On September 8th 1952, a Hull City side took to the field at Ewood Park, Blackburn for a Division Two game. Viggo Jensen played, although fellow luminaries Eddie Burbanks and Neil Franklin were absent through injury. Also absent was inside forward Terry Murray and so manager Bob Jackson, short on players and needing to put together a forward line, looked at his reserves for reinforcements.
He noticed a youthful Scotsman who had been knocking about with the first team since the age of 16, dragging kit bags around and brewing up while patiently waiting for his chance. Previous moments that would have suited this boy, cocky and stocky in equal measure, had been ruined by his injury record; a pair of broken legs in his teens did not a good start to a football career make. But now, two months after turning 20, he was fit and available.
“You’re playing centre forward on Saturday,” Jackson told the youngster.
And so, 60 years ago today, began the single most remarkable career of any Hull City player. Andy ‘Jock’ Davidson, a boy from South Lanarkshire who had ended up at Boothferry Park through some rather eccentric circumstances, would become – eventually – the player who represented Hull City more than anyone else.
Davidson dutifully and nervously donned the No.9 shirt at Blackburn, with fellow Scotsman Syd Gerrie switching to Murray’s inside forward role, and City lost 2-0. Undeterred, Jackson kept his new charge in the forward line for three matches and City won one of them and drew two; Davidson even scored in the victory, the opener in a 3-0 win over – yes – Blackburn Rovers in a quick turnaround game that regularly happened in the immediate post-war football era. Eventually, as the specialist forwards began to return, Davidson left the first team picture but had let nobody down, though few could imagine just how much more of him they would eventually see.
Davidson was born in Douglas Water in 1932 and was a precocious talent and a Celtic fanatic as a child. These two things never quite married, to his youthful disappointment, as only Glasgow Rangers showed an interest in the captain of the local schoolboys’ XI. The scout who turned up at his house declared with as much pomposity and fanfare as he could, in an effort to leave the young Davidson starstruck, that he was “about to sign for the greatest club in the world, Glasgow Rangers”. Davidson, thinking ahead, eschewed the move, to the chagrin of his Rangers-mad grandfather.
His brother David, six years his senior and with an HGV licence and his own worthy footballing ability, had simultaneously embarked upon a delivery to East Yorkshire and cheekily popped into Boothferry Park to ask for a trial. Back then, players were discovered not always through sophisticated scouting systems but also by inviting every local schoolboy and amateur player into huge sessions on fields and in gyms, and then the coaches would start cherry-picking. Davidson major was duly cherry-picked and signed a contract. An outside-right, he made his debut in the first post-war season and scored a handful of goals. With a front befitting that of a lorry driver who could ask a professional club for a trial in the first place, he told the coaching staff about his kid brother back in Scotland. And so a fresh-from-school Davidson minor was sent for.
David Davidson left City after just 22 appearances but stayed local, played for Scarborough FC and reverted back to driving trucks while keeping an eye on the bairn, the one acknowledged as having the bigger talent. Again, the trial for this Davidson sibling was a success and Raich Carter saw something different in the 16 year old from day one.
For most of his teens he did the usual apprenticeship duties of cleaning boots and sweeping terraces and played for the reserves regularly. But on Saturday afternoons, if there was not a clash of games, he was travelling with the first team everywhere. Davidson would gain vital early insight into how professional teams prepared and had the benefit of this insight for a long time.
His own progress was continually hampered by injury; he suffered his first broken leg during this period. He also had to do his National Service but Carter, ever wily, arranged for him to go to RAF Finningley, near Doncaster, so he could still train and play with the City reserves at weekends. Davidson had periods of going on parade for inspection with a pot on his leg, making marching, standing to attention and certainly standing at ease a tad awkward.
