July 9, 2007

HERO – Andy Payton


“My God, that lad can score goals. No matter how he gets the ball, you just know he’ll put it in the net. He doesn’t miss.” – the dead-on opinion offered by one bloke at Boothferry Park in 1990.

I’ve never forgotten this, possibly as much for the fact that I was standing in the salubrity-free surroundings of the South Stand lavatories at the time, having a half-time slash. Payton had scored a one-on-one chance with exceptional ease and we were leading. I don’t know who this fellow was, or indeed who he was talking to. He may have been offering this opinion to every person within earshot as he filled the porcelain. But as I relieved myself at the adjacent urinal (we’ll leave the bogs behind shortly, promise) I found myself truly enlightened about Payton’s ability, beyond the basic teenage hero-worship. That day I started to learn the game properly, and I became Payton’s biggest fan.

Born in 1967, Payton was a confident Lancastrian who came to City at 16 as an apprentice. He had been on schoolboy forms at his local club, Burnley, who let him go in 1982 and would have to wait another 15 years before getting the chance to correct their error.

Brian Horton was soon talking up the potential of the fleet-footed striker and by 1987-88, after years in the youth teams, some eye-popping reserve displays and a couple of benchwarming experiences in the first team, he was itching for his full senior debut – and we were too.

Leeds United visited Boothferry Park three days into 1988, predictably showing the air of superiority and arrogance which their unclean supporters had cultivated meticulously since the Revie days, even though they weren’t greatly better off than City any more and, for all their fruitless play-off dramas and Cup semi-final heartbreaks the previous year (two campaigns which ended ideally if you were a member of the Tiger Nation), were notable only for their ordinariness. City had done the deed famously at Elland Road already thanks to Alex Dyer’s heel-toe magic and Garry Parker’s persistence, and so now Boothferry Park was set to host the return. Horton picked Payton, just 20, to start.

He scored after two minutes. Poacher’s effort it may have been, steering in a far post gimme as Leeds still decided whether they could be bothered, but it set the tone for a memorable 3-1 win (Richard Jobson’s 25 yard volley was one of the most gorgeous things a 14 year old could ever see from the Well) and for a new City star to be born, right there.

Horton used Payton sparingly for the rest of the season, with only one more goal coming his way as City’s form declined sharply, leading to the manager’s ludicrous dismissal in the April. But City fans had seen enough to make their decision on the lad with the cocky demeanour and victimisable mullet.

There was serious competition, of course. Horton’s strike pairing for most of that season was Frankie Bunn and Dyer, with Andy Saville adding a third option. Bunn was sold to Oldham midway through the season and Keith Edwards, barracked like hell over some domestic issue by City fans when Leeds visited, returned to the club. Before any new understandings could be forged, Horton got the boot and the summer allowed new manager Eddie Gray to rethink – and it involved Payton being used for pace rather than prolific scoring.

The lukewarm 1988/89 campaign, heightened only by the FA Cup run, saw Payton deployed in part as a right winger with strictly controlled licence to wander inside and form a three-pronged strikeforce with Edwards and initially Dyer, Saville or the outrageously ungifted Mackem lummox, John Moore, signed by Gray in the summer. The infamous sale of Tony Norman in order to bring in two seriously overweight chancers changed this sum-of-parts policy at Christmas, and now Payton had to look enviously from either the touchline or the bench as Billy Whitehurst became the most effective and forgivably graceless striker in the squad, all over again. He and Edwards got bagfuls of goals, including the two which beat Bradford in the fourth round of the FA Cup and petrified Liverpool prior to exit a month later in a match which made Barry Davies drool and caterwaul in the commentary box.

Payton’s saving grace as he aimed to claim the centre of the attack again was Gray’s willingness to flog the others in the same boat. Dyer, a strong and awkward figure with a fine first touch, went to Crystal Palace to become a perpetual 14th man, while Saville – nobody’s favourite City centre forward – went to Walsall on the same day that Gray signed Payton’s key to prosperity, Peter Swan. To the manager’s credit, he recognised Moore’s inability to play football almost as quickly as the City fans did, and got shut after fewer than a dozen starts and one goal (which was a deflection off the back of his head on a Ken De Mange shot anyway). Payton now had to cope solely with Edwards and Whitehurst, as Swan had been signed as a defender and Ian McParland, a player of terrific ability which he largely was to waste in a City shirt, was being deployed in midfield since his own arrival mid-season.

City had a torrid, victory-free ending to a season which had promised much, to the extent that Gray got an unexpected bullet in the summer. Colin Appleton’s ill-fated second spell at the club did at least allow Payton to play up front semi-regularly after he sold Edwards, a feat which was largely unnoticed as City couldn’t win a game. The change in the boardroom which saw Richard Chetham take the chairmanship and immediately give Appleton his cards proved to be Payton’s turning point. In came Stan Ternent, and he instantly sold off the ageing Whitehurst, told Swan he was more effective up top (until injury prompted the purchase of the super-greedy malingerer Dave Bamber), stuck McParland on the bench and gave Payton the free-scoring responsibility he craved. City stayed up, despite being without a victory until November (a run which ended in Ternent’s first game with Payton scoring as a sub in a memorable 3-2 win at Bradford) and the youthful, utterly self-believing striker ended up with 17 for the campaign, a goal for every two starts. Bamber got three…

Payton’s qualities – quick, cultured, utterly focussed – became as sure a sight as the ball nestling in the opposition net when he was in possession of it. He did his share of goal-hanging (which some pompous types see as a striking weakness that flouts the rules of purism; not that it ever prevented Edwards ever being described as anything but a supreme finisher) but his anticipation of a chance around the six-yard box was flawless and City gained points and plaudits from many a tight occasion thanks to their striker’s reading of the situation.

But it was the 1990-91 sunken season which, perversely, made Payton’s name nationally. City were a desperate team under the profligate Ternent and yet receiving surprisingly few sneers and brickbats outside its own support because of this extraordinary young goalscorer who was threatening to prove that one man could make a team. He scored all types of goals that season – poacher’s tap-ins, spot-picking first-timers, opportunist efforts from defensive panics or wayward, direction-free crosses (remember, Leigh Jenkinson was around), flying headers, one-on-ones of the type which Edwards had so loved and, just occasionally, efforts of amazing individualism, including one which started at his feet on the halfway line – a patch he only tended to frequent because the offside and kick-off rules meant he had to – and ended with four defenders decked and the net bulging at Boothferry Park.

Payton was earmarked as one of the nation’s burgeoning scoring talents, and with City not making progress as a club – the David Hirst inspired 5-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in which Payton scored an expert equaliser of brief hope wasn’t even the nadir (that was the 7-1 stuffing by West Ham a month later) – and starting to see the budgetary excesses of Ternent bounce back at them, it seemed inevitable that the young striker’s continued employment at Boothferry Park wouldn’t last. Ternent, who Payton publicly admired and defended for years afterwards, was sacked after a despicable New Year’s Day 5-1 defeat at Portsmouth. And you can guess who scored City’s goal.

After Chetham’s axe fell on Ternent, the arrival of Terry Dolan and a comparably mild revival couldn’t heal the wound enough to prevent the drop. Payton and the feted Swan played on and picked up 37 goals between them, and Payton’s personal statistic of 25 goals in a relegated and helpless team credited only Payton, his terrific partner and minder in Swan, and the gifted midfield creator Leigh Palin, not anyone who had coached them that season. City fell into the third flight for the first time in seven seasons and another rebuild was in the offing. Unless City could start 1991-92 well and risk the lack of funding on a promotion campaign, it was set in stone that a team befitting Payton’s abilities (despite rightful claims he was an individual rather than a true team player) would soon be tempting his club into a deal.

Swan was sold to Port Vale in the summer, with none of the cash being freed up for Dolan to recruit a worthy replacement, and City began 1991-92 not badly, but not especially well either. Promotion was certainly not going to happen. So, with the club in limbo and the outlook bleak, Payton’s time was abundantly up. He played ten times, scored eight goals, signed off with the winner in a 1-0 victory over Chester at Boothferry Park in November 1991 – his seventh League goal of the season (oddly, his other goal that season, against Blackburn in the League Cup, was one of only two goals he ever scored in Cup competitions for City) – and headed north as Middlesbrough stepped in with £750,000.

This was an adequate sum, even though seven figures shouldn’t have been an unrealistic demand. But again, not a penny went on the team as the debts began to throttle the club, and so we had lost City’s most natural goalscorer of modern times (I put him just a tiny fraction ahead of Edwards and a bit more in front of Dean Windass and Stuart Elliott, and he deserves extra plaudits because he never once scored goals in a City team which wasn’t in lumber) and had no proceeds from his sale to buy even a cheap, keen promising replacement. Only the merest consolation could come from a collectively-felt certainty that, like Parker and Jobson, and the likes of Brian Marwood and Stuart Pearson before them, we could at least watch a boy who was once ours rise up football’s greasy pole to the top echelon of the game. Payton was that good. But fortune wasn’t on either his side nor City’s once he left.

The decline of Payton after he left City wasn’t quite as sharp as that of City itself, who simply failed to cope without him and had no finances to get a proper replacement. The Dolan years had begun, with the likes of David Walmsley (local teenager of limited ability) and future bacon sarnie seller Darren France (burly type and ex-City junior brought in from non-league for free) expected to fill the yawning chasm left by Payton and Swan. They didn’t of course, and only when Dolan discovered by chance, a year and more after signing him, that his bolshie new midfielder who had been plucked from the non-league game at the start of the season could also put away a chance, did we have a striker. Dean Windass and his tenure as City’s biggest hope within a decade of devastation and recrimination is a whole different chapter of course, though it’s worth saying that for all the things he had plainly more ability to do than Payton, he wasn’t as good a sniffer, a finisher. Not back then he wasn’t.

