It was hardly the giant-killing of the century, but it is a rare thing nevertheless for Hull City to beat opponents from a higher division in a competitive game. The win over Swansea City in the League Cup earlier this week adds itself to a semi-exclusive list of games when the Tigers have punched above their weight and succeeded. We’ve managed to recap a whole quintet of them for you. Take a look…
1: 1930, Manchester City
Until two seasons ago, the year of 1930 was synonymous with Hull City. Then, in the next breath, it was declared irrelevant. The FA Cup run of 2014 switched the spotlight on the heroes of 84 years earlier when Steve Bruce’s men matched them in making the semi-finals, before it was turned off again, the power disconnected, when the modern day side went one step further and reached the final.
This isn’t some misty-eyed, hindsight-strewn review now, but even in only making the semis, it has to be said that the 1930 side’s achievements were more impressive, simply by dint of them being not just a Second Division side, but a struggling Second Division side. It’s not just in the days of HD telly and squads of 30-odd players that Cup runs can be viewed a distraction, as while the ‘tween-the-wars City would never have thought of the phrase in the first place, they were certainly a dishevelled, shattered team by the time their exit in the last four and relegation to the regionalised Third were confirmed. Bruce’s men were a top tier team, comfortably placed, had just one replay in the run, and only played one equivalent side from their division prior to the final.
But still, this is about good things done against bigger teams, and in the 1930 adventure, there were actually two to enjoy. The quarter final win over Newcastle after a replay was obviously worthy, but we’ve picked out the Manchester City game in the fifth round for some very simple, plain, understandable reasons: the game was at Maine Road, the home side were top three all season, City skipper Matt “Ginger” Bell was injured and the Tigers went a goal down early on. But the tie was won in 90 minutes thanks to Paddy Mills’ equaliser before the break and a Billy Taylor winner in the second half. It wasn’t just the surprise that came with such a victory; it was the unfussy way City went about it.
If you’ve never read the story of the 1930 team, you really should. It’s here.
2: 2007, Wigan Athletic
Plenty of respect was attained by the Latics for their rise to the top tier and fairly long stay there, even though for many clubs with longer histories but less experience of the upper end of football, the respect was proffered with strongly clenched teeth. There was something ever so unclean, dispiriting, about Wigan in the Premier League, which was both to its credit and detriment, so when City dumped them out of the 2007/08 League Cup in the second round, the thrill of beating a top tier side didn’t quite feel as we believed it should.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable night for City at the-then JJB, poignant and significant in equal measure. In the Wigan team was striker Caleb Folan, whose 90s loan at City while a kid at Leeds had proved something of a non-event, but who had since scored enough for Chesterfield to make Wigan take an expensive punt on him. The lanky, saturnine striker hadn’t quite cut it at the top and so was now in what every Premier League squad had by this stage – a League Cup XI – but rumours had circulated that City were keen on him, with a first ever £1m layout mentioned.
Folan didn’t play especially well but at the other end, there was what became a fitting crescendo to the wonderful Hull City career of Stuart Elliott. On the half hour, a mishit high pass across the Wigan back line was anticipated by the Ulsterman and, in a way somehow only he could, he took it with an instant, leaping, sideways-on volley, the ball looping incongruously over Mike Pollitt and into the net.
It was the only goal of the game, and became City’s first win over top flight opposition for 25 seasons. It was also Elliott’s last goal for City, as Phil Brown phased him out of contention gradually over the coming months – his final game for the club, New Years Day 2008 at Stoke, was also a game in which Folan scored for City. It felt somehow fitting that Elliott’s last strike of so many in City colours would be arguably his most spectacular – and definitely against the toughest opponents. Even if those opponents were Wigan.
3: 1998, Luton Town
Gather round young urchins, and let us tell you of a time when Luton Town were in higher divisions than Hull City. No, don’t run away, we do not speak with forked tongue here. The Hatters were a top tier side in the 1980s and early 1990s, even winning the League Cup in 1988 (in one of Wembley’s best ever games) and even as fortunes dwindled after missing out on the Premier League riches by a single season, they were still better, flusher and more steeped in history than City by the time the two were drawn against each other in the second round of the 1998/99 FA Cup.
