Short managerial reigns are all the rage at Hull City’s level of football at the moment, though mercifully our club have not had reason nor need to be concerned about Steve Bruce’s tenure. The Tigers have had a small share of short-term appointments to the big job, mind, all of which were short-term due to the candidate’s plain unsuitability for the role.
Recently we’ve seen Phil Parkinson and Jan Mølby not make it to Christmas after a summer welcome to the hotseat; at the end of the 1980s, Colin Appleton endured a ridiculous winless run that would have tried the patience of any chairman, but only when his chum Don Robinson prematurely vacated the biggest chair in the boardroom was he handed his cards.
Then there was Bobby Collins. Renowned as one of those no-nonsense midfielders of the 1950s and 60s, he played for Celtic and Everton before becoming part of a Leeds United team that took physical tactics to a whole new level, though he was very much at the veteran stage of his impressive career when the nation took note of this clutch of white-kitted evildoing that was sweeping football.
Those who didn’t support his clubs remember him for two injuries; one inflicted, one suffered. He went in high on Liverpool’s Gerry Byrne in just the third minute of the 1965 FA Cup final, and the left back broke his collarbone on landing, though got up to play 117 more minutes, set up a goal and ultimately emerge victorious. Five months later, Collins then was on the receiving end of a hefty challenge from defender Fabrizio Poletti in a Fairs Cup match against Torino, the broken thighbone ending his top-flight career and paving the way for Billy Bremner, his young midfield partner, to become skipper.
Fast forward 12 years and, in one those coincidences that happen, Collins was manager of Hull City and Bremner his veteran skipper. Collins had arrived at the club in the summer to join the coaching staff under John Kaye, but a wretched start to the 1977/78 season saw Kaye relieved of his duties after three years and Collins put in charge. City had only won one of the first eight, scoring in only three games at all, and had problems all over the park.
Collins, an old-fashioned, plain-speaking Glaswegian, managed to instil some belief into a group of players whose talents as individuals seemed unable to be knitted into a watchable team. He started off with a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur, the fallen giants of the division who had been relegated to everyone’s shock the year before. The next nine games resulted in just one defeat – a 1-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers at Boothferry Park – and progress to the fourth round of the League Cup (nosebleed territory to this day) and a trip to Arsenal. Collins then gave his players a public dressing down after a 4-1 victory – that’s a 4-1 victory – over Cardiff City and relations began to sour.
A dire display at Fulham resulted in a 2-0 defeat and so Collins, who had apologised for his harshness after the Cardiff win, had a job to do with his squad. He dropped winger Chris Galvin and left back Roger deVries and was able to recall centre back Ian Dobson after a back injury, while out-of-favour full back Gordon Nisbet also returned. Winger Dave Stewart, newly-capped the week before by Northern Ireland, passed a late fitness test on an ankle injury and so a changed side took to the Boothferry Park field, mid-table after the initial good start under Collins but smarting from the bad day at Craven Cottage. Charlton, managed by Andy Nelson, were a couple of places above the Tigers in the Second Division but pulling up few trees. The game kicked off at 2.15pm in order to avoid the need for floodlight use, as industrial action continued to dictate how lives in the 1970s were lived.
City made the first chance when Paul Haigh drove a low shot wide after Bremner had tapped a free kick his way, but quickly the visitors were ahead when Keith Peacock crossed towards Colin Powell, whose cute glance wrongfooted the Tigers defence and gave Les Berry the chance to fire past Jeff Wealands at the far post. Only three minutes had elapsed and City were adrift again.
Steve Gritt, later to be joint manager of the club, bashed a cross shot inches wide of Wealands’ post shortly afterwards and then the consistent City keeper, playing his 101st consecutive game for the club, saved at close range from David Campbell after Mike Flanagan’s fine run and cross.
Peter Daniel, switched to left back in deVries’ absence, showed no signs of being unsettled by Leeds’ frequent bids for him when he latched on to a Berry miskick to strike a brilliant drive through a crowd of bodies and beyond Charlton keeper Jeff Wood, but also meagre inches beyond the post.
Stewart then fired over from an Alan Warboys knocked down and then Nisbet saw a shot from distance brilliantly tipped over by Wood, whose afternoon would become increasingly inspired. Hughie McAuley then shot straight at Wealands as Charlton briefly threatened, but the rest of the half was about Wood keeping out City; he saved a curling Stewart shot with his fingertips and then dashed out of his area to get to a long Haigh ball before the sprinting Warboys, before finally saving one-handedly from Warboys’ bullet header after a fine run and cross from Vince Grimes.
City weren’t always able to blame the Addicks’ keeper – Dobson saw a free header from a Bremner corner go wide and Warboys missed a similarly gilt-edged headed chance after a cute Bremner flick wrongfooted the Charlton defence. At half time the visitors led and few could believe it, least of all them.
The Tigers continued from where they left off; making chances but either coming up against a goalkeeper who was not in the mood to be beaten or being foiled by their own inefficiency. When the ball did enter the net – twice, in fact – it was through illegality, initially when Warboys touched a Bremner free kick home from an offside position and then later when Bruce Bannister controlled a Daniel cross with his hand before shooting home, Wood happy not to put in the effort on either chance as the whistle shrilled.
