Sunday, 10 December 2017

Jim's column 9.12.2017

The Sky Blues travel north to play Morecambe today in the first of three league games with significant interest to City statisticians. The next three opponents are playing City in a league game for the first time. Morecambe today is followed next Saturday by Cheltenham Town at home, and then Wycombe Wanderers are at the Ricoh on the Friday before Christmas. Morecambe become City's 117th different opponent since the club joined the Football League in 1919, Cheltenham will be the 118th and Wycombe 119th. City are trailing a few other clubs in this total, notably Grimsby who have met 138 different clubs and Lincoln on 136 however after the Wycombe game City will also have faced all of the current 91 other league clubs – a feat only achieved by three other clubs, Port Vale, Swindon and Notts County.

City have played at Morecambe's Globe Arena before – they were Morecambe's first opponents at the ground after it opened in 2010 and suffered an embarrassing 2-0 League Cup defeat, and also played an FA Cup game there last season. They have also faced Wycombe in cup action before – the infamous two-leg League Cup game in 1993 when after winning the first leg 3-0 Bobby Gould's team were losing 4-0 at Adams Park in the second leg before two late goals saved red faces. Last season the clubs met twice in the Checkatrade Trophy.

The Globe Arena is the 149th different away ground City have played at in league action since 1919 and the fourth new league stadium for City fans this year following Cambridge's Abbey Stadium, Accrington's Wham Stadium and the Hive stadium at Barnet. The 149 includes many exotic grounds no longer with us such as Gateshead's Redheugh Park, Nelson's Seedhill, Ashington's Portland Park and Darlington's Feethams. By the end of this season the total number of grounds will creep up to 153 with trips to Forest Green, Wycombe, Newport and Cheltenham. At that point in time there will be only five grounds in the present 92 that haven't hosted the Sky Blues in a league game: The Etihad (Manchester City), the Emirates (Arsenal), the new Wembley (Tottenham), the London Stadium (West Ham) and the Galpharm (Huddersfield).

One of Coventry City's most ardent fans is Colin Heys who has travelled to City's games from his home in Kent for over 40 years. He told me recently that up to the end of last season he had watched 2090 City first team competitive games on 118 different grounds. He has seen 1047 home games, 1038 aways and five on neutral grounds. But for a ruptured achilles tendon in 2012 he would have seen every City game since 1998 and that injury ended a run of 684 consecutive matches. It's a phenomenal record especially when you consider the distance he lives away from Coventry. I'm sure Kevin Monks has a similar impressive record.

City eased comfortably past Boreham Wood last Sunday after a slightly uncomfortable first twenty minutes and recorded their biggest FA Cup victory since they beat Arlesey Town 3-0 in 2012 to reach the third round for the first time in four years. They now face Premier League opposition in the shape of Stoke City who will be the first top flight side to come to the Ricoh in the competition since Portsmouth in 2010. City and Stoke have only met once before in the competition – in 1987 when the Sky Blues won at the Victoria Ground in the fifth round on their way to Wembley.

Next Wednesday evening I will be with fellow author Steve Phelps at Waterstones in Smithfield Way signing copies of our respective new books. We hope to have several former players with us including Ronnie Farmer, Andy Blair, Peter Bodak and Garry Thompson. Both books are excellent Christmas presents with mine, 'Play Up Sky Blues, Champions 1967', telling the fascinating story of the 1967 promotion season and Steve's, entitled '29 minutes from Wembley' recounting the famous 1981 League Cup run. Come and say hello on Wednesday from 5pm until 6.30 and pick up a present for your loved ones.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Allan Harris RIP

It's sad to report the death of former City defender Allan Harris who passed away last week at the age of 74.

There are not many former Coventry City players whose CV includes coaching one of the top club sides in the world and managing a national team but Allan Harris did both. The modest former City, Chelsea and QPR full-back was coach of Malaysia’s national football team and in the late 1980s was assistant to his former Chelsea team-mate Terry Venables at Barcelona.

