Mark Robins is the latest in a long line of Sky Blue Supremos, the men who have tried to bring success to City. In this series first published in matchday programme PUSB, writer Rob Mason reflects on the highs and lows on those who have occupied the hot-seat.
In this edition, Rob Mason profiles Harry Storer...
Harry Storer managed Coventry to promotion – as he did every club he managed. An England international, he also played for Grimsby as well as being a County Championship winner as a cricketer. His father had also been a county cricketer as well as a goalkeeper for Woolwich Arsenal and Liverpool. For good measure Harry also had an uncle who was an England cricketer as well as playing league football.
On top of all this Harry Storer was the man who brought Coventry’s all-time top goal-scorer Clarrie Bourton to the club and was renowned as one of the game’s toughest characters.
Genial Joe Mercer, once the General Manager of Coventry and caretaker-manager of England once caused Storer to lambast six of his players. Then managing Sheffield United, Mercer moaned to Storer that five of Harry’s Derby players had clogged his Blades. Enquiring as to whether Harry would discipline the fear-some five Mercer was told the other six were going to be given a rollicking for not trying hard enough!
Storer managed Coventry on both sides of the Second World War, in total being in charge at Highfield Road from June 1931 until June 1945 and later again for a further five years from November 1948. He had cost Burnley £4250 in February 1929 and at the age of 33 was still holding a place down in a Clarets line-up, but having been relegated in his first season and having made no impression on the promotion race in his second, Storer couldn’t resist the opportunity to move into management with Coventry.
Taking over from Jimmy McIntyre, Storer saw his side be outscored only by table topping Fulham in his first full season as City scored 108 league goals, with Bourton bagging 49 goals in 40 games – and making it a half century in total with an additional goal in the cup. Despite these feats not only were City not in the promotion race they weren’t even in the top half of the table. Twelfth place was a result of a defence that let in 97 goals in 42 games and won just once away.
The same number of points were accrued the following season but there was an accompanying climb to sixth place, just two fewer goals being scored but 20 fewer conceded as Coventry were the division’s top scorers with Bourton getting a goal for every one of the 43 appearances he made in total.
Harry’s attacking game saw City finish runners up and third in the next two seasons but with just the champions of the regionally split third division being promoted the 189 league goals scored across those two campaigns proved ultimately fruitless. The harvest arrived in 1936 thankfully as City pipped Luton to promotion by a point, the Hatters staying on City’s coat-tails despite only three points being dropped from 21 home games in a season when the side registered a century of goals for the fourth time in five seasons.
If his side liked to total up cricket scores that might have been due to the fact that Storer was also an accomplished cricketer. No sooner had the Third Division South trophy been installed at Highfield Road that Harry was winning the cricket County Championship with Derbyshire that same summer.
Playing at a higher level for the first time since 1925 Coventry consolidated impressively in eighth place. In Division two there were two promotion places and the following year City missed out by just a point behind promoted Manchester United, who themselves went up on goal average from third placed Sheffield United.
This was phenomenal stuff from Coventry who had gone from the lower reaches of Division Three south to within a point of the top flight in a goal-laden period that while it marked the great depression in England was anything but on a footballing front at Highfield Road. Incredibly succeeding in maintaining standards – perhaps at least in part due to being such a hard taskmaster – Storer saw his side finish fourth in division two again in the last season to be completed before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Storer stayed in charge during the war and while war-time records do not count in official records it should be noted that under him City finished third in their varying leagues in the first two years and continued to do well in the increasingly complex league arrangements for the rest of the war, other than a long winless run in the winter of 1944, when after all, quite rightly, minds were focussed on a lot more than football.
Minds were certainly focused at the end of the war when Storer shocked the football world by swapping Coventry City for Birmingham City. In Storer’s first season at St. Andrews he led the Blues to the League (South) Championship, pipping local rivals Aston Villa on goal average. Within the opening month of the season Storer was a winner at Highfield Road as his new side won 3-2, completing the double over his old team in the last game of the calendar year.
Although the Football League was not ready to re-start the FA Cup was played over two-legs to help provide competitive fixtures. In keeping with Harry’s attacking approach 5-0 and 6-0 wins were racked up as The Blues reached the semi-finals where they went out to Derby County, a club he had played for and would later manage.
1946-47 saw the first post-war Football League season. Starting with a win at Tottenham, Leicester were then smashed 4-0 at home before a four match losing run. Harry soon had his men licked into shape although that early sticky patch proved costly as his side finished third, just missing out on promotion in a season where they also reached the cup quarter-finals.
Coventry had failed to score against Storer’s team in 1946-47 but how the Bantams failed to score against Birmingham in the opening home match of 1947-48 can be explained in two words: Gil Merrick. The future England goalkeeper had one of the best of his 715 games for the club (including war-time appearances). Six times Merrick denied Billy Frith’s men before Walter Aveyard’s 70th minute goal saw Storer pocket the points. Birmingham went on to win the league but by November Harry had eschewed the lure of the top-flight to return to Coventry!
