The cup final of 1987 was a remarkable match. Not only because it was Coventry City’s first and only appearance in the FA’s Wembley final, but for me, it was also one of the best days I ever spent with my late father in law Harry Moore. Tickets for the match were hard to come by in Coventry. Everybody in Godiva’s city wanted one, and I, as a young father couldn’t afford the official price let alone the ridiculous figures at which they changed hands in Coventry pubs. However, Harry ran a business in Foleshill Road and had obtained two tickets through the Chamber of Trade. He wasn’t really an avid football fan and confessed to me he really wanted to go for the community singing and marching bands that precedes the match. Still, a Wembley final is a special event and something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
So on 16th of May 1987 I picked him up from Ratcliffe Culey near Atherstone where he lived with his wife Janet. He had decided we would travel on the “football specials” along with thousands of other Coventry supporters so we parked at Nuneaton station and caught the local train to Coventry. It was a beautiful warm spring day with hardly a cloud in the sky. Arriving at Coventry station there was a buzz in the air and we joined the thousands of Sky Blue supporters queuing outside and all the way around the station. It was all very good natured. Fans were singing and pointing at the shoppers….
“We’re going to Wembley, We going to Wembley, You’re not! You’re not!”…….. a chant whose significance was shortly to become quite prescient.
It was all very smooth. From 9am the electric trains glided into to the platform one behind the other. They filled with passengers and left towards London. I think we were on the third train. We found a compartment with two spare seats, Harry asking if he could have the seat facing forward, and waited to depart, and waited, and waited. We didn’t move, nothing was happening, Finally after about an hour a railway man said there were problems with the overhead wires but they would do their best to get us there in time for the match. About eleven o’clock, having been on this train for well over an hour, whistles blew, flags were waived and our train started moving, ….backwards and in the wrong direction! It was obvious we were been hauled very slowly by a diesel locomotive. Out of the station through Spon End, passing Keresley Colliery and the Coalite plant . We passed Bedworth, Griff House, Nuneaton Station before finally, after some shunting, arriving in Atherstone Station. It was now one o’clock and the Wembley kick off was at three pm!
The train departed Atherstone station heading south and boy did it move! We learned later that British Rail had cleared all the tracks for the football specials to ensure they arrived at Wembley in time for the match. Now on electric power it zoomed through the countryside at what seemed phenomenal speed. Passing stations much too fast to read their names, through the Kilsby tunnel and on to London. The mood in our compartment lightened as we realized we might get to see the game. It was also the first time I saw a different side of my father in law as he cracked jokes and entertained us with his tales to the genuine appreciation of the other passengers. Finally we arrived at Wembley and rushed up the steps along the concourse leading towards the two (now demolished) towers. It was ten minutes to three. Harry had missed the community singing but we took our seats just as the whistle blew.
Well the game is well remembered, Clive Allen scored for Spurs after only two minutes which some Coventry supporters missed as they were still entering the ground! Bennett equalized for Sky blues seven minutes later and just before half time Mabbutt put Spurs ahead. Harry then got his wish and watched the Band of the Royal Marines march and perform in the interval. Keith Houchen’s diving header equalized in the second half. This meant Coventry 2 Tottenham Hotspurs 2 so the game went to extra time. Six minutes into extra time a deflection off Spurs’ Gary Mabbutt put Coventry ahead again, an own goal which ensured that victory and the Midlander’s happiness was complete!
The return journey was one of celebration on the football specials. As we approached the outskirts of Coventry blue banners and bunting were hanging from houses and fences along the railway. In gardens there were celebrations as people waved and shouted at the trains returning from Wembley. We arrived back at Coventry station where Harry met a friend from the Chamber of Commerce who was talking to a tired looking British Rail official complete with walkie talkie, no mobile phones in 1987. From him we learned what had happened. It seems deliberate vandalism near Whitley had caused the problem. A concrete fence post had been thrown from a bridge damaging the overhead wires and stopping all trains. As this was such an important day for the city an emergency plan was enacted. All the football specials were diesel hauled via Bedworth and Atherstone to rejoin the West Coast Main Line, track routes were rescheduled to ensure they arrived before kick off. An amazing achievement and one impossible on today’s privatized rail system. The very idea that today’s fragmented system could have spare locomotives, drivers, route planners and staff, called upon at a minute’s notice is a fitting tribute to the much maligned image of the former British Rail. No wonder the British Rail manger looked tired. He confessed to us that he had had a good day! Coventry had a good day. Harry and I had had a good day, but few supporters in Coventry ever knew how close to disaster their trip, to their cup final victory, nearly came!
PS My father in law Harry Moore passed away in October 2017. In March 2020 his third great grand child was named Harry after him.