SKY!BLUE!HEAVEN!&!HELL

KEVIN HALLS RE­FLECTS ON MORE THAN HALF A CEN­TURY OF FOL­LOW­ING COVEN­TRY CITY…

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Kevin Halls’ Cov love af­fair

I’VE been sup­port­ing my club Coven­try City for 50-plus years – and seen some great play­ers and great matches while trav­el­ling up and down the coun­try watch­ing my beloved Sky Blues. It’s not easy break­ing it all down but here are just some of the high­lights and ex­pe­ri­ences of more than half a cen­tury of watch­ing the beau­ti­ful game:

The 60s

My late fa­ther took me to High­field Road as a young­ster when Jimmy Hill had just taken over the club.

Within just a few home games, I’d fallen in love with Jimmy’s Sky Blues. I loved be­ing on the ter­races with other young fans cheer­ing on our team.

I’d be there at the front decked out in sky blue and click­ing my wooden rat­tle. As we had a great team and were win­ning most games, I was in foot­ball heaven.

Jimmy Hill turned this lowly Third Divi­sion club into a top- flight one within just a few years, and I was for­tu­nate to see us play the likes of Manch­ester United, Liver­pool, Chelsea, and Spurs. I watched fan­tas­tic play­ers like Best, Charl­ton Law, Greaves, Cooke, Hunt, Cal­laghan, Banks and many, many more.

I went to An­field and Old Traf­ford with my dad, and stood in awe watch­ing the fans on the Liver­pool Kop and United’s Stret­ford End singing and chant­ing loudly. It sent shiv­ers down my spine, I’d never heard noise like it be­fore.

The 60s was a mag­i­cal time for mu­sic and foot­ball, and for me it was the great­est decade to be a foot­ball fan.

I sup­pose it helped that the great­est day in Coven­try City’s his­tory oc­curred on April 29, 1967. We were at home to lo­cal ri­vals Wolves who, like our­selves, were push­ing for pro­mo­tion from the Sec­ond Divi­sion up to the First.

The Sky Blues had never been in the top flight of English foot­ball and Jimmy Hill said be­fore­hand that this mas­sive game was the Mid­lands’ Match of the Cen­tury.

Both sides had just three games left and there were only two points sep­a­rat­ing them at the top of the ta­ble. I re­mem­ber be­ing so ex­cited on the morn­ing of the game, and so were other City fans as High­field Road was be­sieged by our sup­port­ers – the at­ten­dance that fan­tas­tic day was a club record of 51,455. Twenty thou­sand were out­side, it was as if the whole pop­u­la­tion of Coven­try had turned up!

As I was a young­ster I was al­lowed to sit on the side­lines by the pitch, as the po­lice were con­cerned about fans get­ting crushed. I had a great view of the ac­tion and what a fan­tas­tic match it was – with deaf­en­ing noise!

Wolves took the lead but the Sky Blues soon lev­elled, which saw us kids run­ning on to the pitch in ju­bi­la­tion. And when we made it 3-1, thou­sands swarmed on again, hold­ing up the game for a few min­utes.

When the fi­nal whis­tle went, the roar that went up was ear- shat­ter­ing. I’d only heard noise like that at An­field.

On the fi­nal day of the sea­son, Wolves needed a point to clinch the ti­tle but got thumped 4-1 at Crys­tal Palace. We beat Mill­wall 3-1.

So Coven­try City were champi-

ons. We pipped the Wolves by one point.

My dad, who took me to all the home games that sea­son, was one of those locked out­side the ground, but I was lucky enough to get in with some other kids. Was he dis­ap­pointed? If he was, he didn’t show it as he was beam­ing when I got home later! What a day, one I’ll never for­get.

Coven­try City were now a big-time club.

The 70s

This was a crazy decade, to be hon­est. I was now a teenager and go­ing to games with a few mates. We’d go in the West End, the ter­rac­ing be­hind the goal which was our ‘home end’, and it was the time of foot­ball hooli­gan­ism.

The vi­o­lence be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter games was un­be­liev­able at times. You had to be ready and alert con­stantly and, look­ing back, I’m amazed I wasn’t se­ri­ously hurt.

It was a case of fight or flight most Satur­days, but, strangely, you just ac­cepted it as part and par­cel of foot­ball back then, and how crazy is that?

I re­call one away game at Stoke City in the mid-70s. A group of us were walk­ing back to the train sta­tion when we were am­bushed by a large group of Stoke sup­port­ers. They were throw­ing bricks and bot­tles at us and the half-dozen po­lice­men who were es­cort­ing us back to the sta­tion.

The cop­pers shouted at us ‘just run!’. We didn’t need to be told that as the mis­siles rained down on us!

A brick whis­tled past my head by a cou­ple of inches, smash­ing against a nearby wall. It was a good job I was fast on my feet or I reckon I wouldn’t have made it to the safety of the wait­ing train.

Be­ing young and full of bravado, we laughed it off as the train moved away, but deep down we all knew we were very lucky not to have ended up in hos­pi­tal.

