The Soul of Hull City – Part four


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…

Dramatis Personae


Cold, fussy, hard to like, bad-tempered … and the best manager we’ve ever had. Two promotions in his first two full seasons. He crafted a team capable of winning any game put before them, defying the howls of derision from supporters underwhelmed by individual signings (Aaron Wilbraham, Delroy Facey, Marc Joseph, Junior Lewis), outraged by isolation of heroes (Justin Whittle) and generally irritated by Taylorisms such as belting the ball to the far right flag on kick off, bringing everybody back to defend corners even when we were behind, and playing as defensively as any Hull City team could ever be upon going ahead.

Cynics say Taylor was lucky, idiots say he was over praised because he didn’t finish top of the table with either promotion, but ultimately he revived Hull City in a way previous managers could never have done so – by being right, knowing best and ignoring the paying public who had too many years of hypercriticism and mistrust ingrained in them to notice a job being executed well.

He got out at the right time for man and club, albeit messily, but still only the acutest of churls didn’t wish him good cheer when he got his dream job at Crystal Palace, and with Phil Parkinson’s appointment we soon missed him like hell. Phil Brown’s glories owe, as the man himself happily admitted, almost as much to Taylor as they do to Brown himself.


Heights of joy

When not driving around in Minis, enjoying a range of pill-based hallucinogens and listening to the Righteous Brothers, people in 1960s Hull used to go to see the Tigers at Boothferry Park. In very large numbers. The early sixties had seen City hover around mid-table in the old Third Division, with a squad that could generally score a few but also conceded plenty. But something was emerging by 1964 as a squad of players was signed by manager Cliff Britton and bankrolled by chairman Harold Needler.

Boothferry Park was being improved as well with the Bunkers Hill development being completed, offering a thoroughly modern venue at which to view the striking delights of Ken Wagstaff and Chris Chilton, and the battling qualities of stalwart captain Andy Davidson. After a shaky start to the 1964-65 season City lost only 3 of the 24 games played from December onwards and finished fourth, missing out on promotion by a solitary point. During the season home gates had increased three fold from seven or eight thousand to 20 thousand plus. So it was with some momentum that the Tigers entered the World Cup season of 1965-66, momentum that saw the club race into top spot with a series of thumping victories interspersed by the occasional clattering reverse.

By Christmas, 40 thousand City fans were watching the Tigers beat rivals Millwall 1-0 to consolidate their position at the head of the table. Despite an epic FA Cup run that took the Tigers to a sixth round tie against Chelsea via Bradford Park Avenue and Gateshead, their form rarely wavered, even when replays and adverse weather caused the club to play nine games during April, including three matches in four days over Easter. Thus it came to pass that an early May victory at far-away Bristol Rovers sealed promotion and a final day win at home to Southend confirmed the Tigers as champions.

Home gates hovered around 25 to 30 thousand as the whole City was gripped by the excitement of promotion, a collective positive football-inspired feeling across Hull that many claimed would never be repeated. Of course, we know better now but these were the very headiest of days for the first 100 years of City’s history. So much so that England celebrated City’s success by claiming the World Cup.


That’s SO Hull City


For the final 20 years or so of its existence, Boothferry Park was a bit of shithole; a shadow of its former great self. Yet even after City had vacated the ground, after arson attacks and partial demolition work, the six floodlights stood majestically over Gypsyville and never ceased to impress, in sharp contrast to the surrounding weeds, rubble and Lonsdale sportswear. Though the building of Boothferry Park was completed in 1946, the floodlights didn’t arrive until 1963. Costing £50,000 and replacing the old pair of gas-powered gantries, the floodlights were first used (well, four of them were) in a 7-0 victory over Barnsley.

From a decade or so later, as Boothferry Park slowly rotted under a series of absentee and arse-brained landlords, the floodlights were the only part of the ground that seemed immune to decay and they continued to give Fer Ark a Subbuteo-esque feel, especially with John Cooper’s meticulously prepared pitch looking like your mum had just run an iron over it. And as wonderful as our new surroundings are, there was always something about that first Saturday afternoon in mid-November at Boothferry Park when the floodlights were deemed necessary at 4.30pm or so.

