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