Saturday, 16 July 2016

John O'Rourke 11.2.1945 - 7.7.2016

Everyone at Coventry City and the Former Players Association were saddened to hear of the passing of John O'Rourke last week.

Noel Cantwell signed John from Ipswich Town in November 1969 for £80,000, seeing him as the ideal strike partner for his star centre-forward Neil Martin. John had an excellent scoring record in the lower divisions before arriving at Highfield Road and although his scoring record didn't match the heights he had achieved at Luton and Middlesbrough he is remembered for his efforts and goals in the 1969-70 season which saw the Sky Blues qualify for European football for the first time.

At the start of that momentous season the Sky Blues were the bookies' favourites for relegation, having escaped by the skin of their teeth in the previous two campaigns. Manager Cantwell however was to prove the experts wrong. A five-game unbeaten start and away wins at Arsenal and Derby in early October pushed the team amazingly into the top six but three successive defeats and a dearth of goals in early November saw them slip back to 12th place. Chairman Derrick Robins, afraid that his dream of seeing his team in Europe was slipping away, urged Cantwell to strengthen the team. In came centre-half Roy Barry, destined to become a Sky Blue legend, to replace the long-serving captain George Curtis, and two weeks later O'Rourke arrived from Ipswich. John's debut, at home to Newcastle, saw him partnered with emergency striker Maurice Setters as Martin was injured, and the mini-slump was arrested by a late Ernie Hunt penalty. O'Rourke was paired with Martin in the next game, a 3-2 home win over Tottenham, and scored the second goal in a 3-2 victory which was more emphatic than the score suggests.

Martin and O'Rourke hit it off immediately and the team won eight out of nine league games with John netting a brace, both headers, in a thumping 3-0 home win over Manchester City as City's unlikely challenge for top six place became a reality. Despite being under six foot tall he was superb in the air & many of his goals came from headers. John scored 11 goals in 20 league games that memorable season as the Sky Blues galloped towards a European place. As the season reached its climax Cantwell knew that two wins from their final three games (all away) would be enough to guarantee sixth place and European football. City travelled to Nottingham Forest and O'Rourke grabbed a hat-trick in the 4-1 victory. Three days later sixth place was confirmed with a 1-0 win at Molineux.
                                                     O'Rourke scores one of his three at Forest

The following season another hat trick, at Trakia Plovdiv, launched the club’s European Fairs Cup campaign with a 4-1 win and he scored the winning goal in the home leg against the mighty Bayern Munich. John was a predatory striker and many of his goals were from close range but in the League Cup victory over West Ham he hit a screamer from 35 yards. However goals in the league were harder to come by and he managed only five in 28 games to add to the six in Cup-ties.

In March 1971 his partner Neil Martin, who had also lost his goal touch, was sold to Nottingham Forest and by the end of the season John had been displaced by a strike force of Billy Rafferty and Ernie Hunt. At the start of 1971-72 season John was briefly back in favour but Cantwell had his eyes on Hull City's Chris Chilton. Although John scored in his last league start in a City shirt, a classic 3-3 draw at Chelsea, Chilton signed the following week and soon afterwards John was on his way to Second Division QPR for £70,000. In total he made 66 appearances and scored 23 goals for Coventry.

John O’Rourke was born in Northampton in 1945 after his family were evacuated out of London during World War Two but they moved back to Dagenham after the war. As a schoolboy at Campbell School and Bifrons Secondary School in Barking, John was selected to play for Barking Schools and in 1960 was the star of the team that reached the quarter-finals of the English Schools Trophy. In the fifth round they defeated Hackney Schools who boasted future stars Rodney Marsh and Ron 'Chopper' Harris and in round six John scored the only goal in the defeat of Swindon before losing to Stockton. His schoolboy exploits earned him an England trial game which resulted in him winning a schoolboy 'cap' against Scotland at Aberdeen

In his teens he was on the books of both Arsenal and Chelsea and although he made one League Cup appearance for the Blues in September 1963 he was behind the likes of Peter Osgood, Barry Bridges and Bobby Tambling in the Chelsea pecking order and found it impossible to break into the league side.

In December 1963 he was released by Chelsea joining Luton Town and he made an instant impact at Kenilworth Road scoring 22 goals in 23 games including four in a 6-2 win at Brentford and both goals in Luton's victory over Watford that ensured the Sky Blues won promotion that season. Sadly Luton were a team on the decline and the following season were relegated to Division Four with John, despite injuries, scoring 10 goals in 21 games. In 1965-66 he netted 32 goals and in the summer of 1966 a move to a higher status was on the cards. Middlesbrough, newly relegated to Division Three, signed John for £20,000 as a replacement for Ian Gibson, recently sold to the Sky Blues. John flourished in a powerful 'Boro team and netted 30 goals including a hat-trick in the crucial game with Oxford that clinched promotion. Former 'Boro skipper remembers his influence: 'John was a great goalscorer. He wasn’t the sort who would run around all over the place, but he was very quick and had an eye for goal. In the box he was absolutely deadly, forming a great partnership with John Hickton and Arthur Horsfield.'

In the summer of 1967 Alf Ramsey selected John for the England Under 23 tour and in his only game he scored in a 3-0 victory over Turkey playing alongside future stars such as Allan Clarke, Ralph Coates and Colin Harvey.

In Division Two the following season he continued to score, averaging a goal every other game, before another move, to Ipswich Town for £30,000, in early 1968. He had a dream start at Portman Road, scoring six goals in his first four games and Bill McGarry's team remained unbeaten for 15 games to clinch the Second Division title. The Tractor Boys did well in the First Division, finishing 12th and John netted 16 goals but after McGarry left to manage Wolves there were problems. New manager Bobby Robson and John didn't see eye to eye and John was transfer-listed and suspended by the club for allegedly refusing to train. The resolution was a move and when Cantwell offered £80,000 for O'Rourke Robson saw an opportunity to fund a rebuilding job on his squad.

