Coventry City were founded in 1883 by the employees of the cycle firm Singers hence the team’s original name, Singers FC. Singers FC were very successful in the early years, winning the Birmingham Junior Cup consecutively in 1892 and 1893. They played their first games at Dowells Field before moving to Stoke Road and then finally to Highfield Road in 1898. The Midlands team were quickly establishing themselves as a football club and 1898 was also the year that Singers changed their team’s name to Coventry City.
City were placed into the Southern League in 1908 after spending most of their early existence in the Birmingham league. Coventry were starting to be taken seriously when they had an impressive run in the FA Cup in 1910. A place in the final seemed a possibility after knocking out first division, Preston North End and Nottingham Forest. Unfortunately for City, they were knocked out in the quarter finals but their good form in the cup didn’t reflect their form in the league. Following the First World War, they were elected into the Football League division two. This was an indication of how far this club had progressed in a short amount of time. However, in their first season in the division in 1919, they only escaped immediate relegation by the skin of their teeth. City lost their first game in the league 5-0 at home to Tottenham Hotspur and this was a sign of things to come. They were unable to win a game in the league until Christmas Day and left it until the last game of the season to ensure they remained in the second division. Sadly their survival was marred by stories of corruption, with the club being accused of fixing a match between themselves and Bury. Coventry endured a torrid time in the second division until 1925, when they were relegated to the Division Three North.
After a time to forget in the 1920’s, the 1930’s was a great decade for Coventry. In 1931, City appointed ex-Burnley player, Harry Storer, as manager straight after his job interview, so greatly had he impressed the board. The new gaffer brought goals with him and his Coventry side managed to bag 100 goals a season for four seasons. Clarrie Bourton, the club’s highest ever goal scorer, was also instrumental in these amazing achievements, bagging 49 goals in the 1932 season and then 40 goals the following season.
Leading up to World War II, Storer’s men went from strength to strength. City won promotion to the second division in 1936 and in the following three seasons, they threatened to win promotion to the first division. The league finished in 1938 and that season Coventry suffered a huge blow after missing out on promotion to the first division by one point. The club had started to improve with an objective to play at the highest level. It is believed that if World War II hadn’t taken place, then Coventry would have been promoted to the first division.
Post World War II
The return of the football league in 1945 had City hoping to carry on where they had left off. However, Storer left the club for Midlands rivals Birmingham City because he sought a new challenge. Storer did what he hadn’t manage to do with Coventry and led Birmingham to the first division. In 1951, Storer returned to Highfield Road only to get the club relegated to Division Three South a year later. Things went from bad to worse for Coventry and in 1958 they finished bottom of Division Three South and fell into the newly formed Division Four. Fortunately City managed to drag themselves out of the football league’s basement in 1959. This was to be a defining point in the club’s history!
Jimmy Hill’s Sky Blues
In the 1960’s, the city of Coventry was becoming renowned for its car factories. This wasn’t to be the only revolution to hit the City, with the Football Club finally moving in the right direction. Firstly in 1961, Jimmy Hill was appointed Coventry manager and it is said that he single handedly turned the club’s fortunes around. Hill’s time at Coventry was called the “Sky Blue era” due to the club changing the colour of their jerseys to sky blue. A start of a new era beckoned for the club and the nickname has stuck until this day. Other notable events at the time which made history within the club were the start of pre-match entertainment and better transport for fans. Trains began to run for fans travelling to away games, resulting in more City fans being able to attend more fixtures. With all of these being put into place, all that was needed was for the team to perform on the pitch, which was exactly what they did!
Things started to look good for Hill’s men in 1963 when they enjoyed a good run in the FA Cup, only to be stopped in their tracks by Manchester United at the quarter finals stage. The following season though, City managed to get their hands on silverware by winning the division three title. This was a massive coup for the club but maybe more impressive than this was that the average attendance at games had gone up to 26,000 people. Due to the number of fans flocking to watch the games, Highfield Road was rebuilt to accommodate the increased fanbase.
Everything was falling into place for the club with Hill managing to get the full backing of Chairman, Derrick Robins. After being promoted to Division Two in 1964, City only had to endure three more seasons in the second tier of English football, before being promoted to division one in 1967. The three years in the second division were very beneficial to the club with the team continuing to grow in stature. In the promotion season of 1966/67, the Sky Blues went 25 games unbeaten which set up the “Midlands match of the century” on the last day of the season. The team in the way of Hill getting his second promotion with the club were rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, but City ran out 3-1 winners in front of a packed Highfield Road, with an attendance of 51,455.
Coventry had finally been able to play top flight football, something that they had been in touching distance of with Harry Storer in the 1940’s. However, the club’s new saviour was to drop a bomb on the club just like Storer did after World War II. On the eve of the big kick off in Division One in the 1967/68 season, Hill resigned from his post of manager to pursue a career within television. To many, this seemed like the start of the end for City who were ready to embark on the biggest challenge in the club’s history.
Post Jimmy Hill
Following the departure of Jimmy Hill, Coventry appointed Noel Cantwell as the new manager. His reign as boss got off to a bad start with key players, Ian Gibson and George Curtis, sustaining serious injuries. Despite being given £300,000 to spend in the transfer market, Cantwell’s men left it to the last day of the season with a goalless draw against Southampton at the Dell being enough to avoid relegation. Although the club were struggling in the first division, the crowds still poured into Highfield Road with attendances averaging over 34,500, a record which hasn’t been met since.
