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York City v Coventry: By George – he was a tough ’un
WHATEVER back-line Coventry field for tonight’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash at Bootham Crescent, it will not contain anybody as fearsome as former Sky Blues club captain George Curtis, according to Barry Tait.
Curtis lined up against ex-York City forward Tait the last time the two clubs met more than half a century ago when the Highfield Road hosts ran out 5-2 winners in an old Third Division fixture.
The match took place on the second day of 1960 midway through a season that had seen City play their first floodlit games at home.
Billy Hughes and John Edgar were the visitors’ marksmen in the Midlands but Coventry were comfortable winners against Sam Bartram’s team, who would finish the season fourth bottom and relegated back to English football’s basement division just a year after the club had won promotion for the first-ever time.
One of five surviving members from that last game – the others are Tommy Forgan, Bob Ramsey, Charlie Twissell and Barry Jackson – Tait, now 74, probably still has the scars to remember it by.
Recalling his battle against old adversary Curtis, who would go on to captain the Sky Blues in the top flight and was later joint-manager when the club lifted the FA Cup in 1987, Tait grimaced: “He was their centre-half and was a big, strong bloke.
“You knew you had played 90 minutes when you were up against him and he was a very good, solid player. I used to have battles against him every time we played them.
“If he had been at a better club, he would have won caps for England and I found him very difficult to play against. He would kick you all over the pitch although, off it, he was a gent.
“He was one of those that you thought ‘oh no, he’s not playing is he?’ when you saw the team sheet and, nowadays, he would probably have lasted ten minutes before he was sent off. I was only small but I used to try all the tricks like treading on his foot as well, so he would have probably said I deserved what I got.”
Tait was on the Bootham Crescent books during the only two seasons City have plied their trade in the same division as Coventry with the pair having been promoted together in 1958/9.
But the Minstermen never managed to win any of the four encounters from that era and you have to trawl back to a 1938 3-2 FA Cup triumph to uncover the only time York’s footballers have prevailed against their Midlands nemesis.
Tait, who went on to play for Bradford City, Halfax, Crewe and Notts County, now reckons Gary Mills’ class of 2012/13 can claim a first post-War win, adding: “I remember the last match we played against them well.
“It was just before Jimmy Hill took over there and we got well beaten and, to be honest, I can never remember beating them in about half-a-dozen games with other clubs I played for too. This York team has probably got a better chance than we ever had because Coventry aren’t as good as they used to be and I hope they do win.”
Tait was one of three talented youngsters, along with Addison and Jackson, who were cutting their teeth in that 1960 team under Bartram.
The likes of Hughes, Forgan, George Howe and Norman Wilkinson, from the famous Happy Wanderers 1955 FA Cup semi-final side, were also still part of the same side.
But Bartram could not prevent the team sliding back into the old Fourth Division and Tait, who would later scout for Alex Ferguson at Manchester United after spotting the likes of Richard Cresswell and Jonathan Greening for City when he assisted then youth-team boss Ricky Sbragia at Bootham Crescent, believes coaching naivety meant that the 1960 side was perhaps not as good as its individual parts.
“I think maybe the game changed and people were getting more technical in their tactics,” Tait said.
“Sam was not a great tactician and I can’t remember tactics ever being discussed properly at York.
“It was only when I took my coaching badges and worked for Manchester United later in life that I realised what that side of the game was all about. Managers in the Premier League have to be fully-qualified coaches now and that’s how it should be.”
Tait still has fond memories of that season, however, having played the first-ever night matches under lights at Bootham Crescent that term.
“The lights were good for part-time players like me because it meant we could suddenly train three nights a week,” he remembered. “People are used to night matches now but the atmosphere was brilliant during those first games.”
He also still meets old team-mates Mick Granger, Dave Dunmore and Alan Woods for a pint, although legendary City ’keeper Forgan has not been in touch since emigrating for Australia.
On the possible reasons for that, Tait smiled: “I played against Tommy in his last game in York before he went to Australia. I was playing for Cliftonville and I think he had been given dispensation to play for the Civil Service.
“He was winding me up saying I could never score against him in training but I went on to put five goals past him in a 5-2 win. He was heartbroken afterwards and I felt a bit guilty.”
How it was back then
City team (v Coventry on January 2, 1960): Forgan, Ramsey, Howe, Wragg, Jackson, Mollatt, Hughes, Tait, Wilkinson, Edgar, Twissell.
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