What? I never had a dodgy knee!” Peter Skipper, the ex-City centre-back is fixing me a stare and daring me to argue. “Are you saying I had a dodgy knee!?” Jesus! We’d been sat in the guys pub, letting him supply us drinks and chatting amiably when I just happen to mention a supposedly dysfunctional leg joint and suddenly the cool as ice defender is on the attack. “There was often a lot of strapping,” I offer as meek explanation. Luckily the now 39 year olds still babyish face begins to betray a smile. “Yeah well, it might have been strapped but that was more for protection. There was only ever one exploratory operation on it, y’know.”
The knee wasn’t my only mistake. My first suggestion that Skip made his league debut in 1979 at left-back. Total bollocks! I hadn’t realised that the Tigers under Ken Houghton were the true originators of the wingback system. “It was more or less three centre backs,” Skip helpfully explains, “I played left hand side but Roger De Vries played that game as well and I just filled in behind when he pushed on.” It was not though to be an auspicious debut, City lost 5-3. “They gave us a bit of the run about that night.” Admits the defender, “they had all those ex Liverpool players, John Toshack, Ian Callaghan, Tommy Smith, Max Thompson and Alan Curtis.”
Skipper signed for City from Schultz joining other youngsters like Ian Dobson, Derek Hood and Garreth Roberts and more experienced first-teamers Jeff Wealands, Stuart Croft, Bruce Bannisters and Alan Warboys. With Micky Horswill also their spirits, in every sense must have been at an optimum. “We all mixed well but I think City is a club where players are usually happy. There’s always been a good social side.” And every fan has a favourite story about the social side of the club. Unfortunately for us, the ever loyal, dependable defender refuses to confirm any of them.
The Mike Smith era, pre-Dolan at least, must have been the most depressing time ever at city. Results, relegations and the failure of big money, high wage signings were disasters but they weren’t to be the reason Skipper’s city career finished almost before it had started. “I left because I wouldn’t play left back. Centre half was my position and where I should be playing. It was disappointing to be given a free transfer but you’ve just got to prove yourself elsewhere. Fortunately Dave Hawker was at Darlington at the time and he had a word . Billy Elliott, their manager came to watch me in a reserve game. He took me on and I had two enjoyable years at Darlington.”
Enjoyable maybe, but obviously two years at Darlington is enough for anyone and Tigers supporters were prepared to dig deep into their own pockets to buy him back.
What did he know about the negotiations that were to return him to Boothferry Park ? “I had a couple of discussions with Colin Appleton and Don Robinson before everything was finalised but I didn’t realise at the time that it was the supporters who were paying my fee but it’s nice to come back to your home town club and that was an added responsibility.”
Even then, though a deal had been struck Skipper couldn’t sign a contract until everything had been finalised with the receivers and Don Robinson had actually taken over. After that all the talk was of playing on the Moon and mega-bowls. “Don Robinson was a great man for the club. He put as much effort in as anyone could to promote City. I wouldn’t say he was always around but he did always encourage the players, he mixed in. It was good fun. I don’t think any of the players had any objections to doing the things he put forward, he put us on a strict wage structure and at the end of the day he was good for the club because the club was successful and he brought the supporters and the players closer together.”
His enthusiasm for those times is still evident as the goal-scoring stopper talks. So were the Red Robbo years his happiest time in football? “I’ve enjoyed all my time in football,” he states categorically. “Yes because we won things but its not all about winning, just to get paid for something you love doing is what a lot of people dream of.”
Football might not always be about winning but for ninety minutes most players take it deadly serious. Typical of a kill to win approach was big Billy Whitehurst. Rumours abound about Pete’s erstwhile colleagues on and off field aggressions. “I haven’t heard any rumours,” says the skilful stopper, keeping a steady eye on the ball, closing down a potentially dangerous question and again giving nothing away. “Billy was a good friend of mine. I got on very well with him. Everyone knows he was a character and yes he was a handful at times but I think if you asked any manager that he played for they’d all say that although he might have been difficult to handle when he went out on the pitch he knew what was expected of him and he knew how to deliver it.” Does that include being expected to splatter the opposition goalkeeper in the opening minutes? Pete smiles, “He was an old-fashioned centre forward. Billy never went out to hurt anyone but if the ball was there to be won and someone got in the way then sorry for them. You don’t pull out of a challenge do you?” Not someone to make an enemy out of then? “Bill was a handy lad but having said that if you were fair with him he was fair with you. There were some people who didn’t like him and there were others he didn’t like. I mean wherever you work you aren’t going to get along with everyone but he was never any trouble in the dressing room. It’s like even people weren’t friendly with him respected the way he played and were often just thankful they were on his side and not playing against him.”
