Monday, 26 December 2016

Jim's column 24.12.2016

John Feeney is a collector of Coventry City memorabilia and recently gave me copies of two postcards of City teams from over 100 years ago asking for more details.

The first one is undated but has the names of the players. I'm pretty sure it was taken at Highfield Road before a game and the 11 players only ever played together once, on 17th September 1904 v Walsall. City won the Birmingham League game 2-0 with goals from Belton and Banks. The line up was: Harry Whitehouse: John Kearns, Billy Spittle, H Jones, H King, F Court, S Edwards, E Clive, Tom Belton, Bertie Banks (captain), G Archer. Also in the picture are secretary/manager Michael O'Shea (far right back row), trainer S Bullivant (far left, back row) and a G Beale who I cannot trace. The team are wearing royal blue shirts with white shorts.

The second postcard is of the 1912-13 squad which was playing in the Southern League and includes 25 players plus the secretary/manager Robert Wallace, the chairman David Cooke, two other directors Messrs Turrall (with a cigarette in his mouth) and Collingbourne, two trainers Eli Juggins and Tom Arnold, and the groundsman. The kit is royal blue with white sleeves and a white yoke. The players include the famous goalkeeper Bob Evans who was City's first international – he won 10 caps for Wales. This was Bob's last of five seasons at Highfield Road and he left for Birmingham the following summer.

Steve Bell was in contact recently asking about a couple of friendly games City played in Northern Ireland in May 1948. Under manager Billy Frith, City had finished 10th in Division Two with the help of a seven-game run-in with only one defeat. A week after the season ended City travelled by coach and boat to Belfast where on 10th May they met Linfield, winning 3-2 thanks to a Peter Murphy hat-trick. Two days later they were in Londonderry beating Derry City 5-0 with goals from Norman Lockhart (2), Plum Warner, Wally Soden and Alex McIntosh.

City's team for both matches was: Alf Wood: Harry Barratt, Dennis Tooze, Ron Cox, George Mason, Stan Smith, Plum Warner, Alex McIntosh, Ted Roberts, Peter Murphy, Norman Lockhart. Soden, recently signed from Boldmere St Michaels and who had made only one first team start, was a substitute for Roberts) in the Derry game – probably the first instance of the club using a substitute. The picture was taken at the start of that season & includes six of the team that played in Northern Ireland.

Whilst writing this column the news has come through that Russell Slade has been appointed as the club's new manager. Slade has a reasonable record in this division but of course is not the first Slade to sit in the club's managerial chair. In February 1931 Bill Slade, a director of the club, took over as caretaker manager following the departure of Jimmy McIntyre. Slade, who never played professional football, was in charge for 16 games until Harry Storer was appointed at the end of the season. Bill became manager of Walsall a year later and led them to their famous FA Cup victory over the mighty Arsenal in 1933 with a team that included five ex-City players that Slade had signed for the Saddlers.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and lets hope for a better 2017.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Jim's column 17.12.2016

Thursday night's defeat to Sheffield United was City's sixth straight league defeat – ironically with probably their best display of the six. The last time City lost five consecutive league games was four years ago just after the club were relegated from the Championship. Andy Thorn's final game in charge was a 2-2 home draw with Bury and Richard Shaw and Lee Carsley were put in temporary charge of the team. After a thrilling 3-2 League Cup win over Birmingham City, the caretaker duo were in charge for four league games, all of which were lost. A 1-0 loss at Crewe was followed by a 2-1 home defeat to Stevenage and away defeats at Tranmere (0-2) and Shrewsbury (1-4). Mark Robins took over as permanent manager and lost his first game in charge (a 2-1 home defeat to Carlisle).

You have to go back 43 years for the last occurrence of a City side losing more than five consecutive league games. For several months of the 1972-73 season City fans were drooling over the football produced by Joe Mercer and Gordon Milne's team. The signings in October 1972 of Colin Stein and Tommy Hutchison sparked an unbeaten run of eight games and three FA Cup victories took them to the sixth round for the first time in 10 years. The Cup run ended at Molineux and City's subsequent form collapsed -they won only one of their last ten games and lost the last seven in a row. The seven included home defeats to Leeds, Derby and Liverpool and away reverses at Everton, Sheffield United, Chelsea and Wolves. The team finished 19th after being 10th before the Wolves Cup-tie. There was no rational explanation for the collapse by a very strong and experienced side that in addition to Stein & Hutchison contained Willie Carr, Dennis Mortimer, Chris Cattlin, Roy Barry, Mick Coop and Brian Alderson. Older fans remember that team with fondness and overlook that end of season collapse.

