NEWS: Former City midfielder Bobby Doyle dies

Bobby Doyle, who played for City in the mid-1980s briefly but memorably, has died at the age of 65. We extend our sympathies to his family. Here, we look back at his life and, within a very successful career, his time with the Tigers.

0_DoyleA craggy Scotsman in his early thirties joins your club after a dozen or more seasons turning out week after week in the middle ranking English leagues.  Your mind’s eye is immediately drawn to a giant moustache, a wild lifestyle and a no-nonsense attitude to the Laws of the Game.  You picture Victor Kasule.

But that wasn’t Bobby Doyle at all – he was in fact a tall, slim, handsome and artistic midfielder with a sublime touch and the ability to conduct the pattern of a game around him.  He orchestrated a season in the Second Division that saw the Tigers finish in the top six, twelve months after promotion from the third tier.  He scored goals.  He created goals.  He was a positive and calming influence.  He was a fine player in a thoroughly decent team led by the redoubtable Brian Horton.

Born in Dumbarton the day after Boxing Day in 1953, Bobby Doyle’s footballing career started at Barnsley in the early 1970s.  An ever present first teamer before he was 20, he remained a first choice on the teamsheet for several seasons at Oakwell and then at Peterborough (where he settled, after his retirement).  As the 80s began he had a short spell at Blackpool before impressing the Portsmouth faithful for five seasons with his flair, goals and ultra-reliability.  Only as he entered his thirties did Doyle drift out of the Pompey first team, and he joined Hull City in late August 1985 with over 550 senior appearances under his belt, mostly in the second tier of the English game.

After a couple of range-finding appearances, he hit his straps as autumn loomed and soon became the first name chalked up by Brian Horton on the dressing room blackboard.  He scored his first goal for City in a 4-0 cuffing of Carlisle in late September, when City were half way up the league table.  By the end of 1985 an uptick in form inspired by Doyle found the Tigers in the top eight, where they remained until May.

Perhaps Doyle’s finest hour came on New Year’s Day when he led the midfield charge against the club where he first cut his teeth, Barnsley.  Bobby was imperious that day, stroking the ball around the pitch with aplomb, hardly touched by Tyke hand or foot for the 90 minute duration.  Early in the second half Doyle received the ball in midfield, weaved his way past a couple of hapless defenders with the dip of a shoulder and sway of the hips, then looked up and stroked the ball over Barnsley keeper Clive Baker from 20 yards.  Baker shook his head in sorrow as the ball nestled in his net.  City rampaged to a 4-1 away victory.  Mauled by Bobby Doyle.

Rising as high as fifth by mid-March, a four match winless run in April saw City fall away to sixth, a dozen points behind an upwardly mobile Wimbledon side occupying the third (pre-play-offs) promotion berth.  Talismanic striker-cum-wrecking-ball Billy Whitehurst had left the Tigers in November, but it was Doyle’s assured presence in midfield that did much to maintain City’s momentum as they finish in what, at that time, was among the highest league positions attained in the club’s 82 year history.  Doyle was voted Player of the Season by a number of supporters’ organisations, and claimed the coveted Hull City Southern Supporters POTY shield.

Football gave.  And football took away.  In a July pre-season friendly at Doncaster an appalling lunge by anti-football exponent Dave Cusack broke Doyle’s leg.  Bobby needed seven months to recover and when he was gently restored to the first team, Horton’s Tigers were in the bottom six, not the top six.  After four starts it was clear that Doyle, now reticent and shorn of his imperious ball playing swagger, was not ready or able to continue his professional career.  After 628 senior appearances and 50 senior goals he retired in May 1987 at the age of 34.

Bobby returned to his Peterborough home and took work as a milk truck driver.  One can imagine that he swooshed milk around the dairy with style and accuracy every time he made a delivery.  In 1988 I had the great honour to meet the big man at his home, ostensibly to collect the Player of the Year shield but mainly to genuflect at the feet of the master.  He was a friendly, quiet and humble man who gave me half an hour of his time when five minutes would have been polite enough, as he talked about his time at City and what his post-football life was like.  Like the tit that I am, I couldn’t avert my gaze from his busted leg to see if it still showed signs of Cusack’s criminality.

Bobby Doyle died at the age of 65,  a less than decent innings for a kind and talented man who was central to a memorable and near-record-breaking season for the Tigers.  City fans who saw him play will be devastated to hear of his passing.

City fans who never saw him… well, trust me.  He was bloody marvellous.

Mike Scott

7 replies
  1. Rich Lusmore
    Rich Lusmore says:

    Such sad news and a wonderful tribute to the man. That game at Barnsley – “Bobby Doyle Day” – was the day that many of the Doyle doubters among the City support (and there were plenty) were finally won over. City were magnificent, although at one down and hard on the heels of a drubbing at Millwall it didn’t initially look that way! Funny how the memory plays tricks but whereas Mike’s description of the goal scored that day says the ball was lifted over the keeper, I’ve always gone with the version published in On Cloud 7 a few years after, in which Bobby nutmegged Baker? Perhaps I’ve read that account so many times I’ve come to see it differently?! Still, the goal was only the icing on the cake. His overall performance was sublime.

    The Hull Daily Mail hit the nail on the head the following summer when describing the prospect of a triumvirate of Askew, Parker and Doyle for 1986/87 as “one of the most feared midfield combinations in the country”. Then along came Cusack…

    RIP Bobby.

  2. Andy
    Andy says:

    “City fans who never saw him… well, trust me.  He was bloody marvellous.”

    This, a hundred times.

    RIP Bobby.

  3. Steve
    Steve says:

    Great piece on one of those unheralded City greats. The fact that, for one glorious season, he shone in a midfield containing Garry Parker and Billy Askew says all you need to know about the class of the man. With more presence up front that season, we would surely have gone up

  4. StanTheMan
    StanTheMan says:

    Bobby was an immense player who made a big impression in a short career at City. His wife works for the Company I work for at our head office in Peterborough. You couldn’t meet a nicer person. A lovely woman. I really feel for her and the rest of her family at this very sad time.

  5. Jim McGhee
    Jim McGhee says:

    A lovely tribute to my old school friend in Dumbarton. Called Robert, or Rab, in those school days in Scotalnd, it was clear Robert was going to be a very successful professional footballer. He was one of the most elegant, talented players I’d seen at schoolboy level. We went our different ways and I travelled far in my work as a journalist but always kept an eye on Bobby Doyle’s career. I was very sad to hear of his death. RIP

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