Ask any seasoned football observer about amateur players in the professional game, and the name they will all come up with is John Hawley. The Withernsea-born centre forward is regarded, as much by association as by accuracy, as the last proper amateur to feature in pro matches. To Hull City fans, he’s regarded furthermore as a very good goalscorer.
Hawley, City, the Tiger Nation and the game as a whole are very fortunate that TV cameras were present at Boothferry Park when he scored his wonder goal as a 20 year old against Sunderland in October 1974. That helped make his name as a player rather than just some kind of novelty act, choosing as he did to earn his living as a trainee in the family antiques business while just taking his expenses from City. By the time of the boiling summer of 1976 he was City’s most recognisable name on a national level until a certain Billy Bremner joined after being released by Leeds United in the September.
Bremner’s arrival at Boothferry Park prompted interest in the club immediately; 6,000 new fans arrived from nowhere to watch him score the only goal on his debut against Nottingham Forest. In the next home game, Wolverhampton Wanderers were the visitors, and with them came the Match Of The Day cameras. The programme back then always felt obliged, by principle if not by contract, to cover one game from a lower division as well as a couple from the top flight, and football’s finest communicator Barry Davies was the lucky man sent to climb the wobbly gantry ladder above the enclosed press box.
Four thousand fewer people turned out for this game than had seen Bremner’s bow a fortnight before, such was the rubbernecking nature of many people in Hull when it came to showing interest in the football team. One shudders how many were interloping Leeds United fans wanting to wish a goodbye to their finest player when the sudden nature of his departure had meant they were unable to do so. Anyway, in good cheer with four wins out of four at Boothferry Park, the City team, led by Bremner, took to the field.
Hawley had actually started the season in defence due to a mild injury crisis – he still managed to score twice in that time – and only returned to the front line in John Kaye’s side the week before Wolves visited. The footage from the BBC’s coverage, as featured on a club video and now our Tigertube page, shows just his two goals, both good poacher’s efforts. The first came after Wolves failed to deal with a corner and Hawley pounced on a comically miskicked overhead effort by Jeff Hemmerman, who is amusingly congratulated by team-mates on his ‘assist’ and chooses not to smile nor celebrate when the ball still ended up in the net.
The second came courtesy of a fine cross by Gordon Nisbet, a summer signing from West Bromwich Albion, who began his four-year spell at Boothferry Park as a winger prior to reverting to right back, a position for which City fans remember him fondly. The cross proved a measure of his two-footedness too; swung in dangerously via his left boot and Hawley, seeing the statuesque defender next to him, nipped in to head past a flummoxed Gary Pierce. This was a fine win given that Wolves had the likes of Steve Kindon, Alan Sunderland, Kenny Hibbitt and John Richards in their team and had held on to these good players, among others, despite relegation from the top flight the year before.
That’s it, really, thanks to the footage giving us goals and no more. The City kit is a superb stripy number in use for the second successive season after years of plain amber. The diagonal ‘HCAFC’ monogram is a nice touch in the absence of a tiger logo. Wolves didn’t often have to use an alternative to the ‘old gold’ and so just threw on some plain white.
City’s home record remained excellent until the spring, when they lost three out of the last five at the Ark. Away from home was where it collapsed, with just one solitary victory on their travels all season; a 2-1 win at Plymouth in April 1977 courtesy of a brace from fringe defender Ian Dobson.
Wolves won the title and were promoted back to the top flight at the first time of asking, also beating City 2-1 at Molineux in the return fixture in the March. The BBC cameras – and that man Davies – were there again, with Hemmerman scoring a volleyed contender for the BBC’s Goal Of The Month competition, but John Richards also doing so for Wolves and later ending up on the Goal Of The Season shortlist too. Chelsea went up as runners-up – they beat City 4-0 (again with cameras present, and via a number of delays due to invasive supporters) at Stamford Bridge in the penultimate game of the season, while Forest took the third promotion spot by one solitary point and began Brian Clough’s run of remarkable success at the City Ground.
City finished 14th, the away form their absolute downfall. Hawley missed the entire second half of the season with injury and ended with just five goals. Hemmerman and Dave Sunley pipped him to top scorer by each getting six. The City team that beat the eventual champions featured blue-shirted Jeff Wealands in goal, with three players in the back four who were picked for England Under 21 representation; wild-haired teenager Paul Haigh (momentarily seen at the start of this footage), fellow centre back Stuart Croft and athletic right back Peter Daniel, whose form over the previous two years had convinced Kaye the time was right to end Frank Banks’ ten-year association with the Tigers in the summer. The stoic, dependable Roger deVries was in his eighth season at the club at left back.
Bremner anchored the midfield alongside George Lyall, whose career infamously ended four months later after a brutal challenge from Sam Allardyce in a game against Bolton. Nisbet operated the right flank and the shuffling Chris Galvin the left, with Hawley and Hemmerman up front. Sunley came on as a sub for Hemmerman. The rest of the squad was a list of short-stayers, career fringe players, youngsters and one notable veteran in the shape of Malcolm Lord, who was increasingly troubled by injury as he hit his 30s but maintained an occasional first team place until retiring in 1979.
It went downhill for everyone the following year; City were abject, Kaye was fired and replaced by Bobby Collins briefly before Ken Houghton took over. City finished bottom of the table and were relegated back to the third tier after 12 seasons. Hawley was sold to Leeds and finally turned professional, later coming back for a brief loan spell under Colin Appleton after falling out of favour at Arsenal; Daniel, who had impressed Wolves manager Sammy Chung in the 2-0 win, moved to Molineux and won the League Cup two years later, famously playing the defence-splitting pass that caused havoc in the Forest defence and allowed Andy Gray to tap in the winner. Bremner also left, his impact on the club disappointing, and ended up at Doncaster as player-manager, finally giving up playing at the age of 39.
City had to fall further before climbing back to the second tier again and Wolves, who stayed in the top flight until 1984 before notoriously suffering three relegations in a row, didn’t re-visit Boothferry Park until April 1990 when goals from Leigh Palin and Dave Bamber (yes) earned the Tigers another 2-0 win. Wolves won at the Ark the following year – but pretty much everybody did by then – and since then all fixtures hosted by City have been at the KC. Hawley continues to run the family antiques business in Beverley and occasionally a chant celebrating his skills as a businessman is sung by the Tiger Nation on its travels.