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Coventry City - A Brief History

In The Beginning

The club was founded in 1883 by Willie Stanley, an employee of cycle firm Singers.

The club as a result was known as Singers FC until 1898 when the name was changed to Coventry City.

Early matches were played at Dowells Field, off Binley Road until a move to Stoke Road in 1887 before the move to the Highfield Road site in 1899. The period of 1887 to 1892 was a golden one for the club with the Birmingham Junior Cup being won in consecutive years, 1891 and 1892.

Up And Down

Having been members of the Birmingham League since 1894 the club progressed to the Southern League in 1908 before being elected to Football League Division Two immediately after World War 1.

In 1910 they enjoyed one of their finest moments when as a non-league club they reached the FA Cup quarter finals, beating First Division Preston and Nottingham Forest en route. City's first season in the League in 1919/1920 was a disaster.

They lost their opening game, at home to Tottenham, 0-5 and did not win a match until Christmas Day.

Setting the precedent for their later dramatic survival battles, they avoided relegation on the final day, but only after a bribery scandal rocked the club. Throughout the Twenties City struggled, with managers coming and going, until relegation finally caught up with them in 1925.

The Booming Thirties

It was not until the arrival of manager Harry Storer in 1931 that fortunes improved and the 1930's were a golden period for the Bantams, as the club was nicknamed.

Despite City being substantially in the red, Storer developed a side which scored 100 goals in four seasons out of five, with the club's greatest ever goalscorer Clarrie Bourton netting 49 goals in 1932 and 40 the following season.

In 1936, they won promotion back to Division Two with average crowds of almost 20,000. The three seasons prior to World War II saw the club come close to promotion to Division One. In 1938 they missed it by one point, and many observers believed that but for the war City would have achieved that target.

Back To Business

The post-war years brought troubled times, Storer left for Birmingham City in 1945 and returned in 1951 but his ageing side were relegated to Division Three South in 1952.

That decade witnessed many false dawns before the team embarked on the slide, which touched rock bottom in 1958 with membership of the newly formed Division Four. Fortunately, one season was enough to clamber out of the league's basement.

The Sky Blue Era

The 1960's was a boom time in Coventry, with car factories keeping pace with the consumer revolution in the nation at large.

It was the arrival of Jimmy Hill as manager in 1961 that sparked the revolution at the club. A new sky blue kit was unveiled, the nickname was changed to the Sky Blues, trains were laid on for fans to travel to away games and pre-match entertainment became commonplace.

Most importantly, on the pitch the team delivered. In 1963, after a feverish FA Cup run, City lost out in the quarter-finals to Manchester United, but the following season were champions of Division 3, boasting average crowds of 26,000.

The Highfield Road stadium was substantially rebuilt in the 1960's with three new stands erected in four years. Hill, with the backing of Chairman Derrick Robins, was the Pied Piper and after three exciting seasons in Division 2 he steered the club to the promised land in 1967.


In that promotion season, 1966-67, the team went 25 games unbeaten, and the campaign reached an exhilarating finale in what was dubbed the 'midlands match of the century', when nearest rivals Wolves were beaten 3-1 in front of a record 51,455 Highfield Road crowd to clinch the Division 2 championship.

On the eve of their baptism in the top flight Jimmy Hill announced that he was leaving the club to pursue a career in television, a blow which many people - inside and outside Coventry - thought would sound the death knell for the club's ambitions.

Top Of The Tree

The first season in the top flight was long and hard and serious injuries to key players George Curtis and Ian Gibson made new manager Noel Cantwell's task all the harder.

He spent over £300,000 on new players and, in what was a precursor for the future, the relegation battle went to the final game of the season at the Dell, where a goalless draw kept City up. Despite the paucity of good results, however, City's crowds averaged over 34,500, a record never topped.

The following season was almost a carbon copy apart from the ending when City finished their games leaving FA Cup finalists Leicester City still to play five matches and needing seven points to send the Sky Blues down.

Rumours of favours for old friends circulated as Cantwell's former team, Manchester United, beat Leicester in their final game to save Coventry.


No one would have predicted that twelve months later virtually the same team would finish sixth and qualify for Europe.

The place in Europe being clinched on a passionate night at Molineux when a Brian Joicey goal beat the old enemy. Alas the European experience was disappointing.

After easily overcoming the Bulgarians, Trakia Plovdiv, City without their injured keeper Glazier, slumped to a 6-1 defeat to Bayern Munich.

