The Soul of Hull City #24: James Chester’s goal at Cardiff

Heights of joy

ChesterGolCity have had a share of “I was there” moments of late – three trips to Wembley, wins over Premier League opposition, European adventures – but these are obvious and many can lay claim to them. However, the more soulful type of “I was there” moment (and that’s why we’re here) lends itself to specific, idiosyncratic or just brilliant moments, rather than occasions, and if they were witnessed by only a smattering of people, all the better. They can be as ridiculous or as delightful as you see fit, and in the case of James Chester’s goal at Cardiff, it was absolutely a delight.

To many, it will set the benchmark for the great team goal, the type that doesn’t end with a thunderous volley or aerodynamic diving header but still epitomises how beautiful football can be. Chester, settled into the back four of the post-apocalyptic side fashioned by Nigel Pearson, was already evidently a striking example of defensive excellence and style, but his goal at Cardiff’s shiny new stadium in the spring of 2012 gave him extra prestige.

He intercepted a pass in his own half, left the ball to Josh King – and just kept running. King fed Robert Koren, the Slovene then reached the edge of the box before returning it to King who instantly flick-heeled it behind him to an unmarked, unnoticed Chester, and as everyone tried to work out how he got there, he steered it under the keeper and in.

It was a divine team goal, made to look easy from start to finish and sandwiched two further strikes to give City a 3-0 away win that was the most impressive performance of a season that nearly, under Nick Barmby, resulted in a play-off place. City ran out of puff in the end – the same month saw eight more games squeezed in – but Chester’s name, a name that endured after Barmby and into the Steve Bruce era of promotion, Premier League returns, the FA Cup final and Europe, was made with fans that night.


The Soul of Hull City #23: ‘The Tigers are back’ record.

Talking points

TAB2The football record has all but died a death, apart from every four years when some deluded ego is roped in by the FA to write something for the England team that they mistakenly believe will be a fraction as good as World in Motion. Or Vindaloo, for that matter.

The 70s and 80s were a different matter. Football records were all the rage. You couldn’t move for Nice One Cyrils, Back Homes, Anfield Raps and Ossie Ardiles’ knees going all trembly. Seeing the potential in this, a newly resurgent Hull City decided in 1981 that a seven-inch single was the best way to celebrate our ‘revival’.

We didn’t have a Chas and Dave among our fans, but we did have a soon-to-be award-winning film writer/director and a soon-to-be member of The Christians among our fans, and so schoolfriends Mark Herman and Henry Preistman were soon laying down some beats, or whatever it is that these people do.

The result is interesting. And if you think that ‘interesting’ is a euphemism for ‘a bit shit’, you’d be right. But shit in an endearing way. Lines such as “We used to roar a lot, along with 20,000 others” mixed seamlessly with crowd shouts of “Give ‘em some stick Dennis” in a deliciously low-key offering complete with a classy sounding 80s synth. Sadly, the top 40 didn’t quite beckon for this offering, but it remains the only Hull City record ever to be released. And in the general crimes against music committed by various football clubs or players, there has been much, much worse released.



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

Depths of despair


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

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

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

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

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

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


The Soul of Hull City #21: Colin Appleton

Dramatis Personae


Grumbles of an old boys network and genuine concerns for the club’s future were clearly audible when the wispy-haired Appleton, a former chippy and captain of Leicester City, was appointed in the summer of 1982 by new chairman Don Robinson as the man to remove the Tigers from the abyss of the Fourth Division as quickly as possible. Relegation, within financial meltdown, had forced the club to its knees, but while Robinson’s rescue package was greeted with gratitude and open arms, his decision to bring his manager buddy from Scarborough in as well was less warmly received.

No-one need have worried. The two were a killer combination, but Robinson’s scheming, gimmickry and good-natured headline-grabbing often overshadowed the reflective Appleton’s sturdy work with his inherited squad, unable as he was to add many of his own purchases to it, though he did snap up freebie winger Billy Askew after a trial, a player who would be crucial to City’s progress for the rest of the decade. Appleton soon got into his stride, recognising the fearless gift in front of goal of teenage striker Andy Flounders and the creative might (and penalty-taking excellence) of the fast-developing Brian Marwood, all while garnering his predominant reputation as a manager who was obsessed with safe football and strong defence. City duly lost just six times, remained undefeated at Boothferry Park until the March (conceding just 14 goals there all season) and were promoted with two games to spare, eventually finishing as runners-up to Wimbledon. Hell, he even signed Emlyn Hughes for a bit.

