Sunday, 26 March 2017

Jim's column 25.3.2017

A week tomorrow Coventry City are back at Wembley after a break of thirty years. As I have written previously, only City & Fulham of teams from the top three divisions have not appeared at the old or new Wembley in the intervening years. The circumstances however are very different. In 1987 City were having the club's best league season for almost ten years. Under the shrewd management of George Curtis and John Sillett they had been comfortably in the top ten all season, winning 14 out of 21 home games and since reaching Wembley by beating Leeds in the semi-final, they had lost just once in eight games. Confidence was high and although they finished tenth in the league they were only three points off sixth place.

Thirty years on it is a different story with the club in one of its worst runs ever with only two wins in 23 league games and on their fourth manager of the campaign. Relegation to the fourth tier is virtually certain and the team will struggle to reach forty points. There have been numerous nightmare games, home and away, and we can only hope that the team puts on a good performance at Wembley, win or lose. It would be a sad day if the players didn't perform on this big day for the club and the supporters who will turn the great stadium into a sea of sky blue. Have a great day City fans, you deserve it!

Arthur Warner, a regular reader from Binley wrote to me recently:

Your article about Christmas matches a few weeks ago brought back memories of the Liverpool Boxing Day match of 1967. I was there in the Sky Blue Stand at the Kop end which was the end that Gerry Baker scored the equaliser in the 1-1 draw. I remember the sending off of Ian St John for the punch on Brian Lewis, a hard midfield player who gave no quarter. The that the company I worked for in the 1980's had a forum at Highfield Road, and after lunch there was a talk from Ian St John. He talked about his time with Liverpool and talked about his sending off against the City in 1967. He told us that the great Bill Shankly, the Liverpool manager at the time, told him to report the next day at the training ground. On reporting Shankly told him to strip off and proceeded to black him up in the lower regions. It appears that it was a Gascoigne/Vinny Jones moment that caused the sending off. Shankly then invited the press in to show them what Coventry had done to 'his boy'.

Relating this story to friends in the pub before the Port Vale game someone suggested that in those days you had to do something pretty bad to get sent off, normally involving punches and fighting, and players rarely got sent off for bad fouls. I thought I would do some research into City's red cards over the years.

The first conclusion is that there were far fewer dismissals in those days; the chart below analyses City's 144 red cards since they joined the league in 1919.

1920s
4
1930s
2
1940s
4
1950s
3
1960s
5
1970s
11
1980s
17
1990s
32
2000s
43
2010s
23
Total
144

Before the 1960s dismissals were very rare indeed and in the six seasons that Jimmy Hill was manager (1961-67) only one player, George Hudson, got his marching orders. 'The Hud' was sent off at Huddersfield in 1965 for flooring John Coddington with a punch. I can only find one dismissal before the 1970s that was not for fighting or raising hands – Frank Kletzenbauer was sent off for two bad challenges on QPR's Clive Clark in an FA Cup match in 1960. Older fans will remember Maurice Setters and Liverpool's Alun Evans being ordered off at Highfield Road in a nail-biting 0-0 draw that kept City up in 1969.

In the 1970s retaliation became popular and Chris Cattlin, Donal Murphy and Jimmy Holmes all got sent off for that offence with the real culprits (Bobby Gould, Kenny Burns & Francis Lee) all getting off scot-free.

In the 1980s it was still more common for players to be sent off for punches or, in Steve Hunt's case, a head-butt, and Steve Jacobs, Terry Gibson (twice), Gary Bannister & David Speedie all saw red for adopting Marquis of Queensbury rules. The 1990s saw a rapid growth in red cards for the Sky Blues with the peak being hit in 1996-97 when six red cards equaled the total of the 20 mid-war years. That was topped in both 2001-02 and 2002-03 when City had seven men sent off in each season. However there has been a downturn since 2010 with only one dismissal in 2012-13 and two the following season. The type of offences has changed too – of the 54 red cards since 2002 only three players have been sent off for striking an opponent, Michael Doyle, Marlon King and Reda Johnson, and there are far more dismissals for persistent fouling, dissent and foul language.

This season City have picked up five red cards, the highest number since 2002-03, with young players bearing the brunt. It was more the exuberance of Ben Stevenson & Dion Kelly-Evans rather than malice that got them sent off in their first season, and Willis, Turnbull and Page were probably let down by their relative inexperience.