Freestanding floodlights seem to be a thing of the past, as any identikit new ground or stand has the lighting built into the design, more’s the pity, but Boothferry Park’s six freestanding floodlights – as opposed the more uniform four – brought about the third-most-likely pub quiz question concerning the Tigers for a good few years, in that it was (eventually) unique to British grounds. More than that, it gave our former home a great deal of its character, made it a little more physically imposing and helped run up the colossal electricity bills that were eventually to force Fish and co out of the boardroom. What isn’t there to love about them?


Dramatis Personae

The drive up to Glasgow from Carlisle on the M74 (and its predecessor the erstwhile A74) passes, once you have left Lockerbie behind, through over 50 miles of the most barren, unpopulated terrain in the United Kingdom until the small town of Lesmahagow is reached, marking the southernmost point of the densely-populated Central Lowlands – a frontier town if ever there was one. This was always an excitement-inducing point in the journey to Paisley (the home of my forebears) when I was a child, as that was where you used to turn off before the M8 was built and marked the last leg of the journey. Treated with rather more reverence, however, was the junction before Lesmahagow, marked by a sign reading simply, “Douglas Water 2”. At this point the conversation in the family Ford would become hushed, and even though we knew, and he knew that we knew, my dad would point at the sign and announce in solemn tones, “that’s where Jock Davidson was born”.

Andy Davidson was a legend among Tiger legends, notching up a record 520 first-team appearances in a career spanning 21 years. The son of a miner and a distant relative of the great Bill Shankly, he joined City as an apprentice at the tender age of fifteen. Although bedevilled by homesickness when he first arrived (on one occasion he returned to Scotland but was coaxed back by City manager Major Frank Buckley) he soon settled down, eventually making his first team debut in 1952 against Blackburn. Davidson will best be remembered as a right-back, but in fact started out as a wing-half and occasionally even made the forward line, before an injury crisis forced him into the defence as an emergency measure, but having once donned the number 2 shirt he was never to relinquish it.

Although not the biggest or bulkiest of men (he was 5’ 10” in height) Davidson was as determined and hard as they come. Ferocious in the tackle, he was the epitome of the old-fashioned “stopper”. He was not averse to putting the fear of God into opposing wingers – on one occasion Swindon’s famous left winger Don Rogers is said to have taken up a position behind his own left back after Jock had had a quiet word with him during the warm up – and one of the most priceless moments among the interviews in the “Waggy and Chillo” video comes when Davidson recounts with a completely straight face how he saw it as his duty to cut the opposition strikers down to size by way of retribution for any similar treatment meted out to Wagstaff or Chilton (“Ah, wisnae proud ay it, but it hud tae be done”). But there was much more to him than that: his organisational and leadership skills on the field were second to none and he captained the Tigers for many seasons, including the famous 1965/6 campaign. He also ran up an astonishing 202 consecutive games during the early 60s.

Davidson’s courage and unstinting devotion to the City cause was exemplified by the fact that he suffered no fewer than three broken legs during his career and battled his way back to fitness after each, although it was an Achilles tendon injury, sustained in a 3-2 win at Aston Villa on 18th November 1967 that finally put paid to a long and distinguished playing career.

After the end of his playing career, he remained at Boothferry for another 13 years in a coaching role, earning notoriety during that period by throwing a bucket of water over a Lazio player during a stormy Anglo-Italian Cup game at the Ark, before diversifying into the mobile fishmongery business.

For seven years of my childhood, Jock Davidson lived directly opposite my family’s home, and he was always a popular, ebullient and larger-than-life figure in the neighbourhood. I well remember getting knocked off my bike by a car, being not badly hurt but rather shaken, at the age of 11, and Jock being the first person to call round to check that I was OK.

The mid-60s will, in the Tiger scrapbook, inevitably (and probably rightly) be dominated by tales of the exploits of Waggy and Chillo, but those same exploits tended to overshadow several other very fine players in that team who did not perhaps get the full recognition that they deserved, and Andy Davidson – along with Ken Houghton and Chris Simpkin – was at the forefront of those. His loyalty and devotion to Hull City, spanning 33 years in total, would be complete anathema to 99.9% of today’s so-called stars.

He didn’t score many goals – eighteen in competitive fixtures – but the one that I shall always cherish was scored on the grass in front of Davidson’s house in about 1968, when he joined in the local kids’ kickabout and completely wrongfooted the goalkeeper with an outrageous backheel just inside the tree trunk which served as one of the goalposts. I remember it because I was that goalkeeper.


