The Soul of Hull City – Part six


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

Still aghast at the enormity of achieving a Wembley Play-Off victory the previous May, City fans entered season 2008-09, the club’s first in top flight football, with an attitude that said “let’s not worry about the results, let’s just enjoy the ride”. It was indeed, it transpired, to be the best trip most of us had ever been on. So it was a combination of bemusement, lung-emptying excitement and patronising by the world’s media that greeted City’s opening weeks in the Premier League when, contrary to received wisdom (and all common sense, let’s face it), City compiled a run of wins that propelled them momentarily to joint top of the richest league in the world. 

There were few signs of glory in the first 20 minutes of the opening fixture at home to Fulham, as Roy Hodgson’s side passed the ball crisply and quickly and threatened to score every time they crossed halfway. Clinging on at the back, it was talismanic Brazilian Geovanni that turned the game as he stepped inside from the right wing and smote a 25 yard drive into the far corner of goal. Caleb Folan scored a late second and the Tigers, carded to “do a Derby” and achieve no more than a dozen points all season, were a quarter of the way there. A dour 1-1 draw at Blackburn was followed by an embarrassing extra time League Cup loss at Swansea and a 0-5 undressing at the hands of Wigan’s Amr Zaki and Emile Heskey. Had normal service been resumed? Well maybe not, because despite the horror scoreline the Tigers had competed OK in the Wigan game and the Latics had converted all four of their goalscoring chances in the 90 minutes (their opener being a Sam Ricketts own goal from a corner).

City then travelled to Newcastle, fortuitously catching the Geordies just after Kevin Keegan had flounced out of the club and personally ensured his supposedly beloved club would be relegated nine months later. And despite the late loss of Craig Fagan to a vicious leg twanging assault by Danny Guthrie, Marlon King potted a penalty and a splendid one on one drive past Shay Given’s despairing dive to give City their first away win of the season. Late goals saw Everton claim a 2-2 draw after falling behind at the KC. Then it all went off.

Arsenal away was the first marquee fixture of City’s season, a real step into the world class unknown for the plucky Yorkshire side. After going a goal down, Geovanni curled an astounding shot into the top right corner of Arsenal’s net to equalise before Daniel Cousin nodded a corner home and enable City to claim all three points. Those present that day will always treasure the sheer tumult that greeted both goals, the very pinnacle of Total Tiger Mayhem. Returning to London a week later to take on Tottenham, Geovanni again won the day as he blasted a free kick unstoppably and scored the game’s only goal. This was seriously bonkers stuff – we are only Hull bloody City for gawd’s sake.

A third win was claimed when Michael Turner’s header saw the Tigers breeze past a disinterested West Ham side. Then City travelled to West Bromwich and played 45 minutes of utterly irresistible football (the Baggies had been the better side in the first stanza), sweeping to a 3-0 victory. The frontline of King, Cousin and Geovanni proved unplayable and crash-bang-defender Kamil Zayatte thumped home a goal from a corner, prompting captain Ian Ashbee to clothes line the Guinean to the ground in gleeful but brutal fashion.

The good times continued for another six weeks or so, until Phil Brown decided that after tonkings by Sunderland and Manchester City he would abandon the attacking formation that served him so well and retreat into a 4-5-1 shell. But those first nine Premier League fixtures really did represent the most unexpected and unbelievable two month spell of any Hull City supporter’s lifetime. It was regrettably, almost entirely downhill from there.

Talking points

Rarely recalled these days, precious little mention of it on the internet, an incident which might as well be described in Swahili for all the recognition that it would elicit from a good 90% of current City “regulars”. But for some it remains a chilling memory, as much by virtue of being a genuinely frightening experience as for the fact that it came very close to resulting in widespread injury among City supporters and going down as the blackest day in the Club’s history.

The date was 12th November 1993. The occasion was the first round of the FA Cup. City at that time were a perpetually cash-strapped outfit, the team comprising a motley bunch of has-beens, never-weres and Dean Windass under the managership of Terry Dolan and Jeff Lee but who, runaway favourites for relegation at the start of the season, were to defy all the odds in coming to within an ace of securing a play-off place in what is now League One both that season and the next. On the day over a thousand City fans (a decent enough turnout for that sort of game in those days) descended on the Cheshire town and made their presence felt in the local pubs from opening time, before trooping off to the Canal Street home of the then Conference perennials to witness a fixture that bore all the hallmarks of a potential banana skin: we certainly wouldn’t have been the first League outfit to come to grief there.

