It has taken the 2012/13 Hull City side 17 games to collate a haul of 31 points. Impressive stuff. Now imagine those 31 points spread out over a full 46-game season. As ghastly and unrealistic a proposition that may seem, it has already happened in recent times. Welcome to 1995/96.
The common consensus from long term City sages is that this was the most grim season in the history of the club. Though nobody will have witnessed every season it is hard to imagine a worse term. Five wins, 25 losses, a winding-up order, star players sold, awful players signed, part of the stadium damaged by freak weather, relegated with five games remaining, 21 points from safety.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the 1995/96 train wreck was that it wasn’t entirely predictable. The previous two seasons had seen City finish in ninth and eighth places respectively. City’s squad, while threadbare, was a capable bunch. You know all about Dean Windass and Alan Fettis, but people such Rob Dewhurst, Linton Brown, Neil Mann, Richard Peacock, Jimmy Graham and Adam Lowthorpe would have got into most third tier sides of the era. Greg Abbott, an experienced tough tackler who weighed in with the odd important goal here and there was a worthy captain. Only Craig Lawford, Chris Lee and maybe Simon Dakin stood out as poor players.
The summer of 1995 was quiet, perhaps the most notable activity at Boothferry Park was the ditching of the tiger stripes for a plain amber shirt for the first time since the mid 1980s. Three signings were made – Michael Quigley, a midfielder who had made a few dozen top flight appearances with his hometown club Manchester City; Andy Mason, the top scorer for Bolton’s reserves, jettisoned by the Wanderers only because they had been promoted to the Premiership (or so we were lead to believe); and Andy Williams, a steady plodder of a central midfielder who had been released by divisional rivals Rotherham United. Williams was actually one of our better performers but that may tell you more about his teammates than him. Non-scoring trier Chris Hargreaves and veteran defender David Mail were released, joining respectively West Bromwich Albion and Brigg Town.
August was steady. A valiant effort in losing 1-0 in the opening game against the division’s best side and eventual champions, Swindon Town, was followed by an unlucky draw at Rotherham where a dodgy late penalty did for us, a win over Blackpool in which Mason and Brown got their first and last City goals respectively and a 1-0 loss in a night match at Brentford, themselves a force in the division in the mid 1990s. September bought three goalless draws in a row, including one versus Oxford United where Andy Mason (a sub) was substituted by Fettis. Mason was, so the story goes, found weeping in the bogs of the Old Zoological later that evening, so distraught was he at the public humiliation suffered at the hands of City’s management.
A 2-1 loss at Turf Moor (where Hull-born teenager Paul Fewings got the honour of scoring the last goal in front of Burnley’s imposing Longside Terrace), a 2-0 defeat to Carlisle (avenging their two-legged League Cup loss) and an utter abomination of a 3-0 home defeat to York in which Minstermen keeper Dean Kiely was walloped by Dewhurst, had to be stretchered off and replaced by forward Paul Baker – and still City didn’t make him make a save. Add this to the non-appearances of Fettis – Steve Wilson was in goal after Martin Fish declared that “the sun must have got to him” when in negotiation for a new contract that didn’t arrive – an off-form Windass, a crocked Quigley and Brown losing all pace – his main asset – and cracks were appearing.
The week after the York game, a 3-2 loss at Boothferry Park to Shrewsbury Town put the Tigers bottom. They remained there all season.
City had a really rather unhelpful habit of drawing winnable games and getting thrashed by poor sides. 4-0 at Bristol City, 5-2 after leading 2-0 against Carlisle United in a real contender for the award of “Worst Hull City Performance of All Time”, 4-1 at home to Rotherham where one long-standing fan could tolerate the dross no more and ripped up his season ticket on the pitch mid-game. The Carlisle game immediately followed the sale of Windass to Aberdeen for £600,000, none of which would be reinvested in the team. It’s hard to think of a more dispiriting few days.
