pdf format - Historic Coventry

pdf format - Historic Coventry
SOMETHING SPECIAL
Has anyone ever told you a seemingly
unbelievable piece of information which is actually
quite true? Many years ago my father insisted that
David Lloyd George, probably the most famous
Welshman in history, was actually born in
Manchester. After some heated discussion on the
topic he was able to demonstrate that the statement
was a fact. So let me try this one on you.
Highfield Road, the former home of Coventry City
Football Club, was once chosen to host an F.A Cup
Final replay. Maybe, I hear you saying, but it was
probably back in the nineteenth century before we
had crossbars. In fact, the year was 1970. There had
been, remarkably, no Cup Final replay since 1912
before Leeds and Chelsea drew 2-2 at Wembley on
April 11th, 1970. Eighteen days later the replay was
staged at Old Trafford and, after a bruising but epic
match, David Webb clinched the Cup for Chelsea by
scoring their second goal during the first period of
extra time. Had the game remained at 1-1 the second
replay would have been at Highfield Road on the
following Saturday, with a crowd limit of 50,000.
In retrospect this scarcely seems credible.
Although the ground had been transformed over the
previous seven years with three brand new stands it
just wasn’t up to Cup Final standard. At the time,
however, it seemed a reasonable decision since it
recognised the remarkable rise of Coventry City
Football Club during the sixties. In 1962 they had
languished in the lower half of Division Three, but in
the spring of 1970 Coventry achieved their best ever
finish in the league (6th) to qualify for Europe.
Furthermore, the chief architect of their success,
Jimmy Hill, even though he had by then left the club,
wielded a considerable amount of influence in his
new position within ITV sport.
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The scale of the transformation at the club under
Hill was not universally recognised at first, but the
press gradually cottoned on to the fact that something
special was taking place as promotion was gained in
1964. Coventry started their life in Division Two with
five straight wins and after the fourth of these, a 5-3
victory against Ipswich Town, Peter Lorenzo of The
Daily Herald reported:“This might have been a European Cup match.
The excitement and emotion that was unleashed at
bubbling Highfield Road last night when 37,782
fanatics roared their heroes to the top of the Second
Division table was incredible….Not since Wolves in
their sparkling days and Spurs in their European
extravaganzas have I sampled such throbbing Soccer
intensity.”
Since that night nearly five decades have passed
but this particular fanatic still remembers the magical
two seasons that took Coventry City F.C. from
obscurity to the national renown captured by Lorenzo.
What follows is an affectionate recollection of the
events, footballing and otherwise, that transpired
between the summers of 1962 and 1964, and the
impact they had on a callow Coventry Kid. As the Sky
Blues labour once again in the third tier of English
football, this account offers proof that we don’t need
to lose hope – things can turn around very quickly.
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EARLY DAYS
My interest in football took off after our family
holiday to Torquay in 1952 when I was seven. Not
long after our return Coventry City played Torquay
United at home in an early season Third Division
(South) fixture, and my dad took me to my first
professional match. I remember the dusty
atmosphere in the stand with the smell of pipe
tobacco dominating the nostrils. Also the sound of
working boots on wooden boards – in those days the
working week usually included Saturday morning, and
it was common practice to go straight to the game
after a lunchtime drink.
Most memorable of all though was the size of the
crowd – I’d never seen so many people together
before. Many of them wore hats or caps and seemed
to be dressed in uniformly drab grey or brown clothes.
After a few minutes Torquay scored and I was
delighted. This was the team I had come to cheer on.
Then City equalised and the roar was a total shock to
me, but from that moment on, apart from instantly
switching allegiance to Coventry (they went on to win
the game 7-2), I became a lifelong football fan. The
attraction of the sport revolves around the quasiorgasmic nature of the goal experience, whether it is
conceded or scored, and I had nine such experiences
in my first visit!
After that game I was hungry for more but I was
too young to play for a proper team or go to Highfield
Road on my own. Occasionally Dad or one of my
brothers would take me to a game, but they had lost a
bit of their enthusiasm after City had been relegated
to the Third Division South in 1952. In the house at
the time was a faded copy of the “Midland Evening
Telegraph” from May 1936 that reported on the club’s
last – game promotion to Division Two via a late goal
by the ace goalscorer of the era, Clarrie Bourton. The
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war had put paid to Coventry’s subsequent progress
in Division Two, and the story since 1945 had been
one
of
almost
continuous
decline.
Worse still, in those days there were hardly any
televised games, so in the main I stayed hungry for
my new passion. One glorious exception was the
1953 F.A. Cup Final between Blackpool and Bolton.
This was the “Matthews Final” when Stanley finally
won his elusive winner’s medal by virtue of a
Blackpool fight back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in the
last minute. This was a big family occasion as all of
the males of the family watched the game together on
our tiny television. In 2003 the BBC screened
highlights of the game again to celebrate the 50th
anniversary and I was amazed at the slow pace and
poor standard of football compared to the modern
game, yet at the time it was regarded as the best ever
Cup Final.
Over the next few years Cup Final day became as
important to me as Christmas Day, and sometimes I
actually resented the onset of summer because there
was no soccer. Even during the football season there
was very little shown on television. One year, during
school holidays, I watched the one hour BBC
demonstration film every morning just to catch the ten
seconds when Griffin squeezed the Baggies’ 1954
Cup Final winner against Preston just inside the far
post. I must have watched that goal more than any
other. There was one glorious exception to this
televisual football drought however – the mid-week
England international. In those pre-floodlight days,
England tended to play their friendlies on a
Wednesday afternoon at Wembley, so my task on the
weekend preceding the international was to scour the
Radio Times looking for that magical, if typically
stuffy, phrase: - “Association Football.” What it
meant then was that I had to fall ill on the following
Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, so that I didn’t
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have to go to school. The games were not frequent
enough, initially, to raise any suspicion on my
mother’s part, and by this subterfuge, I managed to
witness the Hungarians thrash England 6-3 in that
famous 1953 game, catch the 1956 4-2 victory
against Brazil (one of Coventry goalkeeper Reg
Matthews’ caps), and see more than one game where
Duncan Edwards was in full magnificent flow.
As time went on Mum twigged what was going on,
but by then I was over 11 and at Bablake School in
Coventry. This was a typical Grammar School of its
day with a starchy Victorian formality and severe
behavioural rules with arcane paperwork. One such
was an Exeat form, which parents had to sign and
submit the following day to confirm that any absence
was genuine. By this time Mum was back at work,
having brought up her three boys, so the house was
free on Wednesday afternoons, and I quickly became
an expert at forging her writing and signature, and
was therefore able to enjoy a few more England
games, including Johnny Haynes leading England to
a 4-2 victory over a Spanish side laden with Real
Madrid stars, and England winning in Italy in 1961
through a late Jimmy Greaves’ strike.
*******************************************
One thing that has changed over the last forty
years is the way that we describe our national game.
In the fifties there were two types of football played in
Britain – Soccer and Rugger. The latter is clearly a
corruption of the word “Rugby”, but Soccer came from
a more oblique source. The derivation of the word is
contained in that Radio Times phrase “Association
Football”, coming as it does from the third fourth and
fifth letters of Association. During the fifties, sixties
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and seventies “Soccer” and “Football” were used
equally and interchangeably to describe the game by
both media and fans (Rugby tended to be dismissed
as a minor sport by followers of the round ball game).
Nowadays, though, “Soccer” is decreasingly used
in Britain (unlike the rest of the world), especially by
younger fans. What I think caused the change in
usage was the popularity here of American Football in
the 1980’s, when we heard the Yanks using the word
“Football” exclusively for the gridiron game, and
“Soccer” for the world’s favourite sport. This was
entirely logical for them, but it probably caused some
resentment in Britain – “How dare they call that
travesty of a game Football – this is real Football” or
something like that. This resentment sometimes goes
to ridiculous lengths, with some people believing that
“Soccer” is a word actually invented by the Americans
and should therefore not be used under any
circumstances!
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ROCK AND ROLL
In 1955, I reached double figures. Ten year old
boys in those days didn’t usually have an interest in
popular music, not least because of the difficulty of
hearing any in the Britain of the fifties. But I had elder
brothers, Terry and Brian, who were respectively 8
and 4 years older. Terry, 18 in 1955, was in full
teenage rebel mode which, at that time, meant he
was a Teddy Boy. Much to my dad’s annoyance he
wore the full costume – drainpipe trousers, suede
shoes, long velvet coat, bootlace tie, and brightly
coloured socks. Setting it all off was the full Tony
Curtis quiff, suitably brylcreemed.
The signature dance, of course, was the jive which
was most often (and most impressively) performed
with a pint in one hand and a girl in the other. It is
sometimes forgotten that Teddy Boys pre-dated rock
and roll, and were initially devotees of big band
music, with the two biggest British exponents at the
time being Ted Heath and Eric Delaney.
In the house at the time was a fairly modern
radiogram, as they called it, and my family would play
the hits of the day: - Peanut Vendor, Mr. Sandman,
Mambo Italiano, Hernando’s Hideaway, Tennessee
Waltz…….and many more. Today you can get
compilation CD’s of fifties hits, and I find myself
playing them more and more. This is probably due to
a combination of nostalgia and advancing age on my
part, but there’s no denying the melody of a lot of
these hits. Despite this, fifties music represented an
evolution of the 1930’s and 1940’s ballad-based
format and in retrospect seemed an unlikely object of
rebellious Teddy Boy affections. Their attention,
however, was soon distracted by a new sound which
was far more suited to their lifestyle.
It is well documented that the film “The Blackboard
Jungle” was the launch pad for the Bill Haley and his
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Comets record “Rock around the Clock”. It is hard to
over-emphasise the seismic nature of the impact that
this one song had on popular music. Here was the
start of something exciting and new and,
astonishingly, we all knew it was at the time. During
1956 the kiss-curled Haley and his Comets were the
very first group to be the subject of pop hysteria, and
the Teds were among the devotees. The insistent offbeat of many of Haley’s tunes was perfect for jiving
and the rapid decline of the big bands became
inevitable with the Ted’s defection. By the end of
1956 Elvis had appeared on the scene but at that
time was seen very much as the number two, or
young pretender to Haley’s throne.
One cold and dark afternoon in early January
1957 I emerged from the Empire Cinema to spot the
glorious headline, on the Coventry Evening Telegraph
billboards, that Bill Haley was coming to Coventry the
following month to do two shows on one day. I
persuaded my parents to buy me a ticket, but I was
only allowed to go to the Matinee, with my two older
brothers attending the evening show. Haley had
appeared on the highly popular “Sunday Night at The
London Palladium” show, and Coventry, surprisingly,
was the first stop on his follow-up nationwide tour.
The two shows were at the Gaumont Cinema, and
there was a tremendous build up of excitement as the
warm up acts concluded the first half. During the
interval I remember getting strange looks which said
“What’s a kid doing here?”, but I didn’t care.
Then an unforgettable moment. One of The
Comets’ hits was called “Razzle Dazzle”, which
opened with the line “On your Marks, Get Set, Ready,
Go!” They chose to open the set with this song, but
started it with the stage curtains still closed. This had
a fantastic impact as people were still in the aisles,
and the air was full of screams and ice-creams as
punters rushed back to their seats.
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After the evening performance fans jammed
Broadgate, the city’s central square, outside Haley’s
hotel, the Leofric, but his tour marked the start of the
decline of his popularity in Britain. This has been put
down to people discovering that Bill was almost
middle-aged, but I think it was due more to 1957
being the year that full-blooded Rock and Roll arrived.
Haley’s music was, after all, more Rock-a Billy than
Rock & Roll. Different enough to start the revolution,
but not strong enough to sustain it. That task fell to
the big three of Rock & Roll, Elvis, Little Richard, and
Jerry Lee Lewis, who all came through in a big way in
1957. Chuck Berry, who turned out to be very
influential on some big-name 1960’s groups, was far
less visible to the average music fan at this time.
One of the problems for pop fans in the late 50’s
was access to the music on radio and television. The
establishment still had a grip on radio output, with the
Light programme (forerunner to Radio 2) only
reluctantly yielding a few hours per year of Rock and
Roll. There was Radio Luxembourg of course, on 208
metres, but reception was often flakey, with no music
until 8 p.m., and even then some of the shows were
dedicated to only one record label. The dearth of
Rock & Roll on BBC Radio reinforced the mood of
revolution, and the “establishment” was despised for
the enforced starvation. It was the advent of the pirate
stations such as Radio Caroline that eventually
seemed to force the hand of the BBC to provide a
legitimate national Rock and Roll station, but it took
until late 1967 to launch Radio 1.
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BOOM TOWN – BUM TEAM
When I was old enough to visit Highfield Road
alone I used to go spasmodically but, even with all my
fervour for the game, it has to be said that there was
precious little excitement or quality to be had. All that
happened to the club between 1953 and 1961 was
that Coventry found themselves in the brand new
Division Four, having finished in the bottom half of the
Third Division South in its final year, gained
promotion to Division Three immediately and won
something called The Southern Floodlit Cup by
beating West Ham in quite a good Final. This
“honour” caused great mirth among fans of the three
Birmingham clubs who lived in Coventry. In the late
1950’s the Midlands was as strong a football region
as any other, with Wolves, Villa and West Bromwich
Albion all picking up silverware, and our trophy was
as well regarded as the Simod Cup and the LDV
Vans Trophy were in later decades!
It was for this reason that, when I became old
enough, I used to head off to Birmingham on most
Saturday lunchtimes. At Pool Meadow, the central
Coventry Bus Station, you could choose the match
you wanted to go to on the day itself, and then catch
the coach (Red House Motor Services or Bunty), with
the price of the match ticket included in the fare.
I remember the first time I went to Villa Park in
1959. I was in the side terracing which was,
annoyingly, partially below the playing surface, but
this only served to emphasise the vastness of the
Holte End as I gazed up at it. Later I stood on that
massive Kop many times, including two visits by the
great Tottenham double winning team in 1961. In the
Midlands we had a love-hate relationship with the
Spurs. They were a fantastic side to watch, but the
success-starved London press made you sick with
their gloating over Tottenham’s dominance.
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This relationship was encapsulated in the best
match I ever saw. In 1962 Spurs retained the F.A.
Cup and along the way played all three Birmingham
sides. The first of the trilogy was in January at St.
Andrews. Nearing half time Tottenham were 3-0 up,
aided by the considerable skills of Jimmy Greaves.
The Spurs manager Bill Nicholson later said that it
was the best 45 minutes soccer his team ever played.
Praise indeed, which made it all the more surprising
that the Blues were able to mount a sensational
comeback in the second half with Stan Lynn, the fullback, thundering in a free kick that led to an equaliser
with about ten minutes left. He did it again just before
full time, but a marginal offside decision saved Spurs’
bacon. That match was three months after the Jimmy
Hill era had started at Coventry City, but there was
nothing happening yet at Highfield Road to attract us
away from the lure of the Birmingham games. What
we didn’t know then was that we were in for, 1987
apart, the most exciting period in the club’s history.
Jimmy Hill was appointed manager of Coventry
City in November 1961 after an F.A Cup defeat by the
non-league side King’s Lynn. He had achieved fame
the previous year as Chairman of the Professional
Footballer’s Association via his successful campaign
to abolish the game’s maximum wage. At the time
that wage was £20 per week. Coincidentally, that
happened to be the Coventry Toolroom rate at the
time. This was the wage that a skilled toolmaker in
Coventry (the centre of toolmaking in Britain) would
earn. This figure was an aspiration etched in my mind
as I started work that year as an apprentice toolmaker
on £4.20 per week.
In 1961 skilled craftsmen turned up at football
grounds to watch professional footballers on the
same wage as they earned.
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The Coventry Toolroom Rate was important
nationally, because it was the benchmark against
which all other national manual labour rates were
measured. This emphasised Coventry’s status as a
boom town in the sixties. As the car industry grew
through the first 60 years of the century so did the
city’s population, from 70,000 to over 300,000 to put
Coventry in the ten most populous English cities.
Apart from the car firms the city also had MasseyFerguson, GEC, Alfred Herbert, Wickmans, Rolls
Royce, Armstrong-Whitworth, and Hawker Siddeley.
As Harold MacMillan would have said, Coventry
never had it so good, and workers flocked to the city
by the thousand from all over the U.K. I remember
attending a lecture by Alderman George Hodgkinson
in 1964. He was one of the prime movers behind the
reconstruction of Coventry town centre after the war,
and he told us that the city had the second highest
cars per capita figure in the world, behind Los
Angeles.
It was easy to believe this as the city’s roads were
prone to gridlock at weekday rush hour, particularly in
the area around Pool Meadow. This continued until
the quirky, yet highly effective, Inner Ring Road was
built. It frightens strangers to death with its criss-cross
entry/exit system, but keeps the traffic moving!
Another event which boosted Coventry’s status
was the consecration by the Queen of the new
Cathedral, which now sits alongside the blitzed old
one, in May 1962. The night preceding the main
event was a splendid occasion, with a huge influx of
international visitors out on the town. I was at the
Locarno Ballroom, then the main dance hall situated
in the Precinct. It was packed out and I remember,
through the blue drunken haze, feeling very proud of
my home town.
Coventry’s sporting status was also high, with the
leading Rugby Union team in the country, an athletics
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club (Coventry Godiva) which turned out medal
winning distance runners, and a top-notch speedway
team.
What we didn’t have was a good soccer team!
If you looked at the other major cities in England,
all of them except Leeds had at least two teams, and
most of these were in the top two divisions (as were
Leeds). Yet here we were, languishing in the Third
Division, seemingly on a permanent basis. One of the
problems was that the rapid influx of workers from
other areas meant that the club had a relatively low
loyalty base, as football fans naturally stick with their
home town club. So visiting Highfield Road to watch a
Third Division game was not the most obvious activity
on a cold Saturday afternoon in a strange town. Let’s
face it, if a Coventry Kid like me, proud of his city and
football mad, didn’t turn up very often then why
should others go?