Finally, we are only two weeks away from the 10th annual Legends Day organised by the Former Players Association (CCFPA). Already more than 40 Sky Blue stars of the past are lined up to attend & it promises to be another great day on 8th April. A large contingent from Scotland will be in attendance including Tommy Hutchison, Roy Barry and Ian Wallace. The 1967 Division Two championship side, celebrating their 50th anniversary will be well represented and include Bill Glazier flying in from Spain and John Tudor coming from the USA. It's also 30 years since the FA Cup victory and the 1987 side will be well represented. The football club are still taking bookings for the day and fans interested in being in the presence of our Legends should contact Suzette or Tynan at 024 7699 2330

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Jim's column 11.3.2017

Russell Slade's brief time as Coventry City manager came to an end last Sunday after just 74 days – easily the shortest reign by a manager of the club, a record previously held by Mark Robins who stayed for 148 days in 2012-13.

Slade was in charge for 13 league games and three Cup games and his league record of just one win in 13 is the worst ever by a post-war City manager (a 7.7% win ratio). The only manager with a worse ratio is William Clayton – City's first boss when they entered the Football League in 1919. Under Clayton the side lost its first seven games at which point he was sacked. However it should be pointed out that Clayton had been the manager the previous season in the unofficial War Legaue Midland Division and it was City's performances in that 1918-19 season that were influential in the club being elected to Division Two in the summer of 1919. If that season's results were included he would have a much healthier win ratio.

The previous worst post-war manager was Don Howe who took over from the sacked Terry Butcher in January 1992. Don, whose managerial exploits never lived up to his record as Bertie Mee's number 2 at Arsenal when they won the 'double' in 1971, won only three games out of 19 as City hurtled down the league table. On the last day of the season the Sky Blues looked down and out as they trailed 2-0 at Villa Park only for already relegated Notts County to have a second half rally and condemn Luton to the drop. If Slade's cup results, two wins and a draw in the Checkatrade Trophy, are added into his record he overtakes Howe's win ratio for all games!

                                                                    Don Howe

By Monday Mark Robins was back at the club – only the fourth City manager to have two stints in the chair, the others being Harry Storer, Billy Frith and Bobby Gould. His previous stint saw him lift the Sky Blues from 23rd place in League One to 8th place when he departed five months later. Under his stewardship the team won 13 out of 25 league games and four out of eight cup games – with a win ratio of over 50% - the highest by any City manager. Only one other manager has won more than 50% of games – Jesse Carver in his short spell in the autumn of 1955 when he led the team to 14 wins in 27 games before disappearing to Italy to manage Lazio.

Robins is full-time manager number 42 in the 91 seasons since the club arrived in the league in 1919 – an average of just over two seasons per manager. The average tenure of our managers has been falling however and Robins is the 15th in the 16 seasons since we left the Premier League- an average of virtually one season per manager, and that excludes caretakers. In that time only one, Chris Coleman, has lasted more than 100 league games.

Robins is the fourth man in charge this season after Mowbray, Venus and Slade but it's not the most in one season. In 2012-13 Andy Thorn started the season as boss but was sacked after four games, Richard Shaw & Lee Carsley took over as caretakers but failed to win a league game, before Robins arrived. When Robins was lured away by Huddersfield in February Carsley was caretaker again until manager number five, Steven Pressley, arrived from Falkirk.

Apparently the record for any FL club is six different managers, set by Swansea in 1995-96 and equalled by Blackburn in 2012-13 and Colchester last season. The six Blackburn managers that season include two with Sky Blue connexions. Steve Kean, Chris Coleman's assistant, started the season in charge at Ewood Park but was sacked after eight games despite being top of the Championship and replaced by his assistant, former City manager, Eric Black. Black was temporarily in charge for six games before Henning Berg, Gary Bowyer (caretaker), Michael Appleton and Bowyer again.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Jim's column 4.3.2017

Last week I mentioned the fact that Coventry City players with the same surname, Thomas, had scored in the same game. Kwame & George Thomas netted in the Gillingham victory two weeks ago and I did some research into other similar occurrences for the club.

