In October 1936 Coventry City paid Wolves a club record £3,000 for Jackie Brown. City, newly promoted to Division Two, had lost their star right-winger George McNestry with a bad ankle injury and manager Harry Storer persuaded the directors to sign as his replacement the 21-year old Irish international who was struggling to hold a regular place at Molineux. Brown quickly became a massive favourite with the Highfield Road fans and topped the goalscoring lists with 13 goals in both 1936-37 and 1937-38 as City almost reached the First Division for the first time. However, in September 1938, he was abruptly sold to Birmingham for £3,000 and at the time it was reported in the local press that he had been involved in 'an unsavoury incident at a local ballroom'. City historians, including myself, have always assumed a salacious story, possibly involving a female, behind his sudden departure. Brown played for Blues up until the outbreak of war the following year and after the war he played for Barry Town and Ipswich before retiring in 1951.City in 1937 with Brown third from left on second row, two to the left of Storer.
A new book published at the end of last year throws more light on Jackie (or as his family called him, Johnny) Brown. The author, Michael Walker, the great nephew of Brown, has done extensive research into his relative and has discovered a possible reason for his sudden move. Early in September 1938 the Midland Daily Telegraph (the fore-runner of this newspaper) reported on disturbances in Coventry city centre. There were headlines such as: '300 Irishmen in Street Fight'; 'Fierce Clash of Coventry Gangs'. It said trouble had occurred outside 'a dance hall' in Ford Street and it was not the first of its kind. The author leaves the question of Brown's departure open but it is a fascinating theory. Did the club unload Brown because of his involvement in the trouble? Another interesting coincidence is that in 1946 with football beginning to re-organise itself following the hostilities, Birmingham, who had retained Brown through the course of the war, made the winger available for transfer and he signed for Southern League Barry Town. The Blues manager responsible for the decision was – Harry Storer, the man who had bought and sold him for City.
The book, entitled 'Green Shoots', is the inside story of Irish football and blends original research, travel writing and interviews with many of the significant characters in Irish football, both north and south of the border. There are wonderful vignettes on numerous famous and not so famous Irish footballers. The piece on Peter Doherty, until George Best the best Irish footballer of all time, who later managed Northern Ireland to the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup, is delightful. The lesser-known Alan McLoughlin's story is equally intriguing. Born in Manchester to an Irish mother, McLoughlin received two letters in the same post delivery, one from the FA telling him he had been selected for England 'B' to play Ireland 'B', the other from the Irish FA telling him he had been picked for Ireland 'B' to play England 'B'. Alan had to choose which country's invitation to take up. There are many other fascinating stories
I thoroughly recommend this excellent book about Irish football which is thoroughly researched, passionate and funny.
The Sky Blues had an excellent holiday period with three wins out of four which lifted them into third place in League Two following the New Years Day game. It may be a surprise to discover that it is the highest league position that the club has been on New Years Day since 1967 when, of course, the team won promotion to Division One. It is one place higher than Tony Mowbray's side were placed two years ago following a 5-0 win at Crewe. Mowbray's team had been higher (up to first in November 2015) but went downhill after the Crewe game.
Today the Sky Blues are in FA Cup Third round action for the first time since 2014. They face higher status opposition, in the form of Stoke City, for the first time since they travelled to the Emirates Stadium and lost 4-0 to Arsenal in 2014. Since they were relegated from the Premier League in 2001 they have faced higher status opposition on eleven occasions and progressed just three times: Blackburn (twice, in 2008 & 2009) and Barnsley (2014), although they did take Middlesbrough (2006) and Portsmouth (2010) to replays. There are however three divisions between City and Stoke and a Sky Blue victory today would qualify as the club's biggest ever shock result – bigger than in 1910 when City, then a Southern League club, knocked First Division Preston and Nottingham Forest out of the competition on their way to the quarter-final. There are 53 places between City and the Potters and in those terms the biggest giant-killing act I can find was in 2008 when City won 4-1 at Premier League Blackburn when there were 28 places between the clubs. Blackburn's manager that Day was Mark Hughes.