The Soul of Hull City #14: Jon Parkin’s fall from grace

Talking Points


Few were thrilled, to say the least, when Peter Taylor decided that lumpy, slow and dubiously skilled striker Jon Parkin was the right man to helm City’s progress in the Championship, for real money and everything. The memories of City fans who saw him in useless mode for York and laughed at him at Macclesfield were long. But Parkin was immense upon arrival, twatting defenders with aplomb while scoring peachy goals and quickly earning a cult status not seen for a man in his position since Billy Whitehurst was putting the shits up centre halves a generation earlier.

His winner against Leeds United near the end of that campaign seemingly secured his legacy forever, only to ruin it with an appalling lack of self-respect in pre-season that saw him arrive with a good few stones added to his already porcine appearance. Taylor had gone and Phil Parkinson didn’t have a clue what to do about Parkin, as now only his dreadful attitude fitted his nickname of the Beast, and apart from two sharp goals on telly against Sheffield Wednesday (reserving it for the cameras, eh?) he became an embarrassment, a target of fierce criticism not seen since John Moore. So from Whitehurst to Moore in the space of six months.

He fucked off to Stoke on loan as Phil Brown reached the end of his tether but had to come back in an injury crisis, during which time he proved he cared not a jot – including in a crucial game against his new bessies at Stoke, as City equalised in injury time but Parkin was the sole participant not to partake in the wild celebrations. Stoke bought him that summer and quickly they too realised what a fat, lazy waste of space he was, forwarding him to Preston within another year. An astonishing lurch from villain, to icon, to villain in such a short period.


The Soul of Hull City #13: Don Robinson

Dramatis Personae


Hull City had spent the later years of the 1970s and the early parts of the 1980s seemingly on a path to either non-league football or non-existence. The Waggy and Chillo golden years were now a distant memory and a couple of relegations had seen the club in the bottom division for the first time, with the receivers called in and no one within the city interested in saving it. The local media – when it bothered with football instead of rugby league – would generally focus on stories of funeral marches to the ground, collections to pay the players’ wages, how low attendances were…

An hour or so up the east coast, Scarborough were making waves as the most forward-thinking and successful non-league football club in the country, underpinned by consecutive FA Trophy successes. The owner of Scarborough was an eccentric businessman, a one-time professional wrestler who’d turned up at Craven Park one day claiming to be one of the finest prop forwards in rugby league. He wasn’t. He was an astute businessman, however, with a natural flair for promoting whatever it was that piqued his interest at the time. More often than not, it was himself. From 1982 to 1989, it was Hull City. The man’s name was Don Robinson.

When, in May 1982, the SOS call to Don came from Christopher Needler, with City in deep financial trouble, he couldn’t get to Hull fast enough. A £250,000 cheque was signed and Don was our majority shareholder, while Boothferry Park was purchased by a foundation set up by the Needler family. Don Robinson was our new chairman. He brought Colin Appleton with him from Scarborough to become our new manager. Hull City were about to embark on a journey that was fun and thrilling. The moon was the limit.

First up, red – Scarborough red, though Don claimed it represented the blood City players were going to shed for the club’s cause – was added to our kit. We looked uncannily like Watford. It was one of many changes that were happening at the club. Don would stand on Boothferry Halt selling raffle tickets before games. Robinson bought his own season ticket, “like the other fans”. Crucially, things picked up on the pitch too. Under Appleton, and with the likes of Garreth Roberts, Brian Marwood, Tony Norman, Pete Skipper, Billy Askew and Billy Whitehurst flying, City were promoted in Robinson and Appleton’s first full season running things. Don handed out champagne to the crowd afterwards to anyone – children included – who wanted some.

We were doing things that Hull City just didn’t do. Tours of exotic places were introduced – Florida, the Caribbean – adding the, ahem, illustrious Arrow Air trophy to the club’s threadbare trophy cabinet. Return friendlies with touring American teams were organised. Don would come onto the pitch riding a white horse and wearing a cowboy hat. Emlyn Hughes – probably the most recognisable footballer in the county at the time thanks to his captain’s role on A Question of Sport – played a handful of games for the club and was to act as a director in later years. We were – Don told us – going to be the first club to play on the moon. You couldn’t really be sure that he hadn’t already bought a rocketship on the cheap in preparation.

After our promotion from Division 4 in 1983 the trick was very nearly repeated the season after, the Tigers falling one goal short of a promotion-sealing win on that fateful night at Burnley. The aftermath of the game saw Appleton resign, presenting Don with the first big test of his regime. The result? A masterstroke.

