21. Dec, 2021


One of the reasons for this blog is to illustrate what a vibrant time the 80s were for football. Yes the game had major problems, hooliganism and the resulting falling attendances were blighting the national sport. Yet the decade produced outstanding teams who knocked the traditional big boys off their perch.

Take Coventry City for instance, the Sky Blues lit up the decade on and off the pitch. In 1981 Gordon Milne's promising young side reached the League Cup Semi Final. City beat West Ham 3-2 in the First Leg. A packed Highfield Road rejoiced as Coventry came from 2 down to record a famous victory. Yet hopes of a maiden Wembley appearance were dashed when the Hammers won the second leg 2-0 to seal a 4-3 victory on aggregate. However, the signs were promising as young talents Mark Hateley, Danny Thomas, Steve Hunt, Gary Gillespie and Gary Thompson made their mark. In later years Hateley and Hunt were capped by England while Gillespie enjoyed a glittering career with Liverpool and Scotland.

,in 1981 manager Gordon Milne left to join neighbors Leicester City. He was replaced by Dave Sexton, the former Chelsea, Queens Park Rangers and Manchester United boss. Again Sexton's boys had their moments. In January 1982 they beat Manchester City 3-1 in the FA Cup 4th Round. Winger Peter Bodak scored a magnificent solo goal running half the length of the Maine Road pitch before chipping Joe Corrigan. The game was featured on Match Of The Day and Bodak's stunner was voted goal of the month. A month later the same opponents were hammered 4-0 at Highfield Road and Coventry City sat 5th in the First Division. Yet again the wheels fell off as the Sky Blues finished a disappointing 14th.

But Coventry City were never boring. Their 1980's kits were wonderful. The marvelous Admiral Egg Timer design was unique. The Sky Blue home kit was nice, but nobody remembers it. No, its the chocolate brown away kit which has gone down in folklore. Once voted the worst football shirt of all time the brown egg timer certainly turned heads. When the egg timer was jettisoned the Big T kit was launched. The giant big T emblazed on the front of the shirt came courtesy of Peugeot Talbot a car manufacturer based in the city. But Talbot wanted to extent their influence beyond sponsoring the Sky Blues. In 1982 it was rumored that the club were changing their name to Coventry Talbot. Ironically Coventry City' s original name was Singers FC. The club been formed by employees of the local Singers bicycle factory. So maybe the club was returning to its transport roots. Happily the plan was soon shelved.

In hindsight it was a wise decision, aside from football tradition been cast aside, Peugeot like many companies struggled as an economic recession hit Britain. Coventry was the boom town of the 1960's as workers from up and down the Country flocked to the city, as the car industry prospered. High wages promised the good life. Twenty years later cheaper Japanese models ravaged the British Car Industry. In 1981 Coventry band The Specials had a British Number 1 hit with Ghost Town, a musical description of Britain and Coventry's economic decline
Meanwhile the city's football club continued to struggle. Last day escapes from relegation where now common place. In the Summer of 1983 Bobby Gould was appointed manager. Gould is a Coventrian to the core. Born in Wyken he was a regular visitor to Highfield Road on match days. The adoring fan soon swapped the terraces for the pitch. He was top scorer as Coventry City clinched promotion to the First Division in 1967, the first time the West Midlands club had reached the top tier of English football.

Now the top man, Gould made a stunning start. On December 10th 1983 Coventry hammered Liverpool 4-0 and were 4th in the First Division. Pint sized striker Terry Gibson scored a hat trick. Suddenly City were been mentioned as potential champions. But as 1984 dawned Coventry plummeted and only a last day victory over Norwich kept Cov in the top flight.

Yet the foundations were there. On the surface Gould's side were a collection of lower league journeymen enjoying their moment in the Sun. But the team that sent Liverpool packing included Trevor Peake, Mickey Gynn and Dave Bennett who were all to feature in Coventry City's greatest day. The 83 side also boosted Sam Allardyce an Stuart Pearce, hardly journeymen.

