BY Vince Cooper
ATTEMPTS were made to start a football club in Hull for some time before Hull City were formed in 1904. The main delays were caused by the city’s love of rugby league with both Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers dominating sporting interest.
Fans at The Boulevard in Hull City’s first season
By the time of the club’s formation it was too late to apply to join the football league for the ‘04-‘05 season so the team played a series of friendly matches using The Boulevard, home of the Hull rugby team.
The first of these was against Notts County and drew a fine crowd of 6,000. It was a decent start for the new team who, thanks to a brace from George Rushton battled to a 2-2 draw against their more experienced rivals.
There is a photo that has been used often that claims to be from that match. Even the club have depicted it as such. But the find Hull City Kits website (www.hullcitykits.co.uk) successfully proves that it was, in fact, from a charity match which took place two years later.
The manager for that first match, and indeed for the first eight years, was former Grimsby Town, Middlesbrough Ironopolis and Sheffield Wednesday player Ambrose Langley.
As a player, Langley had winners medals in the 1st Division, 2nd Division, FA Cup and Northern League and he built a good team right from the start. Included among the first group of players was Jacky Smith, a prolific goalscorer who became the club’s first representative player when chosen to play for the Football League against their Scottish counterparts in 1908.
The 1904-05 team
Although they were too late for the league in 1904-05, Hull made it in time to enter the FA Cup, but were eliminated by Stockton in the preliminary round.
The 1905 team
The following season, 1905-06, after 44 friendly matches, Hull City entered the league in Division Two. By this time they had fallen out with their landlords at the Boulevard and, after playing most of their home games at The Circle Cricket Ground – where Yorkshire played cricket for many years – moved next door to Anlaby Road their first ‘real’ home. The first game at the new stadium was against Blackpool in March 1906 – a 2-2 draw in front of 2,000 fans in the covered stand.
The team finished their first season of league football in a highly creditable 5th place in the second division.
By the 1907-08 season there was room for 8,000 in the covered stand and another 8,000 on the terraces at Anlaby Road. In the years prior to the 1st World War the club covered both the north and east stands but in 1914 a fire destroyed the main stand and it was replaced in the summer with a new brick and steel structure.
The Anlaby Road Ground, next to the Cricket Ground
On the pitch the team were regularly knocking on the door for promotion but just as regularly losing out. Their best season was 1909-10 when they missed out on the top flight on goal average to Oldham Athletic after they were beaten 3-0 by their main rivals on the final day of the season. They lost out by 0.29 of a goal.
In fact that was as close as Hull got to the highest level all the way until 2008 and neither Anlaby Road nor its successor Boothferry Park would ever host top flight football.
The following 1910-11 season, the team reached the last 16 of the FA Cup for the first time, ousting Bristol Rovers and old foes Oldham before losing 3-2 to holders and eventual finalists Newcastle United.
Immediately after World War One the team were continually pushing for a top-flight place but financial constraints forced the club to continually sell their best players in order to survive. The likes of David ‘Magical’ Mercer, a future England international who moved to Sheffield United for a British transfer record fee of £4,500 and Scottish International Michael Gilhooley who broke the record, going for £5,250 when sold to Sunderland were moved on to pay the bills.
The 1920s were mostly an era of 2nd Division mediocrity for the Tigers (so called because of their amber and black kit) until the 1929-30 season which produced an epic cup run, and a disastrous league finish.
Having gone through a number of managers the club settled on Billy McCracken in 1923 and the Irishman, who played over 400 times for Newcastle United and who brought about a change in the offside laws during his playing career by inventing the offside ‘trap’ was at the helm at the time of the cup exploits – and the drop.
FA Cup semi-finalists – but relegated
The Good – and Bad
In the Cup, Hull struggled past eventual Third Division (South) champions Plymouth Argyle before sweeping eventual Second Division champs Blackpool, and First Division Manchester City and Newcastle United aside to reach the semi-final. There they came up against the mighty Arsenal and after holding the Gunners to a 2-2 draw at Elland Road, lost the replay at Elland Road by the only goal. Arsenal would go on to beat Huddersfield Town in the Final.
Those Cup exertions clearly took their toll on City’s league form. Due to a fixture backlog they were forced to play nine games in the last 28 days and this, allied to an injury crisis, saw them slump to relegation. Again it was goal average that proved the deciding factor, the Tigers finishing mere percentage points below Bristol City.
In 1929, amid talk that the East coast railway line would be rerouted through Anlaby Road, the club drew up plans for a new stadium on land they had purchased at Boothferry Road, on the site of a former golf course. Work began in 1932 but after the pitch and part of the terracing were built the club ran out of money and work was halted.
Bill McNaughton – 48 goals
Three years later Hull were back in the second tier after winning the Third Division (North) comfortably, scoring exactly 100 goals in the process. Of the 100, Londoner Bill McNaughton tallied an impressive 48. However, three years later, again beset by injuries they finished bottom of the Second Division and were relegated once again.
Fans at Anlaby Road
The remainder of the 1930s were played out in the third tier and with no money for players or to carry out improvement works at Anlaby or construction work at Boothferry, City’s future looked bleak. The start of the 1934-35 season saw Anlaby Road closed for 14 days due to crowd trouble at a game with Preston North End at the end of the previous season.
The ground, like much of the area, was damaged during the Blitz with repair work estimated at £1,000, and towards the end of the war, amid talk of the completion of the new rail line the cricket club gave City notice to quit ending the tenancy.
