There have been some bad footballers at Hull City down the years. This hardly is an exclusive or shocking revelation, of course; it would be easy to come up with a worst XI to rival any other from some of the rotten periods of the 1990s alone, never mind any other time when the team wasn’t packed with talent.
And there have been badder footballers at Hull City than Dave Bamber too. We’ve had any number of target men down the years who lacked touch, finesse, strength, belief (in themselves, more than anything) or goalscoring capability. You could name a few who lacked all of the above but still, through blinkeredness, desperation or just bad judgment, made it as a player. Yet Bamber will forever head this list.
The reason why Amber Nectar’s ratings table puts the underachievers in a section marked ‘As Bad As Bamber’ is not because he was actually a bad footballer, but because he acted like one. He had some skill, ample presence, the build to hold off the most ox-like of centre backs, and a thoroughly respectable goalscoring record. But during his short, notorious, offensive period as a Hull City player, he showed a total lack of any of these faculties. Far worse than the bad player is the good player who acts bad. Bamber epitomised this to the limit.
He signed for the Tigers on his 31st birthday, midway through the 1989/90 season for £125,000. On paper, this appeared a shrewd signing. He was a rarity for new City players; we’d heard of him (because he’d kept scoring against us) and he came with a decent overall strike rate, albeit through a nomadic career that had taken in eight previous clubs. New manager Stan Ternent, in the process of rescuing the club from relegation after predecessor Colin Appleton had managed to achieve no wins at all in the opening 16 League games before being sacked, was given serious money and chose to spend it on experience. Bamber was first in, followed by Leigh Palin, Malcolm Shotton and Gwyn Thomas (average age – 30 and a half, with salaries to match).
Bamber joined from Stoke City, for whom he’d managed eight goals in just over a year. His past career showed just two spells of reasonable lengthiness – student club Blackpool, where his career began after they spotted him playing for the national universities side; and Swindon Town, to date his last major spell of team contribution. He had got 60 League goals for the pair of them and just 20 everywhere else by the time he came to Boothferry Park.
Billy Whitehurst, heroic and iconic but with his star waning and a known mutual dislike brewing between he and Ternent, left the club in the same week Bamber joined. So one striker of lower league repute had been, as we assumed, replaced with another. Bamber was probably the better footballer, all told, but Whitehurst evidently the better person, leaving the club a hero. Comparisons and regretful expressions began quite quickly, though Bamber did play okay in a memorable 4-3 loss at Leeds United, winning one of the two penalties that Andy Payton stuck away. He didn’t score until his eighth game for the Tigers as City won 3-1 at his old club Swindon, then in the next game against more former paymasters, Stoke City, he missed a hatful of good chances and was greeted with the chant “Bamber is a w***er” for each chronic piece of finishing from a group of fans undoubtedly gleeful at his departure two months before.
Bamber then managed to equalise his goals for record with his goals against, heading in one of the most wretched own goals in footballing history as City lost on a Friday night at Brighton. A new centre forward, expensive, already suspect, was now putting balls into his own net. Incompetence alone was the reason for it, but already by now the City fans were turning. Ternent unsurprisingly kept faith with him, but a further four games passed as Bamber’s lack of belief in anything or anyone around him blotted his already well-inked copybook further.
So Blackburn Rovers came to town on April 10th 1990, challenging for promotion and filled with experienced, decorated players and a decent gaggle of youngsters too. City were, fractionally thanks to Ternent’s short-termism, now climbing away from the drop but still had work to do. Three months after Bamber had joined he still only had that strike at Swindon next to his name, hadn’t scored at Boothferry Park and didn’t have effort, self-sacrifice or misfortune to use as an excuse, unlike other non-scoring strikers we have known.
This one comes to you via our Tigertube page, extracted from an end-of-season club video with the marvellous teenage commentary of Harvey Fletcher, a stalwart of the southern supporters to this day. Blackburn, one year away from Jack Walker’s precedent-setting takeover, were under the tutelage of the wily Don Mackay, who had taken them to Full Members Cup success in 1987 and had enjoyed two fifth-placed finishes in a row afterwards, though then lost in the play-off semi-finals on both occasions. Again they were hopeful of promotion to the top division, where they had not been since 1966.
