Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Nantes Event

Hull City AFC made history last month. But you could be forgiven for not noticing...
It’s good to be back…I think. A lot has happened since I last posted, much of it far too depressing to record in detail here. 
For starters my local sporting concern, Easington United, were firstly kicked out of (sorry, invited to resign from) the Central Midlands League then relegated in their first season back in the Humber Premier League! 
Hull Kingston Rovers reached a Challenge Cup Final (only to lose by a record margin) and then lost their Super League status in the most dramatic fashion possible – but not before twice managing to snatch relegation from the jaws of safety in successive weeks. 
And Yorkshire CCC went from back-to-back County Championship winners to also-rans and even possible relegation candidates.
To round things off, on the home front my Dad died, just three months after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
So to put things more succinctly, The Ez and Rovers lost their league status, The Tykes have seemingly lost their lustre and I lost my Dad. But at least one thing has remained consistent throughout the past two years since that last post - the Allams have not lost any of their abililty to piss people off as they continue to ride roughshod over the good name of Hull City AFC. 
It is also nearly two years since I set foot inside ‘The Circle’ (aka KCOM Stadium) to watch a City match. My last game there was the "dramatic penalty shoot-out win" over future Premier League champions Leicester City in the League Cup in October 2015. Since then, I’ve watched 'The Tigers' twice – a low-key league cup away night in Manchester and a gloriously old-skool FA Cup away day in Bury. It’s not a fact I’m particularly proud of but it’s one I’ve been forced into given my objection to so many of the things Assem and (particularly) Ehab have done.
The biggest victim in all this has been my youngest daughter, Katie. For a few years she has/had been a regular companion of mine to both City and Rovers games. She was lucky enough to be with me at both the 2-0 dismantling of Leeds in 2012 (“perhaps the best team performance I’d seen by a City side in years”) and the Tom Huddlestone-inspired 6-0 win over Fulham at Christmas 2013 (“perhaps the best individual performance I’d seen by any City player in years”). Sadly, due to my "pig-headed" stance on the club’s "pig-headed" ownership, she hasn’t been able to add to those memories.
So when City announced that for the first time ever they would be playing a fixture in east Hull, at the home of Hull KR, it gave me chance to “right a few wrongs” with The Younger Slushette whilst at the same time not necessarily swallowing my principles. Naively, I thought both clubs would push the game as a truly historic event in #CityOfCulture year, allowing Rovers to show off their brilliant Colin Hutton (North) Stand to a new audience and, perhaps, helping City tap into a new seam of support. I should’ve known better.
The game, a turgid goalless affair that did little to entertain the few souls opting to waste a sultry summer’s evening, was bad enough. But it was City’s attitude and approach to the fixture that left me with the bitterest taste. Along with social media, I chose the Tiger-Chat Group as the vehicle for my frustration. In reply to a rather downbeat assessment of City’s performance, I wrote…
"Wouldn't disagree with much of what's written there regards the game and Campbell's lively showing was one of few high points in a first 45 minutes that had my youngest regretting ever asking me, "why don't we go to City anymore?" The second half I thought was marginally better. Stewart possessed some nice touches, Mazuch looked solid enough and I did think Lenihan grew into the game after a poor start. Overall though I agreed with Rick's opinion on Twitter that some of the young lads looked knackered from Saturday's exertions.
"As for my daughter's questions, without boring her over each of my arguments with the current ownership, a quick answer could be found all around the place last night even before kick-off. This was even down to the programme in which the only mentions of "Hull City" came in Mike Smith's welcome (yes, it was Hull KR's chief executive's job to write in the City programme) and the other one in Leonid Slutsky's piece. Overall, can't help feeling that last night was a missed opportunity and another in the succession of "own goals" by our owners. The simply historical / novelty factor around last night should have been enough to have attracted more than 2,097 spectators. Indeed, when the game was first announced I know of several fellow Rovers fans who were interested on those grounds alone. But no real marketing and ridiculous ticketing arrangements subsequently saw the opportunity lost. Standing outside the main stand watching stewards desperately trying to relocate those who'd inadvertently bought tickets for the North Stand was amusing but also, quite frankly embarrassing. Similar to the club's stated expectations of a "high walk-up" on the night. Given Rovers' success at marketing second-rate rugby league this season (regular 7,000 gates) perhaps Smith and co should have been asked to handle the whole operation last night?!
"Finally, I can't let the comments on KCOM Craven Park (to give it its proper name) go without a bite. Yes, it has its limitations and looks very dated in parts - pillars obscure the view in both stands and the South ("Zeebrugge Stand") terrace is unfit for purpose (I believe it's the next proposed development whenever funds allow). The East Stand has been extended one way (northwards) and now needs that extension to be mirrored at the southern end. It's a shame that the North Stand remained closed - it is quite simply one of the best stands to enjoy sport from locally and that's an opinion I've heard told from rugby league fans of many clubs who've visited. A brilliant set-up with amenities for kids, decent bar and food outlets as well as also local live music on Rovers match days. Last night it could and should have been showcased. Instead, we were left with a "limited" food and drinks range from that which is normally available. Another example of the "half-arsed" attitude prevalent throughout the run-up to the game. And yes, Rovers are an easy target for many but their ownership's current relationship with the fans is one we can only currently dream of at City.
"As we walked away from the ground to our usual parking place, I asked my youngest if she'd like to start watching City again. "Think I'll stick to Rovers for now" was her reply. I suspect she may well have said that even had the game been slightly more exciting. The whole event felt like an "inconvenience" for both parties, but especially the Allams.”  
Eleven days after the probably once-in-a-lifetime never-to-be-repeated-event at Craven Park, City opened up their Championship campaign with a heartening draw at pre-season favourites Aston Villa. An encouraging second half performance, capped by a wonderful goal (and even better celebration) from young Jarrod Bowen gave many fans renewed hope for what was to follow. I do hope for the die-hards that this is the case. And new manager Leonid Slutsky is certainly a man one can easily warm to. Unfortunately, any hopes of warming to his boss were extinguished when I saw the posters advertising the "Hull City Tigers"' forthcoming game against, wait for it, "Wolverhampton Wanderers Wolves". 
Just when you thought Ehab couldn’t sink any lower…