After leaving City he had an early rush of goals in a strong QPR side featuring Rodney Marsh and a young Gerry Francis but lost his place to Stan Bowles and in early 1974 he moved to Bournemouth. John struggled in a poor Bournemouth side that included Harry Redknapp and was relegated to Division Four. After 21 games in two seasons he was released and at the age of 29 his league career was over. He played for Johannesburg Rangers in South Africa briefly in 1975 before playing non-league football with Poole Town and later Weymouth and Dorchester Town. He settled on the South Coast and ran a newsagent's in Highcliffe, Christchurch for several years before working at Bournemouth Airport.
                                          John receives his CCFPA tie from the late Bob Bromage in 2011

In his twelve year professional career he made 366 appearances and scored 178 goals – an exceptional scoring record.

With thanks to Barking & District Historical Society and the English National Football Archive (

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Ian Gibson (30.3.1943 - 26.5.2016)

For Coventry City fans of a certain vintage two players captured their hearts in the 1960s. George Hudson was as good a goalscorer that the club has had since the halcyon days of Clarrie Bourton whilst Ian Gibson or 'Gibbo' as the fans called him, was the supreme play-maker, a magician with the ball and undoubtedly one of the most talented players ever to wear a Coventry City shirt. Sadly 'Gibbo' passed away this week at the age of 73.

With his shirt flapping outside his shorts and his unorthodox running style, Gibbo was City's maverick & the supporters adored him. He frustrated both his managers at Highfield Road, almost fatally in the case of Jimmy Hill, but he was instrumental in promotion to Division One in 1967 and qualification for Europe in 1970.

Born in Newton Stewart in southern Scotland in 1943, Ian Stewart Gibson was a schoolboy prodigy, and played at Wembley for Scotland Schoolboys against England in 1958 whilst on the books of local club Stranraer. In July 1958 he moved south to join Third Division Accrington Stanley – a 15-year old boy thrown into a high testosterin dressing room – and he quickly grew up in a world of snooker halls and pubs. Within months he was given his league debut against Norwich City, a week before his 16th birthday, one of the youngest league debutants and three days later netted his first league goal.

Bradford Park Avenue had spotted him & cash-strapped Accrington had to sell him to the Yorkshire club. In his second season at BPA they won promotion from Division Four under the tough Scots manager Jimmy Scoular - Gibbo was almost ever-present and netted seven goals. In March 1962 Second Division Middlesbrough, then managed by Bob Dennison, later to be chief scout at Highfield Road, paid a club record £20,000 for the diminutive Scot. He was an instant hit at Ayresome Park, netting twice on his home debut against Bristol Rovers.

A virtual ever-present for the next four years, Gibbo made 184 appearances and scored 47 goals and won two Scottish under 23 caps alongside starlets such as Charlie Cooke, Neil Martin & Billy Bremner. 'Boro went close to promotion in 1963 but finished in mid-table in the two subsequent seasons and were relegated in 1966. That season, in their penultimate game Boro, desperate for points, lost 2-1 to the Sky Blues at Highfield Road & Gibbo scored & caught the eye of Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph: 'Without the wiles of chunky Ian Gibson, their skipper - one of the best inside-forwards we have seen on the ground this term - they would have been sadly adrift. Time and time again, he was in the centre of the picture trying to rally his men.' No doubt Hill was impressed that day.

Jimmy had been under pressure after selling George Hudson to Northampton in March 1966 with some fans blaming Hill for costing the club promotion. JH needed a 'marquee signing' and despite interest from First Division clubs 'Gibbo' chose City. By City's standards the fee of £57,500 was enormous and only possible because of the sale of Alan Harris to Chelsea. Within weeks however Hill & Gibson had a bust up in the dressing room at Carlisle. Hill thought Gibson wasn't pulling his weight & ignoring his instructions. The following day 'Gibbo' demanded a move and he was put on the transfer list. Hill left him out of the team and stories linked the Scot with a move to First Division Newcastle and a swap deal with Alan Suddick was under serious consideration.

In 'Gibbo's absence City’s promotion chances stuttered and the team suffered an embarrassing home League Cup exit to lowly Brighton. Hill & Gibson settled their differences and the inside forward was recalled for a home game with Cardiff and given a freer role in the team. Gibbo was unstoppable and he scored twice in a 3-2 victory. A week later he inspired a famous victory at Molineux and a third win in a row – 5-0 at home to league leaders Ipswich – saw them jump to second place in the table. Bobby Gould took the plaudits from the latter game with his hat-trick but 'Gibbo' was the architect of the win & scored the goal of the night, chipping the ball over half a dozen defenders into the top corner.

It was the start of an amazing run of 25 unbeaten games with Gibson’s scheming role one of the major reasons for the revival. The run took them to the Second Division championship with the crowning glory a 3-1 victory over Wolves, their biggest rivals, in front of a record 51,452 crowd at Highfield Road. City trailed at half-time but 'Gibbo' took charge after the break. He set up Ernie Machin for the equaliser and then scored the audacious second goal when, despite being boxed in by defenders he skilfully pivoted and sent a curling shot past Phil Parkes in the Wolves goal. Ronnie Rees' third goal near the end also had 'Gibbo's' fingerprints all over it as City won the game described by JH as 'the Midlands Match of the Century'.

