Book Review – When the Sky was Blue: The Inside Story of Coventry City’s Premier League Years by Rich Chamberlain

In the 1966/67 season Coventry City, then managed by Jimmy Hill, reached the top flight of the Football League for the first time in their history after winning the Second Division title, finishing a point ahead of Wolves. The Sky Blues stayed for 34 years amongst the English games elite and would be founder members of the inaugural Premier League in 1992/93. And that initial season of ‘a whole new ball game’ is the starting point for Coventry fan Rich Chamberlain’s look at the West Midlands Club time in the Premier League.

The book benefits from extensive interview with ex-players and management, so isn’t just a season by season trawl through every result. Rather, Chamberlain takes each manager’s reign as the focal point, with the interviews providing an honest and balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the various men who sat in the Highfield Road hotseat and some of the high-profile players who pulled on the sky blue shirt.

In the Premier League years (1992 to 2001), The Sky Blues had four managers, Bobby Gould (for a second stint having managed the Club in the early ‘80s), Phil Neal, Ron Atkinson and Gordon Strachan. Strachan’s stint was the longest, managing more games than the other three combined. What is evident is that all four had very different approaches to the job.

Programme from Coventry’s opening game in 1992/93

Leading Coventry into the Premier League era was Bobby Gould who the author describes as “unorthodox”, a man known for using his contacts to seek out gems from the lower leagues, but who bled “sky-blue blood.” Gould not only managed the Club on two occasions, but also played for The Sky Blues, scoring 40 goals in 82 games before moving to Arsenal.

Gould resigned in December 1983 with Phil Neal taking permanent charge after initially being appointed as caretaker. Whilst some players took to the ex-Liverpool player, many others didn’t with Chamberlain observing, “no doubt in part due to him (Neal) being a far less charismatic frontman than Gould” with ex-player Micky Quinn adding, “Phil was a very good coach but as a manager it’s about making decision, team selections. I don’t think he was a very good manager.” For all that Neal led Coventry to 11th at the end of the 1993/94 campaign – their highest finish in the Premier League. 1994/95 started well, but an eleven game run without a win from the end of November saw Neal sacked as The Sky Blues dropped in the relegation zone, with home gates dropping to around 12,000.

Incredibly after the dour Neal, came the larger-than-life character that was Ron Atkinson walking through the Highfield Road gates. Not only did his presence get fans flocking back to the terraces, but also as ex-Coventry player David Burrows highlighted, “He (Atkinson) attracted higher-profile players. Players didn’t go to Coventry for the money. Most of the players…took a pay cut to play for Ron.” Big Ron brought the razzamatazz and with it national media coverage. Despite all this Coventry were in a relegation dogfight, but a signing that would have a long-term impact on the Club came in March 1995 as Gordon Strachan moved from Leeds United as player and assistant manager. Not only did the Scot’s influence ensure Coventry stayed up but showed his attributes as a talented tactical coach.

Having preserved their Premier League status in 1994/95, hopes were high that 1995/96 campaign under the Atkinson/Strachan combo would not be another one of battling against the drop. However, it was to be another difficult season with their top-flight status only assured after a nervous final day eventually surviving on goal difference.

In November 1996, the Atkinson era ended, but as the author explains it wasn’t quite as simple as that. “The original story was that he (Atkinson) had agreed to move into a director-of-football-style role while Strachan took over as manager. However…not all the boardroom were on the same page with the story.” Ex-Chairman Bryan Richardson hoped that with Atkinson’s father very ill, the manager could be moved upstairs without a loss of face. The decision was somehow leaked and seemingly Big Ron was the last to know. Indeed Atkinson reflected that an incident with board member Geoffrey Robinson was behind it, “the week after I was moved upstairs. There was no directive at all, I didn’t have any directives from the Club.”

Programme from game that relegated The Sky Blues in 2001

Strachan would preside over the Club from 1996 until 2001 as be battled season-on-season to maintain Coventry’s top flight status. Chamberlain says of the Scots era, “He (Strachan) took with him a relegation on his CV that undoubtedly tarnishes his Coventry legacy, despite having been at the helm for some of the most exciting football the club had ever seen.” This was seen in players such as Darren Huckerby, Dion Dublin, Noel Whelan, Youssef Chippo, Mustapha Hadji, Robbie Keane, Gary McAllister and Craig Bellamy, all pulling on the sky blue jersey.