Appleton again didn’t feel the need to change much for the return to Division Three and was vindicated with another season of effective percentage football that didn’t always please the eye but regularly turned up results, again thanks in no small measure to the mercurial Marwood, who put away another 16 goals from the flanks and the penalty spot. But the climate intervened in the January as City lost momentum and a whole month of games due to the weather and played an exhausting catch-up for the rest of the campaign, eventually needing a 3-0 win at Burnley in the final fixture to go up again via goal difference. Marwood scored twice but nobody could add the third, and the only cheers heard at Turf Moor on the final whistle were those of interloping Sheffield United fans, whose team had benefitted from City’s last-ditch failure.

Appleton quit before the journey back to Hull had been completed, to everyone’s utter horror, and went to Swansea, even not bothering to hang about for the remainder of the Associate Members Cup campaign. The recruitment of the excellent Brian Horton as his successor meant he soon wasn’t missed but his legacy was secure, even remaining so when Robinson brought him back for a wretched second go in 1989 (“How does feel to be back Colin?” “Er, I’m on cloud seven…”) which resulted in no wins from 16 games and, when Robinson then gave up the club, instant dismissal from new chairman Richard Chetham.

His willingness to let Robinson do the talking, plus the brevity of his stay and the manner of his departure, unduly devalue Appleton’s spell at the helm, but Appleton’s record during those two campaigns make him City’s best ever gaffer on pure stats. That he is also the worst, courtesy of his apparent inability to beat a carpet, let alone an opposing football team, upon his return in 1989, somehow adds to his legend and charm, and is easily forgiven when held alongside those astonishing achievements from 1982 to 1984. Those two seasons of salvage and hope make this softly-spoken, modest man just as important to his era of management as the likes of Warren Joyce and Phil Brown would later be in other turbulent periods for the club.

Now pushing 80 and still living in Scarborough, Appleton regularly rummages through a huge cardboard box of keepsakes – programmes, contracts, newspaper cuttings, photographs – in his attic that remind him of his time at Boothferry Park. His memories of being Hull City manager are very fond, and he can be assured that the supporters who watched his sides play feel the same.


The Soul of Hull City #20: Jeff Radcliffe’s hat

Keeping up appearances


Few physiotherapists manage a quarter of a century at one club, and even fewer physiotherapists’ tam-o’-shanters manage to survive the same quarter century. It’s perhaps not the most staggering fact to suggest Jeff Radcliffe was unique because he wore a tam-o’-shanter, but it certainly made him recognisable.

Bought for him by his Scottish mother, he began wearing it after realising that sitting in a dugout watching a terrible game could be quite a cold experience, and the sight of this bobbled head nodding up and down as he ran across the pitch to spray Garreth Roberts’ knee (again) was often more thrilling than the football. One assumes that the hat was dunked in team baths, nicked, placed halfway up floodlights and probably shat in by Billy Whitehurst over its lifespan at Boothferry Park, but it was always there, on Radcliffe’s head, on matchdays.

Such was the impact of said millinery item that nobody recognised Radcliffe when he took to the field in his 1988 testimonial match; indeed only the sight of City and Spurs players applauding him on to the park gave his identity away. An example to any non-playing football employee of how headgear can look good and become part of your already likeable personality – Tony Pulis take note.


The Soul of Hull City #19: Leigh Jenkinson in the Rumbelows Sprint Challenge

That’s SO Hull City


For 104 years we waited to play an actual match at Wembley, but at least it took only a mere 88 years before a Hull City kit was legitimately on show there. League Cup sponsors Rumbelows held an inter-club competition to find the fastest footballer in the 92, with each club (apart from those who thought it was a toss idea and declined) submitting their nippiest squad member, in football kit and boots.


