It wasn’t so long ago that international breaks didn’t exist at City, as we were so low in the divisions that no self-respecting, vaguely ambitious country would want any of our players. The odd Welsh goalkeeper aside, we were replete with players and our fixtures weren’t postponed. But then it changed. Here are five of the more interesting City alumni who regularly journeyed round the world to sing their national anthem…
1: The Reggae Boyz
City’s first proper foray into football exotica, courtesy of the surprising but entirely galvanising acquisition of two of Jamaica’s 1998 World Cup squad, making City fans understand exactly how Spurs supporters had felt 20 years earlier when Ardiles and Villa pitched up.
Jamaica hadn’t progressed beyond the group stages in France but had entertained greatly, and Theodore Whitmore especially looked like rather extraordinary a talent to be bumbling around in England’s basement division when he signed, alongside Ian Goodison, in 1999. His creativity in midfield and Goodison’s composure in defence were rare treats at a time when City, improving vastly from the worst of bad days earlier in the decade, were still trying to find enough self-belief to return to higher footballing plains.
Though it was Warren Joyce who signed them, they became most associated with Brian Little, at City and beyond, as after his sacking in 2002 he took both of them to Tranmere, where Goodison ended up staying for ten years. Both had their careers chequered by off-field problems – Whitmore’s trial and acquittal over a car accident that killed a Jamaica team-mate, Steve Malcolm; Goodison over unfounded match-fixing allegations – but their presence in the City team felt decidedly less square-pegged as time wore on, and they became popular and valuable team players, as well as excellent individual performers who could lord it over the rest of the division. Crucially, both were absent when City lost in the 2001 play-offs to Leyton Orient.
They won 225 caps for Jamaica between them, which tells pretty much its own story about what their country thought of them, while Whitmore went on to coach the national side for four years after numerous spells as an interim manager. Bizarrely, it was Whitmore, of all people, who ended Goodison’s international career at the age of 39 when his old mate didn’t turn up for pre-tournament training prior to the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
2: Julian Johnsson
He may be the only Faroe Islands international any of us could name, and not just because he spent a season at Hull City in 2001/2. Johnsson, a well-built midfielder, won 62 caps for his country and is among their top goalscorers, a feat one would usually suppose is impressive for a midfielder until one recalls the whipping-boy status of the Faroes.
He was also skipper of his national side when he signed for Brian Little and was a mainstay in City’s midfield throughout a frustrating season in the bottom tier, when the promise of the play-off near-miss of the previous year was not built upon, leading to Little’s dismissal. There wasn’t time for any successor to make a decision on Johnsson’s future as his wife did that for him, citing chronic homesickness.
They returned to the Faroes afterwards, and Johnsson pursued his career in more familiar climes, though he also played in Iceland and, in a career that continues even after turning 40 this year, now plies his trade in the Danish league.
Johnsson’s time with the Tigers was brief, but it was more than a cameo. He was one of the first names on Little’s teamsheet and scored six goals too, with a consistency to his game even in an inconsistent season that allows the fans to think fondly of him. It may not surprise you to know that no more Faroe Islanders have since represented the club.
3: Terry Neill
Initially, we vowed to keep the home nations out of this. What’s exotic about Dave Roberts or Mick Gilhooley, after all? But it’s impossible to ignore Neill, something which the infamously bullish man himself would agree with today. WJT Neill, the only person this author has heard of who is known by their third name, was a regular for Northern Ireland throughout his Arsenal heyday in the 1960s and was captain of his country by 1968.
Jaundice was the reason for this composed centre back’s slow decline at the end of the 60s; he lost his place for club and country while in recovery and, at Highbury at least, he was unable to get it back, missing the 1969 League Cup final even though some of the squad had caught the flu. His arrival as player-manager at Boothferry Park in 1970, at the age of just 28, did at least revive his international career, meaning that City’s manager was still playing international football, as well as club football. He was then asked to manage Northern Ireland too. It felt like a lot to take on, but Neill did so nonetheless.
