FA Cup semi-final: Coventry City aim to go from League Two to FA Cup finalists in six years

Mark Robins sold the FA Cup winners’ medal he received for playing his part in Manchester United’s 1990 triumph.

“I was very foolish. It was my decision and I definitely regret it now,” the Coventry City manager said in 2021.

“There was a reason behind it but we won’t go into that detail,” added Robins about the decision to part with his United medal collection, which also included mementos from the 1990-91 European Cup Winners’ Cup and 1991 European Super Cup.

“In fairness I should have let them go to a museum and then you can still sort of keep hold of them.”

Thirty-four years on from winning the competition with United at the age of 20, Robins is preparing to mastermind a shock win over his old club in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley (15:30 BST).

Coventry, eighth in the Championship, are moving forward under Robins’ leadership but it is not that long ago the Sky Blues were “falling apart”.

Ten years ago Coventry played ‘home’ games 35 miles away at Northampton Town because of a ground dispute, while they shared Birmingham City’s facilities as recently as 2021.

“The club was only going one way – and that was out of the league,” says Micky Gynn, one of Coventry’s heroes from their greatest ever day at Wembley in 1987 – when the Sky Blues beat Tottenham 3-2 as they came from behind twice to win the FA Cup in extra time.

“It was a club falling apart. I know a lot of fans who fell out during that period. Some people had been friends for life but didn’t speak.”

‘How have we ended up here?’

Moz Baker has travelled the country watching Coventry City for 49 years.

He saw his hometown club win at Manchester United and Liverpool during an unbroken 34-year stint in the top flight before relegation in 2001.

More recently he has seen the Sky Blues lose at Morecambe and Accrington Stanley after relegation to League Two during a troubled period on and off the pitch when the club’s future was in doubt. 

“I’d been to Old Trafford and Anfield and now I was watching Forest Green do the double over us in League Two,” says Baker, former chairman of the Sky Blue Trust.

“I couldn’t see how we were going to escape this decline. A couple of times that season [2017-18] I remember thinking to myself ‘how on earth have we ended up here?'”

By then, Coventry’s fanbase had already been divided after a rent row forced the team to play home games at Northampton throughout 2013-14.

Many supporters refused to go and watch – including Baker. “That whole period was toxic,” he recalls.

“Coventry City should play in Coventry. I felt I would be endorsing the move if I paid to watch my team play at ‘home’ in Northampton. I couldn’t go along with it.

“We didn’t own our ground, we were in decline on the pitch. The question many fans were asking was ‘could the club go out of existence?” 

Steve Ogrizovic, Coventry’s FA Cup-winning goalkeeper 37 years ago, believes the club’s problems stemmed from leaving their old Highfield Road ground – now a housing development – in 2005 to move three miles to the Ricoh Arena. 

“That never really worked, they got themselves into debt,” says Ogrizovic. 

“Each season I thought things would get better but they got worse. There have been points deductions, relegation to League One, relegation to League Two. 

“The time it all changed was the day Mark Robins walked back into the club for his second stint.”

‘Coventry’s saviour’

Within a month of Robins returning in March 2017 – four years after leaving Coventry for Huddersfield – the Sky Blues were at Wembley in the EFL Trophy final.

Ogrizovic was invited by Robins to help lead the team out against Oxford United in front of 74,434 fans.

“It was a lovely gesture,” adds Ogrizovic, who made 601 appearances for the Sky Blues between 1984-2000 before serving as the club’s goalkeeping coach.

Baker shudders when asked where Coventry would be without Robins.

“Certainly not preparing for an FA Cup semi-final,” he adds. “Mark Robins is the saviour of Coventry City as far as I and many other fans are concerned.

“We were already heading to League Two when he was re-appointed. Since then we’ve had two promotions and last season missed out on promotion to the Premier League after losing a penalty shootout to Luton.

“No one would have believed challenging for a place in the Premier League was even possible a few seasons ago. It surprises me there hasn’t been more interest in Mark from other clubs.”

Crowds of 2,000 were normal when Coventry played at Northampton. On Sunday, 34,000 Sky Blues fans will be at Wembley.

“There’s a new energy, a real excitement around the club now,” adds Baker.

“Each home game before kick-off they play the song ‘We’ll Live and Die in These Towns’ by Coventry band The Enemy.

“Coventry fans sing it loud and proud. It’s like a new anthem the club has adopted and it leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.”

Wembley shirt and dog biscuits

One of the most iconic images in Coventry’s 141-year history is Keith Houchen running behind the Tottenham net with one arm in the air to celebrate making it 2-2 in front of 98,000 fans in the 1987 FA Cup final.

Not far behind Houchen is a jubilant Micky Gynn with both arms raised in the air.

“I keep watching the highlights hoping one day I finally score because I had a great chance to make it 4-2 in extra time,” laughs Gynn.

The former midfielder still has his number eight cup final shirt from 16 May 1987 hanging in his wardrobe at home. “I’ve not worn it for 37 years but I do like to look at it from time to time.”

Since retiring from playing, Gynn, 62, has worked for the Royal Mail.

“At one stage I was delivering letters and parcels to Coventry’s training ground. It was strange because that was my place of work for 10 years,” he adds. 

“Now I’m on a different patch. You’re out in the fresh air meeting lots of nice people. 

“I’ve got 36 dogs on my round. I always make sure I have loads of dog biscuits to keep me on the safe side.”