It took 17 years to build, but Hull City’s Boothferry Park was a true home

In its early days, Boothferry Park’s amber-painted corrugated stands were a sight to behold. By the time it closed for the last time little more than half a century later it was a dilapidated relic well past its sell by date. But for fans of Hull City, it was still home.

Boothferry Park. Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

It took 17 years to even build, during which time the country went through a Great Depression delaying the start of work until 1932, three years after the club bought a former golf course by the Humber Estuary, plus World War Two.

The club’s financial difficulties meant work stopped after the first six months, and even after a £6,600 loan from the Football Association in 1939, matters got so acute that two years later, Hull could not even afford to play in the War League.

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Boothferry Park became an outdoor workshop for repairing tanks before it was a football venue, and Hull’s first post-War season was played back at The Boulevard.

By the time it finally opened on August 31, 1946, City only had planning permission for a west-side stand to cost no more than £17,000.

Once the stadium finally got up and running, though, it quickly became something to be proud of with its boxy stands so tight to a well-maintained pitch, and so did the team, Third Division (North) champions in 1948-49.

Boothferry Halt train station was added in 1951, ferrying football specials from the central station, and roofs were put over the North Stand and “Kempton” Terrace. The latter was meant to be temporary, but was never replaced.

A crowd of 49,655 watched the game against Rotherham United on Christmas Day 1948, 55,019 that season’s FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United.

In 1964 six towering floodlight pylons made the ground a beacon of the city and a year later a new cantilever stand was built over “Bunker’s Hill”. City scored 109 goals winning the 1966 Third Division, and set a new divisional record attendance of 40,231 against Millwall along the way. Five thousand more watched their team play Chelsea in an FA Cup quarter-final replay.

Boothferry hosted international football in February 1972 when Northern Ireland, unable to play at home because of terrorism, drew 1-1 with Spain. England Under-23s were frequent visitors.

The ground was home to showjumping, basketball and once in 1971, even Leeds United. In 1982 the first Ashes rugby league test was played there.

Sadly by then, it still looked like a 1960s football ground. Like most football stadia at the time of the Taylor Report, it had been woefully neglected as the club again fell on hard times.

In February 1982 the Tigers went into receivership, and the North End seats were demolished to make space for a Grandways budget supermarket. Four years later the train station closed, no longer a safe place to drop off passengers.

For all the bravado of chairman Don Robinson riding around the ground on a horse and talking about Hull being the first team to play on the moon, reality down on earth was a lost less romantic.

Dust used to fall from the “Best Stand” (the west stand) whenever a ball hit its roof, and the neon Boothferry Park sign rarely flickered fully into life.

Colin Appleton, the manager who earlier in the decade had the best win ratio in the club’s history, returned in 1989 and produced the worst in his second spell.

Dean Windass and Allan Fettis were sold in 1993-94 to keep the wolf from the door after a series of High Court winding-up orders and 1996-97 ended with the team two points off finishing bottom of the Football League.

Save for the odd rallying-round in the all-too frequent times of desperate need, attendances were a depressingly far cry from the post-War glory days. David Lloyd bought the club but after selling it he called in the bailiffs and locked the Tigers out of the ground he still owned in 2000.

Although they limped on, more winding-up orders and visits from the bailiffs followed before the administrators sold the club to Adam Pearson in March 2001.

Less than two years later, the Tigers left for good, for a £43.5m state-of-the-art all-seater stadium in the shadow of their previous Analby Road home.

The old place had its faults, but those that fell in love with football there are more likely to remember the good times – the sights, the smells, those giant floodlights, the star players, the hard-working journeymen, the games, the great escapes and promotion parties – that make up part of the up-and-down life of a Hull City supporter.

Windass, Fettis, Raich Carter, Wilf Mannion, Stuart Pearson, Mark Hateley and Don Revie all wore the amber and black at Boothferry.

Striker Duane Darby scored a double hat-trick in an FA Cup replay with Whitby Town there, and Keith Edwards gave them a 2-1 half-time lead against Liverpool in the 1989 FA Cup fifth round, only for the Reds to escape with a 3-2 win en route to the double.

For five years after it closed, the decaying ground stood as a monument, the weeds poking through the pitch and terracing alike and the graffitied walls giving no sense of the magical and not-so magical times that had gone before.

In 2011, the gigantic floodlight pylons finally came down.

Now the nods to the past come in the road names on the housing estate standing in its place. It has gone from a spiritual home to actual homes.

Already the KCOM Stadium is creating new memories, finally putting Hull’s unwanted tag of being the biggest European city never to have hosted top-flight football to bed, and hosting European football on the back of an unforgettable FA Cup final. Inevitably there have been bad times too.

But for some from the East Riding, for all its faults by the end, Boothferry Park will always be where their heart is.

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