Ernie Machin: Footballer who made history in court

 

Ernie Machin was the exuberant, fiercely determined, subtly talented midfield general at the creative hub of Coventry City's Sky Blue revolution, which carried the club from the third tier of the English game to the First Division in the 1960s under the leadership of their groundbreaking manager Jimmy Hill. Machin, who later shone brightly enough for Plymouth Argyle to be voted into the Pilgrims' team of the 20th century, and then captained Brighton, also found time to make legal history as the first English footballer to successfully challenge an FA fine and suspension in the High Court.

One of Hill's first recruits as Coventry boss, Machin was signed as a 17-year-old in March 1962 from Nelson, a non-League club in his native Lancashire, for an initial £50 – the fee rising by another £200 when he graduated to the first team. When taxed by critics initially unimpressed by the newcomer's lack of pace, Hill declared light-heartedly that he had liked the look in his eyes, a comment which came back to haunt him subsequently when Machin went through an indifferent spell and detractors dismissed him as "the manager's blue-eyed boy".

In fact, the canny Hill had noted that although Machin's movement was sluggish in those early days, he rarely misplaced a pass, he was grittily resolute and he possessed an enviably sharp football brain which was to serve the Highfield Road cause productively throughout a decade of stirring achievement. Hill and the club's chairman, Derrick Robins, were in the process of transforming a hitherto humdrum Third Division club – introducing sky-blue kit with a nickname to match, launching its own radio station and special trains for supporters, and constantly capturing headlines with ceaseless razzmatazz.

Soon Machin emerged as a key constituent of the new Coventry. After making his debut in April 1963, he started the following term in vibrant form, combining beautifully with centre-forward George Hudson, and was being considered for international under-23 honours by the England manager, Alf Ramsey, when his season was sabotaged by injury in the autumn.

By then, the Lancastrian had made enough appearances to qualify for a medal when Coventry were crowned divisional champions in the spring; but knee trouble plagued him throughout the next campaign, in which City consolidated their place in the second tier.

Machin roared back in 1965-66 and was even more influential as the Sky Blues lifted the Second Division title in 1966/67, contributing decisive goals in a series of tight contests and a memorable opener in the crucial Midlands derby victory over promotion rivals Wolves at Highfield Road in April.

Now the playmaker was approaching his prime, ready for extra responsibility, and it arrived early in City's first top-flight season when George Curtis, the inspirational centre-half and captain, suffered a broken leg. Machin took over the captaincy and proved a dominant figure over the next two years as Coventry, now managed by Noel Cantwell, fought successive relegation battles, narrowly escaping the drop on both occasions.

But then, just as the team was growing accustomed to life among the elite – they soared to a sixth-place finish in 1969-70 – Machin was out for months following a car accident. Thereafter, despite knee problems, he continued to serve the City cause as the side's consistency dipped in the early 1970s.

It was in 1972 that Machin did much to change the balance of power between the FA and professional footballers when he won a test case following his sending-off for allegedly kicking an opponent. He was cleared on television evidence, but the disciplinary committee spotted another offence on the film and banned him for that. However, there had been no formal charge, no chance for Machin to assemble a defence, and when he took his case to the High Court, it was ruled that the FA had not delivered natural justice, a landmark which helped to pave the way to a disciplinary points system.

In December of that year, after nearly 300 games and 39 goals for the Sky Blues, the 28-year-old stepped down two divisions, a £35,000 fee taking him to Plymouth, where he excelled anew. Indeed, in his only full campaign for Argyle, 1973-74, he was voted player of the season and was ever-present in the Pilgrims' progress to the semi-finals of the League Cup, where they lost to Manchester City.

As a result, Machin received his "team of the century" accolade and many fans were dismayed when he was sold to Brighton, also of the Third Division, for £30,000 in August 1974. At the Goldstone he flourished as captain of the Seagulls until he was dropped in favour of the younger Brian Horton as Brighton strove unavailingly for promotion in 1976.

After that, Machin retired, briefly coaching youngsters at Coventry before working in the transport business.

Ivan Ponting

Ernest Machin, footballer: born Little Hulton, Lancashire 26 April 1944; played for Coventry City 1962-72, Plymouth Argyle 1972-74, Brighton and Hove Albion 1974-76; died Coventry 22 July 2012.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride