Following on from my last blog I’ve been thinking a little more about American influences on sport in Coventry. My biggest sporting interest locally has been Coventry City Football Club which has been involved in several transatlantic transactions over the years.
The Sky Blues prepared for their first ever season to the top flight with a visit to the United States in 1967. Some of the matches were played on baseball “diamonds” and the matches were mostly attended by European and Latin American immigrants.
Ten years prior to the Sky Blues trip to the States their Highfield Road home was itself temporarily adapted for a visit by some world famous entertainers. The Harlem Globetrotters beat the United States Stars 68-54. Coventry City were still "The Bantams" at this time so the sound of "Sweet Georgia Brown" preceded the "Sky Blues Song" resounding around the ground by a few years. Jimmy Hill's "Sky Blue Revolution" was yet to take off.
Jimmy Hill had resigned to pursue his career in television ahead of that first season "at the top" but would return eventually to influence more transatlantic links.
Coventry City’s Gerry Baker made seven appearances and scored twice for the US national team whilst playing for the Sky Blues (1967-70). He was American born of Scottish parents and held dual nationality. In his later career he continued to play locally for Nuneaton Borough and Bedworth United. He passed his sporting pedigree down to athlete daughters Karen and Lorraine. The latter ran in the 800 metres final in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Another LA connection is winger Cobi Jones who made 24 appearances for the Sky Blues in the 94-5 season. He is the record appearance holder for the U.S National team (turning out 164 times for his country). Cobi ended his playing career with LA Galaxy.
In the 1970s whilst Chief Executive of Coventry City Jimmy Hill made a major investment into North American Soccer League franchise Detroit Express. Despite signing the world famous Johan Cruyff, the investment (and club!) failed after the franchise moved to Washington – rebranding as the “Diplomats”. The club played a friendly at Highfield Road resulting in a 2-2 draw.
A more successful transaction for the Sky Blues was the signing of Steve Hunt (a winger of pace) from New York Cosmos where he had played alongside legends such as Pele and Franz Beckenbauer – huge ambassadors for the game in the States. I witnessed him scoring both goals in a Coventry 2-0 win over Derby County in the 78-79 season at the Rams’ then home – the Baseball Ground.
“The Baseball Ground” seems a strange name for an English football ground and suggests American connections. My research has shown that there is no misnomer as the stadium was originally home to Derby County Baseball Club (1890 – 1898). Industrialist Sir Francis Ley had attempted to promote baseball in England and brought several American players over to compete in a British League. A backlash from the other league members over the influx of “American mercenaries” saw their resignation from the league after only one season!
I’ll be looking at more sporting history in Coventry in future posts – including some more American links such as some Coventry Bees favourites and the visit of Mohammed Ali to a local chip shop! There will also be more about boxing to come when I look in detail at the history of Coventry’s social clubs. But as Coventry Sports Fest 2019 comes to an end the ramble will turn to other subjects for a while ......