was made only 21 out of 38 full member clubs indicated a desire to play in the FMC – City being just one of four top flight teams. The teams were separated into Northern & Southern sections and into four groups within each section. City were in the Southern half and their group of three also contained Stoke City and Millwall (both from the Second Division). Each team played the other two once, with one game at home and one away and the group winners would go through to a regional semi-final and final before a Wembley final between the regional winners. With so few top flight teams in the competition City fans fancied their team's chances of progressing to the knockout stages. City travelled to Stoke on 18th September for the opening game with just one change from the team that had drawn 1-1 at Villa Park in a league game four days earlier. They suffered a 3-0 defeat with goals from Keith Bertschin, Carl Saunders and Carl Beeston. A pitifully low crowd of 3,516 was a portend for the competition.

On 2nd October Stoke travelled to Millwall and watched by 1,741 snatched a late equaliser for a 2-2 draw. That result meant that Stoke had amassed four points and that the Sky Blues could not win the group to progress in the competition. Millwall could still qualify however, by winning by more than three clear goals in the final tie of the group. So on 15th October City and Millwall played out the final game in front of 1,086 (which included a small number of away fans). In an eerie atmosphere,Terry Gibson gave City the lead just before half-time but Nicky Chatterton grabbed a late equaliser to ensure Millwall finished second in the group and ahead of the Sky Blues. There was one thing to celebrate however as Gibson's goal meant he had netted in seven successive competitive games and set a club post-war record.

Stoke went on to lose to Oxford United (then a First Division side) in the regional semi-final. Oxford subsequently lost to Chelsea who progressed to the Wembley final against Manchester City where a David Speedie hat-trick helped the Londoners to a 5-4 victory in front of 69,000 fans.

The group stages were scrapped for the 1986-87 season and City fell at the first knockout hurdle, an away tie with Norwich. City's performances in the competition were disastrous. In all but one season they were knocked out in their first tie, the exception being 1988-89 when they reached the semi-final only to lose on penalties at Reading.

Somehow the pointless competition survived until 1991-92 with various sponsors (including Simod and Zenith Data Systems) when, with the Premier League about to commence and English clubs re-admitted to Europe, it was scrapped. Many of the competition's games were watched by four-figure crowds but all the finals attracted 60,000 plus crowds at Wembley.

During the summer I had numerous questions about the club's history and I will try and answer them in the coming weeks. First off is Jim Molloy who wrote seeking more information about former City player Eric Jones who was at college with his father-in-law.

Eric Jones, who was born in Dover in March 1938 was one of three Snowdown Colliery Welfare youngsters recommended to City by former player (then manager at Snowdown) Harry Barratt in 1955. Eric, George Curtis and goalkeeper Alf Bentley all signed for the club. A centre-half, Eric made his debut as an 18-year old in a home game with Brentford in November 1956 but was unable to get a regular first-team place because of the form of his friend Curtis and played only 16 first-team games in seven seasons. After being released in 1961 Eric was a teacher at Binley Park School. He didn't give up football however and captained Nuneaton Borough's Southern League side. He passed away in 1987.

                                              1960 City team with Eric Jones front row, far right.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Jim's column 3.9.2016

The re-named, re-launched Football League Trophy (for the time-being called the Checkatrade Trophy) kicked off this week with the Sky Blues entertaining West Ham's Under 23 team and emerging with a 4-2 victory. I am not in favour of the 'pilot' re-structuring which sees a number of Premiership & Championship club's Under 23 teams participating in the new group stages. Fans around the country turned their backs on the competition this week with the vast majority of attendances for the first round of matches under 1,000 and some as low as 400. There were 2,091 at the Ricoh – an attendance only topped at Bramall Lane – and the pitiful crowds may convince the Football League that they have made a mistake. Billed as ‘innovation’, a phrase that is not always a good thing, first impressions are that this is a half baked solution to a problem that never existed in the first place and one that pleases no one, especially the fans.

It's still not clear to fans why the FL made these radical changes and it does not bode well for next summer when the 72 League clubs vote on a major restructuring of the League to expand the current three divisions of 24 clubs to four divisions of 20. Coventry City have always been known as innovators, especially under Jimmy Hill and Derrick Robins, but the latest changes and the proposals on the table next summer would surely have those two giants from the club's history turning in their graves.

There are still however some benefits of the re-jigged competition, primarily a Wembley final. Try telling the 40,000 Oxford United fans who followed their team to Wembley for last year's final that the competition is a waste of time. And, if the Sky Blues happen to get a whiff of Wembley in their nostrils, the fans will turn out in hordes, as they did in 2013 when over 31,000 watched the Crewe game.

Many people have asked me this week how Tuesday night's crowd ranks in the club's all-time low crowds. Putting aside the attendances at Sixfields (there were 12 crowds below 2,000 there with the lowest 1,214 v Hartlepool in the FA Cup) the lowest in the club's time in the Football League (post-1919) for senior games are as follows:

1,086 v Millwall (Full Members Cup) 1985-86
2,059 v Crystal Palace (Division Three South) 1927-28
2,091 v West Ham Under 23s (Football League Trophy) 2016-17
3,781 v Wimbledon (Full Members Cup) 1989-90
3,974 v Newport County (Division Three South) 1954-55
4,744 v Hartlepools (Division Three North) 1925-26
4,785 v QPR (Division Three South) 1953-54
4,976 v Portsmouth (League Cup) 2016-17

I'm pretty sure the next game in the competition (at home to Northampton on 4th October) will generate a larger crowd than Tuesday's, and with one win under their belts there is a good opportunity to progress in the trophy.