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The White stuff

Feethams photo is one for the kit geeks...

For someone like me who is a bit of a self-confessed "kit geek", trawling through old match programmes can prove immensely rewarding. Every so often I come across an action photo that leaves me thinking, "I never knew (insert team name) played in (insert colour)?"
As a City fan it is even more "exciting" - I acknowledge that this may well be a term many of you would struggle to associate with looking at football kits - when the picture in question shows the Tigers in a strip or combination of strips that they must have rarely worn.
From the Darlington v Hull City programme 28/12/82
But this is exactly what happened when sifting through my programme collection from the 1982/83 season the other night (there wasn't much on telly).
One of the 32 matches I'd been to that promotion season was the 2-1 away win at Darlington in late December '82. Inside the programme was an action pic from the previous season's encounter, which the Quakers had edged 2-1 during City's post-Receivership renaissance. My eyes lit up when noticing the kit City were photographed playing in.
That night the Tigers had "mashed up" the stylish Adidas home shirts of 1980-82 (my second favourite City kit of all time) with the white away shorts and socks in a look that I hadn't seen worn by a City side since the mid 1970's.
The closest they had previously come to this was when pairing the home shirt with white away shorts and black home socks, as worn at Sheffield United in the pre-season Anglo-Scottish Cup (and featured on several programme covers that season - see 'Croft Original' post below) and also against Tottenham away in the FA Cup in January 1981. (Incidentally, I always thought that particular look had a real continental feel to it, like when the AC Milan side of the 1990's used to combine white shorts and black socks with their red/black striped shirts on Channel 4's Football Italia.)
The Hull City squad 1975/76 
Of course what I really wanted was a return to the 1975/76 playing strip, the one worn for the first City live game I attended. That season had seen the Tigers take a break with tradition when unveiling their new playing strip. Not inasmuch as they again sported stripes for the first time since the early 1960's but in the choice of colour of their shorts and socks. For the first time since 1935 City wore white shorts and for the first time in their history, white was also to be the first choice colour of the club's socks. Both, I must add, came with a stylish black and amber trim. It easily remains my favourite City kit.
The strip was manufactured by Europa Sports and the original badge was a diagonal "HCAFC". This would eventually make way for a tiger's head in 1979/80, which would become the first replica shirt I bought.
The 1975/76 strip was retained for three seasons until the club reverted to a more traditional choice of black shorts and amber socks. It was the end of the white socks experiment. Oh to see them back one day.

Sources / Recommended reading:
Historical Kits
Hull City Kits

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Croft Original

Stuart Croft - now pub landlord but once City regular and scorer of the winner in my first away match... 

