The Soul of Hull City – Part one

soul1

For some people, Hull City didn’t exist until May 2008, when the club joined the upper echelons and entered the national consciousness. For long time City fans though, the Tigers are far more than a single match or season, they are the sum of childhood memories of standing on Boothferry Park’s ‘well’, of recollections of Simon Gray coach trips to away games, even of events not witnessed first hand but passed down from a previous generation of Tiger Nationals. Hull City is a rich tapestry comprised of many individual and overlapping threads.

Some threads are more important than others though, and we set out to define what it is that makes Hull City unique, different from every other club in the land. What are the 100 key events, people, sights and sounds that combine to form the soul of Hull City? Not every entry has to be of monumental historic importance, and there is no set order, but each has to be quintessentially Hull City’…


WAGGY AND CHILLO
Dramatis personae

waggychillo

The greatest strike partnership in Hull City’s history, in spirit and backed up easily by the figures. Upon the arrival of cocky and stocky Ken Wagstaff to partner Sproatley’s own centre forward par excellence Chris Chilton in late 1964, the pair never looked back. The giant Chilton’s brand of brave, strong, uncompromising marksmanship yielded the individual club record for goals which nobody will beat; Wagstaff was the artier, more cultured footballer, devilish at getting into the right positions and fearless when faced with any chance, in any game, against any goalkeeper.

The pair of them make sure in their dotage today that supporting forwards Ken Houghton, Ian Butler and Ray Henderson get their share of the credit as suppliers and supporting characters, but for seven years the name of Hull City was better known than the club’s league status may have deserved because of these two men at the helm, masters of the simple-but-difficult goalscoring craft. They scored 366 League goals for City on aggregate in 15 years of involvement; 252 of which came as a partnership between Wagstaff’s debut in November 1964 (in which both he and Chilton scored) and Chilton’s departure for Coventry in August 1971. A staggering 52 of these were hammered in during the Third Division title winning season of 1966, in which Houghton, Butler and Henderson also each reached double figures. Wagstaff also scored a comparatively whopping four goals in FA Cup quarter finals, a round of the competition which remained alien to Hull City thereafter until 2009. Maybe all these stats really should have appeared at the start of this paragraph, as they say more than meagre words.


LEIGH JENKINSON IN THE RUMBELOWS SPRINT CHALLENGE
That is so Hull City

For 104 years we waited to play an actual match at Wembley, but at least it took only a mere 88 years before a Hull City kit was legitimately on show there. League Cup sponsors Rumbelows held an inter-club competition to find the fastest footballer in the 92, with each club (apart from those who thought it was a toss idea and declined) submitting their nippiest squad member, in football kit and boots.

Ultimately, a race at Wembley prior to the Rumbelows Cup final was the pinnacle. Regional heats were held, and although Jenks, the City winger renowned for being both fast and yet a carthorse (as well as slicing crosses into the South Stand with alarming regularity), was done by Huddersfield’s Iffy Onuora in his 100m semi at the Don Valley, he took him in the final and got to Wembley for the big occasion. There, with a sense of inevitability which summed up City’s fortunes in the entire 1990s (relegated twice, frequently humiliated), he came very, very last.

 

ANDY PAYTON V. BRIGHTON
Heights of joy

Payton Brighton

Memories are great things. Totally unreliable, of course, but great nonetheless. Thanks to the internet, Sky and the general profile of football, every last detail in any Football League game is now recorded from any number of angles. You don’t need to remember goals, you just need access to YouTube or Virgin Media.

Of course none of these things were available when Andy Payton inspired City to an enthralling 5-2 demolition of Brighton in December 1988. I haven’t seen Payton’s second goal that day since I witnessed it while freezing to death on the South Stand. My memory tells me that he picked the ball up on the edge of his own area and ran in zig-zags past eight Brighton players before scoring from an acute angle. He didn’t. I accept that.

If I strain my memory I know that the goal was still remarkable; that Payton picked up the ball in his own half, beat the two centre-backs in the centre circle, skipped past a full back and rounded the keeper from the afore mentioned acute angle. But YouTube or ESPN Classic are never going to prove me wrong or right. Payton – a player who really should be higher in the pantheon of Hull City greats than many seem to rank him – was to score many more goals for City, and a good few of them were spectacular, but he was never to get close to this incredible run, at a time when he was only really on the verge of cementing his place in City’s first team.

The soon-to-be-ignited Edwards and Whitehurst partnership was to delay his rise for a while, but this goal told us everything we needed to know about Payton: he was going to be a star.

