The Soul of Hull City part two


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, but it has to be quintessentially Hull City’…   

Heights of joy

When kicked, pummelled, abused and insulted for 19 long years, a battered wife may appreciate a tiny bit of affection and let you enjoy unspeakable sexual acts with her. So it was with Hull City in the 19 years that preceded City’s 2003-04 promotion from League Two. City – the club and its supporters – tried to hide the black eyes and broken bones administered by the likes of Lloyd, Needler and Buchanan but the hurt was evident to all who knew what was happening behind closed doors.

All we needed was a little bit of love, a cuddle even. And at Yeovil in the May of 2004 we received that love, gently crescendoing to a long awaited climax that sated even the neediest of hearts. And it was Ian Ashbee, the club’s captain who even two seasons into his City tenure had proved himself an influential lynchpin of the side, that served up the final thrust as he stroked home a delightful chip from the edge of the Yeovil penalty area that secured a 2-1 victory and sent the assembled masses in the away end into sun-kissed paroxysms of delight.

An incredible day saw pubs across this distant Somerset town brimming with Tiger nationals before and after the game, but the finest moments of all were that Ash goal and the post-whistle cavort of the players, management and chairman on the pitch. Sheer joy and elation, we felt briefly loved once more – then ordered a pizza.

That’s SO Hull City

As City moved from the near-derelict Boothferry Park to the brand-spanking KC Stadium, everything about the club seemed to move up a few gears. The image, marketing, national profile and on-pitch fortunes of the club took off, but there is still an annual reminder of our former inglorious self. Nestled away at the back of whatever the Rothman’s yearbook is calling itself these days is a list of the chaplains of a handful of clubs. Hull City’s, the Reverend Allen Bagshawe, probably has a higher profile than most. This is because of the sea of indifference that greets him every December as he ‘leads’ the half-time carol session while the KC masses queue for beer.

The whole exercise is shambolically enthralling as the Reverend enjoys his yearly fifteen minutes of lame. Favourites such as Ding-Dong Merrily On High, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Hark The Herald Angels Sing are belted out with gusto as a small handful of City fans join in, usually ironically/drunkenly. Old-fashioned ‘entertainment’ is a rarity in football these days, and in many ways this festive treat would be missed if it were to be ditched, or, even worse, modernised, with the Reverend belting out the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York or E17’s Stay. And as small-time as the carol singing may seem, it is about a billionth as excruciating as Steve Jordan’s vomit-inducing pre-match one-man hysteria.

Talking points


Few were thrilled, to say the least, when Peter Taylor decided that lumpy, slow and dubiously skilled striker Jon Parkin was the right man to helm City’s progress in the Championship, for real money and everything. The memories of City fans who saw him in useless mode for York and laughed at him at Macclesfield were long. But Parkin was immense upon arrival, twatting defenders with aplomb while scoring peachy goals and quickly earning a cult status not seen for a man in his position since Billy Whitehurst was putting the shits up centre halves a generation earlier.

His winner against Leeds United near the end of that campaign seemingly secured his legacy forever, only to ruin it with an appalling lack of self-respect in pre-season that saw him arrive with a good few stones added to his already porcine appearance. Taylor had gone and Phil Parkinson didn’t have a clue what to do about Parkin, as now only his dreadful attitude fitted his nickname of the Beast, and apart from two sharp goals on telly against Sheffield Wednesday (reserving it for the cameras, eh?) he became an embarrassment, a target of fierce criticism not seen since John Moore. So from Whitehurst to Moore in the space of six months.

He fucked off to Stoke on loan as Phil Brown reached the end of his tether but had to come back in an injury crisis, during which time he proved he cared not a jot – including in a crucial game against his new bessies at Stoke, as City equalised in injury time but Parkin was the sole participant not to partake in the wild celebrations. Stoke bought him that summer and quickly they too realised what a fat, lazy waste of space he was, forwarding him to Preston within another year. An astonishing lurch from villain, to icon, to villain in such a short period.


Keeping up appearances

Initially not interested in buying Hull City, Harold Needler was intent on forming a completely new club in 1946, deciding on the somewhat unweildly moniker of Kingston Upon Hull AFC. When the Football League rebuffed his application for membership, he turned his attention to buying the Tigers, who had been dormant during the late war years and their Anlaby Road ground heavily damaged.

Needler had wanted his side to play in orange shirts, white shorts and orange socks with blue turnover bands, indeed an illustration on the cover of the match programme for the first game at Boothferry Park, City v Lincoln, depicted a player wearing such garb, but the Department of Trade refused to release the dyes requested, claiming them too expensive, so for time being orange or amber were out. When the Tigers emerged from the new ground’s tunnel to take on Lincoln they did so wearing light blue shirts, white shorts and blue and white hooped stockings, a kit used throughout the 1946-1947 campaign.

The club returned to tigerish amber and black the next season however, though no longer with striped jerseys. Needler never got his desired orange shirts, but as a compromise of sorts we switched to plain jerseys and remained sans-stripes for another thirteen years.