There are only two occasions in which City have lost more than seven consecutive league games. In the 1924-25 relegation season from Division Two they lost eight in a row between early November and early January including heavy away defeats at Hull (1-4), Derby (1-5) and South Shields (1-4). The record run however was set in 1919-20 when City lost their first nine games after joining the Football League Division Two. The run, which commenced with a 5-0 opening day home defeat to Tottenham was:

Aug 30 Tottenham (h) 0-5
Sept 3 Leeds City (a) 0-3
Sept 6 Tottenham (a) 1-4
Sept 11 Leeds City (h) 0-4
Sept 13 Birmingham (a) 1-4
Sept 20 Birmingham (h) 1-3
Sept 27 Leicester (a) 0-1
Oct 4 Leicester (h) 1-2
Oct 11 Fulham (h) 0-1

Manager Will Clayton was sacked after the loss at Filbert Street and secretary Harry Harbourne took over in a caretaker capacity with the board of directors selecting the team until 22nd November when new boss Harry Pollitt arrived.

One of the most interesting stats from Thursday night was given to me by fellow historian Geoff Moore. Amongst other things he tracks players who have appeared at the Ricoh and tells me that Blades' substitute Leon Clarke set a record by appearing for his seventh different club at the stadium. He first played against the Sky Blues for Wolves at Highfield Road in 2004 and scored in a 2-2 draw. His first appearance at the Ricoh was in 2006 for Wolves then in 2010 he played there for Sheffield Wednesday and the following season he was in QPR colours as a substitute. In November 2012 he scored twice for Scunthorpe before joining City in January 2013. Since leaving City he appeared for Bury in the 6-0 hammering last season and on Thursday night took his total to seven as a brief substitute. Clarke, now aged 31, has played for seventeen different clubs, a number of them in more than one spell and according to Geoff has played for ten of the current League One clubs.

Billy Sharp, who scored both Blades' goals in Thursday's game has now netted eight goals in nine games against the Sky Blues with four of them on live television. He netted in City's 0-4 defeat at Southampton in their final game in the Championship in 2012 and a header at Bramall Lane a year ago before Thursday's brace.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Jim's column 10.12.2016

Coventry City's miserable season hit another low on Sunday as they capitulated to League Two Cambridge United in their FA Cup clash. For the third season running the Sky Blues have been knocked out of the competition by a club from a lower status; Cambridge following Worcester City and Northampton Town as David's to City's Goliath. Few City fans travelled with confidence but the size of the defeat, 4-0, was a shock, being the club's heaviest loss to a lower status club since they first entered the Cup in 1895. Before Sunday City had lost only once by more than two goals to a lesser club – in 1922 as a Division 2 side they were defeated 3-0 at New Brighton from the Lancashire Combination in the equivalent of the First Round.

Another record set on Sunday was the four goals by Cambridge's Luke Berry – the first man to score four against the club in an FA Cup game. Berry has never been a prolific scorer – in 2014-15 he made 31 appearances for Barnsley and scored once – but it was a day to remember for him on Sunday. Berry is only the fourth opposition player to score four in a game since the war, the others being:-

1946-47 Jackie Gibbons (Bradford P.A. A) City lost 1-5
1983-84 Ian Rush (Liverpool A) City lost 0-5
2000-01 Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Chelsea A) City lost 1-6

Since JFH's four goals sixteen years ago, City have only had seven hat-tricks scored against them, and two of them came on successive Saturdays in 2013 when Nahki Wells (Bradford City) and Ryan Lowe (Tranmere) netted three each. The last FA Cup hat-trick by an opponent was by Colchester's Rowan Vine in 2004 in a 3-1 replay defeat at Layer Road.

I always rely on fellow City historian Geoff Moore when it comes to City's youngest and oldest teams and he has been in touch recently. City's youngest ever starting line up was at Manchester City in November 1980 when Gordon Milne put out a side with an average age of 21 years and 58 days.

That team was: Les Sealey (23), Steve Jacobs (19), Brian Roberts (25), Andy Blair (20), Paul Dyson (20), Gary Gillespie (20), Peter Bodak (19), Garry Thompson (21), Mark Hateley (19), Danny Thomas (19), Steve Hunt (24). Nine homegrown players plus Gillespie who was signed as a 17-year old.

Geoff informs me that the youngest starting team this season was Scunthorpe (h) with an average age of 22 years 59 days but for the FLT game at Wycombe last month the average was 21 years 120 days. That line up was:

Charles-Cook (22), Dion Kelly-Evans (20), Sterry (21), Finch (20), Turnbull (22), Harries (19), Lameiras (21), Rose (26), Maycock (18),Thomas (19), McBean (21).

