Friday, 2 May 2014

Fulham in Flashback

England's World Cup winning captain played in the first City game I watched live...but it took memories of the Hull Daily Mail 'Green' to prove it... 

On Easter Monday (21st April) the Hull Daily Mail issued a "Flashback" special inside its usual sporting pullout.  This eight-page supplement was dedicated to the much-missed (by me anyway) Saturday night Sports Mail publication - or 'Green Mail' as we came to know it.
What grabbed my attention in particular was the picture dominating page six, which showed City's players wheeling away in celebration of a goal at Boothferry Park.  The caption read "BACK OF THE NET! Hull City v Fulham in September 1975".
I couldn't believe it. After many previous fruitless searches, here at last was pictorial evidence of my first ever game at The Tigers' former  home.
I was nine years old when I made my first trip to Boothferry.  As has since been pointed out by fellow City fans of that vintage, this was perhaps rather a late age to be making one's debut.  However, there were mitigating circumstances.  For a start, Easington to Hull in those days was almost akin to going on an adventure.  No, honestly it was.  
Secondly and probably more crucially, Dad was no great lover of the beautiful game, preferring instead the crack of leather on willow.  "Love Geoff Boycott and eat your greens" was mantra in our house.  Instead it was Mum who encouraged my first forays into football.  And crucially she couldn't drive.
Thus if I was to make the trip to see my nearest professional football club (at least the one on this side of the River Humber) it would have to be in the company of the dads of lads I knew.  And thus it was in September 1975 when at long last such an opportunity came around.  The Tigers' opponents were Fulham, beaten FA Cup finalists the previous May, and a club who boasted within their ranks none other than England's only World Cup winning captain, Bobby Moore.
Like many first-timers it was the vivid colours that stand out among the memories of that day.  On a sunny late summer’s afternoon, the blue sky and bright green of the pitch combined wonderfully with City’s stylish kit of the time, the old Europa Sports design of broad black and amber stripes, white trim, white shorts and white socks.  I loved that kit and indeed I still own a replica that was bought for me a couple of Christmases later.  Fulham wore the same white shirts, black shorts and socks combination they’d sported at the previous May’s FA Cup Final, which they'd lost to two goals from West Ham's Alan Taylor.
There were also the aromas that would become as much a part of match day as the game itself – that all-too-familiar combination of hot pies, Bovril, alcohol breath and cigarette smoke.  Then there was the noise.  Oh the noise.  Official statistics recorded the attendance at Boothferry Park as 8,471.  To my nine-year-old ears it sounded like a hell of a lot more, especially given we were seated on the front row of the South Stand, directly behind the Bunkers Hill Kop.
As you can imagine, many of the chants heard for the first time that afternoon were not particularly appropriate for such tender ears.  Ranging from the mildly amusing like “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” to the rather more ominous “You’re Gonna Get Your Fucking Heads Kicked In” (and its variants, which made reference to going home in a Yorkshire ambulance and the Crossroads character Sandy Richardson!) they simply helped underline the fact that relations between opposing fans were not particularly cordial in the 1970s.
I particularly remember the promise made to the London visitors as the game neared its end.  To the tune of Tom Hark the Bunkers choir sang, “At Twenty-to-Five, You’re Going to Die”.  This was all slightly unnerving as – and I haven’t explained this bit yet – that afternoon I was doing my best to be classed as an adopted Londoner. 
This was due to my invitation to the game having come strictly on the proviso that I would favour City’s opponents, a side that also included fellow England star Alan Mullery alongside the aforementioned Moore.  You see my guardian for the day, Derek Maxwell (whose sons Tom and Jim I was accompanying) originally hailed from Putney and was therefore supporting HIS local team.  Looking back now I have no problem with that - I just wish he’d allowed me to support mine!
As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, as already mentioned our seats were well away from the several hundred or so Londoners who’d made the trip and instead within spitting distance (quite apt as it happens) from the most partisan elements of City’s support.  Then to exacerbate the problem, I remember Derek springing from his seat to hail what looked a certain Fulham goal, only for home keeper Jeff Wealands to make a brilliant save.  It suddenly appeared that every single bloke situated on the terrace below and in front of us now turned round to pour scorn on a very embarrassed-looking Fulham fan.  For an Eighth Army veteran who had taken on Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Derek actually looked slightly unsure of himself when faced with the local Sledmere Fusiliers.
I seem to recall he managed to restrain himself when two goals by Viv Busby (I believe) helped turn the game on its head after Vince Grimes had given the Tigers an early lead.  According to the aforementioned photo, it would appear City scored on 15 minutes, although I’ve since been informed that you should never take the accuracy of the old North Stand clock for granted!
City’s goal is the only other piece of action I can remember with any clarity; a free-kick being played sideways to Grimes who smashed the ball high into the top corner. In the photograph, Chris Galvin can be seen virtually on the goal-line dancing gleefully in celebration (probably having got there hoping for a knock-down or rebound) while also about to rush and mob the out-of-picture scorer are former Manchester United striker Peter Fletcher (10) and Roy Greenwood (11).  Pictured slightly further away are, I think “He shot, he scored, it must be…” Mally Lord and possibly Roger deVries, by virtue of the fact he’s standing in what appears to be the left back position.
To the left of the shot is Moore, who although looking downcast and perhaps a touch overweight, still provides a picture of elegance.  As daft as it sounds, this is perhaps the best part of the photo for me as over the years I’d somehow got it into my head that the great man hadn’t actually figured in the game.  I can now tell people that I saw the only Englishman ever to hold the Jules Rimet trophy aloft grace the turf of Boothferry Park...even if I couldn’t remember it at the time!
One other intriguing feature of the picture is the crowd in the background, in the North Stand.  Studying it closely, it would appear that very few are actually joining in with celebrations of the goal.  Therefore one would deduce they are Fulham fans.  If so then, firstly, my memories of their number may be slightly on the smaller side than was actually the case and, secondly, they must have moved round to the Kempton second half as I distinctly remember that part of the ground being the target of the City fans' ire at the end!  Ah, another memory of the day that has been clouded in the mists of time.
I’d half cheered Grimes’ opener, before noticing Derek’s disapproval but it was all smiles again at the end thanks to the result.  When the referee finally called time just after 4.40pm (this was before extended half-time intervals – back in those days it was a chunk of orange, quick rub down, team-talk and back out on the pitch) those same City fans streamed across the open terraces intent on carrying out their threat.  Unfortunately for them, by time they got there the Fulham contingent were long gone through the back of the East Stand and already aboard the train waiting to take them to the relative safety of Paragon Station.
Stood waiting to exit our seats I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing, although it was a scene I would become quite accustomed to over the next fifteen years or so.
Fulham’s win that day lifted them up to third behind Sunderland and early pacesetters Notts County.  City remained well-placed in 7th but would finish in what would later be termed their accustomed position of 14th.  It was part of a downward spiral that would eventually see them relegated to the Football League basement by the end of the decade.  It was to be another two years before I got the chance to witness the next stage of this fall from grace – and double my tally of City matches in the process. 