During the 1950s City had several players with the surname Hill. Two of them, Brian & Peter, are fairly well-known, and both passed away in recent times. However Ray Hill and Jimmy Hill (no, not the bearded wonder) played for the club in the 1950s and on more than one occasion the club fielded three Hills in a game.

There are a few instances of two Hills scoring in the same game, the last being in April 1961 at Watford in a Third Division game. City lost 7-2 at Vicarage Road and Peter and Brian netted the consolation goals. The following season in the infamous FA Cup defeat to Kings Lynn saw the last appearance together of the two men. When JH took over the following week he told Brian that he wouldn't be playing as a forward in future; Jimmy spotted the defending potential of Brian and he became a key member of the defence that took the Sky Blues all the way to Division One. Peter, on the other hand retired at the end of the 1961-62 season and became the club's trainer.

The other occurrences of two Hills scoring in the same game were:
1955-56 Norwich (h) (won 5-3) - Peter & Jimmy scored as well as Denis Uphill!
1955-56 Millwall (h) (won 5-1) – Peter & Jimmy scored.
1957-58 at Gillingham (lost 2-3) – Brian's debut as a 16-year old. Peter also scored.

The game at Gillingham in April 1958 was the only time that City fielded three Hills with Ray making up the trio.

Several readers thought that in the early 1990s two Williams might have scored in the same game. City fielded four players with the surname Williams in the decade, three of them christened Paul and the other John (the Flying Postman).

Paul A Williams was a loan player from West Brom, signed by Bobby Gould in 1992. He made one start and one sub appearance without scoring and in both games appeared alongside John.
                                                               Paul A.Williams

Paul R C Williams joined City from Stockport in 1993 and made 19 appearances, seven from the bench over two seasons. He failed to find the net.
                                                        Paul R.C.Williams

Paul D Williams joined City from Derby County in 1995 and earned the nickname 'Willo'. He made 199 appearances for the club over six seasons and scored six goals. He never appeared with any of the other Williams.
                                                         Paul D.Williams

John Williams joined City from Swansea in 1992 and played 86 games scoring 11 goals (including City's first in the Premier League) over three seasons.
                                                                  John Williams

The next question this begs is – what is the most common surname of Coventry City players? The answer is Smith – there have been 12 Smith's appear in first team games for the club since they joined the league in 1919. However no Smith has appeared since the winger David Smith (1987-93). Other popular surnames are Jones (10), Clark(e) 9 and Williams 7.



Sunday, 26 February 2017

Jim's column 25.2.2017

It is sad to report the death of former Coventry City & Gillingham player Roy Proverbs who passed away on 15th February aged 84. Born in the Black Country at Wednesbury on 8th July 1932, Roy attended Wood Green Junior and Kings Hill Senior Schools in the town. He was a talented schoolboy footballer, playing for his school team and selected for the town's schools team two years running.


After leaving school he worked as a wood machinist and continued his football with St Pauls Youth Club. He did his National Service as a rifleman in the North Staffordshire Infantry Regiment spending time in Trieste in Italy and playing football for his regiment. After being demobbed he began a career in sign-writing and played football for South Staffs Territorial Battalion team. He soon attracted the attention of Birmingham & District League team Stourbridge before moving to play one season at Stratford Town in the same league. It was whilst playing for Stratford that City chief scout Harry Barratt spotted his potential & recommended that City boss George Raynor sign him.

Roy arrived at Highfield Road in May 1956, sharing digs with goalkeeper Alf Bentley. By the time the 1956-57 season started Raynor had been replaced as manager by Harry Warren who had different ideas as to how Third Division sides should play. Roy, a defensive wing-half, made his City debut in an early season 1-1 draw at Southampton but only played 11 first team games. His last appearance was just before Christmas 1956 in a 4-2 defeat at Exeter which left City in 21st position in Division Three South. Proverbs was one of several players who filled the role vacant because of injury to Lol Harvey but he failed to make a big impression with Warren and left to join Bournemouth at the end of the season.

At Dean Court Roy was unable to break into a strong Bournemouth side and in February 1958 moved on to Gillingham, managed by Harry Barratt. He was a regular for the Gills for the next four years, earning the nickname 'Chopper', and played 154 games as either a full-back or wing-half, appearing alongside other ex-City men Ronnie Waldock & Bill Patrick.

