John Sillett: Coventry City’s 1987 FA Cup-winning manager dies aged 85

John Sillett: Coventry City’s 1987 FA Cup-winning manager dies aged 85

by Emily Smith
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John Sillett (right) was manager of Coventry when they won the FA Cup in 1987, the club’s first major trophyFormer Coventry City manager John Sillett, who guided the club to FA Cup victory in 1987, has died aged 85.

Sillett managed the Sky Blues between 1986-90 and was at the helm when the club beat Tottenham 3-2 in the final at Wembley for their first major trophy.

As a full-back, he began his career as a player at Chelsea and made more than 100 appearances for the club after making his debut in 1957.

He played for Coventry and Plymouth Argyle before moving into management.

BBC Replay: Coventry win the 1987 FA Cup Final”Obviously the family are really saddened by dad’s passing but we are all so proud of him and what he achieved,” a statement from Sillett’s family said.

“His ability to spot things tactically, change them during a game and enhance the abilities of players was top class, the respect he had from top people in the game and the kind words we have already received already underline the high regard in which he was held by the football world.”

George Curtis, who was joint-manager at Coventry alongside Sillett during the 1987 season, died in July this year aged 82.

In a statement, Coventry described Sillett as an “icon” and said the club were “devastated” to learn of his death.

“‘Snoz’ will forever be loved and remembered by Sky Blues fans and all who met him, who will remember a larger-than-life character who loved football and Coventry City,” the statement said.

Ogrizovic and Bennett lead player tributesFormer Coventry goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic, who played for the Sky Blues from 1984-2000 and was a member of the 1987 FA Cup-winning team, told BBC CWR: “He was one of those people who whenever he entered a room, he lit it up with his charisma and personality.

“He was great fun to be around, he told some brilliant stories, very humorous and he’ll be greatly missed.

“He was a great believer in round pegs in round holes and he just made players feel far, far better than they actually were.”

Forward Dave Bennett, who scored Coventry’s opening goal at Wembley, said Sillett created a “special bond” among the squad of players, who are still friends to this day.

“On and off the park, the spirit of the 87 team is epitomised by John Sillett, with George (Curtis) putting a little bit of discipline in. He was a good speaker, he always made sure he was getting his point across, he was inspirational.

“The person who brought me to Coventry was Bobby Gould, when John was still doing the youth team. When he stepped up to being the first-team coach he sat us down in the changing room and said ‘how can I get the best out of this team?’

“We all said we wanted to play to feet to get the best out of Cyrille (Regis), myself and other members of the squad and he just galvanised us. He wanted us to have fun, we wanted to enjoy our football and it all knitted together.”

Bennett added: “He knew when to give us a telling off but he also knew to when we needed to go out and let our hair down. He was a fantastic motivator, gentlemen and a close friend.”

Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the League Managers’ Association said: “I have been privileged to have known John for many years. He was a genuine, well-meaning gentleman, greatly admired throughout football for his honesty and professionalism.

“Football has lost a great servant and our thoughts and condolences are with John’s family and friends at such a sad time.”

Sillett’s careerAfter starting his career at Chelsea, Southampton-born Sillett became Jimmy Hill’s first signing at Coventry in 1962 for £3,000. He went on to make 128 appearances for the Sky Blues and was part of the team that won promotion to Division Two in 1963-64.

Sillett left Coventry in 1966 to join Plymouth, where he ended his playing career, before being appointed a youth coach at Bristol City.

He moved into management with Hereford in 1974, where he won the Third Division title, and returned to the club in 1991 after his time in charge of Coventry came to an end.

Sillett had rejoined the Sky Blues as a coach in 1979 on the invitation of Hill and spent five years on the staff.

After a short a short spell away, he returned to the club again in 1986 as chief coach, leading Coventry to the greatest day in their history a year later.

Speaking at the time of Coventry’s FA Cup victory, Sillett said: “I would have thought that was as good a final as there’s been for a long time. We had great belief George (Curtis, joint manager) in the boys and they went there and they didn’t disappoint.”

Reaction from Sky Blues fansSue Medlock, who as well as being a supporter also once nursed Sillett, said: “We had lots of chats about football whilst he was a patient and he was just so happy about the joy the 87 cup run brought to the city.

“In the job I do, you try to be as professional as possible but clearly the fact that I was a fan came across and he was so happy to talk football. He gave me a signed photo before he left our care.

“I sobbed this morning following the news. It just shows how much he meant. The word legend is used far to loosely these days but he truly was a legend and what he did for the club in 87 and the connection he had with it will never be forgotten.”

Bill Bell, vice-chair of the Coventry City Former Players’ Association, told BBC CWR: “His sense of humour never left him, even towards the end.

“We’ve had a few reunions over the years, the 20th anniversary, the 30th and we’re just waiting to sort it out with the club but there’s going to be a 35-year anniversary of winning the FA Cup and most of the guys have agreed to come.

“It’s going to be even more poignant with the passing of both George and John in a short space of time.

“It will be difficult for them all but I’m sure they will have great stories to tell of John and George, who led that team and were so popular, not only within the football club but within the city of Coventry and gave it one of its greatest days. The homecoming with the FA Cup on the Sunday was just remarkable.”

John Sillett and George Curtis (back centre) lead the celebrations after Coventry’s 1987 FA Cup final win over TottenhamSillett’s ‘passion for club never left him’Analysis – BBC Radio WM and former BBC CWR reporter Rob Gurney

The FA Cup triumph was built on the unique bond that Sillett and George Curtis, as former City team-mates, had, and they dovetailed magnificently to mastermind the club’s greatest day.

They were the guiding lights for a group of players who had gone from just avoiding the ignominy of relegation, to winning the domestic game’s most historic trophy in the space of a year.

There’s an added sense of poignancy that both have passed away within a few months’ of each other.

Superstition played a major part in Sillett’s footballing life.

Steve Ogrizovic – the club’s record appearance-maker – used to tell a story of travelling on the coach to away matches, and if Sillett saw a single magpie, he would make the driver look for a second one before they could continue their journey; only then would he be content.

His passion for the club never left him in later life either. I vividly remember him being reduced to tears in sheer frustration on BBC CWR when the club left the city that bears its name to play in exile at Northampton.

An unforgettable man, woven into the history of Coventry City – and one I was proud to have known.

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