If fans thought back in 2001 that relegation was a minor blip, nothing prepared them for the years since which saw the Club sink to new lows. 2011/12 saw The Sky Blues relegated to League One and worse was to follow as in 2016/17 as they fell through the trapdoor into the basement division of the Football League. Off the pitch their beloved Highfield Road ground was left with residence at the then named Ricoh Arena in the 2005/06 campaign. This proved to be no smooth path, with major financial problems besetting the club, they found themselves having to play seasons at Northampton Town (2013/14) and Birmingham City (2019 to 21). Thankfully The Sky Blues have recovered in recent years, with a return to the Championship and residence back at the Coventry Building Society.

Coventry fans will hope that a return to the top flight is not too far away, but for now will have to make do with memories wonderfully recounted within Chamberlain’s book.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. August 2023, Hardcover: 224 pages)


Buy the book here: When the Sky was Blue

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Nii Lamptey: The Curse of Pele is the authorised biography of Ghanaian footballer Nii Lamptey, a one-time bright young talent who was hailed as ‘the next Pele’ by Pele himself.

By age 16, Lamptey had won the Belgian title with RSC Anderlecht and the World Championship with Ghana’s Under-16s. One year later, he won a bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. After joining Dutch masters PSV Eindhoven on loan in 1993 and scoring 10 times in 22 games that season, Lamptey appeared to have the world at his feet. Spells at Aston Villa and Coventry City followed, but he failed to fulfil Pele’s bold prophecy.

Instead, his career became a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when too much pressure is applied to young players. Injuries, lack of schooling, domestic violence, bad agents and a tragic and turbulent personal life pushed Lamptey to the brink of suicide, but thankfully he recovered.

In this ‘warts and all’ account he finally lifts the lid on his incredible story.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. June 2023. Hardcover: 256 pages)


Buy the book here: Nii Lamptey

Book Review: Jordan Henderson: The Autobiography by Jordan Henderson

What makes a great football captain? Is it the best player in the team or the most consistent? The loudest voice or the best communicator? Someone who plays with their heart or their head? The person who leads by example on the pitch or off it? In truth, ideally it is a combination of all of these things, and more besides. Names like Tony Adams, Roy Keane, Wes Morgan, Vincent Kompany and Steven Gerrard often feature in discussions of the Premier League’s greatest captains. These are players who not only won trophies for their clubs but also led their teams physically and emotionally – they became, in a way, extensions of the badge. Tony Adams was Arsenal, Roy Keane was Manchester United, Wes Morgan was Leicester City. They were the figureheads for their clubs, undoubted leaders on the pitch with personas that matched. Each had his own style, his own challenges to face and each left an enviable footballing legacy. These are big boots to fill, but arguably Jordan Henderson has not only filled these boots but made them even bigger.

NHL Hall of Famer Joe Sakic said, ‘A… team needs a voice, not only in the community, but more importantly between the coaching staff and the players.’ Whilst the triptych remains – players, staff, community – the emphasis on community has grown in recent years, not least as a result of the pandemic. And Henderson’s voice has been at the forefront of bridging a link not only with Liverpool fans, or even football fans, but with wider society, through his work on the #PlayersTogether NHS initiative and fund. If there is one takeaway from Henderson’s recent autobiography, it is that he is quick to pass the plaudits around; like any great leader, he honours the work of others and downplays his own role. Yet Henderson was at the heart of football’s rallying for the NHS and, coupled with the incredible success under his captaincy at Liverpool, which has included the full gamut of top-tier trophies on offer – Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield, Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup – the former won for the first time in three decades for the Reds, the latter won for the first time ever – his is a legacy that carries exceptional significance not only on the pitch but beyond football, not only in Liverpool but nationwide.