Later today, instead of paying fifty quid to see The Tigers entertain the reigning Premier League champions, I'll be heading off to the village of Bentley near Doncaster, where my local team Easington United meet Bentley Colliery in a Central Midlands League North fixture.
The Avenue has been a decent ground for us in recent years, with a 2-1 win on each of our last three visits. Making the most recent of these, in April, more enjoyable, was the post-match hospitality provided by the nearby Jet Club. For the host at this establishment was none other than former Tiger, Stuart Croft.
According to Douglas Lamming's "A Who's Who of Hull City AFC 1904-1984", Crofty joined City as an apprentice before turning full professional in April 1972. He remained a City player for nearly a decade before joining Portsmouth in March 1981.
Lamming says: "Developed into a very useful central defender, permanently supplanting Steve Deere in the mid-1970s. Mostly a regular thereafter until his departure to Pompey but left the League scene in a matter of months."
A brief stint at York followed before the player saw out his days with non-league Bridlington Trinity.
Stuart Croft was a member of the first City side I ever saw, against Fulham at Boothferry Park in 1975, as well as in most of the teams I saw in action for a few years thereafter. 
Prominent among my memories of the man, however, was the goal he scored at Elland Road in December 1980. Along with an effort from much-maligned young striker Craig Norrie, it helped City overcome non-league Blyth Spartans at the third attempt. It was also my first "away game" watching City, as recounted below in an extract from my, er, forthcoming book...

FA Cup 2nd Round 2nd Replay: City 2 Blyth Spartans 1

One of very few bright spots in City’s dismal campaign came via a mini-run in the FA Cup. And it was therein that I doubled my Tiger-trekking tally; indeed a good friend of mine still quotes me that year as saying, ‘I support Leeds in the league and City in the FA Cup’. Obviously I refute such allegations.
I’d actually attended Boothferry Park during pre-season, when for the first time I viewed a game from the West (or “Best”) Stand. Grimsby Town were the visitors for an Anglo-Scottish Cup tie on 28th July 1980. A meeting that had drawn over 14,000 to Boothferry in the league the previous term, there were less than half that number in attendance this particular afternoon to see a Nick Deacy header settle things in the Tigers’ favour.
City exited the competition following defeat at Sheffield United and a draw with Chesterfield. They then lost 0-5 at Lincoln in the first round, first leg of the League Cup rendering my next visit to Boothferry – for the return leg – all but academic. As such I have no real memories from the 0-2 defeat that completed a disastrous tie; with the exception of Mike Smith’s slightly strange programme notes  in which he spent more time extolling the virtues of the likes of Nottingham Forest and, in particular, Liverpool than he did trying to explain his own team’s apparent early season deficiencies.
Another four months were to elapse before I found myself back in the ground and standing on Bunkers Hill with my mate Al to watch City eke out a nervy 2-1 win over Halifax Town in the first round of the FA Cup. The draw then paired us with non-league giant-killers Blyth Spartans. It turned out to be an epic tie of the sort no longer seen in the competition.
The programme for the first of three meetings 13/12/1980
Les Mutrie’s late strike cancelled out Keith Edwards’ early goal in a 1-1 draw at Boothferry Park, leaving City – without a win in 34 games on the road – facing a tricky Tuesday trip to the North-East. The teams again couldn’t be separated. Edwards (again) and the much-maligned Craig Norrie twice brought City back from a goal down after spectacular strikes from that man Mutrie and Ray Young had edged Blyth towards glory.  Even now a second replay was only earned the hard way; Tony Norman saving Mutrie’s extra-time penalty.
As was the format back then, the teams reconvened for a second replay on a neutral ground. The venue in question was Elland Road, Leeds and on 22nd December 1980 I attended what could be termed my first City “away” match.
As the self-styled ‘Cottingham Tiger’ recalled in a City fanzine some years later, the game has gone down in Hull supporters’ folklore on account of the “infamous British Rail football special with its unofficial stop and pick-up at Hessle Road flyover, the scenes at the final whistle and on the motorway as we all celebrated a small piece of overdue success”[i].
It was quite surreal to be stood on the Gelderd End, Leeds fans’ own “Spion Kop”, with a couple of thousand Hull City supporters for a game against a bunch of Geordie part-timers. At least I enjoyed a winning start to my career “on the road”, goals from Stuart Croft and Craig Norrie securing a 2-1 win. The Tigers marched on, Blyth returned home with reputation enhanced and Mike Smith, in perhaps his best decision as manager, immediately signed Les Mutrie for City.
From the City v Doncaster prog, FA Cup 3rd Round, 03/01/1981
The third round draw threw up a home game with Yorkshire rivals Doncaster Rovers, managed by Billy Bremner. It drew a near-11,000 crowd to Boothferry Park, the biggest of the season. The figure again included Al and me, indulging in our pre-match ritual of shopping for singles at Sydney Scarborough[ii] before enjoying lunch at The Gainsborough fish restaurant (how very sophisticated!). Nick Deacy’s solitary strike settled matters and earned City a glamorous tie at First Division Tottenham Hotspur in the next round. Al and I wouldn’t be going to that one. Two thousand City fans did and saw the Tigers bravely bow out to two Spurs goals in the final seven minutes.
I had travelled to Leeds for the Blyth game ‘door-to-door’ thanks to the fact that Easington bus company Connor & Graham was the operator chosen for use by coach organiser Simon Gray. Simon was – and still is – something of a cult figure among a generation of City supporters thanks partly to his trademark “red and white jacket” but mainly due to his insatiable appetite for organising coaches, which would enable him to follow his team almost anywhere. It’s impossible to say just how much this must have cost him over the years; especially when I remember the pitiful numbers present on some of those I travelled on at the time.
That particular night’s coach to Leeds was full and everyone was in good spirits as we arrived at the ground. Everyone that is except Simon whose walk across the coach park was interrupted by an irate man who I later realised must have been the infamous “Mad Eddie”. Bus driver for the City Psychos referred to in Shaun Tordoff’s Hull “hooli-lit” contribution[iii], he proceeded to accuse our “operator” of having shopped him to the police for allegedly drink-driving his coach to the previous week’s replay on Tyneside. The nearby presence of members of the local West Yorkshire constabulary ensured Simon suffered nothing more than a vocal assault but it wouldn’t be the last scrape I’d have cause to witness involving the man.
My regular “Tiger Trekking” days were about to begin…