Keeping up appearances

raddershatFew physiotherapists manage a quarter of a century at one club, and even fewer physiotherapists’ tam-o’-shanters manage to survive the same quarter century. It’s perhaps not the most staggering fact to suggest Jeff Radcliffe was unique because he wore a tam-o’-shanter, but it certainly made him recognisable.

Bought for him by his Scottish mother, he began wearing it after realising that sitting in a dugout watching a terrible game could be quite a cold experience, and the sight of this bobbled head nodding up and down as he ran across the pitch to spray Garreth Roberts’ knee (again) was often more thrilling than the football. One assumes that the hat was dunked in team baths, nicked, placed halfway up floodlights and probably shat in by Billy Whitehurst over its lifespan at Boothferry Park, but it was always there, on Radcliffe’s head, on matchdays.

Such was the impact of said millinery item that nobody recognised Radcliffe when he took to the field in his 1988 testimonial match; indeed only the sight of City and Spurs players applauding him on to the park gave his identity away. An example to any non-playing football employee of how headgear can look good and become part of your already likeable personality – Tony Pulis take note.


Depths of despair

The 1990s was a long procession of debasement and debilitation for those of a Tiger persuasion. Humiliations jostle with one another for supremacy in our scarred memories, with no clear winner, no definitive top ten possible, just an unending slurry of dismay. However, while we may never be able to select for certain our lowest point, few have a more vigorous claim than an afternoon of shame that’ll be forever known simply as “Hednesford”. They were our opponents in the First Round of the FA Cup in 1997/8, a match played one chilly November day, a rancid affair replete with squalid cheating, loathsome officiating and a City side more mind-meltingly hopeless than anyone new to the support nowadays could believe ever turned out in amber. Those who do remember need only consider that Gage and Rioch were our full-backs that day, or wing-backs, as manager Mark Hateley attempted to mould them. Match of the Day were there too, featuring the Tigers on that evening’s show and fervently hoping for a “giant-killing”. They got one.

City started poorly, as was their wont. Hednesford now ply their trade in the Southern League, but at the time were a progressive Conference team, only a handful of places below the Tigers in the football pyramid. They probably had the better of the first half as a cold, sullen Boothferry Park crowd of 6,091 sighed with displeasure. Mick Norbury, veteran striker of virtually every crap northern team in existence, scored with a penalty shortly before half-time, comically awarded by Mr D Laws, a name not easily forgotten – for he turned in what is to this day the worst refereeing display I have witnessed. The Pitmen led at the break, and City’s attempts to rescue the game in the second half were pitifully inept. Memories include Gregor Rioch  (described as ‘barrel chested’ by Mark Lawrenson on MOTD) shooting from about fifty yards, as he did almost every game, Hateley bringing on the attacking duo of Ellington and Fewings (seriously) in bid to level matters, and Rioch tumbling in the area and Mr Laws waving it away before being almost jubilant as Hednesford scored again in injury time. The 1,000 Hednesford fans celebrated their cup final victory, their cretinous fat oaf of a manager pranced on our pitch, and we slunk away into the night in utter disgrace, wondering if we’d ever see the sun again.

Talking points


Warren Joyce raised many an eyebrow when he acquired Jamaican internationals and World Cup performers Ian Goodison and Theodore Whitmore to join the Tigers’ refreshed, optimistic cause in the bottom division. Goodison was the ox-strong, cultured, unflappable central defender, while Whitmore was the creative, stylish midfielder who seemed to have the ball perennially tied to his boot. Of course, as befitting the stereotype, Whitmore’s form and contribution seemed to rest on whether he could actually be arsed or if he was warm enough, but even though Joyce had been impetuously fired within a few months of their arrival, they certainly livened up the football and the mood round the Ark.

Each made their contribution to the play-off charge under Brian Little – a manager who took to them so much he signed them for Tranmere afterwards – and given their international heritage, it would have been easy for them to follow such luminaries as David Brightwell out of the door when the wages stopped coming in but, to their credit, they stuck around. Despite being lumped as a duo all the time, they’re fondly remembered as individuals, although Goodison was certainly the more consistent, and they added a bit of glamour and pizazz to Boothferry Park and trips to Sixfields and Moss Rose at a time when there was otherwise none whatsoever.


Off field drama

Gotham City 2001: the place is a mess. The Joker had been running the city for five years or so, then handed over to the Penguin to fuck it up a bit more for a couple of years, who in turn stood aside to let the Riddler and the Puzzler join forces to finish the job off. Batman comes along, presumably to the rescue, surveys the ruins, says “Sod this for a lark, I’m only a superhero, not a miracle worker” and resigns himself to a life of fending off Robin’s advances. My point? Adam Pearson is better than Batman.