For those City fans who stopped to ponder such things, the first impressions of Canal Street were somewhat out of keeping with what might have been expected of the home of a team with genuine aspirations of League status, being faced as they were with a trudge across a muddy training pitch in order to reach the away turnstiles and, once inside, with pre-pubescent stewards and temporary loos. The area allocated to City fans was L-shaped, consisting of maybe a dozen steps of open terracing behind one goal, devoid of crush barriers, which continued round the corner and along the side until it met the main stand, itself a typical non-League fifty-yard long effort straddling the halfway line. The more vocal element of the City support – about half of the total following and, typical of those days for that sort of game, well tanked-up and including a fair few ne’er-do-wells – packed together as close to the main stand as they could get, with the local constabulary keeping a watchful eye close by. It wasn’t an altogether comfortable atmosphere as the game kicked off, and there was a palpable hint of menace hanging over this section of the ground, a slight nagging worry, for no specific reason, that things might get out of control. A few fans, sensing this, wisely moved away.

For the time being, however, one place where things were very firmly under control was the pitch. The Tigers looked easily two leagues higher than their opponents, being disciplined, organised, and in no mood to permit the home side even a whiff of an upset. All it needed was a goal for City to stamp their indelible mark on the game, and we didn’t have that long to wait. Just before the half-hour a deep cross from the right found Graeme Atkinson, whose astute header looped over the Runcorn keeper and into the net from twelve yards out.

Among the City crowd by the main stand, the pressure that had been building up since before kick-off finally had an outlet and wild and prolonged celebrations ensued. But then it happened. Whether it was fans at the back pushing in the excitement, or someone losing either their balance or their footing has never been established, but the whole mass of fans suddenly tumbled forward, out of control, like a snowball gathering pace down a hillside, until its course met resistance in the form of the perimeter fence at the front. Now, such happenings may well have been commonplace on the Kop a dozen or so miles away, but the sturdy enclosures and sunken terracing of Anfield generally ensured that no damage to life or limb resulted. In contrast, the flimsy wall at Canal Street didn’t stand a chance, and with a resounding crack as the fence disintegrated the entire human avalanche landed unchecked on the field of play. Celebrations on the terraces gave way to shouts and screams, some of pain rather than panic. Amidst the general confusion, the first to react and render assistance were the Runcorn players, who were lining up for the restart in front of the broken section of wall. Chaos ensued as the mood turned angry and the police struggled to maintain order with remonstrating fans. A press photographer trying to take photos was punched by a Southern Supporters stalwart of that era before being dragged away by others for his own safety. Anxious City Chairman Martin Fish arrived on the scene, trying to calm fans down and ascertain what exactly had happened and how many had been hurt. Other fans helped the police and Runcorn officials to remove smashed concrete posts and other debris from the pitch. Nobody seemed to notice that referee Lynch had taken the players back to the dressing rooms.

And they were not to return. The collapse of the fence had resulted in a good deal of metalwork being exposed and, although the fire brigade arrived and started cutting it away, and although the police, numbers swelled by reinforcements, had restored calm among the Tiger Nation, it was announced, some twenty minutes after it all happened, that the game had been abandoned. There was some (forcibly expressed in some cases) suggestion at the time that it could have resumed, with the wall being made safe by the fire brigade and the damaged area sealed off (there being plenty of room for all the City support on the remainder of the away terracing), but in truth everyone’s heart had gone out of it and the correct decision had been made. One of the abiding memories of walking back to the station for an earlier-than-expected train back to London was the near-total silence among the departing spectators.

