Imagine, if you can, a Hull City game which yields 13 goals, dispenses with the offside law, features a goalkeeper playing on the wing, finishes five minutes early and includes a penalty that one player taps to another before scoring. Oh, and while it was going on, the opposing team loses the League title.
Welcome to Hull City versus Leeds United, 1971.
Of course, this wasn’t a League game. The Tigers hadn’t been in the same division as Leeds for 15 years, and would not be so again for another 15. The meeting on May 3 1971, a Monday evening, was uncompetitive, officially and literally, arranged as it was to celebrate a decade of ace marksmanship from Chris Chilton.
Testimonial games haven’t altered that much, except by their frequency. In Chilton’s day players regularly spent ten years or more in the employ of one club, and so at the start of 1970/71, the iconic centre forward of the bruising demeanour and ruthless goalscoring capability was informed it would be his benefit season. It was correct to do this, both due to the maths (Chilton’s debut was in August 1960) and the merit, as he had become the club’s leading goalscorer of all time during his decade of service and had long attained himself a legendary status that would never diminish.
The usual events associated with a benefit season were duly organised. Included was a sportsman’s dinner at Westfield Country Club, at which Chillo was allocated Table 21. Tickets were £4 a pop.
Just a week later there was a “Dinner Jacket Boxing Show” which was “Gentlemen Only” and cost £3.50 per person. Venue (and, indeed, identity of fighters) were not put on the invitation. While all this off-field indulgence was going on, Chilton was scoring goals as regularly as ever as City chased promotion to the top flight under Terry Neill. That eventually died out, disappointingly, with City ending the season in fifth place, and once it was obvious the Tigers weren’t going up, attention turned to Chilton’s biggest day of all – his testimonial match.
You could almost hear Boothferry Park give a sigh as the old place managed to squeeze in a whopping 28,350 people (better than all League games for the year, and only surpassed by three of City’s four FA Cup ties) for the visit of Leeds, who had finished their season at the top of Division One but, with a piece of timing as delicious as it was unintentional, had to play this friendly kickabout in Chillo’s name while the very match that would decide whether they finished first or second was going on 250 miles away in north London. The derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal was due to kick off at precisely the same time, and a win for Arsenal, or a goalless draw, would earn them the title. A scoring draw or a Tottenham win would give the trophy to Leeds, for the second time in three seasons.
Both Neill and Don Revie picked teams a single player short of full strength, with only Billy Bremner absent from the recognised first XI of Leeds and keeper Ian McKechnie not on immediate duty for the Tigers. The two teams formed a guard of honour as Chilton emerged with his familiar beam to a massive ovation from all four corners of Boothferry Park.
Revie was lavish in his praise for Chilton in his pre-match chat with journalists, claiming he made a bid for him in the summer of 1967, only instead going after Mick Jones of Sheffield United when City flatly turned the bid down. In those days, players only knew about interest from other clubs if their employers chose to tell them, and so Chilton just carried on as normal with the Tigers. This continued as he kicked the game off against Leeds, even though an experiment with the laws agreed between the teams beforehand meant that doing what came naturally proved something of a hindrance.
The clubs had decided to try dispensing with all offsides in the first half, but wily strikers like Chilton and Ken Wagstaff, as well as their counterparts Jones and Allan Clarke, found it too difficult not to check their runs, trot back to the halfway line (and ‘trot’ is an appropriate word when describing the pace as a whole) and generally not keep to old, ingrained habits. The scoring started after 20 minutes or so as Chilton was offered the traditional gimme, then Wagstaff got a second and Norman Hunter pulled one back.
At half time, McKechnie came on. He had been injured for the final League game of the season against Norwich (his first absence from a League game since November 1967, which was also against Norwich) but it was with amusement, trepidation and downright confusion that the custodian took to the field in an amber shirt and was given a role on the left wing, a position he played until his late conversion to goalkeeper in the early 1960s. His crossing was notably good, even though Ian Butler probably didn’t need to be too concerned about his place the next year, and the jovial Scotsman seemed to revel in his new-but-old role.
Ken Houghton fouled Hunter – there’s a scenario you’d more likely believe were it the other way round – and Leeds got a penalty. John Giles took it but, instead of trying to shoot past Peter Walters, he tapped the ball to one side and Jack Charlton blasted it in. Goal given.
It has been seen since – Johan Cruyff and Robert Pires were famous proponents, though the legality of it remains grey (while the respective outcomes differed wildly; Cruyff looked sophisticated while Pires looked a berk).
Chilton and Wagstaff with effortlessness matched only by the Leeds defence in their attempts to stop them, completed their hat-tricks, while McKechnie comedically stuck one in as well. Leeds sub Rod Belfitt, one of a handful of stalwarts who stayed at the club for ten years but most weeks was responsible for little more than the half time brew, scored twice, along with a goal for Jones and a second for Charlton. With five minutes to go, word spread from the crowd to the dugout that Arsenal had won at White Hart Lane with a late Ray Kennedy goal, and this news spread to the field and Bremner’s deputy Mick Bates. Once he began to inform the others, white-shirted shoulders dropped as one and referee Maurice Fussey wisely elected to end the game.
Revie was gallant – lest we forget that for all his dishonesty and gluttony in the game, he was once a Hull City player – as he commented on the last-ditch denial of his side, saying: “We have been disappointed before and we have bounced back again. We will bounce back next season and I hope Hull City do too.” He was partially right; again Leeds were to lose the League on the last day (this time via their own defeat to Wolves, handing Majorca-based Derby County the trophy) but did take the FA Cup a few days before. City, however, had already peaked under Neill, whose words about Chilton’s night of glory (“I would like to go out and personally pat all 28,350 fans on the back. They gave the big fella the kind of night he deserves”) didn’t ring too true with his talisman after he left him out of a post-season tour of Scandinavia, fell out with him as a result and sold him to Coventry City in August; indeed, Chilton’s testimonial match was his penultimate playing appearance at Boothferry Park, and his hat-trick were his last goals for the club, albeit not ones added to his amazing record. Without him, City declined under Neill and although his replacement from the ranks, Stuart Pearson, proved solid, dependable and fairly consistent, he was nowhere near as prolific as the man he replaced.
CHILTON CASHES IN: HAT-TRICK AND £9,127 said the headline in the Hull Daily Mail the next day; assuming every penny came from payment at the gate, it meant that each supporter paid about 32p of brand new decimalised sterling to get in. The programmes were 5p each. City haven’t handed out many testimonials since, though Chilton’s old buddy Wagstaff, physio Jeff Radcliffe, midfield stalwart of the 80s Garreth Roberts and modern day icon Dean Windass have all been given their day. Andy Dawson adds his name to that illustrious list this season.