- Thanks to Jamie Leeson and Nik Yeomans for their help
If asked to name the best player to wear the Coventry City number 9 shirt, there would be a few candidates – Clarrie Bourton, John Martin, Cyrille Regis or Dion Dublin would all be in with a shout. However, with no offence intended to any of those Sky Blues goalscorers, allow us to proffer a leftfield selection – one who wore it just once, this day 24 years ago.
Premier League games between teams in royal blue against opponents in sky blue are a bugbear for some but it’s not a completely new phenomenon – Chelsea wore their home strip away to Coventry in 1994-95 and 1995-96. They intended to do so again in 1996-97 but there was one problem: the Sky Blues had switched to become the Sky and Navy Blues, with their striped kit much darker. Unusually, the change kit featured a lot of navy too, making the game at Wimbledon a difficult watch.
So it was that Chelsea travelled to Highfield Road on April 9, 1997 with just their home kit and the kick-off was delayed as a solution that would please referee Dermot Gallagher was found. When the game did start, Chelsea were in their home shorts and socks, paired with a set of Coventry away shirts numbered 2-11 (goalkeeper Frode Grodås was in the normal bright orange Chelsea top).
Of the Chelsea starting 11, only three players had squad numbers in the ‘first 11’ – Franck Leboeuf (5), Steve Clarke (6) and Mark Hughes (10). The rest of the team filled in position-specific numbers, bar the wing-backs – Craig Burley (normally 12) wore 3 on the right while Scott Minto wore 2 on the left. Minto had to give number 3 to Terry Phelan the previous summer, switching to 17, so perhaps he didn’t want it back temporarily.
Frank Sinclair, number 6 for the previous three seasons but switched to 20 for 1996-97, wore 4; midfielders Roberto di Matteo (16), Eddie Newtown (24) and Paul Hughes (27) wore 7, 8 and 11 respectively and the number 9 was donned by a classic ‘number 10’ – Gianfranco Zola, who normally wore 25.
Coventry’s new number 9 didn’t mark his appearance with a goal, though – while Paul Hughes put Chelsea ahead, Coventry responded with goals from their actual number 9 Dublin, Paul Williams and Noel Whelan to take the victory. There hasn’t been much clamour for Chelsea to have a red and navy chequered change kit in the interim.