City ended up 14th in 1991-92, and only an eighth goal of the season from the improving Jenkinson two weeks before the end of the season prevented Payton remaining as the club’s leading goalscorer. We missed him more than we’d dared anticipate. Payton, meanwhile, scored on his ‘Boro debut after two minutes, bringing a touch of symmetry to his career following his equally swift act of card-marking as a Tigers debutant, although the serious knee injury he suffered before half time at Ayresome Park made sure that, sadly, he wouldn’t continue to make the progress thought so obvious of him thus far. Stretchered off to tumultuous Teesside applause, they thought he would be back. He wouldn’t. Not there. His career didn’t recover sufficiently for him to live his top flight dream (and ours for him), even though he was with a club whose best years would be one big scare and one bigger takeover away.

Payton started only seven more games for ‘Boro after returning from his lay-off, and a shock move to Celtic rekindled his appetite, albeit temporarily. Indeed, everything became a temporary measure for Payton thereafter. His private life was defined by a costly divorce (he had met his wife, a City fan, when he visited her in hospital on a City ‘in the community’ mission and their engagement was worthy of a human interest ‘colour’ piece in the Hull Daily Mail) and the need to pick up signing-on fees on a regular basis afterwards. From Celtic, where he started just 20 games but scored a maddening 15 goals, he returned south to Barnsley – where he scored almost every other game for three seasons – and then rejoined his mentor and biggest fan, Horton, at Huddersfield. His only full season in West Yorkshire yielded 17 goals and a stupid boo-boy status aimed at him by the thicker section of Huddersfield support simply because he wasn’t as skilful or glamorous (or as hard-working) as strike partner Marcus Stewart. But he did score more, and cost less.

Payton achieved enough with the goal in his sights to become the single biggest factor in the Terriers surviving the drop in 1997, and in the summer he returned to Boothferry Park with his new club for a pre-season friendly, receiving almost as big an ovation as the one bellowed in glee towards Mark Hateley as he took control. Hindsight is marvellous here, but we don’t need it with Payton. He was, however, soon away again when Peter Jackson replaced Horton as manager the following season and immediately brokered a swap deal with Payton’s juniors club, Burnley, for Paul Barnes, who scored precisely two goals while at the club. One can only think that Payton had tortured Jackson on the pitch during a City game versus Newcastle in the late 1980s.

Payton, who immediately set about scoring the goals to save his hometown club from the drop, was in his element at Burnley and received the most idolisation from a set of supporters since his halcyon era at Boothferry Park. A 27-goal promotion campaign in 2000 – when he was pushing 33 – was his best seasonal tally and proudest achievement, although still he made occasional noises about wanting to end his career back at Hull. This would never come close to happening, and his loan spell at Blackpool at the age of 34 wrapped up his life as a League footballer. The non-league game benefitted massively from his experience and ability for a few years hence.

He scored exactly 200 League goals between 1988 and 2001; that’s very nearly one every other match, a fantastic rate for a man who played in mostly tepid to clueless teams, didn’t win any promotions until that 2000 season (under Ternent, no less) and even missed out on honours during his time at Parkhead. But ultimately, his main status as a hero was with City, even despite his standing at Burnley – their top-flight history and associated superstars of yore ensured that Payton would always be loved as a second-string icon at Turf Moor. He probably still doesn’t need to buy a drink round there though.

A question mark about his temperament and off-field activities remained over his head, hence his regular shifts around the clubs and divisions, but Payton remained an exceptional goalscorer who never missed a good chance – seriously – and never lost his form, and City probably saw the best of him. Ridiculed for his hairstyles and flat Lancastrian monotone (he was a helpful but not especially enlightening interviewee, and the occasion when he and the falsetto youngster Mike Smith did a dual post-match reaction on BBC Radio Humberside must have given Phil Squire nightmares), he remained a genuine City superstar, unfazed by the enormity of the task before him and never shy to shoot, to celebrate and to snaffle the limelight.

Heaven only knows how good he would have been for us if the club had ever been good enough for him. He wasn’t the most skilful, the most industrious or the most conscientious player we’ve hired, but for the job he did and had to do, he was the best I’ve ever seen and, unless we win promotion to the Premiership with a 30-goal genius, the best I’m likely to see. He’s a bona fide Hull City hero. That bloke in the khazi was right

Matthew Rudd

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Filed under: Heroes & Villains — Matt @ 9:38 am

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July 7, 2007

VILLAIN – Martin Fish


Introduction

During the 1982/3 season, as the Robinson renaissance gathered steam and the prospect of City gaining their first promotion in seventeen seasons began to shake off the spectre of yet another pipe-dream, there evolved from under the Kempton roof a popular and rousing little ditty which began with the words, “To the Fourth, to the Fourth”.  Admittedly, the song then proceeded with the words, “We’re saying goodbye to the Fourth”, but under the reign of Martin Fish the words “To the Fourth” came back to haunt us, as we dropped two Divisions to end up back where Don Robinson had found us, the sterling work of the Scarborough-based entrepreneur and of managers Appleton and Horton in particular lying in ruins.

Fish spent approximately six and a half years as the Chairman of Hull City. Those six and a half years were among the most eventful in the history of our beloved Club, but mainly for the wrong reasons, as the plummet down the leagues was played depressingly out against a backdrop of footballing and financial crises and increasing dissatisfaction, culminating in little short of open warfare, from the long-suffering fans.

Although most who supported City during those demoralising times would agree that Fish was not exactly the most successful or best-loved chairman in the Club’s history, there were at the time of his tenure of the Chair, and remain even now nearly ten years after his departure, a variety of differing assessments of the grey-haired accountant, ranging from “A man who worked tirelessly and selflessly for the survival of Hull City” and “Without him there would not now be a Hull City” through “A puppet Chairman without real power” and “A guy who did his best but was out of his depth” to the rather more damning “Vindictive and contemptuous towards the supporters”, “A nice guy who turned arrogant”  and “A bumbling nincompoop”.

Intriguingly, there is probably some sympathy to be had with most if not all of those characterisations of the ex-City Chairman. That fact, coupled with the complexities of the situation at the Club and the antics of some of the other characters involved with it at the time, whilst in no way denigrating those would-be City historians who have chronicled those turbulent times as part of wider-ranging histories of the Club, probably yields enough material to warrant a book of its own. Sadly, the moment for writing such a tome has now probably passed, and inevitably a piece such as this, whilst it may cause us to reflect on how fortunate we Tigerfans now are in comparison with that torrid period, is only going to scratch the surface of the man and his chairmanship of the mighty Tigers.

But before we move on, a personal observation if I may. From 1983 until 1993, when my job took me away from Yorkshire, I had the privileged duty of serving the drinks and looking after guests in the Ark boardroom on matchdays, getting to know Martin Fish quite well in the process, and I can say without fear of contradiction that throughout that time he never treated me with anything other than the utmost civility; I was positively flattered when he asked me to join the committee that ran the Club’s lottery, and not a little humbled when, after my final appearance behind the Boardroom bar, he made a presentation to me in front, among others, of Messrs Dolan and Lee. Some of what follows is not complimentary of Martin Fish but, given the above words, whilst it would be melodramatic to say that I have not found this easy, it has certainly been penned with a heavy heart.

In the Beginning

From almost the first days of Don Robinson’s stewardship of Hull City Martin Fish was a familiar presence in the Boothferry Boardroom, not initially as a Director but usually as the guest of Vice-Chairman Clifford Waite, an uncompromising if not unlikeable figure who ran the admin side of the Tigers with authority and rigour. I had the impression, never confirmed, that Waite and Fish were personal friends, but, judging by the conversations that took place and the bits of paper sometimes handed out to Directors in the privacy of the boardroom, Fish clearly had some sort of professional role to fulfil as well.

Eventually, Fish was asked by Don Robinson to join the Board, which he duly did in 1987. Somewhat unfortunately for him but, to give him the benefit of the doubt, possibly also unbeknown to him, this was not the most propitious time to be taking on such a role. The promise of the Appleton/Horton era had levelled off somewhat and further investment was required in order to take the Club forward. Robinson had plans in place for that, but typically, the Needler family, who actually called the shots through their shareholdings, were unimpressed, and a frustrated Robinson quit as Chairman, but not before the normally sure-footed ex-grappler had made the biggest mistake of his tenure by rashly sacking Brian Horton. There followed stagnation under Gray, the comical (though it wasn’t at the time) Appleton reprise, the near-criminal profligacy of Ternent (albeit aided and abetted by the ill-judged but well-meant largesse of new Chairman Richard Chetham) and the inevitable slide down the table, with the coffers now as empty as the Labour Party Treasury and the Club in deep hock to the Bank.

Ternent was duly handed his P45 by Chetham, whose notoriously fragile health then let him down again, leaving him unable to continue to shoulder the pressures of being Chairman. There were not, in truth, many obvious successors to him among the other directors, and when Fish was proposed by Chetham for the hot seat this was readily accepted by the Board. Call it brave or stupid, but as a Director and the Club’s financial man Fish, in taking on this responsibility, must have been aware that the Club was sitting on a time-bomb.

An Unlikely Honeymoon

Of course, what a lot of Tigerwatchers often forget is that for the first few years of the Fish regime there was considerable goodwill towards the City chairman and management team of Dolan and Lee. Much of the so-called sporting public of Hull were sceptical, but the faithful few thousand that still made the pilgrimage to Boothferry, as the song goes, cannot be accused of not getting behind the powers that be as well as the team itself.

