Ernie Hunt's Sideburns - The Missing Contribution!
February 20 2006
'ERNIE HUNT'S SIDEBURNS' -
THE MISSING CONTRIBUTION!
Imagine my excitement at having an article I had written accepted for publication! And imagine my disappointment at having been told I would be paid a token £1 for said contribution (That bit didn't bother me), but was still responsible should anybody not like the content, and decide to take legal action against me! So, unfortunately, my ramblings have gone unread, until now .... enjoy.
If cigarette packets carry a health warning, then I think it's only fair that Coventry City season tickets do too, as I'm fairly convinced that frequent visits to Highfield Road can shorten life expectancy! I also think that if anybody could discover how to create chocolate bar style packets of fingernails, CCFC supporters would buy them by the bucket-load come April most seasons - as business ideas go, that would be a real winner around Highfield Road! I sometimes wonder if the reason I still support CCFC is because I have the memory of a goldfish, and quite remember just how many times they have `put me through it' with those final games of the season....
If our stay in the top flight has hardly ever seen us pull up trees as far as giving the top clubs a run for their money and attempting to prise the Division One/Premiership trophy from their grasp, our attempts in the cup competitions haven't been a lot better either! From being beaten 2-1 by (The Mighty) Kings Lynn in the 1961-2 season (Though if you look in `Coventry City - A Complete Record', it actually says we won 1-2! To embarrassed to admit the truth...!), 2-1 again by Sutton in 1988-9, 1-0 by Northampton a year later, even as far back as 1901-2 we were a disaster - being routed 11-2 by Berwick Rangers! But at least we made it to Wembley once!
My main memory of that season was not the final itself, it was the semi-final (surley one of the best games ever seen in football anywhere across the world (and beyond!)), and the streets from the motorway all the way into town after the coaches came back from the game against Leeds. They were lined with people that probably normally didn't give a monkeys about CCFC (If even a small percentage of them did, then I can't for the life of me understand why the ground isn't full for every game....), all waving banners and applauding as each coach went past - it reduced me to tears! And if it wasn't for the fact that i'm a bloke, and blokes don't blub, I would have cried like a baby!! (My eyes are streaming now recalling it!!). After that day, we were never going to lose the final, were we?!
Gordon Strachan has arrested the decline slightly in recent seasons, but still we fail to deliver what is expected with the players he has at his disposal. I've said for a long time that if we had Barcelona's ground and average crowd (110,000?), with the best players Europe (And beyond!) has to offer, we would still find a way to mess things up horrendously! A typical example of CCFC could be found during their match with QPR in 1933. The team raced to a massive 7-0 half-time lead, then failed to score again in the second half! (Note: I am not that much of an anorak that I know every CCFC result, scorer, whatever, ever! I stumbled across that fact purely by accident while writing this....). We just never seem able to build on situations when we give ourselves a good platform....
Despite this, I have still supported the mighty CCFC for an unbroken spell of 34 years (Despite only having been on this earth for 33! I was told I was even cheering for CCFC while in the womb....!), and always will too. In that time, we've had more close shaves than Victor Kayam, more (potential) launch-pads than NASA, and, had CCFC been a patient on a life-support machine, it would have been advised by doctors to switch it off on a number of occassions (Thanks to `Cliches-Are-Us' for helping out with that last sentence....) - possibly twenty-five times in the last thirty-three years!
My love for CCFC has, and never will, waver though. While other friends have changed their allegiances to Forest/Liverpool/Manchester United/whoever else was top of the league that week (though in their defence, I can't remember many (if any at all) switching to the Villa!), I always stayed loyal, as most CCFC fans seem to do - as that (bloody awful) song says, `It's For Life'! (Though as my solicitor once (never) told me, `you would only have got five years for burglary'!!).