Yet even as the Queen was busy consecrating, all
this was changing.
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CUSTOMERS, COMPANIES AND GIMMICKS
A couple of seasons before the club were finally
relegated from the top flight, the Chairman at the
time, Bryan Richardson, had occasion to complain to
the “Coventry Evening Telegraph” that ticket sales for
the local derby with Aston Villa later that week were
disappointingly low. He went on to castigate the
supporters for their patent lack of commitment.
Richardson wasn’t the first football club official to
make this speech and won’t be the last, but when you
think about what was going on it made no
conventional sense whatsoever.
Here was the head of a business actually telling
his customers off for not buying the goods on offer!
Imagine the head of Ford, or Marks and Spencers
trying this - or a restaurateur complaining that you
hadn’t eaten at his place for weeks. The very idea is
preposterous!
And yet Richardson was on fairly solid ground. If
Marks and Spencer (say) had issued a similar press
release berating customers for not purchasing their
clothes, then those same customers would have gone
to another clothes retailer and wished M & S a wellearned early bankruptcy. In football this cannot be
done, because at the end of the day the football clubs
are basically monopolies. Coventry fans didn’t switch
allegiance to Birmingham City following Richardson’s
tirade and neither did they wish the club ill. The truth
is that once you pick a football club, or once it picks
you, it becomes a member of your family. Through
the years different sets of players, managers,
secretaries and administrative staff look after your
relative with varying degrees of skill and success.
From time to time you think ill of, or curse, these
minders and wish or even lobby for their replacement,
but you never have anything but love of the purest
sort for your family member. More than this, the fans
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are the only group of people associated with the club
who care about it for life.
This is why the normal treatment of supporters by
football clubs is so shabby. Over the years the
management of Coventry City F.C. has done some
pretty indefensible things to its fans. Years ago,
whenever City had a mid-week home League Cup tie
immediately following a home league game on the
Saturday, the club would take the Saturday
programme, and replace only the outer pages and
the centrefold (the page with the teams in), and resell it on the Tuesday for only a slightly reduced price.
On another occasion they included the price of a
programme with the match ticket price, so a family of
four, going to the same game together, would pay for
(and get) four programmes.
During the F.A Cup winning run, having
announced a limit of two tickets per person for one of
the later rounds, the story was that the ticket office
got tired/bored half way through the sales operation
and changed the rule to a higher figure per person,
leaving fans at the back of the queue without any
tickets.
In the late Eighties, shortly after the Cup triumph,
the club resorted to the 1950’s practice of reading the
half time scores out by referring to a code “Match A”
etc, which could only be found in the match
programme. In other words the club was saying to its
customers “Unless you buy a programme, you won’t
get to know the scores”. What they had forgotten, in
their pea-brained greed, is that radios had got a lot
smaller since the 1950’s and were carried by a
sizeable percentage of fans.
The result of this sort of treatment is that you fall
out of love with the club’s administration, although not
with the club. I did and as a result I refuse nowadays
to give them any of my money, unless I really, really
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want to go to a game. But I still sweat on the club’s
result at 4.55 on a Saturday.
That’s why Jimmy Hill’s actions soon after he was
appointed had such an impact. In summary he took
the view that the fans were customers just like those
of any normal enterprise, and as such were to be
drawn in, looked after, and made to feel welcome.
One of his first actions was to invite the younger fans
in for autographs, drinks and crisps after the 1961
Christmas home game. He also made overtures to
other city organisations to bind the community to the
club. Another innovation was in the public address
entertainment package. Supporters were used to a
mixture of military marches and the odd pop record
being played, prior to the naming of the teams. Hill
initially introduced a disc jockey, but then gradually
developed a total entertainment and information
package, which included live pop acts on the pitch,
and feeds on all sorts of sporting data happening
concurrently with the game. Occasionally, when other
vital games were being played which affected City,
real time relays of those scores were given.
Later on came other initiatives such as the “Sky
Blue Special”, a train dedicated to Coventry fans
travelling to away games. Hill was also the first man
to introduce Closed Circuit TV broadcasts of key
away games back to the home ground. Critics, and
there were quite a few, labelled Hill a gimmick
merchant, but all of this helped the supporters feel
part of the club. You were included, part of the team.
In retrospect, and this may seem naïve, during Hill’s
reign as manager I never once felt that the club was
taking advantage of me and thousands obviously felt
the same, because the spirit at the ground between
1962 and 1967 was unique and unforgettable.
On the pitch Jimmy Hill’s managerial career
started with a period of stock-taking during the winter
of 1961/2, followed by a gradual introduction of new
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blood to form the nucleus of the team which would
give the club two memorable seasons. In overall
terms the defence was inherited by Hill. The mainstay
was George Curtis, centre half and captain of the
side. Nicknamed “The Iron Man”, his build was the
envy of brick outhouses, and he was revered by the
faithful. Then there were the two local lads, Mick
Kearns at left back, and Brian Hill at right half. The
latter earned the distinction of being the first man to
play in all four divisions for the same club, and he
also played in Europe. I should add, at this point, that
in the early sixties there was only ONE team
formation, the 2-3-5 version, with two full backs, (left
and right) three half-backs,(left, centre and right), and
five forwards, left and right wing, inside left and inside
right, and centre forward. None of your namby-pamby
4-3-3’s or diamond formations in those days.
Bob Wesson was a sound goalkeeper who could
have the occasional lapse. His worst night was the
8-1 home mauling by Leicester City in the League
Cup, after George Curtis was injured early on and left
City with just 10 men. Dietmar Bruck was a German
born defender who could fill in at full or half back. The
one defender that Hill did sign was full back John
Sillett from Chelsea. Known for his strength in the
tackle he was destined to form the short but
spectacularly successful managerial partnership with
Curtis that took Coventry to Wembley in 1987. One of
my favourite players of that era, Ronnie Farmer, was
also at the club when J.H. arrived. A classy
playmaker on the ball, he also had a penchant for
scoring long range goals.
*********************************
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It’s funny how some events or scenes from your
life stick vividly in your mind regardless of how long
ago they happened. One such was the evening of
Friday July 5th, 1962. Friday nights are nearly always
pleasurable, of course, but sunny, summer, Friday
nights are better, and on this particular one I was
waiting to be picked up by my brother Terry. I was
standing at the bottom of Raglan Street, a long hill
which led up to Highfield Road itself, and was one of
five streets which converged close to Pool Meadow.
Glinting in the sunlight was an old circular green
pissoir at the very centre of the five-way junction. (I
always regarded this as a very un-English and
strange structure and never once used it). Completing
the tableau there was a newspaper vendor with the
City Final edition of the Coventry Evening Telegraph.
I had a few minutes in hand, so bought a copy to
discover that Hill had signed Terry Bly from
Peterborough for £10,000. Now before you start
laughing, let me point out that £10,000 was 15 times
the national average wage and was certainly a huge
amount for a Third Division team to spend on one
player.
What made the news so exciting was that Bly had
been the inspiration behind Norwich City’s fantastic
cup run to the semi-final of the Cup in 1959. The
fifties were notable for third division giant - killers, with
both York City and Port Vale also reaching the semifinals, but Norwich’s run really fired the country’s
imagination. Along the way they disposed of
Manchester United, Tottenham, and Sheffield United,
only to lose disappointingly to Luton at the
penultimate hurdle. In the 1950’s, the F.A.Cup was a
far more significant competition than it is now and
third division giant-killers were lauded by the media,
so the Canaries gained national affection on their run.
Norwich’s battle song “On The Ball, City” became
famous, and they played at Highfield Road not long
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after their Cup exit. The ground was full of green and
yellow, and you could feel the pride and enthusiasm
of the Norwich fans for their team as they belted out
their anthem.
Although Bly had dropped a division he was no
spent force as he had netted over 50 goals for
Peterborough in one season. What made the signing
more exciting was that it completed a brand new
forward line for the club. Over the spring and
summer, Hill had secured two Northern Irish
internationals, winger Willie Humphries and inside
right Hugh Barr, whilst Jimmy Whitehouse (another
inside forward) had been snapped up on a free
transfer from Reading. Completing the line up at
outside left was Bobby Laverick from Brighton.
The following week saw photos of the front five
appear in the press, but there was something else
fresh about the picture. The five were clad in the new
strip, all sky-blue. Jimmy Hill had decided to declare
that a new era had indeed begun by introducing this
startling and, let’s be honest, slightly poncy club
colour.
Football club’s colours are very important, with the
rule of thumb being that the more successful the club
the less likely they are to change their colours.
Arsenal, Spurs, United, Everton, Villa, Liverpool etc…
rarely mess with the basic colour, even though they
do rip their fans off royally with yearly variations in the
design detail. No surprise then, that Coventry City’s
club colours had been anything but permanent up to
that point. Certainly, since the war, City had played in
a variety of blue and white striped strips, only
changing to an all-white strip just before Hill took
over. Their nickname for years had been “The
Bantams” but nobody I knew had any idea why!
As a result of the new strip, a local newspaperman
ventured the name “The Sky Blues”, and that name
has defined the club to the rest of Football for over
19
50 years. Not that City have always had an all skyblue strip throughout the period, and, based on the
rule of thumb stated above, Coventry could have
easily changed their colours almost every other year.
It is ironic that they won their only major trophy in
striped shirts and dark blue shorts (granted – the
stripes were sky blue and white!).
Three weeks after the Bly signing saw a 2-1
victory in a friendly at First Division Birmingham City.
Pre-season friendly results are often misleading, but it
was the manner of the victory that impressed those
who went, with City looking more like the top flight
team. Once the season started, however, the gloss
was soon to disappear. Laverick never looked like the
proper article on the left wing, and a young
Welshman called Ronnie Rees was drafted in to
become an instant hit. Initially, however, consistency
was to prove elusive and mid-table anonymity
seemed to beckon again.
20
TEENAGE BABY BOOMER
In 1958 we moved to a bigger council house in
Canley, also a working class district, and it was here
that I spent my teenage years. Like most boys of that
age I was interested in football, music, and girls, but
in my case it was definitely in that order.
Entertainment for teenagers was very sparse by
today’s standards. There were only two T.V.
channels, which tended not to cater for our age group
and radio was similarly unsympathetic. But at least
we had the Dansette! Soft floppy 45 r.p.m. records
had gradually replaced the larger, more brittle 78’s
and you could stack up to 10 platters on the spindle
of the machine.
After the explosion of the Rock and Roll kings in
1957
there
followed
the
well-documented
redneck/Christian backlash in America, which led to
the promotion of white middle-class male artists
singing pleasant ballads. This confused the hell out of
the British pop industry, which traditionally bowed
before the altar of American popular entertainment.
After initially producing a bunch of sultry Elvis clones
such as Marty Wilde and Billy Fury (even the names
sent out the rebel message), we then had to soften
up to match the transatlantic regression to the safe
mid-fifties. This meant that we had a new non-pouting
Cliff Richard, more able to express his true boy-nextdoor self with a succession of releases which were
definitely not Rock and Roll.
Even Elvis, after his spell in the army, had by the
early sixties been “got at”, and his output veered
towards the safety of balladry. What amazes me
about the Elvis worship that has endured since his
death in 1977 is that all the tribute artists dress up in
the almost obscene white and gold Las Vegas gear
that characterised his “Burger and Pills” period, and
also sing the songs from that period. Anyone forced
21
to listen to “Moody Blue” would have to conclude that
his voice in the 1970’s was clapped out. No, the truth
is that "The King” only actually ruled when he
deserved to – between 1956 and 1962, when his
voice was crystal clear and his records were truly
ground-breaking. If you disagree, I recommend a
listen to the albums Rock & Roll Numbers 1 and 2.
The songs that emerged from our Dansettes,
however, in the early sixties were definitely not
ground–breaking. By the summer of 1962, the
Shadows had broken from Cliff and were dominating
the British charts with their instrumentals. We even
had artists like the yodeling Frank Ifield topping the
charts for weeks. There was, however, a quirky
American artist called Chubby Checker who
specialised in new dances. One such, The Twist, took
a while to catch on in Britain, but catch on it did,
although at the time its significance as a milestone in
social history was not appreciated.
The Rock and Roll dance – Jiving – was seen as
an upstart interloper in the serene dominance of
Ballroom Dancing in the dancehalls of Britain.
Teenagers loved it because, apart from being a
symbol of youthful rebellion against our parents, it
was easy to learn compared to the traditional dances,
and of course, it suited the genre perfectly. At the
Locarno, Coventry’s premier dancehall, Saturday
nights were the preserve of Ballroom Dancing until
well into the Sixties, and Mondays and Thursdays
were reserved for jiving to a combination of records
and bands (The Barron Knights being the resident
group for a period).
As the Canley gang ventured nervously into that
world in 1961 we had to hone, or in some cases
learn, our jiving skills whilst trying to chat up the girls
we had just met. This was not easy as our target was
rarely facing us. Even though we couldn’t dance the
Waltz we began to appreciate its advantages. But
22
then came salvation – The Twist! Here was a dance
that, although as energetic as jiving, allowed you to
face your partner most of the time. The Twist
developed into a less energetic variant called The
Twang in 1963, and if you look at the dance
movements of people at the average function today
(nightclubs excluded) there’s been very little change
over the intervening 50 years. It has been ideal for
those with no aptitude for dancing and, to this day,
the norm is for everybody who wants to dance to do
so, and for couples (where there is a couple!) to
dance without contact, last – dance smooch
excepted. The age of the wallflower at dances ended
in 1963.
Male fashion was not foremost in our mind as we
headed for a night at the Locarno, but like all
teenagers then and since we fell in with it. In our
case, it was suit, tie, and winklepicker or chisel –
ended shoes. Take a look at some photographs of
early Beatles or Searchers and you can see that the
sixties fashion revolution definitely didn’t start until
mid – decade. In 1962, one fashion problem I was
conscious of was my glasses. Myopia in the sixties
meant, for the working class, NHS frames that were
black, brown, or (worst of all) tortoiseshell. None of
these were a hot fashion accessory when it came to
chatting up birds, and were left at home on Dance
Night. So when the Canley gang paired up to attack
the dance floor, and I was told that there were two
cracking bits of stuff just waiting to be asked to
dance, it wasn’t until we were five yards away that I
discovered that there was one cracking bit of stuff
and a friend that could easily have been her
bodyguard. By which time it was too late!
What was truly devastating of course was when
the bodyguard said that she didn’t want to dance with
you. The jive era was quite the worst when it came to
male humiliation on the dance floor. In the ballroom-
23
dancing age ladies were propositioned on the fringes
of the floor, so any rejection was localised and
limited. The late fifties and early sixties, by contrast,
had girlfriends jiving with each other on the dance
floor, so the hopeful men had to make the request,
and receive the verdict, in the centre of the action.
This was particularly stressful at the Locarno as it had
balconies which overlooked the floor. No wonder we
all had a skinful before setting foot in the place!
One of the other Dancehalls we used to frequent
was The Matrix Ballroom, situated on the outskirts of
the City. On one glorious night in late 1962 we had
the privilege of seeing Little Richard there on his U.K.
tour. I have always thought he was the best purely
Rock and Roll artist with his impeccable timing and
gravel voice. Although he turned up 40 minutes late
we were compensated by a fabulous set and,
because the Matrix was a ballroom, we were actually
able to jive while Little Richard sang. Just like they did
in the early Rock and Roll movies! This was an
opportunity not to be missed, even if you had once
again chosen not to wear spectacles and were as a
result dancing with the West Midlands female gurning
champion.
24
JOLLY SKATING WEATHER
In October 1962, I (along with the rest of the
world) was forced to consider something more basic
than football, sex, or music – the prospect of death.
The U.S.S.R had been surreptitiously shipping missile
components into Castro’s Cuba. President Kennedy’s
intelligence services found out and mounted a naval
blockade. I remember the gut – wrenching fear that
lasted for several days as we waited for the latest
news bulletin or the sound of a siren giving the four
minute warning, whichever came first.
The world in the late fifties was far more aware of
the nature of nuclear Armageddon than we are today.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a more recent memory
as were the belated discoveries of the effects of
nuclear fall-out. On top of that, atmospheric testing
was still not outlawed, and we lived with regular
testing of the neighbourhood nuclear warning siren. I
never really understood the purpose of the four
minute warning. It signified either immediate oblivion,
should the bomb explode near you, or the prospect of
life in a post-holocaust country. I was fairly certain
that I would rather not be told that one or other of
these scenarios was about to become a reality.
The newspapers often speculated on what people
should do in those final four minutes. Some
suggested that making love one last time was a
contender but this always seemed to me to be a most
unlikely, if not impossible, prospect!.
While the rest of the world was concerned with
Armageddon Coventry City had been steadily
climbing the Third Division table through October and
November 1962, and by early December had moved
to within three points of the leaders, Peterborough,
with one game in hand. The Sky Blues had also
25
advanced to the Third Round of the F.A. Cup with
home victories over Bournemouth and Millwall, the
latter after a draw at The Den.
In mid-December Hill signed Ken Hale, an inside
forward, from Newcastle for £10,000. City were now
well into an unbeaten run that had started in early
October, and supporters’ expectations were starting
to rise. Then, just before Christmas, came one of the
seminal days in the history of the Sky Blues. Jimmy
Hill had decided that the club needed its own battle
hymn. I was all for this, having listened to the Norwich
fans at Highfield Road after their great Cup run. Our
near neighbours, Birmingham City, also had one of
the great songs “Keep Right on to the End of the
Road” (Incidentally, why is it that the current
generation of Blues fans can’t finish this song
properly. When they get to “Where all the love you've
been dreaming of” they are about two octaves too
high, and the song peters out pitifully. They could sing
it properly in the sixties, despite the lack of
opportunity to deploy it too often!)
