Saturday, 27 September 2014

Croft Original

Stuart Croft - now pub landlord but once City regular and scorer of the winner in my first away match... 

Later today, instead of paying fifty quid to see The Tigers entertain the reigning Premier League champions, I'll be heading off to the village of Bentley near Doncaster, where my local team Easington United meet Bentley Colliery in a Central Midlands League North fixture.
The Avenue has been a decent ground for us in recent years, with a 2-1 win on each of our last three visits. Making the most recent of these, in April, more enjoyable, was the post-match hospitality provided by the nearby Jet Club. For the host at this establishment was none other than former Tiger, Stuart Croft.
According to Douglas Lamming's "A Who's Who of Hull City AFC 1904-1984", Crofty joined City as an apprentice before turning full professional in April 1972. He remained a City player for nearly a decade before joining Portsmouth in March 1981.
Lamming says: "Developed into a very useful central defender, permanently supplanting Steve Deere in the mid-1970s. Mostly a regular thereafter until his departure to Pompey but left the League scene in a matter of months."
A brief stint at York followed before the player saw out his days with non-league Bridlington Trinity.
Stuart Croft was a member of the first City side I ever saw, against Fulham at Boothferry Park in 1975, as well as in most of the teams I saw in action for a few years thereafter. 
Prominent among my memories of the man, however, was the goal he scored at Elland Road in December 1980. Along with an effort from much-maligned young striker Craig Norrie, it helped City overcome non-league Blyth Spartans at the third attempt. It was also my first "away game" watching City, as recounted below in an extract from my, er, forthcoming book...

FA Cup 2nd Round 2nd Replay: City 2 Blyth Spartans 1

One of very few bright spots in City’s dismal campaign came via a mini-run in the FA Cup. And it was therein that I doubled my Tiger-trekking tally; indeed a good friend of mine still quotes me that year as saying, ‘I support Leeds in the league and City in the FA Cup’. Obviously I refute such allegations.
I’d actually attended Boothferry Park during pre-season, when for the first time I viewed a game from the West (or “Best”) Stand. Grimsby Town were the visitors for an Anglo-Scottish Cup tie on 28th July 1980. A meeting that had drawn over 14,000 to Boothferry in the league the previous term, there were less than half that number in attendance this particular afternoon to see a Nick Deacy header settle things in the Tigers’ favour.
City exited the competition following defeat at Sheffield United and a draw with Chesterfield. They then lost 0-5 at Lincoln in the first round, first leg of the League Cup rendering my next visit to Boothferry – for the return leg – all but academic. As such I have no real memories from the 0-2 defeat that completed a disastrous tie; with the exception of Mike Smith’s slightly strange programme notes  in which he spent more time extolling the virtues of the likes of Nottingham Forest and, in particular, Liverpool than he did trying to explain his own team’s apparent early season deficiencies.
Another four months were to elapse before I found myself back in the ground and standing on Bunkers Hill with my mate Al to watch City eke out a nervy 2-1 win over Halifax Town in the first round of the FA Cup. The draw then paired us with non-league giant-killers Blyth Spartans. It turned out to be an epic tie of the sort no longer seen in the competition.
The programme for the first of three meetings 13/12/1980
Les Mutrie’s late strike cancelled out Keith Edwards’ early goal in a 1-1 draw at Boothferry Park, leaving City – without a win in 34 games on the road – facing a tricky Tuesday trip to the North-East. The teams again couldn’t be separated. Edwards (again) and the much-maligned Craig Norrie twice brought City back from a goal down after spectacular strikes from that man Mutrie and Ray Young had edged Blyth towards glory.  Even now a second replay was only earned the hard way; Tony Norman saving Mutrie’s extra-time penalty.
As was the format back then, the teams reconvened for a second replay on a neutral ground. The venue in question was Elland Road, Leeds and on 22nd December 1980 I attended what could be termed my first City “away” match.
As the self-styled ‘Cottingham Tiger’ recalled in a City fanzine some years later, the game has gone down in Hull supporters’ folklore on account of the “infamous British Rail football special with its unofficial stop and pick-up at Hessle Road flyover, the scenes at the final whistle and on the motorway as we all celebrated a small piece of overdue success”[i].
It was quite surreal to be stood on the Gelderd End, Leeds fans’ own “Spion Kop”, with a couple of thousand Hull City supporters for a game against a bunch of Geordie part-timers. At least I enjoyed a winning start to my career “on the road”, goals from Stuart Croft and Craig Norrie securing a 2-1 win. The Tigers marched on, Blyth returned home with reputation enhanced and Mike Smith, in perhaps his best decision as manager, immediately signed Les Mutrie for City.
From the City v Doncaster prog, FA Cup 3rd Round, 03/01/1981
The third round draw threw up a home game with Yorkshire rivals Doncaster Rovers, managed by Billy Bremner. It drew a near-11,000 crowd to Boothferry Park, the biggest of the season. The figure again included Al and me, indulging in our pre-match ritual of shopping for singles at Sydney Scarborough[ii] before enjoying lunch at The Gainsborough fish restaurant (how very sophisticated!). Nick Deacy’s solitary strike settled matters and earned City a glamorous tie at First Division Tottenham Hotspur in the next round. Al and I wouldn’t be going to that one. Two thousand City fans did and saw the Tigers bravely bow out to two Spurs goals in the final seven minutes.
I had travelled to Leeds for the Blyth game ‘door-to-door’ thanks to the fact that Easington bus company Connor & Graham was the operator chosen for use by coach organiser Simon Gray. Simon was – and still is – something of a cult figure among a generation of City supporters thanks partly to his trademark “red and white jacket” but mainly due to his insatiable appetite for organising coaches, which would enable him to follow his team almost anywhere. It’s impossible to say just how much this must have cost him over the years; especially when I remember the pitiful numbers present on some of those I travelled on at the time.
That particular night’s coach to Leeds was full and everyone was in good spirits as we arrived at the ground. Everyone that is except Simon whose walk across the coach park was interrupted by an irate man who I later realised must have been the infamous “Mad Eddie”. Bus driver for the City Psychos referred to in Shaun Tordoff’s Hull “hooli-lit” contribution[iii], he proceeded to accuse our “operator” of having shopped him to the police for allegedly drink-driving his coach to the previous week’s replay on Tyneside. The nearby presence of members of the local West Yorkshire constabulary ensured Simon suffered nothing more than a vocal assault but it wouldn’t be the last scrape I’d have cause to witness involving the man.
My regular “Tiger Trekking” days were about to begin…

[i] From “Home Alone – The 1980’s”, Issue 3 of the Tiger Rag fanzine 
[ii] Hull’s famous independent record store based under the City Hall
[iii] ‘City Psychos - From the Monte Carlo Mob to the Silver Cod Squad: Four decades of Terrace Terror’

According to what I was told on my last visit, Stuart has been "mine host" at The Jet for over a decade. On the evidence of our meeting in April, he remains a most genial chap who couldn't wait to reminisce about his City days when prompted. Depending on our performance at Bentley today, I may just get in early to have another catch-up with the man again...

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