Not a headline we’re likely to be writing in the present day, one suspects, so as the Tigers prepare to face Middlesbrough on a run of one goal (and no points) in five matches, it seems almost like a public service to show that a cheery afternoon on hallowed turf in Hull against Boro is possible.
Forty seasons ago, life at Boothferry Park was pretty good. The youthful, confident Terry Neill had just finished his first year in charge and taken his side to their best post-war season, finishing fifth in the Second Division – two points and a rickety run-in away from promotion to the top flight – plus a charge to the sixth round of the FA Cup which ended only in a highly controversial exit to Stoke City that still haunts the Tigers’ fans who attended to this day.
The following year, despite the early sale of goalscoring legend Chris Chilton to Coventry City, the Tigers were again a reasonably settled outfit and Chilton’s departure paved the way for another East Yorkshire village boy, Stuart Pearson, to stake his claim to be the Tigers’ next heroic centre forward. Unfortunately, consistency was proving an issue and, as Middlesbrough’s visit in December 1971 approached, City had gone seven without a win.
Boro, who had just signed World Cup winner Nobby Stiles from Manchester United and immediately installed him as skipper, had their own youthful manager in Stan Anderson, who was a comparative veteran to Neill with five seasons in charge in traditional North Yorkshire, but was still only 38 when he took his side to Boothferry Park.
It was a riproaring encounter for a rare visit of ITV’s cameras, and it was 3-3 by half time. David Mills, whom City had tried to sign as a schoolboy, headed Boro ahead but John Kaye, not long back after a long injury lay-off, headed in the equaliser from Jimmy McGill’s quickly taken free kick. Pearson then guided elegantly a shot past teenage keeper Jim Platt for 2-1, but Mills quickly levelled with a brilliant first-time shot.
The right backs then traded goals; John Craggs beat City keeper Ian McKechnie from a tight angle to put the visitors back in the lead once again, only for Frank Banks to rifle in what would be the third of only six goals in total during his nine years with the Tigers.
The second half was a dourer affair, as if both teams had used up their entertainment quota for the season already, yet City won it with a late Kaye header from Ian Butler’s corner in front of Bunkers Hill. See it all for yourself, courtesy of our Tigertube page and featuring the authoritative voice of distinguished commentator Gerry Harrison, whose role as Anglia TV’s man of football occasionally required a jaunt further up the east coast.
Boothferry Park looks splendidly well-attended for the last home game before Christmas – the gate was 13,532 – and City still had a few of the old guard influencing things on the pitch, despite the departures of Chilton and midfield lynchpin Chris Simpkin during the season.
Ian McKechnie was still in goal, though this would be the last season as absolute first choice for the Caledonian orange-fetishist. At the back, Neill was out injured so, alongside Kaye, the dimly-recalled Mel Green played one of what would ultimately be only ten games for the Tigers. Roger deVries was his usual stoic self at left back, as was Banks on the right. McGill, sporting the most seventies haircut of the lot, played wide right in a midfield that had Butler still opening up defences on the left flank – he was subbed off for Malcolm Lord late in this game – and Ken Houghton scheming just ahead of Ken Knighton in the middle. Up front, young pretender Pearson was learning from the master, Ken Wagstaff.
As for the opposition, the generation of fans who started collecting Panini stickers from the mid-1970s onwards will enjoy hearing names like John Hickton and Willie Maddren alongside those of Mills, Platt and Craggs, all of whom were still at Middlesbrough by the end of the 70s. Stiles, meanwhile, is simply the oldest looking person in their twenties in the history of human civilisation.
Unfortunately, City’s consistency remained dreadful and they didn’t win again until the end of January, and the hope of repeating or surpassing the heroics of the previous season soon evaporated, especially because their away form was awful – they only won four on the road all season, and three of those came from February onwards.
Pearson ended the campaign with 15 goals as the Tigers finished 12th, while Boro, for their part, ended up ninth with 46 points, and got their revenge for this defeat by crushing City 3-0 at Ayresome Park on the final day of the season. Anderson quit after narrowly missing out on promotion the following year, to be replaced by Jack Charlton, who promptly took them up as runaway champions in his first season as a manager. As Boro celebrated their elevation and took their place in the top tier, City were selling Pearson to Manchester United and allowing Neill to talk to, and eventually take over at, Tottenham Hotspur. The rest of the 1970s proved to be a mixture of disappointing and disastrous for the Tigers.