In the event, casualties were relatively light – nine fans injured and only four hospitalisations – but it could have been so very, very much worse. Barely had the two sets of club officials retired to the sanctuary of the Runcorn board room before accusation and counter-accusation began to fly. The whole thing was down to hooliganism on the part of the Hull fans, declared the Runcorn chairman. Nonsense, countered Fish: the fans were simply celebrating a goal, and the ground was a deathtrap, totally unfit to stage such a game. This, of course, all spilled very messily into the press over the next few days. To give credit where it’s due, Fish handled the whole business extremely well, publicly and resolutely defending the City fans, and insisting that City should not be made to return to Canal Street for the replay – an issue over which he got his own way, the game eventually taking place at Witton Albion ten days later amidst an atmosphere of no little hostility between the two sets of fans. To be sure, when the definitive magnum opus on football stadium disasters is compiled, it is unlikely that the events of 12th November 1993 will merit more than a footnote. For those who were unfortunate enough to be caught up in the midst of it, however, it is not a day that will be forgotten.

Mind you, there was a happy ending. Had it not been for the wall collapse at Runcorn, we would never have got to see striker (as he then was) Chris Hargreaves score for City, his only goal for us in over 50 appearances coming in the replay at Witton, which the Tigers won 2-0.

Dramatis Personae

Many Hullensians still have an understandable chip on their shoulder about the lack of publicity (and subsequent funding) regarding the pounding the city took from the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. If you don’t know the facts, then shame on you, but suffice to say that wartime Home Secretary Herbert Morrison considered Hull the worst affected city in the UK by such raids. Basically, post-war Hull was a mess and morale was at rock bottom.

Why am I going on about this? Because it helps put into context just how important Raich Carter was to the city and its football team.

Raich was a household name before he arrived in Hull. He’d won the FA Cup before the war with his home-town club Sunderland and then after it with Derby County. Still an England regular, In 1948, Raich was looking for a move into management. Assistant management offers flowed in, with two, Division Three North Hull City and Division Two Nottingham Forest, emerging as frontrunners. Mindful of the fact that City manager Major Frank Buckley was nearing retirement, and Forest boss Billy Walker was relatively young in management terms, Raich plumped for East Yorkshire, £6,000 was exchanged and a legend created.

On April 3rd 1948, Raich led out his new team-mates against York City in front of 33,000 at Boothferry Park. The game finished 1-1, and afterwards Raich immediately travelled up to Scotland to fulfil his duties as England reserve in a friendly at Hampden Park, so near yet so close to becoming our first England international. While Raich was away, his decision to join opt for City because of the potential for a quicker move into full management was proven to be a shrewd one. Major Buckley had fallen out with the City board, resigned, and Carter was offered the job one game into his City career, a move made official on April 23rd.

In the following summer, Carter signed former Sunderland FA Cup final team-mate Eddie Burbanks to add to an impressive-looking team that contained the likes of Billy Bly, Ken Harrison, Norman Moore and Jimmy Greenhalgh. City got off to a flyer that year, with Raich prompting from inside left and Boothferry Park regularly packing in 30,000-plus gates. The side remained unbeaten until October 16 when Darlington won 1-0 at Boothferry Park. Carter responded by signing Danish international and City legend-in-the-making Viggo Jensen. They weren’t to lose again until mid-February, in which time First Division Stoke had been knocked out of the FA Cup in the fifth round in a match at the Victoria Ground. City were the talk of the football world, with Carter’s profile remaining as high as it had been when he was playing in the top-flight. His presence was adding thousands to any game he played in.

Though clinching promotion was not quite a formality, the sixth-round tie at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup in 1949 captured the city’s, and nation’s, imagination in a way that that other sport could only dream of. Sadly, City lost 1-0 in front of our record home crowd. Unluckily too, by most accounts, with the ball reportedly going out of play just before Manchester United scored the game’s solitary goal.

Promotion to Division Two was sealed on April 30th after a 6-1 win at home to Stockport, with Carter netting twice. In the whole season, Raich had missed only three league games, scoring 14 times (level with Viggo Jensen and only behind centre-forward Moore’s 22). Football historian Peter Jeffs names Raich as the manager of the year in his ‘The Golden Age of Football’. Raich was the king of Hull. The city that had taken such a battering in the war – and had been largely been ignored by the national media – was given reasons to be both cheerful and optimistic. And it was Raich we had to thank.

