Hull City 0 Darlington 1

56 years encapsulated in 90 minutes.  Steve Weatherill sees off Boothferry Park for the last time.
It’s not today’s tottering old Kempton, its roof drizzling filth and rust onto its cowering occupants and creaking menacingly as if about to collapse whenever the ball lands on top of it. It’s the vivid, raucous swell of tribal fervour that for fifty years has taunted its opponents and roared its approval at Tiger feats of daring and inspiration, home to a thousand rattles, ten thousand Woodbines, adoration earned and returned, heroes all, from Raich Carter to Justin Whittle via Bill Bradbury, Ken Wagstaff and Les Mutrie, and sweatshop charged with the task of manufacturing countless snarls and the choicest East Yorkshire insult. It’s not the barren soulless brick back wall of a supermarket. It’s the cavernous North Stand, reaching back darkly into the teeth of its long even ranks of seating, proudly carrying the load of the Hull Savings Bank clock that John Hawley always wanted to hit, and fronting boldly, hugely, on to the cinders of the car park, full of eddying humanity spilling off Boothferry Road. It’s not the Main Stand with its peeling paint and its shabby sulk, it’s a dignified and gleaming cruise liner from which to watch the once-young ground grow in grandeur, adding a roof, a bank of seating, a set of floodlights, six of them, to rank with the best, a new stand, one man’s dream building towards a worthy though ultimately fruitless aspiration to host World Cup matches in 1966, that memorable year when Harold Needler smiled down from his self-crafted perch and witnessed a thrilling Tigers team score over 100 League goals and sweep the 3rd Division title with a flourish never seen before and never since. It’s not the desolate weed-infested corner that splits Bunkers from Kempton, it’s where you stood in awe, crammed shoulder to shoulder with your Dad and his mates at the Cup Quarter-Final with Stoke in 1971, gasping at the unimaginable noise made by over 41,000 people, screaming with joy as Waggy slid one, and then two goals past Gordon Banks, smelling the stale beer and realising the Stoke fans weren’t quite so happy, in fact they were ready for an argument but not with someone as small as you, and then you collapsed in inconsolable tears as the lead was cut, then wiped out altogether before it was our throw-in, but the linesman got it wrong and John Ritchie had won the game for Stoke and City were out of the Cup. Boothferry Park is no longer our home. But it is not gone. It is never gone. Not while we remember. Yeah, well, that was well over the top, wasn’t it, and as unnecessarily soft and flowery as a pot of pink pansies. But, come on, you expected that, didn’t you? I would have liked to have been able to tell you that reliable old Darlo hadn’t come to spoil the party. But they did – but more pertinently, it was our own players who unceremoniously ruined the occasion. We played very badly yesterday. The first half was as barren as any witnessed these last 56 years inside the fortress – I appreciate the enormity of this allegation but I stand by it. We looked much livelier in the second period, but by then Darlo had been reduced to ten men. And we still couldn’t score against them. O dear. Justin Whittle was dropped, and we carded a 4-4-2 of sorts:

Musselwhite Regan Joseph Anderson Smith Green Ashbee Melton Keates Alexander Jevons

“Of sorts”? Well, Ashbee played deep, just in front of the back four, so Green didn’t have to stick rigidly to the right side, but rather could roam around as his creativity saw fit. Most of the better moments early on were inspired by Green with the ball at his feet, but, the white-booted dynamo aside, it was mostly humdrum midfield scrapping. Alexander had a couple of opportunities to break into space but seemed more intent on diving than running, and his foolishness deserved, but did not get, a yellow card. The visitors had opted for an ambitious formation, with the lightning-quick Turn-to-Page-50 Offiong paired up front with the giant wet-clay-quick Conlon and supported by Hodgson, sporting a Paul Mariner-style mullet, but, measured by the entertainment on show, the game was very rapidly groaning to a halt. Any excuse built on the effect on our players of an emotion-laden atmosphere couldn’t have survived the first ten minutes, by which time the old ground had fallen sullenly silent, horrified at the poverty-stricken football on offer. It was just another dismal Boothferry afternoon. Keates was injured, and went off for Elliott, a switch that seemed likely to improve our flair, and duly did, as Elliott darted down the left and whisked a cross in to Alexander’s feet at the near post. Our once lethal, now morose, striker missed gruesomely. Then Green shot straight at the keeper who attempted a comedy “spill the shot and let it through my legs” Taibian routine, but thought better of it at the last possible second, and rescued the ball on the line. But the half concluded with even this brief Tiger flicker extinguished as determined Darlington took the lead right on the whistle. First, mullet-man’s free-kick was nodded against our bar by Liddle with the Muss beaten, and then a slick move down their left resulted in a hard low cross skidding across our box, which the first-arriving Darlo missed, but the second clouted into our net with gusto. 