Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Coventry City years: 1980-1982

I’m breaking with tradition and moving away from individual heroes to remember past seasons from when I began watching the Sky Blues. ITV4’s ‘Big Match Revisited’ currently serves up a Saturday and Sunday dose of classic action in the days when football on TV was the exception and not the rule. The club we follow up and down the country doesn’t even feature on the ‘Sky Text’ index pages any more, we’re a miniature column in The Times’ ‘Game’ supplement every Monday morning and there’s a half hour wait on Sky Sports News for a five second clip of our goal action...but it never used to be like this.

It all started so well – for me anyway – 1980/81. Paul Dyson’s header past Ray Clemence in front of 31,000 at Highfield Road took the two points against champions Liverpool.  A crushing 3-1 win over Arsenal in August 1980 with a majestic body swerve past Pat Jennings and finish from Gary Gillespie was followed a few weeks later by Everton winning 5-0 at City. Surely that wasn’t meant to happen, I didn’t think teams lost by that score at home – I was only six at the time.

Tommy English scored my first live hat-trick in a 4-1 defeat of Leicester City, I’d see many more until the turn of the millennium until they began to dry up, we must have saved a fortune in match balls. At this point the image of Wembley reared its head with a terrific League Cup run which ended at West Ham in the cruellest of fashions – the last minute winner. A 1-1 draw with Cambridge in round four had seen my first night game sat in the front row of the West Stand. I missed the 5-0 thumping of Watford in the quarter-final and the semi-final epic against the Hammers but, never mind, I thought, we’ll get another opportunity next year.

Three points for a win arrived in 1981/82 along with our all-seater stadium as City beat Manchester United on the opening day. Two weeks later and Leeds ripped out the Sky Blue Stand seats as a once great force in English football struggled to cope with their decline – we’ve never ripped out the seats although we’ve felt like it many times. We knocked Swansea off top spot with a 3-1 win in October 1981 while it took us until December to win an away game, 2-1 at Spurs. A week later and I viewed the orange ball for the first time at Highfield Road - Manchester City with Ray Ranson, Bobby McDonald and Tommy Hutchison in their side conquered the frozen conditions with a 1-0 win in the only game I’ve ever left early – well I had forgotten my gloves.
There was no League Cup glory this time around, Everton's Mick Ferguson saw to that as his towering header in front of his once adoring West Terrace sent us heading for the exits in shock. The immutable law of the ex I’d come across for the first time, how could he do it to us? After Christmas Notts County thrashed us 5-1 on a school night as the brilliant Mercia Sound sport team reported the bad news – and they had three disallowed.

Martin Singleton, fresh out of the youth team, scored on his debut past Everton’s Neville Southall before we turned on the style to wallop Sunderland 6-1, inspired by Gerry Francis in midfield. Then came two hat-tricks in four days through Mark Hateley in the 5-5 epic draw at Southampton before Steve ‘The Cannonball Kid’ Whitton smashed in a treble at Maine Road.

We had a quarter-final run in the FA Cup until Big Cyrille sent us packing 2-0 on a sodden day at the Hawthorns after we’d thrashed Roy Barry’s Oxford United 4-0 in the previous round.

West Brom 2 City 0 FA Cup quarter-final March 1982

January 1982's 'Goal of the Month' was Peter Bodak’s solo effort at Maine Road in the fourth round, definitely worthy of another watch, he had so much ability it was frightening, what a shame he fell out with Gordon Milne.

'Bodak's the name, scoring's my game'

A semi-final and a quarter-final, these cup runs were becoming the norm, I’d surely look forward to many more in seasons to come....

Next week...1982/83 and 1983/84

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