So, Division Two beckoned. City had shown that we could match the best in the FA Cup the previous year, but could we sustain it over a full season? Did Raich’s 36-year-old legs have another full season in them? Would he be as effective at this level? Of course he would. City won 12 of the first 18 games of the season to challenge at the top of the table, with Raich scoring 13 times. Carter missed only three games all season, but was to only score three more times and a once-promising campaign faded as City won only one of the final 15 games, and finished what was generally viewed as a disappointing seventh

Raich started the 1950-51 season in incredible form, scoring in eight of City’s first nine games as the Tigers once again started a season among the division’s front-runners. However, an injury to Raich in November saw the good form tail off, and though it picked up again on Raich’s return, the gap to the top two couldn’t be breached and City had to settle for 10th. Yet again, there’d been plenty of cause for optimism, but how much longer could Carter go on for? And who could replace him on the pitch? His 35 appearances had brought with them 21 goals. Alf Ackerman and Syd Gerrie had been brought in to plug the goalscoring gap with some success, but replacing the irreplaceable? You might as well replace Michael Turner with Ibrahima Sonko.

The 1951/52 season started with the usual optimism. Though Raich had missed the team’s pre-season tour to Spain to care for his sick wife, he’d declared himself fit for another season. However, he was injured in the first game of the season – a goalless draw against Barnsley. Little did anyone know that it was to be his last game as City’s player manager. Carter handed in his resignation on September 5th, and it was unanimously accepted by the board on September 12th. Mystery shrouded Raich’s resignation. The board said nothing, and Raich’s vague explanation was that he’d quit because of “a disagreement on matters of a general nature in the conduct of the club’s affairs”.

The rumours that surrounded (and still surround) Raich’s exit just added to the highly unsatisfactory way in which such a great servant to the game and Hull City had left the club. His popularity remained undiminished with the people of Hull though, and the following season when City went on a 12-match winless run saw the board partially relent and allow Raich to return – as a player. The club’s fortunes improved with Raich dictating things, and the club staved off the relegation that once looked to be a certainty. The club even had time to beat First Division Manchester United 2-0 at Old Trafford in the third round of the FA Cup. Carter was man of the match. In the final game of the season – in what was to be Raich’s final game in the black and amber – Doncaster were beaten 1-0. The scorer? One Horatio Stratton Carter.

At the end of the season, Carter was given a civic testimonial by the Lord Mayor of Hull and the Carter family were showered with gifts from all kinds of companies and families connected with Hull. But the bitter truth was that Raich was going to move on, and when he did, it was surprisingly to Cork Athletic, but he was soon back in England, managing Leeds United and helping shape the early stages of the career of John Charles.  After getting Leeds promoted to Division One, Raich resigned from Leeds because couldn’t recover from the board selling John Charles to Juventus. Managerial posts at Mansfield and Middlesbrough followed, but Raich’s managerial career, while impressive in places, was never to hit the heights of his playing days. After his sacking by Middlesbrough, Raich moved back to Willerby and made ends meet by starting his own football magazine, reporting on matches for the Daily Mirror, sitting on the pools panel and opening a newsagents close to where the KC is now situated. He remained a regular at Boothferry Park with his son, Raich Jr, but sadly only as a commendably passionate supporter.

Raich’s final ‘appearance’ at Boothferry Park came at half time in an otherwise forgettable 0-0 draw against Sunderland in October 1988. He and fellow Sunderland FA Cup final hero Bob Gurney dribbled a ball up and down the pitch as the crowd – to a man – stood to applaud them. The affection for Raich from all supporters was clear for anyone to see, several decades after he’d had any involvement with either club.

Raich died on October 9th, 1994 in Hull. At the time largely regarded as the club’s greatest ever player, the city mourned one of its finest adopted sons. At the request of then chairman Martin Fish, the funeral cortege stopped outside Boothferry Park to be met by a guard of honour formed by the playing and management staff and some 400 fans. His funeral ceremony was littered with football greats mourning a player who could stand shoulder to shoulder with any of them.

So where does Raich stand in what we can now hopefully call with some justification the ‘pantheon’ of City greats? Comparing players from different eras is in many ways futile. Who was the best Hull City player out of Carter, Waggy, Chillo, Whittle, Windass and Turner? Well only one of them thrived in the top-flight with the club, but that shouldn’t necessarily end the argument. Raich’s stats – 136 games, 57 goals – don’t necessarily tell the full story either, the story of the hope he gave a bomb-battered city and its underperforming football club, the flashes of skill that could change a game, the cheeky penalties where he would pass the ball to a team-mate instead of shooting, the fact that one of the country’s finest players was gracing the black and amber.