Hull City were an upwardly mobile club and the vacancy was enticing for young and old managers alike. It therefore came as something of a shock when Robinson appointed Brian Horton – a midfielder at Luton – as our player-manager. The result was a promotion the next season and, with the likes of Richard Jobson, Garry Parker and Frankie Bunn now added to the side, an excellent first season back in the second tier, with City finishing sixth in Division 2 the season before the play-offs were introduced.

Everything about the club felt positive, home crowds were regularly hitting the 8,000 mark and Don was in his element. However, the good times couldn’t last. A few murmurings of unrest among the fans had started. The sale of Billy Whitehurst to Newcastle hadn’t gone down well. A sponsorship deal which resulted in the club having ‘Twydale Turkeys’ emblazoned across the shirts was poorly received. On the pitch, City’s form became inconsistent too. Had Don taken us as far as he could? There was a feeling that that was the case, though our chairman remained a popular figure among the fans and players.

The 1987/88 season was to sow the seeds to Don’s demise. An excellent start couldn’t be built upon and when we lined up at home to Swindon in mid-April, City had gone more than three months without a victory. As Swindon stuck four past a demoralised City defence that night, the crowd made their feelings felt and a sizeable number were calling for Horton’s sacking. There were also a few renditions of “Robbie out” to go with it. Don panicked and sacked Horton in the aftermath of the defeat. The next day, the players asked him to reconsider. Horton was asked to come back but refused. Hull City needed a new manager.

Don Robinson’s choice was former Leeds winger Eddie Gray, who’d spent his short managerial career inspiring Rochdale to not very much. Eddie enjoyed a mixed first season, with the disappointment of a fourth-from-bottom finish balanced against an excellent FA Cup run which saw us lose 3-2 in the fifth round to one of the great Liverpool sides. Gray had done enough to suggest there was something to build upon, only to be sacked at the end of the season. How much had been decided in advance is impossible to say, but Robinson returned to his first manager at the club – Colin Appleton.

The 1989/90 season was to be the last that would start with Don Robinson as Hull City’s chairman. It started in controversial circumstances. Unable to find a shirt sponsor, Don decided to simply have the word ‘Humberside’ printed across City shirts, as a thank you to Humberside County Council for the help they had offered the club over the years. At this point, the hatred of the word ‘Humberside’ – combined with the very existence of the county – was approaching fever pitch among those within what they considered to be East Yorkshire. That the announcement was made on August 1st – Yorkshire Day – only added to the depth of rancour among a not-inconsiderable number of City fans.

The shirt sponsor was nothing compared to the disaster that was to unfold on the pitch, however. Colin Appleton had been managing Bridlington Town in the Northern Counties league and was totally out of his depth back in league football. After starting the season with a 16-game winless streak in the league, Appleton was sacked and Don went with him, resigning as chairman and handing over the reins to Richard Chetham. Don stayed on as a director for a short while but bowed out quietly not long after, cutting his ties with the club. His name would appear as a potential savior during some of the darker days of the 1990s when the club was seemingly on the brink of collapse, but Don’s time with Hull City – a time he described later in the local press as “the best years of my life” – was done.

For all of his eccentricities and penchant for self-promotion, Don never forgot what was important, and therefore retains a level of affection with older generations of Hull City fans to this day. In an interview with the Hull Daily Mail years after leaving the club, he gave the following quote: “The biggest thing in football and in Hull is the fans. It’s their club, always will be, no one else’s. I felt I was part of those fans and I wanted to win as much as any fan.” The chances of anyone running our club at the moment coming out with anything approaching such a sentiment are about as likely as us playing on the moon.

So thanks Don. It was successful. It was unpredictable. It was excruciating at times. But sandwiched in-between the two grimmest periods of Hull City’s history, it was a hell of a lot of fun.


The Soul of Hull City #12: The Railway Plaque

Keeping Up Appearances


Acquired from LNER B17 class steam locomotive 2860 (later BR 61660), built in Darlington in 1936 and one of a group of locomotives named after football clubs, the elegant black and amber plaque, one of two that adorned the sides of the aforementioned train, enjoyed iconic status above the Boothferry Park tunnel for decades until the dastardly Martin Fish sold it to a collector and replaced it with a tatty plastic replica.

In the grand scheme of things it didn’t seem the most savage action of the Fish era, but it was witless and, thanks to no official club announcement until they were found out, desperately underhand. More than ten years on, and ever aware of a chance to show his caring, sharing side, Paul Duffen managed to find the purchaser and re-acquire it for the club, and it is now tacked resplendently to the very centre of the West Stand at the Circle.