Although born in Northampton during World War Two, his family came from East London and grew up in Hackney along with his younger brother, Ron “Chopper” Harris. He made an early mark as a schoolboy as a full-back and both boys joined Chelsea. Allan won England schoolboy caps and then progressed to the national Youth team, playing alongside Martin Peters. He was a member of an outstanding Chelsea Youth teams that won back to back FA Youth Cups in 1960 and 1961.

At Stamford Bridge he got a first team chance at the age of 18, making his debut in Chelsea's first ever League Cup game, a 4-2 win over Workington. He kept his place and was on the winning side in his first six games during which the Blues netted 27 goals. It was a golden period at the Bridge with 'Ted Drake's Ducklings' as the press called them, scoring goals for fun. The side included an 20-year old Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Tambling, Terry Venables and Peter Bonetti. John Sillett was also at the club, as well as his brother Peter and competition was tough at full back.

In 1961-62 with Greaves sold to AC Milan the Pensioners struggled and Drake's departure opened the door for Tommy Docherty to become manager. 'The Doc' couldn't stop them being relegated and Allan was now playing in Division Two with his appearances were restricted by the form of Eddie McCreadie. The team bounced back at the first attempt but Allan was no longer a regular and in November 1964, after making 80 league and cup appearances, manager Docherty accepted Jimmy Hill's offer of £35,000 for Allan.

A number of years ago he told me: “I didn’t really want to leave Chelsea or London but when I saw the set up that Jimmy Hill and Derrick Robins had created at Coventry I was very quickly sold on the club.”

He made his Sky Blues debut in a 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road but got a shock a week later as City, without the injured George Curtis, were hammered 5-3 at home by Rotherham. Allan however quickly settled into the Sky Blues team becoming the first-choice left-back and impressing the fans with his stylish play. In 1965-66 he played 40 league games and eight cup games, netting his only goal in a League Cup victory at Leyton Orient.
                                                Allan supporting the legendary George Curtis

Towards the end of the season he told Jimmy Hill that he and his wife had struggled to settle in the Midlands and he was keen to move back to the capital. He made his 69th and final appearance in a City shirt in the penultimate game at Huddersfield when City won 2-0 to keep their thin chances of promotion alive. Before the final game of the season he was transferred back to Chelsea (with JH netting a profit of £10,000). The Blues had an injury crisis ahead of their Fairs Cup semi final with Barcelona and four days after appearing at Huddersfield he played in the first leg of the semi final as Chelsea won 2-0, and two weeks after that he was in the team at the Nou Camp as Barca trounced the Blues 5-0.

His second spell at the Bridge was frustrating and he made only 20 or so appearances, the last of which was at Wembley, alongside brother Ron, as Chelsea lost the FA Cup final to Tottenham. He joined QPR in 1967 where, in his first season, he was a member of Rangers’ Division 2 promotion team under Alec Stock.

He left QPR in 1971 and after brief spells at Plymouth, Cambridge United, Hayes and St Patricks Athletic Allan decided to move into management. In 1976 his ex-Chelsea teammate Terry Venables became manager at Crystal Palace and Harris joined him as a coach. Two promotions in three seasons made Venables and Harris hot property and in 1980 Allan followed Terry to QPR.

At Loftus Road the pairs’ reputation was enhanced by an FA Cup final appearance in 1982 (they lost after a replay to Spurs) and promotion to Division 1 the following year. In May 1984 Venables received a huge offer to manage Barcelona and Allan was Terry’s right hand man as they helped Barca win their first Spanish league title for 11 years. The following season they were surprisingly beaten by Steaua Bucharest in the European Cup final and in 1986 when Venables resigned Allan followed him to Tottenham.

In 1989 he left Spurs to manage Spanish club Espanol. Later spells managing club sides in Kuwait, Egypt and Turkey enabled him to achieve his ambitions and see the world. His last post in England was a spell as number two at Reading in 1997 and between 2000-04 he held the top job in Malaysia and was highly rated in South East Asia.