The wee Scot was a marked man in the top division and injuries restricted his appearances in the first two seasons in the top flight, but enough was seen of him to realise that, had he been fully fit, the club might not have struggled so badly. He was one of the traditional Scottish ball players who seemed capable of keeping possession of the ball for minutes on end as well as spraying 40-yard pinpoint passes to his team-mates. In another era he would have undoubtedly won full honours for Scotland but their was stiff competition from a host of midfield stars including Charlie Cooke, Jim Baxter & Billy Bremner. Noel Cantwell had taken over from JH but the signs were that the new boss was frustrated by the tiny Scot.

At the start of the 1968-69 season Gibson's time at Highfield Road looked to be over with Cantwell preferring Willie Carr to 'Gibbo' who caused a stir when he suggested it might be in everyone’s interests if he moved on. But Gibson returned with a bang for the home game with West Brom, being the architect of the thrilling 4-2 victory, setting up all three Ernie Hunt goals. By the end the West End were chanting: 'If Gibbo goes, so do we'. Cantwell afterwards raved about Gibson’s display, declaring it to be ‘as good an inside-forward performance as I have ever seen. No club in the country would want to sell a man playing like this.’ His good form continued into the autumn before a crunching tackle from Ipswich's Bill Baxter ended his season prematurely.
                                                 Gibbo scores against Newcastle (Sept 1968)

In 1969-70, despite another knee problem in mid-season he managed 30 appearances and was a strong influence in the City side that qualified for Europe. He had slowed down a shade and relied on Carr to do his running but his football brain was as fertile as ever and his telepathic understanding with Hunt extended to time-wasting tactics which saw the cheeky pair taking the ball into the corners & retaining possession.

In the summer of 1970 he was surprisingly sold to Second Division Cardiff City for £35,000 where he hooked up with his former Bradford manager Jimmy Scoular. The feeling in Coventry was that Cantwell was fed up with his off-field antics. His first season at Ninian Park was a dream, the team led Division Two for a long period - they finished third and missed out on promotion – and reached the European Cup Winners Cup quarter-finals where they faced Real Madrid. A 1-0 victory at Ninian Park was overturned by Real with a 2-0 second leg victory but 'Gibbo' always talked about the experience of playing in the Bernabeu.

Two seasons at Cardiff was followed by a year at Bournemouth but injuries had taken their toll on his legs, specifically his knees, and at the age of only 30 his league career ended. 'Gibbo' loved the game however and played briefly in South Africa for Highlands Park before less salubrious teams such as Gateshead United and Whitby Town.

In 1983 he was spotted in the Falkands after the war, as a labourer, and had spells on the North Sea oil-rigs. In later years he was a regular at Ibrox to watch his beloved Rangers but travelled from his home in Redcar to Coventry on several occasions to attend Former Players Association functions. In 2007 he attended a 40th anniversary reunion of the 1967 team and he was at his impish, mischievous best, cracking the jokes & having great fun with his former mates. When Jimmy Hill entered the room he spotted the Scot, made a bee-line for him and the two hugged like long lost lovers. Jimmy has gone, now 'Gibbo' has passed - my boyhood heroes are disappearing fast.

Coventry City record

Total games
Total goals

Monday, 16 May 2016

Statistical review of the 2015-16 season

When assessing Coventry City's season one has to remember the state of the club a year ago – having to come from behind to win at Crawley to retain League One status after a season which was miserable even by Sky Blue standards, with only six home wins. The first-half of this season was remarkable and City were top of the pile after 20 games. Expectations rocketed but a miserable March with four consecutive defeats cost City dearly. The highlights of the campaign were Armstrong's scoring exploits and the autumn form of Murphy, Charles-Cook's record-breaking run and a host of classic matches at home (Peterborough, Gillingham & Bury) and away (Millwall & Crewe). The goals flowed & the defence was so much tighter & the form brought the fans back with crowds up 34%. There is lots of optimism that next season could see a host of records beaten – let's hope so!

Games: Coventry City played 49 competitive games this season, 46 league, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup & 1 Football League Trophy (Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) .

Points: The Sky Blues gathered 69 league points during the season. This was fourteen more than in 2014-15 and the highest total since three points were introduced for a win in 1981. The club have the unenviable record of being the only FL club not to have reached 70 points in a season since that rule change. The previous best was 66 when the club finished 11th in 2001-02.

Home Form: The home record was much improved: won 12, drew 6, lost 5. Twelve wins equals the club's best for a season since 1986-87 when there were 14 victories. On four occasions since 1987 they have won twelve, the last time being the first season at the Ricoh in 2005-06. Only five defeats were suffered at home, the lowest for a home season since 2005-06 (four). One of those defeats was to Steven Pressley's Fleetwood. Pressley was the first former City manager to return & win in Coventry since Harry Storer with Birmingham in 1947. It was the first time the team have won more than 50% of home games since that debut season at the Ricoh.

Away Form: The away record: won 7, drew 6, lost 10, earned 27 points, one short on the previous season. City won at Millwall for the first time in 17 visits since their last victory there in 1955. The victory at Blackpool was the first there since 1925. There was no luck however at Swindon (last league win there since 1960), or Rochdale (where City have never won in nine visits now).

Biggest win: The biggest win of the season was the 6-0 home victory over Bury in February which was the biggest league win since the 8-1 thrashing of Shrewsbury in 1963 and the first 'six' at home since Derby were defeated 6-1 in 2005-06. The 5-0 win at Crewe was the biggest away win for three years – since they won by the same score at Hartlepool.

Biggest defeat: The 0-3 defeat at Southend in January was the biggest defeat and the heaviest home league defeat was a 0-2 loss to Burton. No team scored more than three goals against the Sky Blues – the first instance of this since 1997-98.

