Sunday, 29 January 2017

Jim's column 28.1.2017

Coventry City's relegation-threatened team are just ninety minutes from Wembley after a successful penalty shoot-out at Swansea's Liberty Stadium on Tuesday evening. After a stuttering ninety minutes the young Sky Blues team made their experience count from the penalty spot with George Thomas, Gael Bigirimana, Kyel Reid and Ruben Lameiras all netting and Reice Charles-Cook saving two of the four Swansea efforts.

The penalty shoot-out success ended a run of three losses from similar sudden death endings. Last season they lost shoot-outs at Rochdale and Yeovil and in 2013 they lost at Leyton Orient, managed at the time by Russell Slade. The last victory from a penalty competition before Tuesday was a Football League Trophy game against Sheffield United in 2012 when a Joe Murphy master-class helped the Sky Blues to a 4-1 victory. City's record in all shoot-outs since their first at Reading in the Simod (Full Members) Cup in 1988, is now played nine, won four and lost five.

Saturday's league defeat to Fleetwood was manager Russell Slade's fifth league game in charge and he has still to record a victory. Several people asked me whether this is a record for a new Coventry manager. I've looked back at previous incoming managers (excluding caretakers) and Russell has some way to go to break the record, set in 1967 by Noel Cantwell. The Irishman, in his first management post, took over from Jimmy Hill before the Tottenham home game on October 14th and did not record his first victory until December 16th when a Bobby Gould hat-trick helped secure a 5-1 victory over Burnley. In his first nine league games in charge the team drew four and lost five.

Other incoming managers who had poor starts are Joe Mercer in 1972 – his team failed to win any of their first six games, and Terry Butcher who despite a thrilling 5-4 League Cup win over Nottingham Forest, similarly failed to win six league games after succeeding John Sillett in 1990.

On the flip side, the best incoming manager has to be Roland Nilsson who was unbeaten in his first 11 league games after replacing Gordon Strachan in September 2001. The great Harry Storer won his first five games at the start of his second stint as manager in 1948 – pulling the team away from the Second Division basement. In 1961 Jimmy Hill won four of his first five games in charge after replacing Billy Frith.

Chatting to former City chairman Joe Elliott recently he mentioned that his first ever City game was a friendly against Preston North End in 1956 and could I provide some details. The game took place on 28 January 1956, the day of the FA Cup Fourth Round. Both sides were out of the Cup so organised a friendly game at Highfield Road. First Division North End fielded 10 of the players who had beaten league leaders Manchester United 3-1 seven days previously, including one of the country's top stars Tom Finney.

City, fifth in Division Three South, had recently lost their manager, Jesse Carver, who had returned to Italy just months after arriving with a fanfare. His number two George Raynor was in charge and named the following team:

Reg Matthews: Frank Austin, Charlie Timmins: Iain Jamieson, Roy Kirk, Noel Simpson: Eric Johnson, Denis Uphill, Ken McPherson, Peter Hill, Ray Sambrook.

The weather was dismal with driving rain turning the pitch into a muddy quagmire and keeping the crowd down to 13,700. Many of the crowd came to see Finney – in those days before television was saturated with football, top stars had to be seen in the flesh and Finney had never played before at Highfield Road. They weren't disappointed as the England international right-winger turned on a magical display and Nemo wrote in the Coventry Telegraph: 'try as they might, neither Charlie Timmins nor Frank Austin, who swopped with his full-back partner in the second half, could do a thing with the Preston wizard'.

McPherson gave City a second minute lead following a 'gigantic goal-kick by Matthews' but Finney equalised from the penalty spot soon afterwards. Evans made it 2-1 for the visitors just before the break but in the second half North End were the superior side described by Nemo 'playing some of the best precision passing I have seen on a heavy pitch'.

Finney and Foster scored further goals with 'unstoppable shots' as Preston ran out 4-1 victors. Poor old Timmins failed to stop Finney once, 'I had not enough energy left to even shake hands with Finney afterwards', laughed Charlie after the game.