[i] From “Home Alone – The 1980’s”, Issue 3 of the Tiger Rag fanzine 
[ii] Hull’s famous independent record store based under the City Hall
[iii] ‘City Psychos - From the Monte Carlo Mob to the Silver Cod Squad: Four decades of Terrace Terror’

According to what I was told on my last visit, Stuart has been "mine host" at The Jet for over a decade. On the evidence of our meeting in April, he remains a most genial chap who couldn't wait to reminisce about his City days when prompted. Depending on our performance at Bentley today, I may just get in early to have another catch-up with the man again...

Saturday, 20 September 2014

"Transit Van From 'ull" (The Caravan of Love remix))

#CityinEurope was a much too short-lived experience but at least it witnessed the revival of an Eighties classic...

You could say I was a bit down following City's premature exit from the Europa League. As I tweeted in the immediate aftermath of the defeat on away goals to Belgian side Lokeren: 
"Home. Bitterly disappointed and angry that it's seen as some sort of blessing. It's not, it's a missed opportunity. #TypicalCity #hcafc." 

I have no truck with those who say an early European exit will ultimately help City’s survival in the Premier League. Partly this is because I never have seen it as an either/or argument; surely Steve Bruce has assembled a squad strong enough to cope on both fronts, even more so after an amazing transfer window. I also had very personal reasons for feeling short-changed by the defeat, as I again made clear on Twitter: 
"On purely selfish grounds, I'm also gutted that I won't now get chance to sing #CaravanofLove on a Europe-bound ferry full of #hcafc fans!" 

Caravan of Love is suddenly an in-vogue track among City fans, with many - including those noble chaps at Amber Nectar - campaigning with some success for it to be played pre-match at the KC (although on the evidence of first airing against Lokeren I don't believe City have used the best edit). To get a better idea of how the song could be utilised, you probably had to be one of the many Tigerfolk aboard the aforementioned P&O Ferry to Zeebrugge en route to the First Leg. Thanks to a @Kurtis Rial via Twitter, some footage of what I mean is now available on YouTube. 

As with many aspects of current City-related topics, watching the above immediately transported me back in time to my own days of regular Tiger-trekking. and more specifically to the year when we first made this Housemartins classic our a fashion.
“Caravan of Love” was originally released in 1985 by Isley-Jasper-Isley, a “splinter group” born out of legendary Motown act The Isley Brothers. The Housemartins’ classic acapella version of the song was released a year later and became their only Number One single (although not a Christmas chart topper as many people mistakenly believe – it was knocked off top spot by Jackie Wilson’s classic “Reet Petite” the weekend before Christmas).
I can’t recall who came up with the lyrics for our version of the song. Perhaps, as often happened, it was a group effort hatched over a pint or three. Whoever was responsible, the “Transit Van From 'ull” became our own take on the Hull band’s effort and we hoped it would become another terrace favourite.
If my memory serves me correctly, the song was first aired with conviction at Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace, on 13th December 1986. It was on the old open terrace behind the goal that formed the away section back then. I’m guessing there were between four and five hundred of us, our numbers – as usual – bolstered by the Hull City Southern Supporters Club, and we were in good spirits...well, at least, prior to kick-off!
Our particular crew had travelled down on one of Simon Gray’s legendary “London All-Dayers”, which involved being deposited in the capital around lunchtime, enjoying the usual pre-match lubrication then finding our own way to the game. Afterwards, there were six hours to be spent trying to sup London dry before meeting up with the coach at the Embankment for the journey through the night back to Hull. They were traditionally very enjoyable excursions, though not without menace as was the case with most away trips in the 1980s.
Still, everything had passed off fine in the hours before kick-off and we negotiated our way to this particular corner of "sarf Landan" trouble-free. And so, on a cold, miserable winter’s afternoon, with Christmas just around the corner and vocal chords suitably lubricated, the travelling contingent treated the rest of the 4,839 in attendance to the following Festive chorus: 
Every woman, every man,
Join the transit van from ‘ull
(Tigers) Tigers
Every living City fan
Join the transit van from ‘ull
(Tigers) Tigers

