Workers from the Singer’s Bicycle Works formed together into a football team in 1883, playing at first at Dowell’s Field, off Binley Road. They moved to the properly enclosed Stoke Road in 1887 for a further 12 years. The pitch was between Wren Street and Swan Lane, just south of the current ground. They were renamed Coventry City in 1898. Highfield Road was opened in time for the 1899-1900 season with a 2,000 seat stand painted in chocolate and light blue. In 1981 Highfield Road became the first all-seater stadium in England.
The first reported colours were black and red, being the corporate colours of the Singer firm. While most followers of Coventry City believe that sky-blue is a more recent innovation actually a sky blue kit was first introduced in 1889. The city used to be a major producer of coloured materials, especially sky blue. There is an old expression “As true as Coventry Blue”. Red and green, the civic colours, were worn for a short spell during the 1922-23 and 1923-1924 seasons. This outfit saw relegation to the Third Division and despite a return to the light blue and white stripes of 1913 the club’s fortunes did not change until 1936, when Coventry City were back in Division Two.
This feat inspired another change of strip, this time to royal blue shirts with a broad white centre stripe and white sleeves. This design was replaced in 1948 by a thinner blue and white striped shirt, in fact similar to the old West Brom stripes. This was worn through until 1954 when Coventry reverted to the quite distinctive broad striped shirt. In 1959 the club introduced an all white kit with a blue collar and cuffs.
Incidentally, the black and red colours and the number of small players in the team earned them the nickname “The Little Blackbirds”. Coventry’s original nickname “Peeping Toms” came from the well-known historical local character. When Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets of Coventry the people of the town were supposed to be behind closed doors. Peeping Tom broke the curfew to get a peek at Godiva.
They have also been known as “The Bantams”, arguably from those that were formerly kept in the ground. A more accurate and plausible explanation however is that Coventry were first called “The Bantams” after a local newspaper noted that they were one of the few clubs who did not have a nickname. Bantams are renowned as fighting birds. “Bantams” was suggested and stuck with the press and supporters. They remained “The Bantams” until the summer of 1962 when Jimmy Hill re-christened them “The Sky Blues”, a more up-to-the-minute sounding title, when they switched to their eye-catching all-sky-blue kit from the royal-blue and white stripes. Everything about the club reflected the new modernistic approach to marketing that at the time was innovative.
In the Seventies Coventry had a kit with narrow stripes running the length of shirts and shorts like tramlines (this was unfortunately replicated on what is possibly one of the worst away kits ever in chocolate and white). They even attempted to be one of the first teams to engender sponsorship by trying to change their name to Coventry Talbot, and when this was blocked by the Football League innovatively incorporated the company’s T-shaped logo into the kit design. Talbot were of course part of Rootes Group to which also belonged Singer Motors (remember them back in the first paragraph?).
What about the present crest then? The dominant feature of the badge, an elephant with a castle on its back and a red and white cross on its side is a traditional symbol for St. George, a more elaborate version of the English Flag if you like. St. George was believed to have lived in the Coventry area. The elephant was the mortal enemy of the dragon because a dragon’s favourite meal was supposed to be a baby elephant. St George was the dragon slayer and therefore presumably hero to the elephants. When Coventry was chartered by the Crown as a city, it was given the elephant as its symbol. The castle on its back shows that the city was given royal permission to build. When the club changed its name from Singers FC to Coventry City they included the illustrious design as the centrepiece of the club’s crest.
The elephant and castle were simply reversed out in white and worn in the late 1960s and early 70s, followed by the same icons depicted in a golden circle with the club’s name worn on the sky blue shirts between 1969 and 1972. More recently the elephant has been perched circus-like on a football. Perhaps symbolic of the club’s balancing act over the years.