The early 70s coincided with the decline of George Best, and so Northern Ireland became largely characterless as a team but Neill at least provided a moment to savour when he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over England at Wembley in the Home Internationals. It was only the second goal of his Northern Ireland career; there would be no more. He made his 59th and final appearance a few days short of a year later and retired on the spot from all forms of football. His 15 appearances while on City’s books made him the club’s most capped player until 1995, when he was equalled by countryman Alan Fettis. He was eventually usurped by Theodore Whitmore in 2000.
As player-manager of both club and country from 1971 to 1973, Neill achieved something which it is hard to imagine being equalled by anyone else within a major footballing nation, and his status – and ego – even brought a Northern Ireland game to Boothferry Park in 1972, giving Best a run-out under the free-standing floodlights in a 1-1 draw with Spain. A month after Bloody Sunday, Northern Ireland was deemed too dangerous at the time for such a big game so 20,000 people, the vast majority from Hull, got the chance to see a European Championship qualifier on their doorstep.
That was the kind of thing Neill could wangle – you can imagine him going to the head of the IFA and saying Harold Needler had approved, then going to Big H himself and saying the IFA thought it was a really good idea. A good player and a good manager Neill may have been, but it seems his vanity and spirit was what most made the man.
4: Jamie Wood
Substitute. That’s the word most associate with Wood, a former Manchester United trainee who counts 32 introductions from the bench from his 47 league appearances for the Tigers, and that doesn’t take into account the number of times he was benched and never got on. Suffice to say, nobody thought he was any good.
Save, that is, for the Cayman Islands Football Association, who decided to bend the rules on eligibility by recruiting British players with no caps for another nation to play for their national side as a technical resident, due to the Islands’ status as a territory of the UK. Salford-born Wood, whose hopes of usurping Alan Shearer and Michael Owen in the England team were now a little slim, took up this opportunity. City fans reacted with incredulity and an awful lot of laughter, as nobody thought he was any good.
After two games – a friendly in October 1999 against Jamaica (featuring Ian Goodison), which ended in a 4-1 defeat, and a 1-0 defeat to the same opponent (now with Theodore Whitmore too) three months later, Wood’s fledgling international career was over. Kinder souls would say that this was due to FIFA’s quick closure of the loophole. The less charitable would say it ended because it turned out nobody within the Cayman Islands Football Association thought he was any good.
5: Richard Garcia
City’s most celebrated international, even if some supporters unjustly bemoaned the squeaky Aussie’s dogged and professional four years with the club. Garcia, a skilful and natural footballer, became City’s first World Cup player when he was picked by Australia to go to the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
It had been a long time coming, and even as the competition neared it began to look like black and amber involvement on the globe’s biggest single sporting stage would be scuppered again, as our herd of Irishmen were denied in the play-offs by Thierry Henry’s rogue main gauche and Seyi Olofinjana and Kamel Ghilas were omitted at the last knockings from the final 23s of their national teams, while Jozy Altidore’s shoo-in status with the USA led to disagreements about whether he was our player or not at the time of the finals (as a loanee, he never was, and he’d gone back to his parent club by the time of the tournament anyway).
Garcia had been ignored by Australia during a fine Championship season in 2007/8, and as is often the case, his national FA decided he was worth a look only once City had been promoted, even before he had played any Premier League matches. But once in, he remained a fixture and even though life with City was hard over those two top tier seasons, he was in the Socceroos’ starting XI against Germany. It was a genuinely proud moment for every City fan. Despite a 4-0 defeat, he even played well.
A sub appearance against Serbia followed before elimination, but finally a massive footballing monkey was off City’s back. Less than four years later, Nikica Jelavić signed for City to specifically guarantee himself a place in Croatia’s squad for the summer tournament in Brazil, showing how much further we had come.
In 2012, Garcia left City and returned to his homeland. However far away he remains from Hull, his name will always be on the roll of honour, never to be removed. We should be grateful that our first World Cup representative was someone professional, likeable and uncontroversial. After all, imagine if Jimmy Bullard had stayed fit…