I don't recall us picking up a 'Green' that evening after the game but it was something I would do on a regular basis during the following decade.
No longer deemed viable in these days of news at your fingertips, the Sports Mail became a must-have item for me during my formative years of following City at Boothferry Park.
Most Saturdays during my pre-drinking days, I would rush back from the ground and get to Baker Street just in time for the 5.35pm Connor & Graham service bus back to the back of beyond.
The last few moments before departure would prove tense as me, along with the legendary Simon Gray and perhaps one or two others, would await the arrival of "Walt" the little old fella entrusted with delivering an armful of Green Mails to the vendor posted at Debenhams doorway.  I don't know why we worried - "Walt" always made it (although rarely got any thanks from his scruffy colleague!) and we could enjoy the ride home perusing the day's scores plus a weekly round-up of the sporting scene, professional and amateur.  Obviously the read was made much more pleasurable on the back of a City win.
In its later years I actually became a contributor to the paper, courtesy of our fanzine feature 'Blind Faith', while I also became the provider of the Easington United details for the paper's weekly look at the local grassroots football scene.

It's no surprise that the Sports Mail struggled to prove viable in recent times but still it is obviously fondly remembered by many people.  Indeed, so much so that former editor Simon Cawkill has organised an evening in its honour, which is being held at The Country Park Inn, Hessle Foreshore on Wednesday, 21st May.     
As for that Fulham game, in the charts that particular week of 20th September 1975 was "There Goes My First Love" by legendary act The Drifters.  Somehow I've always thought it is quite an apt song to remember this particular milestone by. 

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