The terms ‘cup run’ and ‘Hull City’ are a bit like the Jackson Five, in that they haven’t been seen together in years, which is why a paragraph in a programme reading ‘If Hull City beat Manchester United, tickets for the final will go on sale at Boothferry Park on Thursday’ would be enough to make any City fan cream their pants in excitement. So, just how many teams did the intrepid Tigers overcome to reach a semi-final against such illustrious opposition? Well, just one actually. Confused? Then read on.
The competition was, unfortunately, not the grand old FA Challenge Cup, nor its less coveted cousin the League Cup, but rather the Watney Cup. “The What Cup?” you ask inquisitively. No, the Watney Cup we answer glibly. “What a crap pun” you retort. Anyway, the Watney Mann Invitation Cup, to give the competition its full title, was introduced shortly after the 1970 World Cup Finals, when Pele, Jairzinho and their canary clad pals had dragged football out of defensive darkness and illuminated the way with bold, beautiful attack minded play. The cup took the two highest scoring teams from each of the four divisions (excluding those recently promoted, relegated or those engaged in European competition) and pitted them against each other in a straight knockout tournament.
City had qualified as the second highest scoring Second Division team during the 1969-70 season when they had made the onion bag bulge 72 times in 42 games.
City’s opponents in the first round (essentially the quarter finals) were Fourth Division battlers Peterborough away at London Road. The Posh started brightly, but soon began to buckle as the Tigers moved ominously forward. On the stroke of half-time the irresistible Ken Wagstaff broke into the home side’s box and unleashed a low drive into the bottom corner to break the deadlock. The second half saw ‘Boro washed away by a tide of amber, ‘Waggy’ striking again early on before Chris Chilton grabbed himself a brace to set up the mouthwatering semi-final against Manchester United, who edged past Reading with a 2-3 away win.
And so the day arrived: Wednesday 5th August 1970, warm sunshine heralding the arrival in Hull of (Sir) Matt Busby and a full strength United squad.
Can you imagine Alex Ferguson doing the same? A man who can barely contain his contempt for domestic cups bringing Schmeichel, the Nevilles, Beckham et al to Boothferry Park for a relatively insignificant kickabout. Yet here they were, the backbone of the side that had conquered Europe just two years previous, mixing it with the black and amber. And looking back, it was quite appropriate for an encounter that would make footballing history.
United though, were no longer the dominant force they had been in recent years. A year on from their victorious European Cup campaign, Matt Busby left, and without it’s inspirational leader the club lost its way. Busby’s successor, Wilf McGuiness, transformed the club from title contenders into midtable makeweights. George Best, who McGuiness had suspended for alleged ‘disreputable behaviour’, later said: “You could hear the energy and ambition sighing out of the club.” The final straw came when United were humiliated by arch-rivals Man City in the League Cup semi-final and McGuiness was ousted to make way for Busby’s emotional return to the Salford club. In spite of the worsening league position, United’s squad of household names was still proving to be crowd pullers.
Thirty-four thousand and seven filed into fortress Boothferry for Terry Neill’s second game in charge in which the new player-boss fielded an unchanged side consisting of: McKechnie, Beardsley, Devries, Wilkinson, Simpkin, Neill himself, Lord, Houghton, Chilton, Wagstaff and Butler (with Pearson sub). United boss Busby also plumped for the side that had got him here, choosing: Stepney. Edwards, Dunne, Crerand, Ure, Sadler, Morgan, Law, Charlton, Kidd and Best (with toothy raver Stiles warming the bench).
The Red Devils got the game underway, but it was City who looked the more accomplished of the two sides and just eleven minutes in, Bob Dewhurst lookalike (but not playalike) Chilton volleyed home a ball from tricky winger Ian Butler to give the Tigers a one-nil lead. The home side continued to pile on the pressure after the restart and Stepney in the United goal had many lucky escapes before the halftime whistle. The second half brought no respite and three minutes in Butler rounded the keeper only to see his shot rebound off the woodwork.
The game continued to flow in City’s favour but with twelve of the ninety minutes remaining, disaster struck: a centre from Willie Morgan was brilliantly seized upon Denis Law, who glanced the header home past McKechnie. One-one. Undeterred, the Tigers again pressed forward, and on 88 minutes an advancing Wagstaff was brought crashing down by Stepney in United’s box, penalty!
No said referee Jim Finney waving play on. Moments later the Hereford official blew for full-time. With Derby awaiting the victors for a final showdown, the tie had to be decided. Thirty minutes of extra time passed with neither goal breached and as Finney blew time three times again, he called time on not only extra time, but also sounded a death knell for the ‘umpteenth replay’. The tournaments organisers had declared it would act as a test bed for a pioneering method of deciding games still tied after extra time and by quirk of fate Boothferry Park would host the world’s first penalty shootout.
There was then just as now, arguments against the idea, football ‘purists’ branded the system a mockery of football, claiming that luck and not skill would decided games, which was an incredulous statement considering the previous way of settling games. Surely five unimpeded strikes on goal are infinitely better than drawing lots or…gasp…tossing a coin! The pain of England’s elimination by Argentina was bad enough, but imagine if we had gone out because Alan Shearer. as the gleaming coin flipped in the air, had chosen the ‘tails never fails’ option.
And so, with the ball placed twelve yards from the goalline, the first two personae stepped up for this penalty dramatis as Boothferry Park’s occupants collectively drew breath. The imperilous George Best once said: “I spent a lot of money on fast cars and fast women, the rest I just wasted.” He didn’t however waste this opportunity and scored with a low shot to McKechnie’s right. First up for City was boss Terry Neill, and the ex-Arsenal duly equalised. The following four spot kicks were also dispatched, Kidd, Butler, Charlton and Simpkin making it 3-3.
Regardless of their other endeavours, Messrs Pearce, Waddle, Southgate and Batty, will always be remembered for their shootout failures, an honour which has seemingly eluded Denis Law, who stepped up and saw his right hand strike repelled by a diving McKechnie, a Scot thwarting a Scot. Ken Wagstaff then had the chance to put the Tigers in front but missed. Still 3-3 after eight spot kicks. Willie Morgan then lashed his spot kick away, and McKechnie, picking himself up off the floor, made his way to the penalty spot and placed the ball. A goalkeeper? Taking the final crucial penalty? Yep. But the decision was not as crazed as it now seems, as a year previous City’s number one had, along with Ian Butler, reached the final of a penalty knockout tournament. However, it was not be, and his fierce left foot strike hit the bar and went over.
The game ended and United advanced to the final leaving City to continue preparations for the new season (I suppose I should mention the final, but, hey who cares, we weren’t there). Soon after, the shootout method was adopted by UEFA and then FIFA, cue rejoicing at the Deutscher Fussball Bund and future despair for the English footballing populous in 1990, 1996, 1998…