In many ways, Henderson’s impressive leadership has made him not only a figurehead for his club but a figurehead for the football community and he’s a warm, likeable and modest one at that, as evidenced throughout the compelling autobiography. Indeed, had Henderson had his way, this book, rather than bearing his name, would have been titled With or Without Me. No, it’s not a homage to U2’s ‘With or Without You’ but rather an acknowledgement of Henderson’s belief that Liverpool’s success would have happened with, or more importantly without, him. This may come across as false modesty from some and I’m not sure there would be many other Premier League and Champions League winners who would be so quick to write off their influence, but from Henderson it’s a genuine marker of the man – his lack of pretension, his sense of humility and his respect for his peers. I suspect, though, that while Henderson believes the success could have happened without him, his teammates, fans and manager would vehemently argue the toss. After all, Henderson has been at the beating heart of Liverpool’s midfield (and even, when called up on, their defence) for over a decade. That’s an impressive enough feat at any team but to hold down that place in a side that has been repeatedly challenging for domestic and European honours speaks of just how integral and valued he is.

It is easy to forget too that Henderson and his career was in its relative infancy when he arrived at Anfield from Sunderland in 2011 and the task of making his mark and forcing his way into a Reds side looking to recreate Liverpool’s glory days would have daunted many. Henderson not only battled it out, but he turned around perceptions and then stepped up to fill perhaps the biggest void in recent Liverpool history when the iconic Steven Gerrard left. Henderson’s autobiography is testament to his determination, his endeavour and his responsibility. There’s also an incredible maturity, a willingness to accept his flaws and crucially work at them and to understand the importance of the team and to play his part.

There is much to enjoy in the book about life at Liverpool, the early days of Klopp’s reign, struggles with injury, memorable nights (for different reasons) in Kyiv and Madrid and that compelling first Premier League title in thirty years, but what defines Henderson are his values and his ethos. He speaks eloquently and honestly on everything from the pressures of social media and the challenges of criticism to racism, the failed Super League and the privileges of being a footballer. His words carry weight, as do his actions, and on and off the pitch he epitomises what it means to be a captain, what it means to be a leader, what it means to be a role model. With him, Liverpool have experienced one of their most successful periods in history – a coincidence, I think not. Without him, this would have been a very different story.

With or without him? I suspect Liverpool fans would say with him, 100%.

Jade Craddock

(Publisher: Michael Joseph. October 2022. Hardcover: 336 pages)


Buy the book here: Jordan Henderson

Book Review: Hutch, Hard Work and Belief: The Tommy Hutchison Story with Kevin Shannon

Old school.

If it is not tattooed on the inside of his eyelids, I have a heavy fancy it shall be on his gravestone.

Tommy Hutchison is old school. Given the subtitle of his book – Hard Work and Belief – it could be very little else. This is a biography grown out of love and that drips from every syllable on the pages. It has heart and it has soul. And the fact that in a modern world, we can often dismiss the values and views of those who have lived a life is dispelled in the final few chapters as former Scottish international and current Coventry City legend Hutchison, is shown to be a guy who wants to give back to the community in a way that many who are “old school” are believed to be incapable.

Starting from the Raws in Fife where his hard-working family brought Tommy up, this is exactly the type of rags to fame story which Scottish football does so well – the big three Shankly, Busby and Stein come to mind. But it is a lot more than that. The surprise, by the end of the book, is that this has not been ghost written by a journalist but by a fan. It’s what might be described as a vanity project but the one quality missing from the entire enterprise is vanity.

Of course, this means that much of the narrative is unchallenged, that it lacks some of the critical poise that a seasoned journalist may bring and there is a lack, at times, of the perspective of others when facts are presented as fact, but it is a tremendous read. That lack of context can be difficult as you are reading through a story which is not anchored in the events of its time. You can forget what else was happening in the world and without a journalistic attention to the detail much can be left unchallenged, however, this is a modest subject matter not given to hyperbole or boastfulness; they would never allow him away with oany o that in Dundonald efter aw.

And so, we begin in Fife, a kingdom not without its troubles but it certainly had quite a few hearts – though none of them lost to any in Midlothian. In the beauty of Dundonald a boy was born who was rubbish at football at school. That he became a Scottish international is one for the cliché comics but for us it is a revelation Hutchison uses in his teaching of other kids like himself as much as to show us all what such hard work and belief can bring. It was christened in the actions of his upbringing where the chimney sweep gets an honourable mention as much as does his father and mother. This is a boy who was gratefully raised by a village and of course we have the there was no… crime, anti-social behaviour etc tropes of the past and we were poor, but it was idyllic, until you read of his father’s troubles as a miner. His illness led to poverty and yes it was different then, but poverty is poverty. Hutchison may have struggled with the cost of a boot, but he never had his heart taken from him by a lack of support.