The Soul of Hull City #11: Harold Needler

Dramatis Personae


As chairmen and owners go, Hull City know what it’s like to see both compassion and spite rule the roost in the boardroom. So many of the recent besuited figureheads have either emerged as icons worthy of immortalisation or villains worthy of incineration. Harold Needler’s commitment to the Tigers was long, unflinching, loyal and active to the very end – literally so, given that he was in control of the club until the day he died.

Needler bought the club when it was dead, gave it the new home that the previous regime had only seen half completed prior to the war dissolving any short term hope of a future, sorted out the identity as far as team colours were concerned (despite an initial period in an unattractive blue kit while awaiting the materials ordered) and appointed Major Frank Buckley as manager after initially using him as a go-between in a futile attempt to attract Stan Cullis from Wolves.

The 30 years that followed were sometimes eventful and regularly interesting. Needler’s natural character cut that of a benevolent and forward-thinking chairman, the type who would make the great Raich Carter the first player-manager of the type commonplace today and put his faith and confidence into the people who knew their job, offering Cliff Britton a ten-year contract to develop the club to the extent that it would be ready for the top flight of English football.

He transferred £200,000 of his profits from sale of his construction company into the club in 1963 that funded a redevelopment of Boothferry Park and allowed Britton to purchase good players, most notably Ken Wagstaff. The ultimate ambition to reach the top tier didn’t quite happen, although the Tigers came mightily close in 1971 under youthful player-manager Terry Neill, one of many individuals associated with the Needler area that ferociously promote the man’s legacy to this day.

Needler’s sudden death in the summer of 1975 heralded a decline in the club’s fortunes, with his unsympathetic, undynamic son Christopher taking over for two years and maintaining a notorious family stranglehold on the club for many dark years afterwards. It is testament to the impact and stature of Harold Needler that he is still referred to reverentially by those who worked with him and supported the club during his tenure, even though the surname dually represents, thanks to his son, periods of disappointment, greed and profligacy.


The Soul of Hull City #10: Caleb Folan joins for a million

Talking Points


Finally, we paid a million pounds for a player. And frankly, it was the first time our finances could really justify it. Adam Pearson’s support for Peter Taylor in the market was unflinching, but never could either chairman or manager have been able, even after elevation to the Championship, to apply reason to shelling out seven-figures on one player, especially as Taylor preferred to recruit from below.

So, long after Taylor and Pearson had gone, it was Phil Brown who selected the player, using Paul Duffen’s endorsement and Russell Bartlett’s resources, who would create City spending history. Caleb Folan had been deeply lacking in distinction during a brief loan spell years earlier during his kindergarten days with Leeds, but on August 31st, as the window was being pulled to, Brown offered a cheque to Wigan Athletic, whom City had dumped out of the League Cup, complete with Folan, days earlier, and they accepted.

Folan’s first act was to have his skull dented by a wayward Blackpool forehead on his debut, but once he returned he proved an agile, able and awkward character who diminished initial doubts about his finishing (first goal wasn’t until December) by scoring crucially at Stoke, West Brom and in the play-offs against Watford, along with some invaluable strikes as a sub when Fraizer Campbell and Dean Windass were on form as the starting pair.

He subsequently scored the goal that earned our first ever Premier League win, although injuries and an obvious inability to step up a level (or run around, or control a ball or – most memorably – stay onside) made him peripheral and frustrating thereafter as relegation was fought against, and though he started the first four games of the second Premier League season, it was obvious that he wasn’t cut out for the job on any level, and was soon packed off on loan to Middlesbrough via a few disparaging words in Brown’s direction. Despite this, and irrespective of where he or the Tigers ended up, his contribution to promotion made the historic investment in his services prove more than shrewd.


The Soul of Hull City #9: Raich Carter

Dramatis Personae


Many Hullensians still have an understandable chip on their shoulder about the lack of publicity (and subsequent funding) regarding the pounding the city took from the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. If you don’t know the facts, then shame on you, but suffice to say that wartime Home Secretary Herbert Morrison considered Hull the worst affected city in the UK by such raids. Basically, post-war Hull was a mess and morale was at rock bottom.

Why am I going on about this? Because it helps put into context just how important Raich Carter was to the city and its football team.