I know, I can’t believe it never really caught on either ;-) Anyway, we enjoyed it, which made it about the only part of the afternoon we did. City were awful, slumping to a 5-1 defeat with player-boss Brian Horton sent-off. To compound our misery, we were then attacked en route back to the tube station and therein, resulting in some of us ending up almost on the rail track. Still, no lasting damage was done and the usual tea-time meet-up was made in "Polar Bear, Leicester Square" before the pubs of the capital were subjected to further renditions of our new-found terrace anthem.
And it wasn't only the pubs. The nearby branch of Ann Summers received a visit, while a local pizza restaurant was treated to Pozzy the Punk setting a new record for devouring a twelve-inch pizza in one (long) mouthful. I can still see the girl at the next table finding it hilarious whilst her boyfriend was rather less amused. 
Then there was the pub where the landlord told us we could stay for one but to make it quick as he had a private party of Chelsea Headhunters in the function room upstairs. He kindly locked the door on them to allow us to finish our pints - and him to take our money of course.
Of course, age could be playing havoc with my memory and some/all of the above could have occurred the following August when we revisited Selhurst (these London trips have almost merged into one with the passage of time). 
One thing that certainly did happen on both occasions was the post-match kick-off. Following a 2-2 draw, we found ourselves under attack at the station for the second time in just over eight months. This time several of us were actually forced into hiding under a footbridge further down the line while the local loonies scoured the area in search of us. We then found shelter in the home of a student who provided us with tea and sympathy (and access to BBC's Final Score) before it was felt safe enough to venture back out on to the same line. Here we were picked up by the next passing train and transported - in the guard carriage - to Victoria Station where the Met were waiting for us. After a brief inquisition and the obligatory warnings as to the dangers of walking along railway tracks (we weren't on there by choice officer!) we were free to go on our way. Ah, we did laugh about it...later.
I can't quite remember whether we sang “Caravan of Love” that day :-)  

Saturday, 24 May 2014

One Day In May

As this is primarily a nostalgic look at City and all things Hull...

My account of last week's trip to the FA Cup Final is on my other blog, 'A Game In Four Quarters'. However, having used this occasion as a focal point for previous posts, it appeared churlish to not at least make passing reference to it here.  Anyway, off you pop and enjoy the read.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Abide With Me

At Wembley in 2008, ‘Burnsy’ told us it’s alright to cry.  Six years on, I will do...

Shortly after Hull City’s place in this season’s FA Cup Final was confirmed, two mates alerted me to a YouTube video of ‘Abide With Me’, which was filmed along the ‘Humber Riviera’ at Easington, Kilnsea, Spurn and Paull.  It’s a wonderful piece of film and has the added bonus of carrying the lyrics for those who need to get in practice ahead of the big day. 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me”

‘Abide With Me’ was written by Devon vicar Henry Francis Lyte just three weeks before he died of tuberculosis in 1847.  It is most familiar when set to William Henry Monk’s ‘Eventide’ musical arrangement, which was written in 1861. 

"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me."

Due to its melancholy words, it has long been a traditional hymn at Christian funerals as well as various military remembrance services.  It also forms an integral part of both football’s and rugby league’s ‘Cup Final day’, having first been sung by 92,000 people at Wembley Stadium prior to the 1927 FA Cup Final (which incidentally saw fancied Arsenal beaten by an underdog).   

"Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me."

Most people of my age remember the experience that was ‘Cup Final Day’ back in the 1970s and 80s. For me it often meant sitting down with Mum (as previously posted, the senior football fan in our house) in time for the “Community Singing”, which invariably included her favourite hymn.  Unfortunately, such was the nature of football supporters during this particular era that the conductor and band regularly found themselves drowned out by rival chants.  She found that particularly galling.

"Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me."

