Skip to main content Skip to site footer
Club News

The History of Highfield Road - by Coventry City Club Historian Jim Brown

30 April 2015

If you want to know more about Highfield Road, check out Jim Brown's piece which covers it's first game, up to it's very last...

On Saturday, September 9th 1899, Coventry City’s new ground was officially opened for a Birmingham and District League game against Shrewsbury Town.  The Shropshire club suffered a 1-0 defeat in front of a healthy crowd of 3,000, more than double the previous season’s average gate. 

The correspondent of the Coventry Reporter described the scene:

'As one enters the ground from Highfield Road, the eye encounters the grand new stand on the opposite side of the enclosure. It is a gigantic wooden structure, roofed with corrugated iron, and is coloured chocolate and light blue. Indeed it presents a fine picture and is an ornament of which the committee might well be proud.'

The club had only become known as Coventry City a year earlier replacing the original club name, Singers FC – after the cycle factory in the city. 

In the one hundred years, the ground has seen City play football in the Birmingham and District League, the Southern League, the Football Leagues Divisions 1,2,3,4, 3 South, 3 North and since 1993 the Premier League and the Championship. In addition, the club have also played in Wartime Leagues, the FA Cup, the League Cup and miscellaneous other competitions from the European Fairs Cup to the Texaco Cup and Simod Cup.  In total, they have played 2281 competitive games. Their complete competitive record at the ground is as follows: -

History of the Ground

Singers, who were formed in 1883, had their first pitch on Dowell’s Field just off the Binley Road. In 1887, the club moved to a new enclosed ground called Stoke Road where their pitch lay just south of the current stadium. The committee and supporters erected a grandstand and in the following year, 'stout fences' around the pitch and a covered press box.  

In early 1899, preparations began for the laying out of a proper ground, on land from the Craven Cricket Club. A row of elm trees was removed, the pitch was levelled and a 12-row stand, holding 2000 spectators was built on the King Richard Street side, where today’s Main Stand is situated.  The total cost of the project was £100, a sum that left the club in dire straits for some time.

In 1910, the proceeds of the first decent FA Cup run financed the construction of a new barrel-roofed main stand on the north side at a cost of £1,200. The club, by then in the Southern League, took the scalps of two First Division clubs in reaching the quarter-finals before losing to Everton in front of a ground record 19,000 crowd. The club however struggled thereafter and were fortunate to be voted into the Football League in 1919. 

In 1922, the Spion Kop (or East Terrace) later described as a steep, scarred and totally shapeless mess, was built up at the Swan Lane end of the ground using waste concrete from the relaying of the city's tram track. The West Terrace was covered five years later by a roof purchased for £2,200 from Twickenham Rugby ground. On the pitch, the club were relegated from Division Two in 1925 and struggled in Division Three for the rest of the decade.

In 1931, the arrival of Harry Storer as manager was the catalyst for an improvement in the club’s fortunes. Storer signed players who would become legends in the city. George Mason, Jock Lauderdale and the greatest goalscorer of all time, Clarrie Bourton. Between 1931 and 1936 the Bantams scored 100 goals in four out of six seasons, with Bourton netting 172 goals. 

In 1936, to celebrate City's promotion back to Division 2 and with gates regularly topping 25,000, the 'rotting planks' of the original 1899 stand were demolished to make way for a new main stand at a cost of £14,000. In November of that year the club purchased the freehold of the ground from the Mercers' Company for £20,000, thanks to a loan from Sir John Siddeley, chairman of the carmakers Armstrong-Siddeley. The additional lattice-board standing extension to the Kop, known as the 'Crows Nest', was added in 1938, and in 1939 a canopy extension was built on to the main stand. Highfield Road could now accommodate over 40,000 spectators as was demonstrated on a number of occasions as the team went close to promotion to Division One in the two seasons preceding the outbreak of war.

Amazingly, most of Highfield Road survived the appalling air raids of November 1940, although three direct hits destroyed the pitch and by 1942 things had been sufficiently patched up to stage matches again. 

