The Sky Blues were on the verge of a great success, reaching the 1988 FA Cup Final. But before that match had even taken place Coventry City FC was already facing financial difficulties and relegation to League One.
John Sillett was the manager of Coventry City when they won the FA Cup in 1987. He managed to get them through a tough group that included Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United.
Coventry City manager John Sillett (right) was in charge when the club won the FA Cup for the first time in 1987.
John Sillett, the former manager of Coventry City who led the team to FA Cup success in 1987, has died at the age of 85.
Sillett was the manager of the Sky Blues from 1986 to 1990, and was in charge when the team won their first major title, beating Tottenham 3-2 in the final at Wembley.
He started his career as a full-back at Chelsea, where he made more than 100 games after making his debut in 1957.
Before becoming a manager, he played for Coventry City and Plymouth Argyle.
“Obviously, the family is heartbroken by dad’s loss, but we are all very proud of him and all he accomplished,” Sillett’s family said in a statement.
“His tactical ability to notice things, adjust them during a game, and increase the talents of players was top notch, and the respect he garnered from top individuals in the game, as well as the wonderful comments we’ve already received, demonstrate the high esteem in which he was regarded by the football world.”
George Curtis, who was co-manager with Sillett at Coventry for the 1987 season, died in July this year at the age of 82.
Coventry named Sillett as a “icon” in a statement, saying the club was “devastated” to hear of his passing.
“‘Snoz’ will be long cherished and remembered by Sky Blues supporters and everyone who encountered him,” the statement added, “who will remember a larger-than-life character who loved football and Coventry City.”
Player tributes are led by Ogrizovic and Bennett.
“Whenever he entered a room, he filled it up with his charm and energy,” said former Coventry goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic, who played for the Sky Blues from 1984 to 2000 and was a part of the 1987 FA Cup-winning side.
“He was a lot of fun to be around, and he told some fantastic tales. He was also quite funny, and he’ll be sorely missed.”
“He was a firm believer in round pegs in round holes, and he simply made players feel better than they were.”
Sillett built a “unique relationship” among the Coventry team of players, according to forward Dave Bennett, who scored the first goal at Wembley.
“On and off the field, John Sillett embodies the enthusiasm of the 1987 squad, with George (Curtis) providing some discipline. He was an excellent speaker who always made sure he got his message through, and he was encouraging.
“When John was still running the young squad, Bobby Gould was the one who took me to Coventry.” He sat us down in the locker room when he became the first-team coach and said, “How can I get the most out of this team?”
“We all agreed that we wanted to play to our feet to get the most out of Cyrille (Regis), myself, and the rest of the team, and he just energised us. He wanted us to have a good time, and we wanted to enjoy our football, so everything came together.”
Bennett said, ” “He understood when to scold us, but he also knew when it was time for us to go out and let our hair down. He was a great motivator, a gentleman, and a good friend.”
“I have had the opportunity of knowing John for many years,” said Howard Wilkinson, head of the League Managers’ Association. He was a sincere, well-intentioned guy who was well recognized for his honesty and professionalism across the sport.
“Football has lost a tremendous servant, and our hearts go out to John’s family and friends at this difficult time.”
Sillett’s professional life
Sillett, who began his career at Chelsea, became Jimmy Hill’s first signing at Coventry City in 1962 for £3,000. He went on to make 128 appearances for the Sky Blues, and was a member of the 1963-64 club that gained promotion to Division Two.
Sillett moved from Coventry to Plymouth in 1966, where he finished his playing career before becoming a youth coach at Bristol City.
In 1974, he took over as manager of Hereford, where he won the Third Division championship, and he returned to the club in 1991 when his spell as manager of Coventry ended.
On Hill’s invitation, Sillett returned to the Sky Blues as a coach in 1979 and stayed for five years.
After a brief absence, he returned to the club as main coach in 1986, guiding Coventry to the greatest day in the club’s history a year later.
Sillett commented on Coventry’s FA Cup triumph at the time: “That was, in my opinion, one of the best finals I’ve seen in a long time. We had a lot of faith in the guys, George (Curtis, joint manager), and they went there and didn’t let us down.”
Sky Blues supporters’ reactions
“We had many of discussions about football when he was a patient and he was just so delighted with the pleasure the 87 cup run provided to the city,” said Sue Medlock, who was both a fan and a nurse who had treated Sillett.
“You try to be as professional as possible in your position, but it was evident that the fact that I was a football fan came over, and he was overjoyed to speak football.” Before he left our care, he handed me a signed picture.
“Following the news this morning, I cried. It simply goes to show how much he mattered to you. The term “legend” is overused these days, but he was genuinely a legend, and what he accomplished for the club in 1987, as well as his relationship to it, will never be forgotten.”
“His sense of humour never left him, even towards the end,” Bill Bell, vice-chair of the Coventry City Former Players’ Association, told CWR.
“We’ve had a few reunions over the years, the 20th, the 30th, and we’re just waiting to work something out with the club, but there’s going to be a 35-year anniversary of winning the FA Cup, and most of the lads have agreed to attend.”
“With the death of both George and John in such a short period of time, it will be much more devastating.”
“It will be tough for them all, but I’m sure they’ll have amazing memories to tell about John and George, who led that squad and were so beloved not just inside the football club but also throughout the city of Coventry, giving it one of its most memorable days. On Sunday, the FA Cup brought the club home for the first time.”
After Coventry’s FA Cup final victory against Tottenham in 1987, John Sillett and George Curtis (rear center) lead the celebrations.
Sillett’s ‘love for club never left him,’ according to him.
Rob Gurney, former CWR reporter and host of Radio WM, provides his analysis.
The FA Cup victory was predicated on Sillett and George Curtis’ special friendship as former City teammates, and they worked flawlessly together to orchestrate the club’s finest day.
They were the beacons of hope for a bunch of players who had gone from surviving relegation to winning the domestic game’s most illustrious prize in the space of a year.
The fact that they both died within a few months of one other adds to the sadness.
In Sillett’s football career, superstition had a significant role.
Steve Ogrizovic, the club’s all-time appearance maker, used to recount a tale about how if Sillett spotted a single magpie on the way to an away match, he would insist the driver seek for a second one before continuing their trip; only then would he be satisfied.
His love for the club remained with him throughout his life. When the team departed the city that bears its name to play in exile in Northampton, I clearly recall him being brought to tears in frustration on CWR.
I was glad to have known him. He was an outstanding figure, entwined into the history of Coventry City.
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