The all-Merseyside 1989 FA Cup Final proved an exception.  On this occasion, the singing of ‘Abide With Me’, led by a very emotional Gerry Marsden came over free from any disrespectful barracking.  Perhaps this was to be expected, coming barely a month after the loss of 96 Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough.  Indeed the whole afternoon served as something of a memorial service.

"Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me."

Mum would have loved the rendition that day and would have sung along (as was her wont whenever ‘Songs of Praise’ threw up a favourite of hers).  Sadly she couldn’t.  For just eight days prior to the tragedy at Hillsborough, she had died of a heart attack, aged 56. 

"I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me." 

Thus 2014 is not only the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough but also of the year my dad, older brother and I suffered our own personal loss.  With my eldest daughter sharing her birthday with the date I said goodbye to Mum, this particular twenty-five year milestone has already proved a poignant occasion.  The hitherto unthinkable opportunity to now sing along with Mum’s favourite hymn prior to an FA Cup Final in which her favourite team is actually playing will surely ensure that I’ll be an emotional wreck come a quarter-to-three on Saturday afternoon.  

"I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me."

Six years ago, in May 2008, after referee Alan Wiley had blown the final whistle in the Football League Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley to confirm City’s place in the top flight of English football for the first time, commentator David Burns told BBC Radio Humberside listeners: “It’s alright to cry”.  I managed to restrain myself then.  Just.  But when Leona Lewis belts out the first couple of lines of ‘Abide With Me’ at that same stadium on Saturday, I reckon I’ll finally take Burnsy up on his invitation.

"Hold now your cross before my closing eyes, 
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies,
Heaven's morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee, 
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."

So if Mary Lusmore happens to be looking down from on high as the aforementioned Ms Lewis breaks into song, she’ll recognise the blubbering wreck seated in Block 120 as her now 48-year-old son who’s just wishing his dear mum was still around to savour the moment. 

Friday, 2 May 2014

Fulham in Flashback

England's World Cup winning captain played in the first City game I watched live...but it took memories of the Hull Daily Mail 'Green' to prove it... 