It wasn’t as if his Blues side weren’t doing well. They did endure a dismal October but had points on the board from a decent start, not least from a sensational 5-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park.
Harry was back with a bang at Highfield Road. A team who had taken one point from six games before his return suddenly won five in a row. 16th in division two that year there was a rise of four places in his first full season of his second spell. Steady improvement continued as City climbed to seventh 12months later but the second half of the season had been disappointing. After being used to varying degrees of success throughout his managerial career, while a third of the games were won in 1951-52 the team finished joint bottom and went down.
Finishing sixth the following season was almost as disappointing as until Easter City were in the thick of the promotion race until injuries to wingers ‘Plum’ Warner and Eric Johnson coincided with a late season drop off of form, compounded by the almost simultaneous loss of centre-forward Eddy Brown.
Brown was back in the team to score in what would prove to be Storer’s last league game in charge the following Halloween but although that game at home to Aldershot was won, four days later Harry was sacked after a mixed start to the season.
Following a life-time in the game being unemployed didn’t come naturally to Harry and it was 18 months until he returned, having spent his time doing a bit of scouting and organising football at holiday summer camps, a far cry from what he was used to.
It was over quarter of a century since he had left the Baseball Ground but in 1955 Derby County turned to Harry following their relegation to the third tier. Storer persuaded Irish international Reg Ryan to come to Derby as captain, dropping two divisions after winning the FA Cup with West Brom the previous season.
Travelling together by car from Coventry to Derby each day the pair built a team who won promotion in their second season after being denied by Grimsby in their first. Thereafter Storer stayed with Derby for five years, overseeing finishes of 16th 7th, 18th, 12th and finally 16th again while helping to get the club on a much more even keel financially.
After leaving his post at the end of the 1961-62 season Harry scouted for Everton before he passed away in Derby in September 1967.
Hailing from West Derby in Liverpool; although he was raised in his parents native Derbyshire, it will be a century next February since he became a professional footballer with today’s visitors Grimsby Town. Born on 2 February 1898, Storer was 21 when he joined The Mariners, the start of his professional career having been delayed by the Great War. As a boy he had commenced his employment as a mechanical engineer as a 15-year old and played for Heanor Secondary School, Heanor Wesleyans, Marehay, Codner Park, Riddings St. James, Eastwood Bible Class, Ripley Town and Eastwood Town before joining Notts County on an amateur basis following an unsuccessful trial with Millwall.
At least a couple of those early sides were church teams and while Storer evidently knew the difference between right and wrong by all accounts he was as tough as old boots and had an abrupt nature which could appear as arrogant as Brian Clough in his prime – Cloughie apparently being influenced by the one-time Burnley centre- half, just as he was by another Turf Moor stopper, Alan Brown, while Clough’s no 2 Peter Taylor was a hige admirer of Harry having been a young goalkeeper under him at Coventry.
Storer was also renowned for being scrupulously fair in his judgements – if not always his tackles as a player – and could be funny – which is perhaps what he was attempting to be in that conversation with Joe Mercer.
An inside forward or wing half, Harry had an excellent scoring record with Grimsby, 20 goals in 68 games persuading Derby to spend a huge for the time £4,500 on him in March 1921, although he was unable to stop them going down that season. Initially employed mostly as a half-back at the Baseball Ground he returned to the forward line in 1923-24, a 27 goal haul including four in one game at Bristol City.
In eight years with the club, who he went on to captain, Storer spent his last three years in the top flight, twice finishing in the top six after winning promotion in 1926. For Derby Harry played 274 games scoring 63 times in an overall career tally of 88 goals from 396 league appearances, but his cricket statistics were also impressive.
An opening batsman for Derbyshire from 1920 to 1936; the last five of those seasons overlapping with his time as Coventry manager, he scored 13,513 runs at an average of 27.63. These included 18 centuries including a double century as part of an opening stand of 332 with Joe Bowden against Essex in 1929. It was a county record that stood until last summer when it was beaten by a single run as LM Reece and BA Godleman hit 333 against Northamptonshire.
It was during Harry’s time with Derby that he was twice capped by England at football, his international appearances being separated by three and a half years, the first a win over France in Paris in 1924, the latter a 2-0 defeat to Ireland in Belfast.
His father, also Harry, had played six times for Derbyshire three years before Harry junior’s birth. In the same year Harry senior became the first Arsenal player to win a representative honour when he kept goal for the Football League and later won promotion with Liverpool, the club he was playing for at the time of Harry junior’s birth, but he died of tuberculosis when his son was just nine years old.
Just two and a half years later Harry junior also had to come to terms with the death of his Uncle Bill, an England international cricketer who was once Wisden Cricketer of the Year and a team mate of C.B. Fry and W.G. Grace. Maintaining an incredible family tradition he also played football for Derby County.
As with so many of the men we will feature as City supremos, Harry Storer’s story is an amazing one. It is fabulous characters such as Harry who continue to provide untold fascination for modern day supporters.