And so it was that the fans turned up at Highfield
Road on December 22nd, 1962 for the Colchester
United game knowing that the new club anthem was
to the tune of “The Eton Boating Song”. The words
were about as prosaic and uninspiring as you could
make them:Let’s all sing together,
Play up Sky Blues,
While we sing together
We will never lose
Proud Posh or Cobblers
Oysters or anyone
They can’t defeat us
We’ll fight till the game is won
26
“Posh” and “Cobblers” were references to
Peterborough and Northampton Town (One of the
memorable headlines at that time from the Coventry
Evening Telegraph Pink sports edition following a 1-1
home draw with Northampton was “City held by the
Cobblers”).These two clubs were leading the Third
Division at the time, whereas “Oysters” was the
nickname of that day’s opponents, and this word
would change with each game.
Before the game started we were treated to a
rendition by the manager and I was probably not
alone in having my doubts about the song catching
on. The match started in poor visibility, due to fog,
which was typical of the bad weather we had been
suffering during the early winter. City had established
a 2-0 lead by the interval, but by this time the fog had
got a lot worse, and the resumption of play was
deferred by the referee. Cue our Jim, ever the
opportunist, to appear on the pitch to encourage the
crowd to sing several verses of the song. Hopeful that
the game would restart soon we went along with it
and, having sung it a couple of times, realised that it
wasn’t as bad as it seemed on paper. That was the
end of the entertainment for the day, though, as the
murk thickened and the match was abandoned.
You wonder what would have happened to the
song if the club had not experienced what it did over
the next few months but there’s no doubt that it has
become, surprisingly, one of just a few anthems that
are identifiable with only one club.
*************************************
Now Christmas was upon us and City faced a
daunting home and away double with the leaders,
Peterborough. I had thought about going to London
27
Road on Boxing Day but the weather forecast was for
heavy snow, and so it was that I missed one of the
club’s best away performances. The Sky Blues won
the match 3–0, with Terry Bly notching a couple
against his old club, and Ken Hale showing what a
shrewd purchase he had been, but it was the manner
of their win that caught the attention of the press.
Harry Langton, of the Express, said he had never
seen better Third Division play. City’s large following
certainly agreed and they even tried out the new club
song in tribute to a team who were, ironically, dressed
in all red.
On the following Saturday quite a few games were
called off due to the bad weather, but Coventry
managed to clear the worst of the snow to allow the
return match to go ahead. Midway through the
second half that seemed to have been a mistake as
Peterborough turned the tables and gave City a
footballing lesson on the icy wastes of Highfield
Road. The Posh centre forward, George Hudson, was
the man who took the eye, showing astonishing levels
of skill and balance for a big man on such a surface.
He inspired his team to a 3-1 lead in front of the
biggest Coventry crowd, 25,400, for some time.
Showing typical fighting spirit City managed to extend
their unbeaten run with two late goals to force a
rather fortunate 3-3 draw, but it was Hudson’s display
that stayed in the memory, not just of the crowd but
the bearded Coventry manager as well.
That match against Peterborough would be
Coventry’s last competitive game until February 23rd.
On the night following the game it snowed again, very
heavily, and the Big Freeze of 1962/3 had started. It
is hard to imagine such a winter now, following the
recent impact of global warming, but it was truly
depressing, particularly if you were a football fan. The
weather seemed to follow a cyclical pattern – heavy
snow, followed by cold, sunny days and night frosts.
28
The snow would be cleared from the roads onto the
pavements, where it would rut and make walking very
difficult. The resultant surface would start white, but
slowly turn grey from road dirt and brown from dog
mess. A slow thaw would ensue followed by a more
severe, brief thaw, which promised to remove all the
old ice and snow, but hope was curtailed by the next
heavy fall of snow and the cycle would begin again.
There was an expanse of grass outside our house
in Canley which didn’t see daylight from December to
March, and when it was finally freed of ice it had
turned light green and emitted an evil smell. Most
people in 1963 travelled by bus, so the permanent
near-zero temperature and rutted pavements were
felt severely on the walk to, and the wait at, the bus
stop. On the other hand, we didn’t have to drive!
In retrospect, that winter can be viewed as a
metaphor for the death of the old social order in
Britain, and some people cite 1963 as the first year of
what we now know as “The Swinging Sixties”. On the
political front the Profumo Affair broke just as the
Freeze ended, by which time Harold Wilson had
taken over as Leader of the Labour Party. On
television working class dramas such as “Z Cars”
were being shown and disrespectful political satire
made its debut with “That Was The Week That Was”.
Musically there was still dross aplenty in the
charts, but during the Freeze the Beatles second
release “Please Please Me” had climbed to number
one (according to most of the charts). So, despite the
cold there was a cultural and political spring under
way.
British Soccer was being decimated by the real
winter and many games were called off, and this
disrupted the Pools so badly that the Pools Panel was
introduced for the first time to “decide” the results of
postponed games. Jimmy Hill, always the action-man,
arranged two friendly games in a relatively mild
29
Ireland against First Division opposition, and after
almost upsetting Manchester United and eventually
gaining a draw, they lost to Wolves. When the
competitive matches started again three unbeaten
league games were followed on March 6th by the
Third Round F. A .Cup tie away at Lincoln City,
originally scheduled for January 5th! Such was the
severity of the weather that the match was arranged
and postponed fifteen times, an F.A. Cup record. At
the sixteenth attempt City turned on the style to beat
their Fourth Division opponents 5-1.
During the Freeze the Football Association, in their
wisdom, had insisted on making the draws for the
fourth, fifth and sixth rounds at the appointed times,
with the result that the cup draws looked something
like: - Teams A or F or P or L versus Teams C or X or
P or H. This was mildly amusing but irrelevant to
supporters of a Third Division outfit, even though their
team was playing well. There was no great
expectation of any further progress particularly as we
knew we were playing away to Portsmouth, then a
Second Division side, in the Fourth Round. Pompey
had already beaten us 5-1 in the League Cup earlier
in the season, so nobody at this stage had Cup fever.
But this was all about to change.
30
EIGHTEEN DAYS IN MARCH
Cup Runs were something that other teams had.
This was the mindset of the average Coventry fan in
1963. The club had an abysmal F.A Cup record and
had only reached one quarter final, in 1910! So it was
with no great optimism that we listened for the result
of the away fourth round tie at Portsmouth on
Wednesday March 13th, 1963. With no live TV feed of
results and no local radio, the first data of any sort
that you normally received then was the final score on
the radio news.
Amazingly, City had snatched a late equalizer to
bring Pompey back to Highfield Road for a replay on
the following Saturday. More significantly, when we
read the morning newspaper reports, it turned out
that the Sky Blues (again in red) had been much the
superior team after Ron Saunders (the future Villa
manager) had given the Second Division team an
early lead. Willie Humphries had been the man of the
match and had laid on the City goal for Ken Hale.
This was the result that sparked interest in the
developing Cup run. We also knew that Sunderland
awaited the winners of the tie, and that Manchester
United were possibly lying in wait at the quarter final
stage. So there was quite a bit of tension as the
replay got under way at Highfield Road in front of a
fairly disappointing gate of 25,000. This was eased
significantly in the third minute when Jimmy
Whitehouse scored with a low shot. Coventry then
dominated the first half in much the same way as at
Fratton Park and deserved their second goal, a
header from Whitehouse, just before the break.
City probably had too much time to think at halftime, but whatever the reason they played like a third
division side for the rest of the match. Portsmouth
fought back to square the game with goals by
McCann and Saunders (again). Extra time was really
31
taut with chances for both teams, but it all ended a bit
flat with a 2-2 draw. Most of the home fans I spoke to
thought we had blown our best chance and that we
were definitely second favourites to go through.
Nevertheless quite a few people had resolved to
go to the second replay, at White Hart Lane, on the
following Tuesday night. I cadged a lift from a
colleague at the Toolroom where I was working. He
had a mid-range Vauxhall and we were mightily
impressed with his being able to maintain 55 mph in
the centre lane of the relatively new M1 motorway.
Even then our leaving time combined with the heavy
traffic trying to reach the ground meant that we
arrived late. As we were running up the steps we
heard a roar and then discovered that Ron Saunders
had done it again with (apparently) a great shot on
the turn high into the corner of Bob Wesson’s net.
But from then on it was all City, with Brian Hill
having a fine game at half-back. Terry Bly equalised
after 20 minutes and Jimmy Whitehouse gave us the
lead before half-time. Cue loud renditions of the Sky
Blue Song, which proved we had the bulk of the
16,000 crowd. The second half progressed with no
great danger to the lead, and we were through to the
fifth round of the Cup after three gruelling games.
The Cup schedule was so disrupted by the
weather that ties took precedence over league
games, and Coventry had played four of these in just
13 days. They did return to league duty on the
following Saturday with a 1-0 home win over Crystal
Palace, but all that people could talk about was the
Cup run and the game versus Sunderland on the
following Monday. Excitement was running high in
Coventry town centre that weekend. From today’s
perspective it seems hard to understand why – it was
only the fifth round after all! But this was now a big
city with a team punching two divisions below its
32
footballing weight, and its supporters starved of any
real success for many years,
The Precinct shopping centre had also become
one of the social meeting places. It was completed in
the late fifties in a cruciform shape which was
considered a fine example of contemporary
architecture. The view from the centre of the Precinct
up to Broadgate, and the statue of Lady Godiva had
always impressed me as its perspective frames the
spire of the old cathedral. Within that view was (and
still is) the elephant symbol of the city perched on a
pole on the shopping centre side of Broadgate. Many
a date has started under that top heavy totem pole.
At 90 degrees either side of that view ran two
pedestrian thoroughfares. Go in one direction down
Smithford Way and you would find the Locarno
Ballroom; go the other way into Market Way and you
would come to The Market Tavern. This was opened
in the early sixties as a fairly luxurious watering hole,
placed just in front of the city’s circular Fruit and
Vegetable Market – hence the name. Early visitors
couldn’t fail to notice the deep pile carpet and posh
seating fabric in the Tavern. On Sunday nights table
service was available from a waiter bedecked in white
gloves. Twenty years later this would have been
dismissed as a joke as punters ground their cigarette
butts into the self same carpet. Sadly, like the
Locarno, the Tavern has now gone, but on that March
Friday it was packed to the rafters with City fans, all
looking forward to the fifth round home match against
Sunderland on the following Monday.
Now, it so happened that the landlord of the
Tavern was a keen Sunderland fan, so the night
included several loud choruses of The Sky Blue Song
just to wind him up.
********************************
33
There are probably two candidates for Highfield
Road’s greatest ever game. The first was the match
against Wolves that effectively settled the Second
Division Championship in April 1967. The Sky Blues
won 3-1 in front of the record gate at the ground,
51,455, after being behind at half-time. While this was
indeed a memorable occasion, it came after five
years of Jimmy Hill magic. The record gate and the
result all seemed part of the club’s inexorable rise to
greatness. Even though the match was groundbreaking it was bigger but similar to what had gone
before, and no doubt smaller than what was to follow
(we didn’t know that the era was to end within a few
months when Jimmy Hill left the club just before its
first division debut).
For that reason I would place the Fifth Round F.A.
Cup tie versus Sunderland on March 25th, 1963 in
first place. As I walked up East Street to the old, high,
field in the gathering dusk on that crisp Monday night,
the fans alongside me were fairly quiet, even
reflective. Underneath, though, there was an
incredible tension created by the excitement of the
Portsmouth games and the fact that we, a Third
Division team, had reached the Fifth Round!
Once inside the ground I met my brothers in our
usual position by the corner flag between the West
End cover and the Main Stand. As kick-off
approached it was clear that this was going to be no
ordinary night. We had never been so densely
packed in this area of the ground before. Unbeknown
to us, at the Swan Lane end, gates had been broken
down by the pressure of the crowd trying to enter the
ground. Even then it was said that 5,000 fans could
not gain entry. Inside the ground, children had been
allowed to sit between the terrace walls and the pitch;
such was the concern of the police. Some people had
climbed the floodlight pylons and others were on the
34
roof of the West end cover. The official gate was
40,000, but it was probably nearer 50,000.
Floodlit games in 1963 were less than a decade
old, and Coventry City had never experienced a
major occasion under lights. It seemed that a lot of
the economic migrants had chosen to come and
support the football team of their new City, and it
seemed they all knew the words of the Sky Blue
Song! This was a brand new and fantastic experience
for all the home fans. The tension was almost
overwhelming as the teams emerged to a huge roar.
One of the younger Sunderland players was
physically sick on the pitch as the teams warmed up.
He didn’t know it, but that was how a lot of the crowd
felt! The squeeze was so tight now that people were
being passed over heads to the front of the terrace.
My older brother, Terry, who always suffered from
claustrophobia, decided to seek a place at the front,
although I can’t remember how he made it there.
The game started with frenetic attacks from City to
a seemingly continuous roar, but the truth was that
Sunderland, who topped the Second Division, were a
classy outfit and they took the lead on the half hour
through Johnny Crossan. The hordes were
momentarily silenced, but the Sky Blues’ spirit never
faltered and they pressed more and more, without
success, throughout the second half, with the fans
giving them continuous support. Then, with eight
minutes left, Dietmar Bruck swung in a shot-cumcentre from the right. Jim Montgomery, the
goalkeeper who was to achieve immortality in the
1973 Cup Final, seemed to think that the ball was
going wide, but it hit a post and sneaked in.
Pandemonium! The grass disappeared beneath a sea
of fans, and it took a while to clear the pitch. When
the game restarted, there was barely time for an earsplitting version of the anthem before City took the
lead. John Sillett took a free-kick and George Curtis
35
leapt high to beat Montgomery’s attempted punch
and loop the ball into an unguarded net. The SillettCurtis partnership would not play such a key role for
the club in the F.A Cup for another 24 years.
The pitch invasion this time was taken more
seriously, and referee George McCabe threatened to
abandon the game if it happened again. The
remaining five minutes were played out to yet more
singing and furious tackling from the home side.
Terry, who had found a place by the sideline in front
of the Main Stand, told me afterwards that McCabe
positioned himself near the tunnel just before the final
whistle so he could avoid the invasion. So City had
reached the quarter final for only the second time in
their history. The opponents at Highfield Road were
to be Matt Busby’s Manchester United who, five years
after the terrible events at Munich, were the embryo
of the team that were destined to achieve European
glory after a further five years.
The gap of five days between the Sunderland and
Manchester United games kept the excitement going,
but strangely deprived the club of the two to three
week publicity build up that giant killers normally
received.
The Police, relieved that there were no casualties
on the Monday, set a crowd limit of 44,000 for the
Saturday game. Once again my parents did the
honours and queued for hours in the rain to get
tickets. Came the big day and severe anti-climax. The
rain was incessant and this kept the crowd well below
the police limit, with many tickets left unsold as touts
came unstuck. The club had lain on an entertainment
programme which included a turn by Ken Dodd. I
can’t recall how tickled we were but my main memory
of the pre-match was listening to “The Rhythm of the
Rain” by The Cascades as the rain cascaded
rhythmically down my neck.
36
The weather and the fact that the match was
played in the afternoon combined to temper the Cup
fever generated by the Sunderland game, and
although the crowd gave tremendous support I never
felt confident or hopeful of victory, even after Bly had
given us a five minute lead. United had a bundle of
class and experience. Their starting line up was; Gregg, Dunne, Brennan, Setters, Foulkes, Crerand,
Charlton, Law, Herd, Quixall, and Giles. Little wonder
that City went under 3-1, with Bobby Charlton scoring
two, but City gave a good account of themselves in
going down to their first defeat in 24 games.
37
CROWD TROUBLE
And so it was, in those five short days of March
1963, that Coventry City entered a new era of large
crowds. The ground itself was only ever really
comfortable with about 30,000 or less inside it, but in
the next 10 years, there would be many occasions
where the attendance topped 35,000. The gate would
top 40,000 for the big-name first division clubs, and
45,000 when the “Law, Best, Charlton” United team
were in town. Although I had a grandstand season
ticket for the first few years of life in the top flight, I
often stood in this tight squeeze, but never once felt
as though I was in any danger due to the size of the
crowd. In 1964, I saw the Preston – Swansea F.A
Cup semi-final from the Holte End kop at Villa Park,
and changed positions wildly on the large bank as the
crowd swayed to and fro in reaction to match
incidents. Nobody was bothered and no-one was
hurt. I have several times been inside The Baseball
Ground at Derby in desperately tight situations, and
all passed off safely without injury.
So, when the move towards all-seater stadia
started, I was not in favour. It was therefore ironic that
Highfield Road became, courtesy of Jimmy Hill (back
at the club in a directorial capacity) the first such top
division stadium in the country in the early eighties. I
know that you can’t stand in the way of progress, and
that grounds are undoubtedly safer, but I still believe
that a lot of atmosphere has been removed from the
game. The Anfield Kop is perhaps the best example
of how a footballing institution was lost when we went
all-seater. It just hasn’t been the same since the
events of Hillsborough sealed its fate.
I haven’t read the Taylor Report in full, but at the
time and since, I have read summaries and critiques
of the Report’s findings. The strange thing is that the
most significant reason for the tragedy was
38
apparently not pinpointed by the report. I had
personal experience of Leppings Lane in March 1987,
when the Sky Blues played a quarter final tie at
Hillsborough en route to their Cup Final success
against Tottenham. I and my mate Dave had arrived
at the ground with only about five minutes to spare,
and were anxious to get in for the kick-off. City fans
had been allocated the Leppings Lane end and we
had planned to stand behind the goal. We were
confronted, however, by a high brick wall with a
space the size and shape of a household door in it,
and this was the only way to reach the area which
gave access to the central tunnel. We had to wait
while fans that were coming from this area passed
through the hole in the wall before we could go
through in the opposite direction. Once we were
through to the other side, we could see the crush in
the tunnel leading through to the central section of the
terracing. Dave and I looked at each other, both
thinking the same thought – “There’s no way we’re
going into that tunnel”, and so we headed back
through the strange hole in the wall and made our
way up to the high section of the terracing that
overlooked the corner flag between Leppings Lane
and the Main Stand.