Cantwell was sacked in 1972 and followed by the Joe Mercer/Gordon Milne regime and their signings of Stein and Hutchison brought two of the most exciting players of the era to the club.

A good league run, three FA Cup wins and a high level of entertainment, raised hopes but Wolves shattered the Wembley dream in the quarter-finals. Jimmy Hill returned as Managing Director in 1975, and later became Chairman but failed to spark his magic a second time.

Finances were poor and the club's best players were sold to balance the books, although the team of 1977/78 scored 75 goals and played arguably the best football of the First Division era.

Milne was replaced by Dave Sexton in 1981 and the ground was made all seater, a disastrous mistake, which combined with lacklustre performances on the pitch, saw average crowds down to 10,000.

In 1983 Hill resigned as Chairman and Sexton was replaced by Bobby Gould but on the field the team struggled, with relegation avoided on the last day of the season three years running.

In 1986 however Gould's successor Don Mackay was replaced by the duo of George Curtis and John Sillett who supported by Coventry born chairman John Poynton took the club to their finest hour twelve months later.

A team without stars won their way to Wembley with outstanding teamwork, a gritty determination and above all a sense of fun. They defeated Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 after extra time in one of the finest post war FA Cup Finals.

After taking sole command after the Cup victory Sillett kept the club in mid table respectability for three seasons but the fans wanted more and after two Cup banana skins at Sutton and Northampton he was sacrificed in 1990 and replaced by the former England captain Terry Butcher.

The inexperienced Butcher lasted 14 months and his temporary successor Don Howe bored City fans rigid until Bobby Gould returned in the summer of 1992.

The Premiership Years

Gould's first season was relatively successful with the team rarely out of the top eight but tailing off to finish 15th. Two months into the following season, after a 1-5 mauling at QPR, Gould threw the towel in, citing the imminent sale of Peter Ndlovu as the reason.

Gould's assistant Phil Neal was promoted but lasted only sixteen months as manager and was replaced in February 1995 by the former Manchester United, West Brom and Aston Villa manager Ron Atkinson.

Ron generated lots of interest and increased gates by 5,000 but despite having substantial funds at his disposal City always struggled under him and in November 1996, with another relegation battle looming he was moved upstairs with his assistant Gordon Strachan taking over.

Relegation was avoided on the final day of the 1996-97 season with a nerve-wracking win at Tottenham when anything less would have seen them go down.

Amazingly, the 1997-98 campaign saw City safe from relegation fears well before the end of the season.

A marvellous unbeaten run of thirteen games which was inspired by the dazzling form of Dion Dublin and Darren Huckerby took City to the FA Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1987 and only a penalty shoot-out at Bramall Lane stopped progress.

Strachan was hailed as one of the top young managers in the game and Dublin was chosen for England.

The post Wembley years were dogged by poor signings, sales of their best players, a merry-go-round of managers and empty promises.

Between 1993 and 2001 much occurred both on and off the pitch. Major ground improvements were made and attendances increased by 50%.

In 1999 City pulled off a major coup by signing Robbie Keane, pictured, for £6 million - a club record fee.

He only stayed at Coventry for one season but with Gary McAllister and Moustapha Hadji in top form City fans saw some of their best football for years.

Keane's departure to Inter Milan for £13 million and McAllister's move to Liverpool left City in disarray and the following season the club were relegated after 34 years in the top flight.


Down But Not Out

Despite shelling out £5 million for Lee Hughes, Gordon Strachan paid the price for relegation just weeks into the new season and was replaced by Roland Nilsson.

Roland's reign started well but the season petered out with five defeats in a row after a place in the play-offs had looked achievable. Roland left at the end of the season and was replaced by former player Gary McAllister.

Meanwhile boardroom changes took place in January with Bryan Richardson being ousted and Mike McGinnity taking over as chairman.

Financially the club was in dire straits and McGinnity's main priority was to reduce the debt which was reported at £60 million. Huge cost cutting was required to prevent the club from going into administration and this was achieved mainly through the sale of the highest earning players.

The collapse of ITV Digital hit clubs in the First Division hard and top-flight outfits were able to hold the likes of the Sky Blues to ransom.

Lee Hughes returned to West Brom at cut price while talented players like David Thompson were snapped up at bargain fees.

