It is a distinctly uncommon occurrence for Hull City to beat Burnley in a football match, irrespective of the venue or division. Defeat for the Tigers on Monday night at Turf Moor would be not just unwelcome to a promotion campaign, but an incredible eighth reverse on the bounce against the Clarets.
Still, there have been occasions – three of them in post-war football – when City have got the upper hand on this Lancashire bogey team in their own backyard. Two of them are engraved in the fabric of the club; the 2-0 win on the belated last day of the 1983/84 season when City needed three to go up is the one people always recall, though the 93rd minute winner at Turf Moor by Michael Turner in the 2007/08 season of glory runs it close for drama and long-term meaning.
Those two games are well-thumbed, so what about the other one? Well, for it we need to trot back 41 years to February 1972, and City’s first game on Burnley’s high, red-rosed soil for 36 years.
It was a tough campaign for City. Having seen the prospect of elevation to the top flight the season before ruined by a desperate run of form at the turn of the year, as well as an exit from the FA Cup to Stoke City that to this day makes supporters of appropriate vintage cry salt tears, there was an element of following a Lord Mayor’s show for the Tigers; indeed, a good chunk of it was spent in relegation trouble. When Terry Neill’s men boarded the bus to cross the newly-opened trans-Pennine stretch of the M62, however, a recovery seemed possible. The week before, the Tigers had upset First Division Coventry City in the fourth round of the FA Cup (centre forward one Christopher Roy Chilton, signed from City six months before, and placed on the transfer list by his new club after his old one had done them) and had also just gubbed fellow strugglers Watford 4-0. Nonetheless, player-manager Neill’s men were fourth from bottom when they made the journey west while Burnley, relegated the year before after 24 years at the top level, had a place in the chasing pack and were still hopeful of a late push to promotion.
Burnley were fresher than City due to an earlier exit from the FA Cup, and had youth and real talent among their number. Elegant midfielder Martin Dobson was highly rated while shinpadless winger Dave Thomas was among the most fleet-footed players in the game. City were still reliant on a lot of the 1960s old guard – Ken Houghton, Ken Wagstaff, Ian Butler, Chris Simpkin, Billy Wilkinson, Malcolm Lord and keeper Ian McKechnie were still mainstays of the team – but new blood was being pushed through gradually and both the board and the fans recognised it was a transitional period for the club.
A heavy cold had been passed through the first team squad through the week after beating Coventry, while dodgy stomachs also prevailed, but mercifully Neill was able to name the same team that had heroically done the business at Highfield Road, with just a change on the bench that allowed the ageing Houghton a rest and gave an opportunity to young striker Paul O’Riley. City combined their three kits for the game, wearing white shirts, black shorts and red and black hooped socks.
Burnley dominated a niggly, static first half in driving rain but were foiled time and again by their own poor finishing and some desperate defending from the Tigers. Defender Jim Thomson stabbed an early Colin Waldron free kick just wide of McKechnie’s far post from close range, and a four man move then led to the unmarked Steve Kindon just missing contact with a good cross.
Striker Paul Fletcher broke the feeble City offside trap but was foiled by an alert dart from his box by McKechnie, then the same player headed a good chance wide. The chances kept coming and City could do little in terms of response. Frank Casper shot over, Fletcher had a header cleared off the line by Roger deVries and then the same striker put another chance wastefully beyond McKechnie’s post.
Respite finally arrived when Butler was given room to charge down his wing and the cross was flickheeled delicately towards goal by Jimmy McGill but keeper Alan Stevenson tipped it wide. A little later, City made a second chance when Wilkinson headed a Frank Banks cross at goal but defender Mick Docherty blocked it. Lord had a pop from distance which Stevenson held, then crossed for Butler to volley at goal which brought the very best out of the Clarets custodian, who went full length to keep it out.
Burnley repelled the brief threat from City and made more chances before the break, with McKechnie saving efforts from Casper and Thomas while young Welsh winger Leighton James, still not 19 and already a full international, put a good chance wide from a Thomas cross. The shrill of the half time whistle came as a boon to City and a frustration to Burnley, who were so conclusively the better side.
The interval in football can be cruel. Maybe Burnley’s players assumed they could continue from where they left off, but they reckoned without the rocket Neill evidently administered to his players in the away dressing room. Within two minutes of the restart, City were in front.
Neill took a free kick on halfway, aiming for Wagstaff near the edge of the box. His flick found the overlapping Banks, and the cross to the far post was perfect for Butler to slide in from close range. This galvanised City and a long spell of the second half was now theirs, though the second goal struggled to arrive. Wagstaff and Lord both put gilt-edged chances wide and Waldron nearly deflected a Stuart Pearson cross into his own net, needing the agility of Stevenson at full-length once again to spare his blushes.