And in the early days this support was without doubt reciprocated. After the wall collapse at the Runcorn cup-tie in 1993, which saw a number of City fans hurt and led to the abandonment of the game, not only was Fish straight onto the pitch to render assistance and to seek to calm things down as tempers among the City support ran high, but in the aftermath he stoutly and publicly defended the City fans against the accusations of the Cheshire club that the incident was the result of hooligan behaviour on the part of the Tiger Nation. Similarly, on the occasion of the annual meeting with the Southern Supporters, usually held before an away game in London, not only did he and Dolan insist every year on the entire squad putting in an appearance for a good hour at the start of the meeting (something which, as far as I am aware, none of their successors has ever done) but the two of them and Lee would after the players had departed to bed talk with apparently total candour about matters City for as long as there was an audience there to listen to them, no matter how probing (or crass) the questions.

Just how much support there was for Fish at this stage was demonstrated when City played Bristol Rovers at Bath in February 1994. As the large Southern Supporters contingent marched along the platform at Paddington in search of its reserved seats on the Bath train Fish was spotted in one of the carriages, and the loud cheer that went up was acknowledged with a friendly wave. Then, after the game, which finished 1-1, there was an even bigger crowd of boozily contented City fans, many of whom had enjoyed a swift top-up on the way back from Twerton Park, waiting for the train back to London just after 6 o’clock, when Fish appeared on the platform, whereupon the City throng promptly broke into rowdy choruses of “There’s only one Martin Fish” and “Martin, Martin, give us a wave!” before the train arrived and a clearly-embarrassed City chairman self-consciously acknowledged the songsters before slipping away to his seat.

Let us not forget also that Martin Fish was behind the famous “Tiger Stripe” shirts which, love them or hate them (personally, I think the original Bonus/Pepis version was the best City shirt ever), not only were hugely innovative but created a real talking point among the football world generally, raising the Club’s profile in a manner not seen for many a long and undistinguished season.

Of course, a key reason why the fans were so supportive was that, after a shaky start to the regime which saw us flirt quite alarmingly with further relegation in 91/2 and 92/3, the team, which most pundits perennially wrote off as relegation fodder, then punched well above its weight for a couple of seasons, and in both 93/4 and 94/5 were only a couple of results away from an unlikely appearance in the play-offs, and during those two years in particular turned in some stirring performances, the most notable being the 7-1 paggering of Crewe, themselves no mugs at the time.

Why the turnaround? Well, undoubtedly team spirit was high; although the players were for the most part of limited ability, they were prepared to graft and work hard for each other. A particularly significant factor though was the form of a certain local-born brickie, who, in an uncharacteristic lapse of judgement from Hednesford’s finest, was rejected as a youngster by Brian Horton but took the second chance offered him by Dolan well and truly by the short and curlies. Indeed, there were spells when, even during the relative euphoria of the two good League seasons, you felt that Deano was carrying the side almost single-handedly.

Storm Clouds on the Horizon

But all good things come to an end. With attendances failing overall to reach the break-even figure of 6 000, disappointing given the improved performances on the field, and the taxman becoming increasingly threatening, the Club had to sell to survive. With the possible exception of Alan Fettis, by now enjoying cult-hero status because of his goalscoring as opposed to goal-saving exploits, there was only one individual on the playing staff whose sale could raise the money to keep the vultures out. But when Deano finally went, it wasn’t his destination of Aberdeen, surprising though that was in many ways, that raised the eyebrows, but the fact that the transfer fee garnered was a relatively paltry £600,000.

For many City supporters, this was the first real chink in the “we’re all in this together” mentality that Fish had hitherto successfully nurtured. And, as is so often the case, the fans who had shown commendable patience and support towards the impoverished regime quickly began, in the light of what seemed to be a desperately disappointing piece of business, to cast an altogether more critical, or perhaps that should be objective, eye over the affairs of the Club and those in charge of it both on and off the field. Very rapidly, grievances emerged and discord spread like the plague, and by the turn of the 95/6 season the key ones, as far as Martin Fish, Terry Dolan and Jeff Lee were concerned, were these:

1.  Not only was Deano sold too cheaply in what came to be seen as a panic measure when Fish, knowing that other clubs were keen to sign him, could have held out for a lot more, but none of the money raised was made available for team strengthening;

2. Because of Deano’s departure, performances on the field had plunged to truly unspeakable depths, to the point that relegation was a nailed-on certainty by Christmas and the team would go on to win a mere five games all season;

3.  Although the money side and the consequent lack of quality players didn’t help matters, Dolan’s seemingly sole tactic of hitting the ball long and high was not helping to get results and was grisly to watch, to say the least;

4.  Reports started to emerge that training sessions at City consisted of little or nothing in the way of ball work or moves, with the emphasis very much on running instead. Now, the world in which the good burghers of Hull, especially those with an interest in professional football of either code, move is riddled with ill-founded rumour at the best of times, but a newspaper story from north of the border containing a quote from Deano that he had “learned more in two weeks at Aberdeen than I did in two years at Hull”, ensured that this particular tale had the definite whiff of verisimilitude about it.

5. The Needler family, and in particular the florid-complexioned Christopher, son of Harold, were unwilling to make even the modest (by the standards of their family’s wealth) investment needed to secure the Club’s immediate future, a state of affairs rendered even more galling by the fact that the making available of a small amount for team strengthening during 93/4 or 94/5 would in all probability, if spent wisely, have seen City make the play-offs and maybe even secure an unlikely promotion.  Most City fans accepted that the Needlers had been generous with the Club over the years, albeit less so since the death of the patriarch Harold, and acknowledged that Christopher had little passion for the Club, but what was impossible to stomach was the other side of the double-whammy, namely that Christopher, for reasons best known to himself, was no more willing to see the Club leave his family’s control than he was to invest in it, leaving the Club in an impossible situation from which there was no apparent means of escape. Whilst this maybe wasn’t the direct fault of Fish, his willingness to act as Chairman and be the front man allowed Needler, in the view of many, to perpetuate this arrogant contempt towards the Club and its supporters, which inevitably meant that he came under increasing criticism for this as the other grievances started to mount up.

6. Although there was no money available for desperately-needed team strengthening, it did seem that there was enough in the coffers to line the pockets of Dolan and Lee by means of giving them a cut of transfer fees raised by the sale of players. It was never openly admitted in the media, as far as I am aware, that this was going on, but, significantly, it was never denied either. If (and I stress if) it was true that this was going on, this was a monumental error of judgement on the part of Fish, because the potential for conflict of interest and even corruption arising out of such an arrangement was immense. On the other hand, if it was not true why did Fish, who must have known that he was openly being accused of this on the terraces and in the pubs of Hull, not come out and deny it and thereby quell the flames of discontent over it? An equally poor error of judgement.

7.  Fish became increasingly high-handed in his treatment of individuals connected with or interested in the Club. His handling of the redundancy of secretary Tom Wilson, who had served the Club loyally for over 25 years, was cack-handed in the extreme, and he summarily banned respected local journalist David Bond, formerly (in the days when it was worth reading) the City writer in the Hull Daily Mail, for allegedly being critical in an article of the manner in which the Club was being run.

8. The youth policy had simply been abandoned, with the result that very few youngsters of the right calibre were coming through the system and challenging for a place in the team, while clubs from outside the area were able simply to help themselves to the genuinely promising local youngsters such as goalkeeper Paul Robinson. Many fans argued at the time that if there genuinely was no money to purchase decent players then the need to have a system in place to unearth and snap up the best of the local talent, even if only to sell them on and raise funds that way, became even more acute, and since it would not have involved great expense to do so, simply to do nothing was a stupidly false economy.

9.  The Wayne Jacobs saga left a bad taste in the mouths of many City fans. Jacobs had been a popular left-back, making almost 150 appearances for City in various competitions, but when he suffered a bad knee injury in 1993 Fish summarily terminated his playing contract on the grounds that he was unlikely to regain match fitness. Needless to say, Wayne duly recovered fully, and went on to enjoy a distinguished career, moving from City to Rotherham before going on to make over 300 appearances for Bradford City, including a couple of campaigns in the Premiership. Fish may well argue that he was acting on the best medical evidence available to him, but even if made in good faith it proved to be another error of judgement, and worse still was perceived by large swathes of the Tiger Nation as being far too hasty, and an extremely shabby way to treat an honest player and loyal servant of the Club.

10. Last but not least, the sale of the “Hull City” nameplate which had been mounted above the players’ tunnel at the Ark. This, as most City fans will be aware, was an original nameplate from a railway locomotive named after the Club (one of a series named after football teams), and was an item of great sentimental (indeed some would say iconic) significance to the Tiger Nation. At some time during the season, the story emerged that Fish had sold the nameplate on the quiet to a Lincolnshire-based collector to raise money, and replaced it with a cheap plastic replica. To many fans, this little piece of business was akin to selling your late mother’s jewellery, the grubbiness of it all accentuated by the clandestine way in which it had been done and the fact that, as far as we know, no attempt was made to find a buyer who might have lent it back to the Club and allowed it to remain in situ.

Bad news comes in threes

And so the 95/6 season staggered on to its inevitable conclusion. City were relegated as expected with five games to go, eventually to finish bottom and an embarrassing 21 points adrift of safety (although we only lost 11 home games!). Open discontent was now brewing among the fans, not only with Fish, Dolan and Lee but with the general attitude of helplessness that now permeated the Club and the absence of any way out of the situation short of a sale of the Club lock, stock and barrel to a buyer who would provide the investment required to restore the Club’s fortunes, for no investor would come within a mile of the Ark while the dead hand of Needler remained in place. Against this background, three announcements were made which in the circumstances were so outrageous that any one of them would have caused the patience of the fans finally to snap, and the effect of the three being made on the same day rendered the reaction of the fans little short of cataclysmic.