It’s obvious really. On February 10th, 2001, we came as close as we ever were to playing our last ever game. There’d been a few, of course. As the Needler, Chetham and Fish era of ineptitude and indifference nearly brought about our extinction under the weight of unpaid bills for tax, electricity and (possibly) Nottingham Forest season tickets, then the Lloyd, Wilby and Appleton bunch of fuckwits threw their toys out of the pram and threatened to close us down because they hadn’t read the supermarket lease on the North Stand of Boothferry Park properly, and then the evil Hinchliffe and Buchanan stripped us of everything they could and left a limp, lifeless corpse shorn of any assets, we’d seen a few ‘last games in Hull City’s history’. There was something a bit more worrying about this one though. The latter of those regimes was the only one that was genuinely evil, and while you always got the impression that the odd individual in the Needler and Lloyd regimes didn’t actually want an extinct football club on their CV, Buchanan and Hinchliffe didn’t seem to care what state the club was left after they’d finished overpaying for coaches and getting their relatives to unnecessarily redesign the club crest.

Who – apart from the comical Hart brothers – would want to take over such a hopeless case? Well, as it turned out, Adam Pearson would: a former Hull University student who’d attended a few games in the 80s, a friend of the mega wealthy Peter Wilkinson (who may or may not have provided Adam with a loan to kickstart our revival), a man who was part of the Ridsdale revolution at Leeds, and was timing his exit to perfection. Within days proper cash signings were being made, the PR onslaught from our new chairman got into full flow, and though we’d seen it all before as we’d welcomed the two previous boards with tickertape parades, there was something about Adam. As it turned out, he was as good as the past three regimes had been bad. Better even.

He’d arrived at our lowest ebb and within months was a game away from our first visit to Wembley, only to be denied at Brisbane Road. We’ll never know just how close we came to going under in mid-February 2001, but Adam Pearson didn’t just save the club, he then went about rebuilding the whole damned thing. We weren’t to know that when a relative unknown with a Leeds background became out third saviour in the space of five years or so. It is a strong candidate for being the most important day in our history, and from there onwards, though there were a few wobbles, all roads led to Wembley and the Premier League.


Talking points


Finally, we paid a million pounds for a player. And frankly, it was the first time our finances could really justify it. Adam Pearson’s support for Peter Taylor in the market was unflinching, but never could either chairman or manager have been able, even after elevation to the Championship, to apply reason to shelling out seven-figures on one player, especially as Taylor preferred to recruit from below. So, long after Taylor and Pearson had gone, it was Phil Brown who selected the player, using Paul Duffen’s resources, who would create City spending history. Caleb Folan had been deeply lacking in distinction during a brief loan spell years earlier during his kindergarten days with Leeds, but on August 31st, as the window was being pulled to, Brown offered a cheque to Wigan Athletic, whom City had dumped out of the Carling Cup, complete with Folan, days earlier, and they accepted.

Folan’s first act was to have his skull smashed by a wayward Blackpool forehead on his debut, but once he returned he proved an agile, able and awkward character who diminished initial doubts about his finishing (first goal wasn’t until December) by scoring crucially at Stoke, West Brom and in the play-offs against Watford, along with some invaluable strikes as a sub when Fraizer Campbell and Dean Windass were on form as the starting pair. He subsequently scored the goal that earned our first ever Premier League win, although injuries and an obvious inability to step up a level (or run around, or stay onside, or control a ball) made him peripheral and frustrating thereafter as relegation was fought against, and though he started the first four games of the second Premier League season, it was obvious that he wasn’t cut out for the job on any level except for actual effort, and was soon packed off on loan to Middlesbrough via a few disparaging words in Brown’s direction. Despite this, and irrespective of where he or the Tigers end up in the future, his contribution to promotion made the historic investment in his services prove more than shrewd.

Dramatis Personae

Fish, Martin14th December 1996. About 7 p.m. A group of four Hull City fans, returning from witnessing one of an interminable stream of reverses away to Brighton (3-0 on this occasion), seek solace in the bar at St Pancras – a gloomy, decrepit place in the pre-Eurostar era – whilst awaiting their train back to Nottingham. As they stand at the bar nursing their pints of Shepherd Neame, the curiosity of another customer – an elderly Belgian gentleman – is aroused by the legend of the yellow T-shirts being sported by the group:-

“Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? Feesh Out? C’est un club de pêche?”
“Non, monsieur, Fish est le nom du président de notre club de foot”
“Un club de foot? Ah, vraiment?”