This area was very crowded, but then we looked
down from our vantage point and saw just how tight
the crush was behind the goal. The reason for this
was obvious. There were two fences running at right
angles to the pitch either side of the goal and going
all the way back to the Leppings Lane grandstand
behind the goal. These fences, I assumed, had been
there for years, but the fence at the front of the
terrace had only been erected in the early eighties, as
part of the football authorities’ response to the crowd
invasions and hooliganism of the 1970’s. This front
fence combined with the two fences at 90 degrees to
it formed a lethal cage, (pens 3 and 4 in the report)
39
where there was no escape from the pressure of
extra fans coming in from the tunnel entrance. A few
weeks later we were at Hillsborough again for the
semi-final against Leeds. This time, the Leeds
supporters were at the Leppings Lane end, and it was
clear from the match video that conditions were again
extremely unpleasant in those pens.
There were probably other grounds where the
addition of the front fence had created cages just as
dangerous as the one at Hillsborough, but none
which were as likely to be tested by big crowds on a
big occasion. When the front fences were erected, did
no-one spot the fact that a potentially disastrous cage
had been created? All of the other factors, such as
the late arrival of fans and police decisions to open
the gates would have been irrelevant if the cage had
not existed.
Had the two lateral fences been
removed when the front fence was erected 96 deaths
would have been avoided. We would also have been
able to modernize our stadia at leisure to both
improve safety and retain atmospheric terraced areas
like the Kop for all those who prefer to stand and
watch their football.
*********************************
City’s cup run coupled with the desperate winter of
1963 meant that they had a huge backlog of league
games to play during April. They were in a strong
position to gain promotion (two up and two down in
the sixties), but had to win the games in hand. On the
Monday following the United game they played at
Wrexham and took the lead early on, only to concede
the remaining five goals in the game. This was a
surprising start to the week for City fans but it got
stranger on the Wednesday when Jimmy Hill paid a
40
club record fee of £21,000 to Peterborough for centre
forward George Hudson. He immediately let it be
known that he saw Hudson as a replacement for
Terry Bly.
This move was a tad controversial for Sky Blue
fans, given that Bly was the hero of the cup run, and
the letters page of The Coventry Evening Telegraph
was bombarded with hate mail for Hill. I even wrote a
letter of protest myself directly to the man. The truth
was, though, that Jim was right and we were wrong.
Hill had clearly seen the potential of Hudson in the
home game against Peterborough at Christmas, and
he also correctly spotted that Bly’s illustrious career
was coming to an end. The bearded one was
planning for the future and we were mesmerised by
the excitement of recent events. Less than five
months later City played away at Notts County, who
had purchased Bly in the close season. Hudson put
on a devastating display for City and this killed the
controversy stone dead. Hudson was the new hero
and he was to become one of the most celebrated
players ever to don a City shirt.
Hudson’s debut against Halifax foreshadowed
what was to come. In an amazing game Hudson hit a
first half hat trick and City led 4-0 at the interval, only
to be pegged back to 5-4 at 90 minutes. For the rest
of the season, though, the Sky Blues were very
patchy with some good results but far too many
mediocre performances to allow them to make up the
ground on Swindon and Northampton, the eventual
promoted clubs. The Bly-Hudson arguments rumbled
on for the rest of the season, temporarily assuaged
for the game at Bristol Rovers on Easter Saturday
when the couple played together for the one and only
time. Ironically, this was the game when I personally
concluded that we weren’t going to make it. Rovers
equalised with the last touch of a thrilling game. As
we made our way out of Eastville and Dusty
41
Springfield was belting out “Island of Dreams”, our
own dreams of promotion were increasingly focusing
on season 1963/4.
42
RIO – SAVE A PRAYER
Just after the 1962-63 season ended England
played one of their occasional games against Brazil.
At this stage of their history the Copocabana kids
hadn’t reached their zenith of popular acclaim even
though they had won the World Cup twice with the
help of Pele. The match turned out to be a fairly tame
1-1 draw, which didn’t begin to compare with the
notable English 4-2 victory in 1956 at Wembley. Ever
since that day I had had a fascination with the
Brazilians which was pretty much down to their sheer
ball skills combined with the very low centre of gravity
of some of their players. This gave them a splitsecond edge over their longer-legged opponents
when they suddenly changed direction or dummied. It
was a technique deployed over the years by many
Brazilians, including Garrincha, Pele, Jairzinho, and
Tostao in the great teams that tormented England in
the World Cups of 1962 and 1970.
The first round game in the 1970 competition has
been hailed as one of the greatest contests in history,
when both countries were fielding probably their best
ever sides. The goal that clinched the match for the
South Americans was certainly in keeping with such
an auspicious occasion, as they worked the ball
brilliantly across the England defence before
releasing Jairzinho for the crucial strike, and it
reminded me of another classic goal scored by
another great Brazilian side – that of 1982. By this
time, the whole world seemed to love Brazil. In
England in 1966 we had seen glimpses of their magic
before they were knocked out at the first stage in a
very strong group. Then in 1970, having overcome
the disappointment at the defeat by Brazil, and the
grief brought on by the West German defeat, most
English fans drooled with the rest of the world at the
master class given to Italy in the final.
43
In 1982 we were able to follow Brazil’s magnificent
progress through the first stage matches against the
USSR, Scotland, and New Zealand. Every match
produced sensational skills and memorable goals by
their great stars, Socrates, Falcao, Eder, and above
all Zico. Has there ever, Pele apart, been a better
Brazilian player? Watching him play in the ‘82
tournament was a lip-smacking experience with his
scissor-kick volley against New Zealand, a deliciously
curled free kick against Scotland, and then, against
Italy, the best shimmy and blind-side pass of all time
to set Socrates up for that other memorable goal, the
first equaliser. That seminal game against the Azzuri
in the Sarria cauldron was played on the afternoon of
England’s crucial evening game against Spain. I can
remember jumping with relief when Falcao made it
2-2, because it seemed to ensure their passage to
the next stage and more sheer joy for all football fans.
Sadly, it was not to be and I was so gutted about
Brazil’s exit at the hands of a Rossi hat-trick that I
wasn’t really bothered about England’s tame
surrender later that night.
Were we never going to see them play again, I
kept asking myself, such was the pleasure they had
given over the previous few weeks. It just seemed so
wrong until you realised that here was a team that
had nearly reached the semi-finals of a World Cup
despite the fact that they were playing with two
passengers! The simple truth was that they had a
third rate goalkeeper and centre forward. Serghinio,
the big striker, did actually bag a couple of goals but
he was the most unlikely Brazilian you ever saw. With
his lumbering stride and inept ball control, he
reminded me of Herman Munster in boots. As for
Perez, the goalkeeper, I invite you to watch the Rossi
hat-trick and observe the grey object with the balding
head seemingly trying to prove that you can keep
goal by using only your feet.
44
Since that tournament there have been good
Brazilian teams and players, but none that delivered
the magic of the 1970 or 1982 squads. Indeed,
despite winning the competition twice more they have
developed a more prosaic character and are definitely
less easy to love. Perhaps the most irritating
development was their collective public display of
prayer and thanks to God after the 2002 victory.
Although this may well have been heartfelt following
the astonishing flight path of the totally unintentional
Ronaldinho free kick goal against England, it annoyed
this atheist that these skilful players who practiced
long and hard to perfect their craft gave credit to
something else for their success. That’s why I
particularly enjoyed Chelsea’s aggregate win over
Barcelona in the Champions League in 2005. After
the same Ronaldinho had scored a truly brilliant toepoke goal from the edge of the area, he looked
heavenward whilst making the “Number One” sign as
if to say “Thank You, God, for making me so special”.
The deciding John Terry goal late in the game
perhaps gave the gap-toothed one pause for thought
that there are many factors that decide football
games other than divine intervention. Having said
that, a prayer would have been useful in 1982, if only
to ask God to restore to goalkeeper Perez the use of
his arms for the game against Italy.
45
WHEN WE WERE KINGS
There was some significant musical consolation to
the disappointing outcome of the 1962/63 soccer
season for City fans, via the release of the first
Beatles album “Please, Please Me”. The Fab Four
had not set the world on fire with their first single
“Love Me Do” in the previous autumn, but had broken
through with the single “Please, Please Me”, and
Gerry and the Pacemakers had fuelled the advent of
Mersey beat with their own number one “How Do You
Do It?” Nearly all of my friends bought the Beatles’
album, and were tremendously excited by the
content. Although the songs were by no means all
Lennon
&
McCartney
compositions
(or
McCartney/Lennon, as the sleeve interestingly had it),
they all had a fresh, raw feel which set the album
apart from its contemporaries.
The record was to top the Long Player charts for
30 consecutive weeks that year, and became so well
known that I guarantee that Baby Boomers can recall
more lyrics, even now, from that one album than any
equivalent age-group can remember from any other
album. That summer I was working in a Coventry
Toolroom as an apprentice toolmaker and, as is the
custom, the apprentices got the worst jobs in the
shop. The booby prize in 1963 turned out to be the
gang-milling of the punch guideways in the bench
presses that we used to turn out as a bread and
butter revenue earner. The job entailed lifting the one
hundredweight cast iron press frame from the floor to
the milling machine table, clamping it to the milling
fixture, and setting the gang-milling cutters on their
way. Time to unload/load – 5 minutes; gang milling
duration – 45 minutes: Result – boredom, but
otherwise a fine opportunity for me and fellow
apprentice Keith to treat the adjacent toolmakers to
loud, discordant renditions of “I Saw Her Standing
46
There” , “Do You Want To Know A Secret?”, “Anna”
etc… for hour upon hour. As the summer wore on,
amazingly, the toolmakers stopped throwing
spanners at us and started to join in some of the
tracks.
Even while the L.P. was topping the album charts,
Parlophone released an extended play record (E.P),
containing four of the tracks from the album, titled
“Twist and Shout”. Astonishingly, this sold enough
copies to be number 2 in the singles chart and
secured the Beatles’ status as Kings of the music
scene in Britain, especially after “From Me to You”
went to number one in the singles chart in the early
summer. In cultural terms, this was a dramatic shift.
Although there were a few decent records and artists
around in 1962, the undisputed King was still Elvis,
despite a downturn in the quality of his records. Now,
in 1963, he had been toppled in Britain. The USA and
the World would soon follow suit.
Each locality in each era has a number of “in”
places where the latest music can be heard. One
such in the Coventry area in 1963 was “The Oak” at
Baginton on Sunday lunchtimes, where you could
hear local bands play live and the latest hit records.
“Twist and Shout” would get regular plays as the
packed bar stood, drank, sang and twanged. One
morning I went with brother Terry who, despite
enjoying the atmosphere, professed a lack of
enthusiasm for the Liverpudlian quartet. It wasn’t until
four years later that I understood his feelings.
I was by then 22, married, and still appreciative of
the British dominance of the pop music scene that
had accelerated since 1963, with The Stones, The
Kinks, The Who and others all adding to the fun.
Working in the office of the same Toolroom were two
sisters in their late teens who were deeply into soul
music, and in particular the Stax label on which Otis
Redding and Sam and Dave, amongst others,
47
recorded. Initially I put this down to a love of a niche
genre, but later on was really upset when I realised
that my music venues were full of kids dancing to
this self same soul music. My (rather ridiculous)
reaction was to form an instant dislike of Stax which
in time, of course, changed to a genuine love of the
label. Only then did I understand that there is a
period, usually in your late teens and early twenties,
when your music is played, and when you are the
Kings of the music venues or clubs. Then, one awful
day, you realise that your era has gone and you rule
no more. This is what had happened to Terry, and to
me in 1967, and it has no doubt been happening
since, to devotees of Genesis and Floyd, Glitter
Rock, Punk Rock, The New Romantics, House music,
Britpop, and through the unknown (to me) club eras,
each chapter having its Kings followed by their
inevitable usurpation.
The unique blessing of the Baby Boomers,
however, is that we were in at the start of it all and
that our music was the 1963-1967 British hegemony.
I was lucky enough to have been able to follow the
development of pop music from the birth of Rock and
Roll through to the early nineties. Every new musical
era offered something different and exciting such that
Live Aid in 1985, with an emerging U2 and a fading
Bowie, was a testament to the enduring health of the
Rock and Roll project. But all the time I was getting
older, and as we moved into the 90’s I had a problem
with both house music and rap. Although there were
examples of both that I liked, I generally didn’t enjoy
them as genres. This was the moment I had been
dreading, it seemed. Up until then I had appreciated
all of the new types of music that had emerged as
“flavour of the month” and as such had maintained a
musical bridge with my teenage children. Now here
were forms of music that would herald my
48
oldfogeydom and the musical parting of the
generations.
Amazingly, this did not transpire. It seemed that
my kids weren’t desperately keen on rap and house
either. The generation gap was created by something
else, something quite arbitrary, and something that
really irritated me. In 1993, Radio 1 acquired a new
Controller, Matthew Bannister, who decided that the
station didn’t need, and should not have, any listeners
over the age of 45. Overnight my station of choice for
26 years, the station that I fondly believed was
helping to delay the ageing process started to favour
rap and club music with its sub-woofer bass
dominated rhythms. This meant tolerating 15 minutes
of torture for 5 minutes of pleasure, when they
happened to play something else. I couldn’t keep it up
for long and so suddenly found myself without a
home station that was both advert-free and of FM
quality. It wasn’t for a few years that Radio Two
effectively filled the gap in the market, but for me that
meant missing the advent of Britpop, and an
irreversible separation with what was hip and trendy
in the pop world.
Now, nearly 20 years later, I still enjoy listening to
some new artists, but increasingly play tracks from
the 50’s, 60’s 70’s and 80’s, aided by the fantastic
Ipod. By definition, nostalgia means different songs
for each age group, but I can’t help wondering
whether in forty years time there will be any
pensioners playing Eminem tracks with a nostalgic
tear in their eye.
**********************************
In 2012 the cost of chart CD’s, which for years had
been at rip-off levels in Britain, had fallen to an
49
average of around £6.50, including those bought on
the internet. I spent the identical sum in the summer
of 1963 – on a Coventry City grandstand season
ticket! It wasn’t just the cup run that made the fans so
optimistic but the football that had been played during
the second half of the season and the great
relationship that Jimmy Hill had created with the fans,
and excitement was already mounting for the coming
league campaign. The club itself was making big
changes to the ground, with the construction of the
wing sections of a new cantilever stand on the
Thackall Street side of the ground. Wedged in
between these two bookends for the whole of the
1963/4 season was the old grandstand, which had a
semi-circular roof giving it the appearance of a very
long Nissen hut. At the same time, the six foot slope
across the pitch as it followed the hill down Swan
Lane was removed. This made the boundary walls on
the old stand side of the ground eight feet high in
some places. These changes gave the stadium a
bizarre appearance as we waited for the season to
start.
Just opposite the stadium on the corner of Swan
Lane and Thackall Street was a large pub, “The
Mercer’s Arms”, which housed many a visiting fan
over the years. In the early sixties on a Friday night
the Mercer’s played host to traditional jazz fans at the
Abracadabra Club. Jazz was very popular at the time
with Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk, and Chris Barber all
having hit records in the inter-regnum between Elvis
and the Beatles. Many top line jazz bands appeared
at The Abracadabra along with lesser known outfits
such as Dick Charlesworth and The Clyde Valley
Stompers (I always loved that name). The evening
followed a standard pattern. In the first half everyone
would listen intently and sup ale, along with the band,
which would usually play a few bum notes. In the
second half, the performance would definitely
50
improve (or seem to), and inhibitions would be cast
aside as the noise increased and dancing started.
This would be led by couples dressed entirely in
black, with the men sporting beards and the ladies
purple lipstick, and they would perform this strange
version of jiving (“The Stomp”) where the bit where
the woman is twirled around would be performed in
several jerky interrupted movements of the overhead
arms, in time with the music. These mortals were
called beatniks, closely associated with CND, but
were later to metamorphose into hippies, becoming
Dylan fans and summer-of-lovers in 1967.
Anyway, I spent my 1963 summer Fridays at the
Mercer’s, nerdily excited at being in proximity to the
object of my main love, but also because it offered a
good night’s drinking. Otherwise, I was busy taking
my Ordinary National Certificate finals, going to the
Locarno in search of talent, and preparing for the new
season. Having committed to a season ticket for the
first time, Terry and I, along with our other brother,
Brian, had also resolved to go to as many away
games as possible. This involved dressing up in the
club colours, as it does today, but we didn’t have
today’s opportunity to pay twice as much for a club
shirt as it was worth. We had to make do with
scarves, hats, rosettes and rattles
The scarves then were pretty much the same as
today, as were the rosettes. Only used by political
parties these days, the rosettes were easy to make
up out of ribbon, with sky blue being a popular colour.
Less easy were the hats. We’re not talking bobble
hats here, but full-blown top hats and bowlers painted
sky blue. These were usually reserved for cup-ties,
but we had already decided that Coventry City were
going to have a special season and we would treat
each away game as a cup-tie. We procured three
hats from a second hand shop and proceeded to
totally ruin the nap by applying sky blue gloss paint.
51
Then there was the rattle, provided by Dad, I think
from ex-WW2 air raid warden stock. Whatever its
provenance, it weighed a lot, and would definitely
have been classified as a potentially offensive
weapon in the eighties when they started to ban such
objects from entering grounds. What’s more it was
deafening with the decibel level only limited by the
short duration of rattle that was possible due to its
size. A quick lick of paint and the old navy and white
colour scheme disappeared for ever. Our total sky
blue away outfits were ready for the off!
