Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Coventry City

Coventry City FC is a professional football club from the city of the same name, who were formed in 1883 as Singers FC by workers at the cycle firm of that name along manager and secretary William Storey. 

They changed their name to Coventry City in 1898 and moved into their Highfield Road home in 1899 after brief spells at Dowells Field and Stoke Road.

In 1908 the club joined the Southern League before being admitted into the Football League in 1919 as a Division Two team. City were relegated to Division Three North in 1925, before being switched to the South division a couple of years later.

Coventry were crowned as Division Three South champions in 1935-36 to win promotion back to the second tier, thanks in part to the goals of the prolific Clarrie Bourton, before being demoted once more in 1952.

Following the league re-organisation, City were placed in Division Four for the 1958-59 season, finishing as runners-up at the first attempt and winning promotion to Division Three. However, it was an embarassing defeat in the FA Cup to non-league Kings Lynn in 1961 which would change things dramatically at Highfield Road over the next thirty years.

Jimmy Hill, the former Fulham player and PFA chairman, was appointed as manager.

Hill set about revolutionising the club in what was called 'The Sky Blue Revolution' starting by changing the club colours to sky blue from royal blue and white. He wrote the fans the Sky Blue Anthem to the tune of the Eton Boating Song and took the team to promotion to the second tier in 1964. 

Three years later Hill's side reached the top flight, then Division One for the first ever time under the captaincy of George Curtis and goals of local lad Bobby Gould. During his time at the club, Hill also implemented the first proper matchday programmes and pre match entertainment while two new stands were built.

Hill controversially left the club before their first season in the top tier to pursue a career in the media. Noel Cantwell took over and led the club to sixth place in 1970 to qualify for the UEFA (Fairs) Cup, only to go out to Bayern Munich. 

To see a great moment in the clubs history, click here.

Joe Mercer took over as manager between 1972 and 1974 before Gordon Milne took over. Hill had returned initially as Managing Director and later Chairman. He caused controversy on the final day of the 1976-77 season. City needed a better result than relegation rivals Sunderland. 

Hill had Coventry's home game against Bristol City put back ten minutes 'to allow latecomers entry' while Sunderland kicked off on time at Everton proceeding to lose two nil. The news was displayed on the scoreboard so City knew they only had to draw to stay up which they did.

The following season, City took advantage of their good fortune by finishing in seventh place; their best ever return, with the goals of Ian Wallace and Mick Ferguson doing plenty of damage.

In 1981 Highfield Road became the first all seater stadium in England in an attempt to avert hooliganism the same year that City reached the League Cup semi-final where they were denied their first ever Wembley appearance by West Ham United. 

Around the same time Hill tried to change the club name to Coventry Talbot to give publicity through a sponsorship deal to Talbot, the local car manufacturers. City's kit had a 'T' emblazoned on the front, so it had to be changed for TV games under the regulations of the time.

Dave Sexton, Gould, Don Mackay and Curtis had spells as manager throughout the eighties, while areas of terracing were reintroduced at Highfield Road, before another favourite former player, John Sillett, took over as manager in 1987, by which time Hill had departed for pastures new.

A magnificent FA Cup run saw City defeat Leeds United in the Hillsborough semi-final, before going to Wembley and defeating Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in one of the great Wembley finals with goals from Dave Bennett, Keith Houchen and an own goal in extra time.

Unfortunately for the Sky Blues, English clubs were banned from playing in European competition at the time, so they were left to try and maintain their top flight status. In 1988-89 they equalled their best seventh place, but generally they struggled against the bigger clubs.

Terry Butcher replaced Sillett for two years from 1990, before Bobby Gould returned for a short spell. Phil Neal was appointed as manager in 1993. Ron Atkinson was next incumbent in the hot seat in 1995, as he tried to reintroduce an attractive style of play aided by the goals of Dion Dublin and veteran keeper Steve Ogrizovic.

Atkinson lasted just over a year, when he was replaced by Gordon Strachan. Despite having a talented side including the likes of Darren Huckerby, Mustapha Hadji and Gary McAllister, City were finally relegated at the end of the 2000-01 season to end a run of thirty four years in the top flight.

Strachan was replaced by Roland Nilsson, who turn was replaced by Gary McAllister, then Eric Black and then Peter Reid. The lack of stability was hindering the club as chairman Bryan Richardson panicked with the long planned move to the Ricoh Arena on the edge of the city imminent.

Richardson's grand plans, which also included the opening of the Alan Higgs Centre for training and the club academy had been formulated in the 1990's and relied on the club being in the Premier League.

City relocated to the grand but remote Ricoh Arena for the start of the 2005-06 season with former fans favourite Micky Adams in charge of the team. The eighth place finish was as close as Coventry would get to promotion before things got much worse.