 

TENNIS BALL PROTEST AT BOLTON
Fan Culture

City fans were already miffed that tennis tosser David Lloyd had merged many functions of both the Tigers and egg-chasers Hull Sharks (as Hull FC were then known) such as the feebly named ‘Tiger-Sharks Inc.’ club shops, and were deeply suspicious that what little money Hull City had was being diverted to fund the rugby league clubs ambitions. The petulant fool had several times threatened to close both clubs down if the people of Hull (who he branded ‘crap’ in one interview) didn’t back his plans, and when he announced that City would leave Boothferry Park and become tenants at the dilapidated Boulevard ground, Tiger Nationals were enraged.

A beer fuelled meeting of the TOSS and Amber Nectar fanzines determined that protest needed to be made, and the forthcoming League Cup tie at Bolton seemed the perfect time. It was agreed that in order to truly grab the attention of the media, and in turn the sporting public, we needed to delay or disrupt the game somehow. A pitch invasion was deemed unacceptable as the publicity would be wholly negative, so a Nectarine suggested throwing tennis balls on the pitch, it made sense; it was non-violent, highly visible and amusingly ironic as former tennis pro Lloyd was the current Davis Cup captain.

A few hundred tennis balls were purchased and randomly distributed to willing supporters on the coaches bound for the Reebok Stadium. Just before kick off, they were hurled onto the turf, a few at first, then en masse creating a vivid shower of luminous orbs to the bemusement of the players, officials and watching media. Radio Humberside’s Gwilym Lloyd, despite having been tipped off about the protest, curiously stated on air that it was apples being thrown at Steve Wilson, musing that maybe it was a twist on the old ‘oranges for Ian McKechnie’ ritual of yore. Nonetheless the media lapped it up, and each subsequent report in the national press increased the estimate of tennis balls used, a few hundred had become ‘thousands’. The protest worked better than anyone could have anticipated, and a humiliated Lloyd soon announced he was putting the club up for sale. Game, set and match to City fans.


THE WELL
That’s SO Hull City

well

Boothferry Park’s West Stand had just one actual standing area, a small shallow-level structure beneath the expensive seating which made up most of this alleged ‘best’ stand. This was the Well, admissible via season pass only, and gave the impression when you stood in it that a moat, akin to those later as standard in mainland Europe grounds, was earmarked for this side of the Ark when the architect was still drawing up the plans, but a few judicious flicks of a set-square later, realised it was impossible, or pointless, or too expensive, or dangerous, or all of the above, so they concreted it through and made it into a standing zone which felt quite exclusive (mainly because so few people chose to use it) but offered far less of a view than any other standing area of the ground.

It was impossible to lean against the back wall when bored (ie, most of the time) because the tiny pebble-dashing made it uncomfortable, while it was hardly ideal for kids, who had to stand at the front and therefore only got a grass-level view if they got on tiptoes and rested their chins on the famous white fencing that circled the whole ground, risking a ball in the face whenever Pat Heard sliced a clearance.

In the 80s, this went from difficult to impossible with the arrival of all the wheelchair-using fans to the grass area immediately in front of the Well. For all this, it was popular enough to stay open until the Ark itself was no more, even though there was ample seating or standing elsewhere to relocate the Well’s hardier souls if necessary. The main advantage of being in the Well, depending on the setting of your maturity threshold, was the ease with which you could shout abuse to opposing players, as the caged Boothferry Park tunnel was right next to you.

 

1990-1991 RELEGATION SEASON
Depths of despair

The season that cost too much. Too much in terms of wages, too much in terms of status, too much in terms of future security, too much in terms of emotional stress. Stan Ternent’s decision to bring in mercenaries on mega wages as a tool to keep the Tigers afloat in the second tier failed so utterly spectacularly that a man hailed a hero the summer before for keeping the Tigers up (with a side winless as recently as the November, his month of appointment) was out on his backside by the New Year, immediately following a 5-1 defeat at Portsmouth; the latest in a line of humiliations that had previously produced a 5-1 loss at Sheffield Wednesday and a 7-1 garotting by West Ham.

It was obvious by then that this manager was not going to keep a bloated, aged and confidence-free side up, so Richard Chetham did the honest thing and jettisoned the man he had appointed 14 months earlier, with the classless Ternent wailing for months and years afterwards that he was promised everything and was given nothing; a claim not borne out by the fees and salaries paid for players like Gwyn Thomas, David Hockaday, Malcolm Shotton, Leigh Palin, Tony Finnegan and the most wretched of City wretches, Dave Bamber.

