‘It’s not the despair. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand’.
So declared the John Cleese character in the 1986 film Clockwise. The film is notable for inclusion of some splendid scenes set on Paragon station, as well as others in Kirkella and Anlaby – the Cleese house itself is on West Ella Way. The quote is notable for capturing just why Stan Ternent is the Hull City manager that I hate the most.
I can take the despair. I was in despair under Terry Dolan’s incompetent stewardship. I hated the way the club was run, I hated the contempt shown to the (ever dwindling band of) fans, I hated the stench of evaded accountability for dismal failure, I hated the miserable poverty-stricken football on show, but I’m not sure I ever hated Dolan himself.
He must have been as bemused as the rest of us that Fish extended his contract. His limp demeanour as yet another Kidderminster, yet another Macclesfield, yet another Rochdale administered yet another pitiless horsing suggested he was as fed up as the rest of us by the reek of failure.
Sure, Dolan was getting paid to serve up this trash, so I wasn’t in soft sympathy with him. And judged statistically by the gap between the club’s League position when the job was taken up and League position when it was relinquished, Terry Dolan was the Worst Football Manager In History Ever. He sent me to the depths of despair. But I can take the despair.
Ternent I hated. In him I had hope. He brutalised that aspiration, he kicked it to pieces, he sneered at it, his little-man snarling, his petty grievances, his bitter bug-eyed attitude to life. O, I hated him.
He’s back at my club now. I refuse to entertain any emotional response. I’m over it. That sweet hope that Stan Ternent generated in me back in that World Cup summer of 1990 lies among the sheeted dead. I won’t let its bones squeak and gibber. I’m over it. Welcome back, Stan. I wish you every success. Yes I do.
Ternent arrived at dusty rusty paint-peeling Boothferry Park shortly after Hull Fair had moved on for another year in the Autumn of 1989. We’d played 16 games already that season under the clumsy but honest management of Colin Appleton, who had made an ill-fated attempt to return to the scene of previous triumphs. 16 games and not a single win. We were bottom of the table, you won’t be surprised to learn. Out went Appleton, in came Ternent. We knew him as a hard-working but limited midfielder for Carlisle, regular opponents in Division Two in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He’d managed Blackpool briefly and unsuccessfully at the beginning of the 1980s and then spent his career as a coach. And now in the twilight of the 1980s here he is, manager of Hull City, rock bottom of English football’s second tier.
First game. Bradford City away. November 1989. Won 3-2, thanks to a last minute goal by Ian McParland, slid deliciously past stranded ‘keeper Mark Evans in front of an exultant travelling support under the low roof of the old Bradford End at Valley Parade. And despite having made such a disgraceful start to the season buoyant City not only stayed up, we finished 1989/90 as high as 14th in the table.
All hail Stan Ternent? Well, not so fast. City were unarguably bottom of the table when Ternent arrived but of that opening salvo of 16 fixtures only six had been lost, four by a single goal and two by double that margin. It was looking messy but not irretrievably so. We were but a single point adrift at the foot of the table – next up was Stoke, who would ultimately finish last that season. So Ternent didn’t take over a sunk ship. In fact he could choose among players of the calibre of Richard Jobson, Steve Terry, Wayne Jacobs, Peter Swan, Billy Askew, Garreth Roberts, Andy Payton, Steve Doyle, the above-mentioned Ian McParland and an emerging Leigh Jenkinson. Courtesy of the deal that previous season’s manager Eddie ‘Ted’ Gray had struck with Sunderland Ternent also had an ageing but still fearsome Billy Whitehurst available to him. That, admittedly, also meant that in goal he had to reckon with Iain Hesford rather than the peerless Tony Norman, but add in Ken de Mange and youthful promise in Mike Smith, Graeme Atkinson, Neil Buckley and Lee Warren and it’s clear that Ternent took over a squad that had no business grubbing along in last place in Division 2.
And in fact after that win at Bradford there was every reason to be hopeful.
And, as I mentioned, it’s the hope I can’t stand. Later on that season, in early April, City turned up on a Friday night to play at the old Goldstone Ground. A smattering of City fans watched aghast from the open terrace along the side of the pitch as a lifeless display handed the points to Brighton. 2-0: the scorers being as unlikely a combination of frontmen as you could ever imagine. One was skilful Russki striker Sergei Gotsmanov, who two years earlier had played for the Soviet Union in the Final of the European Championships as they lost 2-0 to a Dutch side in a match never to be forgotten thanks to Marco van Basten’s technically perfect volley. The other was Dave Bamber, lately signed for Hull City by Stan Ternent and who never again headed a ball with the grace and delicacy he produced that night in beating his own bemused goalkeeper. As own goals go it was in Division Crass. And, oddly enough, Bamber, unlike Gotsmanov, never picked up an international cap.
