Coventry City: Sky Blues legend Steve Ogrizovic praises 'special' Wembley support
Coventry City legend Steve Ogrizovic says the size of their travelling army of supporters for Sunday's EFL Trophy final against Oxford United sums up the "special" spirit of the Sky Blues.
When Ogrizovic kept goal for City in their 1987 FA Cup final win over Tottenham, they were restricted to the regulated allocation of 25,000 tickets.
But on Sunday there will be close to 43,000 City fans heading for Wembley.
"It's a special day for all of us, the fans particularly," he told BBC Sport.
"This is a one-club city. You don't bring 40,000 to a cup final if there's not a good fan base, if there's not a real interest in the club."
City goalkeeping coach Ogrizovic, 59, will have the honour of leading the team out against Oxford.
And City's travelling support will be one of the biggest-ever followings for a club game at Wembley, bettered only by the 44,000 allocation given to winners Southampton against Carlisle United in the 2010 final.
It is all the more impressive given the struggles the Sky Blues have gone through in recent seasons.
Even if they win on Sunday, they could soon be adding their name to the list of teams to reach a Wembley final and be relegated in the same season as they are bottom of League One, and 11 points from safety.
Despite the pre-Wembley boost of two home wins in four days, the prospect of going down to English football's fourth tier for the first time since 1959 remains their likely fate.
The decline and fall of the Sky Blues
Although Premier League relegation in 2001 after 34 years in the top flight marked the start of Coventry City's decline, the club has fallen further since the 2007 takeover by current owners Sisu, a London-based hedge fund.
After going down to League One in 2012, Sisu became involved in an ongoing off-field rent row with the city council, who were then part-owners of the Ricoh Arena.
It led to the Sky Blues spending a season playing home games in Northampton, before returning to the city to discover that Premiership rugby union club Wasps had been invited to buy the stadium - and become their new landlords.
The fans' inevitable frustration at the handling of affairs on and off the field has often boiled over into massed protest, which has been the backdrop to the current season.
"It's unfortunate what's happened," Ogrizovic told BBC Coventry & Warwickshire. "There are so many reasons and factors, I wouldn't know where to start.
"But, at some stage, this club will turn around and let's just hope Sunday is the start. This is a competition that's got its critics but, when you get into the later rounds, it's one that everyone wants to win.
"There's a lot going from Oxford too. There'll be nearly 80,000 there. They can't all be wrong.
"We're not covering up the cracks. It's been a disappointing season, there's no getting away from it. But that will be forgotten on Sunday. The fans have talked about it for ages. I've never been to the new Wembley before and it looks a bit special. Let's go down there and try to put a few smiles on faces.
"You find out about players in big competitions. How will the team react in front of a nigh-on full house? But how will Oxford react too? You just don't know until you get there."
Sky Blues' Wembley memories
Coventry's first-ever visit to Wembley in May 1987 could not have got off to a worse start as Clive Allen headed Tottenham in front in only the second minute of the FA Cup final from Chris Waddle's cross.
"My main memory from 1987, " said Ogrizovic, "was (chief coach) John Sillett's last words to us before we left the dressing room. 'Keep it tight for 10 minutes', he said.
"Instead, less than two minutes later, we're one down and you're thinking 'Gosh, this could be embarrassing'.
"But, in a way, that's still a useful lesson for our lads to take into Sunday. If you do go a goal down early on, don't drop your heads. We came back really strongly that day."
By the eighth minute, City were level when Keith Houchen headed on for Dave Bennett to round the advancing Ray Clemence.
Gary Mabbutt's mis-hit off Brian Kilcline put Spurs back in front before the break, but midway through the second half, City equalised again with one of Wembley's most memorable goals, Houchen's diving header from Bennett's cross - voted the 1987 BBC Goal of the Season.
Their winner was far less spectacular, Lloyd McGrath's right-wing cross looping in off Mabbutt's left knee, but it remains the club's most glorious day.
City were back at Wembley three months later, but were beaten 1-0 by Wayne Clarke's Charity Shield strike for Everton.
Football League Trophy final stats
- This is the 34th final since the competition began life as the Football League Trophy in 1984 - and it has had four homes, two of which have since been bulldozed.
- The first final was at Boothferry Park, Hull, in 1984 when Bournemouth beat hosts Hull City 2-1.
- The final then switched to Wembley the following year, when Wigan Athletic, including current manager Graham Barrow, beat Brentford 3-1.
- After 16 finals at the old Wembley, it moved to the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff in 2001, and stayed there for the seven years it took to build the new Wembley.
- The highest attendance for a final was the 80,841 who watched Wolves beat Burnley 2-0 with goals by Andy Mutch and Robbie Dennison at the old Wembley in 1988.
- Carlisle United have reached the most finals, winning twice, in 1997 and 2011, but losing four times in 1995, 2003, 2006, and 2010.
- Bristol City have the most wins (three times - in 1986, 2003 and 2015), while Brentford suffered defeats in all three of their finals (1985, 2001 and 2011).
- If Coventry were to win, they would be the sixth Midlands side to do so, following Wolves (1988), Birmingham City (1991 and 1995), Stoke City (1992 and 2000), Port Vale (1993 and 2001) and Crewe Alexandra (2013).
- Oxford United have been to Wembley once in this competition, 12 months ago, when they were beaten 3-2 by Barnsley.
Wembley finalists who then suffered the drop
- 1969 - Leicester City. The Foxes still had five league games left to play after they were beaten 1-0 in the FA Cup final by Neil Young's goal for Manchester City. But they could only win two of them - and Coventry City stayed up by a point, finishing 20th out of 22, in the days before three teams went down.
- 1983 - Brighton. The Seagulls had already been relegated, by eight points, when they met Manchester United at Wembley. It became known as the 'And Smith Must Score . . .' FA Cup final thanks to commentary of Gordon Smith's infamous late miss. Smith had scored earlier on in the 2-2 draw, but his miss (or rather Gary Bailey's save) forced Jimmy Melia's men into a replay five nights later, which they lost 4-0. Meanwhile, Coventry again avoided relegation by a point.
- 1997 - Middlesbrough. Boro took on Ruud Gullit's Chelsea six days after losing their top-flight place, as Coventry somehow again stayed up - by a point. Bryan Robson's Boro had been docked three points for failing to fulfil a league fixture, having cancelled a game at Blackburn following a flu crisis, and drew their final three matches. It was Brian Deane's 77th-minute equaliser for Leeds, coupled with Coventry's final-day 2-1 win at Spurs, which sent Boro down.
- 2009 - Luton Town. The Hatters beat Scunthorpe 3-2 in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final as goals at Wembley by Chris Martin and Tom Craddock were capped by Claude Gnakpa's extra-time winner. It was the high point of a season which began with financially-troubled Luton being hit with a 30-point penalty. They were relegated from the Football League by 15 points, the inevitable being confirmed just eight days after their Wembley win.
- 2011 - Birmingham City. Blues ended a 48-year wait for knockout trophy silverware when Obafemi Martins' last-minute League Cup Final goal saw them beat favourites Arsenal 2-1. But an injury-ravaged side lost form, and won just two of their their last 12 league games. Alex McLeish's side ended up going down by a point on a breathless final day as Roman Pavlyuchenko's second goal of the day for Tottenham sealed Blues' fate.
- 2013 - Wigan Athletic. The Latics produced one of Wembley's greatest upsets when Ben Watson's last-minute winner beat 10-man Manchester City in the FA Cup final. But, just three nights later, ecstasy turned to agony as they suffered a 4-1 defeat at Arsenal and were relegated after eight seasons in the top flight.