Two days later City hosted another top side in a friendly, San Lorenzo of Argentina. That, however, is a story for another day.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Jim's column 21.1.2017

Most City fans are aware of City's poor recent record for headed goals but Geoff Moore has been researching it and has come up with some frightening statistics. He tells me that City have scored only two headed goals in league games this season. Both were scored by Marcus Tudgay (v Northampton and Bolton) and came from open play rather than from a set piece. According to Geoff this is the lowest number of headed goals in the league.

Last season we scored with six headers, all from set pieces and none from open play. Geoff tells me
that before Tudgay's efforts this season you have to go back to April 2015 and Marcus' header at Crawley for the last one. By Geoff's reckoning that is two headed goals from open play in 72 league matches!

On the flip side City are very vulnerable to headers. Last season we conceded 13 headed goals, but surprisingly only two of them were in open play (Fleetwood at home and Doncaster away). This season there have not been as many but I can recall at least three or four.

Geoff puts this in context by saying that you would expect about one in six goals to come from headers, although it obviously varies according to style of play. He adds, 'Sobering to note that Dion Dublin scored 45 headed goals in his Premier League career, many of them for the Sky Blues'.

Over the years Coventry City have had some superb headers of the ball – attackers and defenders – who scored dozens of headed goals, from Ted Roberts and George Lowrie in the 1940s through to Neil Martin (1960s), Mick Ferguson and David Cross (1970s) and the diminutive David Speedie who on two separate occasions netted a hat-trick of headed goals. What would we give for a header of the ball like those?

Keith Ballantyne wrote to ask questions about the original Premier League members in 1992-93 and how many of them have been ever present members. He also wanted to know if any of those original members had fallen to the fourth tier (Obviously anticipating a relegation for the Sky Blues this season).

Of the 22 original members the following six have never been relegated:
Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton.

Only four other original members are in the current PL: Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Southampton.

Nine clubs have fallen to tier three at some stage: Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday, Manchester City, Sheffield United, Southampton, Leeds United, QPR, Oldham and City.

None of the original members of the Premier League have fallen below the third tier so if the Sky Blues and/or Oldham get relegated this season it will be a first. Wimbledon, PL founder members in 1992-93 no longer exist in the same form. Two teams who were in the First Division in the last season prior to the formation of the Premier League have been lower. Notts County are now in League Two as are Luton Town, who have been out of the Football League.

Since 1992 three clubs have been promoted to the PL for the first time but never relegated:
Stoke 2008 (now in 9th season)
Swansea 2011 (6th season)
Bournemouth 2015 (2nd season).

Steve Pittam is a long suffering City fan – he was one of the 30 or so supporters who travelled to watch the Sky Blues in Plovdiv in their Fairs Cup campaign in 1970. He's spent many years working and living in Dubai only managing to catch the Sky Blues once a year if that. He emailed me last week to say he is retiring and hoping to get to see his team play a bit more often. He liked my article last week about Christmas games and wrote:

'your piece brought back huge memories for me. I had never heard of football until the vide-printer was on at my grandparents house on Boxing Day 1958. Torquay 1 Coventry 1 printed and I was hooked - all I knew was that I lived in Coventry, I didn’t have a clue about football (still don’t some would say!) and pestered my Dad until he took me in March to see us play Workington.'

Happy retirement Steve and look forward to seeing you in the near future.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Jim's column 14.1.2017

With the Sky Blues not playing last weekend I was able to ponder the recent run of form. They managed to end the dreadful run of losses in league games with draws against Peterborough and Bolton, in fact City should have won both games. The defeat at Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day was therefore the end of the run of seven straight defeats, equalling the worst run by a City team since 1924, and two short of the worst run since they joined the Football League in 1919.