Goals for: The goals for total of 67 was a big improvement on 2014-15's 49. On only two occasions in the last 49 years has that total been bettered (1977-78 (75) and 2013-14 (74). 41 of those goals came at home, and looked to be the best in the division until Peterborough's goal rush against Blackpool on the final day. It equalled the total home goals at Sixfields in 2013-14 and is the best haul since 1977-78. City, amazingly, failed to score in fourteen league games (the same as last season) but scored more than two goals on ten occasions in the league compared to only two in 2014-15.

Goals against: Despite criticism from some quarters City conceded only 49 goals – 11 less than last season and 28 less than 2013-14. It is the lowest number conceded since 1997-98 (44) and the lowest in a 46-game season since 1958-59 (43). The away goals conceded was impressive – just 25 in 23 games and the lowest since 1988-89 (19 in 19 games). The team kept sixteen clean sheets in the league, only two short of the club record of 18 set in 1938-39 and 1958-59. Reice Charles-Cook kept Thirteen and Lee Burge three.

Amazing first-halves: On three occasions the Sky Blues scored four goals without reply in the first-half: Gillingham (h), Crewe (a) & Bury (h). This had only happened twice in the last 50 years (v Derby in the last game at Highfield Road in 2005 and v Preston a year earlier).

Final position: The final position of 8th was nine places higher than 2014-15 and the first top half finish since 2005-06 when they also finished 8th. They are the only club, bar long-serving Premiership clubs and recent promotees from the Conference, not to have been promoted or reached the play-offs since the play-offs were introduced in 1987 nor to finish in the top six of a division. The club did top the League One table for three weeks in November and December – the first time they had headed any division, other than early season, since November 2001.

Leading scorers: Adam Armstrong was leading scorer with 20 goals, all in the league. Jacob Murphy was runner up with 10 goals (9 league, 1 cup). Armstrong is only the third player in the last 49 years to score 20 or more league goals, following in the footsteps of Ian Wallace (21 in 1977-78) and Callum Wilson (21 in 2013-14). Eighteen different players were on the score-sheet during the season equalling the club high set in 2003-04.

Doubles: City achieved the double over two sides, Millwall & Crewe. . On the other hand only Scunthorpe did the double over City .

Appearances: Romain Vincelot celebrated his first season at Coventry by starting the most league games. He played in 45 out of 46, only missing the Port Vale away game through suspension. The Frenchman started the League Cup tie at Rochdale but was omitted from the other two cup games. Sam Ricketts also started 46 in total (43 league and 3 cup). John Fleck started 43 games in total (40 league & 3 cup). It was the third season running that Fleck has made over 40 league appearances and he was only missing through injury & suspension. For the fifth season running no outfield player was an ever present in the league – the last to do so was Richard Keogh in 2010-11 – but Vincelot made more appearances than any outfield player since Keogh.

Players used: Thirty-nine players were used in league and cup games - two more than in 2014-15 and five short of the club record of 44 in 2002-03. Of the 39, 24 players made their debuts during the season and three, Ivor Lawton, Lateef Elford-Alliyu and Bassala Sambou, only appeared in cup games. Ten loan players were used. In addition to the 39 players used, four more, Ben Stevenson, Danny Swanson, Adam Jackson and Corey Addai sat on the bench as substitutes but were not used.

Home-grown players: Of the 39 players used 14 of them (including loanees Ben Turner & Gael Bigirimana) were home grown products of the Academy. It is now more than six years that a City team did not include a home-grown player.

Records: John Fleck took his total appearances to 182 & is now 54th on the club's all-time appearance chart, level with Greg Downs, David Smith, Dele Adebola and Carl Baker. Only one other player, Conor Thomas, has reached the 100 appearance milestone – he has now played 117 games.

Goalkeeping record: In his first season Reice Charles-Cook broke Steve Ogrizovic's post-war shut-out record. First he became the first City goalkeeper to not concede a goal in his first four league games and then at Swindon he overtook Oggy's record and went on to keep a clean sheet for a total of 580 minutes before two late Swindon goals. He finished just 28 minutes short of Horace Pearson's record, set in 1934.

Substitutes: Marcus Tudgay made the most substitute appearances (19 league) – whilst Ruben Lameiras was the most substituted player (16 times). Seven substitutes came off the bench and scored: Tudgay did it three times (Swindon a, Fleetwood h, Millwall h), the others were Maddison (Port Vale h), Murphy (Walsall a), Rose (Bradford h) and Lameiras (Sheff.United h). Tudgay is the first City player to score three from the bench since Patrick Suffo in 2004-05 (one league, two League Cup) and no City player has scored four from the bench in a season. In the home game with Doncaster City did not use a substitute for only the second time in almost four years. Rose's goal against Bradford was timed at 35 seconds after he entered the pitch & is probably the second fastest by a substitute (after Wayne Andrews' goal at Barnsley in 2006).

Average attendance: Home 12,570 (2014-15 9,332), up 34.7% & the third highest in League One, behind Sheffield United & Bradford City. Away 7,665 (2014-15 7,397), up 3.6% & the third highest in the division, behind Wigan & Sheffield United. If away fans are stripped out of the attendances, the average home following was 11,633 up 38% from 8,431.

Highest home attendance: The biggest league crowd was 17,779 for the Boxing Day game against Port Vale. Apart from last season's game with Gillingham this was the highest City league crowd for four years, since Easter 2012 when over 18,000 watched Peterborough play. There was only one home cup-tie – Northampton in the FA Cup – but a large contingent of Cobblers' fans boosted the crowd to 9,124, the highest home crowd in the competition since Chelsea came in 2009.

Lowest home attendance: The lowest league crowd of the season was 9,942 for the Rochdale game in March. This compares well with the lowest Ricoh crowd in 2014-15 - only 6,885 watched a midweek game versus Scunthorpe.

