The Class of 1930 – FA Cup semi-finalists

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Myhill, Ricketts, Turner, Brown, Dawson, Garcia, Ashbee, Hughes, Barmby, Windass, Campbell, Fagan, Folan, Marney.

The men named above are history makers, as you know, being the 14 heroes who represented Hull City AFC at Wembley for the first time, changing the course of the club forever by taking us into the Premier League. They are trailblazers, woven into the fabric of our club and etched into every self-respecting City fan’s memory (even if it does require having to recall the insipid, megalithic twuntitude of Dean Marney). On Sunday 13th April, the names of at least 11 men will join the 14 on the played at Wembley for Hull City AFC roll call, they will also join the 13 that were part of another City first…

Gibson, Goldsmith, Bell, Walsh, Childs, Gowdy, Alexander, Starling, Mills, Howieson, Duncan, Bleakley, Cartwright.

Any guesses? There are no local heroes crowning an interminable career in one mesmeric, fairytale moment here. These gentlemen, many long since forgotten, will have new company on 13th April on the list of men to have played for Hull City AFC in a FA Cup semi-final. 

Between them, the 13 men accumulated over two thousand appearances for the black and amber and the back stories and character of them is worth exploring. All played amateur football before entering the professional game and over half of them hailed from a coal mining background, while others served in the armed forces during the First World War. One went on to serve in the Second World War and another prompted a change in the laws of association football.

Since City (abetted by Lee Cattermole) shredded Sunderland to pieces a few weeks ago, the 84 year gap since the club last played in an FA Cup semi-final has been highlighted many times by the media. City were lodged in the lower part of mid-table in Division Two at the time, and were narrowly pipped  by Arsenal in a replay at Villa Park after letting a two goal lead slip in the first game at Elland Road. The Tigers earned a crack at Arsenal with a cup run which saw them twice beat Division One opposition, besting Manchester City and Newcastle, so why isn’t this side more widely acknowledged?

The play-off winners have a lasting legacy, a quasi-immortality that comes from written club history as well as being lauded in the oral history to be passed from generation to generation, beginning with the 38,000 Hullensians present at Wembley. Then there is a plethora of media content, Deano’s sumptuously volleyed goal is just a mouse click on YouTube away after all.

In comparison, the legacy of the 1930 team is not readily apparent, recorded in hardcopy and hard to find periodicals of the time, in the odd photo and a few of minutes of grainy film. The Movietone footage of the Elland Road game appears to have been shot from atop a Giant Redwood somewhere near Guiseley and the replay doesn’t fair much better. Pathe did a better job with the sixth round win against Newcastle at Anlaby Road with touchline images of some haphazard Magpie defending, though it’s virtually impossible to pick out individual players. Indeed, given the lack of shirt numbers, the only identifiable outfield City player is captain Matt ‘Ginger’ Bell, afforded the luxury of a close up for the coin-toss pre-match.

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Like team-mates George ‘Geordie’ Maddison, Douglas ‘Dally’ Duncan and Bertie ‘Paddy’ Mills, Bell found himself often addressed by his sobriquet in the local press (I’d love for Sky to refer to Dean ‘Twunt’ Marney from this moment on if that’s possible?)

Like Ian Ashbee seven decades later, Bell was a talismanic captain for City and the heartbeat for the team. Returning from the Elland Road stalemate, the thousands of City fans who made the trip on train filled Paragon Station, eagerly waiting the chance to cheer their heroes, who’d been summoned to a post match meal at the Station Hotel.

Bell heard the hubbub and was moved to address the massed throng from the hotel’s balcony, making apologies for missing out on victory and thanking City fans for the warm welcome. This showed the measure of the man, though the Hull Daily Mail was quick to point out that he appeared only after finishing his meal. Bell’s record for City is still notable, with 393 league appearances and 423 in all competitions; he stands seventh in the club’s all-time appearance list.

Born to a mining family in West Hartlepool, his stocky frame, square jaw and fiery hair were oft noted as he marshalled City’s backs for 12 years starting in 1919. His one goal for City, scored against Bradford, seems like an aberration given his hunger for clean sheets and defensive stinginess. His performances were immaculate until his transfer to Nottingham Forest in 1931. City were relegated at the end of 1929/30 season, and Bell’s still abundant talents were coveted by higher league suitors and the club didn’t stand in his way of a chance to make it to Division One. It didn’t work out that way at Forest though, so Bell traded Division Two mediocrity for football in Holland, taking on the 12 labours of Heracles FC, or at least two of them as both player and coach. He returned to and settled in Hull post-football, however.