That schooling was not to be his master is a common enough theme for those whose intelligence is to be found at the end of your legs, but Hutchison does not forswear the needs of education. He trained and became a painter and decorator out of necessity – football was not a full time occupation for someone who started in the Juniors – and from the Bluebells, he went on an odyssey which is rich in experience and full of anecdotes. It is a rich tapestry which includes the “luck” of broken legs with the Wasps, the vagaries of managerial change at the seaside, the joys of promotion – premature or otherwise, the despair of relegation, working with legendary figures of the game like Bob Stokoe, a fairly unique barter system of ticket trading to make ends meet, and all of this, before he entered the field of play in a Scotland shirt.

Of course, there are many characters named along the way including one John Burridge who must have been very young when he appeared in Hutch’s career, as he appeared in a charity game in Edinburgh in the latter part of 2022 in his seventies!

Hutch’s transfer to Coventry City and elevation to the First Division meant he was in the shop window for the Scottish selectors. That is when I, as a young spectator became aware of him – the 1974 World Cup. It was the first World Cup of which I was aware. Scotland’s manager, Willie Ormond has always been cast as the gentile figure, not seen by many as a giant of the Scottish game despite being the only Scottish manager to get us to a World Cup and come home unbeaten – although still, by Tommy Docherty’s standards, home before the postcards. I read these chapters with great interest. The names around Hutch’s debut are legends themselves, McGrain, Dalglish, Jordan, Hay, the Lawman… But it is the detail both of the campaign to get to the World Cup and whilst they were there that was of huge interest. Penny pinching blazers who put an international squad up in a halls of residence for a World Cup final friendly, cockeyed commercial deals, a wholly forgettable World Cup song, and being unable to deal with recalcitrant rowers as well as one man who saw his stature greater than his height  – Billy Bremner – are all included, and I devoured them with eyes wide open.

Of revelations, there were none, but confirmations aplenty with an earnestness, a pride for wearing a jersey that meant so much to him and his wee boy self, which must have hurt when at the tender age of only 28, he had played his last for his country.

But then Manchester City came calling… Then eventually Burnley, the flirting with management that always seemed to involve flirting in one direction, and then Wales – Swansea City, where a man once his captain now became his manager and both had to deal with a chairman seemingly out of his depth and Merthyr Tydfil.

All are given to us with great glee especially when you could make sure the carpenter gave you the keys to the drinks room…

And so, of the man whose best international goal was in a Home International defeat, who took his steer as a captain from a Welshman rather than a Scot, his spat with Jimmy Hill, rollercoaster relationship with John Bond that began with a dip, why he may never be welcomed in Sunderland, his retail acumen or lack thereof, the final where he scored twice, for each team, the times he played for Manchester United and why, his foreign odysseys in Seattle and with Bulova involved injustice in New York and a trophy for Mr. Gentleman in Hong Kong. They are told with sufficient detail of the experience and a modesty in each accomplishment.

Then came retirement from playing and possibly the most surprising part of the whole book – his role as a Football Development Officer. The way that it is told, Hutch wanted nothing to do with the professional side of the game once the boots were hung up and the managerial merry go-round was firmly shut. I was and still am an Academy Director. You get your fair share of former professionals who still believe they are the epitome of what it means to be a professional footballer and that they are still, mentally, playing each Saturday at 3pm. Here is a Football Development Officer who just happens to be a former professional footballer. Hutch approached this task with the same professional attitude which saw him turn up in shirt and tie and train in the best of facilities because that is what was deserved. Hutch took on his new role with relish – and raised his own wages whilst doing it too. There is something of the son of the Raws here which shines through.

And so why should I be surprised? Throughout the anecdotes have dwelled upon chimney sweeps with an unfortunate streak, a man covered in snuff, a sage tea lady and a family who may never have pulled on the shirt of their country but whose heart burst with pride that their son did. It is the story of a man who lived a dream and knew it. His best role, father, husband, son, prepared him for his public one and with Kevin Shannon wielding the pen he has found a muse to tell the tale and tell it well. As he was once told when down in the dumps because he thought he did not belong at a trial, he was told, “Well ye must hae something otherwise ye wouldnae be here” – aye he did indeed and now we can all share in the reading of it. Oh, the wisdom of tea ladies…

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. October 2022. Hardcover: 320 pages)


Buy the book here: Hutch


The gripping memoir and tell-all biography of Dennis Mortimer, including his decade at Villa and the team’s European Cup win.