Burnley brought on teenager Billy Ingham for his League debut, replacing Alan West, and though the youngster’s enthusiasm lifted his team-mates a tad, it wasn’t long before the colourless phase of play from the home side prompted slow handclaps from an irritated crowd. City were buoyed further by this, with Wilkinson seeing a long-range shot blocked and Butler getting on the end of a Billy Baxter centre but taking a tumble under pressure, with the penalty shouts waved away. O’Riley then replaced Wilkinson as Neill upped the ante in attack, and he soon set up Pearson for a vicious shot that Stevenson spilled and then re-grasped, with no City player able to plough through the thickening mud to pilfer a rebound.
The last five minutes saw Burnley throw the men forward and lump high balls into the box, but City held firm and the points were secured in the 89th minute when a breakaway left the home side utterly exposed at the back and Wagstaff scampered half the length of Turf Moor to put the second past Stevenson.
It was a big old victory, this. And not just because it was City’s first there since before the Second World War. The Tigers stayed fourth bottom but results involving those below them went their way. Burnley, who’d won the reverse fixture at Boothferry Park in the October, dropped a place to eighth. City beat Preston the following week, making it a fourth straight win in all competitions and allowing Wagstaff one of those regular opportunities to get goals in four straight games (he also scored in a fifth as City fell to Stoke in the FA Cup for a second consecutive year).
A run of one defeat in eight through the spring period then enabled a sharp climb up the table and they ended up 12th. Burnley didn’t really engineer the consistency needed for a team in their position to make the leap back and they finished seventh, though despite selling Thomas for big money to QPR in the autumn, they won the Second Division title the next season with some ease.
McKechnie was enjoying what would turn out to be his last season as undisputed City keeper, with Jeff Wealands starting to make an impact the next year. Banks and deVries were mainstays in the full back positions when fit, while Neill and Wilkinson were the defensive rocks behind which the likes of Butler, McGill and Baxter, starting his first League game of the season after a long injury, could play. Lord was the ratter in the centre of the team, protecting those around him, and Pearson was the fast learner taking on the role vacated by Chilton in the summer, aided and cajoled by the ever-wily Wagstaff. O’Riley, a Lancashire boy but a product of City’s ranks, was a sharp centre forward of whom City had high hopes.
By the end of the following season, a sizeable proportion of the old guard had gone. Wagstaff and Lord were still regulars though their limbs were beginning to creak, while McKechnie began to get used to life as a reserve. Neill, who himself retired as a player while letting some club legends move on, was trying to rebuild the team but was bogged down by inconsistencies among those he had (and difficulty purchasing those he hadn’t). As Burnley won the League, City were a place lower in 13th. The unrest was from a minority but still noticeable, and Neill jumped ship in 1974 when a surprising offer from Tottenham Hotspur came in after the retirement of Bill Nicholson.
Burnley’s return to the top flight was undistinguished by comparison to their long status as one of the post-war era’s biggest footballing names. They did well in 1974 with a sixth-placed finish and an FA Cup semi-final spot, while Dobson was picked for England duty, but then the sale of the same player to Everton and defeat to non-league Wimbledon in the FA Cup suggested the rot was setting in, and upon relegation in 1976, manager Jimmy Adamson resigned. It took 33 years, including a brush with relegation to the Conference, before they got back to the top tier, a year after City achieved it and via precisely the same route.
The win under Neill was only the fourth ever at Turf Moor, albeit with the mitigation of the fixture gap, thanks to Burnley’s long association with the highest reaches of the game. City won there in 1906 (the first ever visit to Turf Moor), 1909 and 1935, but after Neill’s men had taken both points in 1972, the next win was the ultimate in bitter-sweet experiences in May 1984, when the two Brian Marwood goals weren’t quite enough to haul City up a level.
There have been a few draws in the interim periods, granted, but the general picture is grim. It may be of some tepid comfort, however, to learn that City’s aversion to success at Turf Moor is lifelong, not recent. The late, late show via Turner’s head in November 2007 is the only further victory, while the more recent defeats have acquired notoriety among the Tiger Nation for differing reasons.
The Sky cameras witnessed a goal from Ade Akinbiyi see off City in October 2005, though the injury time save by Brian Jensen from a point-blank Stuart Elliott shot is much more vivid a memory from that Friday night. We later had the infamy of Geovanni’s disallowed free kick and subsequent red card during the Premier League clash of 2009; the “cowards” game under an outraged Nigel Pearson a year later; and last season’s farcical defeat elicited by Péter Gulácsi’s lousy goalkeeping and immediately convenient injury as the invective from City fans cocooned him.
It’s relentless. It’s almost become a running joke. But some day, one day, this torture of Turf Moor must end.