As chairmen and owners go, Hull City know what it’s like to see both compassion and spite rule the roost in the boardroom. So many of the recent besuited figureheads have either emerged as icons worthy of immortalisation or villains worthy of incineration. Harold Needler’s commitment to the Tigers was long, unflinching, loyal and active to the very end – literally so, given that he was in control of the club until the day he died.
Needler bought the club when it was dead, gave it the new home that the previous regime had only seen half completed prior to the war dissolving any short term hope of a future, sorted out the identity as far as team colours were concerned (despite an initial period in an unattractive blue kit while awaiting the materials ordered) and appointed Major Frank Buckley as manager after initially using him as a go-between in a futile attempt to attract Stan Cullis from Wolves.
The 30 years that followed were sometimes eventful and regularly interesting. Needler’s natural character cut that of a benevolent and forward-thinking chairman, the type who would make the great Raich Carter the first player-manager of the type commonplace today and put his faith and confidence into the people who knew their job, offering Cliff Britton a ten-year contract to develop the club to the extent that it would be ready for the top flight of English football.
He transferred £200,000 of his profits from sale of his construction company into the club in 1963 that funded a redevelopment of Boothferry Park and allowed Britton to purchase good players, most notably Ken Wagstaff. The ultimate ambition to reach the top tier didn’t quite happen, although the Tigers came mightily close in 1971 under youthful player-manager Terry Neill, one of many individuals associated with the Needler area that ferociously promote the man’s legacy to this day.
Needler’s sudden death in the summer of 1975 heralded a decline in the club’s fortunes, with his unsympathetic, undynamic son Christopher taking over for two years and maintaining a notorious family stranglehold on the club for many dark years afterwards. It is testament to the impact and stature of Harold Needler that he is still referred to reverentially by those who worked with him and supported the club during his tenure, even though the surname dually represents, thanks to his son, periods of disappointment, greed and profligacy.