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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 surprises.

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 atmosphere.

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 assembled diners.

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.

Dave SextonDave 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 good.

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.

Reg MatthewsDave 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.

When Magnus Hedman felt his hamstring go in the pre-match warm-up, the world changed rapidly for young Gary who was told, “you’re in.”

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 endeavour.

So, you are asking, what of the former Sky Blue favourite who presented us with an FA Cup obstacle in ’87?

Micky AdamsI 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 following day.

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 years.

So – quite a night one way or the other. And you thought that nothing ever happens in Coventry.

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.

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CWN / Sport / Football / Coventry City FC / Stuart Linnell / 11 Oct 01
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