In their ranks were some mega names, albeit most on their way down. Terry Gennoe was a goalkeeper who had done nearly a decade between the sticks, having previously enjoyed top flight football and a League Cup final with Southampton. Striker Frank Stapleton had played in five FA Cup finals and a European Championships. Kevin Moran had played in two of the same FA Cup finals, as well as in the same team at the same European Championships. Nicky Reid had, as a Manchester City kid, also played in the FA Cup final. These were big names, especially for the second tier. Simon Garner had scored tons of goals in the halved shirts for nine years and Howard Gayle had been a talented fringe player at Liverpool. All took to the field at Boothferry Park.
The game wasn’t exactly a classic, especially the first half. Garner came close twice, once producing a fine save from Iain Hesford in City’s goal, while Payton, on 14 for the season, tested Gennoe with a vicious drive from just outside the box. The second half didn’t liven up until the final 20 minutes, which is where the footage takes over.
A stirring run by substitute Peter Swan, on for midfielder Steve Doyle, eventually led to Bamber having his shin taken by Scottish midfielder John Millar. The linesman, in that quaint way linesmen once did, walked on to the pitch with his flag raised as if to make it absolutely clear it was a free kick, and was still standing next to the ball when Palin swung it over. It flicked off a Blackburn head to Richard Jobson at the far post and though Gennoe miraculously saved his header, Payton was there to nod in the rebound from just inches out.
So, Bamber had, in a fashion, made a goal. Then came the moment we’d started to believe we’d never see. Hesford bashed a long kick upfield, Swan tried and failed to control, and a dodgy back pass to the keeper was intercepted by an unusually alert Bamber, who rounded Gennoe and shot into an empty net. 2-0, game over, and the new centre forward had finally scored at home, albeit in a manner owed exclusively to the generosity and complacency of the opposition.
Still, he’d done it. Maybe now the floodgates would open? Swan had endured an injury-hit season (and was making lots of noises at the time about preferring to play in defence) so we genuinely needed Bamber to up his form to take the pressure off Payton and give us a viable second option at the top. The only other specialist strikers at the club were Ian McParland (a fine footballer, but interminably injured) and Paul Hunter (not specialist really, he was evidently never up to the job of professional footballer). Bamber was needed.
Momentarily, it looked like the Bamber we needed had arrived, as he scored a corker of a volley in the very next game at Boothferry Park as City beat Wolves 2-0. But he didn’t manage another for the rest of the season and, the following year, was the most villainous of the lot as City were disorganised and disoriented. He started just six games, scored in two (both heavy away defeats, though at least he found the correct net at Brighton this time as City were done 3-1), was embroiled in a controversy over spitting at a young fan who’d dared to question his proficiency, and then was loaned back to Blackpool in November 1990, where he’d had the nerve to invest in property using the relocation allowance given to him by City when he signed.
His permanent exit in January 1991 came as a massive relief, and Payton and Swan resumed their partnership to the tune of 37 goals, a tally made all the more phenomenal when you consider City were relegated and humiliated with a bottom of the table finish. Ternent was quite rightly, though controversially and acrimoniously at the time, shown the door after a New Years Day paggering at Portsmouth.
In April 1990, Hesford was City’s undisputed number one, though only because there wasn’t another senior goalkeeper on the books at the time. Sub keepers weren’t featured on the teamsheet and so there was no need on a personnel level to have another wizened custodian on the books, though that didn’t stop City fans wishing for one as the tubby keeper began to lose his form and his focus. Ahead of him was a strong enough partnership between the cultured Jobson and the sturdy, experienced Shotton (a good Ternent signing) while Nicky Brown and Wayne Jacobs were young full backs whose futures seemed bright.