Ultimately, a race at Wembley prior to the Rumbelows Cup final was the pinnacle. Regional heats were held, and although Jenks, the City winger renowned for being both fast and yet a carthorse (as well as slicing crosses into the South Stand with alarming regularity), was done by Huddersfield’s Iffy Onuora in his 100m semi at the Don Valley, he took him in the final and got to Wembley for the big occasion. There, with a sense of inevitability which summed up City’s fortunes in the entire 1990s (relegated twice, frequently humiliated), he came very, very last.


The Soul of Hull City #18: Tennis ball protest at Bolton

Fan culture


City fans were already miffed that tennis tosser David Lloyd had merged many functions of both the Tigers and egg-chasers Hull Sharks (as Hull FC were then known) such as the feebly named ‘Tiger-Sharks Inc.’ club shops, and were deeply suspicious that what little money Hull City had was being diverted to fund the rugby league clubs ambitions. The petulant fool had several times threatened to close both clubs down if the people of Hull (who he branded ‘crap’ in one interview) didn’t back his plans, and when he announced that City would leave Boothferry Park and become tenants at the dilapidated Boulevard ground, Tiger Nationals were enraged.

A beer fuelled meeting of the TOSS and Amber Nectar fanzines determined that protest needed to be made, and the forthcoming League Cup tie at Bolton seemed the perfect time. It was agreed that in order to truly grab the attention of the media, and in turn the sporting public, we needed to delay or disrupt the game somehow. A pitch invasion was deemed unacceptable as the publicity would be wholly negative, so a Nectarine suggested throwing tennis balls on the pitch, it made sense; it was non-violent, highly visible and amusingly ironic as former tennis pro Lloyd was the current Davis Cup captain.

A few hundred tennis balls were purchased and randomly distributed to willing supporters on the coaches bound for the Reebok Stadium. Just before kick off, they were hurled onto the turf, a few at first, then en masse creating a vivid shower of luminous orbs to the bemusement of the players, officials and watching media. Radio Humberside’s Gwilym Lloyd, despite having been tipped off about the protest, curiously stated on air that it was apples being thrown at Steve Wilson, musing that maybe it was a twist on the old ‘oranges for Ian McKechnie’ ritual of yore. Nonetheless the media lapped it up, and each subsequent report in the national press increased the estimate of tennis balls used, a few hundred had become ‘thousands’. The protest worked better than anyone could have anticipated, and a humiliated Lloyd soon announced he was putting the club up for sale. Game, set and match to City fans.


The Soul of Hull City #17: Championship survival while Leeds are relegated

Talking points 


So it’s us or Leeds to go down, and we have to go to Cardiff whereas Leeds, a point adrift of us, are at home to a middling Ipswich. One game remains after this so relegation may yet not be decided there and then, but if City could manage a win at Ninian Park, that’d be very handy, thank you. Few actually believed it would happen in tandem with Leeds conceding a hilarious late equaliser to Ipswich, prior to their lamebrained fans trying to get the match abandoned by invading the pitch, mind.

Dean Windass, three months into a glorious Indian summer with the club he adores, scored City’s only goal shortly after half time, and in front of a boisterous and euphoric travelling Tiger Nation. Every outfield player jumped on the 38 year old striker’s back, all part of the cause, though Leeds were winning too. But then Alan Lee, Ipswich’s effective lummox of a striker, completed the fairytale at Elland Road, and City were three points clear with a goal difference of considerable superiority. Leeds accepted their relegation before the maths confirmed it a week later, even taking a ten point deduction for administration and finishing bottom of the table.

We’ve had moments to celebrate our own achievements, but this one remains unique for the feeling of inflicting deserved damage on hated rivals which prompted, as a nice bonus, messages of congratulation from all other football fans. Hell, even the Cardiff fans more renowned for offering us steel toecaps and People’s Elbows were cheering for us by the end. And the following year we won the play-offs at Wembley to get to the Premier League, prior to Leeds losing theirs to Doncaster and staying in League One. Perfection.


The Soul of Hull City #16: Supermarkets behind the North Stand

That’s SO Hull City


As the 1970s drew to a close and a swathe was cut through the North’s economy by a wicked woman from Grantham, Hull City AFC described a similar arc of decline. By 1982 the club had descended to the fourth division for the first time in its history and the disinterested Chris Needler had assumed the chairman’s post, only to plunge the club into receivership within six months of his second tenure. Struggling to stay afloat, the Tigers came perilously close to extinction.