After demob, Davidson came back to Hull and turned 20 in July 1952. There was little need for him to be worried; players of subsequent eras would assume that they weren’t going to make it with their first club if they’d not been in the first team at least once by the end of their teens. Injuries had been Davidson’s undoing, but they weren’t going to be the end of him. Carter, who left in 1951, had made sure the promising Scot was involved as much as possible. Jackson took over and within a year Davidson was making that debut in Lancashire.
Davidson’s early regret at never playing for – or, indeed, with – Carter was made worse by his lack of respect for Jackson. He, and much more senior players, had major doubts about the new manager’s tactical acumen and general relationship with players. Nevertheless, the records will forever show that Jackson was the one who finally put Davidson in the first team, and after that four-game burst as a centre forward, he later returned in November 1952 as a left-half, his favourite position. Bedding in gradually, he made seven appearances in this role before breaking his leg again and City ended the season 18th in the second tier, avoiding the drop by just three points.
Davidson’s latest injury woe ultimately kept him out of the first team picture for 23 months. He recovered from the injury in the usual period of time, but in the days of no substitutes, plus his comparative inexperience and a general indecision about his best position on the pitch meant that his next appearance was back at centre forward against Leeds United in December 1954. City lost 3-0 and he was out again for three months. Then, in April 1955, a minor breakthrough, though nobody knew it at the time, as Davidson was picked by Jackson at right back. He disagreed with the idea, hated every moment, but played well. City beat Fulham 1-0. The season petered out and Jackson was sacked after another flirt with the drop, but Davidson’s long term role had been found.
Bob Brocklebank arrived as manager in the summer of 1955 and Davidson reported fit for the new season. Pleased to be playing but aghast at where, Davidson opened the season in that No.2 shirt at Boothferry Park as City took a hammering from Leicester. He stayed there for eight games, then shuffled up into midfield and then right half and never missed a minute of the campaign.
These were opposite ends of the extreme; previously he was unable to stay fit, now he was literally never out of the team. Not once did he even go off with injury. He became the team’s stalwart figure, playing every minute of every match. A personal milestone was, however, entirely insignificant as City finished rock bottom.
And yet within this chronic campaign, they managed to beat Hungarian giants Vasas in a floodlit friendly, regarded beforehand as so obviously one-sided that the national press tried to get it cancelled to protect City’s feelings. Davidson played a blinder, the whole team did, and City stuck three past their illustrious opponents, Ferenc Puskas et al. Despite not going on his record, it remained Davidson’s favourite game as a City player.
Davidson began the 1956/57 season in the regionalised Division Three still in midfield and though he missed a handful of games, was still a dependable presence for both fitness and consistency. By now he was a fans’ favourite, enthusiastic and hard as nails while cutting a suitably dour and droll presence off the pitch. He was also now the penalty taker, having been so as a junior, A-team player and reserve. He put away all four that the Tigers won that season, claiming he would give up penalties the moment he missed one. He would take them for a long time.
City ended the campaign eighth, and then Davidson again didn’t miss a minute as City progressed slowly, ending the 1957/58 campaign fifth. He made his 100th League appearance for the Tigers in a 0-0 draw at Barrow in September 1957, and was later shunted back to his dreaded right back spot for a long period mid-season. After an injury-hit 1958/59 campaign (the first de-regionalised season for the lower divisions), which saw the Tigers promoted back to the Second Division, he became the main right back. And, true to form, hated it.
People of sufficient vintage to recall Davidson in his pomp ask themselves why he loathed this role so much when it was clear he was good at it. Davidson always claimed it was because he felt he was a better footballer than was required for a mid-2oth century full back; there was no rampaging down the flanks to support outside-forwards back then, he wasn’t Charlie Palmer or Sam Ricketts. The traditional wing-half system of 2-3-5, which despite being ditched by Alf Ramsey in order to win the World Cup in 1966, lasted at most clubs until the early 1970s, meant that the two full backs were the safety net of the team, along with the centre half, who back then played further forward than what some still call a centre half today (which is why the phrase “centre back” entered football parlance as a technically more correct but less romantic alternative). The half backs on either side of the pitch were the main supporters of the forward line, while the inside forwards also played roving roles, ducking and weaving behind, beside and ahead of the outside forwards and the big No.9 up top that Davidson had briefly become in 1952. So Davidson, a fine footballer, felt he was a restricted, misused presence on the pitch insofar as his role on the ball was concerned. Tackle, give, stay back, that was the size of it. He, of course, did it brilliantly. However, his role off the ball was growing by the season and though City were relegated back to the third tier in 1960, Davidson’s influence was now huge. His 200th League appearance for the Tigers had come during this campaign as City were beaten at home by Leyton Orient.