It’s hard to appreciate the present. Mention that Waggy and Chillo have been surpassed by Deano and Ash and you’ll generally get some Hull City fan over the age of 50 giving you a lecture on how two centre-forwards who for the most part couldn’t take City much higher than the middle of English football’s second tier were way better than anyone who played for us and against us between 2008 and 2010, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. There is generally a third name added to the list of they who will never be bettered. Horatio Stratton Carter. That’s because it would seem he was every bit as good as misty-eyed nostalgics would tell you.


Keeping up appearances

Acquired from LNER B17 class steam locomotive 2860 (later BR 61660), built in Darlington in 1936 and one of a group of locomotives named after football clubs, the elegant black and amber plaque enjoyed iconic status above the Boothferry Park tunnel for decades until the dastardly Martin Fish sold it to a collector and replaced it with a tatty plastic replica.

In the grand scheme of things it didn’t seem the most savage action of the Fish era, but it was witless and, thanks to no official club announcement until they were found out, desperately underhand. More than ten years on, and ever aware of a chance to show his caring, sharing side, Paul Duffen managed to find the purchaser and re-acquire it for the club, and it is now tacked resplendently to the very centre of the West Stand at the Circle.

Depths of despair

And you thought our second season in the Premiership was bad? It was, of course, but winless streaks against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal are in some ways excusable. Try going through the same thing but with the likes of Shrewsbury, Rotherham and Wrexham being the teams inflicting blow after miserable blow. And instead of being sat in the comfort of the KC with 25,000 others, try doing it on the decaying terraces of a neglected Boothferry Park as one of 3,000 or so. Oh, and those World Cup-bound players that are donning the black and amber? Imagine that they are all Simon fucking Trevitt. Every single last one of them. Only then can you come close to imagining just how utterly demoralising 1995/1996 was.

It needn’t have been so bleak. At various points of the season we could call upon the likes of Dean Windass, Alan Fettis, Rob Dewhurst, Neil Mann, Linton Brown, Greg Abbott, Roy Carroll, Duane Darby, Garry Hobson, Adam Lowthorpe, Richard Peacock and Michael Quigley. It would take a special kind of manager to organise such a talented bunch of players in lower league terms into a team capable of only five league victories in one season. Thank Christ, then, that we had Terry Dolan.

Prior to this season, Dolan, it must be whispered, hadn’t quite been the hate figure he was to later become. His agricultural brand of football hadn’t exactly been packing out Boothferry Park, but the two seasons leading up to this darkest of campaigns had seen bright starts fizzle out around Easter as we flirted with the play-offs. By the close of this campaign, Dolan would only be behind Martin Fish and Christopher Needler when it came to the title of the most despised figure in the city, and Tigers 2000 would be vociferously demanding his head.

The season didn’t start off too badly. A 1-0 home defeat to title favourites Swindon was followed by a draw at Rotherham and then victory against Blackpool, with the winner coming from promising new signing Andy Mason. Cruelly, the early season promise of Michael Quigley, who was what counted as a big name signing for us back then when he joined from Manchester City, was cut short by an injury that would see him ruled out for six months. We would win only two league games in that time.

After the Blackpool win in late August, we would go another 16 games without victory during which we would lose Dean Windass to Aberdeen, and Alan Fettis, who had been reserve to Steve Wilson for much of the season, to Nottingham Forest. However, selling players to make ends meet wasn’t a situation that was unique to Hull City in the mid-1990s. As the impact of the Premiership clubs hoovering up the bulk of the TV money made itself felt, teams throughout the lower leagues were becoming accustomed to operating on a shoestring. This didn’t prevent Dolan and Fish using a lack of funds as an excuse for our poor performances time and time again, but it wasn’t a lack of money that would cause our manager to bring in Simon Trevitt to strangle Adam Lowthorpe’s promising career at birth. Lack of funds wasn’t the reason for Dolan shattering the confidence of Andy Mason by bringing him on as a sub in a home game against Oxford only to bring him off again ten minutes later to be replaced by a goalkeeper masquerading as a centre forward. No amount of money would have altered the manager’s route-one tactics. Dolan’s limitations were being exposed. Shorn of the brilliance of Dean Windass, the team looked as clueless as the manager.