City have still failed to win in nine league games – the longest run since 2012 when Andy Thorn's relegated side failed to win any of their last six games in the Championship and then went eight games into 2012-13 without registering a league victory (under Thorn, caretakers Lee Carsley and Richard Shaw and Mark Robins). Let's hope that's not an omen and Russell Slade can end the run quickly and pull the club away from the relegation zone.

The form shown in the last two league games and the FL Trophy victory over Brighton on Tuesday evening has cheered some City fans up and with more signings expected in the January window I expect the side to have a stronger look for the last three months of the campaign. Against Bolton Slade introduced three new players, all of whom made an instant impact, and the number of players to represent the club since they joined the League in 1919 edged towards the 1000 mark. No-nonsense defender Nathan Clarke (the 966th to wear the shirt), midfield loanee Callum Reilly (967) and all-action striker Stuart Beavon (968) all played their part in a much-improved display. Beavon became the 106th player to make his debut in the 4 ½ years since we were relegated from the Championship in 2012. By comparison, Jimmy Hill in his six years as the club's manager only gave 40 players their debuts. Back then new signings were rare and a number of the players he inherited in 1961 were still at the club when they reached the First Division six years later including George Curtis, Mick Kearns, Ronnie Farmer &  Brian Hill.

The rate of new players has accelerated in recent years, for example Steve Jacobs was the 500th player in May 1980 (the club's 55th season in the league) and now 37 years later we are approaching the 1000 mark. Last season we gave 24 players their first game, one less than the 2014-15 when a record 25 got their debuts. This season there have been 15 so far – maybe the inability for clubs to take loans outside of the transfer windows has had an effect – but I expect there to be several more.

Stuart Beavon comes from a footballing family and it makes me feel very old to say I remember watching his father and grandfather play. Cyril Beavon, his grandfather, was a no-nonsense full-back in the Oxford United team admitted to the Football League in 1962 after the demise of Accrington Stanley. He was a regular in their side in the 1960s that included Ron Atkinson and his brother Graham, who sadly passed away recently. Cyril's son Stuart senior was in the Reading side that knocked City out of the Simod (Full Members) Cup at the semi-final stage in 1988. In a game which had a delayed start because of traffic congestion, City and Reading drew 1-1 after extra time and Reading won the penalty shoot-out to book a Wembley final place. They met Luton in the final and won 4-1 becoming the only side outside the top flight to win the trophy and Stuart scored one of the goals from the penalty spot.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the days when football was played on Christmas Day, usually with the return of a double header on Boxing Day. City had numerous long trips to make on Christmas night to fulfil a return game the following afternoon but Rod Dean reminded of the two worst Christmas double headers from a travel point of view. On Christmas Day 1929 City entertained Plymouth Argyle, the previously unbeaten league leaders of Division Three South, and won 1-0 in front of over 26,000, more than double the crowd that had watched them play Luton at home four days earlier. Somehow the two teams got to Plymouth, 207 miles away, in order to play the return twenty-four hours later (probably by train in the days when BR ran a Christmas Day service). Argyle won 3-0 in front of over 27,000. Rod also mentioned the Christmas of 1958 when the fixture compiler (pre-computer days) matched City v Torquay, a round trip for both teams of 370 miles. The clubs met at Highfield Road on Boxing Day morning with City retaining top spot in Division Four with a 3-0 win in front of over 27,000. Twenty-four hours later the teams clashed again at Plainmoor with honours even in a 1-1 draw. There was very little time for footballers to have a Christmas with their families back then and I wonder what the modern managers and players would have to say about two games in two days with or without a long journey!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Jim's column 7.1.2017

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about some postcards of old Coventry City teams given to me by John Feeney and they generated some interest amongst readers. Fellow historian Mike Young confirmed that the 1904 picture was taken 'behind the grandstand' before the home game with Walsall on 17th September. Mike was also able to shed more light on G. Beale who was dressed in civvies in the team picture. He believes it is George Beale, a centre-forward from Walsall who played (and scored) in the second pre-season public trial match on 27th August when his team (the Stripes) lost 6-3 to the 'Blues'. Beale wasn't signed on by the club so Mike is mystified as to why he should still be knocking around for the photo more than a fortnight later.