If my memory serves, then announcements were made either on or on the day prior to a midweek away game at Walsall, eleven days before the final match of the season, and it was evident from the conversations of the fans in the Walsall social club before the game and inside the ground as another woeful performance from City – already relegated a couple of games earlier – saw us go down 3-0 that the final straw had been laid across the camel’s back.

Firstly, Fish had said in the press that he would be making an announcement that would “surprise and please every Hull City Supporter”. From the manner in which it was hyped up, everyone assumed that we were going to be told that there were to be changes in the ownership of the Club in favour of somebody who could take us forward, the name most bandied about at the time being Don Robinson. At last, this hand-to-mouth existence would be at an end and no longer would we be a laughing stock. Of course, the announcement was in the event about nothing of the kind, and instead fans listened, mouths agape with dismay, as this massive announcement turned out to be nothing more than yet another in the succession of plans to redevelop the East Stand, this time into a all-seater holding 5,500 (i.e. nearly twice the gates we were getting at the time)…..if somebody would pay for it. The spin put about that grant assistance would be available virtually on demand from the Football Trust, a fund set up to finance ground improvements after Bradford and Hillsborough was at the least questionable, for seemingly by the time Fish put forward his plans for the stand the vultures had trousered the lot. That Fish could come out with this sort of inconsequential nonsense at a time when the Club was on its knees both on and off the field, and the only announcement that would genuinely please the fans would be a change of ownership in favour of someone willing to put his hand in his pocket, demonstrated just how poorly he understood, or how little he cared about (or maybe a mixture of both), the real anxieties and concerns of the supporters.

But it gets better. In an apparent attempt to bury bad news of such staggering ineptitude that it would have done justice to the New Labour spin doctors who were starting to come to the fore at about that time, Fish then added a little postscript to that little earth-shattering pronouncement, by stating that he intended to offer a three-year contract extension to the by-now deeply unpopular Dolan and Lee, who had presided over a slump from Divisions 2 to 4 (Championship to League Two, kids) and along the way had managed to perfect a style of playing the labelling of which as “football” was most decidedly not in the spirit of the Trade Descriptions Act. Not only that, but no doubt they would continue to receive their cut of any transfer fees (if that’s what they were receiving, he says with due regard to the laws of defamation), the only consolation surrounding which was that there now weren’t many players left who could command any decent sort of fee.


Fish later sought to explain this by saying that he enjoyed a good relationship with the dastardly duo (which he evidently deemed to be more important than actually trying to engage someone who might improve the Club’s desperate performances and League status), and also that the Club couldn’t afford to pay the compensation that would be required if a new management team were appointed. What he didn’t explain was why the payment of compensation should be inevitable; if Dolan and Lee were at the end of their current contract terms they wouldn’t have been entitled to any compensation (unless something to the contrary had been written into their contracts), and he was only going to have to pay compensation to another club if the manager he wished to hire was still under contract. So, we were stuck with Dolan and Lee for another three years, or so it seemed at the time.

Even the most sanguine of City fans were reaching for their heart pills by this time, forgetting that bad news comes in threes and that there was more to come. And it was the third of these little gems, delivered the following week, that will give Fish his permanent place in the history of Hull City, never to be forgotten or forgiven, regardless of how successful our beloved Club may become in the future.

This, of course, was the decision to house Bradford City fans in the South Stand for the final game of the season.

During the intervening years since that unspeakable day, Fish has worked hard at trying to convince supporters that the decision was not his choice and that therefore he was not to blame. More specifically, on the “End of an Era” video, and in David Goodman’s book, Fish tells the same story, namely that Bryan Calam, the police officer in charge of policing at Boothferry (and later to become one of David Lloyd’s henchmen, earning the sobriquet “Captain Calamity” in recognition of his perceived incompetence in that role), effectively blackmailed Fish into going through with what he (Fish) knew was going to be a deeply unpopular decision by warning, a few days before the game, that Fish would be held responsible for any disorder that ensued as a result of insufficient provision being made for the anticipated large following from Bradford, who needed to win the game in order to secure a play-off place.

The phrase used by Fish on the video when recounting this tale is “I had a gun put to my head”. From the way he described it, that seems pretty much the truth. However, evidence exists that Fish was perhaps not telling the full story. By the time this game came round, I had ceased to work for the Club and, whilst I did not see or hear first-hand what I am about to describe, I was told it by individuals at the Club whom I knew from my time there, who were still there at the time of the Bradford game, and whom I have no reason to believe would fabricate such a story, the more so because the persons concerned remained, pretty much throughout the whole of the turbulent latter couple of years of Fish’s tenure as chairman, loyal to him.

What I was told at the time is that Fish was under pressure from Club staff for some time before the Bradford game to make it all ticket, but, in keeping with the “I know best” attitude that seemed to have become one of his hallmarks by this time, refused point blank to entertain the idea until it was too late and the police had put pressure on him to consign City fans to the away end, it being too late by the time this decision was finally made to make the game all-ticket. If you watch or read Fish’s account of things, without ever coming out with it expressly he gives the very clear impression that this game suddenly became a vital one for Bradford unexpectedly and in the final few days before the game, and it was that that precipitated the decision to put Bradford in the South Stand.

This is a falsehood. Not assertion, fact. The Bantams were on a storming run of form at the time, having won several games on the bounce, and it was widely considered to be a distinct possibility, even a good couple of weeks before it would have been necessary to reach any decision to make the game all-ticket, that this game would potentially have massive significance for them. Indeed, that very subject, and the evident need to make at least contingency plans for the game to be all-ticket, was a constant subject of conversation among City fans at this time, and it is, surely, virtually inconceivable that similar conversations were not taking place in the boardroom and in the offices at the Ark. Perhaps the next time Fish is interviewed about Bradford someone might challenge him on this. In short, it was obvious long before it took place that this game was potentially going to attract a huge Bradford following (5,200 in the event, in a crowd of just under 9,000), if Fish wasn’t aware of this he bloody well ought to have been, and any protestations by him that what happened was unforeseeable simply do not wash. He must take full responsibility, and even after all this time should be made to take it.

The Blackest Day in the Club’s History

The Fish era – or at least the last couple of years of it – was a time of bewilderment and genuine grief for anyone with any feeling for Hull City, but it is without doubt that 4th May 1995 – the date of the Bradford game – marked its nadir, and not only of that era but of the very history of the Club. The trilogy of announcements in the days before the game was the final act of provocation, and the beleaguered fans were now resolved to organise themselves to strike back. This was war, and would prove to be a fight to the death from which the City supporters would emerge victorious.

Within the few short days between the announcement about the Bradford game and the game itself, amber and black “Fish Out” posters appeared in their dozens all around Hull and its environs. Driving up to Hull for the game from my Nottingham home was an experience, not only because of the posters which started to come into view from Melton onwards, but also for the array of home-made material demanding the removal of Fish which adorned vehicles heading up the M1, and items of home-made anti-Fish apparel that some of the occupants of those vehicles were sporting.

The mood in the Tuns was rebellious, with the landlord struggling in vain to quieten the increasingly vehement chants of “Fish Out”, and many fans openly expressing the view that the game would not finish. And in fact, had not a section of the City support, from where they were penned in on the North Terrace and North-East corner, made a hash, in sadly typical Hull fashion, of their attempted pitch invasion by going onto the pitch before the kick-off before all the City fans were in the ground, that prediction might well have come to pass. If the mood had been allowed to simmer until about five or ten minutes after the kick-off, a sudden incursion at that point of possibly a couple of thousand fans would simply have been impossible for the police to prevent or clear, and the game would have had to be abandoned. As it was, order was restored, although there were, despite a shoulder-to-shoulder line of police in front of the City support and horses on the touchline, other incursions onto the pitch during the game, which Bradford won 3-2, thereby securing a place in the play-offs and setting them on track for an amazing storm through Division 1 and into the Premiership, albeit that the chickens of chairman Richmond’s financial recklessness which bankrolled this run would come home to roost quite hilariously in the end.

Upon entering the ground, it was clear that the long-suffering City fans had declared war on the Club, although as if the events of the couple of weeks preceding the game had not been enough to antagonise the most placid and forgiving of City supporters, there was yet another clear illustration of Fish’s unawareness of, or disregard for, whichever it was, the growing antipathy of the supporters towards the presiding regime to come, for as City fans entered the uncharted territory of the North Terrace, they were each handed a pamphlet written by Fish, the principal subject matter of which was this new East Stand which was going to make us all spending the rest of our days blessing the fates that first propelled Fish into the hallowed portals of Boothferry Park but which there was no money to build, and talking about his wider plans for the future of the Club. Quite what the Club thought would be achieved by this it is difficult to conceive, but if it was intended to placate the supporters it had precisely the reverse effect, as the covering of the ground around the turnstiles by many hundreds of these pamphlets, summarily discarded by incredulous Tiger fans, bore witness.

Once onto the terraces, it quickly became apparent that the hostilities which had now been commenced were to be directed not only at the Board but at the management team as well, with the maiden airing of the “Fuck Off Terry D” song, which vied with “Fish Out” for popularity throughout the afternoon and was to become one of a series of songs, including “Meet the Skinflints”, “Martin Fish the Accountant”, and, best and most memorably of all, “Common Dolan”, which would be sung repeatedly at City games for the next twelve months and thereafter, in the case of the anti-Dolan ones, on those occasions when the paths of City and Dolan should happen to cross.