0-1, half-time, bloody rubbish. It had to improve, or else the assembled 14,100 was more likely to be invading Boothferry Road at half-four on the way home than the pitch at the end of the game. And it did. Almost immediately after the re-start Ashbee and Melton combined to set up a shooting chance for Elliott: his effort was beaten away by the keeper at his near post. Then Jevons broke away, only to be hauled back by a desperate Liddle … red card! Umm. There weren’t any Darlo defenders behind Liddle, but two or three were level, and running across to cut off Jevons before he’d’ve seen the whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes, and I think this was a pretty harsh sending-off. No matter, Green’s free-kick whistled into the side-netting, but we had our boost and would surely rescue this game now. Whittle had replaced Alexander at half-time, with Joseph moved to right-back, Regan to right-side midfield, and Elliott to partner Jevons up front. And, with the extra man, we could afford to play Green further forward and expect him to devastate. And we had the chances to win the game. We made them, and we didn’t take them. Two stand out like ugly scars. Green and Elliott burst clear of the Darlington back-line, the offside trap sprung, dismantled and tossed into a bin by our giggling starlets. Green has the ball at his feet, the Darlo defence stranded ten yards and more in his wake, and the keeper coming off his line to narrow the angle more in hope than expectation. Elliott has checked, he’s too canny to run offside, and he waits for the square ball that he will be able to roll into an unprotected net in front of an exultant Bunkers. Green sees his team-mate, but ignores him, shoots, and the keeper blocks the effort. A few minutes later Joseph wins the ball in midfield and feeds Regan on the right. He transfers the ball to Green, in space on the edge of the box and our newly-flawed hero smacks a vicious swerving shot which the keeper can only parry straight back out to John Anderson. The big centre-back has time to savour the opportunity, he’s six yards out, there are no defenders even close, and the goalkeeper is still reeling from the power of Green’s shot. Anderson wraps his right foot round the ball and carefully guides it a foot the wrong side of the far post. O dear, o dear. Anderson’s only a centre-back. It was a golden opportunity, but he missed it, and these things happen. But I cannot begin to understand why Stuart Green didn’t pass that ball across to the waiting Elliott. There was more, as the Muss spent the entirety of the half spectating at the North Stand end. Elliott put a left foot shot just wide after receiving a Smith pass; Elliott and a defender combined to place a header on to the top of the Darlo bar; Green hit a low shot that was grasped on the very whitewash of the goal-line. A contrite Anderson was hauled off for Webb, an enthusiastic lad who is taller and more physically imposing than his Dad ever was (but will do well to be even half as mean). But we’d had our chances and we’d wasted them. Darlo defended with spirit, Melton and Smith were poor, Regan is no midfielder, at least not a creative one, and our main man, Stuart Green, fell at the final fence yesterday. Even the 4 added minutes brought nothing but shapeless hoofery as we slid to defeat. The pre-match Walk of Legends had been reliably dismally organised, a procession of, initially, elderly and then less infirm gentlemen scuttling out from the tunnel, wrapped in raincoats against a grey blustery afternoon, while the public address blared out their names in tones that were, in Kempton at least, largely inaudible. It got better as the ex-players walked slowly round the perimeter of the pitch, and we smiled at Stan McEwan, proudly escorting his daughter, Billy Askew chortling mightily, Linton Brown, who had slipped a hundredweight sack of spuds inside his clothing for the occasion, and, finally, we marvelled that Sam Sharman had shown up at all. Then, bringing up the rear, Waggy, Chillo and Ken Houghton made a long lingering meander around the pitch and we remembered some very good times indeed. The astoundingly appallingly Straight As Quo spoiled a nostalgic mood, and then the game began and we quickly remembered how much rubbish we’ve seen inside Boothferry Park these last few years. A rotten game, a defeat and, afterwards, the absurd witless nonsense of the Reverend Bagshawe. And then Boothferry Park – the Boothferry Park of the here-and-now, the faded ambition and the decades of neglect – was gone, all gone. The