Away followings:
For league games City’s away following averaged 1,339 (2014-15 1,002), an increase of 33.6% The best following of the season was 2,883 to Blackpool, closely followed by 2,636 to Chesterfield at Christmas. The smallest was 535 for the midweek trip to Barnsley, although only 400 City fans attended the cup games at Rochdale & Yeovil. Swindon brought 2,432 fans to the Ricoh in March, the largest league away following but Northampton's Cup following of 2,509 topped that. At the other extreme, Fleetwood brought only 111 fans in February, ten less than the previous season and the lowest following since the Ricoh opened in 2005.

Highest away attendance: The biggest away league crowd was at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane (18,074).

Lowest away attendance: The smallest away crowd was 2,495 at Rochdale in October. This was the smallest away league crowd for a City game since 2,077 watched City play Wimbledon at Selhurst Park in 2002 and the third lowest away league crowd since the war. At Yeovil in the Football League Trophy (JPT) there were only 1,605 present and 400 of them came from Coventry. It was the lowest crowd to watch the Sky Blues in that competition.

Won from behind: (4) City came from behind to win on four occasions versus Peterborough (h) (for the third season running), Burton (a), Colchester (a) & Millwall (h).. For the second season running City came from two goals down to beat Posh after 29 years since the last league two goal comeback. On three occasions the team came from behind to get a draw Southend (h), Chesterfield (a) & Rochdale LC (a) but in the latter game lost on penalties. 15 points were won from losing positions, one more than last season.

Lost from in front: (1) The only game City lost after being in front was at Shrewsbury. In six games City took the lead only to be pegged back for draws. At Swindon City threw away a two goal lead to draw – the fourth season running that a lead has been thrown away & resulting in a total of nine points dropped. . 13 points were lost from leading positions which was a massive improvement on last season's 26 lost points.

Best run: The Sky Blues went unbeaten in eleven league games after losing at Bury in September before losing at Bramall Lane on 13 December. This was the club's best run since 2001 when Roland Nilsson's side went 11 without loss. If they had avoided defeat at Sheffield it would have been the best run since Jimmy Hill's promotion side's 25-game run in 1967. The season started with three wins which, when added to the victory at Crawley on the last day of 2014-15 meant a run of four successive victories for the first time since December 2002. The team were unbeaten in league games at home until January, a total of 13 home games – the best home start to a season since 1955 under Jesse Carver (15). The run was the best home run at the Ricoh and the best since 1978-79 when Gordon Milne's team were unbeaten for 15 home games.

Worst run: Up until January the team did not lose consecutive games then a three loss run followed a run of four successive defeats in 11 days at the start of March proved to be the definitive part of the season.It was the worst run of losses since the dark days of September 2012 when Richard Shaw was caretaker manager.

Hat-tricks: (2) After six years without a Sky Blue hat-trick we got two in two months. At home to Gillingham, Jacob Murphy scored the fastest post-war hat-trick (10 minutes) and the first first-half hat-trick since Kevin Gallacher in 1990. Then at Crewe Adam Armstrong became the youngest ever hat-trick scorer with his three in the 5-0 win breaking Tom English's 35-year record. It was also City's first away league hat-trick since Lee Hughes at the same ground in 2002. Prior to this Armstrong had netted five braces including the first debutant to score two goals on his first appearance at home since Robbie Keane in 1999.

Opposing hat-tricks: (0) No opposing player scored a hat-trick. Several managed two including Bury's Leon Clarke, Barnsley's Josh Scowen, Doncaster's Nathan Tyson and Southend's Tyrone Bennett. Walsall's Tom Bradshaw and Sheffield United's Billy Sharp scored home and away against the Sky Blues. Sharp has an outstanding record against City with six goals in eight games. This season only two former City players netted against City, former loanee Danny Philliskirk scored for Oldham and Clarke was the other. Last season six former players scored. Clarke was the first ex-player to score a brace against City since Steve Whitton for West Ham in 1983.

Own goals: For City: (1) Richard Wood (Fleetwood) was the first ex-City man to score an own goal since Jon Stead at Bristol City in 2012.

Own goals: By City: (2) Aaron Martin (Burton a) and Chris Stokes (Northampton FAC h)

Penalties: For City: (3) City's pitiful penalty record continued with three successes from six attempts. Armstrong (2) and Fortune were the scorers. O'Brien, Tudgay and Murphy the missers. City have scored just four from the last 13 spot-kicks. In addition City lost two penalty shoot-outs in cup competitions – at Rochdale in the League Cup (3-5) and at Yeovil in the FLT (JPT) (3-4).

Penalties: Against City: (6) Six opposition players netted from the spot - Mooney (Southend h), Clarke (Bury a), Scowen (Barnsley h), Barnett (Southend a), Henderson (Rochdale) & Sharp (Sheff.United). Two opponents missed penalties – Lee Burge saved Millwall's Gregory's penalty & Reice Charles-Cook saved Wigan's Grigg's penalty.

Fastest Goal scored: 2 minutes: Ryan Kent scored after two minutes of the home game with Barnsley.

Fastest Goal conceded: 5 minutes: Chris Stokes' own goal against Northampton was timed at five minutes.

Red cards: Coventry: (2): Ricketts (Sheff.United a) & Vincelot (Scunthorpe h) This is the highest number since 2010-11 but short of the record seven set in 2001-02 & 2002-03.

Red cards: Opponents: (4) Dieseruvwe (Chesterfield h), Deegan (Southend a), Williams (Millwall h) & Davies (Bradford h). Deegan was the first former City player to see red against the Sky Blues since Steve Hunt was ordered off playing for West Brom at Highfield Road in 1985.

FA Cup: For the second season running the Sky Blues lost at home in the first round to a lower status club, League Two Northampton.

