• Phil

Bare Knuckles and Tommy ...It's not just Cricket

A couple of days ago I went along to an event in the City Centre organised as part of Coventry Sports Fest 2019. The “Step into Culture” walk from Broadgate was a one hour tour of the City Centre looking st the general history of the area and rewarding participants with a fitbit at the end (so I can now count steps as I deliver my “on foot sevices”!).

The free guided walk was ably delivered by four of the “Coventry Ambassadors” team. These are volunteers who are helping to promote Coventry in the run up to “City of Culture” but have been doing so for around seven years. They have a “Coventry Ambassadors” facebook page which gives details of their activities and reviews of events. The walk will be repeated on Sunday 19th and Wednesday 22nd August and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to Coventry’s history.

Coventry is European City of Sport this year and during this and next week I’ll be looking at the history of sport locally. I’ll be including some of my memories and stories passed down by family members.

My interest in sports locally was ignited by a visit to Highfield Road in August 1973 – a few months before my tenth birthday. The Sky Blues were playing Liverpool on a Tuesday evening and I went along with my mum for my first match.

My dad did have a bit of a sporting pedigree (particularly in his naval days – he was an able boxer, rower, tug o’ war participant (a skill inherited from his own mother – see below!) and dab hand at other pastimes such as chess, backgammon and especially knuckles!) I learnt my backgammon skills from him which rubbed off well as I am currently British Isles Backgammon Association British Open Champion. My nephew Marc is currently Midland League Champion and former Irish Open winner and I have two sons who are very competent players (Dan having won a BIBA British Tour a few years ago).

Although he had played football as well (I have a team photo of his ship’s team seated with their ball, guns behind) he was much more interested in Rugby Union and I would occasionally go along to Coundon Road with him and see the exploits of England international players like David Duckham, Fran Cotton and Peter Rossborough.

Getting back to that Highfield Road match against Liverpool. Myself, my mum and her friends Jean and John were part of a large crowd. We stood on the wooden “crow’s nest” at the Kop end of Highfield Road. Despite being tall for my age it was hard to get a full view of the pitch. I remember being surprised at seeing the three wheeler disabled vehicles driving around to take up their places on the pitchside track in front of the Main Stand and also the strong chewing gum smell which seemed to be a feature of the match day atmosphere in the 70s! The toilets at the time consisted of a walled in gutter which often overflowed onto the terrace if there was a large crowd (giving an overall freshmint urine and tobacco odour with a hint of steak and kidney pie – these were the days of football truly being “the people’s game” – no prawn sandwich in sight”!

Despite my restricted view at that match I did manage to see Tommy Hutchison’s winning goal (City won 1-0) – a spectacular 35 yard volley. Tommy went on to become my childhood hero and he may well get a mention in a guided walk of Caludon Park that I shall be giving on the evening of September 11th (details to follow under “Walks” on this site).

As a child I would often visit Caludon Park with my grandma. I would play in the moat of the ancient castle – then dry as the City’s industry was thriving and the water table was low as a result. It is now almost always full of (mostly stagnant!) water. The nearby River Sowe used to run a creamy blue at that time due to industrial waste. There were downsides to the industry that threw up the social clubs which the City’s sporting life revolved around.

My grandma encouraged my interest in football and signed me up for a summertime course in 1975. She had a sporting background herself. In her earlier days as a teenager and young woman working at the Humber during WWI and into the early 1920s she was very active in the factory’s social club sports teams playing women’s football, hockey , tug o’ war and taking part in cycle rides to the south coast.

One evening every week I would go along to Caludon Park to be coached to improve my skills and eventually be rewarded with certificates for shooting, passing, tackling and dribbling. The big thing for me was that they were presented by Tommy Hutchison and he made a point of talking to me before the presentation at Coventry Sports Centre. This was not because I showed any competence as a footballer. Despite my enthusiasm I was pretty rubbish then and always have been! He had been told that I was always talking about Tommy when we did the dribbling aspect of the course and took the time to give me a few minutes. He went on to feature in a Jasper Carrot joke, score for his own team and his opponents in an FA Cup final and to be featured on a large mural in Swansea station.

Swansea City were one of his later teams and he played for them into his 40s then went on to play at a lower level for Merthr Tydfil into his 50s. A real legend!

As mentioned, I went along to my first match at Highfield Road with my mum and my parents’ friends Jean and John. They were all regular visitors to the Wyken WMC and Jean and John still live across the road from what was the club’s sports ground at Wyken Croft.

One football match that I would attend with my dad would be the regular boxing day fixture between the Wyken Club team and an ex-Coventry City XI (featuring players like George Curtis – who ran our local chippy – Bobby Gould, Dietmar Bruck and others of Jimmy Hill’s Sky Blue era)