Dennis Mortimer became Aston Villa’s most famous captain when he lifted the Lions’ first League Championship trophy in 71 years. That was in 1981, and he achieved a European Cup win the following year, but his time at the club ended controversially.

After signing for Coventry City as a teenager in the late 1960s, Mortimer lined up against such legends as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Franz Beckenbauer and George Best. From there he moved to Villa and became one of manager Ron Saunders’ most trusted players. He was in the dressing room for the most successful period in the club’s history but was frozen out by the chairman before his eventual exit.

He finished his playing career at Brighton & Hove Albion, Sheffield United and Villa’s bitter rivals Birmingham City, then moved into coaching.

In this autobiography, Mortimer lifts the lid on the highs and lows of his time at Villa and shares stories galore about the many characters he met through his life in football.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. September 2022. Hardcover: 320 pages)


Buy the book here: The Full Morty


Rise Together: Coventry City Under Mark Robins examines the rebirth of Coventry City FC from 2017 to 2020.

Having sunk to the depths of English football’s lowest professional division, the Sky Blues were a million miles from the FA Cup-winning heyday of 1987 and the glitz and glamour of Premier League football.

After a decade of decline, a constant churn of managers, coaches and players, the arrival of Mark Robins for a second spell in charge would end all that.

Backed by a fanbase desperate for success, winning the 2017 Football League Trophy was just the beginning. Robins would mould Coventry City into a side capable of something few at the club had achieved before – success.

That first trophy at Wembley would be followed by two more – victory in the 2018 League Two play-off final, then the League One title in 2020.

With off-the-field issues continuing to dog the club, including a second move out of Coventry, the story of Rise Together is one that every football fan will appreciate.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. January 2022. Hardback: 224 pages)

Book Review – The Lions’ King by Bryan King

During the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s England was particularly blessed with an array of goalkeeping talent, from the World Cup winning Gordon Banks, through to Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton. However, there was a dearth of other talented players who could also have pulled on (and did in some cases) the Three Lions shirt during that time, with the likes of Peter Bonetti, Joe Corrigan, Jim Montgomery, Phil Parkes, Jimmy Rimmer, Alex Stepney and Gordon West all highly regarded First Division ‘keepers. Given that, it is all the more remarkable that Bryan King, who whilst playing his trade at Second Division Millwall, also forced his way into the England set-up during the early 1970s.

The Lions’ King tells the story of Bryan King, who after starting his career at Chelmsford City in 1964, signed professionally for Millwall three years later. Down at Cold Blow Lane, he made a record number of appearances for a ‘keeper, which would later see him become a member of the Millwall Hall of Fame. King then moved to First Division Coventry City in 1975, but after only one season in the top-flight, his career was cruelly ended by injury.

However, King had wisely started his FA Coaching badges during his playing days, so that he was able to take up managing and coaching positions once his career was cut short and it enabled him enjoy stints in Norway with FK Jerv, Harstad, Tynset, Rendalen, Kongsberg, and Falkenberg in Sweden. He later stayed in the game showing his versatility and talent in becoming a journalist for a Norwegian sports paper, working as an agent and in more recent years as a scout for clubs such as Aston Villa, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.

King’s extensive involvement in the game is told in three main sections, titled Player, Manager and Saved Till Last and to be honest it is a real page-turner. Stylistically it is very conversational, often humorous, and as a reader I felt like I was sat down with King in a bar, sharing the anecdotes and stories over a few pints. There are gems of tales littered throughout the book, whether it is acting as a ball boy at Wembley and getting to meet his boyhood goalkeeping heroes, Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks, detailing the antics of the Millwall dressing rooms or mixing with the likes of Brian Clough and Sven-Goran Eriksson.

This is not to say serious issues aren’t addressed, such as dementia in players, however, they are only dealt with in the briefest of terms, and with King’s extensive time and experience in the game and in various roles, it would have been interesting if he had expanded on those topics.

