The Needlers – A Sweet Aftertaste?

Why are we so shit? I used to ask myself that question when we finished every season 14th in the old Division 2. Those were the days – when we used to laugh at clubs like Stockport and Crewe, and when not even the anoraks had heard of Wimbledon. Times have changed at Boothferry Park. One of the best grounds in the country is now a dump, the team is truly a bag of shite, a crowd of 6,000 is exceptional and the Dons are one of the top ten clubs in the league.

So where has it all gone wrong? One thing is for sure, it’s not something that happened overnight. Younger fans may point to the memories of Fish, Dolan and Lloyd. But it goes much deeper than that. This club has been dying for the past thirty years, and, at the risk of upsetting a whole generation of supporters, much of the blame should be attached to Harold Needler. Old man Needler is often described as the father of Hull City, and of course in many respects he was. It was his vision that resurrected the pre-war Hull City Football Club and that built Boothferry Park. However, it should be remembered that it was the fans who provided most of the (unpaid) labour, and a Football Association loan that realised the capital.

Once the ground was built, there then followed the so-called golden era of Hull City. Although there certainly wasn’t anything golden in the trophy cabinet. Older supporters still rave about the in Raich Carter’s day, but despite the phenomenal crowds that flocked to Boothferry Park, City never got within a sniff of top flight football.

But the real opportunity, and why I believe Harold Needler is as culpable as anyone for the demise of Hull City, was in the mid-sixties. The City side that blew away the old Third Division in 1965-66 was a brilliant team, and one that should have gone all the way to the top. The fact that the board chose to finance ground improvements instead of releasing funds to buy some top class defenders meant that City missed out on their best chance of going up to the top division. Cliff Britton, the manager at the time, took a lot of stick for not strengthening the defence, but what could he do without any money? It was fully two years after the promotion campaign, with City in real danger of relegation, before Needler was persuaded to stump up some cash when Britton paid Millwall £18,000 for Tom Wilson.

Wilson was one of City’s best ever defenders, and his signing demonstrates the type of quality player that the manager would have brought in if he had been given the chance. Unfortunately the Needler board were more intent on building a monument to their own short-sightedness than investing in a team to take City to the top.

In defence of Needler of Harold Needler it could be argued that the only thing he was guilty of was lack of ambition. And there were many City fans at that time who were convinced that the club just didn’t want First Division football. Also, while there can be no question about Harold’s personal character, he palpably lacked football knowledge, and this was probably another contributory factor towards his failure to realise that a modest investment in two or three players could well have seen City promoted to the First Division.

But Needler’s failure to back his manager is probably only the second worst mistake he ever made. His biggest error of judgement was the unforgivable sin of fathering the odious Christopher, the man who was to finally drive Hull City to the brink of self destruction.

If the Tigers were just a hobby to Harold, then to Christopher they were a massive inconvenience. The man never had an ounce of affection for the club that daddy had built and he presided, mostly in absentia, over the fall and fall of the Tigers. The “Needler chequebook is closed” refrain was heard at Boothferry Park more often than “come on you ’ull”, yet the man, for reasons of his own, stubbornly refused to let anyone come in and take over the club.

Until that is – a certain Southern tosser hove into view. With the club already on its knees, with its assets stripped and internally rotten to the core, Christopher finally took the money and ran – all the way to the South of France. The rest as they is history, and was probably inevitable. The club is in freefall, and we have only 20 games to save ourselves from the Conference, from where I am convinced we will never return.

But things could have been so different if Harold Needler has grasped hold of the mettle in the mid-sixties and taken City to the top flight.

Craig Ellyard