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Dancing John Sillett gave Coventry their finest hour but respect ran deeper

John Sillett died aged 85 on Tuesday. He won the First Division title with Chelsea as a full back in 1955 but will be most remembered for managing Coventry City to the FA Cup – their only major success – in 1987

John Sillett led Coventry City to the FA Cup 0 their only major trophy to date

John Sillett’s crowning glory was dancing around Wembley with the FA Cup.

In 138 years of endeavour, lifting the old pot in 1987 – after one of the best finals in any era – remains Coventry City’s only major trophy.

Keith Houchen’s diving header, like a performing seal breaking the water’s surface, was the turning point of a memorable game, but Sillett’s unfettered joy was perhaps the defining image.

Under those pale blue skies, his underdogs rose to the challenge to Play Up Sky Blues.

And when Coventry brought the Cup home to parade in front of a city paralysed by euphoria and delirium, it was Sillett who appeared first in the doorway of the team coach, dancing again with the trophy as if it was his partner on Strictly.

John Sillett with his brother in their Chelsea days

Although he was joint manager in a double act with the venerable George Curtis, there was no mistaking which one was the straight man and who told the gags.

It was Sillett who led the team out, and Sillett’s team talk which rallied the Sky Blues’ exhausted players to find a second wind in extra time.

Curtis passed away in the summer and now, at the age of 85, John Sillett has followed him into the celestial hall of fame four months later.

That 3-2 win 34 years ago against Tottenham – including Hoddle, Waddle and 49-goal Clive Allen – was the day Coventry announced themselves in the history books, but we celebrate Sillett’s memory because his lifetime in football enriched the game.

John Sillett died aged 85 this week
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Image:

Adam Fradgley – AMA/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images)

As teenagers, Sillett and his brother Peter signed for Chelsea, where he played more than 100 games and won the title in 1954-55, more or less half a century before Roman Abramovich’s petty cash would underwrite subsequent triumphs.

Among his young team-mates at Stamford Bridge was a promising young striker called Jimmy Greaves, and when Greavsie passed away two months ago, Sillett’s tribute was one of the most colourful and endearing.

“Jimmy had the worst car I have ever seen – it was shocking,” he told Chelsea’s official website. “The door fell off one day when we were in it.

“He used to call me ‘Snoz’ because of my nose. He would say ‘Snoz, I’ll take you home in the car,’ and I’d say ‘No thanks Jim – I’ll take the bus, it is less dangerous!’

“We were youngsters together at Chelsea and we both had our certain jobs to do at the club. Ours was to clean and look after the snooker room.

“Jimmy and I also decided to sell football shirts and see who could sell the most. Even in that I was not in the same class as Jimmy – he was brilliant at it.”

If Sillett is best remembered for his coaching at Coventry, where Jimmy Hill first invited him to join the staff in 1979, he is also revered at Hereford and Bristol City.

And respect for his football knowledge ran so deep that he was hired as a scout by former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Sillett celebrates with the FA Cup trophy
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Image:

Action Images)

In every capacity, Sillett brought honesty and good humour to the party, and for those of us armed with notebooks and a few shorthand squiggles, he was always good value for a one-liner.

After surviving a white-knuckle ride at Atherstone in the FA Cup with Hereford, towards the end of his managerial career, he was asked how it compared with that day in the sun with Coventry four years earlier.

He grinned: “Well, it was how you might imagine making love to a hedgehog – satisfying in the end, but too prickly and uncomfortable.”

What a quote. What a fine career. Play up, Sky Blues – the great man will be watching upstairs.

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