Sunday, 18 September 2016

Jim's column 17.9.2016

This week I am going back almost 50 years in response to a request from West Ham historian Roger Hillier. He contacted me in the summer asking about the Sir Winston Churchill Remembrance Trophy game between the Sky Blues and the Hammers in March 1967. The Sky Blues were flying high at the top of Division Two whilst the Hammers were mid-table in Division One. On the first weekend of March both teams had a free weekend (it was the first Wembley League Cup final on the Saturday and many clubs rearranged fixtures) and Jimmy Hill wanted to test his side against top-flight opposition. The trophy had been played for two years earlier when Fulham beat the Sky Blues at Highfield Road. West Ham, with their trio of World Cup winners, Moore, Hurst and Peters, were the ideal opponents for another game for the impressive cup.

Hill put out his first choice team whilst West Ham boss Ron Greenwood, a former playing colleague of JH's at Brentford, rested several first teamers but included World Cup winners Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. The third member of the illustrious trio, Martin Peters, was ruled out with an injury. A higher than expected crowd of 18,524 watched a thrilling drawn game, topped off by a novel penalty shoot-out that West Ham won.

City started the stronger side and Ian Gibson ripped open the visitors defence twice in the early exchanges. First, Gibbo broke the West Ham offside trap, running on to a Machin pass to dribble around goalkeeper Alan Dickie before planting the ball into the net. Then less than a minute later he split the defence to find Bobby Gould who chipped the ball perfectly for Machin to head what was described by Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph as 'a goal of sheer poetry'.

Former England winger Peter Brabrook hit the foot of a post before cracking home a Hurst pass on 30 minutes as the Hammers fought back. At half-time young Coventry-born goalkeeper Martin Clamp replaced Bill Glazier and John Tudor came on for Dietmar Bruck and Clamp was immediately in the firing line. A Brabrook 'banana' shot deceived the young 'keeper and went in off a post on 48 minutes and nine minutes later a Hurst shot took a deflection that left Clamp stranded to make it 3-2.

On 72 minutes City were level after a terrific melee in the West Ham penalty area. Dickie pushed a Machin header on to the post, Rees had a return effort blocked and Machin finally drove the ball home.

By mutual agreement a penalty shoot-out decided the destination of the cup and in a best of 11 shots contest, West Ham won 9-7. Mrs J Leese, the wife of the editor of the Coventry Telegraph presented the trophy to Bobby Moore as hundreds of milling youngsters engulfed both sets of players.

Roger's request for information set me wondering what happened to the trophy. Did West Ham take it back to London and keep it or perhaps it stayed in the Highfield Road trophy cabinet and was one of those destroyed in the fire a year later. If anyone knows any more about the trophy please let me know.

Roger contributes articles to an excellent West Ham website that can be found at www.theyflysohigh.co.uk

Earlier this year I wrote about Margaret Crabtree's search for the 1968 Bantams Ladies football team and published a photo of the team. I'm pleased to say that Margaret has informed me that she has tracked down 12 of the team and they have held a reunion this summer. They are in touch via social media and sharing stories from their playing days. She sent me this photograph of the former players she has tracked down:

Team:- Back: (Left to right) Ann Stevens, Lesley Gibson, Reg Berry (Manager), Margaret Crabtree, Joy Black;
           Middle: (Left to right) Janet Kennedy, Ann Law;
           Front: (Left to right) Avril Parham, Liz Stevens, Terri Beales, June Hart, Maureen Tizick.




Monday, 12 September 2016

Jim's column 10.9.2016

After the small crowds at the Ricoh Arena for the League Cup and Football League Trophy games several people have asked me for more details about the game which attracted the lowest ever crowd for a City game in 1985 - a Full Members Cup tie against Millwall that attracted only 1,086 fans to Highfield Road.