As the season went on, attendance figures went down. City were glued to the bottom of what was then known as ‘Division Two’ and breaking the 3,000 crowd barrier was greeted with an ‘oooh’ by the City fans dotted around Boothferry Park. Solice was found in the obscure and the comical. In a 5-2 home defeat to Carlisle, in which Richard Peacock saw a dazzling brace wiped out before the half-time whistle, City fielded former Leeds trainee and Carry On film character Richard ‘Dick’ Fidler. In a rare win, 4-2 at home against Wycombe, 5ft 4” Paul Wharton was sent off for a savage assault on 6ft 5” centre-back Terry Evans. In such hard times such moments had to be cherished.

Another crumb of comfort this season was the number of youth players coming through. Roy Carroll was the pick of them, making his debut in January and comfortably picking up the player of the season award. Additionally, Paul Fewings, Gavin Gordon, Ian Wilkinson and Adam Lowthorpe all looked to be much better bets that the likes of Trevitt, Craig Lawford, Simon Dakin, Kenny Gilbert, Glenn Humphries and various other footballers who Dolan’s contacts in the game had brought to Hull. Such rough baptisms were hardly the ideal starts to a life in football, but Carroll and Gordon at least managed to forge impressive careers for themselves, away from Hull City, naturally.

City had long been relegated by the time the final game at home to Bradford came around. In what was Martin Fish’s crassest decision to date, Bradford were given the home end of Boothferry Park to house their fans travelling en masse in the hope of the Bantams taking the final play-off berth. A 3-2 defeat with home fans in the away end and pitch invasions holding up the match was a fitting end to the grimmest of seasons. Five wins were recorded in 46 games, with a mere 36 goals scored in the process. Dolan had but a handful of supporters in Hull. Fortunately for him one of them was Martin Fish, who rewarded Dolan’s ineptitude of the previous 12 months with a new contract the following summer.

Events off the pitch had been just as depressing as events on it, as City seemed to be drowning under a sea of unpaid tax and electricity bills. Newly created Tigers 2000 were also sharpening their claws. We were devoid of hope, we had a clueless manager tied to a long contract, any player who looked half-decent would either pick up a career-threatening injury or be sold for a fraction of his true worth, and worst of all we had a boardroom full of individuals who not only lacked the money or the inclination to take Hull City forward, but also seemingly wouldn’t sell the club on anything other than the most ridiculous of terms. That summer, the summer of 3 Lions, Gazza’s dentist’s chair celebrations and the general hullabaloo that came with the Euro 96 tournament being hosted on home soil, saw football’s image, its coolness, surpass even the levels it had reached during Italia 90, yet Hull City seemed a million miles away from football’s new-found sexiness. Winless, cashless, clueless and hopeless, it truly was the bleakest of times.

Dramatis personae

As chairmen and owners go, Hull City know what it’s like to see both compassion and spite rule the roost in the boardroom. So many of the recent besuited figureheads have either emerged as icons worthy of immortalisation or villains worthy of incineration. Harold Needler’s commitment to the Tigers was long, unflinching, loyal and active to the very end – literally so, given that he was in control of the club until the day he died.

Needler bought the club when it was dead, gave it the new home that the previous regime had only seen half completed prior to the war dissolving any short term hope of a future, sorted out the identity as far as team colours were concerned (despite an initial period in an unattractive blue kit while awaiting the materials ordered) and appointed Major Frank Buckley as manager after initially using him as a go-between in a futile attempt to attract Stan Cullis from Wolves.

The 30 years that followed were sometimes eventful and regularly interesting. Needler’s natural character cut that of a benevolent and forward-thinking chairman, the type who would make the great Raich Carter the first player-manager of the type commonplace today and put his faith and confidence into the people who knew their job, offering Cliff Britton a ten-year contract to develop the club to the extent that it would be ready for the top flight of English football. He transferred £200,000 of his profits from sale of his construction company into the club in 1963 that funded a redevelopment of Boothferry Park and allowed Britton to purchase good players, most notably Ken Wagstaff. The ultimate ambition to reach the top tier didn’t quite happen, although the Tigers came mightily close in 1971 under youthful player-manager Terry Neill, one of many individuals associated with the Needler area that ferociously promote the man’s legacy to this day.