Despite City taking the lead twice through Gav Gordon and Duane Darby, Bradford were too strong for us, and once they had edged in front early in the second half the game frankly died and the City supporters were able to deploy their energy instead in keeping up the tidal wave of vitriol flowing towards Dolan, Lee and Fish. Incidentally, the latter’s shock of whitish-grey hair was clearly visible from his seat in the Directors’ Box throughout the game, so it’s nice to know that not all City fans were turfed out of their usual vantage point.

It would be a full ten years before City supporters ever got to gloat over Bradford in the manner in which their fans did over City that dreadful afternoon. During the game the police were able to keep the City fans under control, but after the game the pressure-cooker which had in truth been simmering for several days now exploded violently onto the street around the Ark after the game, resulting in probably the worst scenes ever witnessed in the history of the Club, as the more aggressive elements of the City support, denied a chance to vent their collective spleen on the real architects of our despair and typically swollen in number by those anticipating an opportunity for what is referred to in those semi-fictional books on football hooligans as an “off” , attacked viciously and relentlessly the Bradford support on North Road and Boothferry Road, with the police unable to cope to the point where you really had to wonder if things could really have been worse for the constabulary if the Bradford fans had simply been directed to the away turnstiles as per normal and the “Ground Full” signs erected once the capacity had been reached. So serious was the disorder which took place that it actually made the national news bulletins that evening.

Truly the worst day in the history of the Club. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to articulate the despair felt by the law-abiding element of the City support as we trudged away from Boothferry amidst the mayhem breaking out at every twist and turn, reflecting on the abject hopelessness of our position.

Fish Out! Dolan Out!

But for once, the City fans were not about to simply shrug their shoulders. Change was demanded, and change the fans were going to have. A protest group called Tigers 2000 and formed, in contrast to the Hull City Action Group some fifteen years earlier, of mature and rational supporters of long standing, had come into existence at the end of the 95/6 season. This group had been behind the “Fish Out” posters, which were soon followed by T-shirts, stickers and other paraphernalia, and this heralded a full-blown summer of discontent, marked by fish heads being mailed to clubs whom City would be visiting the following season, the posting of maggots and excrement though the Boothferry letter box, the painting of “Fish Out” on the pitch and, most famously of all, an open-top bus trip from the city centre to the Fish residence, where the City chairman was harangued by a megaphone-wielding Tigers 2000 spokeswoman Angie Rowe (although it should be emphasised that only the last of these was ever proved to have been the doing of Tigers 2000).

Come the start of the new season there were no changes of key non-playing personnel, but the fans were not cowed by this, and the first game of the season, at home to Darlington, was marked, despite a thrilling City victory, by a constant barrage of chanting and singing against the regime. This set the pattern for the rest of the season, on the road as well as at the Ark, and at home games was often supplemented by placard-waving and post-match demonstrations, despite a solid start to the season – which admittedly eventually fizzled out – on the playing side.

And so it went on. The fans called a truce for the FA Cup game away to Whitby at Scarborough, but it only lasted 25 minutes, the big City support exploding in fury at the substitution of Duane Darby. But Fish and Dolan were not taking this lying down; although increasingly backed into a corner, or perhaps because of that, they responded with increasing defiance, being bitterly critical of what they perceived as a lack of support from supporters who had by and large shown tremendous loyalty towards a Club showing little prospect of arresting the terminal decline in which it had been trapped for probably seven or eight years now. On one occasion it was reported that the fans had been described as “scum”, to which the swift response from the terraces at the next game was “We’re the scum that pays your wages” to the tune of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah”. Another phenomenon that reared its head about this time was that the pubs selected by the Southern Supporters for their pre-match rendezvous at away games were often mysteriously found to be closed when the fans arrived. In the 20-odd year history of the Southern Supporters this had never happened before, and has never happened since, and whilst there’s no evidence that anyone at the Club was behind this, it is known that Fish had some uncomplimentary things to say about the behaviour of the Southern Supporters at about this time, especially after the Torquay away game (see below), and refused to set up a “Meet the Players” evening as he had done in previous years.

The antagonism of the supporters was exacerbated by the apparent reluctance of Christopher Needler to sell his interest in the Club despite showing so sign of wishing to provide further funds, even when Don Robinson tabled a bid for control of the Club. But, not for the first time, Robinson found his ambitions for the Club thwarted by Needler for no other apparent reason than that he did not wish his family to lose control of the Club. Needler rejected the offer, and put forward a bizarre counter-proposal for the sale of the Ark and the construction of a 6,000 capacity, two-standed stadium (yes, you did read that correctly), at Priory Sidings, which were being cleared for development at about that time and in which Needler held some form of property interest. Not surprisingly, this cut no ice at all with the Tiger Nation, and within a short time Needler quit the board, which, incidentally, left Fish as the sole director as well as the Company Secretary, an arrangement forbidden by the Companies Act 1985 although little seems to have been made of this.

The Beginning of the End

The situation had now deteriorated beyond redemption, not least because further winding-up orders were being threatened by the Inland Revenue, and Fish could not, surely, keep arguing his way out of the liquidation of the Club.

But just at this very point in time, when there seemed no other option, there was a change in the entrenched position of those running the Club, and the stand-off with the supporters was showing signs of faltering. The vituperation of the fans probably reached its zenith at about the time of the away game at Torquay on 22nd February 1997 when the large plastic “Fish and Dolan Out” banner appeared, and the Tiger Nation arrived in town, a large proportion on the night before the game (it was remarkable how many familiar faces were to be seen on and around the seafront on the Saturday morning), armed with rolls of “Sack Dolan” stickers, many of which ended up plastered around Plainmoor and the pubs of the West Country resort (one of the stickers actually survived on a pub ceiling until a couple of years ago). The Southern Supporters, having decided that it was time to break its own silence, gathered in a pub (whose landlord incidentally was ex-Chesterfield keeper John Turner, brother of Robbie, whom we all criticised, eloquently and with genuine feeling, before mine host revealed the family connection) to meet the then City reporter at the Hull Daily Mail, Danny Fullbrook, who wrote a commendably sympathetic piece in the following Saturday’s Sports Mail.   Inside the ground, a City following of maybe 500 gathered immediately behind the City dug-out and harangued Dolan and Lee vociferously throughout the game, culminating in one City supporter actually mounting the dug out and planting a “Sack Dolan” sticker on the City boss’s bald pate, an event made all the more hilarious by the fact that he didn’t detect it for some minutes, to the unbridled glee of City and Torquay fans alike.

Whilst it is unlikely that this day gave rise of itself to the eventual demise of the Fish era, it does seem to have marked the climax of the campaign of the City supporters against the regime. Suddenly Needler and Fish, who had walked, silently and stony-faced, through a group of protesting City supporters after the Torquay game (which ended 1-1, by the way), seemed to be interested in selling……if the Club could be kept alive long enough.

As the season drew to a close, rumours of a potential takeover led by businessman Michael Cambridge gathered momentum. Fish was able to use this to avert another winding-up order. Although no names were mentioned publicly, it was clear that there was genuine interest from someone in buying City, and a deal seemed to be on the cards. Against the background of an imminent takeover, the hasty sale of Roy Carroll – probably the Club’s most valuable playing asset – to Wigan for a knock-down £350,000 seemed inexplicable. Many fans saw this as yet another error of judgement from Fish, some saw it as a means of creating one last bonanza for Dolan and Lee from the “commission” scheme from the sale of players allegedly in place, while others put it down to a final twist of the knife in the back of the long-suffering support from an embittered and vindictive chairman.

Nevertheless, it seemed, as City took the field minus Carroll at Division 4 champions-elect Fulham for the penultimate game of the season (which day saw the identity of the Southern Supporters’ pre-match pub carefully kept secret, with the result that it was 1.00 before the Met found us and, having quickly decided that they were faced with nothing more than a crowd of mature, well-behaved individuals enjoying a beer in civilised fashion before the game, promptly moved on), that the supporters had won the day and that the Club’s liberation from this hated and vilified regime was imminent. Inside Craven Cottage, Dolan was duly harangued from the corner of the away end next to the players’ tunnel and Needler and Fish were given their customary treatment, but despite a 0-2 defeat the mood was jubilant, one of the more popular chants that day being “Bye-bye, Bye-bye Tel”, a parody of the “Super, Super Tel” chant of happier times.

Of course, this being City, that takeover duly fell through, and the final game of the season, a 0-2 defeat at home to Scarborough, was played out at a subdued Ark amidst the depressing sights of Dolan’s smug smirk still emanating from the City dug-out and Fish’s shock of whitish-grey hair still frustratingly visible in the front row of the Directors’ Box.

But, unbeknown to City fans at the time, this was to be the last occasion that Fish attended a City game in his capacity as Chairman, for in July 1997, the takeover of the Club by David Lloyd was finally completed. Although in the event this was only to herald a further four years of turmoil, none of us knew this at the time. Significantly though, the fingers of the Needlers had finally been prised from around the windpipe of Hull City, arguably the only event that could ever allow the Club to progress, and, even though we had to endure the antics of Lloyd and the dark dealings of the Buchliffe regime before Adam Pearson set about successfully restoring the fortunes of the Tigers, it would have been impossible for us to be where we are today without the bogeyman presence of Christopher Needler, and his trusty lieutenant Martin Fish, having been banished from our midst.

Postscript

If the definitive history of Hull City is ever written, there will be few characters meriting as much attention as Martin Fish.

Fish left Boothferry Park amidst bitter recriminations, and time has not proved to be a great healer. He has little contact with the Club these days; his few attempts to attend City games since July 1997 have resulted in his being on the receiving end of abuse every bit as venomous as when he chaired the Club, and it is said that to this day he is fearful of venturing into the City centre for the same reason.

