Sunday, 19 November 2017

Jim's column 18.11.2017

Steve Hardy, a City fan since his father first took him to Highfield Road in 1960, recently posed an interesting question.

'Through the 1960s we always used to kick off our Saturday home games at 3.15, not 3pm as the rest of the Football League. I have always wandered why and when meeting and having a wonderful chat with Bobby Gould at a Legends day a couple of years ago even he did not know why. One theory was that it was to accommodate the engineering workers in Coventry who apparently at that time used to work Saturday mornings'.

At the start of the 1962-63 season Jimmy Hill changed the Saturday kick-off time to 3.15. There were two reasons for the fifteen-minute delay. Firstly, Hill revealed he had received requests from shift-workers whose shift ended at 3 pm and who could attend games if the kick-off time was adjusted. The second reason and possibly the more important reason was that the new 4.55pm finish time would fit in neatly with the new 'Sky Blue' social club which would have a licence commencing at 5pm and members would not have to wait around for twenty minutes for a drink. Apparently JH had been impressed with a similar club at Torquay the previous season where the home fans gathered in large numbers to have a drink after the game, missing the worst of the post-match traffic and mulling over the game over a pint. After the first home midweek game the club also put back the kick-off times for evening matches from 7.15 to 7.30.

Steve responded to my reply, as follows: 'Rings a bell when relating to my playing amateur football in my younger days. As soon as the clocks changed in October our kick-offs were brought forward to 2.15 to account for the darker nights, no floodlights at the level I played at! I was fortunate to play for one of the top local sides at the time and the general thought as to why we attracted so many good players was that were a social club side and the club steward who also help run the teams used to open the bar for us as soon as we had finished playing. He often said the hour or so from just after 4pm helped to swell the club coffers as most of the players, including the away team would stay behind for a few beers. We also attracted more support than usual for a local Saturday team as the supporters also new they could get an early pint in. We were all glued to the tv around 4.45 in thoses days watching the scores come in on the vidiprinter on Grandstand, happy days!'

I have to mention the fantastic achievement of former Coventry City youth team goalkeeper Paul Bastock. Last Saturday he broke Peter Shilton's world record of playing 1249 competitive games, appearing for United Counties side Wisbech Town at the age of 47. Leamington-born Paul was a member of the City youth team that won the FA Youth Cup in 1987 but was released by the club a year later when there seemed to be no route through to the first team for Paul with Steve Ogrizovic and Jake Findlay in the way. Paul played for Cambridge United briefly before a long spell in non-league football. He re-appeared in league football in 2002 with Boston United for whom he made over 500 appearances and has played for numerous non-league teams since then. Congratulations Paul.

Thanks to everyone who supported my very successful book signing last weekend, especially former players Mick Kearns, Ronnie Farmer and Dietmar Bruck and friend Geoff Moore who was a great help on the day. My fellow author Steve Phelps now takes centre stage with his new book: 29 Minutes from Wembley, the inside story of City's 1980-81 season. Steve is holding a book signing next Saturday (25th) at the Genting Casino with some players from that memorable season including Andy Blair, Garry Thompson, Paul Dyson, Harry Roberts and Paul Dyson. They will be signing books from 1.40pm until 2.30 and after the game until 6pm.

Steve has written an excellent book about what was an exciting campaign but ultimately ended in disappointment for players and fans alike. With the help of players and fans memories, as well as the remarkable recollections of the manager Gordon Milne, he has weaved a fascinating story. The group of young players were the club's finest crop of home-grown talent and one is left feeling sad that they couldn't be kept together to take the club to a higher level. In addition to the aforementioned the team also boasted future internationals Danny Thomas, Mark Hateley, Steve Hunt and Gary Gillespie and most of them have related their stories to Steve. All Sky Blue fans over the age of 45 will remember the semi-final first leg against west Ham at Highfield Road and the remarkable comeback. The book brings that classic match back to life with great insights. There are numerous 'what ifs' in Coventry City's history but the question is most pertinent for the team of the early 80s. Who knows what the club could have achieved if they had been kept together.

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