On Easter Monday (21st April) the Hull Daily Mail issued a "Flashback" special inside its usual sporting pullout.  This eight-page supplement was dedicated to the much-missed (by me anyway) Saturday night Sports Mail publication - or 'Green Mail' as we came to know it.
What grabbed my attention in particular was the picture dominating page six, which showed City's players wheeling away in celebration of a goal at Boothferry Park.  The caption read "BACK OF THE NET! Hull City v Fulham in September 1975".
I couldn't believe it. After many previous fruitless searches, here at last was pictorial evidence of my first ever game at The Tigers' former  home.
I was nine years old when I made my first trip to Boothferry.  As has since been pointed out by fellow City fans of that vintage, this was perhaps rather a late age to be making one's debut.  However, there were mitigating circumstances.  For a start, Easington to Hull in those days was almost akin to going on an adventure.  No, honestly it was.  
Secondly and probably more crucially, Dad was no great lover of the beautiful game, preferring instead the crack of leather on willow.  "Love Geoff Boycott and eat your greens" was mantra in our house.  Instead it was Mum who encouraged my first forays into football.  And crucially she couldn't drive.
Thus if I was to make the trip to see my nearest professional football club (at least the one on this side of the River Humber) it would have to be in the company of the dads of lads I knew.  And thus it was in September 1975 when at long last such an opportunity came around.  The Tigers' opponents were Fulham, beaten FA Cup finalists the previous May, and a club who boasted within their ranks none other than England's only World Cup winning captain, Bobby Moore.
Like many first-timers it was the vivid colours that stand out among the memories of that day.  On a sunny late summer’s afternoon, the blue sky and bright green of the pitch combined wonderfully with City’s stylish kit of the time, the old Europa Sports design of broad black and amber stripes, white trim, white shorts and white socks.  I loved that kit and indeed I still own a replica that was bought for me a couple of Christmases later.  Fulham wore the same white shirts, black shorts and socks combination they’d sported at the previous May’s FA Cup Final, which they'd lost to two goals from West Ham's Alan Taylor.
There were also the aromas that would become as much a part of match day as the game itself – that all-too-familiar combination of hot pies, Bovril, alcohol breath and cigarette smoke.  Then there was the noise.  Oh the noise.  Official statistics recorded the attendance at Boothferry Park as 8,471.  To my nine-year-old ears it sounded like a hell of a lot more, especially given we were seated on the front row of the South Stand, directly behind the Bunkers Hill Kop.
As you can imagine, many of the chants heard for the first time that afternoon were not particularly appropriate for such tender ears.  Ranging from the mildly amusing like “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” to the rather more ominous “You’re Gonna Get Your Fucking Heads Kicked In” (and its variants, which made reference to going home in a Yorkshire ambulance and the Crossroads character Sandy Richardson!) they simply helped underline the fact that relations between opposing fans were not particularly cordial in the 1970s.
I particularly remember the promise made to the London visitors as the game neared its end.  To the tune of Tom Hark the Bunkers choir sang, “At Twenty-to-Five, You’re Going to Die”.  This was all slightly unnerving as – and I haven’t explained this bit yet – that afternoon I was doing my best to be classed as an adopted Londoner. 
This was due to my invitation to the game having come strictly on the proviso that I would favour City’s opponents, a side that also included fellow England star Alan Mullery alongside the aforementioned Moore.  You see my guardian for the day, Derek Maxwell (whose sons Tom and Jim I was accompanying) originally hailed from Putney and was therefore supporting HIS local team.  Looking back now I have no problem with that - I just wish he’d allowed me to support mine!
As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, as already mentioned our seats were well away from the several hundred or so Londoners who’d made the trip and instead within spitting distance (quite apt as it happens) from the most partisan elements of City’s support.  Then to exacerbate the problem, I remember Derek springing from his seat to hail what looked a certain Fulham goal, only for home keeper Jeff Wealands to make a brilliant save.  It suddenly appeared that every single bloke situated on the terrace below and in front of us now turned round to pour scorn on a very embarrassed-looking Fulham fan.  For an Eighth Army veteran who had taken on Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Derek actually looked slightly unsure of himself when faced with the local Sledmere Fusiliers.
I seem to recall he managed to restrain himself when two goals by Viv Busby (I believe) helped turn the game on its head after Vince Grimes had given the Tigers an early lead.  According to the aforementioned photo, it would appear City scored on 15 minutes, although I’ve since been informed that you should never take the accuracy of the old North Stand clock for granted!
City’s goal is the only other piece of action I can remember with any clarity; a free-kick being played sideways to Grimes who smashed the ball high into the top corner. In the photograph, Chris Galvin can be seen virtually on the goal-line dancing gleefully in celebration (probably having got there hoping for a knock-down or rebound) while also about to rush and mob the out-of-picture scorer are former Manchester United striker Peter Fletcher (10) and Roy Greenwood (11).  Pictured slightly further away are, I think “He shot, he scored, it must be…” Mally Lord and possibly Roger deVries, by virtue of the fact he’s standing in what appears to be the left back position.
To the left of the shot is Moore, who although looking downcast and perhaps a touch overweight, still provides a picture of elegance.  As daft as it sounds, this is perhaps the best part of the photo for me as over the years I’d somehow got it into my head that the great man hadn’t actually figured in the game.  I can now tell people that I saw the only Englishman ever to hold the Jules Rimet trophy aloft grace the turf of Boothferry Park...even if I couldn’t remember it at the time!
One other intriguing feature of the picture is the crowd in the background, in the North Stand.  Studying it closely, it would appear that very few are actually joining in with celebrations of the goal.  Therefore one would deduce they are Fulham fans.  If so then, firstly, my memories of their number may be slightly on the smaller side than was actually the case and, secondly, they must have moved round to the Kempton second half as I distinctly remember that part of the ground being the target of the City fans' ire at the end!  Ah, another memory of the day that has been clouded in the mists of time.
I’d half cheered Grimes’ opener, before noticing Derek’s disapproval but it was all smiles again at the end thanks to the result.  When the referee finally called time just after 4.40pm (this was before extended half-time intervals – back in those days it was a chunk of orange, quick rub down, team-talk and back out on the pitch) those same City fans streamed across the open terraces intent on carrying out their threat.  Unfortunately for them, by time they got there the Fulham contingent were long gone through the back of the East Stand and already aboard the train waiting to take them to the relative safety of Paragon Station.
Stood waiting to exit our seats I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing, although it was a scene I would become quite accustomed to over the next fifteen years or so.
Fulham’s win that day lifted them up to third behind Sunderland and early pacesetters Notts County.  City remained well-placed in 7th but would finish in what would later be termed their accustomed position of 14th.  It was part of a downward spiral that would eventually see them relegated to the Football League basement by the end of the decade.  It was to be another two years before I got the chance to witness the next stage of this fall from grace – and double my tally of City matches in the process. 