But what conclusions would that history book draw about why a man ostensibly trying to run a football club to the best of his ability and keep it afloat should be the victim of such vituperation, not only at time but ten years on?

Things have been said about Fish that are completely unfair. First and foremost, there is no evidence that he ever personally profited from his position. Much was made in particular of the fact that he was receiving payments from the Club; now, whether this is true or not I have no idea, still less am I (or for that matter, I suspect, anyone making these accusations) seized of the particulars of any such arrangement. But if Fish was advising the Club in his professional capacity, why should be not have been paid at his usual rates for such work, especially as he works as an accountant with his own practice, which must, one imagines, have suffered badly from the amount of time and attention he was devoting to Hull City? On the contrary, he actually dipped into his own pocket, going into overdraft in the process, to pay the wages on one occasion (and, by the way, it is nothing short of an obscenity that the Needler family, handsomely wealthy by any standards, stood by and let him do this).  Furthermore, even his critics cannot fairly deny the effort that he put into running the Club or the strain that this must have placed on his personal and family life as well as professionally.

Equally, however, many reasonable criticisms can be levelled at him: he could give the impression of being a real Mr Pastry (ask your dad, anyone under 45) figure at times (one of my favourite Fish recollections is the time he told me one Boxing Day that he had inadvertently delayed his family’s Christmas dinner by several hours by incorrectly setting the timer on the oven the day before), he not only distanced himself from the supporters towards the end of his reign but became increasingly high-handed and sometimes economical with the truth towards them, he demonstrated appalling errors of judgement (such as the contract extensions for Dolan and Lee and the “Big Announcement” of which that was part) and generally refused to take any responsibility for individual crises (notably the Bradford debacle) and the Club’s plight generally. Above all, it is strongly arguable that he lacked the abilities generally, in terms of experience, authority (which the Needlers still ultimately held) and football-savvyness to be an effective chairman on a long term basis, especially as he held no controlling financial interest.

If Fish’s shortcomings as Chairman of Hull Ciy AFC were ever put to him, it is probable that he would argue that he was left well and truly holding the baby and that, had he not taken the reins following Chetham’s departure the Club would have gone to rack and ruin. But is that really likely to have happened? Despite the perpetual struggle to pay its way, the Club owned the freehold of Boothferry Park, a prime piece of real estate, and consequently the Club’s assets comfortably exceeded its ongoing liabilities, (indeed, this was one of the key legal arguments successfully used at the several winding-up hearings). Therefore, the Club undoubtedly had a substantial sale value and it is inconceivable that Needler, as major shareholder and a knowledgeable businessman, would have jeopardised his ability to realise his stake in the net assets of the Club by risking the Club going into liquidation; had Fish turned down the role of Chairman, Needler would in all probability simply have had no choice but to sell up, in all likelihood to his nemesis Don Robinson.

The real culprit of the demise of Hull City during the 1990s is undoubtedly Christopher Needler, although it is a vain hope that he will ever be brought to account for what he has done. However, by allowing himself to be used in the way he was, despite what he must surely have realised was his overall lack of suitability for the job, Martin Fish allowed the criminal neglect of Hull City to be perpetuated, and its eventual resurgence delayed, for several years longer than was necessary. An honest man, on the whole yes, a conscientious man, undoubtedly, a man with the interests of Hull City at heart, for sure. But ultimately, by involving himself in the way he did, as a pawn in the wider game apparently being played by Needler, he effectively became the problem, and this was exacerbated by the individual errors of judgement and high-handedness which crept in as he found himself isolated and floundering to an increasing extent.

And that, in the end in the end, is why Martin Fish must go down as a villain in the annals of Hull City AFC.

Ian Thomson

In 2002, Martyn Hainstock interviewed Martin Fish, during which the former chairman provides his own take on many of the events discussed – click here for his interview

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Filed under: Heroes & Villains — Andy @ 6:44 am

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June 20, 2007

HERO – Justin Whittle


When Peter Taylor finally managed to ship out Justin Whittle, succeeding where Brian Little and Jan Molby had failed, amid all the supporter eulogising, one nay-sayer posted a single-line e-mail on the Tiger-chat mailing list: “In the kingdom of the blind man, the one-eyed man is king”.

The angry responses to this posting were predictable, brutal and warranted. But on further reflection, perhaps said poster was making some sort of misguided, legitimate point, while being very, very wrong, obviously.

Hull City fans don’t have a great history to fall back on. No tales of Wembley, no succession of near misses in getting into the top tier of English football, no international superstars slumming it with us at the peak of their powers, not even a national folk hero, a Ronnie Radford, who Football Focus can drag out for the obligatory interview on the weekend of the FA Cup’s third round. Beyond Raich, Waggy and Chillo, we haven’t had much, and fans who can remember the holy trinity in their prime tend to need their food mashing to a pulp before they can eat it.

‘The Kingdom of the Blind Man’ should be written on the side of the KC in massive neon letters. Bona fide football heroes tend not to bother with Hull City. We have to make do with what we get.

Justin Whittle arrived from Stoke City for £50,000 in November 1998. His career had seen him join Celtic after a spell in the army. He never got as far as the Bhoys’ first team, but had established himself at Stoke and was a firm favourite with the fans. A falling out with Brian Little alerted Warren Joyce to his availability, and Whittle became the first of our new manager’s signings. Angry Stoke fans made their feelings known with various messages to City’s fanzines and message boards.

When Whittle joined the Tigers, we were six points adrift of what is now known as League Two. You all know what happened next, and you should all know that our dramatic and unlikely avoidance of what would have been a catastrophic relegation was largely thanks to the spine of the team being Whittle and Gary Brabin. But while Brabin struggled to maintain his popularity in a post-Great Escape environment – his ego grew and he seemed to be blind to his limitations, something you could never accuse Justin of – Justin Whittle’s standing among City fans went from strength to strength. Some of his performances in the Great Escape had set the bar at a seemingly unrealistic level – his repelling of everything top-of-the-league Brentford threw at him in a 2-0 away win being Maldiniesque – but the Sarge very rarely disappointed throughout the remainder of his Hull City career.

Other than his first and his last, every season Whittle spent with City started with great expectations and ended with huge disappointment. City looked nailed on for promotion in the 1999/2000 season, but never really got out of second gear, all of which culminated in the sacking of Warren Joyce as the season petered out. Justin was one of the few to have carried on where he’d left off in the Great Escape season, but saved his worst game of the season, and possibly his whole City career, for a 3-0 home defeat by Hartlepool in the final game of the season, a game which just happened to be Brian Little’s first in charge of the Tigers.

Thankfully, Justin managed to stay on the right side of his former nemesis for the 2000/2001 season, and after the club’s pretty horrible start, and a too-close-for-comfort flirt with extinction, Adam Pearson’s heroic arrival after the Buchliffe regime had stripped us of all they could saw a late charge to the play-offs. Justin was a key figure in this run, as he enjoyed what was probably his best spell for the Tigers. His partnership with Ian Goodison blossomed into City’s best since Jobson and Skipper were in their prime. Despite failure in the play-off semis, things were looking up for City and Justin. We just didn’t need newly cash-rich manager Little to upset the apple cart too much with his summer signings…

Predictably, things didn’t bode well for Justin at the start of the 2001/2002 season. Little moved to bring in centre-back Nicky Mohan during the summer, along with Grimsby’s Matt Bloomer and Stoke’s utility ‘defender’ Ben Petty. The first-choice centre-back partnership that season looked likely to be Goodison and Mohan, leaving Justin to battle with Bloomer and Petty for third-choice status. Fortunately for Justin, an injury to Andy Holt saw Goodison start the season at left-back, and then Mohan’s utter ineptitude meant that the Sarge was an immovable object from the heart of the Tigers’ defence and the Goodison/Whittle partnership was restored, one of the few plus points in another disappointing season which would eventually see Little lose his job.

2002-2003 started with a familiar feel. A new manager (Molby), favourites for promotion, new signings aplenty, a poor start and once again, Justin relegated to third-choice centre-back, this time behind new captain Greg Strong and John Anderson. It was gratifying to see the arrogant Jan Molby eat humble pie (any pun would be too easy there) over Justin after City‘s horrible start to the season. Suspension and injury saw the abysmal Greg Strong have his City career cut mercifully short after three games and Molby was forced to turn to Justin to shore up his leaky, nervy defence. Molby went and Taylor arrived. Sadly, Marc Joseph followed. Whittle played out most of the rest of the season as a first-choice defender, but ultimately Taylor would be one manager too far for Justin to please.

Justin’s final season with City was blighted by injury (and Marc Joseph), but he still played a big part in our promotion. Taylor’s preferred centre-back partnership was Joseph and Damien Delaney, but Taylor’s problem was that when Joseph was injured, Whittle was putting in some of his finest performances. Whittle’s stock grew in his absence, with Joseph putting in a handful of comically bad performances. The early-season 3-1 defeat at Huddersfield, which had seen the in-form Sarge dropped for Joseph, saw the boo-boys come out in force, but also seemed to strengthen the ever-stubborn Taylor’s resolve to stick with Joseph – a player Taylor claimed would one day be good enough to play in the Premiership, who spent last season starring for Blackpool’s reserves. Injuries to both Whittle and Joseph meant that Taylor didn’t have to make the choice between the two very often, but it was a 15-match unbeaten run, during which Whittle was at his brilliant best, that gave City the foundation they needed for promotion.

