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.


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

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