In October 1953, basic floodlights were installed on poles, and were first used for a friendly game against Queen of the South. In 1957, the originals were sold to Crewe and an improved set of lights made their debut for a game against Third Lanark. The Supporters' Club paid for the new lights at a cost of £15,000 and the pylons were still being used in 1991.

In November 1961, chairman Derrick Robbins acted following an embarrassing home FA Cup defeat to non-league Kings Lynn. He appointed former Fulham player and chairman of the Professional Footballers Association Jimmy Hill and the transformation began. 

The Sky Blue era under Derrick Robins and Jimmy Hill sparked a massive ground improvement programme, ably carried out by Robins’ company, Banbury Buildings. The rebirth began in 1963 with the replacement of the Thackhall Street stand, using innovative prefabricated units and a distinctive vaulted roof. The new ‘Sky Blue Stand’, which cost £120,000, was fully operational for the start of 1964-65 season as City re-entered Division 2 after a twelve-year gap. 

Two years later and the club won promotion to Division 1 for the first time in their history with many of the stalwarts from the dark days in Division Three still in the team but supplemented by big signings such as goalkeeper Bill Glazier and youngsters such as Bobby Gould and Ernie Machin. Highfield Road saw a record crowd of 51,455 for the vital match against Wolves which manager Jimmy Hill billed as the Midlands Match of the Century. It was over 6,000 more than the previous record set in 1937 and hundreds of young fans had to be evacuated from the terraces onto the running track with more fans perched precariously on the floodlights and the roof of the covered end. That close season, the old covered terrace, home to the Sky Blue ‘choir’, was demolished and replaced by the double-decker West Stand, 3,200 seats on top of terracing. That first season in Division 1 saw record crowds at the stadium and the final average was an incredible 34,715.

On 16 March 1968, the Main Stand was gutted by fire and with it the Second Division Championship Trophy and many of the club’s records. The stand was rebuilt almost immediately at a cost of £150,000, and was completed in time for the start of the next season, although the first two home games were postponed. The third new stand in four years made Highfield Road arguably the most modern stadium in the land. 

In 1973, defects were discovered in the roof of the Sky Blue Stand and the distinctive vaulted section was replaced by a flat roof, then, early in 1983, part of the replacement roof collapsed in gales but the damage was quickly patched up. 

In 1981, the controversial decision was taken to convert Highfield Road into England’s first all-seater stadium and 8,000 extra seats were installed at a cost £400,000 reducing the capacity, at a stroke, from 36,500 to 20,600.

This unanimously unpopular decision was intended, amongst other things, to deter hooliganism but instead it alienated the home fans and, with every game all-ticket, it became harder for fans to attend. Attendances dropped as performances on the pitch deteriorated and the failed experiment accelerated Jimmy Hill’s resignation as chairman. The seats were ripped out of the Kop in 1985 and the end partially rebuilt to allow a better view and an increased capacity. 

Following the 'Taylor Report’ in 1990 City, with almost 18,000 seats out of a capacity of 26,000, were well placed to meet the report’s recommendations that all top division grounds should be all-seater by August 1994. The Sky Blues were founder members of the Premiership in 1992 and in the summer of 1993, work commenced on the new East Stand and the team played its home games to a three-sided stadium for one season whilst the new stand rose from the wreck of the flattened Kop.

With the East Stand costing £4.3 million, the majority of which came from the Football Trust and the brewers, Mitchell and Butlers, and the new roofs on the Main Stand and Sky Blue Stand, over £7 million was spent on the ground during the 1990s. 

The club however had bigger ambitions and wanted a larger stadium and after several blueprints the new Arena design was agreed with work commenced on the new 34,000 seater stadium in 2003. 

The Sky Blues’ final season at Highfield Road was the 2004/05 Nationwide Division One season where City achieved a 19th place finish on 52 points. The final game was against Derby County and incredibly, the game lived up to the stadium’s legacy and it gave Highfield Road the send off it deserved.

The Sky Blues ran out 6-2 winners against County as City Academy product Andrew Whing scored the final goal of the game and celebrated in front of the famous West Terrace. City cult hero Mo Konjic started for the Rams and fittingly had a terrible game as Gary McSheffrey and Stern John both notched braces with Dele Adebola getting the other goal. 

Jim Brown

Advertisement block