Boothferry – finally
After reported plans for a multi-purpose sports stadium on the site fell through the club were granted a £6,600 loan from the FA in 1939 to help complete work on the new stadium at Boothferry Road and it was reported that the new stadium would be ready for the 1941 season.
The East Stand goes up at Boothferry Park
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Home Guard requisitioned the land and the pitch area was used for the servicing and repair of tanks. At the end of the war, problems with the pitch, along with failure to obtain the various licenses needed resulted in the Tigers returning to their first home, The Boulevard for a season.
By the time the new stadium was ready for business at the start of the 1946-47 season, City also had a new board in place led by Chairman Harold Needler. The opening of the new stadium, now known as Boothferry Park, was carried out by the Lord Mayor on 31 August 1946 and 20,000 fans showed up in the pouring rain to watch a goalless draw with Lincoln City.
Two years later 40,179 attended an FA Cup tie with Middlesbrough and then in February 1949, 55,019 watched the side lose 1-0 to Manchester United in the Cup quarter-Final.
Fans queue before the Cup clash with Manchester United
Carter had taken over from Major Frank Buckley the previous year, after first being appointed as Buckley’s assistant and the promotion of the England international as player-manager was an indication of the ambition of the club under Needler’s leadership.
The new boss led the club to the 3rd Division (North) title and to that FA Cup quarter-final in his first full season. It was also his presence that persuaded Don Revie to join for £19,000 in November 1949 despite the offer being matched by bigger clubs like Arsenal and Manchester City.
Don Revie arrives
With Carter and Revie running the show the future looked bright for the Tigers but the pair were unable to deliver the holy grail of top-flight football and Carter resigned as manager in 1951 with the club struggling near the foot of the 2nd Division. This was swiftly followed by Revie handing in a transfer request and departing for Manchester City, being valued at £25,000 in a deal which saw defender Ernie Phillips move in the opposite direction.
Meanwhile development work continued on the stadium. Covering of the North Stand was extended to comprise its full length and this was followed by covering part of the East terrace. This was planned to be a temporary structure until a new two-storey stand was built but the covering in fact, stayed in place.
Once the East terrace covering had been extended to the length of the pitch the club were able to install floodlights along the roof of both sides and the lights were first used for a friendly with Dundee United in 1953 in front of 31,702 fans.
Stan Mortensen – failed to lift the Tigers
On the playing side the club continued to bounce between the 2nd and 3rd Divisions, rarely looking capable of rising to the top flight despite continuing to draw good attendances. Even the addition of former England star Stan Mortensen failed to have the desired effect of getting the team into the top division.
The new lights
Within 10 years the club had decided to upgrade the floodlighting system and they installed six massive pylons at a cost of £50,000 This time Barnsley were the opponents when the new lights came into use, and were thrashed 7-0. At around this time a gym was added behind the South stand along with an outdoor training pitch.
The 1960s brought more of the same on the pitch, mostly mediocre league form. One exception was in 1965-66 when, under Cliff Britton and fired by the goals of Ken Wagstaff and Chris Chilton they won the 3rd Division title. There was also a fine Cup run that year as the team reached the quarter-finals and drew against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge only to lose the replay at home 3-1 in front of a crowd of 45,328.
At this time improvements were also taking place off the pitch with the club building a new stand at the South end of the stadium, on the area formerly known locally as ‘Bunkers Hill’ and the they now had a stadium fit for top-flight football.
But Hull spent the next 11 seasons at the second level, unable to make that final jump under a succession of managers including Terry Neill, John Kaye and Bobby Collins and despite uncovering the goalscoring talents of future England star Stuart Pearson.
In 1977-78 they dropped back down to the third tier and then three years later plummeted to the lowest level of league football after finishing bottom of Division Three. This was probably City’s lowest point to datteboth on and off the pitch with the club forced into receivership.
A future England manager
The ship was righted when a new chairman came in and former Leicester City star Colin Appleton took over as manager. With Brian Marwood, Billy Whitehurst and future England boss Steve McLaren leading the way on the pitch the Tigers earned two promotions in three seasons. But the Second Division was where the run came to an end yet again.
More ownership changes failed to bring about any reversal of fortune. The remainder of the eighties and all of the nineties were spent in Division Two and then the Third and for a while it was merely a matter of survival with even that looking beyond them on occasion. In 1998-99 Nick Buchanan replaced David Lloyd as Chairman while Warren Joyce took over from former England international Mark Hateley and these two guided the club to safety when demotion to the Conference looked a strong possibility.
After Brian Little took the managerial reins the club continued the improvement shown under Joyce but things were little better off the pitch with the club being locked out of a now run-down Boothferry by the bailiffs. Soon, however there was a boardroom takeover and new Chairman Adam Pearson – former Commercial Director at Leeds United – led the club out of administration and to a respectable league place despite somewhat surprisingly firing Little with the club seemingly well-placed to challenge for promotion.
The lights go out
It was Pearson who led the club out of Boothferry – home for 56 years but by then rundown and dilapidated – and to their new home, the KCOM stadium which they share with Hull Rugby Club. The move has taken the Tigers almost full circle, being located at The Circle on Anlaby Road.
Boothferry Park had some great times, and as well as those memorable City days (and nights under the towering lights), it had hosted a number of Rugby League internationals and a 1972 clash between Northern Ireland and Spain – but it was certainly time to move on and there were few regrets when the club relocated.
The move finally brought a taste of Premier football for long-suffering Tigers fans. Whilst they are attempting to fight their way back to the top once again and carve out new memories at the KCOM, there is still plenty of great memories on their two previous homes for those long-suffering supporters to look back on.