'Eli' Juggins was the club's trainer in the postcard of the 1912-13 team picture and I had a lovely email from Laurie Bird of Rugby regarding his ancestor.

Congratulations on an interesting article on Coventry City's history. I was pleased to see my uncle got a mention as trainer in the 1912 photo. You refer to him as ‘Eli’ Juggins, whereas his full name was Eleader Juggins. Apparently his mother named all her kids from the Bible! He was in fact the brother of my mother’s mother, so I guess that makes him my great uncle?

He was born 15 June 1880 in Darlaston, near Walsall and initially played for Wolves. He was transferred to Coventry in 1907 and went to live in a club house at 78 Nicholls Street. The employment situation was such that all the family moved with him to Coventry, as he was the main earner. The house later passed to other landlords and was occupied by other members of the family until they actually bought it in the 1950s and eventually sold it around 1970.

Family folklore has it that when he was first transferred to Coventry he used to cycle from Darlaston for training, then hide his bike as footballers weren’t allowed to ride bikes as he use to say ‘it slows you up’!  Whether he did this just a few times or on a regular basis I’ve no idea, but if it was even once it shows the era they lived in.

The book ‘Coventry – A Complete Record 1883-1991’ by Rod Dean (with your help) shows Eleader Juggins as playing for Coventry from 1907-08 season to 1911-12 making 110 appearances and scoring 9 goals. He played at right back and I believe he was a regular penalty taker. Of course in those days, even before the ‘stopper centre half’, the full backs were the main defenders. The photos on pages 12 and 15 show him first a player then trainer. The book incorrectly calls him Eleander Juggins and goes on to explain that in 1914 he went to Southampton. This would have been very brief as before long he returned to Coventry to keep a pub in Hillfields. Shortly afterwards he fought in World War 1 after which he returned, minus a finger. His younger brother, Sam, was less fortunate, losing a leg.

Apparently the pub was in a bad way when he returned and he moved into the fish and chip business. He set up a shop appropriately called ‘The Bantam’ situated in Caludon Road, overlooking the railway bridge and within sight of Cov’s ground. I remember the shop in the 1940s, when people used to queue for fish and chips right round the corner into Brighton Street. That’s all disappeared now, with the new road displacing the goods railway line. His son (also Eleader) took over the shop until a fire in the mid-fifties forced closure.

I remember he used to grumble about his knees, saying this is what came from “tecking all them penalties for Coventry City”! He later lived in another house in Nicholls Street, almost opposite no.78 and he died around 1960 when he would have been about 80.

A right full-back, Juggins was a stalwart in the City defence between 1907-1912 and is pictured in the team photograph from 1908 as City prepared for their first season in the Southern League.

On the question of Eli's name I wasn't convinced that Eleader was a biblical name and wondered if his christian name was perhaps Eleazer (definitely a biblical name). I sought the help of Michael Joyce, one of the leading people on footballers' ancestry who was able to support Laurie's view that he was definitely christened Eleader. Michael also advised that he was born in 1882 and all the available censuses confirm this as does his death record in September 1966. There is also no record of him appearing as a player for Southampton in 1914 but Laurie thinks he may have taken a similar role to the one he left at Coventry i.e. as a trainer, especially as his predecessor Jimmy McIntyre had moved to the Dell from Coventry in 1912. As wore broke out in the summer of 1914 he possibly never took up the position.