City fans packed out Kenilworth Road’s away end, notorious for being part of a row of terraced housing which meant that the urinals were essentially on the back of someone’s garden wall, and were rewarded in what had thus far been a catastrophic season. The ghastly Mark Hateley had just left and Warren Joyce was now player-manager, immediately sorting out the defence and instilling a good deal more character into a team that had an awful lot of work to do to stay in the league at all.
If top sides view the FA Cup as a distraction, then the bottom ones could be forgiven for viewing it as a holiday, given the patent difficulty in uncovering any relevance in a game in an unwinnable competition that won’t earn you league points while still potentially causing injury to your players. But while the City fans certainly jollied it up, anxious glances rendered unnecessary for one November afternoon, the players didn’t – they won brilliantly, thanks to the only senior goal of Ben Morley’s enveloped City career and a far post header by Rob Dewhurst, whose days had otherwise been numbered by Joyce’s new arrivals. The 2-1 win got City into the third round for the first time in seven seasons, where they were beaten by Aston Villa in the “1st v 92nd” tie.
4: 1966, Nottingham Forest
The saviour of Terry Heath’s career, this. The striker had won the League Cup with Leicester prior to joining City in the summer of 1964, but in four years at Boothferry Park could barely get a game. The reason, of course, was that Chris Chilton and Ken Wagstaff would, within a few months of Heath’s own debut, be united up front and would never be parted on the perfectly acceptable grounds that they could score goals as prolifically as any partnership at any level that had, or has, ever played the game. Heath couldn’t compete with that. Nobody could.
But as the all-conquering City side of 1965/66 found themselves progressing in the FA Cup as effortlessly as they were in the Third Division, a rare problem landed on Cliff Britton’s desk on the morning of the fourth round tie against mighty Nottingham Forest. Midfield anchor Chris Simpkin was injured, unable to play. Britton’s initial solution was to telephone long-serving square-peg player Les Collinson, but his missus matter-of-factly said her husband was in bed with ‘flu, and couldn’t report for the game. Running his finger down the reserve list further, he then rang utility player Len Sharpe, but he was out somewhere in the car, according to Mrs Sharpe.
In the absence of a like-for-like replacement for Simpkin, and unwilling to give a debut to promising teenage midfielder Malcolm Lord, the manager then had to shuffle the remaining side to fill the gap and create a different hole in the XI. Ken Houghton was therefore dropped back into midfield. So now, an inside forward was required – and Heath, who was about to leave his house to drive to the reserve match at Scunthorpe, answered the phone.
The rest is well-known; Heath scored both goals as City won 2-0 against a team two divisions above them. For a second successive game, the Tigers had won upwards, having done over Second Division side Southampton in the third round. Yet Heath’s reward for one of the finest footballing days in club history was nothing more than the sub’s shirt for the next league game, and he ended up playing no part in the subsequent ties against Southport and Chelsea as a heroic City eventually bowed out in the last eight.
By the time he left the club in 1968, Heath had scored more goals for City in the FA Cup than he had in the league – a less than august tally of three to one. But without two of those goals, City’s cup run of 1966 would have become as insignificant as most others, instead of being one of the grandest in the club’s history.
5: 1952, Manchester United
It’s only a churl that would point out that Manchester United weren’t the all-conquering, corporate megalomaniacs of football at the time City beat them in the third round of the FA Cup.
It’s only the fastidious who would claim that the achievement by Bob Jackson’s side is rendered less impressive by the fact that United hadn’t won the league for 41 years.
It’s only a pedant that would clarify that Manchester United were not a European force (as no European club competition had been established as yet).
It’s only the indecently dogmatic that would iterate that Matt Busby’s side were ageing and lacking in star quality when City won 2-0, at Old Trafford, with first half goals from Syd Gerrie and Ken Harrison.
Let them. After all, United were champions by the end of that season, while City finished it 18th in Division Two. No City side has won at Old Trafford since. Beating the champions elect is probably as good as it gets when you are placed in a lower section of the food chain.