In 1962 following Barratt’s departure he joined Canterbury City and later appeared for Tunbridge Wells, Banbury Spencer and Kings Lynn. His final game for Kings Lynn was in January 1965 when in the programme the club thanked him for his 'all-out effort in every game in which he has played' and wished him success in his 'new partnership'.

At this time he moved back to the Black Country and became a full-time sign-writer, a profession he continued for over 30 years until retirement.

His son Paul, whom I'm grateful to for supplying some of the information here, tells me his father fell out of love with football after his playing career and wasn't one to talk much about his days as a footballer even to his two sons.

After football his main interests were music (he was a lifelong devotee of jazz and classical to a lesser degree), reading (novels & non-fiction) and he also became very interested in left of centre politics. He was a stubborn character who eschewed many 'creature comforts' much to the frustration of his wife. He was also quite proud of never owning a car; hence he used to walk everywhere which probably helped him maintain a good level of fitness despite being a heavy smoker.

He lived in Willenhall until he had to go into a care-home a couple of years ago suffering from dementia. Roy was a member of the Former Players Association but was never well enough to attend events. A small funeral with family and close friends is planned.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Last Saturday the Sky Blues finally got a victory, beating Gillingham 2-1 to end the disastrous league run of 15 games since the last win on 1st November. The record books will have it as the third longest league run since the club joined the Football League in 1919, with only the 19-game run in that first season and the 16-game run without a win in 2003 under Gary McAllister topping this season's woeful record.

The victory was Russell Slade's first league win as a City manager in his tenth game in charge and he equals Noel Cantwell's similar run when he arrived in the autumn of 1967.

Many fans will have noticed that City's scorers against Gillingham shared the same surname, Thomas. Kwame Thomas netted his second Sky Blue goal in his third appearance, whilst academy graduate George Thomas scored his first league goal. George made his debut as a 16-year old at Leyton Orient in 2014 and has now made 28 league appearances (14 starts & 14 as substitute) – let's hope it's the first of many.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Jim's column 18.2.2017


I recently wrote about Joe Elliott's first ever Coventry City game against Preston North End in a friendly in January 1956 & several other City fans remembered the game including Rod Dean and John Woodfield (his first ever game too). But 48 hours after Preston had ripped City's defence apart there was more controversial game at Highfield Road when San Lorenzo, four times the champions of Argentina from Buenos Aires, played another friendly. It turned out to be anything other than a friendly game.