That’s SO Hull City

In the mid-90s football in England became sexy in a way that had seemed impossible just a few years previous. Sadly, through crass mismanagement on and off the pitch, Hull City didn’t just miss the boat, we aimlessly floated around on a piece of driftwood while the rest of the world steamed ahead. Yet there was something endearing about us. Our rag-taggle bunch of free transfers, youth players and North Ferriby imports were often so out of their depth that there was a certain glory in our naffness. And nothing seemed to sum up this naffness better than when our decidedly average right-back Simon Dakin, a free transfer from Derby County, fell down a lift shaft on a pre-season tour of Spain in 1995.

At a time when Eric Cantona was kung-fu kicking thuggish fans and Tony Adams was drunkenly ploughing cars through the front gardens of Essex, our players’ misdeeds were in-keeping with our relative mediocrity on the pitch. “Biscuit”, as Dakin was naffly nicknamed, never fully revealed the details of what happened that fateful evening, though it’s fair to presume that tomfoolery and/or sangria was involved. The broken collar bone kept him out of the first team at the beginning of the subsequent season, and Adam Lowthorpe’s general excellence, meant that he never quite retained his place in the Tigers’ defence and he was released in 1996.

Non-league football – including a lengthy and successful stint at King’s Lynn – and a career in law beckoned for Dakin. And you can’t help but wonder if he specializes in suing negligent Spanish hotels.


Talking points


The most skilled footballer Hull City has ever had, even though his impact was as much as an inspirer as it was a player, Okocha’s presence in the crowd at Blackpool began the rumours which were soon confirmed as fact, that Phil Brown had used his Bolton connections to persuade the ludicrously gifted Nigerian to come back to the English game from Qatar and add serious star quality to a slowburning Championship squad of promise.

Okocha’s impact on the pitch was sometimes glorious, just for his flicks and tricks and swivels and turns, but more often unusually pragmatic, and by never scoring for City, the only statistic adjacent to his name was that of a red card against Burnley. Okocha was injured too often and missed the climax to the campaign and all of the play-off glory, and few aired mega derisory howls when Brown decided not to offer him terms for the Premier League, presumably because he already had Geovanni in his sights.

But for a while he was ours and it made the rest of the division insanely jealous, and the spectacle of the whole of Molineux standing to applaud him off the park as he was substituted there, having inspired City to a 1-0 win and kept the ball in their penalty box despite the hapless attentions of five old-golded defenders, remains one of the most endearing images of a season littered with them.


Keeping up appearances

Emblematic of Hull City’s decline and financial strife throughout the 1990’s was the illuminated letters that spelt out BOOTHFERRY PARK above the club’s offices behind the ground’s North Stand terrace. Nightfall gave the increasingly ramshackle stadium a shortened moniker, as only FER ARK was lit up, the bulbs having long given up the ghost in the other characters. Many attempts to fix the red signage were made, alas with but fleeting success, as one by one the lamps winked out, once again leaving just FER ARK visible on an evening. As a result many supporters affectionately referred to the ground as ‘Fer Ark’, sometimes just ‘the Ark’, a practice that began on the Tiger-Chat email group.


Fan culture

Jovial Scottish custodian Ian McKechnie was a mainstay between the sticks for City over eight seasons in the 60s and 70s, but despite all his agility and bravery – team-mates said he was brave almost beyond the call of duty – it’s the pre-match routine between him and City fans which has been dominant in securing his place in City folklore.

Numerous stories have been related, but McKechnie’s own version has to be taken as the definitive: one Thursday afternoon after he’d left Boothferry Park following treatment, he walked along North Road and then Anlaby Road and noticed a Jaffa orange in a shop – a wet fish shop, oddly – and decided to buy it to scoff during his walk. Two young lads then shouted their good wishes for the coming away game to him, and McKechnie, still chomping on his snack, responded with thanks. Two weeks later, at the next home game, two oranges landed on the pitch near McKechnie’s goal, almost certainly from the same two lads.

McKechnie, who happily sucked on the oranges during the game, related afterwards to the Hull Daily Mail who he believed had thrown them and why, and subsequently numerous oranges started appearing in his goalmouth as a ritual at each game. Some got squashed or bruised, but he’d end up taking half a dozen or so home each time. One week, an orange had a phone number and ‘I LOVE YOU’ on it which McKechnie showed to the Mail’s reporter who then arranged a meet up. Although McKechnie was greeted by an attractive woman upon ringing the doorbell, it was her five year old daughter who had chucked the fruit.

Another time, a fan was arrested at Sheffield United for hurling an orange McKechnie-wards, and the keeper himself appeared in court on the supporter’s behalf later to explain away the reasoning. A truly unique player-fan interaction at a time when fan-fan interactions were rather more feisty. It is understood that these days McKechnie prefers a nice satsuma.


Heights of joy


Peter Taylor was a negative football manager. Peter Taylor would go one goal up and then get 11 players behind the ball to preserve this lead. Peter Taylor masterminded one of the most formidable attacking displays Hull City has ever produced, in front of one of the largest and noisiest away supports to have got behind the Tigers in many a year. Only one of those statements is true.

