Sunday, 11 March 2018

Jim's column 10.3.2018

It was a major disappointment last Saturday with the postponement of the Sky Blues home game with Lincoln causing Legends Day to be called off. Many former players were already in the city or well on their way when the game was called off at 10 am. Thankfully Legends Day has be re-arranged for Saturday 5th May, at the home game versus Morecambe, a game which may have a lot at stake for City.

Postponements had become relatively a thing of the past since the club moved to the Ricoh Arena in 2005 and the Lincoln game was the first postponement there since then (although a game v Walsall at Sixfields in 2014 was called off). The last City home game postponed was in 2002 when two home games in the space of five days at Highfield Road were called off. On New Years Day the home game with Rotherham fell foul to an icebound pitch, and the pitch was not fit for play four days later for the FA Cup third round tie with Tottenham. The re-arranged cup-tie went ahead on the 16th January with Spurs winning 2-0 in front of almost 21,000.

Older fans will remember the bad winter of 1976-77 when the Highfield Road pitch suffered serious drainage problems and the team had to play eight consecutive away games between 22 January and 2 April. That season was the worst season in the club's history for postponed games with five call-offs with the Bristol City game postponed twice, on 1st January and 1st March. That season even eclipsed 1947 & 1963, the UK's worst winters of the twentieth century, for home games called off. In 1947 City had three home games called off & because of government restrictions on midweek games they didn't complete their fixtures until the last week in May and the First Division title wasn't decided until June.
                                                 A snowbound Highfield Road in the 1950s
In 1963 football was decimated again by snow and ice and City didn't play a game for two months but although there were 21 postponed away games (including a British record 16 FA Cup ties at Lincoln) there were only two home games called off. That FA Cup game at Lincoln was due to be played on Saturday 5th January but the snow and ice gripped the whole country that week and only three of the 32 ties were played (at Plymouth, Preston & Tranmere). A further twelve ties managed to be completed by the end of January but with no real thaw emerging until the end of February, March commenced with nine of the 32 ties still to be played. The first week of March saw the outstanding games played with City winning 5-1 at Lincoln on Wednesday 6th March (60 days after the original date). Before the kick-off both teams knew their prospective opponents in Round 4 (Portsmouth or Scunthorpe) and Round 5 (Sunderland were already through). The last of the 32 third round ties took place at Bradford City the following evening with Newcastle winning 6-1.

If that delay wasn't bad enough the Sky Blues took three games to dispose of Portsmouth in round 4, needing a second replay victory at White Hart Lane to progress to a bumper home tie with Sunderland in round 5. City's famous victory over the Division Two leaders earned a sixth round tie with Manchester United and the glorious run came to an end with a 3-1 defeat. In 24 days City had played six FA Cup ties!

The weather and subsequent postponements as well as the protracted FA Cup run hit City's Third Division promotion challenge that winter. When the heavy snow first fell on the last Saturday of 1962 Jimmy Hill's team were in fourth place, four points behind leaders Peterborough but with two games in hand. When the Cup run finally ended with the defeat to Manchester United on the last Saturday in March the club were left with nine league games in April and a further seven in May. Despite being still fourth and only five points behind the leaders they failed to take advantage of their four games in hand and won only five of the 16 games to end up fourth, five points behind the promoted clubs, Northampton and Swindon.

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