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Coventry Legend Calls Time on 35-year Career at the Club

Posted by Jordan Florit on

An incredible career at Coventry City comes to an end this summer. Joining the club Shrewsbury, who in turn signed him from Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, where he deputised for Ray Clemence and Bruce Grobbelar, Steve Ogrizovic went on to make a club record 601 appearances for the Sky Blues.

Along with that goal against Sheffield Wednesday, the 1986/87 season turned out rather alright for the man they called Oggy. On the 16thMay, at a 96,000-filled Wembley Stadium, Dave Bennett, Keith Houchen, John Sillett, and George Curtis wrote their name into Coventry folklore, alongside their teammates, as they twice came from behind to beat a star-studded Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in the FA Cup Final. Ray Clemence, Chris Hughton, Chris Waddle, Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles? No match for Coventry.

“Wherever I go, there will be somebody mentioning the 1987 FA Cup final against Spurs,” he told The Telegraph in 2018.

“People will say it was the best day of their lives. I always ask them ‘what about the day you got married, or the day when your kids were born’ but they just want to talk about the final. The fans who went to Wembley have dined out on it ever since. Not a day goes by without it being mentioned.

“If you talk to the staff here, they’ll also say I mention it every day – but I can assure you it’s not true…”

It would be his only on-field honour at the club, in a love affair that lasted 35 seasons as player and coach. Retiring from his playing career in 2000, the ‘keeper managed to represent the team he’s since built his life around across three decades. It came full-circle at the turn of the century, when he faced off his old club Liverpool in his penultimate appearance.

It was a long way from the players he lined up with on that fateful day back in 1987. This time round it was the likes of Scottish pair Colin Hendry and Paul Telfer, Moroccan pair Youssef Chippo and Mustapha Hadji, and boyhood-Coventry fan Robbie Keane. A Michael Owen brace and one from Emile Heskey secured a 3-0 win for the visitors, but that wasn’t the point. That game contributed to his rank of 155thfor the most appearances in English football; some achievement to make inside 22 seasons across 4 clubs – an average of 27 a year.

“I’ve been very fortunate. My first contract was for three years and never in my wildest dreams did I envisage being here for so long,” he explained to John Percy last January. “I’ve been academy manager, under-18s coach, caretaker manager and now goalkeeping coach. The best part of football is playing, the second best is coaching and being a part of the set-up.”

In the ten years following the famous FA Cup win, Oggy became a cult-hero in the Premier League’s inaugural decade, helping Coventry to multiple great escapes from the top-flight’s trapdoor.

“They were difficult times, but thankfully we always seemed to have an answer, often on the last day,” Ogrizovic told The Guardian in a recent interview.“At least we would end the season on a high! If the Titanic was sky blue, it would never have sunk!”

Five days out of being exactly ten years on, Oggy and Coventry once again came up against a Spurs side in a game of their lives. This time against players such as Sol Campbell and Teddy Sheringham, the Sky Blues needed a win at White Hart Lane to avoid relegation, as well as results to go their way elsewhere. The ‘keeper was the only player to play in both games.

Beating the drop on the final day on 10 separate occasions in a 34-year spell in the top flight is some feat, but the 1997 escape is the most memorable. If Sunderland won at Wimbledon or Middlesbrough beat Leeds, even a win against Spurs wouldn’t be enough.

Going into the final few games in May, Coventry had hinted at a miraculous survival. Beating Liverpool and Chelsea and securing a point in games against Arsenal and Southampton, ensured the final day offered a glimmer of hope.

They made an excellent start of ensuring they didn’t fluff their lines, with a Dion Dublin header and an unlikely volley from defender Paul Williams putting them into a shock 2-0 lead, and even Spurs grabbing one back just before half-time didn’t change the fact that the burden was now with their fellow relegation battlers.

It was the second half in which Oggy was called upon to confirm his status of club legend, making a string of fine saves against an increasingly attacking Tottenham. First it was pouncing at the feet of McVeigh – the camera cutting to a fully-kitted out player-manager Gordon Strachan looking relieved – then from a close-range Dozzell header after a looping cross into the box from a full head of hair Stephen Carr, and after that was a half-volley from Neale Fenn just outside the six-yard box denied by Oggy’s feet. It was a mammoth performance, but he’d be called upon once more. As the frantic finger-waving ‘keeper couldn’t get his defence to properly deal with the resultant corner, it was again left to him to pull off a wonderful save to again deny Dozzell - and with that save victory was edging closer.   

At full-time – with the score 2-1 to Coventry– the away fans at White Hart Lane knew in that moment that they were safe, courtesy of a delayed kick-off meaning Boro and Sunderland’s results were already in. They went ballistic in celebration.

The camera pans to the pitch and a 6’4 figure, dressed in a yellow and black chequered ‘keeper’s jersey, is engulfing Paul Williams, who has his arms and legs wrapped around the giant. The Giant Ogrizovic.

***

“I think now is the right time to announce my retirement,” the 61-year old told Coventry’s official website last week.

"It's been a privilege to be part of something that means so much to so many. I'm sure I'll miss the day-to-day involvement, but I'm really looking forward to spending more time with my family.

"Coventry City will always be my football club, and the area will always be our home."

JORDAN FLORIT

Wordsmith at The Terrace.
 @thefalselibero


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