Thursday, 8 November 2018

“Don’t let it be said that footballers are shirkers and cowards”

“Do not ask where Hearts are playing and then look at me askance. If it's football that you're wanting, you must come with us to France!”
Private George Blaney, Castle Brewery, Edinburgh, December 1914

Last week I attended Tynecastle for the Hallowe’en fixture between Heart of Midlothian and their cross-city rivals Hibernian. It was my first Edinburgh Derby since August 1989, which had been my first ever Hearts live game. Since then I’ve watched the ‘Boys in Maroon’ in such diverse places as Bologna, Prague, Madrid and, er, Falkirk. They are my ‘Scottish team’ and, thanks to the antics of the Allams, they have come pretty close to usurping Hull City in my affections these past few years.
But why Hearts?
My affinity with The Jam Tarts began back in the mid-Eighties, when the unfolding tale of their heart-breaking 1985/86 season resonated strongly with somebody still scarred by the events of Turf Moor ’84. My involvement with the football fanzine movement then helped move things on. Among the many fanzines we struck up relationships with in those early days of Hull Hell & Happiness was Heartbeat, produced by a group of Hearts supporters based in and around Manchester. What their A4-sized publication lacked in quality of production it more than atoned for in quality of content; especially its attacks on its bitter rivals in which the editors certainly didn’t hold back. Many were not only very funny but bordered on tasteless. It was the sort of thing we were wanting to do at HH&H prior to our summoning by The Don. As such, we quickly adopted Heartbeat as our favourite other fanzine. Editor Mike Van Vleck was a man with allegiances to various sports teams and it was through his support of Salford Rugby League that I finally made his acquaintance, courtesy of a game against Hull Kingston Rovers in March 1989. A follow-up visit to see The Tigers entertain Hibs the following pre-season cemented our friendship and a month later, I joined the Manchester Hearts at a raucous Tynecastle where a goal from “the big Moose” was enough to secure victory on a sodden summer afternoon.
Almost thirty years later, my second derby experience would be remembered more for the accompanying crowd-related incidents than for the quality of football on the pitch. But even though the game itself was poor, the anticipation and atmosphere was something I’ve not experienced at a City match for some time. Furthermore, as I wandered around Edinburgh in the days before and after the game – as part of a half-term mini-break with the family – it reinforced the affection I now have for my adopted team and the city that spawned it. This weekend, when we mark the centenary of the Armistice that ended the Great War, those bonds will be strengthened even further. As I gather in Ypres to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, along with many others uppermost in my thoughts (my family ancestors and the ‘Easington Fallen’ who I travelled to France and Flanders to honour last year) I will think of Heart of Midlothian Football Club – “the team that went to war for Britain”.
The story of the involvement of Hearts FC in the First World War has been brilliantly described in two books (Jack Alexander’s McCrae’s Battalion: The Story of the 16th Royal Scots (Mainstream, 2004) and Tom Purdie’s Hearts At War 1914-1919 (Amberley, 2014)). It was also the subject of a couple of fine newspaper articles, courtesy of Alex Massie in The Guardian from 2005 and The Independent’s Robin Scott-Elliott four years ago in a piece to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. It is a tale guaranteed to stir the emotions, describing how “the best team in Hearts’ history” turned their backs on footballing glory to go to war.
At the start of the 1914/15 season, Hearts were described as the “young pretenders” of Scottish football but a 2-0 opening day win over champions Celtic at Tynecastle underlined their title credentials. Six wins from their opening six games had them sat proudly atop the league, a position they would maintain for much of the campaign. By November the only points dropped in the first fourteen games had come courtesy of a careless defeat at the hands of Dumbarton and a surprise draw against Queens Park. They were looking increasingly good for a first Scottish League title since 1896/97. Then the Great War intervened. Having already seen army reservists Neil Moreland and George Sinclair called-up at the outbreak of hostilities, winger James Speedie joined them immediately after a 2-0 home win over Falkirk on 14 November, having answered a half-time appeal made on behalf of the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders. The Edinburgh Evening Dispatch proudly proclaimed, “Three Hearts men with the Colours now”. That number would soon increase dramatically.
As the military crisis deepened in France, the pressure on young men to ‘volunteer’ became intolerable. Football became a target of “an orchestrated campaign of abuse”[i], with satirical magazine Punch printing a cartoon urging men to take part in the ‘Greater Game’ – played not for trophies but on the field of battle. In Parliament, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was urged to “introduce legislation taking powers to suppress all professional football for the continuance of the war”. As the “leaders of the Scottish League and considered by many observers to be the most irresistible footballing combination in Great Britain”, Hearts became a principal target. A letter from ‘The Soldier’s Daughter’ in the Edinburgh Evening News basically accused Hearts players of cowardice and suggested they adopt a nom de plume of ‘The White Feathers of Midlothian’. It enraged those in the Tynecastle dressing room. A few days later the popular local businessman and Liberal MP Sir George McCrae asked manager John McCartney about the possibility of some of the Hearts players joining the battalion being raised by him, “telling him that such actions would make for a large following and a speedy formation of the unit”. His request was granted and eleven players immediately signed-up, with five others turned down on medical reasons. Among the few who didn’t join immediately were brothers Archie and Jimmy Boyd, who first wanted to discuss the matter with their mother. In the event “Young Jimmy made the decision for them both. Archie was engaged to be married and had more to lose”.
Between August and November 1914, sixteen Hearts players became ‘soldier footballers’ – a figure unequalled in the United Kingdom and one that would almost double over the next two seasons”[ii]. Among those enlisting later was the captain, Bob Mercer who had originally been turned down due to a torn knee ligament. Along with his team-mates he now “traded the playing fields of Scotland for the killing fields of France (and) the roar of the crowd for the roar of gunfire” By their actions, Heart of Midlothian FC became the first British football team to sign up en masse. At the Hearts AGM of July 1915, it was reported that “the lead established by these gallant youths reverberated through the length of the land” and “some 600 supporters and shareholders followed suit and joined up”. Many of these supporters enlisted in direct response to a Press Statement released by the Hearts Board of Directors, in which they stated their “earnest desire” that “an entire ‘Hearts Company’ be formed of players, ticket holders and general followers”. The Statement read:
“Now then young men, as you have followed the club through adverse and pleasant times, through sunshine and rain, roll up in your hundreds for King and Country, for right and freedom. Don’t let it be said that footballers are shirkers and cowards. As the club has borne an honoured name on the football field, let it earn its spurs on the field of battle.”
Those answering the call were offered free admission to the Edinburgh Derby on Saturday 5 December. “Eight hundred men duly turned up and marched into the ground prior to kick-off” before “both teams emerged to thunderous applause”. Conditions matched the reception but Hearts made light of them to “sweep Hibernian back to Leith”. Tom Purdie said their play “lit up grey leaden skies in a 3-1 win”. 
Heart of Midlothian were not alone in answering McCrae’s call. In total some 75 clubs were represented in the 16th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Scots, otherwise known as ‘McCrae’s Battalion’. These ranged from junior clubs to the likes of Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Dunfermline and Hibernian. In addition there were representatives of other sports, including rugby union, cricket, field hockey, swimming, athletics and bodybuilding. The 16th Royal Scots was the original Sporting Battalion and the first to earn the ‘Footballer’s Battalion’ sobriquet.
By the start of 1915 the players’ military training had begun, involving long, exhausting runs in the nearby Pentland Hills. The rigours eventually began to take its toll, with bouts of influenza and blisters a recurring issue. Having won 19 of their opening 21 games that season, playing football previously described in the Press as "dainty, dazzling" and being "full of pace and panache”, Hearts players (unlike those of either Celtic or Rangers) eventually succumbed to the exertions of having to combine weekly military drills with weekends playing football. They won only eight of their 17 games post-mobilisation and when “a lacklustre Hearts team” were beaten 1-0 at St Mirren on 17 April, Celtic “hurried past them” to eventually take the title by 4pts. An embittered Edinburgh Evening News stated:
“Hearts have laboured under a dreadful handicap, the like our friends in the west cannot imagine. Between them the two leading Glasgow clubs have not sent a single prominent player to the Army. There is only one football champion in Scotland and its colours are maroon and khaki.”
Tom Purdie describes how the Hearts players came off the Love Street pitch “totally and utterly disconsolate, mentally and physically exhausted. They sat within the changing room in numb silence”. Manager John McCartney addressed them and expressed his utmost pride in their efforts before leaving the room to stand alone in the corridor, where it was said he too had tears in his eyes. He knew in his heart that some of those players he’d left in the changing room would never play together in a maroon jersey again. McCartney later told the Edinburgh Evening News that his team had played at times when they were so tired they could hardly stand. In addition, the league’s top scorer Tom Gracie had been diagnosed with leukaemia but had asked his manager to keep it from the other players. Yet despite all this, they had taken things to the final day. He said, “Edinburgh is proud of them”. It’s cruelly ironic that, similar to the season that first wooed me to the club, finishing second didn’t deprive the Hearts players of the glory their efforts deserved. However, in this particular case, “they had (also) won the hearts and admiration of the nation”.
On the morning of 18 May 1915, McCrae’s Battalion went to war. Purdie wrote: “1,100 men marched proudly down the Mound and Market Street to Waverley Station to the sound of the pipes and drums. Thousands turned out to wish them a fond farewell and a safe return”. But what must have seemed at the time like a ‘glorious adventure’ descended into anything but. In total, seven first team players failed to return. James Speedie was the first to fall, killed in action at the Battle of Loos on 25 September, just eleven weeks after arriving in France. A month later Tom Gracie succumbed to his illness. Duncan Currie, Ernest Ellis and Harry Wattie fell on the first day of The Somme, to be followed later by John Allan and the aforementioned Jimmy Boyd who also gave their lives before hostilities were ended. Several more sustained injuries that ensured they would never play football again. A detailed list of those killed and wounded is available on the excellent McCrae’s Battalion Trust website but suffice to say no other football club in this country paid such a price – on or off the field.
Hearts continued to function as a team during the War years, largely helped by servicemen home on leave or those players involved in vital war work at home. Amid falling attendances, struggling finances, ongoing team disruption and continuing bad news from the Western Front the Scottish League somehow carried on. Hearts managed a creditable fifth-place finish in 1915/16 but that proved their best. Mid-table placings followed over the next three years. Five days after the Armistice in November 1918, The Jam Tarts produced their best display of the season to beat Third Lanark 5-0 at Tynecastle in front of a 7,000 crowd, many who joined in the singing of patriotic songs, led by the Grassmarket Band. As Purdie writes, “There was a special welcome back to Tynecastle for some brave individuals”. Honouring a promise made at the time of their departure, “a Main Stand season ticket was given to the returning members of 16 Royal Scots C Company who had been season ticket holders, shareholders, officials or indeed players”. On the reverse of the ticket, along with the Royal Scots crest and the person’s name, rank and service number, was printed the following:
“Voluntarily these men went forth to fight for King and Country. The gloomiest hour in the nation’s history found them ready. As pioneers in the formation of a brilliant regiment, sportsmen the world over will ever remember them. Duty well done they are welcomed back to Tynecastle; Hearts of Oak!”
To mark the end of the fighting, it was announced that a Victory Cup would be competed for in 1919 (the Scottish Cup having been suspended for the duration of hostilities). Eighteen teams were entered and it was widely agreed that a Hearts victory would not only have been “pleasing” but “fitting”. In the event, they again came up just short. A bye in the first round was followed by away wins at Third Lanark and Partick Thistle, before Airdrieonians were subjected to what Purdie terms “a devastating display of football” in a 7-1 scoreline in the semi-final at Tynecastle. The final saw Hearts face St Mirren in front of 60,000 at Celtic Park on 26 April 1919. Purdie writes: “Outwith the ‘Saints’ fans, this was a game that probably the whole of Scotland wanted Hearts to win due to the sacrifices they had made during the war years”. Three extra-time goals for The Buddies ensured it was not to be. Hearts were runners-up. Again.
It’s widely acknowledged that had the Great War not come along, the Hearts side of that era “might have established a dynasty in Edinburgh”, leading to Scottish football being “carved up between three rather than two powers”. In his 2005 piece, Massie went so far as to suggest that the Kaiser can perhaps be blamed for the lack of competitiveness in the Scottish game! As it is, since the Great War Hearts have largely remained also-rans, which is possibly another reason I – as a Hull City supporter – was drawn to them in the first place!