And so the unenviable reputation of our former chairman was spread beyond the seas.

Martin Fish, who sat at the head of the Boothferry boardroom table from 1991 until 1997, will not go down in history as the most successful – or popular – of Hull City’s chairmen. The club was relegated twice under his stewardship – a feat not managed, mercifully, by the procession of shysters and incompetents that followed him in the next four years, and like the years that followed, his term at the helm was notable for severe financial problems, the club’s reputation in the football world being rooted firmly at rock-bottom, and a relentless procession of challenges to the very existence of the club.

But there was one essential difference between Fish and his successors: he genuinely cared about the club. The trouble was, he had neither the financial resources, the know-how nor the charisma to bestow upon the ailing beast the care and attention it needed to be nursed back to health.

No, Fish was a puppet Chairman, installed by majority shareholder Christopher Needler, unwilling to invest in the club, to part with it or run it, offering no solution of any note (except for the wrong reasons) to the club’s predicament, but resolved to keep his clammy grip around the windpipe of Hull City. When the first Needler appointee, his brother-in-law Richard Chetham, was unable to carry on through ill-health, Fish was planted into the hot seat: there was no power struggle, no chicanery, no white smoke.

Although he can in many ways be said to have done his best, he simply was not cut out for the job and, after an unlikely but welcome purple patch when management duo Terry Dolan and Jeff Lee took a squad composed largely of has-beens and never-weres (plus Dean Windass and Alan Fettis) to the brink of the Division 3 play-offs two years running, a series of ill-judged actions (selling Windass too cheaply, offering new contracts to Dolan and Lee at the end of a disastrous campaign culminating in relegation, selling the name plate – which has only just been restored – on the QT, the cack-handed sacking of loyal secretary Tom Wilson, Walter Mitty-type plans for new stands) that betrayed his lack of experience, football nous and feel for the fans saw the long-suffering Tigers fans become irreversibly disillusioned.

This, of course, reached its nadir at the end of the 1995/96 season, when Fish, having disregarded calls to make the match all-ticket, was pressured by the police at the eleventh hour into giving the expected large travelling support of Bradford City – who needed the points to qualify for the play-offs – the whole of the South Stand, including the traditional home territory of Bunkers, for the final game against the already-relegated Tigers.

That day – the grisly details of which are more fully chronicled elsewhere -marked the last straw for many and saw the declaration by the Tiger Nation of open warfare on the City regime, with a vituperative hate campaign launched against Needler, Fish, Dolan and Lee consisting among other highlights of demonstrations in an open-topped bus outside Fish’s home, constant chanting for the heads of all four of them at every City game the following season – win, lose or draw – the aforementioned T-shirts, “Fish Out” posters all over Hull and a sticker proclaiming “Sack Dolan” plonked on the manager’s head during a game at Torquay. The embattled Fish soldiered on defiantly, but with increasing bitterness towards the supporters, epitomised for many by the sale of cult hero Alan Fettis when the much-awaited takeover and (or so we thought at the time) financial rescue package was imminent, but time was running out for him and after the most strife-ridden of seasons imaginable, the home game against Scarborough a year after the infamous Bradford encounter was to be his last before the sale to David Lloyd went through, as Needler was finally forced out.

He may have thought he was saving the club by taking charge, and some – albeit the kind of apologists who have written that guff about Terry Dolan on Wikipedia (check it out if you haven’t read it) and one or two attention-seekers – have always maintained that he did save us. By far the prevailing view, however, is that by acting as Needler’s stooge in the way he did, when he had neither the qualities, money nor support from his lord and master to make any kind of positive difference to the club, and when, but for his involvement, Needler would surely have been forced to sell up much sooner, he was actually a huge part of the problem, despite his undoubted good intentions, and he ought to have had the perceptiveness to realise that. One way or another, he certainly won’t be forgotten, but not for the right reasons.

Mind you, he was responsible for the Tiger Stripe shirt: – the best ever.

Entries by Ian Thomson, Matthew Rudd, Richard Gardham, Mike Scott and Andy Dalton

Missed part one? Read it HERE
Part two can be found HERE

Part three is housed HERE