Following the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, English clubs were banned from European competitions and the Football League decided to introduce two new domestic competitions to help compensate clubs for the reduction in income. The Football League Super Cup was launched for the six sides who would have played in Europe and a subsidiary competition, the Full Members Cup (FMC) was inaugurated for the remaining First and Second Division sides.

By the time the draw was made only 21 out of 38 full member clubs indicated a desire to play in the FMC – City being just one of four top flight teams. The teams were separated into Northern & Southern sections and into four groups within each section. City were in the Southern half and their group of three also contained Stoke City and Millwall (both from the Second Division). Each team played the other two once, with one game at home and one away and the group winners would go through to a regional semi-final and final before a Wembley final between the regional winners. With so few top flight teams in the competition City fans fancied their team's chances of progressing to the knockout stages. City travelled to Stoke on 18th September for the opening game with just one change from the team that had drawn 1-1 at Villa Park in a league game four days earlier. They suffered a 3-0 defeat with goals from Keith Bertschin, Carl Saunders and Carl Beeston. A pitifully low crowd of 3,516 was a portend for the competition.

On 2nd October Stoke travelled to Millwall and watched by 1,741 snatched a late equaliser for a 2-2 draw. That result meant that Stoke had amassed four points and that the Sky Blues could not win the group to progress in the competition. Millwall could still qualify however, by winning by more than three clear goals in the final tie of the group. So on 15th October City and Millwall played out the final game in front of 1,086 (which included a small number of away fans). In an eerie atmosphere,Terry Gibson gave City the lead just before half-time but Nicky Chatterton grabbed a late equaliser to ensure Millwall finished second in the group and ahead of the Sky Blues. There was one thing to celebrate however as Gibson's goal meant he had netted in seven successive competitive games and set a club post-war record.

Stoke went on to lose to Oxford United (then a First Division side) in the regional semi-final. Oxford subsequently lost to Chelsea who progressed to the Wembley final against Manchester City where a David Speedie hat-trick helped the Londoners to a 5-4 victory in front of 69,000 fans.

The group stages were scrapped for the 1986-87 season and City fell at the first knockout hurdle, an away tie with Norwich. City's performances in the competition were disastrous. In all but one season they were knocked out in their first tie, the exception being 1988-89 when they reached the semi-final only to lose on penalties at Reading.

Somehow the pointless competition survived until 1991-92 with various sponsors (including Simod and Zenith Data Systems) when, with the Premier League about to commence and English clubs re-admitted to Europe, it was scrapped. Many of the competition's games were watched by four-figure crowds but all the finals attracted 60,000 plus crowds at Wembley.

During the summer I had numerous questions about the club's history and I will try and answer them in the coming weeks. First off is Jim Molloy who wrote seeking more information about former City player Eric Jones who was at college with his father-in-law.

Eric Jones, who was born in Dover in March 1938 was one of three Snowdown Colliery Welfare youngsters recommended to City by former player (then manager at Snowdown) Harry Barratt in 1955. Eric, George Curtis and goalkeeper Alf Bentley all signed for the club. A centre-half, Eric made his debut as an 18-year old in a home game with Brentford in November 1956 but was unable to get a regular first-team place because of the form of his friend Curtis and played only 16 first-team games in seven seasons. After being released in 1961 Eric was a teacher at Binley Park School. He didn't give up football however and captained Nuneaton Borough's Southern League side. He passed away in 1987.

                                              1960 City team with Eric Jones front row, far right.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Jim's column 3.9.2016

The re-named, re-launched Football League Trophy (for the time-being called the Checkatrade Trophy) kicked off this week with the Sky Blues entertaining West Ham's Under 23 team and emerging with a 4-2 victory. I am not in favour of the 'pilot' re-structuring which sees a number of Premiership & Championship club's Under 23 teams participating in the new group stages. Fans around the country turned their backs on the competition this week with the vast majority of attendances for the first round of matches under 1,000 and some as low as 400. There were 2,091 at the Ricoh – an attendance only topped at Bramall Lane – and the pitiful crowds may convince the Football League that they have made a mistake. Billed as ‘innovation’, a phrase that is not always a good thing, first impressions are that this is a half baked solution to a problem that never existed in the first place and one that pleases no one, especially the fans.