Needler’s sudden death in the summer of 1975 heralded a decline in the club’s fortunes, with his unsympathetic, undynamic son Christopher taking over for two years and maintaining a notorious family stranglehold on the club for many dark years afterwards. It is testament to the impact and stature of Harold Needler that he is still referred to reverentially by those who worked with him and supported the club during his tenure, even though the surname dually represents, thanks to his son, periods of disappointment, greed and profligacy.

Talking points

Huddersfield born Chris Galvin was a product of the early 1970s Leeds United youth team – his role was scandalously airbrushed from The Damned United because Gareth Gates, the obvious choice for the part, bailed out at the last minute. He joined the Tigers in the Summer of 1973 and stayed around for five years before joining Stockport County. In that time he perfected a trick that was known as the Galvin Shuffle. Except it wasn’t really a trick. Or a shuffle.

Patrolling the left wing, Galvin would dribble towards goal and when confronted with a right back, he would do a kind of double step-over affair without touching the ball – of the kind performed in every playground across the land these days. Imagine Cristiano Ronaldo at his most unnecessarily flashy, slowed down five times. Reputed to bamboozle defenders, the Shuffle was principally a weapon only thanks to the laughter it induced amongst the opposition. I suppose the best we could say is that Chris Galvin (whose brother Tony was an altogether more successful Irish international wideman in the 1980s) was before his time.


That’s SO Hull City

As the 1970s drew to a close and a swathe was cut through the North’s economy by a wicked woman from Grantham, Hull City AFC described a similar arc of decline. By 1982 the club had descended to the fourth division for the first time in its history and the disinterested Chris Needler had assumed the chairman’s post, only to plunge the club into receivership within six months of his second tenure. Struggling to stay afloat, the Tigers came perilously close to extinction.

In 1979 City’s directors had announced a scheme to develop Boothferry Park, with the Boothferry Road car park being given over to a complex of leisure facilities, a supermarket, club offices and a multi-storey car park. The proposal took three years to develop and was progressively scaled back to cut costs.

In February 1982 receivership and redevelopment plans crashed into each other. And so it came to pass that the fine North Stand structure with its imposing clock, was demolished and replaced by a functional supermarket shed that was occupied by Yorkshire grocery chain Grandways. The rear of the supermarket, which flanked the Boothferry Park pitch behind one goal, accommodated a shallow area of uncovered terracing that became an unsatisfactory home to many an away following for the next 20 years. It also housed an electronic scoreboard that would seem ludicrously basic now, but was considered to be a sign of the space age coming to Kingston upon Hull at the time. It clapped; it issued yellow cards; it responded when wayward shots narrowly missed it; it told the time. I was to all intents and purposes a miracle in electronic form.

Once a stadium that proudly boasted to being the only one with a dedicated British Railways station, now Boothferry Park was the only ground in English league football with a fruit and veg aisle behind one goal. The store closed early on matchdays so the spectacle of middle aged shoppers in headscarves mingling in the car park with the Fred Perry wearing hoolies of Middlesbrough and Derby never came to pass, but the embarrassment endured and Boothferry Park was denied much of its original cavernous atmosphere.

The decline of Boothferry Park, its name picked out in red backlit letters across the roofline of the store, was characterised most savagely by the failure of the club to replace busted light bulbs in the 1990s, which resulted in the stadium being announced to passers-by as “—–FER– -ARK”.

Grandways begat Jacksons in the early 1990s and after a few years in this guise the store became a Kwik Save budget food seller. The store ceased trading in 2007 when Kwik Save went bust and was subsequently demolished along with the rest of Boothferry Park to make way for a housing development.


Keeping up appearances

It’s a practice considered passé by the print media nowadays, but in the Eighties and early to mid Nineties, comedic photos of prominent football figures were de rigueur for redtops. If Liverpool’s keeper was having a tough time dealing with crosses, it was only natural for Bruce Grobbelaar to appear in The Sun dressed as Dracula, another man with cross aversion. Hoho.

If England had a vital World Cup qualifier in Italy, convention demanded that any match preview text be accompanied by a picture of England boss Glenn Hoddle pretending to eat a pizza. A frozen pizza at that. Silver-maned Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli marking his move to Middlesbrough by dressing up as a fox hunter simultaneously represented an apex and a nadir for this photographic genre.

