To a generation of fans that started their Hull City habit in the 1980s, the very idea of hosting Tottenham Hotspur was fanciful. They were, along with Everton, a side we couldn’t get up to ours. Draws in cup competitions never brought them to us, they never looked like being relegated to our level and we rarely had proper reason to believe we would go up to the top flight.
It nearly happened in 1981 when a team destined for relegation to the Fourth Division got to within ten minutes of an FA Cup replay before losing 2-0 at White Hart Lane, but in the end, it was the long service of two City stalwarts that finally brought the Spurs marching into Boothferry Park.
Not many physiotherapists are awarded testimonials, and unlike with players it took a whole 15 years of sponge-application and chewing gum replacement before City awarded a benefit game to Jeff Radcliffe in 1988. A much-loved, jovial figure around City from the days of Terry Neill onwards, the medic with the tam o’shanter (so synonymous with him that it formed the cap of the ‘J’ in ‘Jeff’ on the cover of the match programme) and the occasional penchant for tinted pilot specs was told he could have a testimonial at the end of the 1988 season and Tottenham, managed by Terry Venables at the time, agreed to provide the opposition.
Everyone had a free weekend in mid-April for the FA’s 100th birthday celebrations but neither City nor Spurs were involved in the mini-tournament organised for Wembley, so there was space for Radcliffe’s big game. It was keenly anticipated until something of a spanner was thrown into the works in the days leading up to it when Brian Horton was fired as manager. City were in a shoddy run of form in the Second Division at the time and the sacking was understandable yet seemed harsh. The mood around the camp leading up to Radcliffe’s big Friday night was somewhat subdued and the news came too late for the programme printers, who couldn’t change a page three tribute from “Brian Horton, Manager”. They also erroneously called the opposition “Tottenham Hotspurs” on the front cover, an irregularity only previously heard when mentioned by Jan Francis in an episode of Just Good Friends.
For all this, just over two thousand people filed into the old place to witness the occasion and thank a seriously underrated hero of City’s backroom team. Spurs refreshingly brought most of their first team squad, one which had lost the FA Cup final to Coventry the previous year.
City’s team was, with one notable exception, the normal first team squad. The one new name was that of a J.Radcliffe, given the number 9 shirt. He kicked off the game, sans chapeau, and five minutes later was substituted by caretaker boss Dennis Booth, pulling on his tracksuit and hat and resuming his regular duties. Tim Hotte took his place.
The game was, well, not played at any great pace or with any great needle, though Gary Mabbutt was substituted less than 15 minutes into it with a bruised thigh and spent the rest of the first half signing autographs for the youngsters in the Well. City scored on the half hour through striker Andy Saville, who finished well from close range after Neil Williams had turned a slightly overhit Ray Daniel cross back into the box. Saville, along with Spurs striker Paul Walsh (newly-acquired from Liverpool) then both hit the woodwork before half time.
City got a second on 57 minutes when a Garreth Roberts free kick was cleared to Ken De Mange on the edge of the box and he rifled a volley past York-born Tottenham keeper Bobby Mimms. Walsh headed in a Steve Hodge cross on 71 minutes but City held on and won the game 2-1.
“Hull City have won again at long last!” began David Bond’s annoyingly short piece on the occasion in the next day’s Hull Daily Mail, later ending his report by claiming Horton was the first person to ring up after the game to find out the result. It was a good day also for Ian Grandidge, a highly regarded county referee from Cottingham who was asked to officiate the match.
On the final whistle, the teenagers ran headlong on to the pitch to surround Chris Waddle for autographs, which the Geordie winger did his best to sign despite being tired, cold, in the dark and covered in mud. On leaving the ground, the masses sauntered past a huge, ostentatious coach parked on North Road and through the windows you could see the steam rising from the huge pots of potatoes and peas that had been freshly cooked for the players to consume on the journey back to the capital, though whatever meat was accompanying these garnishes was not in evidence.
Radcliffe stayed at City for another nine years, eventually leaving acrimoniously under the stewardship of Mark Hateley. He continues to work as a physio in his own private practice in Brough.
Spurs were the visitors again four years later when Hull-born midfielder Roberts was also given a benefit year. By the time it was allocated to him his career was over, succumbing to knee problems before his 31st birthday but with more than 400 senior appearances behind him. Roberts had been the face of the 80s with the Tigers, the only player to feature in every season during the decade and still one of a tiny handful to feature in three different decades with the club, having debuted in 1979 and played his last game in 1990. He retired officially in the summer of 1991 and left after losing out on a job running the youth team but ran his benefit year nonetheless and acquired the services of Spurs for a testimonial in May 1992.
Spurs were FA Cup holders but in a period of transition, having never challenged in the league during the Venables era, and a number of youngsters from the ranks were starting to emerge. Venables was, by now, the club’s chief executive while Peter Shreeves ran the team, heralding the beginnings of a bitter fallout between Venables and club owner Alan Sugar that got far more national publicity than it probably warranted. This time, despite the Mail proclaiming “Organisers are still hoping Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker could play” in the Thursday issue, a squad with less of a profile came to Boothferry Park, mainly due to injuries and a handful of professionals not taking risks ahead of the European Championship finals. Allen was the only “survivor” from the Radcliffe game, while among the kids brought to Boothferry Park on another Friday night was an 18 year old Nick Barmby.
News that Barmby would feature in the game aroused further interest in it within the Hull boundaries, even though it was obvious Roberts’ send-off would be deservedly well attended, something proved conclusively by the ten-minute delay caused by the number of people wanting to get in. Roberts himself featured in the game within a team that represented his whole era at Boothferry Park, raising the average age somewhat. It became a bit of a comic non-event as Spurs led 5-0 at half time, with Barmby getting a brace, John Hendry also scoring twice and Andy Turner adding the fifth.
Billy Whitehurst scored for the City XI before Vinny Samways restored Spurs’ five goal advantage, then local ref Trevor West gave a penalty late on that allowed Roberts to score on his big night. After the game, he was carried shoulder-high off the pitch, prior to re-appearing in the directors box to take the last of the many acclaims he received as a fine footballer for City.
His squad included fellow graduates of 1979, Gary Swann and Steve McClaren, plus eighties stalwarts Peter Skipper, Stan McEwan, Billy Askew, Dennis Booth, Pat Heard, Andy Payton and Keith Edwards. Brian Horton, manager of all of these players at one point or another, also played, while Leigh Jenkinson and Graeme Atkinson represented the last generation of City player in the squad. Tony Norman had to pull out due to Sunderland unexpectedly reaching the FA Cup final – they lost to Liverpool at Wembley the next day – and so Iain Hesford took the place between the sticks.
Roberts got £30,000 from the game, a deserved extra pay-off, especially given the circumstances in which Terry Dolan promised him a job and then took it away again. Ever joyless, in response the club made a comment about the lack of money in the coffers, as if Roberts were somehow expected to hand his windfall straight to them. He remained involved as an ambassador and fan while working in local authority sports development and, later, as a match summariser on local radio.
In proper games, City and Spurs have only played each other in ten league campaigns, including this season. Before elevation to the Premier League in 2008, the last time the two had met in the league was during Spurs’ surprising one-season holiday in the second tier in 1977/8. That season represents the last time City beat them in a home game, the 2-0 win courtesy of Alan Warboys’ brace in Bobby Collins first game in charge during a season which saw a chaotic City use three managers and be relegated. In total, City have beaten Spurs at home five times in the league, with three defeats (the last coming in Spurs’ last visit to the KC, when Jermain Defoe scored a stunning hat-trick) and two draws.
Thanks to Paul Robinson and Christine Andrew for their help.