The second season in Division One turned out to be almost identical to the first. FA Cup finalists, Leicester City, were the team battling for safety with Coventry. But the Foxes lost their last game of the season to Manchester United to ensure that Coventry had a third season in Division One.
After two seasons in the basement of Division One, Coventry managed to qualify for Europe after finishing an impressive sixth in the league. 1970 is therefore a famous year for the club because they were competing against Europe’s elite. City managed to beat local rivals Wolves by a single goal to make it into Europe. The Sky Blues kicked off their European campaign with a convincing win over Bulgarian side Trakia Plovdiv. City’s reward for their first round triumph was a dream tie against European giants Bayern Munich. Unfortunately goalkeeper Bill Glazier picked up an injury forcing him to sit the game out, something that was to cost City dearly. Cantwell’s men lost 6-1 to the Germans and consequently were knocked out of Europe.
In 1972, Noel Cantwell was sacked as manager of Coventry City. The man from whom he took the job, Jimmy Hill, returned to the club in 1975 as Managing Director and then later became Chairman. The return of the saviour couldn’t put a stop to the club’s increasing financial problems which forced City to sell most of their key players. On the pitch though, City was on top form in the league scoring 75 goals in the 1977/78 season.
In 1980, Highfield Road was turned into an all seater stadium. However, the club were stuck in a downward spiral with poor displays on the pitch. This meant that the fans grew impatient and average attendances dropped to 10,000 people. As a result, Hill left the club in 1983 and Bobby Gould replaced Dave Sexton as manager. City’s poor form continued and they managed to avoid relegation on the last day of the season for the third season in a row.
FA Cup Glory and Misery
Managers had been coming and going at Highfield Road since Cantwell and in 1986 it was George Curtis and John Sillett’s turns to try and reverse the club’s fortunes. In 1987, within twelve months of taking the job, Curtis and Sillett led City to the FA Cup final. Wembley witnessed one of the greatest finals in recent times between Coventry City and Tottenham Hotspur. City managed to grind out a 3-2 victory with the winning goal coming in extra time.
It was the grit and determination which won Coventry the cup final that year and the team established themselves as a mid table team. After their FA Cup win, Curtis and Sillett kept the Sky Blues their mid table status, but they had two consecutive shock exits from the FA Cup, losing to Sutton and then Northampton the following year. This was deemed not enough by the fans and the managers got the chop in 1990, with ex England captain Terry Butcher stepping into the hot seat. The inexperienced Butcher’s reign as manager only lasted 14 months and in 1992 City welcomed back Bobby Gould as manager.
The Premier League
The start of Premiership life was relatively steady for City. After keeping the club a mid table team for a few years, Gould quitted as manager leaving assistant Phil Neal in charge. Neal only lasted 16 months and in February 1995, Ron Atkinson took charge of City. Big Ron managed to pull the crowds in again but unfortunately it made little difference on the pitch. In November 1996, with another relegation battle looming, Atkinson moved upstairs with his assistant Gordon Strachan being the latest man asked to steady the ship at Highfield Road. Strachan managed to keep City afloat but they only avoided the drop in the 1996/97 season by beating Tottenham Hotspur on the last day of the season.
Strachan’s second season in charge would run more smoothly with the club steering clear of the relegation dog fight and reaching the quarter finals of the FA Cup. The team were inspired by striker Dion Dublin and winger Darren Huckerby who helped to shed some light on what had been a gloomy time for City in the Premier League.
In 1999, City had some of the best players the club had seen in a long time playing at Highfield Road, such as Dion Dublin, Darren Huckerby, Robbie Keane, Gary McAllister and Moustapha Hadji. Unfortunately, the Sky Blues acted like a feeder club with McAllister moving to Liverpool and, after just one season at Coventry Keane moved to Inter Milan for £13 million. The sales of these key players led to the inevitable and in the 2000/01 season, Coventry were relegated after spending 34 years in top flight football.
City in the Championship
Coventry have never been able to find their way back to England’s top flight and have become a mid table Championship team. Nonetheless, there have been very encouraging signs that the club will return to the Premiership soon. Since being relegated, City have underachieved and have never settled on a manager. After Strachan’s departure in September 2001, City have given the manager’s job to Roland Nilsson, Gary McAllister, Eric Black, Peter Reid and Mickey Adams, but now they have one of the brightest young managers in the game today. Ian Dowie has been in charge since February 2007 and everything looks on the up for the club. Coventry left Highfield Road in August 2005 to move to their new home, the Ricoh Arena. The state-of-the-art Ricoh Arena is a 32,000 all seater stadium. With all of this in place, don’t be surprised if you see Coventry back in top flight football in the near future.
Division Two: 1966/67
Division Three: 1963/64
Division Three (south): 1935-36
Division Four, Runners-Up: 1958/59
FA Cup: 1986/87
Division Three South Cup: 1935/36
FA Youth Cup: 1986/87
Runners-Up: 1967/68, 1969/70, 1998/99, 1999/2000
Southern Professional Floodlight Cup: 1959/60
Record Attendance: 51,455 vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers, Division Two, 29th April, 1967
Most Points: 63, Division One, 1986/87
Biggest Win: 9-0 vs. Bristol City, Division Three (south), 15th April, 1930
Biggest Defeat: 2-10 vs. Norwich, Division Three (south), 15th March, 1930
Most Appearances: 601, Steve Ogrizovic, 1984-2000
Record Transfer Fee Paid: £6 million to Wolves for Robbie Keane, August 1999
Record Transfer Received: £13 million from Inter Milan for Robbie Keane, 2000