DARN READABLE – 29 Minutes from Wembley: The Inside Story of Coventry City’s 1980/81 season

Writer Steve Phelps dons an investigative hat once more in his new book chronicling the tale of one of City’s greatest ever teams.

For those of you who were around at the time (or are just decent at A Question of Sport), what events would you expect to see in a montage from 1981? Does Ricky Villa weaving his way into FA Cup folklore spring to mind? How about John McEnroe questioning an umpire’s seriousness? Or the Botham/Willis inspired comeback at Headingley en route to Ashes victory?

All big deals. And yet it was a year that could have been even more memorable for Coventry City. Did you know that in February that year we were half an hour away from making our first ever major cup final?

While the 1987 Cup Final is a well-trodden (and remains a well-deserving) tale of triumph – a group of players in the late 1970s and early 80s established themselves as one of the most talented teams in our history, and Sky Blues author Steve Phelps has done us all a favour by tracking down Gordon Milne’s boys for his latest literary offering: 29 Minutes from Wembley.

I have to say – as a keen fan who just loves to remember the good times, it really is an education. I always thought I had a decent grasp of our history, but as far as the 80/81 team goes, it turns out I knew very little.

Steve has spoken to them all. Andy Blair, Garry Thompson, Gary Gillespie, Mark Hateley, Mick Ferguson, Ian Wallace, Roger Van Gool, Gordon Milne… even Clive Allen and John Motson offer their memories.

But it’s the anecdotes; the lesser-known names; the stories of players coming from Warwickshire’s County side – these are what really gripped me. Players like Paul Dyson – who I’d never heard of – but now I just know I would have loved. Or Steve Hunt – another new name to me, who was best mates (not really) with Pele and Franz Beckenbaur at New York Cosmos before joining City in 1978.

The team may have ultimately fallen short in the semi-final second leg at West Ham, but Steve has done a terrific job of recognising a group of young players that if they’d stayed together, had many fans wondering: how good could that team have been?

So it’s Christmas round the corner, and I implore you to head over to Amazon to grab yourself a copy. You can then give it to your other half, who can wrap it and return it to you on 25 December.

But if you’re looking for something a little more special, Steve and some of the 1980/81 boys will be in Coventry Waterstones after work tonight (Wednesday 13 December) from 5pm to 6.30pm, so why not pop in to say hi and add some autographs to what is already a ruddy special book about a ruddy special team.

Steve will also be alongside Jim Brown and some legends from Coventry City team who themselves achieved so much during the 1960s and have been celebrated in Jim’s new book.

BUY: 29 Minutes from Wembley: The Inside Story of Coventry City’s 1980/81 Season by Steve Phelps

BUY: Play Up Sky Blues: Champions 1967: Coventry City’s Rise to the Top by Jim Brown

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