It was the infamous Wembley World Cup quarter-final of 1966 — followed by the World Club Championship matches involving Manchester United, Celtic and Estudiantes — that established the reputation for conflict between teams from Britain and Argentina.
But there was a hint of what was to come at Highfield Road that night and shows Antonio Rattin was not the first Argentine footballer to refuse to leave the field after being sent off. That dubious honour went to José Sanfilippo, a 19-year-old forward with San Lorenzo on that cold January night.
San Lorenzo were on a tour of Europe, including matches in Spain, Britain, France and Italy. Before coming to Coventry they had played Brentford, Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Unused to the typical British pitches of that era — when most of the grass had disappeared by December — San Lorenzo blamed the pitches for four straight defeats and 21 goals conceded, nine of them at Hillsborough.
The previous Saturday 32,000 Wolves fans had watched their team beat San Lorenzo 5-1, but not before the Wolves players had to give protection to Mervyn Griffiths, the highly-regarded Welsh referee, after San Lorenzo players had threatened him when he awarded Wolves a penalty.
Another leading referee, Arthur Ellis, was appointed to take charge of the match at Coventry. He had experienced Argentine passions in 1953, when he was pelted with orange peel in Buenos Aires after he had controversially abandoned the Argentina v England international when torrential rain had turned the pitch into a quagmire.
San Lorenzo included Pizarro, Lopez and Benavidez, all Argentina internationals and City manager George Raynor named an unchanged side from the Preston game. The game was approaching half-time when the trouble started. Ken McPherson, a brawny centre forward who had scored five goals in nine games since signing six weeks earlier, had given the home side the lead after half an hour, only for Guttierez, the left winger, to equalise a minute later.
Just before half-time City's Dennis Uphill hit a post and, with the goalkeeper out of position, he was about to score when he was pushed off the ball by two San Lorenzo defenders. Ellis immediately awarded Coventry a penalty, which the whole San Lorenzo team disputed. Sanfilippo, the inside left, went further and kicked Ellis in a temperamental outburst. Ellis ordered him off and there followed five minutes of mayhem.
According to the Coventry Telegraph's reports of the evening’s events, “police were called on to the pitch to give Ellis protection and Sanfilippo was dragged from the pitch by his team’s reserve players and trainer, kicking and struggling like a wild tiger cat”. Ellis, meanwhile, had walked off the pitch and told officials of both clubs he was abandoning the game as he refused to continue under “impossible conditions”.
“The player kicked at my legs and I collared him, although all the Argentine players mingled in so that I could not get at the offender. I told him to get off but he refused to leave the field,” Ellis said.
After half an hour of appealing to Ellis to continue the game, the City chairman, Erle Shanks, told the crowd of 17,357 the game had ended as Ellis refused to continue and under FA rules a substitute referee was not allowed. The crowd, which previously had been whistling and slow hand-clapping, received the decision well and quickly dispersed from the ground.
After the game, Coventry officials and players mingled with their visitors in the boardroom and Shanks presented the chairman of San Lorenzo, Luis Traverso, with a plaque. Both clubs exchanged badges and Traverso, through an interpreter, expressed his deep regret for the incident. He said that Sanfilippo would be sent back to Argentina on the first available plane as his punishment and that the rest of the team would be severely censured.
Sanfilippo did not fly home until the team got to Paris a few days later. He went on to become a San Lorenzo legend, scoring 200 goals — a club record that stands today — and won 29 caps for Argentina, scoring 21 goals. His final international was against England in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, where he scored in the 3-1 defeat and one of his team-mates was a certain Antonio Rattin.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Jim's column 11.2.2017

Coventry City are Wembley-bound after Tuesday night's famous but nail-biting victory over Wycombe Wanderers at the Ricoh. City will face either Oxford United or Luton Town on April 2nd in the EFL Trophy final (aka Checkatrade Trophy). The match was the ultimate 'game of two halves' with the previously goal-shy Sky Blues scoring two early goals but surviving a Wycombe bombardment led by their heavyweight striker Akinfenwa after the break. The scenes at the end were memorable and the sound created by 11,000 City fans was incredible.

It has taken thirty years for City fans to get a return trip to the famous stadium, although Wembley has of course been completely rebuilt in the meantime. I thought I would do a bit of research into teams that have appeared at Wembley in the 30 years since City last appeared there. In that time the old and new stadiums have hosted FA Cup finals & semi-finals, League Cup finals, Play-off finals and Football League & FA Trophy finals. Amazingly the Sky Blues are one of only two teams in the top three divisions not to have played at either national stadium in those 30 years – the other being Fulham. There are also four current League Two clubs (Accrington, Crawley, Hartlepool & Barnet) who haven't been to either Wembley. Fulham's only ever appearance at the stadium was the FA Cup final in 1975 when they lost to West Ham but they have reached an FA Cup semi final in 2002 (played at Villa Park whilst the new Wembley was under construction) and the Europa League final in 2010.

It's back to league action today at Oldham and City, propping up the division, are now desperate for points to avoid a third relegation this century. Last Saturday's dire performance at home to Millwall increased the pressure on the Sky Blues. It was the thirteenth league game without a victory and one short of that dreadful run of 14 in 2012 that saw the club relegated from the Championship and start the following season without a win in eight. Coincidentally that run ended at Oldham with a late Cody McDonald goal. Manager Russell Slade has still to record a league victory and Saturday was his seventh without a win and only two short of the worst start for a Coventry manager set by Noel Cantwell in 1967. The glimmer of hope for Russell is that Cantwell, despite his poor start, managed to steer City out of seemingly certain relegation from Division One.