52
FLYING START
When The Beatles recorded “All You Need Is
Love” live on television on June 25th, 1967, it was the
British contribution to the world wide link-up
programme to celebrate the fact that the network of
communication satellites was now sufficient to
provide live pictures from anywhere in the world. This
had enormous implications for sports fans. From that
point on all the big sporting events were to be seen
live, starting with the two Mexican jamborees –
Olympic Games in 1968 and World Cup in 1970, and
how we lapped it all up (except for the game against
West Germany!)
Prior to then we were limited to filmed highlights
shown the next day in glorious black and white, as
was the case with the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and
the World Cup in Chile in 1962. Now, the summer of
1963 was not a vintage sporting season. To start with
it was an odd-numbered year, which meant no
Olympics, World Cup, European or Commonwealth
Athletics, and then there were no World Athletics
Championships to conveniently fill those un-even
years. Wimbledon had been devalued temporarily
with the departure of the best players (Laver et al) to
the professional game, and England’s cricketers were
being hammered by Wes Hall and Charlie Griffiths.
The only “highlight” was Henry Cooper decking
Cassius Clay before losing the fight on a cut-eye
decision.
And so when August 24th came around with City’s
opening home fixture against Crystal Palace we were
somewhat starved of sporting action. Remarkably, Hill
had made no new purchases during the close season
(which had not helped to relieve the sporting
boredom), but Ernie Machin was now preferred at
inside forward to Hugh Barr. Machin had been signed
during the previous season and was known as Jimmy
53
Hill’s “Blue Eyed Boy” because of Hill’s comments
when he made the purchase. Before the game, there
was a huge sense of expectation from the crowd.
In a strange game Palace took the lead just before
half time, only for Machin to equalise immediately.
The parity at half-time disappeared as City took
control to score four more in the second period, with
Ronnie Farmer nabbing his only ever hat-trick
courtesy of two penalties and a free kick. It was not a
vintage performance but it was a very good result,
particularly as Palace would become contenders for
promotion.
The following Thursday the three brothers set off
for Meadow Lane with our newly acquired hats and
rattles, and 4000 other City fans. We were all slightly
uneasy about the match as Terry Bly would be itching
to prove how wrong Hill had been to sell him. As it
turned out, although Bly had one shot saved by
Wesson, this was to be Hudson’s night as the Sky
Blues turned on a class performance to win 3-0. This
included a bullet header from Hudson and a
thunderous drive from Willie Humphries to complete
the scoring.
Hudson and Humphries were to become the two
most popular forwards over the next few months.
George Hudson had a large body and quite short
legs, which no doubt gave him a low centre of gravity
and therefore his Brazilian-style skills, even though
his running style was splay footed, but he was also
excellent in the air. One of his most celebrated
performances came in the 1964/5 season. Newly
promoted City played Preston away on Boxing Day
and lost a great game to a very late goal by
wunderkind Howard Kendall. The return fixture was
played on an icy pitch at Highfield Road and George
was in his element just as he was two years earlier.
He crowned a virtuoso display with a memorable goal
– a deft chip over the advancing Preston goalkeeper.
54
Hudson had a slightly mysterious air about him
and you could easily believe that he had a cynical
outlook on life, Later in his Coventry career he would
sometimes cause exasperation with his relaxed
attitude, and more than once he left the field on a
rainy day with totally clean shorts, but in 1963 he was
the subject of adoration from Sky-Blue fans.
Willie Humphries was very small and bow-legged,
but was tricky and fast and was typical of the oldfashioned wingers such as Matthews or Finney in that
he would attack the full-back with the ability to jink
inside or outside his man. He had an engaging smile
and was easy to like and was nowhere near as
enigmatic as Hudson.
**********************************
Following the game at Meadow Lane, Alan
Williams of the Daily Express said he couldn’t recall a
more impressive display from a third division side for
years, and added that the intensity of the away
support was almost as remarkable. It seemed that the
Osmond brothers were not the only ones who had
prepared for the new season. This performance
contrasted starkly with the one given the last time we
had visited Meadow Lane a couple of years earlier,
when we witnessed one of the “finest” own goals ever
by Frank Austin, the City full back. As I recall the
County left winger had placed a shot under the
keeper from an acute angle and the ball was rolling
slowly towards the goal line when Frank came in at
ninety degrees to the line, stopped the ball, flicked it
up in the air with his toe, only for the ball to hit his
shin and bounce over the line. This encapsulated
everything we had come to expect from pre-Hill City
55
and it was part of a 3-0 defeat that day. Now we had
reversed that scoreline.
By coincidence, the last time I had been to Fellows
Park Walsall had also slammed us 3-0, and who were
we up against on the second Saturday of the season?
Walsall, away! It was too much to hope for a repeat of
the score reversal, wasn’t it? This time the travelling
fans constituted up to half of the crowd of 17,000, and
the atmosphere during a niggly first half was just as
tense as any cup tie. After the interval City turned on
the pressure and broke through with a tap in goal
from Hudson. This opened the flood gates and Rees
thumped home number two high into the far corner,
before Ronnie Farmer regained the top scorer slot
from Hudson with a trademark 30 yard shot. Walsall
were glad to hear the final whistle, and the second
3-0 score reversal had been achieved, and Coventry
had their best start to a season in living memory.
P
3
W
3
D
0
L
0
F
11
A
1
Pts
6
Next were two home games - against Reading
and the return match against Notts County. City’s
start to the season had not gone unnoticed and both
teams came to play with a massed defence. This
worked for Reading, who held an off-form Sky Blues
to a goal-less draw. Notts County were not so lucky
with Humphries and Hudson scoring late goals in
front of 28,000 nervy fans. The following Saturday
brought the next away game at Luton and once again
about 7,000 supporters made the trip. This may not
sound a huge amount by today’s standards but in
those days it was not the norm for clubs to get this
much support away from home. Even first division
clubs normally took only a couple of thousand to
routine away games. So the journey down to Luton
56
must have surprised more than a few M1 travellers,
as the scarves and hats emerged again.
The bad news was that George Hudson was
injured; the good news that Hugh Barr, his
replacement at centre-forward, opened the scoring
after two minutes, and Humphries made it 2-0 four
minutes later. Thereafter City totally dominated the
game with a great attacking display, and despite
Luton pulling one back Humphries netted to make it
3-1. The return trip up the motorway was a very
happy one, with confidence in the team now fully
established in every Sky Blue heart, and this feeling
was fully reinforced on the following Tuesday when
just under 30,000 witnessed a 5-1 thrashing of
Crewe.
Hudson scored two of the goals on another great
floodlit night and City’s record now read:
P
7
W
6
D
1
L
0
A flying start indeed!
57
F
21
A
3
Pts
13
ROLLER COASTER
It couldn’t last, of course. The next away game at
Hull was the longest journey yet and the distance
restricted travelling support to a couple of thousand.
City’s 2-1 defeat, however, was not attributable to the
lack of fans or indeed to a below-par display. What
cost them the game was the most incredible
refereeing decision I have ever witnessed. Late in the
game with City on top and drawing 1-1 George Curtis
was clearing the ball midway between the touchline
and the penalty area. The referee blew for hand ball,
which no-one else saw. The Hull player placed the
ball at the scene of the “infringement” ready to take
the free kick with a cross into the box, when referee
Ken Howley picked the ball up and walked it to the
penalty spot. Cue fury among the Coventry
contingent, delight and amusement for the home
fans. Hull duly scored to register our first defeat. It is
said that these things even themselves out, and the
injustice of it came back to me in the early eighties
when Clive Allen scored for Crystal Palace at
Highfield Road in front of the Match of The Day
cameras, but his shot hit the stanchion at the back of
the net and flew out again. The referee and linesmen
must have been the only three people in the ground
who couldn’t see what had happened. I knew how the
Palace fans must have felt!
I missed the next home game against Mansfield at
home due to a party at a friend’s house in London,
but could not believe the score line of 0-3. Apparently
it was a game, and a performance, well worth
missing. These two setbacks had us slipping to
second place and with a mini crisis on our hands. The
following Wednesday, City pulled off a fighting 2-2
draw at Crewe thanks to a late goal by Ken Hale in a
thrilling encounter. This was followed by the best
performance of the season to date at Brentford where
58
a 3-2 victory could easily have been 5-1. Three more
victories were gained as October arrived, with a mid
week double over Bristol City (2-1 at home and 1-0
away) sandwiching an easy 3-0 win at home to
Wrexham. The Sky Blues had recovered their form
and regained the leadership of the division. The
statistics reflected the evenness of their home and
away performances: Home: Won 5 Drawn 1 Lost 1
Away: Won 5 Drawn 1 Lost 1
Next up was a long trip to Colchester on one of the
first ever dedicated Sky Blue Special trains, which
was probably the slowest that had ever moved, and a
bafflingly poor performance against a team that
played massed defence at home and came out
winners 2-1. In the lower divisions the two games a
week routine lasted well into October, so City had an
immediate chance of redemption on the Tuesday
after the Colchester debacle via a home match
against Shrewsbury Town. Terry’s wife Jean was
expecting their second child on the night of the game,
so Terry popped in to the Hospital on the way to the
game, and arrived after three minutes of the game,
when I had to tell him that he had missed two goals,
one for each team. “Bloody Hell” he said, “I’ll bet
there’ll be no more scoring!” He needn’t have worried
as City went on to complete their biggest league
victory since the war, winning 8-1, with Ronnie Rees
getting his first hat-trick. Strangely, Shrewsbury
played very well in the first half and could even have
been leading at the break, but it was Coventry who
led 3-1 and went on to dominate the second half in
another fantastic floodlit atmosphere. So far all City’s
defeats had been on a Saturday but the home
midweek matches had all been full of excitement as
the spirit of the Sunderland match continued.
59
On the following day the Football Association
celebrated its centenary with a match between
England and The Rest of The World at Wembley.
England’s 1966 World Cup winning side was slowly
being formed, with Moore, Banks and Wilson all in the
side, but it was Jimmy Greaves who snatched the
glory with a late winner after Denis Law had
equalised for the World team. Greaves was the most
natural goal scorer that I ever saw and it was rough
luck on him to miss the final stages of the 1966
triumph through injury. In a match at Highfield Road
in 1967, just after we had reached the first division,
he scored a sublime goal for Spurs to win the game.
As he raced towards the goal from about thirty yards
out Bill Glazier, the City keeper, advanced towards
him to narrow the angle. My seat was positioned such
that the viewing angle was directly behind Greaves’
run. I could see that Jimmy only had a ball’s width to
aim at between Glazier’s outstretched hand and the
post. He placed it perfectly and City were beaten, a
common occurrence from that season onwards.
Thinking back to the rest of the England team in
1966, it makes you realise how talented the players
were in that team, and how lucky it was that they all
came together at the right time to win the Cup. Look
at the names – Moore, Charlton, Wilson, Hurst,
Peters, Ball, Hunt, and don’t forget the goalie! Gordon
Banks was a great guy to have in your international
team, but the most annoyingly brilliant keeper if he
was up against Coventry when playing for Leicester
or Stoke. You could almost scream with frustration at
his positioning, as he seemed able to stand still and
catch shots that other keepers would be stretching to
save.
When serendipity provides a team as good as that
the fans tend to think that the good times are here for
ever and winning silverware again is just a matter of
course. This is far from the truth, of course, unless
60
you happen to support Brazil! But for British teams,
as England Rugby Union supporters found out
following their World Cup triumph of 2003, you have
to enjoy the rare successes when they occur. It was
beginning to feel a bit like that with the Sky Blues, in a
much smaller way of course. Here we were, top of the
Third Division and playing football that would not
have been out of place in the First. Then, the roller
coaster took another turn, when City let slip a 2-0
lead at home against Watford, and Ernie Machin
received an injury that would keep him out of the
team for some time. The 2-2 scoreline was a real
anti-climax after the Shrewsbury game, and worse
was to follow as Hudson, Hale, Humphries, Kearns
and Hill all joined Machin on the injured list as we
headed to Gay Meadow for the last midweek game of
the autumn.
In a fighting defensive performance where we fans
played a part in giving great vocal support for the
many reserves in the team, City held on for a 0-0
draw at Shrewsbury, in which a young Bobby Gould
made his debut. By a quirk of the fixture list, on the
following Saturday we found ourselves traversing
Essex again on the second slowest train ever but this
time going to Southend, where City returned to their
winning away form with a workmanlike 2-1 victory,
with Hale and Rees netting. Amazing as it may seem
now, this was a game where the bulk of City fans
spent the first half at the home fans end, where there
was considerable banter, but no violence. Then, at
half time, we were allowed to walk the length of the
pitch to be behind the goal that City were due to
attack in the second half.
One week later and a glamour match against
Peterborough. This was Coventry’s first game against
Peterborough since the memorable Christmas
fixtures. United had secured a new centre forward to
replace George Hudson, a certain Derek Dougan.
61
Prior to the game Radio Sky Blue was on the air as
usual, but this time supplemented by a dancing
display by The Butlin’s Ladies which included The
Twist. This had the near 30,000 crowd nicely warmed
up, but after 20 minutes Posh were deservedly
leading 2-0, with Dougan scoring one of the goals.
Yet again the team showed their fighting spirit to
equalise by half time through Hale and Hudson, and
went on to prevail 3-2 with a winner from Hale. A
pulsating game, and by far the best Saturday home
performance of the season.
62
DEATH AND GLORY
On the following Saturday the Sky Blue army made
its way down to Wiltshire for the first round of the F.A.
Cup. This was our first Cup game since the United
quarter final and gave us a welcome break from the
tensions of the league season. In the Third Division,
then as now, you started the Cup in Round One and
the draw had City away to Trowbridge of the
Southern League. The 3,000 travelling fans
numbered five times the average home gate, but they
were not really needed as Hudson grabbed a hat-trick
in a 6-1 demolition.
The confidence in the club was such that the
prospect of defeat never even entered the supporter’s
minds, despite the King’s Lynn fiasco two years
previously. However, after Coventry reached the first
division in 1967 and became a “giant”, things took a
different turn. In fact, during their epic thirty four year
stay in the top flight, the Sky Blues were beaten by
sides from the Third Division or lower no less than
eleven times in either the F.A. or League Cups.
Tranmere (twice!), Rochdale, Luton, Swindon,
Mansfield, Walsall, Northampton, Scarborough,
Gillingham, and of course, Sutton made up the roll of
dishonour for all Coventry fans. And yet I’m sure that
all of them, like me, are quite happy to regard those
embarrassing defeats as the price we had to pay for
that stunning triumph in 1987. City are, after all, the
only Midlands F. A. Cup winners since 1968, and are
one of only four sides that have broken the grip of the
“Big Six” (United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool,
and Everton) on the Cup since 1980.
This last fact is one of the saddest aspects of the
modern game, since the Big Six see the F. A. Cup as
almost a consolation prize and often play reserves in
the earlier rounds, whereas a winning Cup run by a
medium sized club such as Southampton, Ipswich, or
63
Sunderland creates an amazing and uplifting
experience for that community and instills a feel-good
factor that supporters of the top clubs must have long
forgotten. At Wembley on our great day, the Spurs
fans were understandably nonchalant about their
chances before the match and chanted “We’ve seen
it all before” as they looked over at the massed ranks
of tension-gripped Coventry Cup Final rookies. After
the game though, to be fair, the Tottenham
supporters that we met were very sporting and
seemed to quietly acknowledge our excitement
despite their own disappointment. The journey back
up the M1 was long but unforgettable, and the truest
and most uttered phrase was “They can’t take it away
from us!”
Twenty four years earlier, on the journey back
from Trowbridge, we were nowhere near as elated,
especially as it had started to rain. In 1963, with no
M5 motorway, the best way to Wiltshire from the
Midlands was down the Fosseway and through
Cirencester. We had been offered a lift with one of
dad’s workmates, Gordon, who had a small Ford. If
you see one of these on the road today alongside an
equivalent modern car, it looks like a toy. The size
and power of modern vehicles means that only the
severest road inclines cause any sort of problem, but
back then the hill at Fossebridge necessitated a
degree of forward planning to make sure that you
could get to the top of the hill on the other side of the
river bridge. This usually meant a run at full tilt down
the hill, slowing down briefly to traverse the chicane
that is the bridge, before putting your foot hard down
until you were forced to change down a gear, and
then again before squeaking over the brow. The plan
needed a clear road, but this time we had the Sky
Blue Army to contend with. Gordon did his best by
holding back a little at the top of the hill, but halfway
up the other side, the load of four people in such a
64
tiny car was having its effect. What made things
worse was the vacuum assisted wipers on the car,
which stopped completely at this point and took
visibility down to almost zero. Only our funereal pace
gave us any confidence that the road ahead was
clear, and we eventually made it home safely.
Motor cars, of course, have been of central
importance to citizens of Coventry in the forty years
since that Trowbridge journey. The heady days of the
early sixties, when production volumes were very
healthy at Coventry car firms, masked the fact that
the know-how required to stay competitive was sadly
lacking. The Japanese had already started to deploy
their practice of “Kaisen” or continuous improvement
to the automobile business, and were using the
statistics-based philosophy of W. Edwards Deming to
take the lead in vehicle quality. Ironically, it was many
years before Deming’s home country – the United
States of America - started to adopt his methods. The
take-overs and rationalisation that started in the
1960’s and carried on to the end of the Century left
the British car industry in a permanent state of crisis,
and robbed it of the stability that its European
competitors enjoyed and it needed to become
competitive.
