The Soul of Hull City #22: City blow chance of top flight promotion, 1910.

Depths of despair


Oldham Athletic. When they’re not stealing Jobbo for half his true worth, or poaching our best schoolboy players of the late 80s and early 90s, or gaining an unfair advantage on a plastic pitch, or persuading us to overpay for Andy Holt, then they are pipping us to promotion to the top-flight of English football 100 years ago. Bastards.

1910 was when we managed to mess up the best chance we’d had of promotion to what was then known as Division One, and were to get for another 98 years. City’s team back then doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like the great post-war teams but that’s more to do with the length of time that has passed than it is the quality of the players. You’ve all probably heard of EDG ‘Gordon’ Wright. Some of you may even believe that he was our first and only England international (he wasn’t; official FA records have him down as a Cambridge University player, unfortunately). But there was more to this team than the Hymers College schoolmaster. Manager Ambrose Langley seemed to want to field teams with as few surnames as possible, meaning the defence and midfield was based around the Browell brothers, George and Albert, while up front the goals were largely supplied and scored by ‘the three Smiths’, Joe (five goals), Jack (32 in 35 games) and Wallace (17). Davy and Dan Gordon were also crucial members of the squad. And in addition to Gordon Wright’s impeccable wing play, City’s forward line was usually completed by Arthur Temple – who contributed 16 goals that season – or occasionally the highly rated Alf Toward, who Langley deemed surplus to requirements and sold to Oldham for £350 mid-season.

City didn’t seem to miss Toward – who had contributed little that season anyway. Going into the final game of the season in second place, City needed to win at Oldham, who were two points behind but with a better goal average, which was how teams on level points were separated, or draw and hope that third-placed Derby didn’t win. As City went into the game unbeaten in 12 games, 11 of which were wins, top-flight football was City’s to lose. And lose it they did.

Derby did their bit, only managing to draw against West Brom, but City were blown away by Oldham. Missing the influential Jack McQuillan, City had no answer to the Latics attacking football. The home side went ahead on 18 minutes, and were two up on 25 minutes when – you guessed it – Alf Toward scored from what looked like an offside position. The third in the 80th minute compounded the agony. Oldham – who had spent much of the early part of the season propping up the Second Division – were promoted. City were left vowing to make amends the following season. And the season after, and the season after, and the season after…

And that was it. Of course we finished sixth in Division Two in 1986 – the year before the play-offs came into being –but until 2008 this was the nearest City had come to experiencing the upper chamber of the football league. It can only be speculated what might have happened had we won that day. Would we have gone on to greater things, build on the success and flirt with greatness in the way in which teams from similar-sized cities and towns with similar resources to City managed? Or would we have come straight back down and endured a very similar path to the one we were to tread anyway?

One thing we can be sure of, however, is that we wouldn’t have got to witness the too-good-to-be-described-in-words events of May 2008. Sure, promotion would have been incredible even if it hadn’t been our first time in the top flight, but knowing that we were prising a 104-year-old monkey off our back made the celebrations all the more elating and tear-inducing. So while our great-great grandfathers missed out on the opportunity to sup celebratory halves of milk stout down Canal Street, them being denied their bit of history made the bottles of over-priced piss that we got hammered on on the streets of Camden and Soho taste all the sweeter.

8 replies
  1. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    Some may not believe, but a bit before my time. As to Jobbo, never rated him as highly as some, and a bit surprised when England was mentioned. Like several other sales over the years, was annoyed when he was sold…and to Oldham, for heaven’s sake! Guess we weren’t ambitious enough at times…
    As to eventual PL promotion, just couldn’t help thinking of those who’d gone before, and were no longer there to see it…

  2. John from Brid
    John from Brid says:

    My dad was a regular at Boothfery Park in the fifties sixties and seventies, not so much in later years. He had given up on City by the early 2000s, and whenever I talked to him about City he said he didn’t know why I was interested in them, they always let you down was one of his regular comments. He died 2003, i am sure he would have been amazed at events in 2008.

  3. Bill Carson
    Bill Carson says:

    I’d watched 32 years of (in the main) City failure, financial meltdown, hoof Terry Dolan and enduring rust drifting down from the roof, before 2008.
    I still feel the emotion of “that day”. I remember Phil Brown telling me at Barnsley away in 2008 that we were going up. I remember the ecstacy of thrashing Watford to get to Wembley. Richard Garcias brilliant goal. I also wish friends and family who had passed away, had lived to experience “that day”. Phil Brown will forever be a legend, despite his singing :)

  4. And yet....
    And yet.... says:

    “Of course we finished sixth in Division Two in 1986 – the year before the play-offs came into being –but until 2008 this was the nearest City had come to experiencing the upper chamber of the football league.”

    Errr….what about 1970/1? Just asking, like.

  5. Rottenborough
    Rottenborough says:

    24th May 2008 was indeed a day without precedent. I have never seen so many grown men, and women, cry at a sporting event. Surreal, draining, unbelievable, bloody fantastic.

    But……as we left the stadium, there was almost silence in the crowd, as though we were stunned that the holy grail sought for so long had not actually happened at all and we had dreamt the whole thing. Even during the game it was as though I wasn’t actually there, and that we were all involved in some sort of computerised famtasy computer game. This sense of dreamlike existence was for me reinforced by the almost complete lack of animation, and therefore support, in the part of Wembley that I was sitting – high up in the gods to the left of our goal in the first half. Almost no one sang or stood – I found it hard to believe.

    The day was redeemed for me not just by promotion and the sheer release of ecstasy that produced, but by little and not so little things. Leaving the tube station at Wembley before the game I was behind two elderly but very fit and tanned men, probably in their late 70s/early 80s. I told them I had waited 50 years for,this day but they had waited much longer. They agreed, and added they had travelled back from Canada just for the game.

    I went to the game with my eldest son, whose first love is not Hull City, but he told me later it was one of the best days of his life.

    Afterwards, we went to The Lamb in Lambs Conduit St for some fine pints of Youngs and decent grub. Many strangers came up and congratulated us. They were genuinely pleased u”ull had won.

    On the train back home my phone was red hot but I could hardly speak because I had shouted myself hoarse.

    Whatever happens now, whoever owns the club, that day will never be surpassed.

    Me and my lad had one of the best days of our lives.

    THAT is what football is all about. It doesn’t really matter whether we ever get promotion again ( I do sometimes tell small fibs ). The dream had been achieved and no one will ever be able to take that away.

    I just wish that sense of joy unconfined had led to a greater sense of togetherness than it did.

    Am I asking too much?

    I,don’t think I am.

    With or without you know who I want that togetherness back, NOW.

  6. Bill Carson
    Bill Carson says:

    Rottenborough – nice post.
    You are right about the eerie quietness after the game and in not really feeling there during the game. It was a surreal experience.
    I agree that, that day, following so soon after the delirium of thrashing Watford to get to Wembley was enough for us all to be eternally happy.
    The FA Cup (for me) was equally surreal and superb. We didn’t win but we gave it everything and came so close. We won new fans from all around the World that day.
    Who’d have thought it back in 81′, 91′ or even 2001?

Comments are closed.