At half-time Haynes (21), Jones (19) and Bigirimana (23) were introduced for Sterry, Rose and Lameiras, bringing the average age down to 20 years 274 days, the youngest Coventry City side on the pitch for a competitive game.

Robert Yates enjoyed my piece last week on the two memorable games 50 years ago. He wrote:

'I remember that season well, going to all the home games and selected away games, I was 18 that year, and not having my own car yet, took the trip to the Wolves game on the Red House coach, probably costing about 7/6d. I was on the South Bank at Molineux, rather conspicuous in my blue mac and sky blue 6 foot college scarf, but it was an incredible game, and with your details from the game, it could have happened yesterday, but I remember Gibson's goal at our end and as you say, a lot of Wolves pressure after that.

After Wolves had equalized, and were pressing hard, there was an amazing miss by Ernie Hunt, but some local guys behind me said, "Eh, you don't support this lot , do you mate?" after that City scored two more goals and I looked around and my local commentators had disappeared!

The Ipswich game was also incredible on the Friday night as they were top of the league at the time, and I remember the headlines in the Coventry Telegraph the next day; "Sky Blues G-men (Gould and Gibson) Grill the Leaders". John Key scored in both games and was a very under-rated player on the right wing.

Amazing, that then you had to catch up with the stories mainly in the 'Pink' and other papers, there was no local radio phone ins!'

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Jim's column 3.12.2016

This week marks the 50th anniversary of a significant time in Coventry City's history. In the first week in December 1966 the Sky Blues, who had had an up and down autumn, showed their promotion credentials by beating the Second Division's leading clubs twice in six days. On this day City travelled to Molineux and on a snow-bound pitch pulled off an unlikely 3-1 victory to knock the Wolves off the top. Then on the following Friday evening Ipswich Town, the new leaders, came to Highfield Road and were spanked 5-0. Those two results catapulted Jimmy Hill's team into the promotion race following a mediocre run of four defeats in eight games and an embarrassing League Cup exit to Third Division Brighton.

The key to the results was undoubtedly the recall to the side of summer record signing Ian Gibson. The diminutive Scot had fallen out with Jimmy Hill two months earlier and requested a move. The request had never been granted but he had been close to joining Newcastle before injuries forced Hill to recall the inside-forward on the last Saturday in November and he had turned in a master class in a 3-2 win over Cardiff.

Seven days later the Sky Blues gave one of the best performances of the Hill era against Wolves who were unbeaten at home since the opening day. Gibson scored after seven minutes, nipping in when Fred Davies failed to hold a fierce Ron Rees shot. From that point until half-time Wolves penned City back and with Ernie Hunt pulling their strings in midfield an equaliser looked on the cards. Somehow City survived until the break but five minutes into the second half Wolves drew level when Dave Burnside headed in.

Many thought this would be the end of the Sky Blues but heroic defensive work and numerous brilliant saves by Glazier with a touch of luck enabled City to come through 25 minutes of extreme pressure and then snatch another goal. Kearns' long cross-field clearance found John Key who advanced before unleashing a strong shot that Davies might have stopped. Eight minutes from time City counter attacked again and Rees, dangerous every time he got the ball, made it 3-1 with a low cross-shot. Minutes later the Welsh winger almost made it four when he hit the cross-bar but that would have been a bit too much.

Six days later on a wet Friday evening Ipswich were put to the sword with a exciting attacking display described by Nemo as: ‘probably their best performance in the Second Division and on a par for skill and excitement with the great victory over Sunderland in 1963.’

Gibson was the architect and despite a first-half hat-trick from Bobby Gould, his first in senior football, the best goal of the night was the fifth, from the cheeky Gibson who chipped the ball over seven defenders to find the top of the net and guarantee himself enduring cult status with City fans.
                                                      Bobby Gould completes his hat-trick
After the weekend’s games City, suddenly, were not in the chasing pack but in the leading pack in a very bunched top half of Division Two:

Pl Pts
1. Wolves 20 26
2. Ipswich 21 26
3. SKY BLUES 20 25
4. Carlisle 21 25
          1. Hull City 21 23
          2. Huddersfield 20 23
          3. Crystal P 20 23
          4. Blackburn 20 23
          5. Millwall 20 23

The Sky Blues didn't hit the top spot until the first Saturday in 1967 following a 1-1 draw at St Andrews and stayed there until the end of March when Wolves sneaked ahead of them. By then the two Midland giants were odds-on favourites to win the two promotion places and it became a two-horse race for the title won, of course by City.