It's still not clear to fans why the FL made these radical changes and it does not bode well for next summer when the 72 League clubs vote on a major restructuring of the League to expand the current three divisions of 24 clubs to four divisions of 20. Coventry City have always been known as innovators, especially under Jimmy Hill and Derrick Robins, but the latest changes and the proposals on the table next summer would surely have those two giants from the club's history turning in their graves.

There are still however some benefits of the re-jigged competition, primarily a Wembley final. Try telling the 40,000 Oxford United fans who followed their team to Wembley for last year's final that the competition is a waste of time. And, if the Sky Blues happen to get a whiff of Wembley in their nostrils, the fans will turn out in hordes, as they did in 2013 when over 31,000 watched the Crewe game.

Many people have asked me this week how Tuesday night's crowd ranks in the club's all-time low crowds. Putting aside the attendances at Sixfields (there were 12 crowds below 2,000 there with the lowest 1,214 v Hartlepool in the FA Cup) the lowest in the club's time in the Football League (post-1919) for senior games are as follows:

1,086 v Millwall (Full Members Cup) 1985-86
2,059 v Crystal Palace (Division Three South) 1927-28
2,091 v West Ham Under 23s (Football League Trophy) 2016-17
3,781 v Wimbledon (Full Members Cup) 1989-90
3,974 v Newport County (Division Three South) 1954-55
4,744 v Hartlepools (Division Three North) 1925-26
4,785 v QPR (Division Three South) 1953-54
4,976 v Portsmouth (League Cup) 2016-17

I'm pretty sure the next game in the competition (at home to Northampton on 4th October) will generate a larger crowd than Tuesday's, and with one win under their belts there is a good opportunity to progress in the trophy.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Jim's column 27.8.2016

It was a bad week for the Sky Blues. On Saturday at Bradford they collapsed after Jordan Turnbull's debut red card and ended up losing 3-1 and then on Tuesday evening they suffered their biggest League Cup loss since the Arsenal tie in 2012 whilst exiting the competition at Carrow Road.

The silver lining of the defeats is that there were lots of interesting stats. For instance at Bradford, Turnbull was only the second City player to see red on his debut – the first was David Thompson who was sent off on the opening day of the 2000-01 season in a 3-1 defeat to Middlesbrough.

City's goal famine ended with new loan signing Daniel Agyei netted 12 minutes into his debut. It was faster than Adam Armstrong's debut goal against Wigan last season and the fastest since Frank Nouble scored in the 'return to the Ricoh' game against Gillingham two years ago. The fastest debut goals for the club are all under one minute with Wayne Andrews leading the way against Barnsley in 2006-07 with 26 seconds. Laurent Delorge scored within a minute after coming on for his league debut against Sheffield United in 2001 and Ron Newman scored within a minute of his debut against Southampton in 1955-56 – no detailed timing is available for these goals neither for pre-war goals.

At Norwich on Tuesday night the heavy defeat equalled the club's worst away loss in the competition's 56-year history. On two previous occasions City have suffered 6-1 away defeats – at West Brom in 1965-66 and at Arsenal in 2012-13. The former game was a replay after the clubs had drawn 1-1 at Highfield Road in front of over 38,000 (at the time the second highest crowd ever in the competition). 32,000 were at the Hawthorns a week later to see Jeff Astle net a hat-trick as the Baggies ran amok. Doug Fraser (2) and Tony Brown netted the other goals with Ernie Machin scoring for the Sky Blues. Albion went on to win the competition that season, the last time that the final was a two-legged affair before it moved to Wembley.

