Hull hope to take the automatic route up into the Premier League this season. But Brian Horton tells Richard Sutcliffe how he became involved in helping secure their play-off triumph.
IT is an image that takes pride of place on the wall in Brian Horton’s lounge.
Alongside Paul Duffen and Phil Brown, the one-time midfielder is seen on the Wembley pitch celebrating Hull City’s play-off triumph of 2008.
That the photo takes up such a prominent position in his Cheshire home speaks volumes for the affection in which the 64-year-old holds a club he served as player, manager and then assistant.
“I had some great times at Hull,” Horton, a veteran of more than 1,000 games in a managerial career stretching back almost three decades, tells the Yorkshire Post as he gazes up at the image of Hull’s Wembley triumph.
“From my first spell through to when I came in to join Phil, Hull City have been a big part of my career and life. My kids were even born in Beverley.
“It is why I will always think fondly of Hull City and why I really hope they can go up this season.”
Horton’s career in management began in the East Riding, when he took the reins as player-manager in the summer of 1984 just a few weeks after the Tigers had been pipped to promotion from Division Three by the slimmest of margins. Sheffield United went up instead due to having scored just one more goal.
By the end of his first season, Hull were back in the second tier. A sixth-place finish in 1985-86 then represented the club’s best placing in 15 years. It would remain the high point until Brown brought Horton on board to work alongside Steve Parkin and form a management team that would finally end Hull’s 104-year wait for top-flight football.
“Funnily enough, that sixth-place finish under me was something Phil used to joke about,” recalls Horton with a laugh. “Unfortunately, back then the play-offs weren’t around so there was no second chance.
“But because it had been Hull’s highest position in a lot of years, Phil would keep saying, ‘I am going to finish higher than Brian’.
“That was his target and we used to have a real laugh about it. Of course, he did just that and then took Hull into the Premier League. Great times.”
Hull, of course, are chasing a return to the top flight. Steve Bruce’s men will head to Huddersfield Town this Saturday sitting pretty in second place, two points ahead of the chasing pack.
Compared to 2008, the current crop are in a much more promising position as back then, with eight games remaining, Brown’s side were fifth and eight points behind the top two, Stoke City and Bristol City.
However, a barnstorming run-in that yielded five wins and a draw saw the Tigers go close to snatching second place before Stoke rallied. They held off the Yorkshire club’s valiant challenge and clinched automatic promotion behind champions West Bromwich Albion.
Horton recalls: “The defining moment of that season, funnily enough, was probably before Christmas when we lost heavily against Preston (3-0) and Southampton (4-0) inside a few days.
“After that, we all got together and said, ‘This needs sorting out’. After that we started to put some results together and, gradually, the confidence built and built.
“Eventually, we had become so hard to beat that I bet no one wanted to play Hull City.
“We had pace, strength and a real eye for goal. And if it wasn’t happening for one of our strikers, we had others who could come in.
“Dean Windass would often play an hour and then we would bring Caleb (Folan) on. Him and Fraizer (Campbell) up front were a real handful. We also brought in Craig Fagan during the run-in, which meant more pace to utilise.
“I could name a few of the lads who did great things that season, people like Fraizer, Ian Ashbee and Deano. But what I think saw us through was the all-round team effort.
“There were no superstars in that team, just good, honest lads who were willing to put their bodies on the line for each other.”
The description ‘good, honest lads’ could also be extended to the men who piloted that success.
Brown, who had been brought in at first to assist Phil Parkinson, chose his backroom team carefully and it was the Tigers who reaped the reward.
Horton says: “I didn’t really know Phil that well when I went back to Hull (in the summer of 2007). We’d sat together at games and had a chat, including once when Phil was still Sam Allardyce’s assistant at Bolton but was keen to strike out on his own.
“I told Phil to go for it as otherwise he’d regret not doing so. That apart, though, we didn’t know each other that well.
“But then, a few years after that chat, I was at a football function in Manchester and Phil, by now, was manager of Hull.
“The club were in a relegation fight, but Phil pulled me aside and asked what I was up to.
“It was a bit like now, doing bits of radio and the like. So, Phil said that if Hull stayed up then he would probably get the job, and would I be interested in joining him?
“He wanted to bring some experience in and, sure enough, the call came once Hull had stayed up. In many ways, it was a brave move of Phil’s as I’d not left under a cloud as manager and me being there could have brought him added pressure. But I am so glad he did, as we went on to have some wonderful times.”
Chief among those was the 1-0 win over Bristol City at Wembley that, thanks to the photo adorning his living room wall, is never far from Horton’s thoughts.
“I couldn’t see how we would lose that day at Wembley,” he recalls with pride. “I really couldn’t. “I said as much to Phil, when we were sitting at the front of the coach on the way to the game.
“Once there, everything went to plan. We made a deliberate decision not to let the players out of the dressing room before the game. Not until the warm-up. We told them, ‘You are here to do a job, not take pictures of the family’. And that helped focus everyone, including Deano who got that fantastic goal.”
Hull, of course, are hoping to avoid the play-offs this time around with automatic promotion their goal.
Asked if his old club can go one better than the team of five years ago, Horton replies: “I hope so, I really do.
“I’ve only seen Hull once live this season, at Blackburn in August (when Hull lost 1-0). But I have seen them on television. Steve (Bruce) is also someone I have known from my time in Manchester and he has got a great chance of taking them up.”