The change in the driving experience on the roads
has also been remarkable. When I was learning to
drive people taking their driving test had to use hand
signals to perform left and right turns and whenever
they were slowing down. This was probably due to
the fact that winkers were only just becoming
standard fitments on vehicles, and older cars were
fitted with trafficators – those weird illuminated yellow
arms that used to jump out of their sockets on the
side of the car to announce that you were going to
turn. Whatever the reason, hand signals meant
having the window down fully for each driving lesson,
which was no joke at all in the winter.
65
A popular make then was Rover with its 90 and
100 models, but after the introduction of the more
modern SD1 in the mid-seventies, the numbers of the
older models naturally declined. By the mid 1980’s a
curious phenomenon developed – Rover 90’s and
100’s were only ever spotted at the front of long
queues on country roads. In fact when you came to
the back of an extra long tailback moving at 35 miles
per hour, you just knew that, when you eventually
overtook the slow car at the front some three hours
later, it would be a Rover 90 or 100. You also knew
that the driver would be wearing a hat and smoking a
pipe!
Nowadays of course the person driving the slow
car at the front of queues is defined not so much by
the make of car, but by the fact that the driver (male
or female) is old and white-haired and is so small that
they are only able to view the road by looking through
the steering wheel. Similarly, at the other end of the
spectrum, the car being driven dangerously fast is
nearly always a small Peugeot and the driver, if not
wearing a baseball cap back-to-front, always has a
head shaped like a peanut with sticky–out ears.
***********************************
Now here’s a question you don’t often get - “Can you
remember where you were the day after John F.
Kennedy was shot?” Well in my case it was at
Highfield Road watching Coventry City beat Bristol
Rovers 4-2 in an exciting game, with Hudson yet
again on the mark twice. There was a minute’s
silence prior to the game, black armbands were worn
by the teams, and people were genuinely moved.
Kennedy was regarded as a young man of principle
who offered hope of an end to the Cold War and an
improvement in civil liberties in the States. The darker
66
side of his character was not generally known then.
What I think really let America down was the way that
Lee Harvey Oswald seemed to be almost led into
Jack Ruby’s bullet by the Dallas police a couple of
days later, and as the conspiracy theories emerged
over the months and years following the
assassination, they found sympathetic ears on this
side of the Atlantic.
In the late sixties, I can remember reading an
article on the events and facts surrounding the
shooting and its aftermath (in Playboy, of all organs)
by Jim Garrison, the then District Attorney of New
Orleans. Garrison was the key character in Oliver
Stone’s film J.F.K., which more or less maintained the
veracity of the conspiracy theory. Interestingly there
have been recent works, including a TV programme
which used a computerised reconstruction of the
ballistics, that point to the likelihood of a single
assassin. I normally tend to be sceptical about
conspiracy theories on the basis that they need
excellent organization and water-tight secrecy, and
these are rare human commodities. In this case,
though, I still think it likely that Oswald did not act
alone, but at this distance what does it matter now?
On the day of Oswald’s death, City played a
friendly match with the West German first division
club Kaiserslautern, and absolutely murdered them 80, with an inevitable Hudson hat-trick. The German
side had beaten Luton the previous night and so this
was obviously a sign that the Sky Blues were hitting
top form. The victory reinforced my perception of the
quality of German football in the early sixties. We
used to get the odd televised match from Germany on
Sundays, and our continued TV football drought had
us watching any old rot. They all seemed to run bolt
upright and be wearing diver’s boots, such was the
clod-hopping
impression
they
gave.
The
Kaiserslautern skills were on the same level, and I
67
was gobsmacked three years later to see people like
Beckenbauer and Haller parading their silky wares in
the World Cup. Where did that team come from? Talk
about Ugly Duckling to gorgeous White Swan! It just
goes to show, there’s always hope – no matter how
bad your current team is, there may be little
Beckenbauers coming through the youth system.
***************************************
I was now approaching the end of my first term at
Lanchester College, and had inevitably joined the
Football Club. We used to play games against other
Universities
and
Colleges
on
Wednesdays.
Lanchester had five soccer teams, three rugby and
three hockey teams, and once a year we made our
annual pilgrimage to Manchester to play Salford
C.A.T. These were great trips and the evening social
venues were usually divided between the rugby
teams (generally strip clubs) on the one hand and the
soccer and hockey teams (Manchester University
Dance) on the other. Lanchester allowed the various
societies to run the Saturday dances at the College
and to keep the revenues. For the soccer club, this
allowed us to buy a new set of kit every year for all
five teams. The profit from such an evening was due
mainly to the fact that Lanchester had two dance
floors, the lower main hall, and the refectory on the
second floor. Sandwiched in between was the
Students Union bar. You could therefore have two
live bands playing in one evening, and this proved a
huge draw for the local youngsters. The use of the
refectory was stopped after a while when the floor
started to vibrate badly one night in the middle of one
of the sets as people were bopping around.
68
In the meantime, The Beatles were going from
strength to strength, having appeared at The Royal
Variety Performance in early November. The press
had started to hype them up, and they were about to
take America by storm. Such was their dominance of
the British music scene that “She Loves You”, having
gone to number one in September and then started to
move down the chart, actually climbed back to the top
spot at the end of November. That Saturday,
November 30th, produced the most memorable
match of the season, at Queens Park Rangers. We
provincials arrived via the Sky Blue train, which was
mercifully quicker than our two previous journeys, on
a murky afternoon. Our spirits were not lifted by a
strong Rangers start in which they took the lead and
forced Bob Wesson to make two smart saves. City
gradually started to play some vintage first time
football, even though the pitch was typically sticky for
a late autumn fixture, and after 35 minutes gained a
deserved equaliser through Hudson. Five minutes
later came the goal of the season. Humphries picked
up the ball in his own half on the extreme right hand
side of the pitch, Beating his full back on the inside he
set off on a diagonal run towards the QPR penalty
area, outpacing a couple of defenders, before
unleashing a rising cross-shot into the top-left hand
corner beyond keeper Ron Springett’s outstretched
fingers. From our position in the stand we were right
behind the flight of the ball, and the noise was
deafening as the fans celebrated with a chorus of
“She Loves You”. After the break came some sublime
football as the score became 5-1 inside the hour, with
Hudson scoring another hat-trick. Rees made it 6-1
as City piled on the class, but we noticed it was
getting distinctly foggy, and fears grew of an
abandoned game. Then Rangers mounted a fight
back to score two goals before Coventry finished the
game strongly as the visibility stabilized. On the way
69
out of the ground, the QPR fans were very
complimentary about our team, as were the press
and Alec Stock, the Rangers manager who said that
Coventry were the best third division team he had
ever seen.
We were well content with a four point lead at the top
and the side’s record was now: Played 22; Won 15; Drawn 4; Lost 3; Goals 59-26;
Pts 34:
Since October 23rd, City had scored 39 goals in 9
games, and were well on target for 100 league goals
by the end of the season. The supporters knew now
that they had a class team and fully expected them to
finish up as champions.
70
ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY
One aspect of sixties football life that is no longer
with us is the Home International Championship,
which used to be staged every year between
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It
was played at convenient points during the season
until the late sixties, when it became a post season
tournament played over one week. In a November
1963 game England’s rising stars had buried
Northern Ireland 8-3, and goal fests were a regular
occurrence for England in the early sixties, putting
nine past Scotland and Luxembourg and eight past
Switzerland and Mexico.
It was always nice to beat your closest neighbours
in one of the Home Internationals, especially
Scotland, who had always punched well above their
weight at soccer and, at that time, had the better of
the total matches played against The Auld Enemy.
Scotland had produced some great players down the
years and in this period had struck a particularly rich
vein, with the likes of Jim Baxter, Ian St. John, and
the best British player I ever saw, Denis Law. They
bounced back from their 1961 9-3 thrashing at
Wembley with a great 2-1 win in 1963, and this was in
the middle of the England high scoring run. From my
point of view, and I’m sure most English fans, it was
never nice to lose to the Jocks, but you just had to put
your hands up and admire their fine players.
I was quite shocked, then, to discover the lack of
Scottish support for England in the 1966 World Cup.
Mum and Dad went on holiday to Scotland during the
tournament and were disappointed at the antagonism
towards the World Cup hosts. On the day of the final,
Denis Law played golf and was mortified when
England won. It’s been the same ever since – the
Scots always support whoever is playing England,
and I have to say that it’s a pretty pathetic and
71
juvenile attitude from such a normally mature and
streetwise nation. But why is that the Scots and, to a
lesser degree, the Welsh hate the English to win
anything? The answer is clearly historical and is a
sort of retained grievance against the exploits of the
English from Edward the First (well – kind of English!)
through to Margaret Thatcher. Can’t they see though
that the sportsmen that they are willing to be defeated
aren’t the ones that killed their chieftains or closed
their mines? The lads on the pitch and on the
terraces supporting England are no different to them,
and a lot of them have Scottish or Welsh family
members, so does it really make sense to support the
Croatians or Paraguayans when they play the
English? When Celtic scored their memorable
European Cup triumph in 1967 in Lisbon, all of my
English friends cheered the Bhoyos on, even though
we had only a month before “lost” the title of World
Champions to Scotland, by dint of their 3-2 win over
an injury-ravaged England side at Wembley.
Although there is evidence of some recent
movement, the fact is that English people used to
consider themselves as British first and English
second, and were slightly embarrassed at any overt
celebration of Englishness such as St. George’s Day.
So we always supported any British sporting
competitor regardless of where in Britain they came
from. At the World Athletics Championships at
Stuttgart in 1993, Tony Jarrett and Colin Jackson
were together on the starting line waiting for the gun
to start the 110 metres hurdles final. I was
desperately hoping that one of them would get the
gold and didn’t care which one. In the event Jackson,
the Taff, won with a world record that stood for 13
years. Jarrett of England won the silver medal, so a
great result for Britain, but I wonder if Welshmen
would have regarded it so if Jarrett had won and
Jackson been second.
72
One of the problems is that the Celtic nations do
tend to rub it in when they produce a sporting
success story. Remember the legendary Welsh rugby
team of the seventies. It would have been nice to
have sat back and taken our beatings at the hands of
Edwards, John, Bennett, and various Davies’s and
Williams’s and admire the great rugby. But oh no, we
had to have Max Boyce and “Hymns and Arias”
rammed down our throat as well didn’t we? I was
lucky enough to get a ticket for the Wales – England
game of 1981 at the Arms Park. I had always wanted
to be there when the crowd sang “Land of My
Fathers” and when it had finished and my spine had
stopped tingling I could have gone home satisfied
without seeing the game.
See – that’s my point, isn’t it? Even though the
team were Welsh, they were British too, and by
extension that song is partially mine, as were the
team, such that I always shouted them on against
France, or any other non-British side. I suspect,
though, that only the English have this sense of
Britishness. In the 2011 Wimbledon tournament, I
remember Brian Moore, the manic English hooker,
going demented with support for Andy Murray. Any
Scot watching this display must have been truly
baffled!
73
SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS
December 1963 started disappointingly with a 2-1
F.A. Cup defeat against the same Bristol Rovers side
they had beaten two weeks previously. In the event,
though, most fans had their eyes firmly focused on
the league, and the defeat was soon forgotten as City
put in a battling performance at promotion rivals
Crystal Palace to draw 1-1. George Curtis was the
inspiration as he suffered a badly gashed leg, only to
come back on the field after 20 missing minutes to
finish the game. (There were no substitutes allowed
then). In the week before Christmas there were two
more victories, the first against Hungarian Champions
Ferencvaros 3-1, and then a 1-0 league home victory
over a defensive Walsall team, with Ken Hale starring
in both games and scoring the vital goal against the
Saddlers.
Christmas in the Sixties meant two games against
the same team, with one of them usually being on
Boxing Day. It was not uncommon for games to be
played on Christmas morning, one such occasion
being in 1959 when I was down with Asian flu. I
remember my brothers returning to tell me of a 5-3
win over Wrexham and a Ken Satchwell hat-trick. In
1963 our opponents were Barnsley with the away trip
on the 26th. I cadged a lift with my mate Rod and his
dad on a cold day which carried a threat of fog. The
City faithful were in good spirits and fine voice in the
pub before the game and during it at the ground. A
routine performance resulted in a 1-1 draw, and we
were reasonably satisfied as we made for home in a
real pea-souper.
Fog was a regular feature of British winters in the
sixties, and it was far more prevalent then as most
people still had coal fires. On winter days in Coventry,
what would have been a clear blue sky was often
turned grey by the Industrial and domestic gases that
74
lingered over the town centre. This was nothing
compared to the pall that hovered over Sheffield for
years and they had the smell to contend with as well.
Coal fires were a major part of domestic life when I
was a child, with the morning purgatory of twisting up
newspapers to act as firelighters as your fingers
turned blue with cold, the drawing of fires by using
newspapers as a curtain across the opening (a
practice which often led to it catching alight), the more
serious chimney fires, the soot falls and the chimney
sweeps. There were consolations, however, in the
glorious taste of bread off the end of the toasting fork,
and roast chestnuts.
We were patently less aware then of the
environmental issues and threats that confront us
today, but nothing has changed with the way that the
average person reacts to these threats. It’s true that
the majority today will make more effort to recycle,
but this would have been the case forty years ago,
had people been asked to do so. However, there is
no way that people then (as now) were prepared to
forego their affordable standard of life to aid the
environment. What the coming Global Warming crisis
calls for now is a massive reduction in air travel and
much more car-sharing to conserve fossil fuels and
reduce pollution, but there is no chance of this
happening voluntarily,
Christmas was radically different in the sixties.
The 1 – 2 week break that applies today was
unimaginable then. Christmas Day and Boxing Day
were bank holidays but New Years Day was not, so
the proximity of the bank holidays to the weekend
determined the length of the break. As far as the BBC
was concerned, Christmas was strictly a two day
affair with the special Christmas Channel Identifier
Screen switched off abruptly on December 27th. This
always rankled with me because the build up to the
festival, even then, took months, and then it was all
75
over in two days and we were back at work. The
arrangement today is far better if, like me, you enjoy
being a lazy slob for 10 days, and it makes the
playing of “Merry Christmas, Everybody” in
supermarkets on September 1st just that little bit more
bearable.
One pleasurable aspect of the Holiday was the
first showing of a Hollywood blockbuster on British
T.V. The gap between this and the original release of
the film was a lengthy five years, so the Christmas
edition of the Radio Times was eagerly snapped up
and searched to see what was on. The advent of
Video and DVD has obviously been a big advance for
home entertainment generally, but one downside has
been to eliminate the “Christmas T.V. Film Premiere”.
Another T.V. treat that adult and child alike looked
forward to was “Disney Time”, which showed extracts
from the famous cartoons and features for about one
hour. The Disney Empire used to only ever allow their
films to be shown in cinemas, and about one feature
length cartoon would be re-released every year, so
fresh generations of children got to discover anew the
delights of “Snow White” or “Lady and The Tramp”.
This strict control of the supply made the Christmas
programme very attractive, and the familiar extracts
which now induce boredom if not contempt (such as
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Fantasia) were
lapped up, even in glorious living monochrome.
Teenagers can have quite boring Christmases, but
for me 1963 wasn’t one of them, as my obsession
with the fortunes of the Sky Blues continued. In the
last game of the year they beat Barnsley 3-1 in the
return holiday game to go seven points clear at the
top.
76
“Oh What a Sight - Late December back in ’63”
as Frankie Valli might have put it, had he been a
Coventry fan reading the Third Division table.
On the following Friday, in the first game of 1964,
another home game yielded two more points as City
put three unanswered goals past a young Alex
Stepney to beat Millwall, and the lead stood at nine
points. As we City fans soaked up the Saturday
newspaper reports, we had no idea that it would be
our last glad, confident morning.
77
PLEASANT AND UNPLEASANT
As my brothers and I made our way on the train to
Elm Park with 4,000 other Sky Blue fans on January
11th, 1964, we were slightly anxious, despite our huge
points advantage. To start with, the injuries were
beginning to pile up. Apart from Ernie Machin’s long
term problem, Sillett and Hudson were both missing
for the game against Reading. On top of this
Coventry had not won for 55 years at the ground, and
Terry told us that he had once attended a game here
where City were 3-0 up at half-time only to lose 4-3!
In the previous Cup Run season, a 4-1 hammering
there had finally ended City’s promotion hopes.
Reading were also in the top six in the division.
The game started in a cracking atmosphere
engendered by the large crowd of the sort that now
always attended every away game; such was the
reputation of our team. Jimmy Whitehouse had been
signed on a free transfer from Reading and the home
side must have been regretting it at half-time as he
scored twice, the second a strange foreshadowing of
the 1980 Clive Allen “goal” at Highfield Road when
Jimmy’s shot hit the stanchion and rebounded out,
only for the referee to claim it had hit the post. The
difference this time was that the linesman saw what
had happened and the goal was eventually given. In
the second half, Reading mounted a furious
comeback to gain a deserved 2-2 draw in a riveting
game. So the old hoodoo continued, and we never
played at Elm Park again (but, strangely, won all of
our first three games at The Majeski Stadium by the
same score, 2-1).
Confidence was high for the next home game
versus Luton, as the visitors were rock bottom and
hadn’t won away for 12 months. In the event a goal
by a non-regular player, Frank Kletzenbauer, two
minutes from time salvaged a 3-3 draw for the Sky
78
Blues. This was a poor City display, lifted only by a
fantastic long range volley from Farmer for the
second goal. Another aspect of the afternoon that
was unsatisfactory was the encouragement given to
the crowd by Radio Sky Blue to clap along to the two
drumbeats in the execrable Dave Clark Five hit “Glad
All Over”. Unfortunately the crowd took this up as a
suggestion and we had to suffer it for the rest of the
season and beyond, despite the fact that it was
clearly the Crystal Palace theme song. The Dave
Clark Five, of course, were a symbol of London’s
denial that any world–wide British success could
possibly emanate from anywhere but the capital. So
we had to suffer further rubbish (“Bits and Pieces”)
from the white polo-necked nerds until authentic
Home Counties talent (The Rolling Stones, The
Kinks, and The Who) arrived to complement The
Beatles.