The other City appearance triple centurion among the 13 was the 36 year old Tom Bleakley, who replaced the injured half back James Walsh for the replay at Villa Park. The elder statesman of the City team was in the final season of his 12 year stint as a Tiger, having made his first appearances during in wartime after leaving the armed forces. Observers of the time noted his consistency in a physically demanding defensive position despite a wiry, 5’6” frame. Given that Bleakley had been his families’ bread winner from age 16, working in the mines surrounding the Lancashire town of Little Hulton after the premature death of his father, snuffing out robust centre forwards or crafty inside rights must’ve been relatively easy.

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Goalkeeper Fred Gibson could have considered himself unlucky to find himself up against another City legend in George ‘Geordie’ Maddison after joining The Tigers from Dinnington Colliery in 1927. Maddison had established himself as No 1 in 1924, taking over from Billy Mercer and impressing fans with his imposing presence and fantastic decision making, but a broken collarbone bestowed netminding duties on Gibson for the bulk of the season and Gibson played in every game of the cup run, earning the man of the match votes for displays against Manchester City and Newcastle. Despite the plaudits, he would share the green ‘keeper jersey once Maddison had fully recovered until the club, ever on the cusp of a financial crisis, sold Gibson to Middlesbrough in 1932 after 110 appearances for City.

Gibson was considered the equal of his rival by those that saw both men play; however, Maddison’s decision making and his unusual ability to sweep up chances behind his back line, often taking the ball out to set up attacks, perhaps gave him the edge. If you’re struggling to imagine that, think of Rene Higuita minus the Charles I hair, cocaine smuggling, kidnapping, plastic surgery and scorpion kicking tomfoolery and you’ll be just about there.

While Bell was a fixture at left full back position, the back 3 unit was completed by George Goldsmith on the right, and Arthur Childs taking the central role. Goldsmith was one of a number of Bill McCracken’s signings from the north east, the manager’s ties to the region still strong after his ground breaking spell at Newcastle. McCracken drilled City’s defence in utilising the offside trap and Goldsmith was reputedly the smartest exponent of this at the time.

He lacked the physicality of Bell but made up for it with quick feet and good technique and complimented the City skipper to the extent the recently departed Jock Gibson, whose partnership with Bell over 179 games yielded over 50 clean sheets and only one conceding of four goals, wasn’t missed. Goldsmith helped City regain their Division Two status in 1932/33 before transferring to Spurs and Bolton, enjoying a remainder of his career at a higher level.

Arthur Childs played 84 games in all competitions for the club, scoring a healthy eight goals, including one on his debut. He was regarded as a very competent centre back, not afraid to surge forward with the ball on occasion and read the game well enough to support his full backs in deploying McCracken’s well drilled offside snare. Childs also played cricket for a formative Durham county team and upon retiring became a victualler.

He is, or at least was, one of the most notorious City players ever, having been sent off in the semi-final replay for kicking Arsenal’s Jack Lambert. According to Hull Daily Mail reporter ‘Veritas’ however, it was a harsh decision given the “rough and tumble” the Gunners had dished out in the first game, a 2-2 draw. Rough and indeed tumble. The dismissal meant Childs became the first man to be sent off in an FA Cup semi-final.

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Childs had received another notable dismissal two seasons previous at Middlesbrough, prompting a change in the laws of the game. Having cut the leg of a ‘Boro player, Childs’ boots were inspected by the referee, found to be unsuitable and he was told to leave the pitch – the exact details of why the boots were unsuitable haven’t been revealed although the possibility of them being slime green Nike Jizzmax or Crocs can probably be discounted. Childs returned after a few minutes with a different pair of boots; however, he wasn’t allowed to return having breached Law 12. The law was amended a few months later and offending players were allowed to return to the field having changed their footwear.

Jimmy Walsh started his career as a forward, but found himself converted to half back for the entire cup run up until Arsenal’s “rough and tumble” caught him. He picked up a muscle injury in the second half of the semi-final that ruled him out of the replay. Stockport born, his formative years were spent at Liverpool, notching up a few goals there and gaining an invite to join the FA Tour of Australia in 1925. The goals had started to dry up prior to joining City and McCracken decided to utilise his all round game as a right half with moderate success, although he left the club in 1931 and became a hot potato that Colwyn Bay and Crewe passed between themselves for the next four years before his retirement. Poor lad.