way matches sparked like shooting stars as you looked across to Kempton from the Main Stand on winter afternoons … trains stuffed to bursting with amber-and-black hordes, trundling up from Paragon and disgorging a human torrent on to the platforms and into the ground …. men in ties and trilbies, working of a Saturday morning and then off to the football … the shiny white outfits of the Golden Goal girls … Tigercola … beating Spurs and Leeds, Manchester United and Manchester City, West Ham and Chelsea … Les Mutrie ripping the guts out of Sheffield United as we began to claim repayment on fifteen years of Blade knavery by destroying them 4-1 one special afternoon … Andy Payton taking a nubile football on a glorious waltz from just outside his own box, past the entire Brighton team and most of the population of Sussex before sliding the ball into the net at the North Stand end … Ken Houghton going up for a header in the Anglo-Italian Cup tie with Lazio and getting an acrobatic boot full in the face … Blackburn in the fog … Brentford, a plodding 4th Division side, dominating a 5th Round Cup tie at Boothferry Park before an outrageously generous referee donated the tie to us in a disbelieving final ten minutes. Waggy’s unparalleled poaching helped too, mind. We drew Stoke in the Quarter-Finals. And we led by two to nil as the first half raced towards its close. But we lost, and that 70/71 season’s very real, very serious challenge for promotion soon petered out too, and it’s been downhill ever since for Hull City and Boothferry Park. Until now. See you on Boxing Day. Another time. Another place.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Joseph, Anderson, Smith, Green, Melton, Ashbee, Keates, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Elliott (for Keates, 23), Whittle (for Alexander, 45), Webb (for Anderson, 72), Holt, Deeney. Goals: None Booked: Anderson, Ashbee, Jevons Sent Off: None   DARLINGTON: Ingham, Liddle, Clarke, Whitehead, Betts, Nicholls, Keltie, Hodgson, Valentine, Offiong, Conlon.  Subs:  Wainwright (for Offiong, 73), Pearson, Clark, Melanby, Porter. Goals: Betts 45 Booked: Conlon, Whitehead Sent Off: Liddle   ATTENDANCE: 14,162

Kidderminster 1 Hull City 0

Jan Molby’s return to Kidderminster was much talking about and awaited in this quaint part of Worcestershire.  The inevitable defeat for the Tigers, amid more tactical blundertude, is described by Ian Thomson.
As those of you who were unfortunate enough to be at Aggborough for the corresponding game last season will recall only too vividly, City’s showing on that grisly day would, despite the strength of the field, be a prime contender in any survey to find the all-time top ten nightmare Tiger performances. We’re now nine months on, and the regime which supplanted the previous one, the beginning of whose end was probably that sad display, has now had a third of a season more or less to rebuild, refresh and reinvigorate. So the return of the Tigers yesterday to that twee little enclosure next to the Severn Valley steam railway promised to provide a good opportunity to gauge the progress made in the interim. I have to tell those of you who were not there yesterday that the comparison, is, frankly, frightening for anyone possessing any concern or affection for our club. Granted, the effort and spirit on display yesterday were ? to a limited extent -a step up on the arrant gutlessness we witnessed last January (although it would have been virtually impossible for it be otherwise), but, in all other respects, far from progressing we are quite clearly going backwards. Kidderminster are a somewhat less than ordinary side; within five years or so they will be playing Conference football again, as the euphoria of promotion to the League and the consequent infusion of passion and self-belief is eroded year-on-year by the constant grind of keeping a League club going against a background of tiny gates and local public indifference, culminating in a gradual and ultimately fatal decline in performance on the field; this has already happened to Barnet, Scarborough and Halifax and will probably happen to Macclesfield before it catches up with Kiddy. Despite this, and despite a dogged performance throughout from our hosts masquerading as the frenzied tearing apart they had promised us ? or, rather, our manager, who they perceive did the dirty on them ? our expensively-assembled gaggle of higher-league cast-offs, complete with this week’s quick-fix panic loan signing and some curious inclusions and omissions, never looked like besting them or even knowing how to. Indeed, it’s hard to say what we did look like, or to seek to identify precisely what the game plan actually was, or what the specific role of individuals was meant to be. Just what were we trying to achieve? More pertinently, just what are we trying to achieve? Given the constant merry-go-round of signings, selections and droppings, formations and tactics, the only area of consistency