At Arsenal in 2012 the third round tie was Mark Robins' second game in charge following the departure of Andy Thorn. City put up a brave fight and although trailing by a single goal at half-time ran out of steam in the final quarter and goals from Giroud, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arshavin, Walcott (2) and Miguel sealed the win. Callum Ball did manage to score a late superb goal for the Sky Blues.

The club's biggest ever defeat in the competition came at Highfield Road in 1964 when Leicester hammered the Sky Blues 8-1. It was before the days when substitutes were allowed and George Curtis suffered an injury which necessitated him leaving the pitch. The 10-man Sky Blues were totalled overwhelmed by a superb Leicester team who showed City no mercy.

One good bit of news from Norwich was that Devon Kelly-Evans came on as substitute in the second half and joined his twin brother, Dion. The Coventry-born brothers are only the second set of twins to play first team football for the club and the first to be on the pitch at the same time. Dion, who made his debut as a substitute at Oldham at the end of last season, has now made five first-team appearances. Nuneaton-born midfielders Craig and Lee Middleton both made a handful of appearances between 1989-1992 but never in the same team.

The Cobblers are in town today for the first time in 49 years. The last meeting between the sides who were massive rivals in Divisions 4, 3 and 2 in the 1950s and 1960s took place at Highfield Road in late March 1967. The clubs had met at Northampton's County Ground seventeen days previously and a full-house 20,100 had witnessed a tight 0-0 draw. By the time of the return game City were 17 games unbeaten and edging towards promotion having secured a vital 1-0 at Blackburn days earlier. Over 38,500 watched City dominate their relegation-threatened opponents but fail to score until just after the hour Ernie Machin netted before Bobby Gould secured the two points near the end. City were subsequently promoted, the Cobblers were relegated (for the second successive season) and the club's paths have not crossed since apart from cup games.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Jim's column 20.8.2016

Coventry City's disappointing start to the league campaign has seen them glean only two points from their opening three games and also fail to find the net. It is the first time in the club's League history dating back to 1919 that the team has failed to score a single goal in its first three matches. There have been numerous occasions of the opening two games failing to yield a goal but not three. The last such instance was in 2011-12 (ominously the relegation season from the Championship) when Andy Thorn's team suffered single-goal defeats to Leicester (home) and Birmingham (away) before opening their account with a Lukas Jutkiewicz effort in a 1-2 defeat at Crystal Palace. The 1958-59 season offers some crumbs of comfort however – Billy Frith's side had a dreadful start to their first season in Division Four, drawing 0-0 at home to Darlington before defeats at Oldham (0-2) and Shrewsbury (1-4) left them 23rd in the table. The side recovered to have a remarkable season, scoring 84 goals and winning promotion at the end of the season. More recently, in 1999-2000, Gordon Strachan's team failed to net in two opening defeats (Southampton home and Leicester away) but the signing of Robbie Keane in time for the third game (Derby home) sparked a remarkable home season with the Sky Blues described by TV pundits as the Entertainers.

The start is, in some ways, hardly surprising, with the departure of last season's golden duo, Armstrong and Murphy, but the team did score 67 goals last season, the second highest haul in almost 40 years. Let's hope Tony Mowbray can pull a couple of deadly strikers out of the hat before the end of the month.

The last time City failed to score in three consecutive games was only last April (Colchester, Wigan & Gillingham) but I guess it feels so much worse because it is the first three of the season. The last time the team failed to score in more than three was in 2003 when Gary McAllister's team failed to net in any of the last five games of the 2002-03 campaign and then drew 0-0 with Walsall on the opening day of the next season, making it six without a goal. Michael Doyle ended the drought the following Saturday in a 1-1 draw at Ipswich. In total the team went 527 minutes without a league goal.

The worst ever run by the club was 1048 minutes over 11 games in that infamous first season in the league in 1919-20. After Tommy Lowes had scored in 1-2 home defeat to Leicester on 4th October the team went 11 whole games without scoring until Christmas Day when Billy Walker netted a penalty in the club's first ever league win (3-2) over Stoke. Somehow I don't think that record will be challenged this season.