The move to the Ricoh nearly crippled the club financially and they were saved by a consortium under the leadership of former Manchester City full back, Ray Ranson in 2007. Adams departed the following year, to be replaced by Iain Dowie and then Chris Coleman.

The Welshman's side reached the last eight of the FA Cup in 2009. The home match against Chelsea saw the Ricoh Arena being sold out for the first ever time. However, his side just averted relegation the following season, so he was sacked with Aidy Boothroyd coming in.

Boothroyd didn't fare much better. The loyal City fans were really being put through it. The next manager Andy Thorn was deeply unpopular, especially when Coventry were relegated to the third tier League One at the end of the 2011-12 season, with Thorn blaming the issues with the club ownership as the reason. 

Soon into the new season Thorn departed to be replaced by Mark Robins with the team near the bottom of the table who set about the difficult task of trying to steady the ship and get the team back up, especially when the team were deducted ten points for entering administration.

Robins did a fine job, but the uncertainty behind the scenes along with an offer to take the managers job at Huddersfield Town, with Steven Pressley taking over. Owners SISU did a deal to place part of the club into administration, meaning another deduction of ten points, and moved the team to Sixfields, the home of Northampton Town for the 2013-14 season. 

This was despite the operators of the Ricoh Arena; Arena Coventry Limited (ACL) offering City a rent free deal and much outcry from the Sky Blue fans. The owners announced that they were closing in on a deal to build a new stadium for the club elsewhere in the city.

ACL was owned by Coventry City Council and the Higgs Foundation. Both of them sold their share to Wasps Rugby Club, who relocated to the Ricoh from their previous home at Adams Park, Wycombe to become owners of the stadium and adjoining facilities. 

City returned to the Ricoh in September 2014 as tenants to Wasps. Pressley's side struggled and he was replaced in March 2015 by Tony Mowbray, who led the team to safety on the final day of the season away to Crawley Town.

Mowbray departed in September 2016, with Mark Venus coming in as caretaker manager as fans protests against SUSA hit new heights, with pitch invasions causing much disruption on a couple of occasions.

Russell Slade arrived as the new manager in December 2016, with the side struggling at the bottom of the table. Despite this he led the side to the final of the recently renamed EFL Trophy.

Coventry City FC will play in the Football League One in the 2016-17 season.

My visits

Coventry City 5 Sunderland 0 (Wednesday 24th January 1990) League Cup Fifth Round Replay

I was at a loose end in Scarborough after finishing work at lunch time, so the chance of going to a new ground definitely appealed to me. I went in the car with fellow Seadog and Sunderland fan Jon 'Doomie' Dyer and a couple of others.

We arrived and parked up relatively early and saw a pub outside the ground that was full of away fans so we tried to get in for a beer. Unfortunately many of the fans were in 'high spirits' and damage had been done, meaning the local constabulary shut it got the evening before we got served. Instead we had to make do with an Indian takeaway and a bottle of pop.

We got inside well before kick off into the already packed away section. We were close to the players tunnel which was at that time near to the corner flag. David Speedie had managed to cause a near riot in the first game at Roker Park getting a Black Cats player sent off. The travelling support weren't slow in showing him their feelings.

Highfield Road was a decent ground. We were in the Swan Lane End which was separate sections of open terrace. To our left was the Main Stand, This was a single tier of seats with boxes at the front and then a disused paddock. The last two sides were all seated. Behind the goal was the two tiered Nicholls Street Stand. Finally was the Thackhall Street Stand which was a stand behind a large converted paddock.

Sunderland were in the Second Division at the time and were no match for City who slowly got on top before outclassing the visitors. Once again Speedie upset a Sunderland player until he did something silly off the ball to receive his marching orders. The away fans were superb to the end of the game, giving the team an ovation at full time.

We stopped off in Hinckley on the way home for a brief wander round a few pubs where I sampled some majestic Marstons before we dined out on pizza to keep us going on the way home.

Highfield Road after my visit

In its final fifteen years Highfield Road was given a tidy up to deal with the demands of the Premier League and the new age corporate supporter. A single stand was built at the Swan Lane End with a high roof which continued around and covered the Thackhall Street Side. The Main Stand was made single tier with seats right down to the pitch. The final game there was on Saturday 30th April 2005 and saw a 6-2 victory against Derby County.

Coventry City 1 Cardiff City 2 (Tuesday 19th October 2010) Football League Championship (att: 14,604)

I was on my way back to London after a marathon few days on the road visiting grounds and watching games in Dublin, Merseyside and Nottinghamshire. A week or two earlier I looked at rail fares and match ticket prices to see if there was any value about.

I got a return from Liverpool to London including a stop at Coventry for £21 and City were offering advanced tickets for a tenner, so it was an easy decision to make. I arrived early in Coventry but found out that the railway station wasn't in the city centre and nowhere near the bus station where I'd need to catch the shuttle to the Ricoh Arena.