Sadly, I believe the story of the Hearts ‘soldier footballers’ is one that still remains largely unknown to most football supporters. Indeed, had I not been drawn to Hearts by that 1985/86 season, it may have been one that I too would have easily overlooked? There have been attempts to address this. In November 2014 BBC Learning produced Footballers United as part of its World War One season and more recently, A War Of Two Halves is enjoying a second run at Tynecastle having proved a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe. Sadly, my visit was a week too early for the latter but simply sauntering around the streets of ‘Auld Reekie’ brought the words of Alexander and Purdie to life; from the recently re-named McCrae Place, and Castle Street in the New Town to the Haymarket Memorial and Tynecastle itself. Walking along Princes Street I allowed myself to imagine the gridlock as huge crowds of well-wishers gathered to provide the brave Hearts lads with a magnificent send-off. I even looked up at the Castle and imagined the “weather-beaten fortress nodding its head in approval”. Many a passing tourist – and local for that matter – must’ve wondered who this Sassenach was wandering around with a fixed smile on his face, seemingly staring into space. But before I got too carried away on a wave of nostalgia, I was away to Ryries for a pre-Derby livener or three… (As an aside, a bus ride along Easter Road to Leith in order to visit the former HMY Britannia had me chuckling as I imagined that 1914 Hibs team being “swept back” along the very same route over a hundred years earlier)
The Hibees certainly weren’t swept away in my latest Edinburgh Derby, the game finishing goalless with the visitors surviving a second half sending-off and a late disallowed goal. It was a game played in a tetchy atmosphere far removed from that described by Purdie, with Hearts keeper Zdeněk Zlámal and Hibs boss Neil Lennon both going to ground after separate spectator-related incidents. These incidents provoked far more post-match talking points than the game itself. The Edinburgh Evening News back page led with the headline “You Coward”. Despite the dropped points and a subsequent weekend defeat by Celtic, Hearts arrived in November sitting above the Glasgow side at the top of the league, just as they had done in November 1914 – when the term “Coward” had a far more sinister connotation and the ‘Boys In Maroon’ really were the ‘Talk o’ the Toon’.
Lest we forget.

My previous blog posts around the subject of the Great War commemorations are as follows: A Greater Game (24/11/2014); Oppy Wood, Hull Pals & finding Easington’s Fallen (09/11/2017)

[i] From
[ii] From

Friday, 28 September 2018

“It’s not the programme mate”

'Hull, Hell & Happiness', the first Hull City entry into the brave new world of fanzines was first launched on 28th September 1988. The thirtieth anniversary appears as good a time as ever to do a bit of reminiscing...

An early afternoon in late-September 1988. My boss just stood there, his face bearing a rather nonplussed expression as countless sheets of amber paper, adorned with a picture of Hull City kit-wearing comedian Jasper Carrott, continued to drop into the office copier’s output tray directly in front of him. After what appeared an excruciatingly long wait he simply said, “I won’t ask” and left the room. I heaved a sigh of relief. Although I was still on my lunch-break, a charge of using works’ equipment for private business was probably enough to get me severely reprimanded or even sacked. It had been a close call. The first Hull, Hell & Happiness had nearly been strangled at birth. Instead it went almost immediately from the production line (i.e. the works printer and long-handle stapler) to the streets around Boothferry Park, where I would be one of the “vendors” trying to sell it. As unlikely as it sounded I was embarking on a short-term career as a “purveyor of subversive literature”. Whatever next? And what’s more, I wasn’t even supposed to be going to City anymore. After eight years of watching football on a Saturday afternoon, I'd decided it might be nice to start playing again and so I'd signed East Riding County League forms for my local village club, Easington United.

My decision to give my Saturdays over to playing didn’t prevent me catching the start of City’s 1988/89 campaign. This in turn meant I could get to see one of my boyhood heroes in the flesh. Eddie Gray, yes the Eddie Gray was the new Hull City manager. It was a surprise appointment as most fans thought Dennis Booth was a shoo-in. Not only had he overseen team matters after Brian Horton’s sacking but he’d also been allowed to spend £100,000 on Watford defender Steve Terry during the summer (a move that would eventually see fans’ favourite Pete Skipper depart to Oldham). But, according to David Goodman (author of 'Look Back In Amber', the title of which was taken from a later City fanzine) Robinson wanted someone who wasn’t “too close to the club”. Gray was a hero of his and although The Don would later admit to have “done no research on him really” it was the “name in his head” he went for. The man in charge of Leeds on that first meeting with City at Elland Road back in September 1985 was in the Boothferry hot seat three years later. I was fairly giddy about the news and was determined to be a part of this new era in spite of my new-found weekend commitments. Gambling on postponements, scheduled blank Saturdays and midweek games at Boothferry, I reckoned I could do at least a dozen City matches over the course of the season. That surely still warranted recognition as a fan? Anyway, as things turned out, opting to limit my Tiger-trekking proved the right decision. This wouldn’t be a season to remember - well, not on the field.