On the football front, things got worse on the
following Wednesday at Boundary Park as Oldham,
their nearest rivals, deservedly beat City 2-0 on a cold
winter’s night. As we left the ground with City’s
smallest following of the season, Brian and I
witnessed our first ever piece of football hooliganism,
when Oldham fans attacked some City supporters
carrying a banner. Nothing too serious, but it was still
a bit of a surprise and a foretaste of nastier things to
come. On the coach on the way home the faithful
were starting to get worried. Machin, Sillett and
Hudson were all still injured, but the team seemed to
have lost a bit of confidence. As it happened Hudson
and Sillett returned for the next home game against
Hull City but after dominating the first half City led
only 1-0. In the second half the Tigers came close to
completing the double by netting twice, with Ronnie
Rees making it 2-2 only ten minutes from time. Seven
days later, Mansfield did what Hull couldn’t by
completing the double over us, winning 3-2 at Field
79
Mill, despite a cracking long range opener from Brian
Hill. This time City’s big following had a depressing
journey home, as their lead at the top had been
trimmed to three points with Palace and Watford
leading the chase, and City had now gone five games
without a win.
We went to Mansfield in Terry’s car and on the
way back stopped at our regular Saturday night
watering hole, the Mount Pleasant on the Hinckley
Road. This is now adjacent to the massive retail,
industrial, Hotel and entertainment complex (the
Walsgrave Triangle) that runs right up to Junction 2 of
the M6, but then it was the first building that you
came to in Coventry after a journey from the East or
North East. The pub backed on to an estate which
housed a number of the Coventry team, and one of
the pleasures of an evening out there was to hold a
conversation with George Hudson or one of the other
players that frequented the pub. Mind you, there was
not much opportunity for this on Saturday nights as
there was always a sing-song led by the pianist, a
nice guy called Keith who played all the old
favourites. It was hardly surprising that the songs
were either traditional or from the first half of the
twentieth century, but this didn’t stop the younger
ones like us joining in lustily to “California, Here I
Come”, “Bye, Bye, Blackbird”, “Green Grow The
Rushes”, and “The Holy City”, not forgetting several
choruses of the Sky Blue Song. These were really
enjoyable nights.
A lot of these songs were familiar to me anyway
because of the sing-songs we used to have over
Christmas at my Uncle Arthur’s house, including the
old World War One songs “It’s a Long Way to
Tipperary”, and “Goodbye Dolly Gray”. It’s only now
that I realise that some of the 1964 patrons of the
Mount Pleasant must have fought in World War 1,
and a majority probably did take part in World War 2,
80
so those two particular songs had real meaning to
them. Now, of course, the pub sing along has largely
been replaced by Karaoke, but this form of
entertainment is led by the more extrovert amongst
us whose vocal talents usually make the meaning of
the phrase “Ignorance is Bliss” as clear as crystal.
**********************************
You might remember Doug Saunders missing the
3 foot putt to win the 1970 British Open at St.
Andrews. Easier to recall is Paula Radcliffe pulling
out of the Olympic marathon in Athens, or England’s
failure to hold on to a 2-0 winning lead against West
Germany in the 1970 World Cup. These are
examples of the worst sort of sporting failure, the
ones where you are expected to win and then you
don’t, the sort that leave you with that wavy-lipped
smile that Charlie Brown used to sport in the
“Peanuts” cartoon. Well, the Coventry City team and
fans were starting to get that old sinking feeling that
comes free with the smile, as February 1964 wore on.
Hot on the heels of the Mansfield defeat came two
home games and two away during which the
confidence, nerve, and faith of the Sky Blue Army
were to be put to the severest test. Earlier in the
season every match was something to look forward to
in lip-smacking anticipation of a great attacking
display, but with the lead now down to three points
anxiety had set in and the fans almost dreaded the
next failure. It was no longer an excuse to blame
injuries to key players because, Machin apart, City
were back to 100% availability. Even Jimmy Hill
recognized the signs of stress and urged the fans and
the team to try and lose their edginess, but events
conspired to increase it. A 2-2 draw at home to
81
Brentford (which included a good debut from forward
Graham Newton) was matched by a 1-1 scoreline at
Wrexham, where Newton scored his first goal for the
club. These displays were mediocre by the standards
of 1963, and both of the opponents had been
outclassed before Christmas.
A much improved display at home on the last day
of February still only yielded one point as
Bournemouth fought back from 2-0 down. Then came
a key clash with Watford in a four pointer at Vicarage
Road, with the Sky Blue Express once more
delivering a huge body of support. Watford had young
goalkeeper Pat Jennings to thank for gaining a 1-1
draw, and the talk on the journey home was, at long
last, infused with optimistic forecasts of a City revival
to maintain their lead (now down to goal average).
The position at the top looked like this:-
CITY
PALACE
WATFORD
P
36
36
36
W
18
20
20
D L
13 5
9 7
7 9
F
83
60
64
A Pts.
47 49
38 49
46 47
What was more, we had a chance to open up a
gap again as our next match was on the Friday night,
at home to lowly Southend, which meant floodlights!
Sure enough, the atmosphere was electric as a
29,000 crowd turned up, no doubt encouraged by the
Watford performance, and they witnessed an
unforgettable game. Bob Wesson was unavailable
and reserve keeper Dave Meeson came in to the
side. The superstitious amongst the crowd may have
recalled that Meeson had experienced a disastrous
debut in a home game some 18 months previously,
that was instrumental in a 4-3 defeat, after City had
led 3-1. The opposition that day – Southend! This
time he didn’t concede four goals – he let in five, the
82
first time this many had been conceded since the war
at Highfield Road.
After a crazy, defence-free opening spell during
which Southend scored three times, the crowd lifted
the team and Farmer and Hudson pulled it back to
3-2 just after the hour. Expectations rose of a
memorable comeback victory, but Southend scored
again from the restart, and burst the bubble of hope
that had existed for just 60 seconds. The atmosphere
as we trudged out of the ground, beaten 5-2, was
truly funereal. The date was March 13th, exactly one
year since the touch paper had been lit by the 1-1
draw in the F.A.Cup at Portsmouth but on this
particular March 13th which, aptly, was a Friday the
Sky Blue Rocket was earthbound. Our team of
heroes had lost their golden touch and we were
looking at another season in Division Three. If we
failed this year, after all the fabulous football and
hype surrounding the team, how could we ever hope
to challenge again? One thing was for sure,
something had to happen to turn things around.
83
GEORGE AND JOHN - MARK 1
Jimmy Hill now took action as the transfer
deadline approached. Jimmy Whitehouse and Frank
Kletzenbauer were sold, and £23,000 was spent on
George Kirby, a tall athletic centre forward from
Southampton, and John Smith, a more sedate
midfield player from Spurs. Jim insisted that Kirby
would not supplant Hudson but would play alongside
him, as indeed he did in his debut at Bournemouth.
The game was probably the most tense of the
campaign so far, with Bournemouth on the fringe of
the promotion chase. Meeson saved an early spot
kick but not long afterwards we went a goal behind
anyway. Ronnie Rees had the away contingent on its
feet with a stunning 30 yard equaliser, and the score
stayed 1-1 until the death, when the Cherries
snatched a winner to really deepen the gloom. I had
travelled down by car with Mum and Dad to make a
weekend of it and that night we went to see “Zulu” in
Bournemouth, but we would have been more cheerful
if the cat had died.
One novel aspect of “Zulu” was that it had been
released in 70 millimetre format, and I saw it again
later in Coventry in a specialist 70mm cinema. The
experience of the curved screen and surround sound
was stunning, and it wasn’t long before we had seen
“Dr. Zhivago”, “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Sound
of Music” in this format. Nowadays there are very few
70 mm cinemas in the country, which is a bit of a
mystery given that we have become more avid
cinema buffs over the past thirty years. Quite a few of
the recent blockbusters would have been even more
spectacular if we could have viewed them on 70 mm
in these specialist cinemas.
I had just passed my driving test and drove Mum
and Dad to Bournemouth and back, having spent the
night in a hotel. Dad’s car had a radio fitted and we
84
were able to listen to the Beatles’ latest release “Can’t
Buy Me Love”. This was a follow up to their first
smash American number one “I Wanna Hold Your
Hand”, which had made them a world wide
phenomenon. I was particularly disappointed with the
track, especially as it came from the soundtrack of
their first film “A Hard Day’s Night”, and there were, in
my opinion, far better songs on the LP that could
have been used as singles, like “Things We Said
Today”.
Later that year, they compounded the
mistake by releasing the title track, which was also a
relatively poor song.
Pop journalists who weren’t even around in the
sixties have recently voted “Revolver” as the best
Beatles album and in the seventies “Sergeant
Pepper” won that accolade. This is fair enough,
because tastes obviously change with age, but I
never rated these two albums in the top three of the
Beatles output. I believe that the four albums
released in 1964 and 1965, contain a cornucopia of
great pop songs, and represented the golden period
of Beatles music. “Help” probably had more potential
hit singles on it than any other Beatles album, and
“Rubber Soul” with its absolute stereo separation of
singer and instrument wasn’t far behind and
contained my particular favourite all time track “I’m
Looking Through You”. Even “Beatles for Sale”, which
included several covers, had some excellent tracks
on it.
The strange thing is that many of these tunes are
unknown to the younger generations of pop lovers,
who are more familiar with the group’s hit singles.
Over the last few years there has been a lot of cover
versions of old pop tracks, but I can’t recall any of
these being from this wealth of material on the
Beatles’ albums. Surely someone soon is going to
take advantage of this huge opportunity.
85
As for the ailing Coventry City F.C., they had no
Paul or Ringo, but they had two sets of George and
John. The established pair in the team was later to
manage the club to its only major trophy, but now
Messrs Kirby and Smith had joined the desperate
battle to claw the club back into the promotion places
from the dreaded third place that the Sky Blues
occupied as Easter Saturday dawned. Oldham were
the visitors that day and they were the club that had
started the terrible win-less sequence back in
January. Hill dropped George Hudson, who in truth
hadn’t been performing even when he was fit, and
Kirby became the second successive centre-forward
signing to score a hat-trick on his home debut as City
at last won a game, by the convincing margin of 4-1.
Although this made everyone feel happier, there were
two immediate fixtures against Port Vale to face on
Easter Monday and Tuesday.
Some of the early season enthusiasm had
returned for the supporters and another large army
made its way to Vale Park to watch a game that City
should have won, but were denied by a late Vale
equaliser. There was a huge traffic jam on the way
home, but we were fairly upbeat now that we had the
opportunity to complete a five point Easter the
following night. As it turned out four points were all we
got, thanks to Port Vale’s solid defensive effort which
threatened to gain all three points. A 30,000 crowd
was mightily relieved when Kirby scored, soon after
we had gone behind, to make it two 1-1 draws with
the team from the Potteries.
There were now only five games left, and three of
them were away from home, starting with the trip to
Bristol Rovers. The Sky Blues won the game in a
canter to record their first away success since the 6-3
win at QPR. Although that memorable Loftus Road
performance in November was part of the same
season, it was hugely different in essence to the
86
performances in the second half of the season. The
first half was glorious anticipation and delivery of
great entertainment, the second half full of tension,
anguish and the fear of failure. It was just like the
“Hunky Dory” L.P. by David Bowie. A superb Side 1
followed by a mundane Side 2.
At Eastville although the score was only 1-0,
thanks to a Ken Hale goal only seconds after the
restart, the easy manner of the victory was as
mysterious as the Rover’s surprise F. A. Cup win over
us the previous December. This win was
psychologically important because it had put City
back in the driving seat in that promotion was now in
their own hands. The positions were:-
P
PALACE
CITY
WATFORD
41
42
41
W
23
20
22
D
11
15
9
L
F
7
7
10
A
67
93
74
Pts.
42
57
54
57
55
53
The penultimate home game was against Queens
Park Rangers, and 28,000 turned up to see an
exciting game with Coventry starting well by taking a
2-0 lead through Humphries and Rees after
seventeen minutes. As had happened so often
before, though, they lost it to a feisty QPR team
inside five minutes, and nerves began to take hold
again. City didn’t really look like scoring again until
they gained a dodgy penalty decision midway through
the second period. Farmer converted his eighth
penalty out of eight in the season, but convincing it
was not as it went in via the goalkeeper’s hand and
the post. The home games kicked off at 3.15 that
season and as the clock reached 4.45, Radio Sky
87
Blue announced that Palace and Bournemouth had
both lost. What an electric effect this had on the
crowd and an immediate rendition of the Sky Blue
song was followed by enormous roars of
encouragement for City to seal the game. This they
did when Kirby leaped high to head home a corner
after 85 minutes. A national newspaper report
commented that the match was a cameo of the whole
season, with its winning start followed by a long
period of mediocre football, only for there to be a
happy ending. We desperately hoped the journalist
was right.
88
RETURN OF THE KING
There were now three games left in the last eight
days of the season and the first two were away from
home, at Millwall and Peterborough. Going to the Old
Den was never a comfortable experience, and we
had been warned to expect hostility from the home
fans. We were not disappointed as 8,000 Sky Blue
followers contributed to the biggest crowd of the
season at Cold Blow Lane (fifteen of the twenty two
away games had attracted a season’s best crowd).
The pitch was as bumpy as pitches in Spring were in
the sixties (something which groundsmen have
definitely improved upon since) and the game was
not a glorious spectacle. It was important to avoid
defeat, but City could have won had it not been for
Ronnie Farmer’s first failure from the spot all season
just before half-time. He had decided to change his
technique as he suspected goalkeepers were wise to
his placement to their left, so this one went to
Stepney’s right, hit the upright, and bounced out. The
second half was played out in a very tense
atmosphere and City had one or two close shaves,
but they held on for a goalless draw with George
Curtis having another stormer.
All clubs, then and now, had their penalty
specialists like Farmer, but with the advent of penalty
shoot-outs in Cup competitions, every professional
now needs to practice twelve yard shots. I hate
penalty competitions with a vengeance, mainly
because it usually makes the experience after the
normal 90 minutes very boring. More often than not
one of the teams will conclude that their best chance
of victory lies with playing defensively and holding on
for the shoot-out. Sometimes this decision takes
place during the second half of normal time, and as a
strategy it is often successful because both sides are
tiring and the “superior” team has trouble raising the
89
energy to break down a massed defence. The shootout itself can be very cruel, as it has happened that a
player who has had a stonking game is the very one
to miss the vital kick. This stigma has been the fate of
Roberto Baggio (World Cup Final 1994), and
Alexander Shevchenko (Champions League Final
2005) amongst many others. The damp squib ending
to the 2005 F.A.Cup Final between Arsenal and
Manchester United was an insult to all the clubs that
had participated throughout the season. How can
they allow a major competition to end in this manner?
A far better method is available – it’s called The
Golden Goal, and before you say “That’s been tried!”
I’m sorry, but it has not. When they tried something
similar briefly, they left in place the safety net of the
penalty shoot-out in the event of no Golden Goal
being scored. This enabled teams to defend and play
for the shoot-out as per normal, and we saw some
pretty boring extra times under this system. The
obvious answer is to take penalty shoot-outs away
altogether, and encourage teams to attack by having
just the Golden Goal to decide the game. This too
had been tried in the past, and failed, because it often
took a long time for a goal to be scored in extra time.
So, to combat this, two players should be removed at
90 minutes, and coaches should be able to play any
nine men from the allowed squad, even if they had
already been substituted. Sent–off players would not,
of course, be reintroduced, and any team having a
player dismissed would carry the disadvantage into
extra time.
After 15 minutes with nine men and still no winning
goal, the teams would be reduced to seven a side.
On a full-sized pitch, a game with only six outfield
players each would soon yield a goal. This method
would allow the match to be settled on skill, teamwork
and fitness, instead of a set of single kicks with the
keeper doing his best to cheat. Teams who felt they
90
were inferior would see their best chance of winning
as the adoption of attack rather than defence. Finally,
a great deal of time would be saved. Extra time plus
penalties often finishes nearly an hour after the fulltime whistle, with the last twenty minutes
entertainment consisting of around ten to twenty kicks
of the ball. The pure Golden Goal method described
would most likely take less than thirty minutes on
average, and we would be treated to two teams
striving to score goals instead of prevent them.
*********************************
As we read about the missed Farmer penalty in
the Sunday papers on the morning after the Millwall
game, the league table was still fairly encouraging. It
read: -
PALACE
CITY
WATFORD
P
W
D
L
F
A
Pts.
44
44
44
23
21
23
13
16
11
8
7
10
70
97
76
46
59
55
59
58
57
Our goal average was much better than the other
two, so we could afford to drop one point and still
beat Watford to promotion. What was more the next
game, on the following night, was to be at London
Road against Peterborough, whom we had not lost to
in the previous three games. George Hudson was still
out of favour and Ken Hale was dropped to make way
for Graham Newton, with Bruck coming in for the
injured Farmer. The road to Peterborough from
Coventry is not great now, but in 1964 it was tortuous,
and on Monday April 20th it was clogged with cars
and coaches carrying the highest number of Coventry
91
City fans up to that point to travel to an away game.
The 12,000 in the Sky Blue Army boosted the crowd
to a League record attendance of 26,000, and once
again we had a fabulous atmosphere.