As well as charting King’s undoubtedly varied and interesting time in the game, it is a book about a very different time in football, a game much more rough around the edges, but no worse off for being so. And on that basis it is a book that will appeal to anybody wanting an insight into football as it was.


(Little Hell Books. November 2020. Hardback 320 pages)


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2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 3 – Saturday 10 August 2019: Bolton Wanderers v Coventry City

Match day programme cover

As is becoming increasingly common in the football world, the season starts with news of a few clubs in financial difficulty and 2019/20 was to prove no exception, with two former North-West leading lights, Bolton Wanderers and Bury this time under the financial spotlight.

When I worked in London, I had a colleague there, Phil, who was a big Bury fan, so I used to follow their results and others in the league so I could talk to him about his club as he would mine. This was back in the early 1980s, so it meant getting football updates reading the national papers, as the internet was still a pipedream, and Sky and Channel 4 were in their infancy. A historic old club, the Shakers, who won the FA Cup twice (1899/1900 and 1902/03), held the record for the biggest victory in an FA Cup Final, when beating Derby County 6 – 0 in 1903, a record only equalled in 2018/19 when Manchester City put six past Watford. An additional impressive fact about Bury is that they are the only club to have scored more than 1,000 goals in each of the top four tiers of the Football League. Since those glory days, they’ve flitted between the third and fourth tiers for the last 50 years, but I have always kept an eye on them. Then strangely enough I discovered a new work colleague, this time in Leeds called Tim, who was also a Bury fan and who went to watch them, so my chats all things Shakers related resumed and I used to look forward to those Monday morning football chats. Sadly Bury due to financial issues, didn’t start the 2019/20 season, and were expelled in December 2019 from the Football League. Fans have created a phoenix club, Bury AFC, and hope to take the field in the North West Counties League in 2020/21. Very much a case of watch this space.

Whilst Bury disappeared from the Football League ranks, Bolton Wanderers on the other hand were clinging on to their league status by their fingernails and had managed to make it to the opening day of the campaign, losing 2-0 at Wycombe Wanderers. I then decided to get tickets for Bolton’s first home game of the season against Coventry City. I don’t think that they were expecting such a big crowd and as a result the programmes at the ground had sold out, thankfully though I managed to get hold of one later on the internet. The University of Bolton Stadium (previously the Reebok Stadium and Macron Stadium), was another new ground for me – this is a recurring theme as I have deliberately avoided grounds I have already been to – rules eh!

Due to their financial difficulties Bolton Wanderers had gone into administration, been deducted 12 points, and had to field their youngest ever team. The Trotters did not name a single senior player in their starting line-up, with the 11 players on the pitch at kick-off having an average age of just 19.

Despite their lack of experience, Wanderers fared valiantly against an attacking Coventry side, who thought they had taken the lead when Wesley Jobello turned in from close range before it was ruled out for offside. The Sky Blues had another goal disallowed for offside soon after the break when Amadou Bakayoko bundled home from a deflection off Jordy Hiwula. You can imagine the look on his face as he came sliding towards the Bolton fans on his knees in celebration when the goal was chalked off.

Bolton’s best chance of the match came after Finlay Hurford-Lockett’s cross was almost fired home by Eddie Brown deep into the second half. Incredibly, Coventry then had a third goal disallowed for offside as the game moved into the closing minutes, after Maxime Biamou slotted in from point-blank range. At the whistle, the Trotters had held Coventry City to a goalless draw to claim their first point of the League One season. A most enjoyable match primarily due to the tireless running of the Bolton youngsters and well appreciated by a large crowd of almost 9,000, swelled by 2,500 Coventry fans who joined in the appreciation for the Bolton players. I don’t know if it’s a record, but the Bolton squad numbers that day added up to over 500, including goalkeeper Matt Alexander wearing No: 43 and the substitute keeper, Luke Hutchinson wearing No: 46.