Bobby Gould and his replacement Don Mackey were sacked as Coventry continued to struggle. With the notable exception of Cyrille Regis the signings failed to excite. The good folk of Earlsdon, Coundon and Radford will hardly thrilled as Downs, Ogrizovic and Kilcline put pen to paper

In April 1986 things changed. The management duo of John Sillett and George Curtis took the Highfield Road helm. Like Gould, the pair had been part of the Sixties team managed by Jimmy Hill. After successfully avoiding relegation the duo changed the playing style. They consulted Regis who was enduring a nightmare and longing for a return to West Bromwich Albion where he had terrorised First Division defences. Regis told them he wanted the ball played to his feet. Sillett and Curtis took note. The plan soon bore fruit, just witness Regis's goal in the FA Cup Quarter Final victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Regis plays a one two with Bennett before bearing down on the Owls goal. The big striker majestically strides clear before unleashing a rasping drive beyond Wednesday goalkeeper Martin Hodge

The Hillsborough victory featured in Coventry City's FA Cup road to Wembley. After a comfortable victory over Bolton Wanderers in Round Three, Coventry were drawn away to Manchester United in the 4th Round. The Sky Blues were written off but confounded the bookies with a shock 1-0 win Keith Houchen's scrappy effort silenced Old Trafford. It was not the first time Houchen had hit the headlines. Two Years earlier he had scored a last minute penalty as Third Division York City knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup. Another 1-0 win at Stoke City booked Coventry's place in the last 8. This time Gynn was the hero netting the winner.

Coventry beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 in the Sixth Round . A Houchen brace following the Regis effort. Coventry returned to Hillsborough to face Leeds United in the Semi Final. Once mighty Leeds were now marooned in the Second Division. But you only had to look to the dug out to find echo's of the glory days of the late 1960's and early 1970's. The Elland Road club were now managed by Billy Bremner, captain of Don Revie's all conquering side.

The old magic seemed to be returning as David Rennie put the Yorkshire club 1-0 up. Coventry huffed and puffed as Regis fluffed several gilt edge chances. Midway through the second half the favorites finally equalized. Dave Bennett beat Brenden Ormsby on the bye line. His cross found Gynn, whose miss hit effort limped into the back of the net. Ten minutes from time the Sky Blues hit the front. Houchen rounded Mervyn Day before slotting home. Yet Leeds wouldn't lie down as Keith Edwards made it 2-2 with three minutes left. A thrilling encounter was finally decided by a Bennett winner early in extra time. At last Coventry City had reached a major cup final.

City faced a glittering Tottenham Hotspur side at Wembley. Spurs included the sublime talents of Glenn Hoddle. Chris Waddle and Ossie Ardiles. Footballer of the Year Clive Allen had scored an incredible 48 goals, that soon became 49 as Allen headed home Waddle's second minute cross. But Coventry were soon level when Bennett scored from a tight angle. Tottenham again edged in front as half time approached. Kilcline bundled the ball into his own net.

The games iconic moment occurred mid way through the second half. Steve Ogrizovic's goal kick is headed on by Regis. Bennett picks up the ball on Coventry's right. The winger delivers a curling cross which is met by the diving figure of Houchen whose header beats Ray Clemence in the Tottenham goal. A diving header in an FA Cup Final, little wonder legendary commentator John Motson stated it was his favourite FA Cup Final goal.

With the game level at 2-2 a fantastic FA Cup Final entered extra time. Six minutes into extra time Cov made the decisive move. On for the injured Brian Kilcline substitute Graham Rodger's long ball released Lloyd McGrath. The midfielder's attempted cross cannons of Gary Mabbutt's knee before arcing over Clemence's hand and into the roof of the net. The Sky Blues hung on to record a famous 3-2 victory and win the first major trophy in their 104 year history.

The cover photo shows a jubilant John Sillett holding the Cup. Sadly Sillet died last month at the age of 85. Ironically just months after George Curtis had passed away. Yet they will live in the colourful history of Coventry City. When Captain Brian Kilcline lifted the FA Cup, John Motson uttered the line "The Sky Blues are sky high." who could argue with that