Raich was a household name before he arrived in Hull. He’d won the FA Cup before the war with his home-town club Sunderland and then after it with Derby County. Still an England regular, In 1948, Raich was looking for a move into management. Assistant management offers flowed in, with two, Division Three North Hull City and Division Two Nottingham Forest, emerging as frontrunners. Mindful of the fact that City manager Major Frank Buckley was nearing retirement, and Forest boss Billy Walker was relatively young in management terms, Raich plumped for East Yorkshire, £6,000 was exchanged and a legend created.

On April 3rd 1948, Raich led out his new team-mates against York City in front of 33,000 at Boothferry Park. The game finished 1-1, and afterwards Raich immediately travelled up to Scotland to fulfil his duties as England reserve in a friendly at Hampden Park, so near yet so close to becoming our first England international. While Raich was away, his decision to join opt for City because of the potential for a quicker move into full management was proven to be a shrewd one. Major Buckley had fallen out with the City board, resigned, and Carter was offered the job one game into his City career, a move made official on April 23rd.

In the following summer, Carter signed former Sunderland FA Cup final team-mate Eddie Burbanks to add to an impressive-looking team that contained the likes of Billy Bly, Ken Harrison, Norman Moore and Jimmy Greenhalgh. City got off to a flyer that year, with Raich prompting from inside left and Boothferry Park regularly packing in 30,000-plus gates. The side remained unbeaten until October 16 when Darlington won 1-0 at Boothferry Park. Carter responded by signing Danish international and City legend-in-the-making Viggo Jensen. They weren’t to lose again until mid-February, in which time First Division Stoke had been knocked out of the FA Cup in the fifth round in a match at the Victoria Ground. City were the talk of the football world, with Carter’s profile remaining as high as it had been when he was playing in the top-flight. His presence was adding thousands to any game he played in.

Though clinching promotion was not quite a formality, the sixth-round tie at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup in 1949 captured the city’s, and nation’s, imagination in a way that that other sport could only dream of. Sadly, City lost 1-0 in front of our record home crowd. Unluckily too, by most accounts, with the ball reportedly going out of play just before Manchester United scored the game’s solitary goal.

Promotion to Division Two was sealed on April 30th after a 6-1 win at home to Stockport, with Carter netting twice. In the whole season, Raich had missed only three league games, scoring 14 times (level with Viggo Jensen and only behind centre-forward Moore’s 22). Football historian Peter Jeffs names Raich as the manager of the year in his ‘The Golden Age of Football’. Raich was the king of Hull. The city that had taken such a battering in the war – and had been largely been ignored by the national media – was given reasons to be both cheerful and optimistic. And it was Raich we had to thank.

So, Division Two beckoned. City had shown that we could match the best in the FA Cup the previous year, but could we sustain it over a full season? Did Raich’s 36-year-old legs have another full season in them? Would he be as effective at this level? Of course he would. City won 12 of the first 18 games of the season to challenge at the top of the table, with Raich scoring 13 times. Carter missed only three games all season, but was to only score three more times and a once-promising campaign faded as City won only one of the final 15 games, and finished what was generally viewed as a disappointing seventh

Raich started the 1950-51 season in incredible form, scoring in eight of City’s first nine games as the Tigers once again started a season among the division’s front-runners. However, an injury to Raich in November saw the good form tail off, and though it picked up again on Raich’s return, the gap to the top two couldn’t be breached and City had to settle for 10th. Yet again, there’d been plenty of cause for optimism, but how much longer could Carter go on for? And who could replace him on the pitch? His 35 appearances had brought with them 21 goals. Alf Ackerman and Syd Gerrie had been brought in to plug the goalscoring gap with some success, but replacing the irreplaceable? You might as well replace Michael Turner with Ibrahima Sonko.

The 1951/52 season started with the usual optimism. Though Raich had missed the team’s pre-season tour to Spain to care for his sick wife, he’d declared himself fit for another season. However, he was injured in the first game of the season – a goalless draw against Barnsley. Little did anyone know that it was to be his last game as City’s player manager. Carter handed in his resignation on September 5th, and it was unanimously accepted by the board on September 12th. Mystery shrouded Raich’s resignation. The board said nothing, and Raich’s vague explanation was that he’d quit because of “a disagreement on matters of a general nature in the conduct of the club’s affairs”.

The rumours that surrounded (and still surround) Raich’s exit just added to the highly unsatisfactory way in which such a great servant to the game and Hull City had left the club. His popularity remained undiminished with the people of Hull though, and the following season when City went on a 12-match winless run saw the board partially relent and allow Raich to return – as a player. The club’s fortunes improved with Raich dictating things, and the club staved off the relegation that once looked to be a certainty. The club even had time to beat First Division Manchester United 2-0 at Old Trafford in the third round of the FA Cup. Carter was man of the match. In the final game of the season – in what was to be Raich’s final game in the black and amber – Doncaster were beaten 1-0. The scorer? One Horatio Stratton Carter.