Of course there were times when certain opposition forwards knew they had come up against the Skipper/McEwen pairing. The name Fashanu springs to mind. “I never had any personal clashes,” Skipper states almost convincingly. “I mean it’s important to stand your corner always. Names are nothing are they, and you have to try to impose yourself on an opponent no matter who they are, whether Justin Fashanu, John Fashanu or even when we played up against Billy when he was at Oxford or Reading. That doesn’t matter cos you’re there to do the best for the side.”
There must have been forwards who gave even the ever reliable Pete Skipper a particularly hard time. “Yeah, plenty, but I’m not telling you who.”
There’s no doubt in an ideal world Pete Skipper, a Hull lad in body and soul should have continued to play for the Tigers for eternity. Eventually though Skip lost his first team spot. “Steve Terry came into the side and the manager played Steve and Richard Jobson together. I couldn’t get into the side. No disrespect to Steve but I thought I was a better player than him. I wasn’t playing well, struggling with my form and deserved to be out of the side for a while but even after getting some form back I got the impression the manager didn’t fancy me so I went in to see him. I was 31 years of age and reserve team football wasn’t what I wanted at that time.”
Enter Oldham. “I think Joe Royle was probably the best manager I played for. Brilliant at man management, well organised and super staff around him. I think Hull had better facilities than Oldham but Oldham were much more forward thinking.”
Skipper was with the Latics for more than two seasons before finally moving on to Walsall and then Wigan. There’s a look of smug satisfaction when the ex-Tiger claims that whenever he played against City he was never on the losing side. Even so you can see that he is still Black and Amber through and through. Obviously this means the Gospel according to St Peter is not the book of revelations it could have been and there’s a reluctance on his part to dish any dirt. Peter Skipper, a nice bloke may be a shock to some opposition forwards but apart from a couple of questioning stares that’s the kind of guy he is.
“KEN HOUGHTON had a bit of a rough deal. He was a players manager, was Ken. People said he was too soft, he wasn’t! We got beat 7-1 and I think that was his last game in charge. At the time he’d put each player on a ten pound bonus if they scored, which was a mistake cos everyone piled forward, but that was Ken. I mean, there was no chance of us been relegated, we just went through a bad patch. Anyone can blame injuries, but we did have a lot of key players out and Ken tried bringing the Youth players through. Although most went on to become good players, I don’t think they were ready at that time.” “What always happens is clubs always find extra money from somewhere and ex-managers always complain that they could have signed him or done that. MIKE SMITH came in and was given a few extra pounds to spend. He came from a teaching background, but just because he didn’t play football didn’t mean he didn’t know his stuff. I mean, he was a manager of an international side before he came here.”
“COLIN APPLETON got us organised. We were very disciplined the way we approached games, the areas players should go in, what we did with and without the ball and who should cover who. Colin always got his point over. Some of the phrases he used took a bit of understanding, but at the end of the day it’s just about playing football. There were times when someone like Les Mutrie had scored a couple of goals the match before and was then sat in the stands the next game. The same with Andy Flounders. Colin picked teams for each individual game. I wouldn’t say he was overly-defensive. Being a defender I suppose I think defensively, but if you don’t concede you don’t get beat. He just walked into the dressing room after the Burnley game and said ‘Right, I’ve got another job, I’m going.’ He wished us all the best and that was it, he was gone. The timing probably wasn’t right from a players point of view but he made a decision for himself, his wife and his career.”
“It was BRIAN HORTON’s first managerial job, and it was a bit of a surprise to us. There were a lot of other names banded about. We were away in America at the time and he flew out to us. He mixed well with us and got on well with all the players but obviously on an end-of-season tour just after we’d missed out on promotion he didn’t see us at our best. He laid down the foundations of what he wanted very early on. Some players came in, others went. He brought in players that were creative and gave us all much more freedom to express ourselves.”
“EDDIE GRAY was the most skilful player I’ve ever seen and was still really fit when he came here as manager. He came in, changed the style a little and brought some players in. If anything, looking back I think he could have been a little more disciplined. Certain players he let get away with a bit too much, but if that was the way to get the best from a player, all well and good.”