We'll never know how massive CCFC could have been had they taken their rightful place in European competition in the 1987/8 season - we could have become bigger than Barcelona! (Don't worry, I don't really believe that either....!). It was just typical of CCFC to win a major trophy at a time when English clubs were banned from Europe (and just my brothers luck to be more than a bus-ride away from Coventry/Wembley for the first time in his life when we got through to the Cup Final, for the first time in ours!!).
However massive CCFC become in the future (please!), and however many trophies we win (please!), I think the 1986/87 team will always be remembered as the finest. The players weren't the best to turn-out for CCFC, but their attitude was first class! Houchen's cup-final goal (the best goal ever at Wembley! - Not just my opinion, the legendary Brian Moore's too!!) and Sillett's smile and (embarrassing uncle style) dance represented everything that's great about football. Those memories still bring tears to my eyes too....
That we have managed to stay in the top-flight while teams as (supposedly) mighty as Leeds United, Newcastle, Chelsea, Tottenham, Aston Villa, and of course, Manchester United surely deserves some credit, doesn't it?! We have never been able to match these teams financially, have always had smaller crowds, have always been regarded as less glamorous, but we do have the one thing that none of those teams have - an unbroken record in the top-flight. Long may it continue! And while I would never dream of being smug, as - like most CCFC supporters - we know that as soon as we get complacent about surviving, the unthinkable will happen! But it sometimes seems to me that if we needed 4 points from our last game of the season then we would somehow get them....
The hatred towards us by so-called experts is venomous though! Rodney Marsh hasn't ever had a good word to say about us, and it has been reported that certain journalists request to cover CCFC's final match of the season so they can `finally see us relegated'! Match of the Day, almost without fail, leave us `til last on their programme. And Central News only ever comment on CCFC when we've lost, or when another (so-called) star has left us (usually for a life of obscurity in a top sides' reserve team, before being sold off cheaply to a Division One team two years later....). Mike Channon once said of CCFC (the year we needed to beat Stoke, Luton, and champions elect Everton to survive) that `if they win their last three matches then they deserve to stay up' - not for one minute believing we would ever do it! We did, and to this day he's never forgiven us! (Mainly because our survival saw his beloved Norwich relegated....). And Millwall fans think nobody likes them!
It's hard not to think that everybody is against us. There are refereeing decisions in almost every game that defy belief, but CCFC seem to get more than there (un)fair share! And when TV evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of our players was not guilty of a crime, the F.A. still refuse to overturn decisions! While it does appear that they are against us, it seems that somebody on a higher plain likes us! You don't believe so? Read on....
The Bristol City match kicking off late in 1977? Allowing both teams to know that a draw would see them both stay up and Sunderland go down? (Good job it was a draw too, as myself, my little brother, and my mum were for some reason standing amongst the Bristol City supporters!). The last 20 minutes was farcical, with both sides uniting as one for a `Reginald Perrin' style, non-confrontational game of soccer! And I think it was the 1983-84 season that, with only a minute or so left on the clock, the ball hit the inside of our post and safely into the arms of our grateful keeper, while at exactly the same time, 12 miles down the road, Birmingham hit the bar, the ball flew over it for a goal-kick, and a minute later they were down as we once again celebrated staying up.
Then there was the match against Tottenham not so long back, also kicking off late, allowing us the advantage of knowing exactly what we had to do to survive! (Though at the time it didn't feel like much of an advantage....!). And Middlesboro being relegated by virtue of the points they had had deducted for failing to play a fixture versus Blackburn too. And of course, as already mentioned, having our season extended `til the night after Everton had been out for a few beers to celebrate winning the title, and taking advantage of the fact that they were still mullered! (Or maybe CCFC really were just to good for them!). Someone likes us, we are Coventry....!
The list of quality players we've had in our side over the years is fairly endless too, but we just don't seem able to get the right recipe. Like the chips served at Highfield Road on matchdays, they look pretty decent from the outside, but there's never any potato on the inside! We find/buy raw talent, fine-tune it, then watch helplessly as one of the bigger clubs makes us and/or the player that we cannot refuse! (Nowadays it's not necessarily the size of the offer that forces us to let players go though, it's the tantrum they throw if they are not allowed to leave due to being asked to honour their contract....).