I also wrote about a City friendly game in Derry in 1948 and said that Wally Soden was probably the first instance of Coventry City using a substitute. Mike Young pointed out that that honour went to Dennis Simpson who replaced 'Plum' Warner in a friendly game against Danish club Aarhus during City's tour to Denmark in 1946. It seems Wally was the second substitute used in a friendly game.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Jim's column 31.12.2016

There was another disaster at Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day as City again capitulated to a more physical team in what is becoming a predictable occurrence this season. The defeat means seven straight league defeats for the Sky Blues since their last victory over Chesterfield on 1st November. It equals the run at the end of the 1972-73 season for Gordon Milne's team in Division One. Two potentially tough games face the team in the next few days with a trip to Peterborough today and a home game with Bolton Wanderers on Monday. There have been only two worse losing runs by the club since they joined the Football League. In 1924-25 City, then a Second Division outfit, lost eight in a row between early November and 3rd January 1925 when they managed a 0-0 draw at Stockport. Two weeks later they recorded their first victory for almost three months, a shock 1-0 victory over league leaders Manchester United.

If City lose today and on Monday they will equal the club's worst ever run set in 1919 when, newly elected to Division Two following World War One, they lost their first nine games in the Football League. It really doesn't bear thinking about!

City's first ever visit to Bristol's Memorial Ground and their first competitive game with Rovers since 1964 certainly showed new manager Russell Slade that there is a great deal of work to be done to keep the team in this division. If the defeat wasn't bad enough, to witness Billy Bodin score a hat-trick was truly embarrassing. The winger, who is the son of former Welsh international Paul Bodin, had scored only once in 21 appearances before Boxing Day. His penalty was the 23rd consecutive successful spot-kick by Bristol Rovers.

Bodin's hat-trick comes just three weeks after Cambridge's Luke Berry scored four in the FA Cup, and is the first league hat-trick conceded by the Sky Blues since Tranmere's Ryan Lowe scored three in the 5-1 defeat at Sixfields in November 2013. Since City left the Premier League in 2001 Bodin is one of only five players to score league hat-tricks against them, the others being Jamie Cureton (QPR), Vincent Pericard (Plymouth), Nahki Wells (Bradford) and Lowe.

Matt Partridge was surprised that the Sky Blues had two away games over the Christmas period but none at home and asked if this had happened before. In 2012-13 City played at Stevenage on Boxing Day and at MK Dons on 29th December, winning 3-1 at Stevenage and 3-2 at MK. City were in a golden spell at the time and the two wins made it 10 games unbeaten under Mark Robins. At Stevenage Richard Wood, Carl Baker and David McGoldrick scored the goals whilst Frank Moussa and Stephen Elliott (2) wrapped up the points at MK.

The previous occurrence was in 2001 when City won 1-0 at Grimsby on Boxing Day and lost 2-1 at Nottingham Forest on the 29th. City also played away twice the previous Christmas (Everton and Middlesbrough), in 1991 (Sheffield United & Wimbledon), in 1989 (QPR & Derby) and on various other occasions. Normally when this has occurred the fixture computer has given City a home game on January 1st.

Until the late 1950s clubs played the same opponents, home and away, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (unless one of those days fell on a Sunday) and often they weren't local derbies meaning long journeys for teams and supporters over the festive period. So, for instance, in 1950, City played at Cardiff on Christmas Day and entertained the Welsh side on Boxing Day, and in 1953 played Ipswich home and away in successive days. Most clubs played their Christmas Day home games with an 11 a.m. kick-off so fans could get home for their Christmas dinner. During the 1950s the appeal of going to a game on Christmas morning faded and attendances fell. In 1959 City were one of the last clubs to play on Christmas Day, beating Wrexham 5-3 in front of 17,000.

The tradition of playing the same opponents home and away over Christmas continued until 1967. City's final opponents in a Christmas double-header were Liverpool, who they were playing for the first time in the League. City entertained the Reds on Boxing Day in front of over 42,000, the sixth highest gate in the club's history at the time. World Cup winner Roger Hunt gave 'Pool an early lead before Ian St John got his marching orders for felling City's Brian Lewis with a left hook. Gerry Baker equalised before half-time and although Bobby Gould had several chances the game ended 1-1. Four days later City travelled to Anfield and lost the return to a solitary Ian Callaghan goal.
                 Bobby Gould challenges Liverpool's Tommy Lawrence in the Boxing Day 1967 game.