After that Brighton beating we were third bottom with only eight games to play. Ternent had managed an improvement in the five months he’d been in charge since Appleton’s dismissal but with a tough run-in relegation still looked likely.
But hope beckons. Cruelly. Blackburn, who reached the Play Offs, were beaten at Boothferry Park. A Peter Swan goal secured a 1-0 win at Roker Park against a Sunderland side that was promoted that season, benefitting from demoted Swindon’s financial chicanery. Wolves went down 2-0 at Boothferry on Easter Monday, we won at Ipswich in the sunshine while enjoying joining in howls for the removal of hapless home team manager John Duncan, successive home games saw a draw with Plymouth, a win over Bradford (which sent them down), and a thrilling midweek 4-3 win over Ipswich that included a wonderful goal by Graeme Atkinson. We were rock solid safe and the concluding match of the season, a 1-3 loss at Watford, was played in high spirits, with Iain Hesford wandering away from his goal while play was at the other end to lead the chants from the cheerful Tiger terraces.
We were full of glee, relief and …
Yes, a 14th place finish after failing to win even once in the first sixteen matches suggested a team under astute management, a team on the rise. A club to inspire hope.
Richard Chetham had taken over the Chairman’s role from Don Robinson late in 1989 and over the summer of 1990 he promised that Hull City were no longer a selling club.
Hope! Even expectation.
The World Cup in Italy came and went, and a well-balanced German side had won it. We started 1990/91 at home to newly promoted Notts County. And lost 2-1. It wasn’t a hopeless performance, but it was tame. Then in midweek we went to Blackburn and lost again, by the same scoreline. This was much worse. We looked a rudderless, confused and uncommitted side. What had Ternent been doing pre-season? On the Thursday we sold Richard Jobson. That most serenely elegant central defender was hardly a talent we could keep to ourselves. A major club – I’m thinking Juventus or Real Madrid, or at least a proper English power of the times – would have been his proper destination and for a chunky seven-figure sum too. Jobson was sold to Oldham Athletic. For 400,000 quid. Oldham Athletic. Sure, there was Earl Barrett and Andy Ritchie, there was Rick Holden and (ooo) Roger Palmer –Joe Royle had put together a decent side which, in fact, won the Division that season and then had a vibrant spell as a top-tier club, but even so … Oldham Athletic. We’d flogged our best player to a club in the same Division as us for peanuts. Chetham’s ambitious claims about the status of our club were exposed as utterly hollow.
On the Saturday we went to Hillsborough in the horrible green away shirts and lost 1-5, a performance devoid of determination or pride, and, unsurprisingly in the gaping absence of Jobson, woefully ragged at the back as David Hirst scored four goals without needing to try too hard.
That meant we were down.
On the first Saturday of September.
Well, not strictly. But we were. We really were. The evidence of this gutless display was dazzlingly uncontradictable. Just as you knew that Kevin Pietersen’s Test career wasn’t going to end well, just as you knew that Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles weren’t going to remain untarnished, so as we trooped wretchedly away from Hillsborough on the second Saturday of season 1990/91 we knew it. We are going down. Ternent is taking us down.
A summer of hope.
Gone. Shattered. Poisoned.
Ternent lasted until the deep midwinter. A game or two was won. Many were lost, most of them without a hint of fight. In mid-December we played away to a desperately limited Charlton side and lost 2-1. The players didn’t seem to care. A week later we played away to a desperately limited Notts County side and lost 2-1. The players didn’t seem to care. Boxing Day, a point at home to Oxford, then a home defeat to Barnsley. New Year’s Day, a long trip mandated by an unkind fixture list, and an inexcusable capitulation at Fratton Park. 5-1 shamed Pompey who should have scored ten while clumsy NornIron striker Colin Clarke should have doubled his four goal haul.
Ternent was gone.