Goals have been hard to come by this season and Saturday's blank was the fourth league game running that the team have failed to score – the worst run since 2003 when they went six without a goal. For me that 2002-03 season was the worst ever. On Boxing Day Gary McAllister's side were sixth in the Championship & eyeing the play-offs. Their form fell off a cliff with only one win in 21 games but somehow they staggered to 50 points to finish 20th, four points clear of relegation. Goals were at a premium during the run – only 12 were scored in 21 – with players like Bothroyd, McSheffrey and McAllister all failing to net after Christmas. The team failed to score in the last five games and then started the next season with a 0-0 draw with Walsall.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Jim's column 4.2.2017


City suffered another bad defeat at Northampton last weekend in a game marred by several pitch invasions and flares on the pitch causing the game to be held up several times. City's chances of a result were not helped by a red card for Jordan Willis in the 19th minute – a somewhat harsh decision but one which was upheld by the FA. Jordan is the fifth City player to receive his marching orders this season, following Dion Kelly-Evans, Jordan Turnbull, Ben Stevenson & Lewis Page. In those five games City went on to win two (West Ham & Chesterfield) and lose three (Bradford, MK Dons & Northampton). The club record of seven red cards in a season is now under threat. That record was set in 2001-02, City's first season out of the top flight for 34 years when the following players 'saw red':

Lee Hughes v Bradford City (a)
Youssef Safri v Gillingham (a)
David Thompson v Millwall (a)
Marc Edworthy v WBA (a)
Lee Hughes v Grimsby (a)
David Thompson v Wolves (a)
Jay Bothroyd v Crystal Palace (a)

All seven were away from Highfield Road and City ended up wining three of them (Gillingham, Grimsby & Palace) with Hughes & Bothroyd both scoring before receiving the red card, and losing the other four. City finished nine points shy of the top six that season & whilst it's all hypothetical if those four games had been won, City would have been in the play-offs!

The following season that number was equalled when the following received their marching orders:-

Calum Davenport v Brighton (a)
Youssef Safri v Crystal Palace (h)
Craig Hignett v Burnley (a)
Dean Gordon v Sheff United (a)
Gary Caldwell v Nottm. Forest (a)
Youssef Chippo v Watford (h)
Gary McSheffrey v Wimbledon (h)

Another unwelcome stat from last Saturday was the third hat-trick of the season by an opposition player. Cobblers' Keshi Anderson followed Bristol Rovers' Billy Bodin and Cambridge's Luke Berry in scoring a hat-trick against the Sky Blues. That is the first time City have conceded three hat-tricks in a season since 1995-96 when Alan Shearer (Blackburn), Gary McAllister (Leeds) and Savo Milosevic (Aston Villa) netted three apiece. The worst season for conceding hat-tricks was in 1925-26 when five opposing players did it. It was City's only season in Division Three North and Fenner (Wigan Borough), Jepson (Accrington), Keetley (Doncaster), Cookson (Chesterfield) and McDonald (Bradford PA) all scored three.

Last week I wrote about Joe Elliott's first ever City game - a friendly against Preston North End in 1956 – and it prompted Rod Dean to write about his memories of the game.

Last week's piece on the Preston 1956 game was massive nostalgia for me. My father had purchased a brand new Ford Popular in 1954 for £390 (he paid in cash utilising my school satchel) - a basic black car with no heater, no indicators (my father added those himself). It was an exciting time for our family and we took trips down to the Cotswolds and travelled to my first City away match at Northampton in the Autumn of 1955 (attendance 20,000 - a bit larger than last Saturday).
 We stood on the 'famous duck boards' that were used in the football season and then removed for the cricket season (Northampton's ground was shared with the county cricket team). The only problem was that my father had yet to pass his driving test! He did eventually pass at his third try - a different world in those days when a lot of drivers had never taken tests!

The one thing I remember about the Preston game is the absolute run around Finney  gave the 'Ageing' Charlie Timmins - Charlie had been a real 'servant' to the club since the 1940's, was a real favourite with the fans but was coming to the end of the road. Such changes were rare in those days but as you said ' Raynor switched Charlie with Frank Austin at half time' - I can remember my father saying after the match as we walked to the car ' Frank did a real good job and kept Finney quiet' It's over 60 years ago but it only seems like yesterday - some matches you remember like it was yesterday others are a total blank! Yes Frank had a good day!
                                                           Tom Finney in action

I had been to Wembley the previous season to see England beat Scotland 7-2 but Finney had not been selected so it was my first and last view of this 'English Titan' - he and Stanley Matthews were the scourge  of Scottish Football  in the 40's and 50's.