There seems to be at least one stage in every CCFC players career that a top club makes a serious enquiry about them. Ogrozovic (Probably the finest example of a professional footballer over the last two decades, but once again left out of the Queens `New Years Honours' List. Thanks ma'am....), Danny Thomas, Pearce (Stuart, not Andy, obviously!), Gillespie, Peake, Stewart Robson, Speedie, Gallagher, Dave Bennett (Inconsistent, but on his day unbeatable! - and once told by the Brazilian manager (after he watched D.B. During the Cup Final) that he would select him! Hell, if he was good enough for Brazil's manager....!), Regis, and Terry Gibson (or maybe Robbie Keane) - a potential championship winning side if ever there was one, unfortunately not all playing for CCFC at the same time though! And even if they had of played together, something would have gone wrong....!
The bad times by far outweigh the good (Though just surviving has to be regarded as an achievement for a club of our size - It's not enough, but is a better option than relegation....), and when we reached our lowest point - the Ron Atkinson era (season 2) - a simple phone-call brought me back from my slumber. I had sent a letter to R.A., telling him how he had spent more more than everybody else who had managed CCFC put together (imagine how many non-league players Bobby Gould would have bought with the amount of money R.A. spent?!), had - on paper - the best team and squad possibly ever assembled here, and how we were being served up possibly the worst football ever seen from a Coventry City side! (A tip to anybody that wants to collect managers' autographs: I suggest you send them a letter telling them how they should do their job! You do have to put up with a patronising `Thank you for your comments, they will be considered' line, but it's usually signed by the person themselves....). They had taken only nine points from the first 16 games of the season, and included in that was only one victory! He wasn't the person to rebuild my enthusiasm (Probably to busy on the golf course), it was his trusty assistant....
A few days after sending said letter, and upon arriving home from work, I was told by my now ex-girlfriend that `some Scottish sounding bloke called ... I think his name was Gordon .... something about Coventry City', had called (she had to go, she knew nothing about football!). I was supposed to be going down the pub to celebrate the start of another weekend (It was a Thursday (A tip to anybody who thinks the working week is to long, get mullered on Thursday and you won't even realise that you've been to work on Friday!)), and sat there re-doing my answer-machine message to say something along the lines of, `If that's a small, ginger-haired former Scottish International whose initials are GS, will he please call back tomorrow after 4....', when the phone rang.
A 35 minute chat with CCFC's (then) assistant manager, is probably why, despite the fact that at this moment in time a lot of people are wondering whether GS should step down, I am 101% behind him (without a knife!). Like most of the memories from THAT day in 1987, my poor memory has robbed me of most of the details of what was said between us on December 7th 1995 (Though he did make me realise that there are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes, things that we only ever get to hear whispers about (if even that!), for example, why certain players that everybody thinks should be in the team, are not).
And I do remember chatting about how the team should play though, who should be in (And as mentioned above, was told why they shouldn't be!), and who should be out. I also remember telling GS that my average strike-rate was a goal a game during my schooldays - I now wish I had accepted that trial he offered me! I could be reading about me in this book! (I also wish I had taken the opportunity, as being a footballer is a licence to print money these days!). Not only that, but I would wear my CCFC shirt with pride, unlike some (it seems!)....
Two days later we hammered the previous seasons champions Blackburn Rovers 5-0! (A team that included Flowers, Le Saux, Berg, Sutton, Batty, Sherwood and Shearer!). And to prove how special the day was, even David Rennie scored!! I never got the credit I (thought I) deserved in the press afterwards, but will forever live in the knowledge that I have a 100% record as CCFC manager (with GS as my assistant!)....
[Written around in 1999, and previously on my now defunct GeoCities site. I was wrong, we did get relegated....]
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