• Matt Appleby

Forest on TV: Coventry Ring-road and Runaround

A version of this article was first published in "Forest Review" on Wednesday, 4th November, 2020 versus Coventry City

Welcome back to Coventry after eight long seasons exploring the world beyond the Championship.

We often seek sympathy for our own plight of two decades outside the top flight but our existence has been tranquil in comparison to the dramas of Coventry this century.

Indeed, the Sky Blues are still waiting to be sent to Coventry permanently and are currently residing in deepest Birmingham.

St Andrews is a ground that we have visited regularly in recent years, however, going back a generation (or two), the challenge of completing the long walk from the station to Highfield Road without ending up on the pedestrian-free ring road was an annual event for us.

There was always something happening at Highfield Road back in the day, from brown kits and pioneering sponsorship initiatives (the “T” of Talbot cars adorned the whole of the shirt front at one stage), to the first all seater stadium in the top flight.

As we sneaked into the First Division in May 1977, Coventry only retained their place after a 2-2 draw with Bristol City.

Coincidentally, The Robins also stayed up courtesy of that result at the expense of Sunderland who were playing at Everton, supposedly at the same time.

In fact, the kick off was delayed at Highfield Road and consequently both teams were aware of Sunderland's defeat as they played out their draw.

The next season was a different story as Gordon Milne’s attacking team scored 75 goals in the league - just one less than top scorers Everton and six more than we managed in winning the league - and Coventry missed out on Europe by only two points.

Up front, Coventry had the archetypal front pairing.

The big man was Mick Ferguson and his sidekick was Ian Wallace, who adorned a truly impressive hairstyle that can best be described as a ginger afro.

Clough and Taylor liked them so much they tried to buy them both, with Wallace eventually joining in 1980 to become our top goalscorer in three out of his four seasons with us.

But back to Highfield Road on Saturday 22nd April 1978 - a date forever prominent in our club’s history.

Many thousands of our supporters were in a capacity crowd of 36,881 to see whether we could complete the miracle of winning the league in our first season back in the top flight … and with four games in hand.

Any photo of that match is snapshot that documents late 70s football fashion: the Sky Blues in their nylon Admiral template kit and us in our silky Adidas template.

The match was broadcast on Match of the Day but, sadly, the full highlights package has been lost, or more likely mislabelled, and currently cannot be found.

What has been retained in the BBC archive is a couple of the key moments from the match and around twenty minutes of fascinating “off-camera” post-match footage.

Peter Shilton’s point blank save from Ferguson is in our folklore as one of the greatest ever saves, albeit Peter Taylor suggested it was fortuitous in his post-match interview with David Coleman live on the BBC’s Grandstand.

Pete himself was a former Coventry goalkeeper and, as ever, you could never be completely sure if he was being harsh or slightly mischievous in that distinctive Nottingham accent.

Coventry were on top but we held on the for the goalless draw and the point we needed and, incredibly, we were Champions of England. A year to the day previously, we were fourth in the Second Division.

The post-match “celebrations” included a large scale pitch invasion from both sets of supporters with only a relatively modest number of police trying to maintain the West Midlands peace.

In that era of serious crowd trouble, this was a highly incendiary situation.

However, what followed was a slightly comical scene as both sets of supporters somewhat half-heartedly charged at each with just an occasional flared jean kicking out in anger.

Indeed, if Mike Reid had been in the centre circle, it could easily have been mistaken for an episode of Runaround (look it up on You Tube if you’ve never heard of it, you won’t be disappointed).

The BBC footage also includes some lovely shots from the back of the stand as our throng of supporters head down Swan Lane towards Coventry city centre, as the tannoy announcer reads out the final scores from across the country.

Briefly, you are transported back to that wonderful day in late 70s England.

On Grandstand, Peter Taylor is making a bold prediction that “we’ll go onto greater things in Europe” … hands up who believed him?


#nffc #nottinghamforest #ccfc #skyblues #pusb #highfieldroad #matchoftheday #grandstand #davidcoleman


©2020 by Matt Appleby
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