So then, to February. Four days after a gale blew away the West Stand roof and necessitated the postponement of Chesterfield’s visit, Burnley came to town. They had been relegated in 1994/95, spending just the one season in what was then Division One. They were underachieving in lower mid-table but still were a better side than City and better than many of the sides that had walloped them. They had a few now-familiar names in their squad; Warren Joyce was a great success in his loan spell at Boothferry Park the previous season, Peter Swan had been rescued from a hellish spell at Plymouth Argyle to play at centre half at Turf Moor and future City loanee Gerry Harrison (one great spell, one anonymous) was at right back. The rest of the side included familiar 90s foes such as Iain Helliwell, Chris Vinnicombe, Jamie Hoyland and Kurt Nogan.
So what happened on 24 February 1996? We destroyed them, that’s what. In a performance totally out of character to all that preceded and followed, City put in a high energy performance of skill, grit and topped it off with great finishing. Where the hell had this come from? The main agitator of the Clarets was the unusual strike pair of Bobby Davison and Richard Peacock.
Davison, aged 36 and a veteran of six Yorkshire clubs, had joined City on loan from Rotherham in the November. He netted on his debut v Peterborough United and though his legs had gone, his brain was sharp and he could finish. Like Phil Brown, he was born in 1959 in South Shields and his savvy and experience must have been of great assistance to Peacock, still only 22 and in his third season of professional football after joining from Sheffield FC.
After sweeping home the first at the North Stand end and adding a fine finish from a direct run that had Peter Swan jelly-legged, it would be the South Yorkshireman who would have been most pleased with his performance but Davison’s incredible finish from in front of a sparse Kempton would have been runner-up in a City “Goal of the Season” competition to Deano’s 50 yarder at Wycombe Wanderers in October.
The footage is courtesy of a Yorkshire Television round-up, narrated by John Shires. As good as Peacock’s second goal was, it’s interesting to note that Shires believes it was the “pick of the bunch” ahead of Davison’s spontaneous strike from near the touchline. Still, it’s all about opinions…
Not long afterwards Jimmy Mullen was sacked as Burnley boss. I don’t know whether this loss was the deciding factor but it can’t have helped, they were utterly insipid that day. This was City’s first win since a late Paul Fewings goal at York in December ensured our only away success and was only the third win of the season.
That’s the third win. In February. Just think about that for a moment.
Further victories were attained versus Walsall and Wycombe when we were far too adrift to even contemplate survival. We were relegated with five games to go, Crewe Alexandra’s youngsters avenged the previous year’s 7-1 thrashing with a 2-1 win at Boothferry Park that was far more convincing than it sounds, 19 year old Danny Murphy scored from miles out and ran the show for the Railwaymen.
The only bright spot towards the end of the season was the form of the kids. Roy Carroll, a teenager from County Fermanagh donned the gloves in a nothing-to-lose game at the County Ground in January. Swindon won 3-0 but for Carroll it could have been ten. He retained his place for the rest of the season. Gavin Gordon, a gangly striker from the mean streets of Moss Side, debuted aged 16 at Coventry in the League Cup and ended the season with a satisfactory (for a 16 year old in a shit team) tally of three league goals. Other kids appeared though even if you saw Jamie Marks, Paul Wharton, Ian Wilkinson, Richard Fidler and Lee Pridmore play you can be forgiven for forgetting that you did.
After relegation was confirmed, three away games in a week that saw the shipping of eleven goals, a new contract for the managerial duo (honestly, I’m not kidding) and the worst day in the club’s history. I suppose the worst day in the club’s history is an apt way of topping off the worst season.
City finished 21 points behind 20th placed York, who only escaped relegation after the rest of the season had finished due to their game at Brighton & Hove Albion being abandoned. Carlisle went down in their place, itself something of a surprise as they joined the division with some fanfare, alongside Brighton and Swansea City (who had an impressive/appalling five managers throughout the season).
A rotten year and it wasn’t to get much better but on that day in February, for one afternoon at least, it was momentarily forgotten.