However, as the club's enormous wage bill gradually reduced so did the danger of administration and by the end of 2004 the debt was officially recorded at £23 million, with more cost-cutting still required.

The brightest light for the Sky Blues came on October 2003 when the City Council gave the greenlight for the Arena project in the north of Coventry which would house the club's new 32,000 seater stadium.

After years of false promises and tales of 45,000 capacity super stadia under Richardson this half Council, half Higgs Charity-owned project opened in the summer of 2005.

On the pitch there was little but consolidation and therefore frustration for the fans who had been spoiled with 32 years in the top flight. McAllister's first season in charge ended in 19th place and halfway through the 2003/2004 campaign he left due to personal reasons.

His number two, Eric Black, was offered the caretaker role and in January 2004 took over full-time, supported by Archie Knox. For a brief while Black offered hope of a brighter future as results took a turn for the better and the free-scoring days of the past returned.

City fell short of a play-off finish but after a 5-2 win at Gillingham on the penultimate day of the season Black was surprisingly sacked with Peter Reid taking over.

With the now traditional close season switch in playing personnel, the 2004/2005 season started poorly and by the New Year, City were looking at a relegation battle rather than the play-off challenge everybody craved.

With a new stadium only months away there was plenty to look forward to if the Sky Blues could maintain their Championship status but at the start of January came another shock decision, perhaps not for the fans but certainly for the Chairman.

Peter Reid decided to end his tenure as manager with his assistant Adrian Heath taking over temporarily.


On January 23 2005, former player Micky Adams became the new Sky Blues manager. His first game in charge was an FA Cup Fourth Round tie against Newcastle which ended in a 3-1 defeat.

However, the main task for Adams was to steer the team clear of relegation - a job he completed in some style when City thrashed Derby 6-2 in the final ever game at Highfield Road on April 30, 2005.

The day will go down in history as the Sky Blues left their home of 106 years. Then, on August 20, 2005, they played their first ever game at their new stadium, the Ricoh Arena, when they beat QPR 3-0.

On November 3, 2005, behind-the-scenes changes began at the club when Mike McGinnity stepped down as Chairman due to ill health.

Club President Geoffrey Robinson stepped into the position and on January 4, 2005 he announced managerial re-structuring along with a plan to get Coventry City back into the Premier League within three years.

Two senior members of staff were released with a new Managing Director, Paul Fletcher, joining the club along with new Commercial Director Ken Sharp and Finance Director Malachy Brannigan.

Despite a slow start to 05/06, the Sky Blues finished the campaign strongly and ended up breaking a number of long-standing records on their way to an eighth placed finish, City's highest finish in any division since they came seventh in the old Division One in 1989.

However, that progress struggled to continue in 2006/07 and an unprecedented run of results between December 2006 and January 2007 saw Adams leave the club.

And after a short spell under the caretaker stewardship of Adrian Heath for a second time, the club appointed its 35th full-time manager in former Oldham, Crystal Palace and Charlton boss Iain Dowie.


Dowie's technical thinking and overall modern style of management made an instant impact as his first six games in charge yielded four victories and two draws, ensuring consolidation in the Coca-Cola Championship for another season.

Even before its end, the 2007/08 season will go down as one of the most eventful in Coventry City's history.

The campaign began with the announcement that takeover talks with USA based Manhattan Sports Capital were bearing fruit.

However, after a long wait, which led to the departure of MD Paul Fletcher, Manhattan eventually pulled out of the deal, leaving City - led by a newly appointed chairman in former director Joe Elliott - looking for new investors with the threat of administration looming.

That threat continued to look more realistic until, with less than an hour before the deadline, a deal was struck with SISU, a consortium led by former footballer Ray Ranson.

Ranson became the new City chairman and immediately put forward his plans to make £20 million available to move the Football Club forward.

On Monday February 11, the club relieved manager Dowie, his assistant Tim Flowers and chief scout Bob Dowie of their duties, leaving the Sky Blues looking for their 13th manager since 1987.

And on the same day in 2008 the Sky Blues announced the arrival of boss Chris Coleman who who was immediately tasked with steering the  Club clear of relegation, which they did on the final day of the 2007/08 season despite a 4-1 defeat away to Charlton Athletic.


The former Welsh international defender took charge at the Ricoh Arena after resigning at his previous job with Spanish Second Division side Real Sociedad.