He retired to his home in Epsom, Surrey but in recent years has been suffering from Alzheimer's and in a care home.

In 2003 he told me: “I had a short but very enjoyable stay at Coventry. The fans were great to me and I have great memories of a club going places in the 1960s. I had no doubt that the club would reach the top division and it was no surprise that they stayed there so long.”

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Podcast with Andy Turner

Last week I did a podcast with the Coventry Telegraph's Andy Turner  discussing my new book. To listen go here:

http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/sport/football/football-news/dressing-room-bust-ups-death-13945947

Jim's column 25.11.2017

When the draw was made for the FA Cup Second Round and paired City with Boreham Wood I was under the misapprehension that it was the first time the Sky Blues had met two non-league clubs in the same season in the competition since they became a league club. Several readers reminded me that in 2008-09 City, then a Championship club, met Kidderminster Harriers in round 3 and Torquay United in round 4. For the first game 13,652 were at the Ricoh to see goals from Leon McKenzie and Leon Best send City through 2-0. At Torquay it required a late Elliott Ward goal to see the Sky Blues through to a Fifth round meeting with Premier League Blackburn who they conquered in a replay at the Ricoh to set up a sixth round tie with Chelsea.

City's line up at Plainmoor that day was: Westwood: Gunnarson (sub Ward 44), Fox, Doyle, Hall, Turner, Mifsud, Beuzelin (sub Thornton 63), Eastwood, Morrison, McKenzie.

Boreham Wood are the 23rd non-league club that City have met in the club and their full record in these ties is:

Played 25 Won 15 Drawn 3 Lost 7

The omens must be good – since the Sutton defeat in 1989 they have only lost once in seven games with non-league opposition. Of the seven defeats to non-league opposition, four of them occurred before World War Two and since the war only Kings Lynn, Sutton and Worcester have lowered City's colours.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Dave Murray, a local amateur centre-forward who played a handful of games for City during the early part of World War Two. His grandson and daughter in law, Wendy, have been in touch and I have gleaned more information from them and Ken Rollings, a great pal of Dave's. Apparently Dave was on Dundee F.C.'s books before the war and signed for City in the summer of 1939 just before war broke out. The club cancelled players contracts as hostilities commenced and found work in the local factories for players. Dave joined Armstrong Whitworth at Baginton, along with his brothers Jim and Wal, and his employment in the war production meant he wasn't called up for the services. His appearances in wartime games for City took place in the first year or so of the war and when the club suspended football after the ground was bombed in November 1940 he started playing regularly for the works team AWA Baginton. Ken Rollings describes that team as 'the best junior team in the Midlands' and told me how they won numerous trophies in that decade. The picture shows the successful team from the 1944-45 season with Dave, sitting centre in the front row behind the largest trophy.


The full line up which includes several who appeared as guests for City in the war is:

Back Row (L to R): Wilf Nash, John Laurie, W.Beaufoy (Capt), J.Hews, Bob Ward, Stan Kelly, L. Beaufoy (trainer).

Front Row (L to R): A.Follows (Chairman), E.Sutherland, B.Wareham, Dave Murray, D.Hayfield, Horace Matthews, R.Ashcroft (Hon.Sec.)

That season the team won the Coventry & North Warwickshire League, the Midland Daily Telegraph Cup, the City Cup, the Coventry Nursing Cup and the Foleshill Nursing Cup. What a haul!

Another picture was taken at Highfield Road during one of the cup finals that year, watched by a reasonable crowd.


Ken told me that Dave's nickname was 'Elbows' as he was a very physical centre-forward who could use his elbows to good effect

Dave later ran a motor repair business in Whitefriars Lane and lived in Caludon Road, a stone's throw from Highfield Road. Ken describes him as 'football mad' and for twenty years or more a group of friends attended England v Scotland matches, whether at Wembley or Hampden. In his spare time he was a tic-tac man at Leicester Greyhound track and recognised as one of the best in the business.

