Fan pays tribute to Tigers’ founding fathers

From the book Now Tigers! The Early Years of Hull City by Nicholas Turner.
From the book Now Tigers! The Early Years of Hull City by Nicholas Turner.
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IT may not merit a second glance to the thousands of Hull City fans making their way to the KC Stadium in the midst of another promotion push.

But the earth embankment standing forlornly on waste ground a stone’s throw from the Argyle Street footbridge is all that is left of the club’s first home, and it holds memories that were just as dear to their forefathers.

For it was here, next to the old Circle cricket ground off Anlaby Road, that the cloth-capped followers of the nascent Tigers gathered to watch the thrilling new game of Association Football, and helped establish a new era in the sporting life of a city that had been dominated by its two Rugby League clubs.

Those memories have been brought to life in a new book which provides the first in-depth study of Hull City’s early years. It contains all the drama, petty feuds, ambition and despair that will be familiar to modern members of the Black and Amber army.

Written by lifelong fan Nicholas Turner, Now Tigers! The Early Years of Hull City is the culmination of six years of research and tells in words, pictures, original cartoons and newspaper cuttings the story of how the club was born, and of the men who made it happen.

There had been loosely representative football teams before – Hull Town, Hull Comet, and Hull Association FC – but the goal of City’s founding fathers was to establish “class football” in Hull and membership of the official league, followed by promotion to the First League, as the top flight was then known. They achieved the first of these aims within a year but the latter – in what would become an almost ritual and defining agony – would remain tantalisingly out of reach for more than a century.

The story of how the club came to play its league debut on the edge of the cricket ground in Anlaby Road offers an insight into the sporting politics of the day.

Games had been played on a pitch in the Dairycoates area, but the club had in mind they needed a venue matching their ambitions and it was decided to use what was then the most developed sports ground in the city – the Boulevard, home to Rugby League giants Hull FC. It was a move that marked the beginning of a sometimes fraught relationship between the two codes and three clubs that survives to this day.

Given the sensitivities of those at the Northern Union (NU) who ran Rugby League, who were well aware of football’s threat to their sporting hegemony in the northern heartlands, and of the football authorities who were keen to exploit it, it was perhaps not surprising the first attempt at ground-sharing would end in tears.

Simmering tensions came to a head when the NU ordered the Boulevard to be closed for the final two games of the season after a cup tie with Hunslet on March 11, 1905, ended in fighting.

City’s directors invited FA Cup holders Manchester City to play at the Boulevard on March 25, but an eve of game telegram from the NU to Hull FC ordered that no match could be played at the ground, and the rugby club, fearing expulsion, complied.

City remained determined to go ahead, but Hull FC warned they would forcibly prevent the footballers from using the ground and arranged to have a large police presence outside. City hastily arranged to switch the match to the Circle, with director Jack Bielby helping to carry the goalposts from the Boulevard.

City proved they could go it alone, welcoming 8,000 spectators to the ground that would become their new home. That they would end up sharing the KC with Hull FC nearly a century later is an irony that will not be lost on fans of either club.

Looking back on City’s fortunes over the intervening years, Mr Turner said he thought its founders would be delighted by the modern stadium, but deeply dismayed it had taken 104 years to bring top-flight football to Hull, however briefly.

“On one level they would be absolutely appalled that the club had to wait until 2008 to do it,” he said.

“If you said to them in 1908, ‘You think it’s just around the corner but it’s going to take you another hundred years’, I don’t think they’d believe it.”