Saturday 10 August 2019

Sky Bet League One

Bolton Wanderers 0 Coventry City 0

Venue: University of Bolton Stadium

Attendance: 8,901

Bolton Wanderers: Alexander, Brockbank, Edwards, Zouma, White, King-Harmes (Hurford-Lockett 67’), Graham, Weir, Politic, Brown, Darcy

Unused substitutes: Boon, Senior, Brown-Sterling, Richards, Riley, Hutchinson

Coventry City: Marosi, Dabo, McFadzean, Rose, Mason, Westbrooke (Bapaga 87’), Kelly, Shipley, Jobello, Bakayoko (Godden 61’), Hiwula-Mayifuila (Biamou 60’)

Unused substitutes: Wilson, Hyam, McCallum, Eccles


Steve Blighton

Book Review: The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had by Tom Maxwell

When England manager Roy Hodgson recently suggested that he would be monitoring the progress of Manchester United’s Belgian youngster Adnan Januzaj, the issue of international player eligibility was once more in the news.

Nowadays in this country, supporters are used to seeing players born in different countries turning out for England whether it is football, cricket, rugby league or rugby union. However, the rules governing eligibility have not always been as they are now and this issue is central to the latest book by Tom Maxwell, ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had’.

In 1938, George and Lizzie Baker were living in New York and on 11 April that year their first child Gerry Austin Baker was born. However, when the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the family returned to England to settle in Liverpool, where in July 1940, Joseph Henry Baker was born. Merseyside wasn’t to remain home for long, as the Germans blitzed the port area of Liverpool. Six weeks after Joe was born, Lizzie took the young boys to Wishaw near Motherwell and this was where the family settled and grew up.

Both boys were talented young players and in 1955 Gerry made his debut for Chelsea in the Southern Professional Floodlit Cup. In the same year, Joe played for Scotland Schoolboys playing against England and Wales. However, from this point the path the brothers journeyed on was not as might have been predicted.

Joe was never to pull on the blue shirt of Scotland after 1955 and instead because of the place of his birth, it was ruled he could only play international football for England. So it was that Joe went on to make 5 appearances (scoring 4 goals) for the Under 23s and gained 8 full caps (scoring 3 goals). Indeed Joe played in the opening England game in January 1966, although ultimately he was destined not to be part of the World Cup squad.

In terms of his club career, Joe was widely regarded wherever he played. He started his professional career with Hibernian and in four seasons, amassed 141 goals. This lead to a single season stint at Torino, where he was seriously injured in a car crash, in which Dennis Law was also involved. Baker returned to England and had an impressive four season stay at Arsenal where Joe scored 100 goals. However, partway through his last season at Highbury (1965/66) he moved onto Nottingham Forest and stayed at the City Ground until 1968/69. His tally of 49 goals might not have been as prolific as his returns at his other clubs, but Joe became something of a cult figure down by the Trent. With Joe approaching his 30th birthday he moved to Sunderland for the 1969/70 season as his career started to wind down. The following season he returned to Scotland and Hibernian, finally retiring from playing in 1973/74 after a two season stint at Raith Rovers. Joe’s record makes incredible reading, as from 615 club appearances he scored 372 goals – an outstanding return.

Brother Gerry never settled at Chelsea and returned to Motherwell. However, he found opportunities difficult to come by and he moved to St. Mirren scoring an impressive 66 goals in 81 games. His exploits attracted clubs in England and Gerry had a two season spell at Manchester City before returning to Scotland and Hibernian in 1961/62, just as Joe left the club. However in 1963/64, Gerry left Easter Road and once more moved ‘south of the border’ to help Ipswich Town gain promotion from Division Two, enjoying a productive spell at Portman Road, before moving to Coventry City. It was whilst at the Sky Blues that Gerry gained international honours for the USA. He played in 7 games for the land of his birth, scoring twice and was part of the side that fell short of qualifying for the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico. Gerry ended his professional career at Brentford in the 1969/70 season before playing for Margate (as player-manager), Nuneaton Borough, Bedworth United and Worcester City. Gerry’s club career saw him score a highly impressive 201 goals from 409 games.

Writer Tom Maxwell tells the story of their respective remarkable careers in an engaging and intimate way. The excellent research and quotes from the brothers and players of the era, means this book is a personal yet interesting insight into football during the 1950s and 60s both in Scotland and England.

But for the eligibility rules of the late 1950s, Scotland would have had a very different international forward line.

Between them, 1,024 appearances, 573 goals – ‘the Fabulous Baker Boys’ indeed.


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