The warning signs were there from day one. Manchester City arrived as favourites for promotion. Their large away following, complete with inflatable bananas helped generate an opening day attendance of 11,653 and an atmosphere that helped me ignore a stonking hangover, courtesy of the previous night’s Spiders cocktails. I watched the game from the Kempton (having renewed my Membership Pass despite my new Saturday plans). A City side including three debutants – Terry being joined in the starting line-up by fellow signings Lee Warren and John Moore – looked stylish enough in their new ‘Riding Bitter’ kit (albeit with still too much red in it) but their performance was less so. It was one of the most one-sided matches I’ve ever seen. So much so, that a mixture of disbelief and hilarity greeted Keith Edwards’ winning goal from City’s only effort on target. I went home thinking “lucky” Eddie might just be the man to lead us to the top flight after all.

Two days later reality kicked-in. On Bank Holiday Monday I was up and at ‘em early for the trip to Oxford. I paid seven quid to sit in the “infamous” Cuckoo Lane East Stand at the Manor Ground and watched City go down to a narrow defeat against Mark Lawrenson’s hosts, a team looking to make a swift return to Division 1. At least there were no missiles thrown on this occasion (as had been the case a few years earlier). Another defeat followed at Plymouth on the first Saturday in September and City would go on to win just three of their first thirteen competitive matches. It was a run of form ripe for the launch of a fanzine...

The football fanzine boom that spawned Hull, Hell & Happiness (or HH&H as it soon became known) was in its early stages. London-based When Saturday Comes (WSC), first printed in March 1986, was seen as the mother of such publications, along with the Birmingham-based On the Ball. Some of the earliest club ‘zines included Notts County’s The Pie, The Leyton Orientear and closer to home, The City Gent (Bradford) which, having been launched in 1984, claims to be “the longest continually produced printed fanzine in the country”. As more and more titles came into being, the bar was continually raised in terms of quality. Al Needham, writing in WSC twenty years later, had his opinion on why: 

“Of course, fanzines had been around since the late Sixties, but – apart from Foul!, the ground-breaking mid-Seventies dirt-sheet – they were exclusively put together by people desperate to work on the NME asking members of the Newtown Neurotics if they thought pit closures were a good idea or not.”
Hull City fans may well cite late-1940s publication Tiger Mag as one of the earliest supporters’ magazines but by the time HH&H first hit the streets it had been many years since they had had anything similar to read. The brains behind it belonged to Withernsea’s Andy Medcalf, a student at Stafford University, where he first mooted the launch of a fanzine in conjunction with fellow City fan Ian Websdale.  The duo’s aims were five-fold:

1)   To produce a fanzine dedicated to the activities of Hull City AFC, and to those of local music groups.
2)  To get as many people involved as possible by appealing for contributions.
3)  To print interesting/humorous articles, and also pieces which express people’s own personal opinions. We class ourselves as “independent” and are not accountable to anyone.
4)   To donate all our profits to Hull City AFC and The Hull Music Collective in some way. None of us makes any personal gain from this venture.
5)   To sell the fanzine in as many places as possible, to allow supporters to buy it wherever they live.

On gaining an internship at BP, Andy soon picked up on my interest in City (albeit one that could be described as ‘lapsed’ due to my new Saturday commitments) and asked me if I’d like to come on board. It seemed a really good idea...until that first encounter with the boss! Eventually we managed to produce 350 copies thanks to a succession of “working lunches” and staying back after hours. And although looking back now, some of that first issue’s content borders on cringe-worthy (not least my pen name of Grip 66) there was a real sense of achievement when the finished items were neatly boxed up and ready to go. The 44 pages were split between football and ‘local’ music, although as Hull Daily Mail reviewer Angus Young pointed out, The Cardiacs (“not remotely from Hull”) didn’t really warrant “three rambling pages”. A live review of Rush was equally dismissed, while both Andy and I acknowledged that four pages of flyers from local blue-eyed soulsters The Mighty Strike also came across as something of a cop-out. Overall, though, we felt we’d struck what appeared to be a good balance between life’s two greatest pleasures. We’d soon know for sure.

Wednesday, 28th September 1988 and a second round, first leg home tie in the League Cup against the Arsenal. Anticipation surrounding the appearance of our modest (i.e. tacky) first edition wasn’t quite as great as that for the visit of The Gunners and the return to Boothferry Park of one of its heroes of the early 1980s. It was four years since Brian Marwood’s last City game on that desperate night at Burnley. A move to Sheffield Wednesday had seen his career blossom enough to tempt the Gunners to spend £800,000 on him in March 1988. He was guaranteed a warm reception. But would our fanzine receive the same? If I’m being honest, I don’t think many people had a clue what it was. If I had a pound for every time the words “No, it’s not the programme mate” left my lips, as another unsuspecting customer attempted to pay me 60p in order to get Eddie Gray’s latest view on things, I’d probably have taken in more than we did in sales. But after a hesitant start and a bit of welcome local publicity, the first issue figures proved very respectable and within a week or so the initial print run had all but gone. 

On the whole, reviews were favourable both from City supporters and those of other clubs. When Saturday Comes called it “a very impressive first issue”.  It contained “plenty of good reading” according to The Arsenal Echo Echo, while the Hull Daily Mail described it as “a Hull of a good idea”. And we even earned ourselves a bit of publicity elsewhere, with pieces on the fanzine appearing in the Yorkshire Post. Even more beneficial was the coverage on the wireless, with an appearance on local radio’s Great Northern Rock programme to be followed in time by regular plugs on Radio 1. Indeed the only disappointments were the HDM’s refusal to allow use of their photographs and the attitude of the club itself. City’s initial refusal to sell the fanzine in the club shop was apparently in response to an article suggesting that Garreth Roberts was “perhaps past his best”, while a similar knock-back to our offer of player sponsorship was little short of ridiculous. As for the game itself, City lost 1-2, making the second leg fairly academic. But we still planned to go, if only to shift a few fanzines.