Taylor’s attitude towards Whittle was a disappointment. No one can deny the excellent job he did with City, and we should always be thankful to him, but at times it would seem that every time we conceded a goal he would replay the game until he could find a slight error by Whittle, and then go to the press moaning about how Justin had cost us the game. Perhaps the most unforgivable example of this was in the Torquay away game in October 2003. City got an absolute pounding, with Kuffour and Graham running us ragged. All that stopped City being on the receiving end of a thrashing were colossal performances from Whittle and Delaney, and in the end we escaped with an ill-deserved point. But who was to blame for Torquay’s solitary goal? That’s right; Whittle didn’t close Graham down quick enough. The dozen or so goal-saving tackles he’d put in counted for nothing, apparently.

Taylor was much easier to love once he didn’t have Whittle to blame for everything. Taylor probably always knew that would be the case. He also will have known that in the popularity stakes, he stood as much chance against Justin as a forward competing for a 50-50 ball. Whittle, for his part, never said a word against any of the managers that had dished out such ill-deserved, shabby treatment.

Another feature of Whittle’s contribution to Hull City’s cause is the way he would bring about an improvement in his defensive partners. When Whittle joined us, Mark Greaves’ career was going nowhere fast and Mike Edwards was a youngster struggling to make his way. Both improved beyond measure under the tutelage of Joyce and Whittle, and played vital roles in the Great Escape. Ian Goodison’s early nervous performances became a thing of the past once he was established next to Sarge’s assuring presence. When Jan Molby was allowed to go on a spending spree, new signing Jon Anderson looked a bag of nerves alongside kamikaze Greg Strong. Once Strong was disposed of and Justin regained his rightful place at the heart of the defence, Anderson became our player of the season. A season later, and boo-boy target Damien Delaney was given a run at centre-back next to Whittle. In the space of a few months, Delaney went from an ill-fitting left-back whose confidence was shot to being our player of the season in the first promotion year.

Justin’s departure from the Tigers was sadly predictable. Taylor had barely thought him to be of League Two standard, so it stood to reason that he wasn’t going to get a chance in League One. Justin’s happiness on ‘Humberside’ saw him join Grimsby, where he established himself as club captain. And even at Grimsby, Justin’s status as a hero became even more firmly cemented. In October 2005, Grimsby played Newcastle in the League Cup. Early on, Justin was on the receiving end of one of the nasty, cowardly elbow attacks that Alan Shearer had made his trademark. Shearer avoided a merited sending off for the umpteenth time in his career, and sure enough found himself on the receiving end of a horses-for-courses Whittle elbow a few minutes later. Instead of taking it like a man, as Justin had done, Shearer whined and bitched about it for the rest of the game. At the end of the game, Shearer refused Justin’s handshake and went on TV to moan to his media chums about the rough treatment he has received, adding that “the temptation is there to stick one on him”. Those that had seen Shearer shit himself when confronted by Roy Keane a year or so earlier would no doubt have liked to see Shearer do something, anything, to justify his hard-man status (that didn’t involve kicking a defenceless Neil Lennon in the face while he was lying on the floor).

Shearer’s cronies in the media flocked around him (Shearer-bummer-in-chief Andy Townsend claimed that Shearer’s assault on Whittle was ‘Shearer letting Whittle know that he’s there’ while branding Justin’s retaliation as ‘a disgrace’). Shearer continued to bleat for a few weeks to anyone that would listen, mainly sycophantic Geordies blind to their over-rated hero’s obvious flaws. Justin’s response to his 15 minutes of fame: keeping his head down and his mouth shut, just as you would expect from the nicest of nice guys and the most model-like of pros, in the most perfect response to the claims from Shearer’s propagandists that Whittle was ‘out to make a name for himself’. Alan Shearer is a twat.

When Amber Nectar’s survey voted Justin Whittle as the best/most popular player the site’s contributors had seen play for City, it was of little surprise. In the 15 or so years up to and including Justin’s tenure at City, the fans had endured various crises and miserable spells, from awful players to inept managers to corrupt/downright evil owners. Seeing a player play for Hull City in the manner every fan likes to think he would himself – give absolutely everything in every game; throw yourself in the way of anything coming at the City goal; put the team’s interests before your own; play on a foggy February night in Rochdale with the same enthusiasm and dedication that you would the first game of the season; acknowledge the fans at the end of every game and make time for them off the pitch – was the perfect antidote to Dolan, Needler, Fish, Hateley, Appleton, Lloyd, Buchanan, Hinchliffe and Molby.

Players like Justin are all too rare in today’s football environment, and we should count our blessings that we had the Sarge at the heart of our defence for so long. Justin’s limitations were obvious: his passing, his close control and his first touch. However, his tackling, his reading of the game, his organisational skills, his heading, his bravery, his likeability and, most importantly, his heart, not only made up for his shortcomings, they made him stand out from any other player to have pulled on the black and amber for many a year. ‘One-eyed’ he may have been, but he’s still our king.

Richard Gardham

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Filed under: Heroes & Villains — Andy @ 2:33 am

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June 9, 2007

HERO – Brian Horton


It is May 1983 and Luton Town have defeated Manchester City at their pokey Kenilworth Road kennel, a late Radi Antic strike ending a five game winless run and elevating the plucky Bedfordshire side above their illustrious Mancunian foes.

As the final whistle pheeped and David Pleat cavorted onto the field of play dancing a bizarre jig of delight – like Riverdance on mescaline – it was not the jubilant Yugoslavian goalscorer that the current day anodyne radio commentator and erstwhile kerb crawler aimed for, but rather a slight but powerful bearded man with a bald head and a grimace of delight.

David Pleat’s true hero that day was Brian Horton.

Fast forward 24 years and Brian Horton is retained by the Tigers as assistant manager to the tanned purveyor of glory and garbage Phil Brown. Horton, now 58, is a journeyman manager that knows the ropes and has the ire, desire and fire to motivate players to give the extra drops of sweat and effort that separate the winners from the also-rans, the goal scorers from the flatterers to deceive, the last day survivors from the last day relegation fodder.  Brian Horton has toured the football league managing sides, from lowly Macclesfield Town through Oxford, Huddersfield, Brighton and Port Vale to the self-same high rolling Manchester City side that Horton’s efforts at Luton had once consigned to the Second Division.  Yes this bloke knows his way around, knows the job, knows the ropes.  The first managerial rope he clambered up was at Hull City.  And it was a glorious time.

Born in Hednesford, grim Staffordshire coal mining town, Horton began his footballing career playing for his non-league hometown club before 300-odd games for each of Port Vale and Brighton saw him carve a reputation as a tough no nonsense defensive midfielder.  His final three seasons as a player were spent at Luton and pinnacled in perhaps the finest achievement of his playing days, that last day relegation survival that he will always be associated with.  After another solid season as captain in the Luton engine room Horton, now 35, was looking for fresh challenges.

Meanwhile further north on the East Coast things were rumbling – was it ever thus?  The Tigers had enjoyed a splendid season under the tutelage of the inspirational yet eccentric Colin Appleton, and only a last ditch failure to clinch a 3-0 victory at Burnley on the last day of the season denied the Tigers promotion to the old Second Division.  A talented young side had propelled City away from the dark days of receivership and North Stand demolition that blighted the early 80s – these Tigers were going places.

With the dejected City players still soaking their aching limbs in the Turf Moor communal bath, Appleton was resigning his managerial post only to reappear the very next day as Swansea City’s new boss.  This upset was furthered in early August when prize asset Brian Marwood – a rare breed indeed, a genuine goal scoring wide player – was sold to Sheffield Wednesday thus allowing the gurning Durham coaster to airbrush his formative years at Boothferry Park from his career, a habit he still persists with on TV to this day.  It was therefore a big challenge that Brian Horton accepted when he was appointed as Hull City’s player-manager on the 12th June 1984.

His first acts as manager were measured.  With Marwood gone the remaining foundations of Appleton’s squad – Norman, Skipper, McClaren and Whitehurst as the spine, Roberts and Askew as the creative forces – were retained and added to in only limited fashion as blonde midfielder Neil Williams was signed from Watford and aimless wideman Mike Ring was signed from Brighton.  The opening game was a dour 0-0 against a Lincoln City side that was then drubbed home and away in the League Cup, Gary Strodder contributing to City cause one of approximately 100 own goals that the centre back donated during his career.  The first eight games saw City lodged in mid table but City’s form improved in early October with four wins and two draws in seven games, moving the Tigers to 6th in the table.

Saturday 10th November 1984 saw City travel to East London to take on Orient at Brisbane Road, a side in the bottom three managed by dour Geordie Frank Clark but benefiting from the erratic but extravagant skills of Barry Silkman.  They had a goalkeeper on loan from Arsenal called Rhys Wilmot who was legendarily calamitous and they were leaking goals aplenty – 28 in their opening fifteen league games.  So perhaps the most surprised of all were the home fans when the O’s cruised to a 3-1 lead at half time and made it 4-1 through Silkman midway through the second half.  Horton’s Tigers then launched one the most remarkable comebacks of the decade as waves of attack and a dose of suspect goal keeping saw City rattle up 4 goals in quick succession to seal an unlikely 5-4 win.  Your correspondent, recently ripped from the bosom of his family and deposited in a student let a few stops up the Central Line, witnessed the proceedings in awe and duly saw his love for the Tigers rekindled after a three year lapse.  I’m still paying the price for that result.

