It is Coventry City, it is Wembley Stadium and so, of course, Steve Ogrizovic will be there. He kept goal under the Twin Towers in 1987, letting in two against Spurs but lifting the FA Cup at the end of the rhapsodic final with some help from Gary Mabbutt’s knee.
He led out the team when they returned to the newly arched stadium in 2017 for the EFL Trophy final and a year later watched their League Two play-off final against Exeter City from the bench, as goalkeeping coach. His 35-year association with Coventry ended two years later, retiring to spend more time with his five grandchildren.
But he will be summarizing for BBC Coventry and Warwickshire on Saturday, as he has done home and away all season, when his old team faces Luton in one of the most unlikely Championship play-off finals. Some retirement.
Beyond match days, childcare now occupies most of the 65-year-old’s time, although there is still a fair bit of golf, Ogrizovic’s new second-favorite sport. “You couldn’t do it now but I played in an era when I could still play cricket in the summer,” says Ogrizovic, who made four appearances in the Minor Counties league for Shropshire. “I’d finish the football season, don the whites the day after and play until the first game of the season the following year.”
The idea of being anywhere else when City have the opportunity to return to the Premier League is unthinkable. Ogrizovic is the club’s record appearance holder, his 601 unlikely to be beaten, and this is a glorious time to support his team.
“We’ve now got a new generation of fans growing up that have only ever known Coventry success. If you’ve supported Coventry in the last six or seven years you’ll think they always win, that we’re always on the up. I can tell people otherwise.”
As can anyone else who remembers Coventry’s stay in the top flight from 1967 to 2001 – “We had some good scraps along the way but we managed to win those,” says Ogrizovic – but after relegation they struggled, bottoming out in the fourth tier in 2017. The club went into administration in 2013, while they have been financially hamstrung by building a 32,000-capacity stadium which they have rarely filled and never owned.
“You can look at the last 20-odd years and blame that,” says Ogrizovic of the Coventry Building Society Arena. “We’ve been kicked out of it twice, one year playing at Northampton, two at Birmingham.
“We’ve had a lot to put up with. Each manager has had problems getting a budget together and being able to do what they want. We’ve had some capable managers, but they found it difficult, so how Mark Robins has been able to turn it around has been unreal, he’s done a phenomenal job.”
The people of Coventry, so often an unfair punchline of a city, have sturdy reserves of local pride and despite their team’s bumps their support has endured. Ogrizovic points to selling out their allocation for the Trophy final despite being in “a downward spiral,” at the time. “That was the catalyst for things to come.”
It has been steady improvement since, although few expected Coventry to be on the verge of the top flight. “I’m not surprised because regardless of the results, the football is very good. We invariably look as good as most of the opposition teams we play and it’s been that way for the last couple of years.”
‘It was before agents, and I felt no need to move’
The focus is usually on striker Viktor Gyokeres and his 22-goal season, but Ogrizovic highlights one of his supporting cast. “Gus Hamer is an outstanding player, he’s been controlling the midfield all season. He’s destined for the Premier League I think, and I hope it’s with Coventry.”
Hamer will likely attract interest if not promoted, Gyokeres certainly will. But Ogrizovic never contemplated leaving. “It was the day before agents really and I felt no need to move elsewhere. From the moment I walked into the football club, I always felt very at home.”
Coventry were a family club, but not in the usual platitudinous way. “They never forgot their wives and girlfriends. They would take them all out to a top restaurant, they could have anything they wanted and taxis would be laid on for the way home.
“The fellas had to stay at home and babysit. On special occasions, bouquets of flowers arrived. They knew to keep a happy camp they had to keep the wives and girlfriends happy too. It made it a very enjoyable time to play.”
That feeling has persisted. “Not a day goes by without somebody stopping me and reminding me of their experiences of that day in 1987, and very often saying it’s the best day of their life, which is incredible.”
His successor in goal is Ben Wilson, a career back-up who has become first choice for the first time this season at the age of 30. His 20 clean sheets are a club record. “He’s been absolutely outstanding. Very confident, made very few mistakes and you can tell when he talks in interviews he’s loving every second of it.”
Wilson also imitated Ogrizovic last month in scoring a goal against Blackburn, as Ogrizovic did against Sheffield Wednesday in 1986. “I can’t believe it, he’s made far fewer appearances than me, but he’s got the same number of goals. Ben came up in the last minute for a corner and bundled it over the line. I just punted the ball downfield from my own box.
“I was hoping Cyrille Regis or Dave Bennett would run on to it, it sailed over their heads. Cyrille gave it up, he wasn’t chasing that, it was going through to their keeper.
“Luckily for me, I think the goalkeeper just strayed a little bit too far off the line. It took a big bounce, hit the post and went in. I’ve had a few drinks off the back of it.”
Whether Coventry win or lose on Saturday, and once Ogrizovic’s radio duties are completed, another celebratory tipple at his club’s success would be appropriate.
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