If you had to pick a game during the Hoops’ long history that featured the most “big names” amongst the opposition it would be the friendly match which took place against Coventry City at the Charles Ground on November 20th 1984.
The match was arranged as part of the deal that took Spencer Creedon, the Hoops’ 16-year-old goalkeeper, as an apprentice to Coventry who at the time were playing in the old Division One under manager Bobby Gould.
And Gould, to his great credit, fielded a strong team at Deal which included two England internationals, Cyrille Regis and Peter Barnes, plus Dutch international Martin Jol and other highly-experienced performers such as Kenny Hibbitt, Brian Kilcline, Terry Gibson and Steve Ogrizovic, who is widely regarded as one of the best goalies never to have been capped by England.
It was hardly surprising, therefore, that Coventry cruised to a 7-0 victory thanks to a Hibbitt hat-trick plus strikes from Regis, Jol, Micky Gynn and Keith Thompson in front of a crowd of 1,823 which would have almost certainly exceeded 2,000 but for the heavy rain that lashed down on East Kent that night.
The Hoops manager at the time was Willie Herron, who recalled: “Coventry were initially interested in signing another of our young goalkeepers, Paul Farbrace, who of course went on to have a great career in cricket. I went up to Coventry to meet Bobby Gould a few weeks before the (Deal) game and Bobby admitted he wasn’t sure whether Paul’s future should be in football or cricket, and so I said to him, ‘Well, to be honest, we’ve got another young ‘keeper, Spencer Creedon, who I think is better than Paul’, and so Bobby decided to sign Spencer instead.”
The friendly at the Charles Ground was then duly arranged but it nearly didn’t go ahead because of a waterlogged pitch. Herron added: “On the morning of the game the pitch was unplayable after all the rain we’d had, but then someone ‘in the know’ managed to get Kent cricket club to let us use their pitch drying machine and that did the job.”
And so the match went ahead, with Farbrace in goal for Deal, but in the early stages it was Ogrizovic who was the busier of the two ‘keepers. Three times Hoops’ striker John O’Connell was through ‘one-on-one’ with Ogrizovic, but John was denied by the City goalie on each occasion and Herron added: “I can remember Bobby (Gould) giving John a right bollacking after the game. He said to him ‘You should have scored a hat-trick son before we had even got on the scoresheet!’”
But it was still a massively memorable night for O’Connell and Co to have the opportunity to play against such a star-studded line-up. Hoops defender Glyn Price, who had only signed from Dover Athletic the previous month, said: “I remember the game well, it was a great experience playing against some great players.”
And midfielder Brian Hardy, back at the Charles Ground during what was his third spell with the club, added: “Even though it chucked it down and we got beat 7-0 it was a great night playing against people like Cyrille Regis and Peter Barnes.”
Hoops’ supporter Mark Wyver recalled “driving through torrential rain from Whitstable” to watch the game while another of the club’s long-time supporters, Paul Bates, who had watched his first Deal game four years earlier, said: “I got a seat at the back of the old wooden stand which was the best place to be on a very wet night!”
The game was refereed by former Football League official Mike Taylor, with Peter McKay and Kenny Lees running the line, and the full Hoops squad, according to the match programme, was: Paul Farbrace, Alan Barrow, Freddie Doncaster, Glyn Price, Jimmy Law, Simon McNie, Andy Young, Brian Hardy, Dave Clay, John O’Connell. Paul Lansdown. Subs: Jimmy Nokes, Graham White, Kevin Fairclough, Martin Sharp, Peter Hook.
And one final thought: Apart from the three internationals who played in the game the Sky Blues had two other “former” or “future” England internationals on their books at the time. One was Bob Latchford, who was coming towards the end of his career which included being capped 12 times, and the other was a 22-year-old defender by the name of Stuart Pearce, who had joined Coventry from non-league Wealdstone a year earlier and who went on to win 78 caps and become one of this country’s best-ever left backs. I can’t help thinking that, if “Psycho” had played against Deal, he would have prevented O’Connell’s three “one-on-ones” with Ogrizovic. John would probably have been face down in the mud before reaching the penalty area!