Highfield Road highs and lows: a young Bowditch scores, a young Butcher is dismissed
PUBLISHED: 11:57 30 November 2019
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 120 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he spotlights Highfield Road, the former home of Coventry City
Once upon a time, Coventry City were a settled club with a settled home - Highfield Road was their happy abode for more than a century.
But those days are long gone.
Since leaving Highfield Road, after a 106-year stay in 2005, the Sky Blues have led an uncertain life, often on the road.
They played at the newly-built Ricoh Stadium from 2005 until 2013, when a row over rent saw them move to Northampton Town's Sixfields (a 70-mile round trip) - there had earlier been talks of a ground-share at nearby Walsall's Bescot Stadium.
After a year at Sixfields, the Sky Blues triumphantly returned to the Ricoh in 2014, although this second stay only lasted five years, hence Ipswich Town's visit to St Andrew's, the home of Birmingham City, for this Sunday's FA Cup second round tie.
Ground-sharing with Birmingham must be a bitter pill to swallow, for proud Coventry City fans, although this time its 'only' a 42-mile round trip from their former Ricoh home.
It's perhaps not surprising, then, that even though Coventry are flying high in League One (in fifth spot), their average home attendance at St Andrew's is under 6,000 (5,923 to be precise).
They averaged more than 12,000 at the Ricoh the previous season, while during their final campaign at their beloved Highfield Road (2004-05), the average home gate was over 16,000 with a high of 22,728 for the final ever game against Derby County.
It was during this season that Ipswich Town made their last ever visit to Highfield Road.
Ironically, a striker who is still very much in the news, was on target for Town that day.
Dean Bowditch, who earlier this month became a big-name signing at ambitious Stowmarket Town, scored the opener in a 2-1 win at Coventry's old ground on October 3, 2004.
Bowditch, now aged 33, and who made his Stowmarket debut in a 2-1 win over Mildenhall Town last weekend, broke the deadlock in the 70th minute for Joe Royle's men, firing home from a narrow angle - the 18-year-old was sporting a new-look close-cropped hairstyle at the time.
The match was also noted for a fine penalty save by Town keeper Lewis Price, who kept out Stern John's spot kick - John went on to play seven games on loan for Ipswich, towards the end of his career, under Roy Keane in 2009-10. It was not a particularly successful stay, with just one goal scored, although ironically it was against his old club Coventry in a rare Town victory (3-2).
Back to 2004, and Cameroon striker Patrick Suffo's 77th minute equaliser for City was cancelled out by Town's late winner, an 87th minute own goal by home defender Matt Mills.
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It was a happy way for Town to sign off at Highfield Road, although a young Matt Mills (he was only 18 at the time) would probably not agree.
Still, Mills is still going strong, at the age of 33, as a player-coach at Forest Green Rovers, just as fellow 33-year-old Bowditch is back in the limelight, at Greens Meadow, Stowmarket.
- Club: Coventry City
- Founded: 1883 (136 years ago, as Singers FC, adopted name of Coventry City in 1898)
- Former ground: Highfield Road (1899 to 2005)
- Town's 1st visit: 2-0 away defeat on February 28, 1953
- Town's last visit (to Highfield Road): 2-1 away win on Oct 3, 2004
- Town's overall record at Coventry City: P42 W13 D13 L16
Club-wise, Coventry City are one of only five clubs to have won the FA Cup and the FA Youth Cup in the same year (1987).
Ground-wise, Highfield Road became the first all-seater stadium in England, in 1981.
My first experience of Highfield Road was not with Ipswich Town, it was actually while reporting on Cambridge United, back on January 4, 1992. But there was a big Town connection.
Former England and Town centre-half Terry Butcher was the Sky Blues manager at the time, but Cambridge's visit for an FA Cup third round tie was to be his last on the hot-seat.
John Beck's Cambridge were good value for a 1-1 draw, and that was to prove the final nail in 33-year-old Butcher's managerial coffin - he was sacked two days later. Cambridge won the replay.
Two memories stick out: interviewing a subdued Butcher after the match, and the problem I had finding a car park in the surrounding residential streets.