being the declining quality of the football, have we actually got a plan for getting out of this wretched division in which we now seem to be so solidly incarcerated, and if so might Mr Molby like to try to explain what it is, instead of constantly looking for excuses and scapegoats? There was surprisingly little outward disaffection among the long-suffering 600 or so City fans (including, it was nice to see, TigChatter Adam Gurwitch, which I hope I’ve spelt correctly, here from the Antipodes via a lot of other places, it seems) at Aggborough yesterday ? perhaps they were relieved that we got off so lightly ? but relationships between the Club (or more particularly, the manager) and the fans can surely not now be far from total meltdown short of a rapid, sustained and above all substantial improvement in football and results. And I’m not talking here about the idiots who boast on the opposition’s message boards every Friday about the pasting City are going to administer only to be on the City message boards by 4.58p.m.on the Saturday calling for Molby’s head ? almost as irritating as those who dutifully chant the mantra “we’ll be there or thereabouts” without ever offering a scrap of justification for this increasingly-doubtful looking proposition – but rather the more reasonable, sensible, knowledgeable types who know that we badly need some stability and that Molby had to be given time, that a team and strategy have to be built which will not only get City out of the Fourth Division but will provide a springboard for continued achievement, but who are becoming bewildered, concerned, and increasingly angry that after what is now a fair amount of time there is not even a sign of any effective strategy starting to emerge or of any measurable improvement having been made. Once you lose them, Mr Molby, you won’t get them back. Should you doubt this, ask Terry Dolan. Anyway, let’s talk about the football, such as it was. Fixing the steel clamp of despair around the heads of the Tiger Nation yesterday were the following:-

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Edwards Keates Ashbee Green Branch Jevons Elliott

Subs: Smith (for Edwards, 14 mins), Dudfield (for Elliott, 64 mins), Johnson (for Jevons, 80 mins) So, a strange selection in some respects. Where was Alexander, in particular, who hasn’t been any more inept than the rest of them? And was Elliott really match fit (no, as it soon became evident)? And back to our manager’s preferred 4-3-3. Conditions were beautiful for the time of year as the game kicked off with the Tigers attacking the home end. Barely had the fans torn themselves from their pre-match conversations and turned to face the pitch than the ball was in City’s net as the Dane Henriksson (the best player on view yesterday by a country mile) fed the lumbering centre-forward Broughton (the worst player on view yesterday by a country mile), who curled the ball home oblivious to the raised flag of the linesman on the right. City won a corner on 8 which came to nought, but five minutes later one of the few moves of quality in the entire match ended with Ashbee playing the ball out left to Elliott, who cut inside but didn’t connect as sweetly as he could have with the final shot, Kiddy custodian Brock saving easily. A minute after this Broughton cynically hacked Edwards down as the two of them chased an aimless long ball, forcing the latter’s replacement by Smith. The haranguing of the Kiddy striker turned to guffaws a little later as he rounded Muss with the City defence spectating, only to go too wide and scuff his shot harmlessly into the side netting. It was all becoming pretty wretched fare by this time, however with the home side running around like a pack of eager hounds and City by comparison resembling an aged and corpulent Labrador which has just polished off the Christmas dinner leftovers. The last thing of any real note attempted by City in the first period came on 25 mins when Branch ? no better or worse over the 90 minutes than any other member of the increasingly long list of City loan strikers in the Pearson regime – came in from the right and hooked one over the bar. The home side consequently enjoyed a comfortable and largely-unchallenged ascendancy in the last third or so of the first half, which ended in what the late Eddie Waring may have termed a grandstand finish for Kiddy as the Muss was called upon to make two fine saves from Henriksson and the number 5 Hinton, and one rather easier one from the unavailing Broughton, in the final seven minutes or so of the half. I had remarked during the first half to my fellow Tiger-Chat match reporter Mark Gretton, standing to my right, that Kiddy would be unable to maintain their headless-chicken approach for the entire game and that if we could see our way through to half-time without going behind we ought to fancy ourselves, and for a quarter of an hour or so after the restart it looked a though that might not be an