Dave Roberts, City’s Welsh international defender, stopped a Flanagan shot on the line after the leading scorer had rounded Wealands, and later missed his kick entirely in front of goal, but beyond that it didn’t look like any team other than City were going to score. Still the opportunities came, still Wood kept them out. The Addicks’ custodian dived courageously at Stewart’s feet as the winger prepared to round him and find and empty net and then touched well-struck shots from Roberts and Nisbet round the post.
Collins withdrew Bannister for striker Dave Sunley with 14 minutes left, and the crowd didn’t like that decision. They had further reason to issue the catcalls two minutes later when Charlton broke from a cleared free kick, won a set-piece of their own on the counter attack, and Flanagan leapt highest to head in Peacock’s delivery. The Tigers were now two down with 12 minutes to go, a second defeat to a London side (and by the same scoreline) in seven days looking most likely. Flanagan was now not just Charlton’s leading scorer, but the division’s too, no mean feat for a mid-table, middling side.
They were evidently better equipped than City; creation of chances only has a bearing if those chances are put away, and Charlton managed that twice. City sought a way back in, and Wood dramatically tipped a long-range Daniel effort over the bar and sub Sunley went on a mazy run past three players before his shot was, again, equalled by the flawless Charlton keeper, who tipped it wide. He was heartily applauded off by the travelling contingent on the final whistle, while City were greeted with boos and grumbles. After 16 games of the season, the Tigers were 13th.
Collins made changes for the trip to Arsenal three days later, dropping the resourceful Daniel, who he claimed needed a rest, and the in-form Stewart and Warboys. He was questioned at length about these alterations afterwards, especially as a lifeless, overawed City side got thumped 5-1 at Highbury, with substitute John Hawley’s consolation coming from the penalty spot right at the end. It didn’t improve; City won one of the next 11 and exited the FA Cup in the third round, and Collins got his marching orders after a defeat at Mansfield Town on February 25th 1978, despite signing a two-year deal. Ken Houghton took over but City couldn’t recover; scoring goals became a tad easier with the return of the injury-plagued Hawley but the defence leaked like a sieve and it became a rotten, truly rotten relegation season. Only two more wins were gleaned; one of which was the return game at Charlton, in which Hawley got the only goal.
To this day, 1977/78 is the only season in which Hull City has had three different managers.
Wealands made it 109 straight games before injury at Sheffield United on New Years Eve ruled him out for the rest of the season, paving the way for longtime understudy Eddie Blackburn to make a long-awaited return; by the time relegation was confirmed the reliable Wealands, but for whom many of the defeats could have been even worse, made it clear he wanted out, though eventually stuck around for another year. Leeds pulled out of signing Daniel (as did West Bromwich Albion, the other club courting the England Under 21 full back in mid-season) but he did eventually go for big money to Wolves in the summer, eventually winning the League Cup with them in 1980. Roberts, Grimes, Hawley, Sunley and, of course, Bremner were high-profile exits as Houghton had a much-needed clearout, while Nisbet, deVries, Dobson, Haigh, Galvin and the strikers Warboys and Bannister stuck around for the remainder of the decade, aided by the gradual promotion of some talented youngsters from the ranks.
Stewart, meanwhile, left the club a year later in eccentric style. After an injury-hit season, he wanted to spend the summer of 1979 convalescing in Australia and so needed to cancel his registration with the FA to do so. City promised him a new contract on his return, but the trip fell through and the club’s offer turned out to be inadequate. Suddenly a free agent, he went to Chelsea but didn’t settle and ended up playing more than 100 times for Scunthorpe United. He never added to his one cap for Northern Ireland, with rumours of the IFA apparently wishing to airbrush his name from Ulster’s footballing history based on subsequent fears over his eligibility (which was garbage: he was born in Belfast and played for no other nation) and a misguided need to respect George Best, the player whom he had belatedly replaced.
Charlton ended the 1977/78 season in 17th place and were eventually relegated themselves two years later. They won at Boothferry Park by the same score in 1980/81, when once more City went down as the rock bottom side, but as the Addicks’ fortunes improved in the 1980s, only twice more would they ever come to the old ground, and both occasions ended in scoring draws. They’ve visited the Circle just once, but went away with a 2-1 win in October 2007, a game more memorable for the clash between Ian Ashbee and Lloyd Sam that got both sent off and saw the legendary City skipper exchange a few words with his old boss and nemesis Phil Parkinson, by then Charlton’s second-in-command, as he headed for the tunnel.
There’s one more final thought as we look back at City’s defeat to Charlton in November 1977. At the time, Collins was trying to sign a couple of new players, and one who caught his eye was Oldham Athletic winger Alan Groves. For a fortnight, Collins readily told David Bond of the Hull Daily Mail that he was interested in the player, whom his club were content to sell, but eventually a move fell through due to an offer of a longer deal from divisional rivals Blackpool, with which Collins felt City couldn’t compete for someone nearly 30. It was uncontroversial but nonetheless disappointing when the player duly joined the Seasiders instead of the Tigers for £30,000. Seven months later, Groves was dead from heart failure. He never did make it to 30.