As expected the second leg was a low-key affair; the Arse completing a 5-1 aggregate win in front of a seventeen-thousand strong crowd that included just a few hundred from East Yorkshire. Old Trafford the previous year this was certainly not. But then again, City were not the side of twelve months earlier. According to Andy’s next HH&H editorial, results simply reminded us that “nothing’s really changed…we follow a crap team”. But at least now we had a half-decent fanzine to support! Several names would come to the fore over the next few issues - Gary Hook, Gary Clark, Jeff Pullen, Tim Allison and Kieran Burns - as a sort of core team to be relied upon, with plenty of others willing to chip in with excellent one-off contributions.

From those first few lunch breaks spent covertly using the office copier eventually grew what came to be regarded as one of the more professional looking fanzines on the market, one that would become a firm favourite among the football and music fans of Hull (local mod band Chase Ambition even penned a song titled “Hull, Hell & Happiness” though I can’t claim with absolute certainty that it was done with us in mind). Ironically, it was this initial success that indirectly led to the first piece of adverse feedback, courtesy of our decision to use the proceeds of Issue 1 to get subsequent editions printed professionally. Choosing Sheffield-based Juma Printers riled a few people who felt we should be supporting local business.  But Juma ticked all the boxes. They were cheap, they already printed a whole range of football-based publications and owner Martin Lacey was a fanzine editor himself. They knew what we wanted. The result was a much more professional looking magazine. Issue 2 came out in late November and despite the increased production costs, at 50p for 44 pages it remained an attractive proposition. Sales were better than for Issue 1.

Along with the standard fanzine fare, HH&H was lauded in some quarters for its slightly offbeat content, such as our “Auntie Social” problem page and “An Outsider Writes In...” in which we invited submissions from supporters of other clubs. In future issues we would gain access to City’s players for interviews and we also had pieces in which managers of The Tigers’ opponents could pen their thoughts. We even set aside space for local grassroots clubs and this, alongside the music content, helped set us apart from many other efforts.

Football fanzines were deemed newsworthy and HH&H continued to attract plenty of media attention. The Yorkshire Post came calling on Boxing Day when we joined forces with The City Gent ahead of the Bradford game at Boothferry in a united front against the Government’s planned membership scheme. We took about a thousand signatures in a move that appeared to be well received by all with the notable exception of Hull City themselves. When a club director eventually deemed our delegation worthy of a visit, it was in order to tell us he disagreed with what we were doing - despite the club having publicly stated its opposition to the Scheme.

We shouldn’t have been surprised. Our relationship with the City regime would prove a strange one. On the one hand they were (belatedly) glad to accept our player sponsorship, they would eventually agree to stock HH&H in the club shop (quite a coup back then) and they allowed us to conduct player interviews. On the other they would often distance themselves from this new, unofficial mouthpiece. An item in Issue 2 aroused Don Robinson’s displeasure to the extent that we were summoned to a meeting with him at The Royal Station Hotel. There he slated us over a cartoon depiction of a penis and scrotum that bore a rather uncanny resemblance to Robert Maxwell and carried the accompanying caption, “Not all Chairmen are arseholes”. Robinson was less than pleased with this portrayal of his “good friend”. He ordered us to apologise publicly and threatened legal action should anything similar appear in future. Although the rest of our talk was amicable enough and finished off with a handshake, The Don left us under no illusions about what he would or wouldn’t tolerate…and the drinks bill!

By issue 3 (Jan/Feb 1989) I had replaced Ian as Andy’s co-editor and helped produce a whopping 64-page edition, for which we had to up the price to 60p. The increased quantity (most fanzines averaged 24 pages) and quality was beginning to produce better sales. We were shifting nearly 1,500 copies, which was about a quarter of City’s average home crowd at the time. We were also selling well outside the city, in Nottingham and Glasgow as well as two London outlets (Sportspages bookshop and Rough Trade records). Joining the ever-growing Alternative Football Network mail order list also had a positive effect. It wasn’t enough to make a living from but at least we could dream of doing so should City ever hit the big time. 

In contrast to the fortunes of the team the fanzine continued to flourish during the early part of the 1989/90 season. National exposure continued to come via the football-supporting DJ’s of Radio 1. Spurs fan Simon Mayo gave issue 7 a plug on his Breakfast Show and John Peel regularly spread the word at the other end of the day. Indeed twice I had the pleasure of speaking to the latter during his late-night show, bringing him up-to-speed on what we were doing. The fact he appeared genuinely interested and not just paying lip service was wonderful. Locally, Andy and I were featured in the weekly Holderness Gazette and the HDM's Target publications. At one stage it appeared you couldn’t open a local rag without one or both of our ugly mugs smiling back at you. But by this time we were not the only kids on the block...

In August 1989 the first issue of On Cloud Seven appeared. “Dedicated to 85 years of under-achievement by Hull City F.C.” the fanzine’s title was inspired by Colin Appleton’s reaction when asked how it felt to be back at the club: “…Err, I’m on cloud seven, really…” The editorial explained the reasons behind this new addition to the fanzine world: “The Editors all enjoy making themselves comfortable in a pub, arming themselves with ale and embarking on intensive and increasingly far-fetched discussions about football. This magazine contains some of the fruits, ripe or otherwise, of such consultations…” That first issue set the tone for what was to follow. OC7 was a fanzine whose editors certainly knew their onions. It was a welcome addition to the City stable of subversive literature and the fact it didn’t touch music meant we were not in direct competition. 

As for Hull, Hell & Happiness, it would eventually last four years and fourteen issues, before the last edition rolled off the presses at Juma Printers in the spring of 1992. I wasn't involved by then. In the summer of Italia 90, Gary Hook and I had embarked on another project, one that resulted in From Hull To Eternity, an A4-sized publication that survived five issues and came to an end at about the same time. The reason for the almost synchronised finishes became apparent at the start of the 1992/93 season, when - under the rather grandiosely-termed "umbrella" Blind Faith organisation - a new fanzine was launched. Entitled Look Back In Amber it saw the collective brains between its two forerunners come together to provide City supporters with their latest alternative to the match programme. To show how far we'd come, we also got ourselves a monthly two-page spread in the Hull Daily Mail's Saturday Sportsmail edition, something that would've been quite unheard of back in the September of 1988. 