Bookings: There was a battle royal between Fleck & Vincelot for the most yellow cards award but Fleck's booking in the final home game clinched the title for the Scot. It was his 13th yellow card with Vincelot on 12 and he earned the award for the third season running.

The Manager: Tony Mowbray has undoubtedly had a big impact on the club & it is interesting to note that of Coventry City managers that have been in charge for at least one whole season, he has the best win ratio of any since Jimmy Hill 50 years ago. His 40.7% win ratio in league games is bettered by only three managers in that time: Roland Nilsson, Eric Black & Mark Robins, none of whom stayed a whole seasoC cn.

Television: The Sky Blues appeared live on television on three occasions, at Burton, Sheffield United & Peterborough. The victory at Burton was the first City televised win since 2008 when a Clinton Morrison goal won the points at St Andrews. Between then and Burton City had failed to win in eight away games on the box.

New Grounds: City played at Burton Albion's Pirelli Stadium for the first time & came away with three points, one of only two teams to win there this season.

Man of the Match: Two players shared top place in Andy Turner's Man of the Match awards. Jacob Murphy & John Fleck both won Andy's vote on seven occasions. Reice Charles-Cook was third with five awards and Adam Armstrong and Sam Ricketts each won four. Although he started 12 games, Reda Johnson won only one Man of the Match award. Once again the team's record when he played was amazing- the side only lost three of those 12 games. Over the two seasons he was at the club he started 32 league games and the team's record in those games was won 15, drew 11, lost 6. What a pity he suffered key injuries in both terms.

With many thanks to Paul O’Connor.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Jim's column 7.5.2016

This week in 1936 City clinched the Third Division South title – the club's first ever Football League promotion.

The two draws against their closest challengers Luton had left City with what looked like the easy task of beating mid-table Torquay at home in their final game to clinch promotion. But they would be without their inspirational captain George Mason, injured in the first Luton game. Luton, meanwhile, travelled to QPR ready to pounce if Coventry slipped up. Another big crowd at Highfield Road was expected for what promised to be a memorable day.

The programme had few words, but ‘From The Board Room’ spoke of the momentous occasion: ‘Today, in our last game, we play the most vital match of the season, probably the most vital game in the history of the Club. A win to-day definitely gives us second division status next season, a dream all interested in the affairs of our Club have had since that tragic year when we were relegated to the third division. Assuming our dream comes true, it has taken a long time, much anxiety and strenuous effort to achieve this, and the heroic way our team, often with several reserves owing to the unusual crop of injuries from which we have suffered this season, have fought in the interests of this is difficult to describe in words.’

The gates were opened at 1pm, two hours before the kick-off, with several hundred already queuing impatiently outside the turnstiles. By 2, when the band started up, it was estimated that there were already 12,000 in the ground, many of whom had come straight from work – the majority of Coventry factories worked a 5½-day week in those days – and were ‘enjoying an alfresco meal’. The frightening scenes from the previous Monday were not repeated, and the queues at turnstiles were tiny compared to the Luton game. The longer than usual music programme kept the spectators entertained and a bandsman arriving late caused the biggest cheer of the pre-match activity. The ‘tardy’ bandsman was cheered every step he made until he was ready for action.

As the teams ran out, hundreds of young boys poured over the barriers to squat on the edge of the pitch, and the police had to ensure they stayed back away from the touchlines. After a nervous and goalless first hour, City were awarded a penalty with twenty minutes left. George McNestry, normally deadly from the spot, drove the ball straight at the goalkeeper and minutes later Torquay broke away and scored through Les Dodds. Luton were drawing, which meant promotion was slipping away. City piled on the pressure and were awarded another penalty. This time stand-in skipper Ernie Curtis converted, and with three minutes remaining Fred Liddle dribbled along the by-line and slid a pass to Clarrie Bourton, who netted the winning goal. At the final whistle the jubilant City fans in the 30,614 crowd stormed onto the pitch. The players, sensing what was about to happen, ‘made a dive for the player’s exit.’ The Torquay men managed to escape and one or two City players as well, but the rest ‘were swallowed up in the avalanche of people’. Bourton, Curtis, Elliott, Frith and McNestry were ‘hauled into the air’ and carried by excited fans. ‘Hundreds of hands’ sought to pat the players on the back or shake their hands – ‘anything to touch these idols’. At one stage, matters seemed to be getting out of hand, but the crowd carefully ‘chaired’ their heroes to the entrance to the dressing room. With the players safely inside the dressing room the crowd turned their attention to the directors box, where Alderman Fred Lee, the club president, stood with a microphone installed especially for the occasion. Before speeches could start, however, the crowd set up a chant: ‘We want Mason.’ Soon afterwards the players, led by the injured Mason – who had spent the second half pacing around Gosford Green, too nervous to watch the game – and Leslie Jones, who also missed the game, entered the box to ‘deafening’ cheers. When they subsided Alderman Lee spoke: ‘What a happy moment we live in. After years of toil we have just achieved the greatest success in the history of Coventry City FC.’ Mason stepped up to the microphone to renewed cheers. He was too overcome with emotion to make a sensible contribution but thanked the supporters for the reception. Similarly Bourton, called to the microphone by an incessant ‘We want Bourton’, thanked the crowd in a short but emotional speech. Finally manager Storer was pushed to the mike and said: ‘You have done as much to win promotion as we have. We could not have done it without your loyal and continued support.’

The huge crowds for the last two games lifted the average to 19,232, the highest in the club’s history and the best in the Third Division again. The team dropped only three home points all season – Aldershot ruining the Christmas morning game by winning 2-0. They finished as champions on 57 points, one point ahead of Luton who would follow them up the following season.