Half back William Gowdy joined City from Ards on the eve of the 1929/30 season. He was noted for his busy and energetic play and a willingness to get involved with building attacks from the back. His league career with City lasted 18 months with 76 appearances and a solitary goal before he transferred to Sheffield Wednesday. The latter part of Gowdy’s career was a nomadic existence, taking in 6 clubs in 5 years including one of the more bizarre transfers in football history; Hibernian to Goole. At the age of 37, he briefly returned to Hull to play for City in three games in the Northern Regional League in which the club briefly took part during World War 2.

The attacking ‘M’ of the City team for the semi-final was made up of Stan Alexander, Ronnie Starling, Bertie ‘Paddy’ Mills, Jimmy Howieson and Douglas ‘Dally’ Duncan. Philip Cartwright replaced the injured Alexander for the replay, playing in his only game of the Cup run. A winger, Cartwright had the briefest City career of of all the semi-finalists. He was signed as a squad player from Bradford Park Avenue, with whom he won the Division 3 North Title, yet only injuries to the talented Billy Taylor opened the door to the first team for him. He left at the end of the season to find further first time opportunities and another Division 3 North championship with Lincoln.

Inside forwards Starling and Howieson pulled the strings for the attacking unit. Baby faced Starling was like so many of McCracken’s signings; a north easterner steeped in a colliery background. He joined as a 16 year old and worked in the clubs offices while playing for the reserves as an amateur. After signing professional terms at 18, he broke into the first team with mixed results. In 1929/30, the Geordie was starting to fulfil his potential, adding goals to his creative abilities, including one in the 3-1 victory over Blackpool in the 4th Round. His displays during the cup run coupled with City’s relegation and financial problems prompted his sale to Newcastle for a debt soothing £4,000. He made no impact and was quickly superseded by new signings although a move back to Yorkshire with Sheffield Wednesday saw him gain an England cap and captain Wednesday to an FA Cup win in 1935. After a spell with Aston Villa saw an additional England cap he retired to Sheffield and ran a newsagent in sight of Hillsborough.

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Howieson scored twice in the cup run; his first was the solitary goal that settled the sixth round replay against Newcastle at Anlaby Road, as City kicked off for the second half. A left footed drive from an adjacent postcode nearly took the Newcastle netman with it as it scudded into the top corner. His second goal opened the scoring in the semi-final; a 30 yard lob that Arsenal’s ‘keeper Lewis misjudged and it dropped in just underneath the crossbar. Fortunate perhaps, but to chip the ball that length was quite an achievement with a ball heavier than dark matter.

The national press claimed the goal to be a “gigantic fluke” although Howieson robustly claimed he meant it in the Hull Daily Mail the following day,  saying he “saw the Arsenal goalkeeper directed forward by their captain so I thought I’d hit the skyscraper”. A Scottish international by the time he’d arrived at Anlaby Road, Howieson was regarded as a shrewd player and was respected and canny enough to fill in for the injured Bell as left back and captain for the magnificent 2-1 win at Manchester City in the fifth Round. It seems remarkable that despite this obvious respect and reputation, Howieson spent just two years at City, his time at the club split into two spells sandwiching an aborted decision to uproot to America and play in the inaugural American Soccer League. While his trip to the States didn’t work out as planned, it was surely worth the effort and expense for the Howieson to be able to put the fantastically named ‘New Bedford Whalers’ on his CV.

Arguably the most skilful member of the City forward line, Douglas Duncan was the other City scorer in the semi-final despite having what was described in the press as a “leisurely display”, perhaps living up to his Dally nickname a little too much. The other criticism of Duncan’s performance was that it “didn’t match that of previous ties” and there definitely could be some truth in that, Duncan was electrifying earlier in the Cup run. He scored against Plymouth in the third Round and then toyed, teased and terrified the right side of defences as he had been since his arrival in 1928 as a 18 year old triallist.

Despite the relegation of the club at the end of 1929/30, Duncan’s talents remained with City for another two seasons before further financial pressure forced a cut price sale to Derby for £2,000. He stayed at Derby for 14 years, earning 14 call ups for Scotland and capping off his career by winning the Cup in 1946 alongside Raich Carter. His didn’t fare as well with Cup finals during his spell in management though, losing with Luton and Blackburn in 1959 and 1960 respectively.