At the end of the season, Carter was given a civic testimonial by the Lord Mayor of Hull and the Carter family were showered with gifts from all kinds of companies and families connected with Hull. But the bitter truth was that Raich was going to move on, and when he did, it was surprisingly to Cork Athletic, but he was soon back in England, managing Leeds United and helping shape the early stages of the career of John Charles. After getting Leeds promoted to Division One, Raich resigned from Leeds because couldn’t recover from the board selling John Charles to Juventus. Managerial posts at Mansfield and Middlesbrough followed, but Raich’s managerial career, while impressive in places, was never to hit the heights of his playing days. After his sacking by Middlesbrough, Raich moved back to Willerby and made ends meet by starting his own football magazine, reporting on matches for the Daily Mirror, sitting on the pools panel and opening a newsagents close to where the KC is now situated. He remained a regular at Boothferry Park with his son, Raich Jr, but sadly only as a commendably passionate supporter.

Raich’s final ‘appearance’ at Boothferry Park came at half time in an otherwise forgettable 0-0 draw against Sunderland in October 1988. He and fellow Sunderland FA Cup final hero Bob Gurney dribbled a ball up and down the pitch as the crowd – to a man – stood to applaud them. The affection for Raich from all supporters was clear for anyone to see, several decades after he’d had any involvement with either club.

Raich died on October 9th, 1994 in Hull. At the time largely regarded as the club’s greatest ever player, the city mourned one of its finest adopted sons. At the request of then chairman Martin Fish, the funeral cortege stopped outside Boothferry Park to be met by a guard of honour formed by the playing and management staff and some 400 fans. His funeral ceremony was littered with football greats mourning a player who could stand shoulder to shoulder with any of them.

So where does Raich stand in what we can now hopefully call with some justification the ‘pantheon’ of City greats? Comparing players from different eras is in many ways futile. Who was the best Hull City player out of Carter, Waggy, Chillo, Whittle, Windass and Turner? Well only one of them thrived in the top-flight with the club, but that shouldn’t necessarily end the argument. Raich’s stats – 136 games, 57 goals – don’t necessarily tell the full story either, the story of the hope he gave a bomb-battered city and its underperforming football club, the flashes of skill that could change a game, the cheeky penalties where he would pass the ball to a team-mate instead of shooting, the fact that one of the country’s finest players was gracing the black and amber.

It’s hard to appreciate the present. Mention that Waggy and Chillo have been surpassed by Deano and Ash and you’ll generally get some Hull City fan over the age of 50 giving you a lecture on how two centre-forwards who for the most part couldn’t take City much higher than the middle of English football’s second tier were way better than anyone who played for us and against us between 2008 and 2010, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. There is generally a third name added to the list of they who will never be bettered. Horatio Stratton Carter. That’s because it would seem he was every bit as good as misty-eyed nostalgics would tell you.


The Soul of Hull City #8: The Hinchliffe Crest

Keeping Up Appearances


Back in 1999, at the start of a period of self inflicted financial turmoil that saw the club evicted from Boothferry Park, players go without pay and the taxman issuing High Court winding-up orders over unpaid VAT, the board saw fit to pay a few grand for an unneeded rebranding exercise. At the behest of vice president Stephen Hinchliffe, (a man disqualified from being a company director by the DTI and later convicted of fraud and jailed for two years) his nepotistically-appointed son James Hinchliffe was tasked to design a new crest. It was an utter abomination.

At the top of a shield was a crudely illustrated Humber Bridge that had three giant coronets hovering ominously, Damocles sword like, over the span. Underneath, inside the escutcheon, was an owl with a goatee beard rendered in iron filings, or maybe it was a clipart crab with a circumcised penis for a nose, or maybe, just maybe, it was a tigers head. It was supposed to be, but it sure didn’t look like one.

Thankfully, that design, which first appeared in a programme in March 1999 and inspired indignant protest, never graced the players’ kit. A hastily redrawn version was used on the Avec strips for 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, and though it was a little bit better, it was awful nonetheless, retaining the nose that looked startlingly phallic.