In 1979 City’s directors had announced a scheme to develop Boothferry Park, with the Boothferry Road car park being given over to a complex of leisure facilities, a supermarket, club offices and a multi-storey car park. The proposal took three years to develop and was progressively scaled back to cut costs.

In February 1982 receivership and redevelopment plans crashed into each other. And so it came to pass that the fine North Stand structure with its imposing clock, was demolished and replaced by a functional supermarket shed that was occupied by Yorkshire grocery chain Grandways. The rear of the supermarket, which flanked the Boothferry Park pitch behind one goal, accommodated a shallow area of uncovered terracing that became an unsatisfactory home to many an away following for the next 20 years. It also housed an electronic scoreboard that would seem ludicrously basic now, but was considered to be a sign of the space age coming to Kingston upon Hull at the time. It clapped; it issued yellow cards; it responded when wayward shots narrowly missed it; it told the time. It was to all intents and purposes a miracle in electronic form.

Once a stadium that proudly boasted to being the only one with a dedicated British Railways station, now Boothferry Park was the only ground in English league football with a fruit and veg aisle behind one goal. The store closed early on matchdays so the spectacle of middle aged shoppers in headscarves mingling in the car park with the Fred Perry wearing hoolies of Middlesbrough and Derby never came to pass, but the embarrassment endured and Boothferry Park was denied much of its original cavernous atmosphere.

The decline of Boothferry Park, its name picked out in red backlit letters across the roofline of the store, was characterised most savagely by the failure of the club to replace busted light bulbs in the 1990s, which resulted in the stadium being announced to night-time passers-by as “—–FER– -ARK”.

Grandways begat Jacksons in the early 1990s and after a few years in this guise the store became a Kwik Save budget food seller. The store ceased trading in 2007 when Kwik Save went bust and was subsequently demolished along with the rest of Boothferry Park to make way for a housing development.


The Soul of Hull City #15: Hednesford cup defeat

Depths of despair


The 1990s was a long procession of debasement and debilitation for those of a Tiger persuasion. Humiliations jostle with one another for supremacy in our scarred memories, with no clear winner, no definitive top ten possible, just an unending slurry of dismay. However, while we may never be able to select for certain our lowest point, few have a more vigorous claim than an afternoon of shame that’ll be forever known simply as “Hednesford”.

They were our opponents in the First Round of the FA Cup in 1997/98, a match played one chilly November day, a rancid affair replete with squalid cheating, loathsome officiating and a City side more mind-meltingly hopeless than anyone new to the support nowadays could believe ever turned out in amber and black. Those who do remember need only consider that Gage and Rioch were our full-backs that day, or wing-backs, as manager Mark Hateley attempted to mould them. Match of the Day were there too, featuring the Tigers on that evening’s show and fervently hoping for a “giant-killing”. They got one.

City started poorly, as was their wont. Hednesford now ply their trade in the Southern League, but at the time were a progressive Conference team, only a handful of places below the Tigers in the football pyramid. They probably had the better of the first half as a cold, sullen Boothferry Park crowd of 6,091 sighed with displeasure. Mick Norbury, veteran striker of virtually every crap northern team in existence, scored with a penalty shortly before half-time, comically awarded by Mr D Laws, a name not easily forgotten – for he turned in one of the worst refereeing displays ever witnessed.

The Pitmen led at the break, and City’s attempts to rescue the game in the second half were pitifully inept. Memories include Gregor Rioch (described as ‘barrel chested’ by Mark Lawrenson on MOTD) shooting from about fifty yards, as he did almost every game, Hateley bringing on the attacking duo of Ellington and Fewings (seriously) in bid to level matters, and Rioch tumbling in the area and Mr Laws waving it away before being almost jubilant as Hednesford scored again in injury time. The 1,000 Hednesford fans celebrated their cup final victory, their cretinous fat oaf of a manager pranced on our pitch, and we slunk away into the night in utter disgrace, wondering if we’d ever see the sun again.