With October being Black History Month, we celebrate some of the legendary black players that have turned out in Sky Blue colours since Steve Mokone’s debut in 1956.
Today we look at the players that played a major role in the rise of black players in English football during their time at City.
Born in Birmingham, Garry Thompson came through the ranks at City, making his league debut in March 1978 where he started in a 3-2 defeat to Aston Villa at Highfield Road.
He went on to make five further appearances that season, netting his first goal with the opener in a 4-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers a week later.
Thompson also scored the first goal in a 3-2 home win over Everton the next month, playing his small part in a successful season where City finished seventh, only two points off a UEFA Cup spot.
He featured more in the side during his first full season in 1978/79 where he found the back of the net nine times in all competitions including a late winner against Middlesbrough and as well as the only strike against Queens Park Rangers with Gordon Milne’s side sixth in the division.
1980/81 saw Thompson make the most appearances in a campaign for City with 46 games, scoring the first of 15 goals that season in the first win of the season 3-1 over Arsenal, as well as the third in the biggest victoy of the season when Leicester City were played off the park in a 4-1 thrashing.
Two goals in the last two games of the season ensured Thompson finished as top scorer on 15 overall, with six coming in the run to the League Cup Semi Finals including two in the first leg against West Ham United.
The next season Dave Sexton took over, but Thompson kept up his fine goalscoring record with doubles in September wins over Leeds United and Southampton as well as in the 6-1 win over Sunderland, which was City’s biggest victory since 1963.
A league improvement of two places was achieved with the Sky Blues reaching the FA Cup 6th Round, where they were beaten by West Bromwich Albion, after a double each from Thompson and Mark Hateley in the previous round against Oxford United set up the Baggies clash.
This proved to be Thompson’s last full season at Highfield Road with a Spring departure in 1983 to West Brom after 158 appearances and 49 goals for City.
Two and a half goal filled seasons followed at the Hawthorns and after spending 1985/86 at Sheffield Wednesday he was relegated and promoted with Aston Villa before ending his career with spells at Watford, Crystal Palace, QPR and Cardiff City. He retired after leaving Northampton Town in 1997 with a total of 584 games and 153 goals.
Having began his coaching career whilst at Sixfields he moved to Bristol Rovers where he went on to be reserve team manager, caretaker manager, assistant manager and permanent manager until departing in April 2002.
Six months later he became Wally Downes’ assistant manager at Brentford until 2004 before entering the non league game in coaching roles at Farnborough Town and Hucknall Town.
Lloyd McGrath, Cyrille Regis and Dave Bennett
Following the success of Thompson and the decade defining West Brom team containing the Three Degrees, the 1980s saw a special group of players assembled that would go on to create the best day in the Coventry City’s history.
In the same year as Thompson’s departure to the Hawthorns, City signed Dave Bennett from Cardiff City with Lloyd McGrath making his debut in 1984, six months before the arrival one of the Three Degrees to Highfield Road in the form of Cyrille Regis for £250,000, who debuted in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United in October 1984.
Regis scored his first goal incidentally, in a 5-2 defeat to his former club, but followed it up with an injury time equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur the next week, with 1984/85 also seeing McGrath establish himself as a midfielder rather than the centre back he had been in his earlier days.
The next season saw Regis reach double figures for the first time with City, including a five-goal haul in a 7-2 League Cup win against Chester City, becoming the first Sky Blue to score that many in a game since 1934!
After battling relegation in the previous two seasons 1986/87 would prove to not only be Regis’ and McGrath’s most prolific seasons in Sky Blue colours but also, along with Bennett, see them win the only trophy of their career.
Inside the first five games of the season, Regis scored the opener in a 2-1 win against Arsenal then bagged the winner against Manchester City at Maine Road.
He would also score crucial goals in December with a derby day winner over Leicester coming a few weeks before a decisive injury time goal against Tottenham after a Bennett double, in a seven-goal thriller to see City go seventh in the league!
The next month saw City’s FA Cup journey begin with Regis amongst the goals in a 3-0 Third Round win over Bolton Wanderers, with Bennett also finding himself on the scoresheet.
Next up was Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United at Old Trafford with Regis playing the full 90 as Keith Houchen’s goal sent City through to a clash at the Victoria Ground with Stoke City seen off 1-0.
Sheffield Wednesday was the next team out the hat with Regis netting a brilliant goal in a 3-0 victory that was witnessed by 15,000 City fans at Hillsborough, with the forward netting twice back in league action against Oxford the following week.
Back to Hillsborough City went for a semi final against Leeds United with a 3-2 comeback a sign of things to come ahead of the final with McGrath, Bennett and Regis lining up at Wembley against Tottenham.
The trio would play a starring role in the Final with Bennett equalising for City after Clive Allen’s second minute opener with Regis having a goal disallowed before Gary Mabbutt put Spurs ahead at half time.
Bennett then assisted Houchen’s iconic header before McGrath’s dangerous cross could only be turned to his own net by Mabbutt and with it the trio were etched into Sky Blue folklore!
Regis earned an England recall that October, featuring in a 8-0 win over Turkey back at Wembley, in a season he would end as top scorer as City earned a 10th place league finish for a second season running.
November 1988 saw Aston Villa beaten for the first time in 51 years with Regis scoring the opener.
1989 saw the first of the trio to depart when Bennett moved to Sheffield Wednesday, with a record of 25 goals in 172 matches in almost six years at Highfield Road. He then had brief spells at Swindon Town, Shrewsbury Town and Nuneaton Borough.
Regis, however, would still have two more years as a Sky Blue in him with one of his most memorable moments yet to come.
A year on from the Villa victory John Sillett’s side headed to top of the table Liverpool with Regis’s 50th goal for the Sky Blues earning his side their first win at Anfield in 25 attempts en route to City earning their highest league finish, seventh, in eleven years!
1990/91 was Regis’ last at Highfield Road, Regis netting his final goal in a 3-1 win over Manchester City to finish on 61 with his 282nd and final appearance coming in defeat at Champions Arsenal that May.
He made the move across the Midlands to Villa Park and after two seasons, his final top flight campaign being the inaugural season of the Premier League before he left for Molineux.
He spent a solitary season at Wolves and then Wycombe Wanderers and Chester City, returning to The Hawthorns in a coaching capacity, and was twice caretaker manager, before sadly passing away at the age of 59 in 2018.
Following Regis’ departure from Highfield Road in 1991, this left McGrath as the last of the three with the Sky Blues going into the Premier League years with the midfielder making 25 appearances and being given a testimonial in 1993.
He made just 11 appearances the following season with his final match being a 1-0 win over Tottenham in April 1994, leaving for Portsmouth that summer after 214 games for the club, netting on just four occasions, although that included winners against Sheffield Wednesday and Watford 1987.
The impact the trio had in almost 700 combined appearances went a long way to establishing City as a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s and paving the way for black players in the English game with that afternoon at Wembley in 1987 showing there was no limit for success!