Long-time City fan Kevin Ring remembered Dave. His dad was a good friend of Dave and Kevin used to take his first cars to the garage in Whitefriars Lane in the late 60s. He recalled his strong Scottish brogue telling him, 'You have to put oil in these things now and again, my lad'. Kevin remembers him as a modest man who despite knowing Kevin was a big City fan never told him he had once played for the club.


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Jim's column 18.11.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Jim's column 11.11.2017

Older City fans will know that Coventry City had a player called Jimmy Hill in the 1950s – not the JH who became the club's most successful manager in 1961. I had an email recently from Stuart Fraser. His wife's grandfather was Jimmy Hill and they knew little about Jimmy's playing career and asked for my help.

Jimmy was born in Wishaw in Scotland in 1931 and was signed by City's nursery club, Modern Machines as a teenager where he played alongside many future City players including Reg Matthews who went on to play in goal for England. In August 1948 he was offered professional terms by City and he made his first-team debut for City on the left wing at Hull in November 1949, deputising for the injured Norman Lockhart. City lost 1-2 to a very good Hull side which had the legendary England international Raich Carter as player manager, and Carter scored both the Tigers goals that day in front of a crowd of 40,170. Jim didn't play for the first team again that season but played four times the following season and scored the only goal of the game on his home debut against West Ham in March 1951.

He didn't appear in the first team the following season but became fairly regular towards the end of 1952/53 season. His best season was 1953/54 when he played 31 games scoring three goals. He played regularly when Jesse Carver was manager in the first half of 1955/56 but when Carver walked out to join Lazio at Christmas Jim's career at City was virtually over.

He left City in July 1956 to join Millwall but played only one first team game before joining Shrewsbury Town the following summer where he played eight games. He did return to live in the City at some stage and in 1958-59 he was playing for Lockheed Leamington in the Birmingham League. He died in 1993.

City fan Roy Evans sent me a great City team picture this week and one I had never seen before. It was taken before the opening game of the 1940-41 season against Leicester City at Highfield Road. With the war underway the Football League was suspended and regional leagues were introduced to reduce travelling. City would only play 10 games before the blitz in November resulted in Highfield Road being bombed and rendered unplayable. Ten of the team had played for the Bantams before the outbreak of war in September 1939, although George Lowrie, City's last signing before the war, had only made his debut on the day before Neville Chamberlain's fateful radio broadcast to announce that war had been declared, scoring in a 4-2 home win over Barnsley. The odd man out is Dave Murray, the centre-forward. Mike Young has provided me with some details of this player who never played for the club in peace-time. Apparently he was a local mechanic who owned a garage in Whitefriars Lane who played in local amateur football. He was one of the first local amateurs to be invited to play for the club as the regular professionals joined the services and were unable to turn out regularly for the club.

Murray had played four games at the end of the 1939-40 season, scoring five goals including a hat-trick in a 4-0 home win over West Brom. The Leicester game would be his only appearance before City withdrew from football in November but he did reappear in 1942 when football re-commenced at Highfield Road, making five appearances and scoring one goal. For the record City drew 1-1 with Leicester with George Lowrie netting in front of a crowd of 2,165.

I am signing copies of my new book 'Play Up Sky Blues: Coventry City champions 1967' in the casino before and after today's game with Mansfield. Legends from the 1967 team, Mick Kearns, Dietmar Bruck and Ronnie Farmer will be with me at 1.30 and after the game until 6pm. The book, which costs £16.99, tells the story of the greatest season in the club's history when First Division football was achieved for the first time.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Jim's column 4.11.2017

The Coventry City goal drought ended in spectacular fashion at Kenilworth Road last Saturday when the Sky Blues beat league leaders Luton Town 3-0 with goals from McNulty, Shipley and Nazon. It was the biggest away league win since the 5-0 victory at Crewe in January 2016 and McNulty's 16th minute goal was the first league goal since Nazon's 9th minute effort against Crewe on 30th September – a total of 457 minutes playing time.