Adam Pearson sought to erase any trace of the ‘Sheffield Stealers’ reign when he brought the club out of administration in 2001 and heroically commissioned a new primary logo that contained the old, beloved tigers head design that had adorned City shirts between 1978 and 1999. Every now and then, however, the Hinchliffe crest is unwittingly used by a lax page editor in the national press, and the Tiger Nation is forcibly reminded of the time our club’s logo was, depending on your perspective, a bearded owl or a cock-nosed crab.



The Soul of Hull City #7: Billy Bly

Dramatis Personae


Hull City’s history might be a bit underwhelming, but our history of goalkeepers most certainly isn’t. From Eddie Roughley, reputed to have been outstanding in Hull City’s first serious stab at promotion to Division One, to the underappreciated Boaz Myhill more often than not standing as firm as could be expected behind such a porous Premiership defence, the list of Hull City greats is heavily weighted in favour of custodians of the leather.

Boaz would rightly have his supporters in an all-time City XI, as might George Maddison, Maurice Swan, Ian McKechnie, Jeff Wealands, Alan Fettis and maybe even Roy Carroll. In all likelihood, however, the green jersey would go to one of two men: Tony Norman or Billy Bly. In the event of a tie, the decision would have to go on who has the most pre-season trophies named after them.

Bly was born in Newcastle in 1920 and came through his home town club’s youth system. It was while playing for Walker Celtic that he caught the eye of Ernie Blackburn and joined City as an apprentice in August 1937. However, Bly had to wait until April 1939 to make his debut at Rotherham in a 2-0 win though he was to remain City’s first-choice keeper for the remainder of the season. The war seemingly ended Bly’s City career before it had begun. Though he was to turn out for the club in a few wartime games, there could have been no clues that this skinny keeper who had played only a handful of games before the commencement of hostilities in Europe was going to stamp his name all over the history of the Tigers.

It was a 0-0 draw at home to Lincoln City in August 1946 in which Billy Bly’s City career started in earnest. He was first choice for City that day, and was to remain so until March 1960. Indeed had it not have been for a series of unfortunate injuries (Bly was reputed to be ‘the most injured man in football’ at the time) and the war robbing him of six years of his career, one can only wonder just how many more appearances than the eventual 456 Bly would have racked up in his 22 years at Hull City.

BBly2Bly’s star was to rise quickly. In the hubbub that surrounded Raich Carter’s appointment and the club’s rise in the next couple of years from half-decent Division Three (North) team to being on the verge of promotion to the First Division, Bly was outstanding. Carter’s class may have been taking the plaudits on a national scale, but among the City faithful Bly’s popularity was second to none.

In the famous 1949 FA Cup run, Bly kept an impressive clean sheet at Stoke in a 2-0 win to set up the famous Sixth Round tie at home to Manchester United. The 55,019 fans at Boothferry Park that day saw Bly break his nose in the first-half, and bravely play on despite clearly being concussed. It was such devotion to the cause that means that ten-a-penny fanzine writers are still writing about him 50 years on and why fans at the time loved him so much.

Injuries then started to hit Bly. He missed much of the 1950/51 season with a variety of injuries (his bravery was to see him suffer 14 fractures in his career, as well as a glut of other injuries). His fitness also seemed to be affecting any possible football career outside of the confines of Boothferry Park too, with Bly having to withdraw from an England ‘B’ call up due to injury.

The rest of the 1950s seemed to continue with a pattern of: Bly plays, City look fine; Bly is injured, City look shaky. Indeed Bly was to never be ever-present for City in any season. The closest he came was in 1958/59 when he missed just one game. It was no coincidence that that season City were promoted from Division Three.

Despite his obvious frailties, Billy was 39 when he played his final game for Hull City in a 1-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers. His final season was, predictably, blighted by injury, and again, City fortunes floundered in tandem. Relegation at the end of the season also saw Bly announce his retirement, 21 years or so since he’d made his debut in a career that spanned four decades. Bly came out of retirement to play for Weymouth two years after his last game for Hull City, and helped his new team to a giant-killing run into the fourth round of the FA Cup, but as far as league football was concerned he remained a one-club man. After his football career ended, he ran a sweet shop near Boothferry Park and remained a City fan after his playing days had ended.

So there’s much more to Billy Bly than a mere trophy. The trophy – usually presented to the victors of the North Ferriby v Hull City pre-season match by his son, Roy – means that his name stays in the consciousness of Hull City fans, but in truth his achievements while at City deserve more recognition than that. The longevity of his City career, his bravery, his talent, his likeability and the achievements of the club while he was stood between the sticks make Bly a worthy recipient of the title ‘legend’, a title that shouldn’t diminish with time.