inaccurate prophecy. This was our best spell of the game, during which, without ever actually dominating or even looking a coherent unit, we put our hosts under a fair amount of pressure and might easily have scored. First the rapidly-deteriorating Broughton inexplicably headed a cross a couple of inches over his own bar while under no pressure, to the huge amusement of the City support, while Branch went equally close on 52 from an Elliott cross, and then Brock did well to reach a dangerous-looking Keates free-kick. But then sadly, typically, City yet again fell for the sucker punch. A free-kick from the left just after the hour was only cleared as far as the right-back, whose cross back into the box was steered in by the impressive Henriksson. It was difficult to see it all very clearly from the far end , but one has to say that the pony-tailed Dane seemed to have rather a lot of time to finish given the amount of amber and black in the box. In the days before the game, the Kiddy fans, billing this as their game of the decade, had promised a torrent of hatred, in the guise of banners, t-shirts and general abuse for our manager, and menace for City supporters, to the point where, according to Fieldhouse anyway, the home club were to provide extra security measures. Well, my eyesight ain’t what it was, but I didn’t see any banners. Similarly, no anti-Molby T-shirts were to be seen, although in the case of most Kiddy fans whatever legend was borne on their clothing would have been obscured by a beard at the front and either a rucksack or anorak, or both, at the back. Extra security ? presumably this consisted of a perspex dome to protect the pies in the tea bar from spittle and dentures involuntarily ejected as the multitudes howled. As for the vocal onslaught itself, this seemed to consist only of a few mild taunts from the 50-strong home choir in the five or so minutes after their goal. Maybe that was as much excitement as they could cope with – who knows? It did beg the question of what they would have made of the way the City fans ? especially the moronic ones – would have behaved if the boot had been on the other foot. Anyway, City eventually decided that they had done enough for the day and that any attempt to get back on terms or even go one better could sit firmly on the “too difficult” pile. Certainly the midfield, their numerical inferiority being exacerbated by Regan’s propensity to go for a stroll when he should have been supporting them and Smith’s loss of any semblance of ball control, were never going to grab this one by the sphericals, especially as Ashbee had to spend so much time deep to cover for Regan. Despite this, and infuriatingly, there were still chances to win, as Branch was allowed a free header on 67 which he flashed just over, and then the best chance of the match was unforgivably scorned on 76, when a quick ball out of midfield gave us a two on one, with Branch in possession and a completely free Dude, who by this time had replaced the ailing Elliott, on his right. Instead of doing the obvious, the Wolf loanee opted to drive the ball hard against the calves of Scott Stamps as the Dude and the City faithful stood aghast. After that, the only talking points were a fine double save by the Muss from Henriksson (again), the City keeper denying Henriksson and Broughton when separately through in the space of about thirty seconds near the end, and an altercation in the Kiddy box which, while rookie ref Ilderton was sorting it out, gave the Kiddy wall the chance to move back to the very place from which they had just been moved by the ref., The latter’s party piece, incidentally seemed to be moving the offending side back for dissent and pacing out ten yards not only on those occasions but other free kicks as well. So another dismal, depressing, demoralising defeat, offering little in the way of signs of improvement and hope for the future. On the way home, I had to change trains at Birmingham New Street, where I purchased a Sporting Star, a good – old fashioned West Midlands Saturday sports paper on pink newsprint which still hits the streets within 45 mins of the final whistle. On the front page, below and to the left of “Kidder (sic) Maul Molby”, was the headline “Wolves in Crisis”. It’s hard to resist the conclusion that we are very far behind ? please prove us wrong, Mr Molby.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Edwards, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Branch, Jevons, Elliott.  Subs: Smith (for Edwards, 15), Dudfield (for Elliott, 64), Johnson (for Jevons, 80), Glennon, Williams Goals: None Booked: None Sent Off: None   KIDDERMINSTER HARRIERS: Brock, Ayres, Hinton, Clyde, Stamps, Flynn, Melligan, Williams, Shilton, Henriksen, Broughton.  Subs: Smith (for Hinton, 82), Bennett (for Melligan, 82), Danby, Foster, Joy. Goals: Henriksen 60 Booked: Ayres, Broughton, Flynn, Henriksen, Stamps, Williams Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 3,787