Every football club is defined by their history. For Coventry City fans the events of May 16 1987 will never be forgotten, as the unfancied Sky Blues beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in a memorable FA Cup Final.
The 25th anniversary of that historic triumph is been celebrated at the city's Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. The gallery is currently hosting an exhibition
entitled Highfield Road to Wembley Way. I, Squarefootball writer Steve Coulter, interviewed Huw Jones to find out more about this fascinating show. Huw is the keeper of the collections at the Herbert and helped oversee the exhibition.
Memories of Houchen's diving header and manager John Sillet's joyous jig come flooding back as you stroll round. Huw told me about some of the exhibits.
"A lot of the items were donated by players and fans," he said. "We have got Dave Bennett's cup winner's medal, Keith Houchen's shirt and the match ball."
In addition a replica FA Cup is on display. Unsurprisingly this has proved very popular with visitors.
One reoccurring theme strikes you when visiting the exhibition. How much the cup win meant to the city of Coventry. Prior to 1987 the Sky Blues had failed to capture a major trophy. For much of its history the club plied its trade in the lower leagues. The arrival of manager Jimmy Hill in 1961 signalled a dramatic upturn in fortunes. Under their ambitious boss the club rose from the depths of Division Three to the heady heights of the First Division (now Premier League). Hill surprisingly resigned in 1967 as the club embarked on their top flight adventure.
For the next 20 years the West Midlands side struggled to maintain its place amongst the cream of English football. There were brief flirtations with glory, Gordon Milne's promising young side lost in the 1981 League Cup semi-final. But avoiding relegation was always the main priority at Highfield Road.
All these years of struggle made the subsequent glory sweeter. The exhibition includes fans memories of the day Coventry City shed their bridesmaids tag. a DVD accompanying the show recalls their day in the sun. Many of the supporters' tails are amusing as the city revelled in its unexpected success. One fan had little recollection of his journey back home. "All I can remember is getting the train back to Warwickshire." While another recalls the joyous scenes of that summer Saturday evening: "All the pubs in Coventry were full. I stood outside and was getting free drinks passed through the window."
The 87 success had a profound effect on the people of Coventry. Many of the other exhibits reflect the fans' pride. These include a knitted image of the entire cup winning side. Another Coventry City fan donated the suit he wore on the famous day. The natty number had vertical sky blue and white stripes adorning a jacket, waist coat and trousers. Huw told me that the fan had considered horizontal stripes. This suggestion was quickly dismissed: "No sir, we wouldn't want you to look ridiculous," replied the Saville Row tailor.
The cup win certainly put Coventry City on the football map. Huw Jones highlighted this aspect when stating "I don't know if there is another football town which cherished FA Cup success like Coventry. I know 1973 was special to the people of Sunderland, but Sunderland had won things before while Coventry had never achieved anything." Huw certainly has a point. I could only think of Southampton's 1976 victory coming into the same category.
The city was certainly revived by sporting glory. Coventry had been ravaged by the recession of early 1980s. The qorld famous car industry was in decline as thousands of Coventrians lost their jobs. Their troubles were forgotten when 250,000 people welcomed their heroes back home. The whole population of Coventry turned out in scenes reminiscent of the ending of the Second World War.
I would recommend a visit to this excellent exhibition. Other highlights include a screening of the complete match and a section devoted to the history of the club. Look out for a film showing Jimmy Hill talking tactics and the appearance of the famous tramline shirt. Fortunately the infamous brown away kit was not deemed suitable for public viewing!
The show has proved a huge success. Since its launch on April 6, more than 9,000 people have visited the exhibition. Whatever your allegiance, football is about history and a sense of community. Highfield Road to Wembley Way shows that in a troubled world the beautiful game is the ultimate feel good vehicle.
FROM HIGHFIELD ROAD TO WEMBLEY WAY WILL BE SHOWING AT COVENTRY'S HERBERT ART GALLERY AND MUSEUM UNTIL JULY 1, 2012
MONDAY - SATURDAY 10.30am to 4pm
SUNDAY - 12pm to 4pm
ADMISSION IS FREE (The exhibition is fully accessible for people with disabilities)
THE HIGHFIELD ROAD TO WEMBLEY WAY DVD IS AVAILABLE FROM THE HERBERT ART GALLERY AND MUSUEM SHOP, PRICED £12.95