During this period 1988-92 it wasn't just fanzines that were produced. Gary's t-shirt operation proved particularly successful, the fanzine football team 'The Coasters' somewhat less so! There were several gigs (both benefit and otherwise) held at the legendary Adelphi featuring local bands, along with a compilation tape ('There's Something Stirring In King Billy's Bogs') produced in conjunction with Rangers' fanzine 'Follow Follow'. We struck up excellent relationships with fans of other clubs at a time when such things were a rarity (the one with the lads behind the Manchester Hearts fanzine springs to mind, resulting in the bizarre appearance of dozens of Hull City/Hearts half-and-half ski hats among the the Tigers support). Even the City players eventually bought into what we were doing, with subsequent interviews with Leigh Palin and Dean Windass being memorable more for what they told us off the record rather than what we could quote! Meanwhile, Northern Ireland international goalkeeper Alan Fettis became almost a walking advert for the fanzine movement, so close was his relationship with us (who remembers the visit of his brother and the 'First Northern Ireland Hull City Supporters Club'??!!). All-in-all, the fanzine years produced the sort of memories that would not otherwise have come with supporting Hull City. And for that I'll forever remain grateful. 

In time, a succession of City 'zines would follow in the wake of HH&H, From Hull To Eternity and Look Back In Amber. Among them, in no particular order: Tiger Rag (almost a direct successor to the Blind Faith publications); the weird and wonderful Fearful Symmetry; Gary's one-off Last Train To Boothferry Halt, The Three O'Clock At Kempton; T.O.S.S. (aka Tigers On Shit Street) and its successor, City Independent; and of course the marvellous Amber Nectar, now a thriving online 'zine. Meanwhile, outlasting us all has been the Hull City Southern Supporters' publication, Tigers Eye, still going and along with afrementioned titles continuing to spread the word among the Tiger Nation. Apologies to any I've missed. It's comforting to know that at various times over the past thirty years, when things have been far from rosy in the City garden, there has always been an outlet for those wanting to try and make things just that little bit more bearable. 

So tonight, as I prepare to listen and/or read more rumblings about the state of City on 'Sports Talk' and the various social media platforms, I will simply raise a glass and wish a "Happy 30th Anniversary" to my fellow "purveyors of subversive literature" at #hcafc. Cheers and thanks for the memories! 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Where were you in ’82?

By remembering ‘Ron’s Twenty Two’, Gary Jordan’s book makes for a perfect read for another World Cup year...

Where was I in the summer of ’82? I was at school. More precisely, in the June of that year I was in the final throes of the fifth form and sitting the last of my O-level exams before getting to enjoy an extended school holiday ahead of a further two years’ education. It’s a period in time that has been brought back to life by a new book, Out of the Shadows: The Story of the 1982 England World Cup Team by Gary Jordan.

The story provides the perfect preparation for another World Cup year, not least in the fact that it sets you up nicely for the ultimate disappointment that comes with being an England fan. Out of the Shadows actually begins further back than the Spain World Cup, with the fall-out from England’s previous tournament failure in Mexico ‘70. It then charts the national team’s progress through twelve barren years, focussing in particular on fortunes under the stewardship of Ron Greenwood, appointed to the post in 1977. Although painful reading at times – in particular the travails of the Don Revie era – the book evokes memories of some magical times spent watching the big games on my cousin’s colour telly next door (we only had black and white in our house). Among these were: ‘The Clown’ Tomaszewski denying England at Wembley in 1973, the rousing 5-1 drubbing of Scotland in 1975, a comeback win against Italy on a baseball field in New York in 1976 and the ultimately-to-no-avail 2-0 victory over the Italians at Wembley the following year, which formed part of the unsuccessful 1978 World Cup qualifying campaign. When watching on the television was impractical – such as for the midweek afternoon game in Rome in October ’76 that would ultimately cost England their place in Argentina – other methods were employed; in this case the transistor radio that Martin Wilson smuggled into our class at Easington Primary School and continued to feed us details from over the course of the game.

Jordan’s book also details the first England fixture I attended in person. That came courtesy of a school trip to Wembley in November 1978 when reigning European champions Czechoslovakia were the visitors for a prestigious friendly. Steve Coppell scored the game’s only goal, capitalising on the keeper’s error from a Tony Currie cross, after Viv Anderson had created the space. And it was Anderson who occupied most of the pre-match headlines, with the 22-year-old Nottingham Forest full-back becoming the first black player to win a full England cap. The other two things remembered from the night are (a) it was bloody freezing and (b) on the way home some of our older lads got into a scuffle with Mansfield Town fans at a Service station. It was a sign of things to come...

Fast forward four years and that shy, retiring second-year pupil had become a slightly less shy, retiring sixteen-year-old, weaned over the previous twelve months on Hull City games and rockabilly music. 1981/82 had been a dramatic season to follow The Tigers home and away, with City experiencing their first ever taste of life in the Football League basement and also becoming the first club to call in the Official Receiver. Thankfully, they survived the latter and indeed briefly mounted what would have been a remarkable tilt at the play-offs. This eventually fizzled out but with summer approaching, Don Robinson was announced as the club’s new Chairman. The Tigers had been saved from extinction.