Back in the third tier, City failed to make the quick progress back up the table that was required under Brocklebank, and he got the sack after an 11th placed finish. Davidson spent the whole season at right back, grumbling but performing. On the opening day, out of nowhere, a teenage centre forward called Christopher Chilton was picked to play. City lost 4-0 at Colchester United that day. But through an inconsistent season for the team, two beacons of consistency still shone through; Davidson’s performances at full back and Chilton’s phenomenal adjustment to the first team game. The new boy played 41 times, scored 19 goals and his long-serving team-mate watched in awe, declaring that it was obvious from his first days at the club that he had it all and would be allowed to use it.
Cliff Britton, a figure whom Davidson admired and hated in equal measure in his youth thanks to his fine England career that often took in beatings of Scotland, became the new manager. So would begin City’s own version of the swinging sixties. Davidson was now skipper and City ended Britton’s first season in charge in tenth place. The next year it was again a tenth spot in Division Three and again Davidson was ever present, making his 300th League appearance on the opening day of the season as City thumped Bristol Rovers 3-0.
For a player so beset by injuries early on, it was truly remarkable how Davidson evolved into a model of consistency with his fitness as much as his form. Yet again, in 1963/64, he didn’t miss a minute as City finished eighth in the Division Three table. By now, Britton knew that mid-table averageness was not enough and decided to rejuvenate the forward line. Long-serving outside right Doug Clarke was phased out and Ray Henderson moved from inside forward, allowing room for a new signing when the right man became obvious to the City manager. That man finally came in November 1964 when Ken Wagstaff, a gifted and mouthy goalscorer supreme, joined from his local club Mansfield Town, for whom he had played against the Tigers three weeks before. Two weeks later came the elegant Ken Houghton, again leaving home comforts when joining from Rotherham United, for whom he had played in the inaugural League Cup final of 1961. Finally, arriving from the same place as Houghton, was young left winger Ian Butler. By the start of the 1965/66 season, the most revered forward line in City’s history was complete. And behind it was a 33 year old Davidson, now past 400 League appearances, still the leader, still the reluctant safety player, still the main presence in the dressing room, and from his place just behind the halfway line, the biggest fan of Chilton, Wagstaff et al as he watched these new younger boys tear opponents apart. They thundered in the goals; Davidson, for his part, managed only one. It came in a 2-2 home draw with Workington in the August. It was his 18th League goal for the Tigers, and his last.
City won the Division Three title with ease and Davidson lifted the trophy. He missed only one game in the League and was ever-present in City’s best FA Cup run for 17 years, reaching the sixth round. At Stamford Bridge, City held Chelsea to a 2-2 draw thanks to a Wagstaff brace but Davidson left the field raging with referee Jack Taylor, claiming he had worried about local reaction too much as he refused two blatant penalty appeals. Taylor went on to referee the World Cup final between West Germany and the Netherlands eight years later, coincidentally giving a penalty to the Dutch in the opening minute of the game in a stadium full of Germans. Davidson never forgave Taylor, was never afraid to call him a cheat, and told tales of how in future City games refereed by the Wolverhampton butcher, he made a point of favouring City and then seeking – sarcastically or otherwise – Davidson’s approval. There was no argument about the replay at a bursting Boothferry Park – the mercurial Peter Osgood was back after a bout of tonsilitis and Chelsea won 3-1. As a semi-final against an unremarkable Second Division side Sheffield Wednesday awaited, City saw a truly real possibility of an FA Cup final appearance snatched from them (not that anyone told Wednesday this; they beat Chelsea and got to the final).