Come the next match, it was put to the back of the mind and we were all there again ready for a bat­tle.

I saw some very nasty in­ci­dents at games home and away, but, thank­fully, it’s not so bad now and se­cu­rity has tight­ened up. The 70s will go down as an in­sane decade to be a fan.

The 80s

We were a well-es­tab­lished First Divi­sion side now and, although reg­u­larly fight­ing off rel­e­ga­tion, we were al­ways con­fi­dent we’d stay up.

I’d meet up with my dad for a few beers be­fore a home game, and we’d go to High­field Road and sit in the stands now and again.

It was at one of th­ese games I saw a young New­cas­tle foot­baller by the name of Paul Gas­coigne for the first time. He was ab­so­lutely out­stand­ing and ran the mid­field on his own that game.

For such a young player, he was so gifted, and I re­mem­ber my dad say­ing at the end of the match: “That chunky lad is go­ing to play for Eng­land.”

Gazza was solidly built then but what a foot­baller he be­came, so my dad ob­vi­ously knew a great player when he saw one!

The year 1987 is one I will never for­get as this was the year Coven­try City won the FA Cup.

I went to ev­ery cup-tie on the road to Wem­b­ley, cul­mi­nat­ing with us play­ing the mighty Spurs in the fi­nal on a bak­ing hot day in May.

We were the un­der­dogs as Tot­ten­ham had the likes of Hod­dle, Wad­dle and Allen in their star-stud­ded side.

My favourite ever foot­baller and ex-Spurs leg­end Jimmy Greaves say­ing that we would get well beaten spurred us on even more, par­don the pun.

What a day that was as thou­sands upon thou­sands of Coven­try City sup­port­ers turned Wem­b­ley into a sea of sky blue.

And this amaz­ing game has gone down as one of the best Cup Fi­nals ever, and I wouldn’t dis­agree with that as it had ev­ery­thing.

I won’t ever for­get the sight of our striker Keith Houchen div­ing through the air like Roy of the Rovers to head home a spec­tac­u­lar goal, and at the end of ex­tra-time due to an own goal by Spurs’ Gary Mab­butt we had only gone and won the Cup 3-2.

What cel­e­bra­tions we had that night when we got back home to Coven­try. They went on for days as the whole of our city turned sky blue.

This fan­tas­tic vic­tory had brought peo­ple to­gether. Even those with no in­ter­est in foot­ball came out on the streets to party.

Greavsie said well done, and he even said se­cretly he thought we’d lift the tro­phy. Nice one, Jimmy!

The 90s

This was when the Pre­mier League was in­tro­duced. We were in there from the start and it was in the sea­son of 1993/94, the Pre­mier League’s sec­ond, that our striker Micky Quinn scored a hat-trick at Arse­nal’s High­bury on the open­ing day of the cam­paign in a 3-0 win. No player had achieved this feat since 1964 when Chelsea’s Bobby Tam­bling banged in a tre­ble there.

Quinn, who we af­fec­tion­ately nick­named Sumo, car­ried a bit of weight, but knew where the goal was.

He shocked the Gun­ners that day with his goals, and he turned out to be a good sign­ing for us. That sea­son we fin­ished in a healthy 11th place.

But come the end of this decade our 34 years of top-flight foot­ball would come to an end when we were rel­e­gated from the Pre­mier League.

What a long run we’d had, and it all started when Jimmy Hill had his dream of a Sky Blue rev­o­lu­tion, which he turned into a re­al­ity.

Present

Well, what a half cen­tury it’s been, with more twists and turns than a roller­coaster ride at Al­ton Tow­ers. As a Coven­try City fan, I’ve been as high as a kite and as low as a snake’s belly.

I’ve wit­nessed us win at Wem­b­ley when we were told we had no chance in the FA Cup fi­nal and stood at Villa Park when our lo­cal ri­vals Aston Villa beat us and sent us down from the Pre­mier League. Here we are in 2018 a mil­lion miles away from re­turn­ing back there.

But even though my beloved foot­ball club now plays their foot­ball in League One, which iron­i­cally in old money is the Third Divi­sion and where it all be­gan for me 50-plus years ago, I’m still proud to wear the sky blue colours of my team.

Even if we dropped down to Non­League, I’d still sup­port my club. I wouldn’t be happy, of course not, but when your blood is sky blue what can you do?

So, in con­clu­sion, I give thanks to my late fa­ther for start­ing this love af­fair rolling, to the leg­end who is Jimmy Hill for ev­ery­thing he did for the club, and to my foot­ball mates who, like me, have taken the punches and been through some tough times, but we’re still go­ing.

Play Up, Sky Blues!

Glory day: Coven­try beat­ing Wolves

Pi­o­neer: Jimmy Hill

Magic mo­ment: Keith Houchen heads home against Tot­ten­ham in the 1987 FA Cup fi­nal Cup kings: Coven­try show off the FA Cup

Mid­field mae­stro: Paul Gas­coigne in his New­cas­tle United days

Hat-trick hero: Micky Quinn cel­e­brates against Arse­nal

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