Tom Wilson took over briefly before Terry Dolan was appointed to the full-time job. In the short-term it was hopeless. We’d returned to English football’s second tier under Brian Horton in 1985 and had enjoyed six periodically enjoyable seasons at that level. Now it came to a close, concluding with a distractingly entertaining last day 2-1 win at Newcastle, followed by a slightly alarming pitch invasion in which the travelling support suddenly grasped just how very outnumbered we were and just how flimsy the fences were. But the damp earth had long closed in on top of our coffin. Second-tier status came to an end in May 1991 with relegation confirmed in last place.
24th of 24. Ternent’s relegation.
Ternent has sniped at Hull City ever since, given the opportunity. None of this parade of gutlessness was his fault. He’s the type of character for whom nothing is ever too little to blame on others. He famously hates Neil Warnock, Warnock hates him – ah, they’re made for each other.
But let’s be clear: Ternent was given good support by the club’s owners when he was in charge at Boothferry Park. The sale of Jobson in the first week of the season showed that Chetham’s claims about the ambitions of the club were far-fetched. In large measure Chetham was no more than a frontman for the man into whose family he had married, Christopher Needler, whose paralysing iron grip on City at the time excluded fresh investment and new blood and eventually tipped the club into the decayed days when the Fish rotted from the head. But in 1990 Ternent’s judgement was backed.
His judgement was scandalously poor.
Gwyn Thomas, David Hockaday, Tony Finnegan and the most wretched of City wretches, Dave Bamber. Players at the wrong end of their careers, most of them in their 30s. Not all were disasters – Malcolm Shotton’s sturdy work at central defence proved that an honest but ageing professional is still worth his wages if he has the right attitude. But most of Ternent’s acquisitions were far from eager to give their all (or even a small part of it) for Hull City and had been handed a generous final pay-off as their career wound down. Gwyn Thomas in midfield scarcely broke into a trot. Tony Finnegan was in some ways the most mysterious of the lot: a limited player in his late 20s for whom, it was widely rumoured, City had chosen to splash out a nonsensically huge salary. Finnegan offered nothing. You’ll see him on television from time to time nowadays in his current role as an agent and if he’d brought any of the sharp and steely style he now possesses to his efforts in Hull City’s midfield in 1990 it would have been welcome. He didn’t. And Dave Bamber too. A six-figure sum for a player whose touch was consistently poor and workrate negligible. Five measly goals he gave us. Not counting that majestic one into the wrong net at the Goldstone Ground.
Even when Ternent took a chance on youth he got it wrong. Paul Hunter was a burglar alarm fitter playing part-time football up front for East Fife. His CV was, admittedly, adorned by a smattering of Scottish Under-21 caps, this in the days, now long past, when playing football for Scotland required more than two modestly functioning legs and a granny born in Arbroath, but even so splashing out big money for a player with everything to prove was an immense gamble. Hunter was enthusiastic and worked hard, but was never remotely skilled enough to trouble defences at the level to which Ternent had so misguidedly elevated him. Hunter’s subsequent clubs – Cowdenbeath, East Fife again and Stenhousemuir – say everything about his limitations.
Stan Ternent, eh? You wouldn’t want him as a scout, would you.
Ternent had money, wasted it. The truth is that Ternent turned a decent set of players into a side that was far less than the sum of its parts, completely without commitment, content to pick up wages without putting in a shift. That’s just inexcusable. Late 1990 was the worst time I ever had as a Hull City supporter.
Was it worse than the gutless garbage served up by Dolan’s sides? Obviously it wasn’t. It was two Divisions higher, for a start, and players of the ability of Payton, Jacobs, Swan and, Ternent’s one exciting signing, the gifted if erratic Leigh Palin, could not reasonably be compared to Dolan duffers like Christian Sansom, Andys Brown and Mason, Craig Lawford and capo di tutti capi among the brigade of desperately limited Hull City footballers who in all honesty should not have been paid good (or even bad) money to pull on the jersey, Chris ‘The Dominator’ Lee. And, sure, facing up to imminent extinction in the early 1980s was ghastly, and still worse nearly twenty years later as Fish, Lloyd and (by far the most menacing of all) Hinchliffe brought our club to a state where mercy-killing seemed the kindest option. But … I was never hopeful when Dolan was in charge. I was never hopeful when that parade of incompetence and malevolence shimmied its poisonous way through our Boardroom. In the summer of 1990 I was hopeful about Hull City. Ternent killed that off.
Still, I’m over it. Stan Ternent, experienced wise old head, is back at Hull City. Good on yer, Stan, welcome back. You famously bear grudges, but not me, I don’t.
Just don’t expect me to be hopeful.
(thanks to Mike Peterson for the photograph)