City started well enough and Newton hit a post,
but the large away following only served to inspire the
home team and their supporters, and Peterborough
looked the more likely to score. After half an hour
they did, and from that point on the Sky Blues rarely
looked like winning. Dougan sealed the points for the
home team twenty minutes from time with a typically
flamboyant shot past Wesson, and this was not the
last time that the Doog caused us major grief in a vital
game. The journey home was slow and black, with
Watford now in the pound seat with a home game
against lowly Brentford on the following night. Two
coaches carrying City fans went to the game to cheer
on the away side, and the rest of us tried to keep up
to date with the score by phoning the Coventry
Telephone Exchange or the Supporter’s Club. The
BBC didn’t broadcast the score until 10.30, and these
were the days well before Sky Sports, Local Radio,
Radio 5, mobile phones, The Internet, and Ceefax, so
phoning the supporter’s club was the only means of
communication during the game. Eventually we all
got to hear the splendid news – Watford had been
held to a 2-2 draw, and had only equalised in the last
five minutes. You could almost feel the relief flood
through the city, and now we were down to the wire.
Coventry only had to win the last home game against
Colchester on Saturday to reach the second division.
In the days leading up to the game, an expectation
built up of inevitable success. They had blown it once
and wouldn’t do it again, especially against
Colchester, who were just the team you would have
chosen to play in such a fixture. Our spirits were lifted
further when Jimmy Hill reinstated the King, George
92
Hudson, for the crucial game. Farmer was also fit
again, so everything was set. The table was: -
PALACE
CITY
WATFORD
P
W
D
45
45
45
23
21
23
14
16
12
L
8
8
10
F
72
97
78
A
43
61
57
Pts.
60
58
58
A club record third division attendance, 36,901,
welcomed the teams onto the pitch for the crucial last
game. What the crowd didn’t know was that the
manager had asked Liverpudlian comic Jimmy
Tarbuck to address the home team prior to the game,
and we all thought their grim faces when they
emerged from the tunnel were the result of nervous
tension! Colchester deployed a massed defence, but
weren’t really up to holding out for the full ninety, and
shortly before half time Rees crossed to Hudson for a
simple tap-in. This reduced the tension somewhat,
although the news at half-time was that Watford and
Palace were both leading, so there was absolutely no
room for error. The opposition didn’t really threaten
the City goal after the break, but our nervous and
digestive systems really needed that second goal.
Then, once again at 4.45, came a magical moment –
the Radio Sky Blue host (who happened to be
Godfrey Evans, the legendary England wicketkeeper)
came on air to announce that both Watford and
Palace had lost.
All the pent-up emotion of the long season was
released by the crowd in wild celebration. We were
up now regardless of our result, but hold on to the
lead and we were Champions as well! The City
players looked a little non-plussed, but luckily
Colchester were in no mood to be party poopers and
the match progressed to the final whistle and a 1-0
win accompanied by incessant cheering and singing.
93
The celebrations started immediately with Jim leading
the crowd in a rendition of his fine club song, but
Terry and I made our way to the Mount Pleasant early
enough to get a decent seat. Even when we arrived
the pub was busy, but by 9.00 p.m. it was as packed
as the West End had been earlier in the day.
At 18, I had already gone through the usual rites of
passage for drinking beer. Starting on lemonade
shandy at about fourteen, you progressed to brown
and mild, and then onto mild ale, before moving on to
bitter at about sixteen. After a short apprenticeship on
bitter, you could graduate to the two monarchs of the
public house, Worthington E and Bass. Four pints of
either was usually more than enough for a good night
and to induce impressive bouts of flatulence for the
next 18 hours. On April 25th 1964, though, we wanted
to drink and drink a lot, so we stuck to Ansells or
Marstons, or whatever Midlands beer they served at
the time and probably shifted a dozen pints. Long
before we got legless, luckily enough, we all received
a lovely surprise. During the sing-song in walked the
Coventry City football team and squeezed through to
the middle of the room. They were carrying a huge
cake, decorated as a soccer pitch, with goals and sky
blue clad subbuteo players. This sparked yet another
chorus of the Sky Blue song as the players cut the
cake.
Somehow this act symbolised the great spirit that
existed between the supporters and the team, and I
wonder if this sort of tableau, where players, however
briefly, willingly celebrated with their fans could
possibly be repeated today, even in the lower
divisions.
94
UNLUCKY BLACK CATS
On the Monday following the final game, the talk at
work was of the dramatic Radio Sky Blue
intervention. This had happened two matches on the
bounce now and had been enabled by our “later than
the rest” 3.15 kick-off time at Highfield Road. This late
start continued through the second division years and
was used again to good effect when City won the
second division championship. Although Wolves had
been beaten 3-1 in the battle of the two promoted
teams a fortnight earlier, the Black Country club were
still favourites to finish first as Coventry hosted
Millwall and Wolves travelled to Palace on the last
day of the season. Radio Sky Blue was soon in action
to inform us that Palace were 1-0 to the good, and
this continued throughout the afternoon as Wolves
went on to lose 4-1, and City clinched the title by
winning 3-1.
Today the same sort of excitement is created by
people’s use of radios or mobile phones, especially
on the final day of the league season. The authorities
now ensure that all the games are played on the
same day and that all games kick off at the same
time, so no one team gains an advantage by knowing
exactly what it has to do to succeed. This is a fairly
recent innovation, and prior to this arrangement
postponed final games were played on different
nights at the end of the season, the result being that
the last team to play had a distinct advantage. On
one famous (infamous?) occasion in May 1977, this
was, by sheer chance, not the case and the teams
facing relegation all had their final games kicking off
on the same night at 7.30 p.m. The teams in question
were Sunderland, Bristol City and Coventry. The table
was a statistician’s delight (In 1977 two points for a
win and three up/three down): -
95
Played
Points
WEST HAM
42
36
SUNDERLAND
41
34
BRISTOL C
41
34
---------------------------------------------------------------------COVENTRY
41
34
STOKE
42
34
SPURS
42
33
Intriguingly, Coventry were at home to relegation
rivals Bristol City. Sunderland were away to Everton,
and if they won or drew they survived, with the winner
of the other game also staying up. If the Coventry
game ended in a draw with Sunderland avoiding
defeat, then Coventry would take the drop. Even a
small defeat for Sunderland would still see them safe,
unless the other game ended in a draw, in which
event they would be relegated.
When I reached the ground at 7.20, I was amazed
to see Swan Lane heaving with people queuing to get
in, and it was clear that Bristol had brought an army
of support. At 7.30, I was still outside and heard that
the game had been put back by 15 minutes. I just
about made the kick-off. City took the lead before half
time through Tommy Hutchinson and he increased it
midway through the second half. This goal had totally
the wrong effect on Bristol (from our point of view)
and they started playing out of their skins to hit back
immediately and then, with 15 minutes to go, they
equalised, which put us into the relegation slot. Bristol
had momentum with them now and pressed forward
for the winner. City seemed to have shot their bolt,
and we started to feel sick to our stomachs.
Then, with about 10 minutes to go, the final score
from Goodison was flashed up on the electronic
scoreboard at the Kop end. Everton had beaten
Sunderland 1-0 and a draw at Highfield Road would
96
keep Coventry and Bristol up. Both sets of supporters
inside Highfield Road went crazy! The teams had also
noticed the announcement, and they knew a draw
would keep them both safe, and now started the most
bizarre few minutes of football I have ever witnessed,
with the ball being kicked from one team to the other
in the middle third of the pitch to the wild cheers of
the crowd. After the final whistle, something
happened which I am sure wasn’t spotted by some of
the crowd, such was their delight. The phrase
“CORRECTION TO SCORE” appeared on the
scoreboard, followed by a long pause and then - the
words…..
EVERTON 2
SUNDERLAND 0
This was no doubt a little Jimmy Hill trick, but as we
were the ones to be relegated if Sunderland hadn’t
lost after all, the word “Correction” caused a moment
of panic for those of us who spotted it.
The controversy sparked by this event lasted for a
while, but accusations of skullduggery against Hill,
who was back at the club as Managing Director at the
time, were wide of the mark. There were genuine
crowd problems outside the ground and it was a wise
decision to delay the game. In any event, the
Coventry game could easily have been the night
AFTER the Sunderland game, and nobody would
have complained then. But the draw would still have
been the obvious solution to both teams from the start
of the game, not just the last ten minutes. In any
case, I really don’t see why Sunderland fans
remember the occasion with such bitterness. All their
team had to do was draw to stay up, and they failed.
End of story!
97
END OF THE BEGINNING
1964 witnessed the consolidation of the social
revolution in Britain. Harold Wilson led the Labour
Party to a narrow General Election victory in the
autumn, the mini skirt arrived, and male haircuts
started to get longer. On the pop front the Rolling
Stones had their first number one record and the
explosion of new British bands continued. In football,
as in pop music, the City of Liverpool dominated.
Everton had won the League Championship in 1963,
and then Liverpool followed suit in 1964, and the Kop
and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” became famous. In the
years that followed, as the Sky Blues improved, I had
the opportunity to visit both Anfield and Goodison,
and they are without doubt the two most atmospheric
football grounds I have ever visited.
My first match at Anfield was a Cup replay in
1970. Coventry were well beaten 3-0 but this didn’t
detract much from the magnificent experience of
being part of a packed house at an Anfield night
game, and being able to witness the massed ranks of
the Kop in full voice. Truly, a Cathedral of Soccer! On
the way out Terry, his friend Rob and I had decided to
remove our scarves for the bus trip back to Lime
Street station, and we exited the ground to look for
the buses. We could see some at the end of one of
the parallel streets leading down from the ground to
the main road and were surprised to be able to jump
straight onto one with no one else on board. The bus
then inched slowly forward and eventually reached
the intersection with the road one along from that
which we had walked down. To our horror we saw a
huge queue winding back up to the ground. Our bus
had been just one of a number creeping forward to
service this line! Worse still the people in the queue
were all wearing red scarves, and we could sense the
hostility as they mounted the bus platform and
98
realised that someone had jumped the queue. The
journey back to the station was tense with the most
popular word being “scab”. The three of us kept our
eyes on the floor as we pushed our Sky Blue scarves
deeper into our coat pockets.
In 1966, City, then in the Second Division, played
a fifth round tie at Goodison. Everton won 3-0 on the
way to their Wembley triumph and I was again
mesmerized by the atmosphere at the ground, with its
huge triple-decker stand and 60,000 fans packed in.
On a couple of magical occasions the fantastic and
special nature of these two grounds on big match
night even seemed to transmit through the medium of
television. The first was in 1965, just after Liverpool
had won the F. A. Cup for the first time. The team
paraded the Cup around the ground before the first
leg of the European Cup semi-final against Inter
Milan, masters of catenaccio defence. All we had to
view were grainy black and white highlights after the
event, but the frenzy and excitement of the night burst
into our living rooms as the Reds won 3-1, and the
crowd sang “Go back to Italy” to the tune of Santa
Lucia.
Twenty years later, Howard Kendall’s Everton
faced a 1-0 deficit against Bayern Munich at half time
in the second leg of the Cup-Winner’s Cup semi-final
at Goodison. The passion of the crowd that night just
refused to let Everton be beaten and the Champions
elect went on to win 3-1 with the ground positively
rocking in jubilation at the end of the game. Again, I
have to say that the intensity of emotion engendered
on those two nights has now been lost forever with
the advent of all-seater stadia.
**********************************
99
Coventry had its own smaller-scale celebration on
August 22nd, 1964, with their first game in the Second
Division for twelve years. It also marked the grand
opening of the new Sky Blue Stand, with the three
middle sections having been added to the two wing
sections during the summer. 34,500 people turned up
to witness a 2-0 home win against Plymouth with the
two wing halves Farmer and Smith grabbing the
goals. The midweek game was away at Ipswich,
newly relegated from the top flight only two years
after being Champions. We made the long journey by
coach and were rewarded with a 3-1 victory, after City
had gone behind to an early goal, with Rees,
Humphries and Hale replying in a stylish display.
Having missed the 11.00 last bus to Canley by an
hour, the three mile walk home was more pleasant
than it might otherwise have been. On the following
Saturday, City played the other team relegated from
the First Division – Bolton Wanderers, and managed
the same scoreline with another impressive
performance. A young Francis Lee scored an own
goal for us with George Kirby netting twice with
headers.
So it was that Coventry found themselves top of
the Second with a 100% record. There was a feeling
of deja-vu about this start to the campaign, and City
went one better than the previous season with a
fourth consecutive win in the return match against
Ipswich. This game ranks in my top three matches of
all time at Highfield Road, where 38,000 fans
witnessed a pulsating contest between two sides
committed to all out attack. After Gerry Baker had put
Ipswich in front with a fine solo goal, Kirby scored two
in quick succession in the first half. Ken Hale did the
same in the second half with Hudson adding the fifth,
the final score being 5-3. This was the game where
Peter Lorenzo compared the atmosphere to
Molyneux and White Hart Lane on their most frenzied
100
European nights. The fifth win in succession followed
with a 3-0 home victory over Middlesbrough on a
humid Saturday afternoon in front of 36,000. The
game was tense and niggly and a lot closer than the
score suggested.
It turned out that this was the high point of the
campaign. Reality quickly set in as five consecutive
defeats followed and City settled down to mid-table
respectability for the remainder of the season. More
exciting times were to come under Jimmy Hill, but the
five losses marked the end of two amazing years. On
Wednesday September 30th, 1964, Coventry City and
their fans set off on the long journey to Swansea in an
attempt to avoid their sixth consecutive defeat. I
calculated that I had seen every game City had
played for a year, home and away, but soon realised
that I might miss this one. We had turned up at Pool
Meadow in response to the Red House Motor Service
advert that they were running coaches to the game,
only to discover that eight of us were “remaindered”
after the company had filled four coaches. They flatly
refused to lay on any form of transport for us, and it
was lucky that two of the group had cars and were
prepared to make the journey with three passengers
each. This sort of incident typified the attitude of
British companies in the sixties. This situation must
have occurred before where there were not enough
customers to justify a large coach, so why didn’t they
think flexibly to satisfy their punters? A mini-coach
could have been on standby and would have fitted
the bill, as well as providing a job for the driver, but
instead RHMS decided to abandon their customers,
some of whom like me had probably used them
countless times before (but never again).
101
MESSIAH
Just after City had won the Second division
Championship in May 1967, there was a testimonial
game at Highfield road for two of the defensive
stalwarts of the team, George Curtis and Mick
Kearns. Liverpool were the opponents and, as both
teams were warming up, Jimmy Hill, in full hunting
gear, rode out on to the perimeter of the pitch and
cantered round on a lap of honour. I remember being
slightly embarrassed as Hill took a well-merited
ovation from the home fans and a verbal pasting from
the scouse visitors. The cause of my discomfort was
something that probably never came into the
manager’s head. Here we were at a football match
between clubs representing arguably the two most
consistently socialist cities in England, and we were
treated to a demonstration of a despised activity, a
symbol of the establishment. Such was the regard for
Hill, though, that the City fans shrugged it off as a
typical “Jim thing”, and cheered him anyway.
This anecdote typified what an unusual character
Jimmy Hill was and still is. In the sixties I and
countless other socialists saw ourselves as one side
in an ongoing battle against the forces of
Conservatism, The Coventry City manager, on the
other hand, seemed to have no such identification
with either side in this battle. He made his name
initially by being essentially a rebel against the soccer
establishment in the fight to scrap the maximum
wage, and yet in other ways he adopted the manner
of a shires toff. Take his foray into song-writing. The
tune to the Sky Blue Song is that of the most famous
and select public school in Britain and his other
notable club song, penned for the Arsenal Double
team of 1971, was to the tune of “Rule Britannia”. The
words of “Good Old Arsenal” are so naff that I doubt
whether any Gooner has dared sing them since. The
102
point is that Jim saw these two traditional
Establishment tunes as perfectly acceptable for use
in a working class sport, at a time when we had a
host of great British pop songs available for
adaptation. I suspect his popular music preference
never stretched much beyond Frank Sinatra.
Hill was probably born about forty years too early,
as his fresh thinking and entrepreneurial spirit would
have been perfectly matched to modern-day Britain.
As he rolled out all of the off-field innovations during
his six year stay at Coventry the fans lapped them up
while the more reactionary forces in football tut-tutted,
and his treatment of the fans as customers to his
business was revolutionary at the time. In fact it
would still be revolutionary at most clubs if it were to
be adopted in the twenty first century.
He also had a gift for public relations, knowing
exactly how to use the media for promotional
purposes. In February 1964, right in the middle of the
Sky Blues’ poor spell of form, Hill allowed himself to
be “kidnapped” by students of Lanchester and Rugby
colleges as part of their Rag Week. At the Rag Ball in
Rugby on the Friday before the home game against
Bournemouth I watched and cheered as the students
“released” him on the main stage. He didn’t have to
spend any of his personal time to take part in the
stunt, but it created a bit of publicity for the club, and
cemented his bond with the local population.
When he left the club to join ITV, he continued to
utilize his innovative skills in that sphere, and was an
integral part of the first soccer “panel” during the 1970
World Cup. Since then, he has always been involved
in TV football punditry, and his always jovial manner
has irritated some people. The fact remains, though,
that Hill has always been a clear thinker and has
been able to distance himself from the “everything is
all right” ex-players lobby that often dominates postmatch discussions. In one of his most accurate
103
observations, after yet another England failure
against one of the Scandinavian countries in the
Eighties, Hill said that the England players were
“professionals who were not masters of their craft.”
This comment could have been repeated many times
by countless ex-players since, but they have only
recently started to admit that it is true.
When Jim did return to Coventry as Managing
Director in the Seventies, I felt he had lost just a
touch of his old customer focus. At one early season
night match against Derby County, I arrived at the
Swan Lane end of the ground to find huge queues
waiting to get in. It soon became obvious that only
two turnstiles were open and I missed twenty minutes
of the game. I wrote to Hill to complain, but his reply,
much to my surprise, blamed “the Coventry public” as
the two absent turnstile men were from this
constituency. This Richardsonesque response would
never have been written by the Jim of the Sixties.
Nevertheless, I and many other Sky Blue supporters
who witnessed those amazing five seasons will
always be grateful to the man who made it all
happen.
104
105
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