Forty years in fact, with the 40th anniversary of the club’s last win over the red side of Manchester arriving just yesterday – and how everyone associated with the amber and black would love their present-day heroes to etch their names firmly into the Tigers’ history books at Old Trafford this Saturday.
Hull’s last nine meetings with the Red Devils have been somewhat consistent, yielding nine wins for the team from the wrong side of the Pennines.
It was somewhat different on a late autumnal afternoon in East Yorkshire on November 23, 1974 when a crowd of 23,287 saw the Tigers unceremoniously halt Tommy Docherty’s Division Two promotion bandwagon with United losing 2-0, thanks to goals in each half from Malcolm Lord and Hull legend Ken Wagstaff.
That particular November is largely remembered in British history as a month when terrorism sadly hit the headlines in mainland UK in a major way, most notably with the Birmingham pub bombings. It was a troubled time for many.
Huddersfield-born Harold Wilson was back in No 10 after narrowly winning a second general election the previous month and when John Kaye’s side took the field against Docherty’s United, David Essex was at No 1 in the charts with Gonna Make You a Star.
The stars that day at Boothferry Park were all in home jerseys, but it did not stop Docherty from venting his spleen after the final whistle by basically accusing Hull players of being pugilists with more than a whiff of sour grapes coming from the Scot, an ex-Tigers coach.
For Hull, whose previous manager Terry Neill left the club a few months earlier in September to take over at Tottenham Hotspur, it was the sweetest of triumphs.
Moreso with the Tigers having only having beaten United once in six post-war meetings and with the visitors having poached Hull striker Stuart ‘Pancho’ Pearson at the start of the campaign.
Relegated the previous season and hot favourites to head straight back, United had lost just two matches, at Norwich and Bristol City, when they arrived at Hull, with thousands of their fans packing out the East Stand with hundreds around the ground.
But it was Hull’s day with the hosts prevailing in an encounter best described as competitive, with the hosts’ strength and commitment winning through.
Watched by a bumper crowd – 8,000 better than City’s second-best that season – it was perhaps disingenuous to label Hull as purely as strongarm side when it had the predatory talents of Wagstaff in their ranks up front.
Wagstaff netted a late second to seal victory five minutes from time on an afternoon when Hull, who many shrewd observers felt had punched below their weight for several seasons, saw everything come together and tantalisingly hint they could indeed be a force in the division after a low-key start.
The Yorkshire Post’s Terry Brindle was there to cover events that day when Hull hit the heights and showed what they were capable.
Unfortunately, Tigers supporters did not see enough of it on a consistent basis from the mid-60s to mid-70s in the old Division Two.
Lord and Wagstaff may have got the goals against United, for whom Yorkshire County Cricket Club seamer Arnie Sidebottom played in the heart of the visiting defence, but in the words of Brindle, the real difference was striker Alf Wood.
Signed for a record £75,000 from Millwall by Hull, Wood – also wanted by West Brom – added bite to complement the goal-scoring nous of Wagstaff, on the 10th anniversary of his first Hull game.
Described as pugnacious and aggressive by Brindle and the kind of man ‘who will take on Manchester United one week and Muhammad Ali the next’, Wood, who went on to later join Middlesbrough, never gave United a moment of peace.
Across the pitch, in the first period, the visitors were second best and got short change from the Hull rearguard, able to hang onto the lead after Lord fired in an opener off Alex Forsyth.
In the second half, United swarmed forward, but found no way past Jeff Wealands, given admirable protection by those in front of him with Wagstaff relieving any vestiges of late pressure with a second five minutes from time.
The win certainly impressed Brindle, who wrote: “There was a feeling in football circles that the club’s ambition had outstripped achievement for almost a decade. The club, like the players, had long been rather held too classy for the Second Division, yet irritatingly unable to prove it.
“However, the win over Manchester United saw that City may have more reason to be optimistic than usual.”
Hull’s powerhouse performance left Docherty bleating: “If they go on playing like that, they won’t have enough men left for a team at the end of the season. They will all have appointments at Lancaster Gate every week.”
Home director Harold Needler, whose dream it was for the Tigers to get promoted to the First Division, was unrepentant, his comment of ‘You reap what you sow’ firing a clear shot across the bows of Docherty.
But the Scot was to have the last laugh, with United winning the reverse fixture 2-0 in front of 44,712, helping them along the way to take the title ahead of Aston Villa, with the Tigers finishing a creditable eighth.
But that late November afternoon firmly belonged to Hull City.