In addition to my City commitments, weekends were taken up pursuing a love of vintage rock ‘n’ roll music. This had first been forged when watching Matchbox perform “Rockabilly Rebel” on the so-called ’Two Tone Top of the Pops’ in November 1979. The arrival of The Stray Cats the following year had made the music more “credible” in the eyes of the media and a couple of gigs by upcoming British bands at The Goodfellowship on Cott Road brought me into contact with the hip young hepcats of the local rocking scene. It was a shortlived phenomenon though and by the time I got to see one of those Goodfellowship bands (The Jets) again, in May 1982, the scene was on its knees. Unlike The Tigers, the Hull hepcats were in danger of dying out! The evidence was overwhelming. Despite a couple of Top Thirty hits themselves and in spite of having as support act Coast To Coast (recorders of Top Five smash “(Do) The Hucklebuck”) Hull City Hall was barely a third-full. But even allowing for the attendees somewhat rattling around inside, the gig still proved enjoyable and was seen by me as being the perfect start to an extra long summer, one for which the main event was still to come. I'll let Not All Ticket take up the story...

With my penchant for the look and style of yesteryear, I didn’t really fit the standard image of the 1980s football fan. Whether it be the recently-arrived Casuals (‘trendies’), the few remaining shaven-head bovver boys, the leather-clad rockers who I travelled with to away games or your standard run-of-the-mill ‘scarfers’, it was fair to say I stood out from the crowd – though not perhaps in the way I particularly wanted to! Indeed, looking back to those early days of football fandom I don’t recall seeing many fellow flat-tops on the terraces, either among the City support or that of our opponents. On one of the few occasions I did come into contact with a like-minded soul – in the form of a Sheffield United fan who I clocked from the other side of the fencing at the back of The Kempton in October 1983 – it was refreshing to note that we allowed ourselves a nod and a knowing smile (our shared musical affinity obviously transcending club rivalry).

By the time of that second Sheff United visit, I’d moved on from the donkey-jacketed ‘Rockabilly Rebel’ who had successfully avoided the Blades on Anlaby Road two years earlier. Those Goodfellowship nights and first sight of the local ‘in-crowd’ had prompted a subtle change in my appearance, which had by early 1982 taken on more of the hepcat look. It was a look honed by regular trips to some of the more alternative boutiques in Hull. Beasley’s in Trinity Market Square became the store of choice for genuine US zippers, college jackets, vintage 501s and bowling or Hawaiian shirts, all at affordable prices. Changes or Furmans in the city centre were good places for footwear, as was The End (later to become X Clothes) on George Street, which also became a destination for peg/zoot suits and smarter shirts. Mail order items were procured from the Harrow-based ‘All-American Boy’ outlet. To complete the look, after trying a range of barbers (including the one in the Station that asked if “Sir” wanted anything for the weekend) I settled on Paragon Arcade. The younger of the two barbers in there sported a neat quiff so I knew I was on safe ground. 
As a sixteen-year-old with few interests outside my football and music, the state of the nation I lived in was of little concern. Events such as unemployment topping the three million mark, the collapse of Laker Airways, the DeLorean Car factory “doing a City” by going into receivership, and the Miners forcing concessions out of a Government desperate to avoid another damaging strike hardly resonated. They were things for Dad to have an opinion on, one that he would usually share with us whether we showed any interest or not. But during that spring came news headlines that finally did grab my attention; and it was all down to ‘Johnny Foreigner’.

On 19 March 1982, Argentine forces occupied the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. Within a month they had raised their national flag in Port Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. The response involved what many saw as the last great imperial venture mounted by the British Government. It was the type of military operation not previously seen in my lifetime. I could just about remember the deployment of Royal Navy ships during the 'Cod Wars' of the 1970s and anti-terrorist ops against the IRA were almost a fixture of the daily news bulletins. But this was in another league altogether and it fixated me in the same way that the Iranian Embassy siege had a year or so earlier. I'd been born into a family with a strong Forces pedigree. Both my paternal grandad and great-grandad had made careers out of the Army, between them seeing active service in the Boer War and both World Wars, while Grandad Douglas was a Royal Navy stoker during the Second World War, dying of illness in December 1944 aged 46. Dad himself had been an RAF volunteer in the early 1950s and he followed this up with a spell in the Royal Observer Corps on his return to Civvy Street. This saw him based at the nearby RAF Holmpton radar station, which helped bring the Cold War threat of nuclear attack much closer to home than any amount of Protect And Survive booklets could hope to do. Weaned as a kid on war films, Commando comics and 'Dad's Army', the Falklands War was Boys Own stuff to me and many of my mates. We found ourselves swept along on a wave of patriotism and jingoism, one that was almost feverishly whipped up by the tabloids. Headlines such as "Stick it up your Junta" and "Gotcha", coupled with that image of the soldier yomping across the barren frozen landscape, Union flag fluttering from his radio aerial, couldn't fail to stir the so-called Bulldog spirit.

The Falklands War lasted 74 days before General Menendez's surrender on 14 June confirmed the end of hostilities and the return of the Islands to British sovereignty. British losses amounted to 255 military personnel and three Islanders, while the Argentines suffered 649 casualties. Mrs Thatcher said the victory had "put the Great back into Britain". Rightly or wrongly, most people in the country appeared to agree with her. There was a patriotic fervour across the land of the sort previously confined to the Royal Wedding, Botham's Ashes and 'Chariots of Fire'. Britons were encouraged to feel good about themselves again. With three of the Home Nations represented at the summer's World Cup, the hope was that there would be plenty more opportunities for doing so...

16 June 1982 
FIFA World Cup Finals Group 4:
England 3 France 1
Easington Methodist Chapel steps (sort of) – no ticket

Just days after the successful conclusion of one British expedition, "Ron's Twenty-Two" (plus the teams of Scotland and Northern Ireland) began a very different type of campaign involving the citizens of another Spanish-speaking nation. Thankfully, none of the teams was expected to face Argentina - at least until the latter stages. Another blessing for England in particular was their base in Bilbao, in the Basque region "among friendly people" as manager Ron Greenwood described them. And the team could certainly do with some friends. The heightened tension caused by the Falklands conflict, allied to the reputation of England's 10,000-strong travelling support prompted a massive security operation on the part of the hosts. In fact there was even talk at Government level of pulling the British teams out of the competition due to the associated risks. Thankfully, such a move wasn't deemed necessary. 