The Soul of Hull City #6: Best Stand Dust Showers

Fan Culture


Best: a superlative of ‘good’, meaning of the most excellent or desirable kind – though the word is often loosely used to describe something that’s less shit than whatever is surrounding it. Hence, Mel C was the ‘best’ singer in the Spice Girls, Benidorm is the ‘best’ ITV sitcom of the past 25 years, Carlsberg is probably the ‘best’ lager in the world, and Boothferry Park’s ‘Best Stand’ was fractionally less shit than the South Stand, North Stand or Kempton.

The Best Stand had very little going for it, other than the fact that it wasn’t one of the three other stands. Yes it housed The Well, and it was where the dignitaries and sponsors sat, but it was still shit. In the final 30 years or so of its existence, when it had basically been left to rot, it had the added benefit of showering City fans with dust, rubble and bits of masonry whenever a clearance from a City player (or a pin-point pass from Steve Terry) hit any part of the stand’s upper areas. If the ball happened to hit the part of the stand’s roofing above the players’ wives, it was often the highlight of a Saturday afternoon watching these ladies, done up to the nines (well, more like threes for the most part), having to pick bits of concrete out of their Mark Hill hair-dos. The KC has yet to show any signs of fraying, but should the day come it can only be hoped that it does so in as comical a fashion as its predecessor.


The Soul of Hull City #5: The Great Escape

Talking Points


Between mid-1986 and 2004, Hull City fans endured little but relegation, winding-up orders, the sale of the club’s best players, and chairmen and boards that ranged from the inept to the corrupt. They had seen both a once-great stadium crumble to ruins and Simon Trevitt playing at right-back.

That isn’t to say that the club’s dark ages were without their good points, however. And chief among them stands the ‘Great Escape’ of 1999. Given the circumstances, to a generation of City fans who had known nothing but pain and despair, our survival that season felt like a promotion.

1998 had been as grim a year as Hull City had ever experienced. David Lloyd’s Plan A seemed to be to lead us to extinction off the pitch. His Plan B was to allow Mark Hateley to lead us to the Conference on it. By November we were bottom of the bottom division, six points (briefly nine) off the rest. Thankfully, Lloyd ran out of toys to throw out of his pram, and sold the club to a consortium backed by local farmer and former Scunthorpe chairman Tom Belton. Belton’s first task was to fire the awful Hateley. Midfielder Warren Joyce was temporarily given the reins, and brought in former Bolton team-mate John McGovern to assist, as he had no plans for retire from playing just yet.

Joyce’s impact in the league wasn’t immediate. A memorable 1-0 win at home to Carlisle thanks to a last-minute Craig Dudley goal gave the fans some hope of survival, but this was followed by four dispiriting defeats to Torquay, Swansea, Chester and Shrewsbury. Indeed it was a morale-boosting FA Cup run that seemed to instil belief in the players. High-flying Division Three side Luton were dispatched in the second round, leading to a visit to top-of-the-Premiership Aston Villa in the third. In the 3-0 defeat at Villa Park, City – still 92nd in the league – did not disgrace themselves.

However, it was relegation that needed avoiding, and Joyce set about building a team capable of such a task. Out went Hateley’s powder-puff nonsense of French, Hawes, Hocking, Rioch and Whitworth. In came the heavy-duty Whittle, Alcide, Perry, Whitney, Swales, Williams and Oakes. Mark Greaves was given a first-team berth. Oh, and before we played in-form Rotherham in early January, a double signing was made: Mark Bonner came in on loan and was to score the only goal of the only game he was to play for us, and former bouncer Gary Brabin was introduced to the City faithful. Within 10 minutes of his debut he’d slide tackled a Rotherham player with his head.

The 1-0 win at home to Rotherham was followed by a 4-0 win against fellow strugglers Hartlepool, in which Brian McGinty’s brace was to be his last telling contribution to the City cause, unable as he was to oust the excellent and underappreciated Gareth Williams from left-midfield (go on, admit it, you can’t even picture him, can you? For shame…). This was the first time City had won back-to-back league fixtures in more than two years. This was followed by two 1-1 draws, away to Peterborough, in which Jon Whitney scored from what seemed like 60 yards, and at home to Shrewsbury, in which Brian Gayle scored what seemed like the 200th own-goal of his career.

Then came Brentford away. Brentford hadn’t lost at home all season. They were top of the league (and would go on to win it). The near 2,000 City fans that packed into Griffin Park’s marvellous old away end made more noise than I can ever remember us making as Colin Alcide scored on his debut and David Brown scored a second-half volley to give us a memorable 2-0 win in what was surely City’s game of the 90s. As Scarborough lost 5-1 to Exeter, we came off the bottom of the league for the first time since August.