This unlikely win galvanised Horton’s side further and an unbeaten run that stretched from late October to mid January propelled his side to second in the table with Whitehurst, Askew and Flounders contributing the goals.  After a weather-induced 3 week lay-off a messy 2-4 reverse at Reading’s Elm Park halted the run abruptly with Dean Horrix and Trevor Senior – both infamous in their own ways – bagging braces.  Two further defeats against Bradford and Gillingham saw City slide to fifth, enticing Horton to drop himself from the team and focussed on his touchline duties alone for the rest of the season.  A nine game streak of seven wins and two draws saw the Tigers rebound back into a promotion spot.  After the obligatory loss at Ashton Gate Horton’s side won another five on the spin including thrilling defeats of Orient (5-1, Whitehurst hat-trick), Preston (4-1 at Deepdale) and Wigan (3-1).  The fifth of those wins, at Walsall’s Fellows Park, sealed mathematical promotion thanks to a solitary Peter Skipper strike.  Eleven months into his tenure Horton had achieved promotion back to the Second Division, a tremendous feat albeit achieved with a squad largely assembled by his predecessor.

A week later City had capitulated in meaningless fixtures against York and Brentford and as City fans sunned themselves at Griffin Park the appalling news of the Valley Parade fire filtered through.  Three weeks later football’s death toll was increased by the disgraceful scenes at the Heysel Stadium perpetrated by the same moronic Liverpool supporters that no doubt robbed and rioted before this season’s European Cup Final.  Always scum.  Against this backdrop Horton plotted his first campaign back in the second tier.

The previous February Horton had signed a tall and elegant defender called Richard Jobson, who promptly went AWOL from training after a handful of starts and was left in the reserves as Stan McEwan regained his first team berth.  Jobson thus was regarded as a player of suspect temperament, a bizarre claim looking back as one remembers one of the most reliable and attractive defenders in the modern era to don the amber and black.  Horton returned to Luton to sign the extravagantly chinned striker Frankie Bunn, instantly dubbed The Wild Bull (by me, mainly).  Within two weeks of the season’s start he had also clinched the signing of elegant Caledonian midfield playmaker Bobby Doyle.  All the building blocks of an attractive attacking side were in place – and they soon delivered.  Winless in the first six games, City then eked out victories against Millwall, Carlisle and Palace – the latter inspired by perhaps the most powerfully struck free kick ever witnessed on a football pitch, propelled by Stan McEwan.  By mid-November two wins and a draw against London teams had seen the Tigers rise to 10th place.

Jobson and McEwan were contributing goals to replace the regular strikes of Billy Whitehurst who was sold to Newcastle around Christmas.  These goals from defence supplemented the efforts of Andy Flounders as City continued to prosper, a 4-1 New Years Day win at Oakwell lodging in the mind thanks to Bobby Doyle’s swaggering dribble and expertly placed shot contributing one of the goals.  Only a 0-5 twatting at Millwall spoilt City’s record during the festive period.  By early March exciting wins against Shrewsbury and Stoke had moved Horton’s side up to fifth place – remember that there were no play-offs, the top three went up without recourse to gut-wrenching trips to Wembley.  Horton signed the talented Garry Parker from Luton – amid rumours that his expulsion from Kenilworth Road was down to the consumption of recreational drugs – to add further swagger to the midfield but ultimately the momentum couldn’t be maintained and four consecutive winless games in early April allowed Wimbledon to ease away and finish 10 points ahead of the Tigers in the third promotion place.  Nevertheless the final position of sixth represented City’s highest League finish since the first decade of the 20th century and constituted a tremendous managerial achievement for Horton on the heels of promotion.  He had managed to maintain a winning momentum from the previous season – albeit after a shaky start – and created a side that posed an organised and potent attacking force.  City were unremittingly on the up.

Well not quite, of course….

Horton had used himself sparingly as a player during this first season back in the second flight and he started only six games the following season.  The spine of the side was now rock solid – Norman in goal every week for six years, Jobson and Skipper allowing nothing to pass, Doyle, Parker and Roberts pulling strings in midfield.  Ray Daniel had been added to the squad – another signing from Luton – to add versatility down the left.  Only up front were we suspect with the variable Bunn, the limited Saville and the lightweight Flounders struggling to score regularly.  Bunn’s regular misfiring was commented upon by your author in a fanzine piece penned around this time – it was a measure of Horton’s passion that he took the time to ring me at my home and harangue me for my ill-treatment of a player that was going through a crisis of confidence.  I responded immediately, lavishly and pluckily by muttering about three words, all of them “sorry”.

1986-87 started with two wins and a draw and the Tigers were second – untold riches.  Three defeats followed and mid table obscurity was regained.  Successive heavy defeats at Palace (1-5) and Sheffield United (2-4) saw City slide to 17th.  Through February and March eight matches yielded only 2 wins and 3 goals and the Tigers slumped into the bottom 5.  Action was clearly needed from Horton and in mid-February Charlie Palmer and Alex Dyer were signed from Derby and Blackpool respectively.  After a bedding-in period their presence made enough difference to halt the slide.  Dyer contributed 4 goals in the last three games to elevate City to 14th while Palmer’s arrival allowed Jobson to move to the centre and replace the ageing McEwan.

By now Horton’s judgement was under occasional scrutiny.  The Tigers eased into the Fifth Round of the Cup with road trip victories at Shrewsbury and a very scary Swansea.  Only lowly Wigan stood between City and a lucrative Sixth Round tie against eventual semi-finalists and local rivals Leeds United.  The Tigers crashed 0-3 at Wigan’s Springfield Park bog, the withdrawal of the influential Askew coinciding with a glut of second half goals.  The optimism and attacking football was seemingly over and Horton’s tactics became increasingly defensive, no doubt a reaction to the necessity of staving off relegation and the relative riches at the back compared with the limited offer up front.

The priority for the summer of 1987 was clearly reinforcements amongst the strikers.  It didn’t happen.  Flounders had left for Scunthorpe towards the end of the previous season and striking duties were again shared between Dyer, Bunn and Saville.  This lack of penetration, coupled with Bobby Doyle suffering a career-ending lunge at the hands of lunk-headed Doncaster defender Dave Cusack in a pre-season friendly, seemed to indicate that a season of struggle beckoned.  But Horton galvanised his established squad once more and the Tigers were defeated only once in the opening 15 League games, finding themselves second in the table by the end of October.  The stand-out moment was clearly a 2-0 win at Elland Road, Alex Dyer contributing a twisty slippery dribble and goal that was immediately placed amongst the most joyful legendary City moments.  Three defeats in November halted progress somewhat but by the end of the year City were well established as a promotion challenger in sixth place.  The problems up front were still evident though – Dyer had contributed six league goals but Bunn had only struck 4 and Saville had scored just 3; it was midfielder Garry Parker who was top scorer with 7.

On New Year’s Day City travelled to play Aston Villa, who were going well in the top 3.  After City missed an early penalty Villa swotted the Tigers aside and ended 5-0 winners, 80s/90s City nemesis Warren Aspinall contributing two goals.  This reverse clearly stunned Horton and his Tigers.  Leeds were gloriously thumped 3-1 at Boothferry Park in the very next game – Andy Payton potting an early goal in his first senior start – but after this win a three match Cup tie against First Division strugglers was lost and the Tigers’ League form collapsed.  By early April City had been winless for three months with only four draws to show from 12 games – an horrific 2-6 reverse at Bournemouth was perhaps the low point.  Despite the superb form in the opening three months of the season, supporters were by now increasingly exasperated with Horton who appeared helpless and unable to take affirmative action to improve form.  During March much needed surgery to the squad saw the acquisition of midfield dervish Ken de Mange from Leeds, fading wingman Peter Barnes from Manchester City, young left back Wayne Jacobs from Sheffield Wednesday and the returning Keith Edwards from Aberdeen – finally a goalscorer!

Mid April saw the Tigers take on Swindon Town at home, a night match precipitated by postponements during a long cold snap in late January.  Horton dropped the stalwart Garreth Roberts and started with youthful winger Leigh Jenkinson.  Jenkinson scored but City capitulated horribly and were spanked 1-4.  It seemed that no amount of tinkering could change things.  City chairman Don Robinson was reputedly furious with this embarrassing cuffing and flew into a rage after the game, inviting Horton to resign immediately after full time.  On learning of this the City players accepted full responsibility and pleaded with Robinson to reverse his rash decision.  Don calmed down and sought out Horton, apologised for his haste and offered to reinstate him at the helm.  Horton – a proud man – summarily refused and resigned from his job.

A messy ending to a managerial spell that saw so much success.  I can recall relief at Horton’s dismissal at the time, fearing that he simply didn’t have the ability to stem the tide of bad results, but many City supporting friends were far less sanguine and felt that Horton had been a blameless victim while the players repeatedly let him down.  This suggestion was given significant credence when 11 days later City humped Huddersfield 4-0 with returning hero Edwards scoring twice.

The Tigers were not in danger of relegation even after such a poor run of results and ultimately finished 15th.  Eddie Gray took the City manager’s seat that Summer while Brian Horton was appointed Oxford United’s boss the following October where he enjoyed five successful years before being lured into the big time by Manchester City.  He experienced success at Maine Road for a season and a half with an entertaining brand of football that exploited the pace and crossing ability of wide players Nicky Summerbee and Peter Beagrie.  Howevcr a run of poor form similar to that experienced at City was once again Horton’s downfall and he was sacked at the end of 1994-95 season.

Brian Horton quite clearly benefited from the excellent young squad that he inherited from his predecessor Colin Appleton.  However he moulded that squad, added a wealth of young talent to the shape of players like Jobson, Doyle, Parker and Dyer and made City hard to beat.  For a long while this defensive solidity formed a base for exciting attacking football and City experienced levels of success that hadn’t been experienced since the club’s formative seasons 80 years earlier.  Horton’s demise was messy and unfortunate but he now returns to City with a welcome, his place in City’s notional hall of fame cemented for ever more.

Brian Horton – Hull City hero.  I should say so

Mike Scott

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Filed under: Heroes & Villains — Andy @ 9:39 pm

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