Having been too young for Mexico, the 1982 World Cup was the first involving England that I got to watch. As such it would prove the first time I truly experienced the now familiar cycle of hope, despair and recriminations that is involved when watching the Three Lions at a major tournament - even from afar. Ridiculously I'd mistaken the good news emanating from the South Atlantic for some sort of sign that this was to be England's year. Despite a rollercoaster of a qualifying campaign that had included defeats in Switzerland and, memorably, Norway ("Maggie Thatcher...your boys took one hell of a beating!") England came into the tournament as one of the form teams and on the back of a six-game winning run. Thus, with the naive optimism of youth, I believed the lyrics of the team's official World Cup song: "This time, more than any other time, we'll find a way...we'll get it right!"

And intitially they did. 

Despite being weighted down by their ill-designed Admiral shirts in the sweltering afternoon heat of the San Mames Stadium, England got off to a flyer. Bryan Robson latched on to Terry Butcher's flick from a Coppell throw-in to give them the lead after just 27 seconds of their opening group game against France. Gerard Soler levelled matters before half-time but a second half Robson header and Paul Mariner's fifth goal in successive internationals completed a 3-1 win. England had got it right. Ron's twenty-two were on their way.

Routine wins against Czechoslovakia and Kuwait ensured England headed into the ridiculous round-robin second phase as group winners. But in a sign of things to come, our optimism would prove misplaced. Due to freak results elsewhere - West Germany's defeat to Algeria, Northern Ireland's win over Spain and most notoriously the so-called "Second Anschluss" affair between the Germans and Austrians in Gijon - Greenwood's side were now placed in a "group of death". Hampered by injuries that restricted Trevor Brooking and talisman Kevin Keegan to just 26 minutes' football apiece, England failed to beat either of their opponents, drawing both games 0-0. They returned home early, albeit undefeated and with the team's reputation enhanced. It was the kind of anti-climax I have become well accustomed to over the past three decades.

Had I known then how things would pan out, I’d perhaps have acted differently on the afternoon of that opening game in Bilbao. The tea-time kick-off had implications for my attempts to get home from school, get changed and deliver thirty-odd copies of the Hull Daily Mail in time. My itinerary allowed no scope for loitering, which wasn’t usually a problem on a Wednesday. What I hadn’t accounted for on this particular Wednesday was that two of the best looking girls in fifth form would just happen to be out on a bike ride along my paper round route. 

With the clock ticking to kick-off time, I came away from the Tower House on Seaside Road having shoved my last issue through a typically stiff letter-box and I was eager to race home for the game. Instead, I was greeted by the two aforementioned young lovelies sat taking a breather on the steps of the nearby Methodist chapel. They asked me what I was doing and – more importantly – whether I’d like to stop “for a chat”. A chat? These were two girls who I could never recall having wanted to chat to me about anything. What was so different now; surely my luminous green Hull Daily Mail bag wasn’t that big a draw?! My mind was racing. I couldn’t believe my luck. And of course, the old Piscean traits soon came to the fore. Within seconds I had my own interpretation of what stopping for a chat might entail and it didn’t involve much talking. This was my chance for some real fun in the sun... Thankfully, before I embarrassed myself, reality kicked-in. I looked at my watch and suddenly remembered where my real loyalties lay. “Errrr, I-I can’t, errr, England are on. See ya!” And with that I was gone. I had a World Cup to win.

Even though I missed that opening goal, the win over France and England’s subsequent serene progress through Group 4 was enough to convince me that I’d made the right decision. My loyalty to the cause would be rewarded. It was only after Brooking and Keegan had passed up crucial chances in the stalemate against Spain that my mind wandered back to those Chapel steps. As they do with every passing failure at World Cups and Euros. As every major tournament comes and goes I’m left wondering why I invest so much emotion in this seemingly lost cause; emotion that could surely be put to better use elsewhere. Wistfully, I also reflect on that decision I made on that Wednesday afternoon back in the summer of 1982. Given my time again, I’d almost certainly opt for that chat and catch highlights of the game later. Only those two voluptuous young ladies know whether my doing so would have been as big a letdown as another England World Cup failure.

That 1982 disappointment has been replicated numerous times in the 36 years since Brooking and Keegan bid farewell to the World stage. Genuine highs have been few and far between, Italia 90 and Euro 96 the obvious ones, but despite such a barren run that hope of seeing England triumph again remains embedded in me and rises to the fore whenever another tournament draw takes place. To actually attend a World Cup or European Championships is something I'm still yet to do. Indeed, that 1978 trip to Wembley has not been replicated many times since. I was there for the 1-1 draw with Brazil that heralded the "opening" of the newly all-seated Stadium in May 1992, as well as the "last match played under Wembley's Twin Towers", the defeat by Germany on 7 October 2000 that led to Kevin Keegan's resignation as manager. My only other viewing of the England team amounted to the first half of the Rous Cup game against Scotland at Hampden Park in May 1985 - my "enjoyment" of proceedings on the pitch being curtailed when the Police decided to eject all England fans at half-time!

Looking back, it may well have been that experience in Glasgow that put paid to any genuine thoughts of travelling anywhere with England. I certainly never seriously looked into going to Italia 90 or France eight years later, the two tournaments that my domestic arrangements (i.e. being single) would have allowed scope for. Instead, as with that first World Cup in Spain and every tournament since, I followed events either at home or in the pub. However, unlike that 1982 competition, the only nagging feelings of "what if" that I've been left with afterwards, have related solely to the football. At least this summer, that will all change. Because this time - in Russia - we'll get it right...   

Picture of Don Robinson courtesy of Amber Nectar
Picture of rockabillies courtesy of Adrian Sensicle ('Rockin' London in the 1980s')