This is the final column of the season – next week I will be doing my stats review of the campaign. Many thanks for all your emails and questions throughout the season. Keep them coming over the summer and I will endeavour to answer them next season.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Jim's column 30.4.2016

As I wrote last week, this month sees the 80th anniversary of Coventry City's first ever promotion in the Football League from Division Three South. This week in 1936 saw City, the league leaders, play their nearest rivals Luton Town twice in three days. Going into the first game, at Kenilworth Road, on Saturday 25th April 1936 only goal average separated the teams who both had three games to play. Only one team was promoted in those days and there were no play-offs - it had become a two-horse race for the promotion place (and title).

The game was billed as a battle beaten the two goal machines. City had the legendary Clarrie Bourton who, whilst not scoring at the prolific rate of his record-breaking 1931-32 season when he netted 49 league goals, had scored 21 goals. Leading the Hatters' forward line was 22-year old Joe Payne. Nominally a wing-half, two weeks earlier he had been moved to centre-forward because of injuries and had netted 10 goals in a 12-0 thrashing of Bristol Rovers – a League individual scoring record.
                         City captain George Mason shakes hands with Luton skipper George Fellowes at Kenilworth Road.

In front of a ground record crowd of 23,559, Payne netted for the home side in the first half but Bourton equalised 12 minutes from time to keep City top on goal average. On the same day Aston Villa's relegation from Division One was confirmed – their first since they had been founder members of the Football League in 1888.

Two days later the action moved to Highfield Road for a game re-arranged because of bad weather in December. According to the Midland Daily Telegraph, City’s officials anticipated a new record gate and manager Harry Storer announced that an expert ‘packer’ had been employed to ‘ensure that no standing space on the terrace and popular side will be wasted’. The game kicked –off at 6.15, too late according to the night-shift workers who would have to leave the match before the end to ‘clock-on’ at 8pm, and the gates were opened at 5 pm.

A crowd of 42,809, over 11,000 more than the record set at an FA Cup tie against Sunderland six years previously, crammed into the ground to watch a tense game end 0-0.

The following day the Midland Daily Telegraph under the headline “A Scene Of Chaos”, described the aftermath: ‘Highfield Road looked this morning as though it had been struck by a tornado last night. Cartloads of paper and other rubbish was left behind by the record crowd ..…. while the condition of the barriers smashed to match-wood on the Swan Lane side, near to the corner of the old stand, provided ample evidence of the crush.’

A rare football-orientated editorial in the Midland Daily Telegraph summed up one of the most memorable nights in the club’s history: ‘Coventry has never witnessed such a spectacle before – an attendance nearly equal to a quarter of Coventry’s entire population lined the ground, perched on the top of stands, clung to advertising signs, fences and posts. Hundreds sat on the grass close to the touchline; humanity was packed as close as it could be within the capacious Highfield Road enclosure, and yet thousands who went to see the match had perforce to remain outside.’

It was reported that a large number of people ‘gate-crashed’ one of the entrances and one Nuneaton ‘enthusiast’ sent a postal order for one shilling in lieu of his admission. He admitted walking in through the broken gate but evidently thought the game and the occasion was so worthwhile that he paid his ‘honest-bob’ for it.

Amazingly no one was hurt despite some madcap jinks by some spectators to get a better view. On the top of the Spion Kop ‘rows of stones’ were erected by supporters in order to get a better view of the action. The MDT speculated that ‘many tons of packing from the back of the banks must have been pulled up’ to form a makeshift grandstand. A major disaster must have been narrowly averted. Spectators climbed advertising hoardings, the old wooden scoreboard on the Kop and onto the roof of the covered end as well as being forced from uncomfortably packed terraces onto the perimeter of the pitch, pre-dating the scenes 31 years later when 51,452 were shoe-horned in for the famous Wolves game. The newspaper hypothesized that to enable a capacity for 60,000 would ‘not entail much alteration to existing conditions’.

The draw left City with what looked like the easy task of beating Torquay in their final game five days later to clinch promotion but they would be without captain George Mason, injured in the first Luton game. Luton travelled to QPR ready to pounce if Coventry slipped up. Another big crowd at Highfield Road was expected for what promised to be a momentous game.

Congratulations to Adam Armstrong for being selected for the PFA League One team of the season. Since the PFA awards were instigated in 1974 only five City players had previously been recognised in this way. Armstrong follows Danny Thomas (1983), Kieron Westwood and Danny Fox (2009), Leon Clarke (2013) and Callum Wilson (2014).

Finally, BBC CWR's Clive Eakin has confirmed that Andy Rose was on the pitch for 35 seconds before he scored the winning goal against Bradford last week. This is 12 seconds longer than the record set by Wayne Andrews at Barnsley in 2006. His goal was also timed at 12 seconds from the referee's whistle restarting play after the stoppage – this is around four seconds longer than Kevin Drinkell's goal against Villa in 1990, if the goal time is judged from the referee's restart of the game.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Jim's column 23.4.2016

Coventry City's successive home wins in four days have brightened the mood of the fans after a
dreadful run of sixteen games with only two victories. Barring a disastrous collapse by the five
teams immediately above them the play-off train has however left the station and the Sky Blues face
another season in League One. The two home wins, over sides virtually certain of being in the play-
offs, have not been short of talking points however and were the team's first back to back successes
since the run of four wins in November culminating in the performance of the season at home to

Both games saw opposition players picking up red cards for off the ball incidents, something not
that common these days. First to go was Shaun Williams of Millwall for a head-butt on Ruben
Lameiras. Millwall make a habit of red cards at the Ricoh – this was only their fourth league visit to
the stadium and their third red card. In 2005-06 substitute Matt Lawrence was sent off for elbowing
Michael Doyle (City went on to win 1-0). Then in 2010-11 current Lions manager Neil Harris saw
red for stamping on Aron Gunnarsson just a minute after coming off the bench (City won 2-1).