Doyle anchored the midfield stoically though was very much a love-hate player, having as many detractors as he did admirers. Thomas, a Leeds United player in his youth, was a greying midfielder of limited mobility who was as baffling and pointless a signing as Ternent would make, though didn’t inspire the hatred of Bamber. Garreth Roberts, knees starting to knock, was in his 12th season as a senior player (despite still being not yet 30) and working the right flank, while Ternent’s best signing, Palin, had a luxurious free role and was as skilful a player in that position that we’d see for some time, though his stay at the Ark was also brief. Payton and Bamber were as different a pairing as you can get – age, pace, record, ability, attitude, hairdos, you name it – while Swan was caught between two stools as a defender who could play up front, but was a sub mainly because he was slowly getting his fitness back after six weeks out. Leigh Jenkinson was the unused second sub, seen warming up on the touchline as Bamber has his legs taken away.
Blackburn, for their crucial part in all this, finished fifth for the third straight season and yet again failed in the play-off semi finals, losing over two legs to Swindon, who eventually beat Sunderland at Wembley but had their top tier place withdrawn due to financial irregularities, with Sunderland instead going up. Walker took over at Ewood Park, appointed Kenny Dalglish to succeed Mackay and won promotion to the new Premier League in two years and the title in five. Of the 13 on duty at Boothferry Park, modest defender David Mail and hateful midfielder Tony Finnegan would soon become Ternent signings to unsurprisingly contrasting levels of appreciation. Later, utility player Mark Atkins – the only one of this 13 to be involved in both the promotion and the Premier League triumph – would be a useful, if very short-term, Brian Little signing as City chased a play-off dream while the club around them threatened to implode.
The following season, City’s 3-1 win (Payton and Swan got City’s goals, Atkins scored Blackburn’s last ditch consolation) became what remains today City’s last victory over Blackburn in the league, though a Jenkinson goal in the 1991/92 League Cup did also give Terry Dolan’s side a narrow aggregate win. That was it until the Premier League, and Rovers won one and drew one at the KC during City’s two years at the top.
Bamber’s transfer to Blackpool was made worse by his excellent subsequent scoring record there, with 56 league goals in 108 appearances. With depressing predictability, he managed to score against City during this time which, thanks to his early career successes against the Tigers (plus that own goal), led to him having a better rate against City than for them. His legendary miss in the 1991 Fourth Division play-off final’s penalty shootout (watch it here – 6’58” in) led to fans of beneficiaries Torquay United naming a fanzine Bamber’s Right Foot. Almost as loud as the Torquay fans at Wembley at that moment were the Tigers fans watching the game on television, a spot of comeuppance seemingly delivered. Rarely has a penalty been as wide of the target as Bamber’s sorry effort that day. Blackpool won the play-offs a year later though, again on penalties. This time Bamber scored in normal time and didn’t go near a penalty during the shootout. He retired in 1994 and remains in Blackpool, securing a place in the club’s Hall Of Fame.
It remains odd that Bamber never worked – in both senses of the word – at Hull City but it was evidently down to the player ahead of any other deciding factor. He had decent strikers beside him – Payton remains one of the best in Tigers’ history – and in Palin, Roberts, Jenkinson and (initially) Billy Askew, he had players capable of serving up chances. He wasn’t an unintelligent man either, with an economics degree achieved in his earlier life, hence his presence in the universities team, but maybe he underestimated the intelligence of the City fan at the time, who knew a dud and a charlatan when they saw one and would spot a fair few more as the 1990s became more and more repellent.
Do we hate any ex-player more than Dave Bamber? Hard to say, really. Recent villains like Danny Mills and Jimmy Bullard run him close, but at least they generally performed when wearing the shirt (albeit both in very short spells of game time) and in the case of Mills it was hatred that developed after he had left the club. Not many former players from before Bamber’s time leap to mind – again, those castigated for incompetence actually were incompetent, which makes the coaching and scouting system more culpable than the hapless player in question. Bamber took it an unforgivable step further by being a good player but not showing it, while simultaneously taking the club for all he could get.