Without Stan Alexander, the cup run would never have happened and in fact City could’ve easily been on the unpleasant end of a giant killing at Plymouth who were leading Division Three (South) at the time. In a 4-3 scoreline, Alexander’s hat-trick was crucial and he followed this up with another against Blackpool in the fourth round and the equaliser in the sixth round draw at St James’ Park against Newcastle. It’s unfortunate that a knock he picked up early in the semi-final impaired his performance and also ruled him out of the replay.

A native of Percy Main in Tyneside, Alexander came to City’s attention as a goalscoring amateur with his hometown team and was another of the 1930 side that found himself literally at a coalface in his early adulthood. Despite his speed and calm finishing, he wasn’t immediately sold to help balance the books after relegation and was City’s top scorer in the league in 1930/31 with 24 goals. He then moved onto Bradford, Millwall, Tottenham and Accrington before retirement, and after the Second World War he coached at City.

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Though the class of 1930 didn’t contain a local hero who crowned a lengthy career with a fairytale moment as Deano did in 2008, it did contain a local hero who had, like Windass, returned to the club. That man was Paddy Mills. Had the footballing Gods wanted to shine on City, Mills would’ve scored the winner in the semi-final and/or scored the goal to keep them up. Alas it wasn’t to be, though Mills is very much worth the standing of a City icon. He was the first man to score 100 league goals for Hull City AFC – a club record that stood for over 30 years until finally broken by Chris Chilton. The son of a soldier, he was born in India but grew up in Barton with 6 brothers after his father had retired. Mills signed for City in 1920 and took over the goalscoring mantle left by Sam Stevens who’d left for Notts County that summer. County also took note of Mills’ powerful and predatory forward play after 5 seasons of heavy scoring and paid £3,500 for his services.

He never quite hit it off at Meadow Lane, relegation from Division One in his first season was probably a contributory factor. Unfortunately for him a move to Birmingham didn’t work out either so in December 1929 he returned to Anlaby Road. His first goal back in Black and Amber was a headed equaliser in front of 61,574 at Maine Road in the fifth round. He wasn’t as prolific in his first spell at the club although his did still register score 23 goals over the next two seasons before in the Division Three (N) championship winning season of 1932/33, dropped back down the pitch to wing half, utilising his experience and toughness.

According to Douglas Lamming’s excellent Who’s Who of Hull City 1904-1984, Mills’ toughness was partly accountable for his nickname as he was said to have ‘fought like a paddy’ in a playground fight. Ahem. A fighting Irishman he wasn’t but he was a canny footballer and his move to wing half allowed the next City goalscoring legend to emerge as Bill McNaughton scored a club record 41 goals in 41 league games that season. After retirement he returned to the south bank to become a works policeman at Scunthorpe’s steel plant, his final connection with Hull coming in 2010 when his great nephew Nigel Pearson took over at The Circle.

The law of ‘Typical City’ has been rued countless times for our uncanny knack to snatch defeat from the jaws of triumph and to let you down just when you have an ounce of hope. The Typical City benchmark was set at a stratospheric level in 1930. For a team to make such an incredible, positive landmark and then be relegated for the first time in the club’s history the same season is impressive. To be relegated on goal average on the last day of the season after having games in hand over your rivals is sensational.

Going down wasn’t on the cards for a lot of the season; however, the intensity of the lengthy Cup run on a small squad led to several long term injuries that robbed City of key personnel, the team feeling sorry for itself after being so close to an FA Cup final must’ve also cut pretty deep. After the semi-final replay they only picked up seven of a potential 22 points, the nadir being a 7-1 violation at West Brom’s hands, and gradually the team was broken up over the next few years through retirements or transfers. A sad end to a unique body of men.

James Richardson

10 replies
  1. Jon Tennison
    Jon Tennison says:

    Sounds like Arsenal kicked us off the park. Same old Arsenal – always cheating. Brilliant article – didn’t realise old sourface Nige had a family link to City

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  1. Amber Nectar says:

    […] being a stack of mundane ones. The two have little historic relevance to one another, save for the FA Cup semi-final of 1930, which has been revisited a lot lately. City lost it after a replay. That was only the fourth ever […]

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