I don't recall us picking up a 'Green' that evening after the game but it was something I would do on a regular basis during the following decade.
No longer deemed viable in these days of news at your fingertips, the Sports Mail became a must-have item for me during my formative years of following City at Boothferry Park.
Most Saturdays during my pre-drinking days, I would rush back from the ground and get to Baker Street just in time for the 5.35pm Connor & Graham service bus back to the back of beyond.
The last few moments before departure would prove tense as me, along with the legendary Simon Gray and perhaps one or two others, would await the arrival of "Walt" the little old fella entrusted with delivering an armful of Green Mails to the vendor posted at Debenhams doorway.  I don't know why we worried - "Walt" always made it (although rarely got any thanks from his scruffy colleague!) and we could enjoy the ride home perusing the day's scores plus a weekly round-up of the sporting scene, professional and amateur.  Obviously the read was made much more pleasurable on the back of a City win.
In its later years I actually became a contributor to the paper, courtesy of our fanzine feature 'Blind Faith', while I also became the provider of the Easington United details for the paper's weekly look at the local grassroots football scene.

It's no surprise that the Sports Mail struggled to prove viable in recent times but still it is obviously fondly remembered by many people.  Indeed, so much so that former editor Simon Cawkill has organised an evening in its honour, which is being held at The Country Park Inn, Hessle Foreshore on Wednesday, 21st May.     
As for that Fulham game, in the charts that particular week of 20th September 1975 was "There Goes My First Love" by legendary act The Drifters.  Somehow I've always thought it is quite an apt song to remember this particular milestone by. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

"See you at Wembley Mr Slush!"

I could say I'm not going to Wembley this weekend on principle but I'd be lying...

Little did I know when watching Mark Herman's 'See You At Wembley Frankie Walsh'  for the first time in the 1980's that almost thirty years on I'd be acting out a very similar story-line to this Hull City-related film.
For as City approach only their second ever FA Cup semi-final (and first in my lifetime) I am prevented from attending by my very own double-booking in the calendar.   Admittedly, unlike the film it's not a wedding that's the cause of the problem but it is still a very important family-related matter.
Not that I realised this on the way out of the KC Stadium, having just seen the Tigers maul Sun'lan in the quarters.  As the first City supporters eagerly greeted news of avoiding Arsenal and presumably Man City in the semi-final draw, it was yet to dawn on me that my very attendance at said event was in doubt.
It was only when listening to the post-match local radio chat in the car on the way home that it hit me: the semi-finals were to be played over the weekend of 12th/13th April - a weekend we'd already set aside to take our eldest to Harry Potter World for her 11th birthday treat.  We would actually be in London that same weekend...but only for part of it!
Refusing to panic - yet - I consoled myself with two thoughts.  If the game was on the Saturday, with a late afternoon kick-off, in theory I could attend, for that part of the day was left free on our itinerary. Admittedly this may not go down too well with Mrs Slush but sometimes a price just has to be paid...
The second - and much less attractive - scenario was that even should I miss the game, I could at least be seen to be staying true to my principles; courtesy of my long-held objection to the staging of FA Cup semis at Wembley.
There was of course even a possible "third way"...which involved cancelling my daughter's treat and family trip to London and instead heading off to Wembley with the lads.  Had I opted for this course of action it's highly doubtful I'd be typing this piece now.
Therefore my hopes - slim as they were - rested solely with option one...
In effect this meant I was dependent on ITV Sport who had first choice of tie.  The signs weren't good. In a ratings-driven business, they would obviously want to avoid going head-to-head with Sky's Sunday Premier League coverage and, in my heart of hearts, I knew they were always going to go for the more "glamourous" tie - Arsenal v cup holders Wigan. Thus I already knew that my one glimmer was about to be blacked out.  and as with everything ITV football coverage-related, it was Adrian Chiles' fault!
The announcement was duly made: Hull City would play Sheffield United on Sunday 13th April at 4pm (later adjusted to 4.07pm to accommodate the Hillsborough memorial) and the game would be shown on BT Sport.  At about the same time I will be boarding our National Holidays coach for the return journey to Hull.  Oh Potter!
So as thousands of you set off in the hope (and expectation?) of watching Bruce's boys progress to a first ever FA Cup Final appearance, please spare a thought for someone whose last genuine hopes of seeing City at this stage semi-final were emphatically ended on a miserable afternoon at Wigan's Springfield Park some three decades back and who this time, instead of cheering the Tigers on, will be trying to look as excited as the two Slushettes (my daughters) on their tour of Hogwarts.
My only hope now is that City are successful on Sunday and sometime in-between Sunday and the 17th May, Adrian Chiles gets chance to apologise for his company's broadcasting faux pas by announcing: "See you at Wembley Mr Slush!"

And for those of you who still don't have a clue what the title relates to, here is Mark Herman's 1987 film, courtesy of those jolly nice chaps at Amber Nectar and their Tiger Tube channel...