Bradford's bad boy was another substitute, Steven Davies, the former Derby and Blackpool striker,
who was ordered off for a wild kick at Jack Stephens minutes from the end. I think I am right in
saying that he is the first Bantams player to get his marching orders against the Sky Blues.

Those two dismissals makes it four red cards for opposition players this season with Chesterfield's
Emmanuel Dieseruvwe and Southend's Gary Deegan the others. This is a big increase on last
season's one red card for opposition, Sheffield United's Jose Baxter. The most red cards for
opposition players occurred in 2003-04 in the Championship when 13 opponents were sent off, the
majority for two yellow card offences. The highest number of red cards for City in a season is seven
– in both 2001-02 and 2002-03 City had seven players sent off. Since City left the Premiership they
have had 56 players sent off while in the same period 69 opposition players have received their
marching orders.

City's goal on Tuesday evening, a stunning half-volley from substitute Andy Rose, came out of the
blue in a game dominated by defences and bereft of chances. Rose's goal, with his first touch, was
timed by the club at 11 seconds after the restart of play, following his entry as a substitute in the 58
minute, and  whilst it is definitely the fastest by a substitute at the Ricoh the club record needs
closer scrutiny.

If one measures the time from when a substitute enters the game then the club record is held by
Wayne Andrews who scored 23 seconds after coming on at Barnsley in 2006. If, however one
measures it from the time when play re-starts then Kevin Drinkell's goal against Aston Villa at
Highfield Road in 1990 is faster. He scored around eight seconds after play restarted but had been
on the pitch for almost a minute whilst Villa's Mountfield was treated for an injury. Hopefully I can
throw some more light on this next week after further enquiries

It was the second consecutive game that a substitute has scored the winning goal following Marcus
Tudgay's clincher against Millwall. Six City goals have been scored by substitutes this season with
Tudgay heading the list with three from the bench and the others coming from Murphy and
Maddison.  Tudgay is the first City player to score three goals from the bench in a season since Patrick Suffo in 2004-05. Suffo scored a penalty against Sunderland on the opening day and followed up with two goals against Torquay in a League Cup game three weeks later. Others to score three in a season from the bench are Andy Morrell (2003-04), Trond Soltvedt (1997-98) and
Jay Bothroyd (2001-02). Some credit must go to Mowbray for his substitution strategy in these last two

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Jim's column 16.4.2016

Last week I wrote about a game against Sheffield Wednesday in 1970 when Roy Barry, City's inspirational captain at the time, suffered a broken leg. Today I'm writing about an earlier home game with the Owls – this week in 1952, when defeat for City meant almost certain relegation.

I met Arthur Warner from Binley at a recent Diamond Club lunch and he told me that his first City game was that infamous home game with Sheffield Wednesday. Arthur was six years old and does not remember anything of the game, other than that it was a large crowd which he found a bit overwhelming but nevertheless he enjoyed the experience and was hooked on the atmosphere from that moment. His Dad always told him that City were relegated and the Owls were promoted that day and asked me to provide some more details of the game.

Having led Division Two at the start of 1951, a poor run saw them finish seventh in the table and their poor form continued into 1951-52. There had been no new signings in the close season and it was an ageing team. A run of 11 games without a win in the autumn had made it an uphill task to avoid the drop but Harry Storer's team at least improved their home form.

The club went into the transfer market in February, buying their former Welsh international centre-forward George Lowrie from Bristol City but the veteran Lowrie failed to produce the spark needed, scoring just three goals in 12 games. Then in March Storer made the double signing of centre-forward Eddy Brown and centre-half Roy Kirk. The class of both men was quickly visible, but things had gone too far for them to stem the tide.
                                                      1951-52 team
Four days earlier a 5-2 win over Luton Town, their fourth home win in five games, seemed to have pulled them clear with two games remaining. Wednesday however were top of the table and needed just one more victory to clinch promotion to the top flight. It was a day of destiny.

Over 26,000 had watched the Luton game, one of the biggest crowds of the season, and there was even more interest in the Wednesday game, who themselves had a big following. When the game started there were 36,331 in the ground – a crowd that was not to be topped for another 11 years.

There was added drama too, of a late team change. Goalkeeper Bill Gilbert, who had been down to play, had reported at the ground troubled by a shoulder injury. Reserve Peter Taylor was playing for the reserves at Norwich so young Derek Spencer, who had played only three reserve games since being signed from Lockheed Leamington, was thrust into action.

It was to be a cruel baptism for the young 'keeper – Wednesday took the lead after just 90 seconds. A footballing phenomenon by the name of Derek Dooley, who had scored 44 goals in 28 games, shot through a gap in the home defence and rocketed a right-foot drive into the net. City struggled to get back on terms and held their own for most of the remainder of the game, Dooley put the result beyond doubt two minutes from the end with his second goal past the luckless Spencer.

With no real time score-lines in those days it was several minutes before the players, directors and fans were aware of results elsewhere. Then the news came through: Hull, Swansea and QPR – the sides below Coventry – had all won. With one game remaining, at Leeds, the City were 21st in the table and needed others to lose to keep them up. In the end City lost at Leeds and their rivals all avoided defeat to confirm Coventry's relegation to Division Three.

City's team that fateful day was: Derek Spencer: Martin McDonnell, Dick Mason: Don Dorman, Roy Kirk, Les Cook: Les 'Plum' Warner, Ian Jamieson, Eddy Brown, Noel Simpson, Norman Lockhart.

I can always rely upon Keith Ballantyne for unusual questions and this week is no different. He asks: Which team have had the same shirt sponsors in all four divisions including the Premier League? The answer, he tells me, is Bradford City who have been sponsored by JCT600 a car dealership for many years.