The Pool Meadow Bus Station didn't have a lot around it so I kept warm in an internet cafe for thirty minutes until I went for the bus. I'd bought a 'match day ticket' which covered all my travel for the night for £3.50 and soon I was on my way. The stadium really did seem a long way out and took a good fifteen minutes to arrive there.

I had a walk behind the impressive complex which also has a theatre, exhibition centre and casino built into the back of the stand on the far side. I soon found my entrance which was opposite where the players come out. The facilities under the stand were fine and much like many other new stadiums. There was the usual bookies, bars and refreshment counters in a very wide concourse with TVs showing Sky Sports News.

I went up to my seat a few minutes before kick off with a bovril and a pie. Purchasing those was interesting in itself. There were stalls for card holders. The prices at these concessions were slightly cheaper but you had to charge your card up in denominations of a fiver. I suppose it saves money if you are a regular, but I bet the club gain money when fans lose them or don't use the full credit.

The Ricoh Arena was impressive once inside. Three sides had a continual single tier of steeply raked seats. The final side had a small tier of seats overhanging the larger lower tier, with a row of corporate hospitality boxes, running along the back of the lower section.

The noise created by the fans was extremely loud and I was struggling to hear the updates on my radio. Cardiff had over a thousand fans in attendance and were soon celebrating when they were awarded a dodgy penalty much to the disgust of the bloke sat opposite me. He was certainly guilty of using industrial language. The stand wasn't very busy and I moved further back. I was glad of the space as I had my travel bag with me.

Cardiff had two former Coventry men up front in Craig Bellamy and Jay Bothroyd. Bellamy was getting plenty of abuse, caused by his comments when he'd left the club slating the club, the city and its supporters. In fairness he was having a decent game and The Bluebirds looked good.

Coventry equalised through a fine Gary McSheffrey goal before half time although they couldn't capitalise on it. At the interval the DJ tried to enthuse anyone listening with a competition on the pitch and then the news that one of the prizes to the half time draw were tickets to see Jim Davison at the Arena that weekend. Hardly a good selling point for the vendors I wouldn't have thought?

Coventry bought on controversial signing an serial offender Marlon King but the game looked like finishing level. I made a move to ensure I'd be on the first bus back into town. As I was half way there 5 Live reported on the decisive Cardiff goal. 

I was back at the railway station with fifteen minutes to spare and another ground off my list. I was glad I was tired and managed to sleep on the train as the carriage was busy with a group who seemed intent on drinking the buffet dry and act accordingly.

Coventry City U23 4 Crewe Alexandra U23 3 (Monday 10th October 2016) U23 Professional Development League South (att: approx. 150)

With a day off work and Stourbridge playing at home in the evening, this fixture offered a great opportunity to visit the Ricoh Arena and have a proper look around. To make things even better, the club were advertising free admission for the 2pm kick off.

I took the train from Harrow & Wealdstone to Coventry where I changed for the service to the arena stop. I was nice and early, which was probably just as well. The signage to get inside the West Stand was shocking.

Eventually after a walk all the way around the outside of the exhibition centre, casino and hotel I found myself by the Jimmy Hill statue. The large club shop was now full of Wasp souvenirs rather than those of the Sky Blues.

Once inside the large concourse I was directed to the entrance to the seating area. A steward was handing out free teamsheets. I went upstairs and took a seat by the press area, where a club worker told me to join him and feel free to use the plug points for my phone.

The match itself was a bit of a thriller, but not one that either goalkeeper could really look back on with any fondness.

Dave Richards in the Alex goal dropped a simple cross early in the game for Jack McBean to tap home. City’s keeper Corey Addai reciprocated more or less straight away with a real clanger that allowed Dan Udoh to level up the scores.

Oli Finney sent in a free kick that went straight into the far corner to send Crewe in at the break with a 2-1 lead. The talk amongst the meagre crowd at the interval was all about the keepers. Claus Jørgensen, the scorer of the first ever goal at the Ricoh was sat just behind us.

McBean levelled things up straight after the interval with a fine curling shot. On forty nine minutes Alex went ahead 3-2 as Udoh broke through and finished off his one on one opportunity. However, their lead was to last just a minute or so as McBean set up Kyle Spence to score.

It would be Spence who scored the winner midway through the half as Coventry held on for all three points. It had been an excellent game of football with plenty of action and kill.

At full time I headed to the far side of the station to the Arena Park Shopping Centre for a cuppa and a pasty before taking the train back to Coventry and then on to Birmingham for a couple of pints in readiness for the evening’s entertainment.

The pictures of Highfield Road have been taken from the internet as I didn't take any on my visit and the ground was demolished on my return to the city.


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