Though largely a tabloid custom, local rags occasionally got in on the act, usually when a team had signed a Scandinavian midfielder, allowing for Viking helmet and sword based lampoonery. Most Hull City managers and players had the good sense to steer clear of this kind of idiocy, chairman Martin Fish though, did not. Whenever the club had a financial crisis, and in the Nineties that was every other week, Fish could always be relied upon by Hull Daily Mail photographers to pose holding aloft collection buckets, or with pockets turned inside out, to illustrate the club’s skintness. The in-over-his-head chairman publicly chided local businesses for not getting involved with the club, but when the man in charge makes light of financial travails in such a manner, who can blame them for giving Hull City the swerve?

The worst example came when the Yorkshire Electricity Board threatened to cut off power to Boothferry Park because of unpaid bills, meaning no floodlights for night time games. To highlight the gravity of the situation and reassure fans that evening home fixtures could be fulfilled, Fish appeared on the back of the HDM dressed as Wee Willie fucking Winkie, holding up a candlestick and grinning like a hoon. The preposterous rapscallion.

Keeping up appearances

A sad example of the way British football has been over-commercialised since the inception of the Premiership? Nah. A bit of fun for the kids to enjoy but which helps strengthen Hull City’s identity a bit? Probably.

Club mascots had been with us for a while when, in 1999 after a competition run in the club programme to name him, Roary the Tiger strode out at St James Park, Exeter. Seasoned City fans, bred on a strict diet of inappropriately dressed majorettes, latex giants and half-time raffles drawn out of a tombola by Roger De Vries, looked on aghast. Indeed, when Roary was led from the pitch in a 2-2 draw in an FA Cup tie ay Hayes, wry smiles could be seen spread across the faces of many old timers.

Roary was to make the headlines again a year later the man portraying the role of Roary jumped ship and signed a deal to take on the part of Alexander the Greek at Exeter. We were such a shambles back then that we couldn’t get a mascot right, never mind a football team. But since then, Roary has wormed his way into the affections of all but the most cynical of City fans. Whoever is inside the suit (why are these things always such closely guarded secrets?) knows his audience: entertain the kids, indulge the pissed-up adults who want a hug or high five, pose for photographs with the over-excited girlfriend attending her first City match, and win the half-time penalty competition should the host club bother with such things.

It should also be added that at least Roary looks the part. The suit looks good (remember Southend’s first stab at ‘Sammy the Shrimp’, which looked like a man wondering around in a rolled-up pink carpet crudely sellotaped together?) and the Tiger nickname means our mascot’s link with the club is obvious (what the hell do owls have to do with Oldham? Or dinosaurs with Arsenal?). Hull City is mercifully light on the gimmicks that other football clubs seem to inflict on their supporters, with our lack of music after goals rightfully being a source of pride for many fans. But Roary doesn’t feel like a gimmick anymore. He’s part and parcel of the matchday experience these days. And go on, admit it, you’d kind of miss him if he wasn’t there.

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

Missed part one? Read it HERE
Part two can be found HERE
Part three is housed HERE
Part four is situated HERE
Part five resides HERE

3 replies
  1. Midfield General
    Midfield General says:

    Is Martin Fish the only man in medical history to be allergic to making the correct decisions?

    Deep down I have always thought he did what he thought was best for City, even when any half wit could make a convincing case that he was making an error.

  2. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    Interesting stuff!! Random thoughts; 1. Is the Hull City name plate at the KC the same as at BP? I saw one recently in the Street Museum in the High St. (Railway section). There were 2 to each loco, of course. To have both in the city is unusual for such items, I reckon. Of course, fakes exist…. 2. Pity H Needler became so interested in Beverley racecourse & let the Tigers slip . 3. RC; problems with a lady, I heard? 4. Could be my memory but was the Fagan/Guthrie episode in that game? 5. Runcorn; Brought back memories of a sparsely populated 2 car dmu trip to Wrexham (lost 3-1?) & a similar trip to Port Vale. Here a long walk in pouring rain to find the game abandoned!! (Dried off round a potbellied station stove over hours waiting for the scheduled return!) 6. Anything better than Chillo & Waggy? Never!!

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