Almost by accident, Hull City find themselves playing Yorkshire rivals Barnsley in the FA Cup this weekend. The 210 minutes against Leyton Orient in the third round included two goals at the death; one by Nick Proschwitz to earn a replay, the other by Tom Cairney to avoid penalties.
You have to go back 55 years for the single previous occasion City faced Barnsley in the Cup, and that’s what we’re doing right here. As the structural system of the league prepared to de-regionalise itself, the Tigers were, in 1957/58, looking to avoid a relegation. Of sorts. The two geographical Third Division tables were going to be halved according to final placings, and the new Third and Fourth Divisions would be hitherto constructed.
City finished the 1956/57 campaign in the top half of the northern third tier, rarely looking hopeful of promotion, with a mid-table position over the festive season improving only mildly. There was hope for the next campaign but, with an early form of the pessimism that the modern-day City fan has crafted into an art, most people would settle just to avoid the new bottom division.
Bob Brocklebank was in charge of the team, and he had begun badly, overseeing relegation in 1956. His main issue over subsequent seasons was a lack of tactical nous, with players regularly looking lost or out of place, plus a desire to hold on to the transfer budget rather than spend it. Still, though his style and methods were questioned, he evidently wasn’t a disaster, and in the Third Division North, the Tigers were consistent (if frustrating) under his stewardship. By the beginning of 1958 the team was a bit sloppy but capable of some stirring form, and were mid-table in the division.
They were also in the third round of the FA Cup, having beaten strugglers Crewe Alexandra at Boothferry Park and then overcome Port Vale, equivalent mid-tablers in the southern half of the divide, after two games – the 2-2 draw at Vale Park and subsequent 4-3 win in the replay just 48 hours later (with an unchanged team) proving a pair of especially entertaining games.
The draw for the third round gave Brocklebank’s men a sterner test, with Barnsley a division higher and boasting a serving England B international in winger Arthur Kaye. By now all of City’s ageing big names – Carter, Franklin, Mannion – had left the club and there wasn’t a household name among Brocklebank’s charges. But the Tigers went into the game at full strength in the outfield, courtesy of Brian Cripsey’s return to fitness after a month out with a calf injury, and an in-form centre forward in Bill Bradbury, who had scored three times in December and contributed four to the FA Cup campaign already. The only absentee of note was veteran keeper Billy Bly, who had been crocked for a month. His deputy Len Round had let in three on Boxing Day at Gateshead, and so third-choice Bernard Fisher was given a chance in nets.
Barnsley, back then nicknamed the Colliers (as were rugby league’s Featherstone Rovers, whose simultaneous game at the Boulevard meant that two lots of Colliers were visiting Hull at once), were also injury-free and took to the field with confidence as a large crowd, delighted that the pitch had been given the all-clear after a harsh overnight frost, piled into Boothferry Park.
Bradbury hit the crossbar with a header from a Cripsey corner in the very first minute, and then with the next attack (after “150 seconds” according to the Hull Daily Mail) put the Tigers ahead. Veteran full back Dennis Durham intercepted a stray ball in midfield and sent Brian Bulless clear to the edge of the box. His smart chip found Bradbury unmarked, and he clipped the bouncing ball over advancing Colliers’ keeper Harry Hough.
The visitors, stung, forced three quick corners in succession as they sought a swift response but the Tigers defence coped with them. Left half Andy Davidson then fouled Kaye on the edge of the box on 20 minutes, and when Les Collinson could only partially clear Jack Short’s free kick, Lol Chappell teed up a thigh-high volley for Norman Smith, whose finish was true and unstoppable.
Davidson, culpable for the goal due to his bad challenge, started getting stick from the crowd as he continued to give away dangerously-positioned free kicks. The Barnsley fans present were especially unimpressed with the Scotsman’s treatment of Kaye, and in the end Davidson took a severe reprimand from the referee before adjusting his game. Barnsley took the initiative and dominated the rest of the half, with Fisher bravely diving at the feet of Malcolm Graham to deny the inside-forward a certain goal.
Just before the break, City fashioned a rare chance. Bulless broke and forced a corner which caused major confusion in the Barnsley box. Hough was out of his goal and out to sea as the ball ricocheted everywhere, until Doug Clarke saw a chance but ballooned it over the bar. Still, the half time whistle that followed meant that it was City who disappeared down the tunnel with the momentum.
The second half was a slower, cagier affair and the nigh on 22,000 crowd were not treated to a great spectacle. Cripsey missed his kick entirely in front of goal after Bradbury had delightfully set him free, and City maintained the pressure thereafter but the Colliers manfully defended. On the break, Chappell and Kaye spurned reasonable chances and Tigers winger Johnny Stephens aimed a centre towards Bradbury that Hough managed to pluck off the striker’s head.
And so it ended 1-1, with all the thrills coming in the breathless first 20 minutes of the game. Immediately the replay was scheduled for the following Wednesday and so there was a clamour for tickets, with this unexpected bonus of a trip to a higher-placed club whom the Tigers had more than matched on their own turf. City gave the travelling faithful something to remember that evening courtesy of a 2-0 win, with the goals from Clarke and Bulless coming, again, in the opening 20 minutes.
The success at Oakwell prompted a small upturn in league form, as City got a draw and a win in the next two games, but the fourth round tie at Sheffield Wednesday, for which the only change was Bly’s return in goal, saw the Tigers go in a bit cold, having not played for 11 days due to postponements caused by the January ice. The Owls were a top-flight team, albeit a struggling one, and were just that bit fitter for the game at Hillsborough, though the Tigers exited the competition with as much heroism as possible, losing 4-3 – Bradbury’s goal in that game was his sixth that season in the FA Cup which matched a club record held jointly by Sammy Stevens and Norman Moore.
City had an eventful remainder of the season, losing only three times in the last 19 games, while also beating Oldham Athletic 9-0 and accruing 4-4 draws at Tranmere Rovers and Bradford Park Avenue. Bradbury played every game of the campaign, ending with 19 in the league to go with his half dozen in the Cup, while Clarke contributed 18 in the two competitions. The Tigers finished an excellent fifth, six points and three places from promotion but with serious hope for progress under Brocklebank as the new nationalised lower tiers came into being.
The team that took to the field against Barnsley was pretty much Brocklebank’s first choice XI barring the keeper. Fisher was a youthful custodian who had been discovered in York boys’ football, and eventually he succeeded Bly and became first choice for a couple of seasons. Frank Harrison, who spent the first half of the season injured, and the 34 year old Durham were the full backs, with future skipper Davidson joined by Collinson and Paul Feasey in the middle; this trio would become distinguished and invaluable enough to clock up more than 1,000 League appearances for the Tigers between them. The front line had Stephens on the right, a player who would leave at the end of the season and retire at the early age of 25 just through indifference to the game. Cripsey worked the left flank, and star man Bradbury was aided in the centre by Clarke and Bulless, players who carved out their own legend through very long service with the club.
City eventually made the Second Division under Brocklebank the following season, with Bradbury banging in 30 League goals, a club record that has not been equalled. Though FA Cup runs would come and go – some amazing, some thrilling, most uneventful, a lot rotten – only once has someone managed to equal what Bradbury achieved in that 1957/58 run – and Duane Darby did it all in one game, against non-league opposition. Perhaps this weekend’s tie against Barnsley might produce a new FA Cup talking point that will be written about in more than 50 years time. Let’s face it, the club needs something to get itself excited in the Cup this season.
Photo copyright Hull Daily Mail.