Player Profile: Steve Ogrizovic

by Dan Mobbs

“Here is our petition to Tony Blair and the Kazakhstani government demanding the release of footballing legend Steve Ogrizovic and protesting his innocence,” began the Free Steve Ogrizovic appeal. “Please sign this petition and help bring forward the release of Steve Ogrizovic.”

After he “trespassed onto Kazakhstani private military land” according to the 2003 petition, Ogrizovic was held on suspicion of being a spy in 2003, prompting over 250 Coventry fans to flock to the site to help their former hero amid optimistic suggestion that he might replace Piers Brosnan as the new James Bond.

Of course all of it was pure fiction, but it did force a surprised Ogrizovic to respond when he was tracked down at Coventry’s training ground in Ryton-on-Dunsmore.

“This is a complete hoax,” he told the Coventry Evening Telegraph. “I haven’t a clue where it has come from.”

“I haven’t made any trips to Kazakhstan of late – nor am I planning to. I can only assume that with the well-documented break-throughs in science of late, I have obviously been cloned.”

“I am told that only 57 people signed the petition to get me back so I don’t think that would carry much weight with Tony Blair.”

This odd tale doesn’t stand alone as one of a few surprising flourishes to a career that built on Ogrizovic’s formidable and dependable 6ft 5in presence between the posts for Coventry and helped him become the club’s record appearance holder with 601 starts between 1984 and 2000. In a 16 year career, he played until he was 42 and earned the club record of 209 consecutive league appearances for a Coventry player, from August 1984 to September 1989.

Born to a Yugoslav father, Nicola, who fled the Nazis in 1942 and found refuge in England, Steve began his working life as a policeman at Mansfield Police Station, before Arthur Cox recognised his custodial abilities and took him to Chesterfield in 1977.

His appearances at Saltergate earned the attention of Bob Paisley, who brought him to Anfield for £70k, but he found his opportunities limited as the understudy to Ray Clemence. During his five year spell he only made four appearances, but would claim two European Cup winners’ medals after sitting on the bench for the 1978 and 1981 finals.

“The police had already installed discipline into me at a very early age and I found Liverpool was also a very disciplined set-up,” he told The Independent in 1997. “Bob Paisley was manager, with Joe Fagan and Ronnie Moran. Roy Evans was reserve team coach. They never allowed people to get carried away with themselves even though they were European champions. Bob was quiet, but he never let players get too big for their boots. He knew exactly what he wanted and was a very good judge of a player.”

In search of first team football, he moved to Shrewsbury in 1982 and it was there that he established his surprising versatility as a cricketer, and he even in featured the Shropshire side that beat Yorkshire in the NatWest Trophy in 1984 – Ogrizovic 10-1-43-1 (Moxon).

But, it was at Coventry that Ogrizovic established his legacy. Signed in 1984, he made over 600 appearances for the Sky Blues and is one of only four players to have played top flight football in four different decades, along with John Lukic, Peter Shilton and Sir Stanley Matthews.

His reassuring and dependable presence at Highfield Road made him a Sky Blues icon throughout the 1980s and 90s, and his career peaked when his giant hands lifted the FA Cup in 1987 and he was named as the club’s Player of the Year in the same year.

Another decade of first-team service followed, before he started his last season as Coventry’s first choice keeper at the age of 40 in 1997-1998, making him the oldest player to play in the Premier League that year.

He stayed for a further two seasons as second choice keeper behind Magnus Hedman and retired at the age of 42, following a swansong in Coventry’s final home game of the 1999-2000 season against Sheffield Wednesday. At the final whistle he embarked on an emotional lap of honour with even the Wednesday fans joining in the applause.

He couldn’t leave his beloved Coventry though and was appointed manager of the reserve team, before briefly taking over as caretaker manager with Trevor Peake for the final games of the 2001-2002 season. Then, under the reign of Iain Dowie, he was appointed manager of the reserve team until 2010, when he became goalkeeping coach; a position which he still relishes.

“I’ve been very lucky and I can’t believe it really that I’ve managed to spend most of my life in football,” he told to Coventry Evening Telegraph.

“The best part of it was playing and the second best part is what I do now, which is coaching.”

Tags: Coventry City, Steve Ogrizovic

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