Some of these journeymen – well, Palin certainly – were good players for City but the smell of incompetence stifled their abilities and only the front duo of Andy Payton and Peter Swan brought any optimism to the table, with a 37 goal partnership proving a phenomenal achievement in a team so bad that it went down six points adrift and with 117 goals in the ‘against’ column. Still, Terry Dolan had been appointed to stop the rot… erm…

 

PHIL BROWN’S SHOES
Keeping up appearances

brownshoes

Tan shoes with black suits would turn the stomach of any personal shopper or homosexual stylist, but they were official club uniform for all playing and coaching staff throughout the first full season of Brown. Only the manager himself took the attention for wearing the famous footwear, and one suspects he rather enjoyed that. The shoes, which did look remarkably like winklepickers when viewed from a distance, were changed upon promotion to the Premier League, and Brown’s sartorial quirks switched to black shirts and patterned scarves instead.

 

JOHN HAWLEY SIGNS AMATEUR TERMS
Talking points

Hawley was a proficient local lad, a Withernsea-born striker who was spotted like any other talented youngster would be, but he kept refusing to sign terms with the club, even after making his debut in 1973, a fortnight short of his 19th birthday. Very simply, he was the heir to the family antiques business and wanted to be an antique dealer more than he wanted to be a footballer (and had greater earning power in being so).

However, as he was good, City maintained his services at weekends, paying his expenses only, gallantly never questioning his commitment and it took four seasons of progressive goalscoring and gentle cajoling before finally he was persuaded to go full-time. After City’s relegation in 1978 he joined Leeds United and also had spells at Arsenal and Sunderland before returning to City, briefly, ahead of his retirement. He is still regarded in the national press as the last amateur of English football, and is still selling antiques.

 

TERRY NEILL
Dramatis personae Neill, Terryl

All front, swagger and charisma, the 28 year old Neill was the shock choice of the Tigers to replace the ageing, revered Cliff Britton in 1970 when it was finally decided that fresh ideas and a spot of modernity was required to drag City into the new decade. Neill had put the feelers out about his coaching ambitions once he realised his playing days at Arsenal were coming to an end, and it was with the notorious offer of an E-Type Jaguar as a final sweetener that Harold Needler eventually convinced him to take over at Boothferry Park, sealing the deal while Neill was being shown the view of Boothferry Park’s floodlights in the dead of night from Hessle Road flyover.

City were in the second tier but progress was minimal and the squad was starting to age; indeed, a handful of players were older than their new manager. Neill’s cocky Ulster persona and still evident talent as a centre back revived the team and gave the supporters a new confidence and City came the closest they’d ever been to top flight football with a sixth placed finish in 1971, along with a controversial exit from the FA Cup quarter finals.

However, the short-term acquisition of Tommy Docherty as assistant manager, and his immediate advice that “younger legs” were needed, heralded the beginning of the end for an ageing side, with Chris Chilton (still only 28) sold to Coventry after a fall-out with the new gaffer and the likes of Ian Butler and Ken Houghton slowly phased out, with the former still unable to forgive Neill to this day. Ken Knighton and Bill Baxter proved good signings but progress was slow and Neill, who was also player-managing Northern Ireland, had to use all his charm and wisecracks to maintain patience from both board and supporters. Before he came close to achieving any goals though, he was headhunted by Tottenham Hotspur in 1974 as successor to Bill Nicholson, and then quickly shifted back along the Seven Sisters Road to Arsenal, whom he managed to lots of cup finals.

Neill’s international appearance tally was a club record for two decades afterwards, keeping his name in City’s mind’s eye long after he’d gone, and to this day he remains a storyteller and wit, hugely complimentary of the club and still devoted especially to the memory and character of both Needler and Britton (and of what a lovely time he had living in Swanland). He has been happy to tell his own Hull City story over and over again since the Tigers rose to top-flight glory, just to make sure such a high-flying club never forgets about him.

 

PUB QUIZ QUESTIONS
Talking points

There were two of them – the one about Hull City being the only team on your pools coupon (presumably now updated to a Ladbrokes betting form swiped on the concourse of some artless nu-stadium) with no enclosed letters for you to colour in; the other was about the biggest city in Europe never to have had top-flight football. We can’t do anything about the first (short of loaning our fringe players to Lymm FC for eight seasons until they make it) but you may have noticed that Phil Brown and his 2008 squad managed to sort out the second one. Plymouth is most welcome to it.

 

Entries by Matthew Rudd, Richard Gardham and Les Motherby

4 replies
  1. Steady Tiger
    Steady Tiger says:

    Great photo of the Well – can spy my original Season Ticket seat in the West Stand (H?34). Used to transfer into the Well for some strange reason

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