Monday, 19 December 2016

Season's Greetings from Highfield Road, Coventry 1970

It's Boxing Day 1970, and Coventry City are playing West Bromwich Albion at home. Fans turning up at the Highfield Road stadium that afternoon must have thought they'd swallowed a psychedelic sixpence in their Christmas pud when they spotted that their traditional Sky Blue coloured match day programme had turned bright red - and on the cover there's Santa Claus shooting a perfect left footed volley!

This was in fact a wacky festive concoction designed by John Elvin, the editor of 'Sky Blue', and published by his award-winning Sportsgraphic company - who had already won acclaim for their work on West Brom's 'Albion News' publication the previous year (coincidentally City's opponents this particular Boxing Day).

Over the course of the 1970/71 season, Sportsgraphic published 27 issues of 'Sky Blue' which included Division One and League Cup matches, a friendly versus the 1970 Scottish Cup champions Aberdeen, and two matches in the European Fairs Cup - including a second round contest against mighty Bayern Munich.

The Sportsgraphic vision for 'Sky Blue' was applauded in some circles as a design sensation, but from the outset its hefty price of two bob - which was twice the cost of a typical match day programme - did not sit happily with some of the fans. But Elvin made it clear that their two shillings would contribute to creating what would be the most exciting kind of match day read, anywhere. His editorials were chatty and playful - and the layouts were as hip, experimental and ultra modern as the coolest designs of the new decade.

But even though the prestigious 'Football League Review' programme awards would vote the 'Sky Blue' as the best club publication in the country in 1971 - Sportsgraphic had already been handed their notice to quit, even before the season was over.

Final Score 1-1, watched by 27,527. Oh, and the Manager of the Sky Blues was, appropriately, NOEL Cantwell..

Such a shame, as these publications are beautiful objects in their own right. Studying them now some 46 years on, 'Sky Blue' 1970/71 truly does deserve the praise it received at the time from those who were won over by the uncompromising graphics cut and pasted in Elvin's front room office at the end of a row of terraced housing opposite the Highfield Road ground.

I'm not sure what happened next for Sportsgraphic - but it seems that the world of football was never again prepared to embrace the originality of Elvin's mission to transform the simple match day programme into a work of art. Check this selection of Sky Blue covers and interior pages:

While contemplating a merry Christmas in Coventry circa 1970, I've stumbled upon another festive coincidence. Coventry City actually participated in the last ever fixture to be played in the English Football League on Christmas Day itself.

The year was 1959, it was the old Third Division, and their opponents at Highfield Road that Xmas day were Wrexham. In fact on the following day, Boxing Day 1959, as was the tradition of football past, Coventry traveled to Wales to play the reverse fixture at the Racecourse Ground. For the record, City won both matches.

So sad then to see that Coventry City are now currently languishing near the bottom of the third tier of the English Football League, and without a home ground of their own. Roll the clock back to 1970, and  the Sky Blues had beaten the German giants Bayern Munich at home 2-1 (though they had already been walloped away), and the very same season had become the stuff of legend with the incredible free-kick against Everton at Highfield Road scored by Ernie Hunt from Willie Carr's two-footed 'flick-up' (which thankfully was televised for posterity).

I remember us school kids attempting to replicate that extraordinary goal over and over again for years and years afterwards. On that nostalgic note...


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