The Welshman's first full season in charge though in 2008/09 brought a series of ups and downs, the ups being memorable wins at home to Wolves and away to Birmingham City and a fantastic FA Cup run which saw City beat Blackburn Rovers at the Ricoh Arena to set up a home quarter final tie with Chelsea, a clash which saw the Ricoh Arena sold out for a football match for the first time since its opening.

Lows though, admitted by the manager at the time, were the capitulation of the season following the cup exit to Chelsea which saw the Sky Blues win just one of their remaining 11 league games to finish 17th in the Championship.

The City boss was to endure two more spells like that in a topsy turvy 2009/11 campaign which saw the Sky Blues occupy the final play-off spot for a few minutes in March before defeat at home to Cardiff City saw their play-off hopes crumble.

For the second time that season Coleman's side went ten games without a win, a run which was stretched to 11 games on the final day of the campaign with a 4-0 home defeat to Watford, Coleman being relieved of his managerial duties two days later.

Yorkshire-born Aidy Boothroyd took the reins at the Ricoh Arena in the weeks that followed, signing a five-year deal with the club in June 2010.

Boothroyd left League One outfit Colchester United to come to the Sky Blues and his early efforts saw the club scaling the heady heights of the play-off spots although a post-Christmas slump ultimately called time on his nine-month stay at the Ricoh.


City went on a run of one win in 16 league games after Chistmas to leave them in 19th place in the Championship and seven points off the relegation places when chairman Ray Ranson relieved him of his managerial duties in March 2011.

Andy Thorn, club chief scout of three years, took up the role of caretaker manager for the remainder of the 2010/11 season but two weeks later Ranson himself resigned as chairman of the football club.

Thorn's impressive run of results as caretaker boss, a run which saw the club secure their Champiionship status with three games to spare, came during the arrival of new chairman Ken Dulieu who made it one of his first jobs to formally offer Thorn the permanent manager's position two days before City's final home game of the 2010/11 season against play-off contenders Reading.

Thorn's first full season in charge was a tough one though as the Sky Blues were relegated in to League One, English football's third tier, for the first time in 48 years.

His spell as manager lasted four games into the 2012/13 season after three consecutive draws in League One, Thorn departing after a 2-2 home draw with Bury 
Then-first team manager Richard Shaw took the helm on a caretaker basis and started well as he guided City to a 3-2 extra-time Carling Cup win over Birmingham City although the Sky Blues then went on a run of four straight defeats in the league before the appointment of current boss Mark Robins in late September 2012.

Robins' appointment undoubtedly revived the Sky Blues' league campaign as they embarked on a run of form that brought them to within touching distance of the play-offs.

That was helped, in no small part, by the goals of loan striker David McGoldrick who set a new club record of consecutive away goals as well as the Sky Blues setting a new club record of total away wins for a season.

January signing Leon Clarke, who replaced McGoldrick as he departed for Ipswich Town, picked up the baton and went on to net ten goals for City to add to the 11 he scored for Scunthorpe in a loan spell during the first half of the season.

Skipper Carl Baker also added his fair share with 16 goals from midfield as City not only challenged for a top six place but also brought themselves to within one two-legged clash with Crewe Alexandra away from a Johnstone's Paint Trophy final appearance at Wembley.

It was not to be for City who, despite selling out the 32,000-seater Ricoh Arena for the clash, went on to lose 3-0 at home before coming within a whisker of overturning the deficit with a 2-0 win in the second leg at Gresty Road.

The turnaround of results under Robins' reign also attracted attention from Championship side Huddersfield Town who moved to convince Robins to make the move North in February 2013, leaving the Sky Blues to look for a new manager to see out the remainder of the campaign.

That caretaker role came in the form of first team coach Lee Carsley who oversaw the JPT second-leg trip to Crewe as well as away wins at Bournemouth and Bury before the club announced former Scotland international Steven Pressley as Robins' successor in March.

Pressley's first few days in the job were not smooth ones as the club were handed down a ten-point deduction by the Football League after an arm of the club was put into administration, a deduction that all but put the play-offs out of reach.


The off-the-field situation continued to develop as the club was forced to look for a temporary home to play their home games from 2013/14 following protracted, unsuccessful talks with the Ricoh Arena. A deal was announced to groundshare with Northampton Town for three years.

On 21st August 2014, a deal was agreed which saw the Sky Blues return to the Ricoh Arena. The memorable first game back saw a 1-0 win over Gillingham, in front of over 27,000.