Keith Ballantyne always comes up with interesting questions and this week he asked if Sam Allardyce is the first former City player to manage England or did Stuart Pearce hold the post for a short time. Sam, who played 32 games for the Sky Blues under Bobby Gould in the 1983-84 season, is the first former player to hold the permanent position, but Pearce was caretaker for one match in 2012 after Fabio Capello resigned in protest at John Terry being stripped of the captaincy. Pearce was in the post for just one match, a 3-2 Wembley defeat to Holland, before Roy Hodgson was appointed. It is just over four years ago but looking at England's starting line up that night makes interesting reading. Only four of the starters made Roy Hodgson's squad at this summer's Euros (Hart, Welbeck, Smalling and Cahill) whilst the likes of Scott Parker (captain that night), Micah Richards, Adam Johnson and Frazier Campbell have virtually disappeared from the scene.
                                                                 Stuart Pearce

Pearce was signed from non-league Wealdstone for the Sky Blues also by Bobby Gould (what an eye Gouldy had for talent) and was a virtual ever-present alongside Big Sam in City's defence in an exciting campaign.

It has been mentioned before but Sam's appointment means that all four home nations are currently managed by former players or managers of Coventry City with Gordon Strachan in charge of Scotland, Michael O'Neill (Northern Ireland) and Chris Coleman (Wales). Congratulations are due to the the latter two whose teams exceeded all expectations at the Euros.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Jim's column 13.8.2016

The new season is up and running and the Sky Blues again failed to break the Swindon hoodoo in the opening league game last Saturday. For the fifth year running at the County Ground City conceded a late goal and it was decisive. There can be few City fans around who saw the team last win a league game there back in 1960.

On Tuesday evening, by beating Portsmouth 3-2 after extra time, the team won a League Cup tie for the first time in four years after successive first round exits to Leyton Orient, Cardiff City and Rochdale. It was also the first time that manager Tony Mowbray had won a Cup tie of any sort since he became manager of the club eighteen months ago. Last season he saw the Sky Blues bow out in the first round of all three competitions. That last League Cup victory, over Birmingham City in 2012 was also a 3-2 win after extra time. The Sky Blues no face Norwich City away in the second round in what will be the club's first meeting in the competition since its inauguration in 1960. There have been nine FA Cup meetings between the club with honours even with three wins each and three drawn ties. The clubs also met in the now extinct Full Members Cup in 1986-87 when the Canaries, with home advantage won 2-1 with Kevin Drinkell netting both Norwich goals after David Phillips had scored a penalty. Coincidentally both scorers later joined the other club.

The attendance at the Ricoh Arena on Tuesday was a disappointing 4,976 and was the lowest for a competitive game at the stadium – the previous lowest was 5,437 for the Burton Albion Football League Trophy game in 2012. It was not however the club's smallest home crowd in the competition, that was recorded at Sixfields two years ago when 1,352 watched City lose to Cardiff City. There have been quite a number of sub-5,000 crowds for City away ties in the League Cup with the smallest as follows:

1,904 v Dagenham & Redbridge (2012-13)
1,986 v Rochdale (2015-16)
2,288 v Rochdale (1991-92)
2,633 v Scarborough (1992-93)
2,871 v Leyton Orient (2013-14)

The League Cup attendances crowds were poor all around the country with under 3,000 at Walsall and Shrewsbury on a night that saw 10 Championship sides defeated by clubs from a lower division and a number of fancied League One sides (including Sheffield United, Bolton and Charlton) also exit the competition.