The consolation came from that title win and Davidson, at 34, lined up back in the second tier with City for the 1966/67 campaign, wondering if his twilight years would give him the top flight football with his only club that he craved. Received wisdom these days tells us that if Britton had reshaped his defence in the way he did the forward line, City would have gone up during his time in charge. But he had profound loyalty towards his players and decided that while the forwards were scoring heavily, there was always a chance that they would outscore the opposition. On New Years Eve 1966, Davidson clocked up his 500th League appearance as City lost 3-2 at Bury; Chilton and Wagstaff both on the scoresheet. City finished 12th, scoring more goals than all bar one of the top half, but only the bottom three conceded more. The stats told the story but Britton changed little.
And so to 1967/68, and a step backwards for the team with a 17th place finish. Chilton had injury issues, but more crucially as it turned out, so did Davidson. He was in and out of the team early on, even being substituted for only the fourth time in his career when he limped off at Millwall. Back he came three games later and he started six of the next seven, but on the sixth occasion – November 18th 1967 – he suffered a severe muscle pull in his leg at Aston Villa and was again withdrawn. New signing Frank Banks came on as a like-for-like replacement.
Davidson spent weeks trying to get fit again but eventually was forced to give up altogether after 520 League appearances, plus a further 59 in the two cup competitions. A man who broke his leg many times had been finally cut down by a comparatively minor muscle pull, but medical opinion was that the breaks had forever weakened the overall strength of his leg and this kind of injury was inevitable, and just a question of when. Banks took over at right back and did so with distinction for nine years, while Davidson joined the coaching staff, working with the juniors and then the reserves, and stayed with the club until 1979, before becoming a fishmonger. To this day he is regarded by supporters of appropriate vintage as City’s finest right back, and only those who saw the man play can decide whether the likes of Banks, Palmer or Ricketts – the three obvious post-Davidson candidates – hold a candle to him.
When we think of City’s great servants since Davidson, none of them have, in reality, come close to his appearance record and now it seems obvious that it will remain for as long as Hull City and football as a whole exists. A bit more luck with injuries could have taken Garreth Roberts towards the target; his 11 years at the club took him to within 155 appearances of Davidson, and he retired with a ruined knee at the age of just 31. Goalkeeping great Tony Norman, seven matches ahead of Roberts in the list, would have threatened the record had he not been so ludicrously sold to Sunderland in December 1988; his ruthless consistency with form and fitness, as well as his just 30 years when he left for Wearside, suggested he had easily another 150 and more matches in him. Those two are the only ones in City’s top ten appearance makers who came after Davidson. To put his figures into context; Davidson made more than twice as many League appearances as both Ian Ashbee and Boaz Myhill.
Davidson’s achievement is first and foremost down to his ability as the most reluctant full back ever, who could and did shift around the half-back positions when required. He was also, however, fortunate to a degree that the serious injuries he did suffer came when he was in his teens and early 20s, meaning his body was healthy and young enough to heal well in the short to mid term, only coming back to haunt him as he aged. His consistency afterwards as player and athlete was his main asset, aided by his leadership qualities and overall gravitas within the club, as he racked up century after century of games, and he claims he could have gone on for longer but for the pulled muscle that just couldn’t quite get back into shape on a leg that had been damaged in the past. Now 80 and still living locally, he is an icon of his club who perhaps doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves because he was “just” a full back – and an unwilling one – during an era of underachievement in the 50s and of the greatest attacking line-up in Tigers history in the 60s. But those attackers – indeed, all who played alongside him – revered him and so should we, as 60 years ago today, he was beginning something that was, is and will almost certainly forever be unique to Hull City.
(with thanks to Mike Peterson for the photographs)