A 3-0 defeat at Rochdale in our first-ever televised league match set us back, but with Brabin and Whittle at the heart of the team we were never going to stay down for long. Indeed it was the former who was to score our winner at Darlington in our next game, and the latter who was to score against Barnet in a 1-1 draw the game after that. A 1-0 win at Halifax the following week kept us off the dreaded relegation spot, as Scarborough, Hartlepool and Torquay all flirted with the bottom position, while Carlisle – once in the play-off positions – entered freefall.

A lull was to follow in the shape of a goalless draw at home to Mansfield followed by a 2-0 defeat at high-flying Cambridge. Again though, City’s new-found powers of recovery came to the fore as Leyton Orient – in the play-off positions – were beaten 2-1 at Brisbane Road. A Gary Brabin overhead kick had given us the lead only for Orient to equalise with 15 minutes or so remaining. Brown’s late winner made the once-inevitable relegation now seem more unlikely than likely, and wins in our next two games against Plymouth – courtesy of yet another Brabin goal – and at Southend on a Friday night thanks to a volley by Dai D’Auria set up the next game – at home to bottom-of-the-table Scarborough – nicely.

Many City fans talk of the Scarborough game as if it were crucial to our survival that season. It wasn’t really. The hard work done in the three games before had given us a comfortable cushion over Scarborough and Hartlepool, but a win against our North Yorkshire rivals would all but seal our survival. The Hull public – aware of this fact – turned out in force on that sunny April afternoon. The official attendance figure that day was 13,949. I’ve never met a City fan who was there who believes this figure. But Boothferry Park was crammed full for its first five-figure attendance in five years to witness a nervy game in which Brabin scored for City, only for Scarborough to equalise in the second half as City sat back on their lead. While the draw was disappointing, the point was of more use to us than it was the Seasiders.

A draw at Cardiff was followed by a win at home to Exeter as the occasionally maligned Colin Alcide silenced some of his doubters with goals in each game. A couple of 0-0 draws sandwiched an entertaining if disappointing 3-2 home defeat to Scunthorpe, as we struggled towards the finishing line. We needed to avoid defeat at home to Torquay, sweaty Neville Southall and all, in the penultimate game of the season to make safety mathematically certain, and again, nearly 10,000 packed into Boothferry Park to see the Great Escape completed (except no one would ruin it by foolishly speaking English – do the football fans who talk so much of ‘Great Escapes’ actually realise that the escape they are basing this reference on actually failed?). David Brown beat Southall in a one-on-one to trigger celebrations all around Boothferry Park as the theme to the film was sung endlessly. What had once seemed impossible had been achieved with a game to spare, and we could look on and smile as Jimmy Glass condemned Scarborough to relegation and, ultimately, extinction.

Scarborough’s eventual extinction is a poignant reminder of the importance of our Great Escape. Had we kept hold of Hateley for even a little while longer, had we not been lucky enough to have Warren Joyce among our playing staff, had we not been able to sign the likes of Whittle and Brabin, who knows what might have happened? We might have bounced straight back up. But we might – with Buchanan and Hinchliffe running the club into the ground – have never come back from such a blow. We might, right now, be supporting a non-league FC City of Hull at Dene Park while Hull Dons’ league matches are being ignored at a pared-down version of the KC. But we’re not. We’re watching Championship football, and we’ve seen City play in the Premiership. And regardless of what would have become of Hull City had we succumbed to relegation that season, I think it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely that any of the amazing things that have happened to us over the past decade would have occurred were it not for the wondrous way we turned things around in 1999.

It is for this reason that we should never let the bright lights and razzmatazz of our current status cause us to forget the debt we owe Andy Oakes, David D’Auria, David Brown, Mike Edwards, Mark Greaves, Gerry Harrison, Steve Swales, Jon Whitney and Gareth Williams. That goes tenfold for the spine around which our survival was constructed – Gary Brabin and Justin Whittle. Add to that Tom Belton – who was to be ousted from the boardroom in the summer and replaced by the despicable Nick Buchanan. But chief among the heroes of that dizzying four months is Warren Joyce. He was never to manage us for a full season, but must go down as the most important manager in the club’s history. The steps we took under his stewardship were not just crucial to the club’s survival, they were the first on the road to Wembley, Old Trafford, the Emirates and Anfield.