It was the worst run without a league goal since 2003 when Gary McAllister's team failed to score in their last five games of the 2002-03 season and the first game of 2003-04. That spell lasted 617 minutes and was slightly shorter than the longest post-war run set in 1973 when Gordon Milne's team went six complete games (645 minutes) without scoring between 6th October and 24th November. For a side that included Tommy Hutchison, Brian Alderson, Colin Stein and David Cross that took some doing. During that seven week period the team did however manage eleven goals in four League Cup ties.

The worst run ever was back in 1919-20, City's inaugural season in the Football League. After scoring in a 2-1 defeat to Leicester on 4th October the team failed to score in 11 successive games until they scored three against Stoke City on Christmas Day – a total of 1048 minutes without a goal. This stood as the longest ever League run until 1992-93 when Hartlepool went 1227 minutes (13 games) without scoring.

At Luton there was the rare occurrence of two City substitutes scoring in the same game in the shape of Jordan Shipley and Duckens Nazon. It had only occurred once before in a league game, in 2010 when Carl Baker and Jordan Clarke came off the bench to clinch a 3-1 home victory over Barnsley. It has happened twice in Cup games – in an FA Cup win at Norwich in 2000 when Cedric Roussel and John Eustace scored, and last season at Wycombe in the Checkatrade Trophy Ryan Haynes and Gael Bigirimana scored after coming on at half-time in the 4-2 win.

Colin Heys always poses interesting questions and recently asked about the shirts that City wore for a game at West Ham in the 1970s. He remembers them turning out in white shirts with red shorts but cannot remember the season. It was 1st April 1978 and was not an April Fool. City's 'change' kit that season was a red version of the Admiral, tram-line kit, and apparently the referee at Upton Park that day decided that City's red kit clashed with the Hammers claret and blue. City's kit man was despatched to a local sports shop to purchase some shirts and came back with plain white Admiral shirts which were worn with the red 'change' shorts. The kit didn't do the Sky Blues a lot of good – relegation-threatened Hammers won 2-1, denting City's European qualification hopes. It wasn't the only strange kit worn by City at Upton Park. In the 1981 League Cup semi-final second leg the team wore yellow shirts with a blue trim on a round neck collar and yellow shorts. The normal away kit was the infamous chocolate brown but was unpopular under floodlights so the change was made.

Colin also wanted to know how many clubs City have played in league games since they joined the league in 1919. That's a tricky question by virtue of the new clubs with old names e.g. Newport County. The stats experts www.enfa.co.uk consider the modern-day Newport and Accrington clubs different to the previous clubs of the same name and also consider, rightly or wrongly, Wimbledon and MK Dons to be the same club. So, on that basis the league newcomers Forest Green Rovers became the 116th team two weeks ago.

The most recent firsts have been:
105. Scunthorpe 2007
106. Yeovil 2012
107. Stevenage 2012
108. Crawley 2012
109. Fleetwood 2014
110. Burton Albion 2015
111. AFC Wimbledon 2016
112. Newport County (2) 2017
113. Cambridge United 2017
114. Barnet 2017
115. Accrington Stanley (2) 2017
116. Forest Green 2017

By Christmas that number will have reached 119 after successive games against Morecambe, Cheltenham Town and Wycombe Wanderers who will all be playing the Sky Blues for the first time in a league game. It will also mean that the Sky Blues have played all of the current 92 league clubs at least once. I believe only two other clubs, Notts County and Swindon, will have achieved this feat by the end of this season.

My latest book, Play Up Sky Blues, the story of the memorable 1966-67 season, is now out and I am holding a book signing session in the Casino next Saturday along with stars of that team, Mick Kearns, Ronnie Farmer and Dietmar Bruck. We will be signing copies before the Mansfield game (from 1.30) and after the game (until 6pm). If you would like to reserve a copy for that event please drop me an email.