OCT 01] THE STUART LINNELL
A Night Of Surprises
Where would you find, all on the
same night, a former captain of England, the England football
team’s chief scout, a former Sky Blue favourite who did his
best to stop City winning the Cup in ’87 and a teenage
debutant who could easily be studying for a degree? At Highfield
Road of course.
Tuesday’s Worthington Cup tie
between Coventry City and Chelsea brought that unlikely cast
together for a night of remembrance, drama, fun and a few
Surprise number one came before
the kick-off for the guests in the Carling Club, the hospitality
lounge that houses the porcelain replica of the FA Cup won by
the Sky Blues at Wembley fifteen years ago.
I had been tipped off that
England cricket star Alec Stewart was a guest of my good friends
Tony Finch and Joe Elliott in the Vice President’s club. Joe,
in his role of Associate Director of the club, usually takes a
pre-match stroll round the ground to ensure that all is going
well with the corporate hospitality and to savour the
Tony often accompanies him and
when I knew that 'Stewie' would be there, I guessed that he
would be given a guided tour along the way. A quick word with
Tony ensured that they would pass the Carling Club where I was
on hand to shake the sometime England skipper by the hand and
invite him to have a few words on the microphone to the
He readily agreed and was warmly
greeted, as a sporting hero should be, even when he confessed to
being a Chelsea fan!
I asked him how much football he
was usually able to watch, bearing in mind that until this year,
cricket had been almost a twelve-months-a-year activity for him.
“That’s right”, he
replied, “normally I get to see Chelsea about four or five
times a season, but I decided to have the first-half of this
winter off, and the selectors decided to give me the
second-half off as well.”
This joke at his own situation
produced a great response from his audience and, after
predicting a Chelsea victory, Alec was on his way. He took the
time to sign a few autographs and for a word with Sky Sports’
presenter (and City fan, of course) Richard Keys, who was dining
in the Carling Club on Tuesday.
As Joe and Tony took Alec on the
rest of their regular stroll, I bumped into a former Sky Blues
manager who was deservedly acknowledged in the Sunday ‘papers
for his part in England’s World Cup qualification.
Sexton looked as fit and relaxed as I can remember and as he
greeted me with a typically warm handshake, he ignored his own
brilliantly white thatch to remark on my greying temples.
“You’re looking well,” he
said, before adding with twinkle in his eye, “and very
distinguished these days!”
“Did you say EX-tinguished?”
I replied, getting the punch line in before he did.
Dave, rightly regarded now as
probably the best football coach England has ever seen, was
sensibly commissioned by Sven Goran Erikson to recruit and
deploy a team of experienced football men to go scouting for
England. Their mission is to help the manager and his assistant
Tord Grip keep an eye on the England squad and, more importantly
perhaps, to maintain a constant check on the opposition our
national team is likely to face.
Sexton’s Six, as they are
called, includes two other former City bosses – John Sillett
and Noel Cantwell, thus employing some of the wisest, most
knowledgeable footballing brains in the country for the national
Engaging them as part of the
England set-up could turn out to be as important as that Beckham
goal, the culmination of one of the most complete individual
displays of skill and hard work I have ever seen.
Sexton and John Sillett, of course, had their links with
Chelsea, as did Reg
Matthews. The England goalkeeper who died last week was
remembered before Tuesday’s match with a minute’s silence
– a fitting tribute to a truly nice man whose transfer from
Coventry to Chelsea in 1956 set a world record with what was
then the highest ever fee for a goalkeeper of £22,500.
It was only right, perhaps, that
we remembered Reg on the night that pre-match drama led to
another surprise, this time for 19 year old Gary Montgomery. The
youth team ‘keeper, whose A-level results are such that he
could now be studying at University, had been expecting to spend
the evening on the bench.
Hedman felt his hamstring go in the pre-match warm-up, the
world changed rapidly for young Gary who was told, “you’re
He did not disgrace himself,
making some fine saves while also showing a little
understandable inexperience. He even got man-of-the-match in one
newspaper, though I thought Youssef
Chippo deserved that accolade for his constant running and
So, you are asking, what of the
former Sky Blue favourite who presented us with an FA Cup
obstacle in ’87?
am referring to Micky
Adams, who left us at the start of the Cup run to join Leeds
United and went on to play against us in the semi-final at
Hillsborough in his native city of Sheffield. As a life-long
Sheffield United fan, Micky was particularly keen to do well on
Wednesday’s ground that day, but despite his best efforts, it
was our day.
Why do I mention him? Well, Micky
was also at Highfield Road on Tuesday, together with Dave
“Harry” Bassett, with few who saw them suspecting that they
would both emerge as the new managerial team at Leicester the
Bassett’s appointment was more
or less expected but no one realised that Adams would join him.
In fact, both had long since left Highfield Road, after running
the rule over Chelsea, Leicester’s opponents at the weekend,
by the time I was tipped off to the news that they would be
teaming up at Filbert Street.
A quick phone call to my
colleagues at Sky Sports News ensured that the digital TV
channel broke that story during Wednesday morning to the dismay
of Brighton fans for whom Adams had become something of a folk
hero as well as being their most successful manager in recent
So – quite a night one way or
the other. And you thought that nothing ever happens in
Yes, we lost the match,
succumbing to a classy, talented Premiership side that hardly
got into top gear but did just enough to wear us down and then
kill us off.
Disappointing to lose, but our
League position really is more important which I am sure is the
message Roland Nilsson will impart to his players as he assumes
the mantle of full-time manager, casting aside the
“caretaker” tag. I thought his appointment would be settled
last week, and there is now no clear indication as to when it
will be finally resolved.
But Roland is laid back about it,
as he appears to be about everything. It takes a lot to disturb
his calm, cool veneer. He wasn’t even ruffled by a night of
drama and surprises.