Steve Bell communicates with me regularly about the club's games against overseas clubs. During the summer he asked me about City's game against Brazilian club Santos which took place during the club's 1972 tour of South East Asia. The game was the final one of a five-game, three-week trip that included two games in South Korea and two in Japan. I was able to provide him with some facts about the game. It was played on 13 June 1972 in Bangkok and the result was a 2-2 draw. Quintin Young and Alan Green scored for City with the famous Pele (with a penalty) and Edu netting for Santos in front of a 32,000 crowd. I don't have the line ups for either club nor any other information. If anybody can provide more details please let me know and I will pass them on to Steve.
                                                       Coventry City party in Japan 1972


Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Jim's column 6.8.2016

A new season is upon us today and it just seems like yesterday that I was watching City's final games, the FA Cup final and the Champions League final. I know I say it every year but the close season is too short. Mind you 50 years ago last weekend England were winning the World Cup and just seven days later the Sky Blues played their first pre-season friendly!

A trip to Swindon is not one City fans will relish today, especially when you consider the last four visits. In each of those games City looked set for victories only to be pegged back. Last season they had two-goal lead with Reice Charles-Cook breaking Oggy's post-war shutout record and looking impregnable only to concede twice in the final seven minutes to turn a victory into a draw. It was a similar story in the 1-1 the previous season with a late home goal cancelling McQuoid's opener and in 2013-14 two home goals in the final 14 minutes turned victory into defeat. Two goals from David McGoldrick in 2012-13 looked to have sealed a victory with 13 minutes remaining but the Robins pulled two goals out of the hat to foil the Sky Blues. You have to go back to December 1960 for City's last league win at the County Ground when goals from Billy Myerscough and Ray Straw gave City a 2-1 win in a Division Three game. The picture at home against the Robins is little better – Swindon have won three of their last four visits to the Ricoh and the Sky Blues last win was in 1964 – 3-2 with goals from Machin, Hudson and Hale. So my message to City fans today is, be patient and don't expect too much.

Moving on to Tuesday evening and the first home game, a League Cup tie with League Two Portsmouth. It is the first League Cup tie at the Ricoh for four years with City having played Cardiff at Sixfields, sandwiched between away exits from the competition at Leyton Orient and Rochdale. That last tie was a thrilling 3-2 victory over Championship side Birmingham City just two days after manager Andy Thorn was sacked. Richard Shaw was caretaker boss and guided the Sky Blues to a famous victory with goals from Cody McDonald, Kevin Kilbane and an extra-time winner from Carl Baker.

Pompey are managed by former City player Paul Cook, a talented midfielder who was left in the cold after the arrival of Ron Atkinson in 1995. In his team he is likely to have former City players Michael Doyle and Carl Baker and I'm sure they will get good receptions from City fans. The clubs have met three times in the competition previously with Pompey winning twice at home in the 1960s and Coventry progressing in 1968 with a 2-0 win at Highfield Road. The first meeting was in the inaugural season of the competition in 1960-61 when after defeating Barrow 4-2 at home, City lost 0-2 at Fratton Park in front of a miniscule crowd of 4,533. Two years later Jimmy Hill rested a couple of players and was undone by Albert McCann, a player he had released a few months earlier. Big Ron Saunders scored a couple in a 5-1 thrashing.

The Highfield Road game in 1968 reminds me of the great form the late Ian Gibson was in at the time. He scored one and set up the other goal for Ernie Hunt in front of a crowd of 20,946 – what would the club give for a gate like that on Tuesday night.

Talking of 'Gibbo' reminds me sadly that two fine former players passed away this summer. Gibbo died at the age of 73 at the end of May and six weeks later his former team-mate John O'Rourke passed away, aged 71. 'Gibbo' is best remembered for the massive role he played in the Second Division Championship season of 1966-67 and some of his outrageous goals and tricks but he and O'Rourke were key players in City's most successful top flight season, 1969-70, when Noel Cantwell's team qualified for Europe by virtue of finishing sixth in Division One. Gibbo was sold the following summer and never played for the Sky Blues in Europe but O'Rourke left his mark by snatching a hat-trick in the club's opening game in the Fairs Cup in a 4-1 away win against Trakia Plovdiv.