City went to Hillsborough in December 2004 on the crest of a wave. A long unbeaten run had seen us storm up League 1, but the trip to Sheffield looked daunting. A delayed kick-off and misinformation spread by the Owls’ PA announcer that Stuart Elliott wasn’t playing didn’t help matters, and when Wednesday took the lead on two minutes after some comical Marc Joseph defending it looked like we’d been exposed as pretenders; a form team destined to wilt in the face of real class. What followed was 43 minutes of the most scintillating football a Hull City team has ever produced. Nick Barmby was the architect, but Elliott, France, Keane, Ash and Facey plundered through the home team’s defence like we were being controlled by a bored 12-year-old FIFA Pro expert playing on ‘easy’ to sharpen his skills.

By the time Michael Keane had equalised with a harshly given penalty, we’d already established our superiority. Not long after Barmby converted a scuffed Elliott shot from close range after good work by Facey. Then came one of those moments that seems to define a season. When a long ball landed in the Wednesday penalty area it seemed like meat and drink to the lumbering home centre-backs. Ryan France then defied gravity to flick the ball to Barmby’s right, who swiveled and hit the ball on the volley across Lucas in the home goal and into the top corner. There was a second of silence from the 7000 or so City fans, as everyone took in the beauty, the brilliance, the class of the moment. Then utter pandemonium. Very, very few players in our history could have scored that goal. Very few. The half-time whistle was welcomed by all Owls, and City took their foot off the gas in the second half a little.

Wednesday made it 3-2, only to see Danny Allsopp make it 4-2 and render the final 10 minutes little more than an excuse to celebrate/gloat. The League 1 season may not have had its Yeovil moment, but this game was as important as any under Taylor. We rarely looked back after this and achieved promotion with almost a month to spare. And despite us being spoilt these days by the likes of Ronaldo, Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney, the Premiership has thrown up nothing to surpass the technique of Nick Barmby’s volley on that crisp December evening.


Keeping up appearances

Upon the beer-bellied centre forward’s return to Boothferry Park on the penultimate day of 1988 (thereby dulling the pain of seeing Tony Norman go the other way just a smidgeon), some wag seemingly clambered over the barbed wire of the Ark in the early hours of New Years Eve and wrote ‘RAMBO BILLY’ (very 80s) and ‘WELCOME BACK BIG BILLY’ in crude, but not illegible, black lettering on the western side of the North Stand.

This is remarkable enough in itself, but given that a) it was deliberately positioned so that every Tigers supporter in the stadium for the day’s game against Ipswich could see it; b) nobody from the club condemned what was essentially criminal activity; c) the club didn’t feel the need to comment on its lax security which allowed the artist access; and d) he’d have probably needed a high ladder to reach the spot where his words were daubed, it all contributed strongly to the belief long held (and never denied) to this day that chairman Don Robinson was behind it, something Whitehurst himself happily claims.

He duly got a returning hero’s welcome, scoring in a 1-1 draw, and the graffiti stayed for the rest of the season. Subsequent attempts to remove it were rather half-hearted, really, although this may have been less about the joke wearing thin and more because the club couldn’t afford the paint.

Entries by Matthew Rudd, Richard Gardham, Mike Scott and Les Motherby


Missed part one? Read it HERE

8 replies
  1. Leon
    Leon says:

    Excellent stuff for myself as a relatively recent fan to read. And quite an uncomfortable metaphor in the first reminiscence, really, very uncomfortable.

  2. Malcolm, Sutton
    Malcolm, Sutton says:

    My God the win against Yeovil in 2004 with that Ashbee curler – was it a mere 5 or so years ago? Went to watch the momentus occasion at the Gemtec (then Vulcan) Arena and what a day – the rebirth of the Tigernation. Bloody hell why did we have to suffer so much pain to get where we are today?

  3. peter matthews
    peter matthews says:

    Ian McKechnie’s oranges! became massively accompanied by polos, and wrigleys gum, as well as the obligatory 70’s toilet rolls, but usually only from Bunkers (South Stand).

    The reason for me why City are unique, is the Watney cup semi-final against that american side Manchester United (i’m sure they weren’t American then), kids sat on school benches put inside the rails (pitchside) +45,000 (i’m sure) the fog, losing on penalties (first ever) Denis Law having his penalty saved by McKechnie, and McKechnie being given the honour of taking the last penalty as a result.

    Heady days indeed, I know rose tinted glasses taint our view of yesteryear, but for me even though there was gamesmanship then, the dishonesty in the game now really does make it difficult to enjoy as much as the 60’s,70’s, 80’s and 90’s even though the 80’s and 90’s were extremely depressing as a City fan, you still had hope and belief, and occasionally a hardworking genuine player who didn’t care if he was talented or looked good, but just ran till his knees buckled. God bless them all from Chris Simpkin to Ian Ashbee, heroes one and all. Very few would be seen by the wider world as great footballers but to local football fans their effort and commitment stand them up there with Pele, Cruyff, Best and all the other artisans who make football the greatest sport in the world.

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