I’ve arrived at an age where reminiscing about the Beautiful Game is probably more enjoyable that actually watching it. I won’t go all Against Modern Football on you because lets be honest, what is there to actually be against anymore ? The game has changed both on and off the pitch, arguably for the better on it ( though I still care to look through rose tinted glasses ), and definitely for the better off i( certainly in terms of attending ). Football is no longer a game played at 3pm on a Saturday, watched by working class men that have paid a couple of quid to get in. Today’s version is all-singing and all-dancing entertainment, played in vast theatres to a television audience of millions across the world. The watching demographic have swapped rattles for smart phones, pies for popcorn. In the top flight today, you’ll be lucky to see much change out of £100 for a day out at a game. That’s if you can afford a ticket at all. But I digress. Once upon a time, when I was a lad as we say in Yorkshire, you had to remove yourself from the settee and your TV remote control to actually watch a match. The game was played in the original form of HD, right in front of your eyes. My early years as a youngster took me to Boothferry Park, then home of Hull City. This was the early 1980’s, a game and a stadium far removed from today. In fact my first twenty or so years of following City were played out against a back drop of terrible football and low crowds in the old 3rd and 4th Division. Good times were few and far between, but something grabbed me from that early age ( 7 years old ) and held me tight, on the roller coaster ride that being a Hull City fan would become. I was probably too young at the start to appreciate what was going on in front of me, and more specifically who was playing before my eyes. It’s only as you look back at the hundreds of programmes that still survive in boxes in my garage that you begin to realise who you saw playing and who they played for. Some of these players may have been at the start of a glorious career, some probably at the end and thinking of a life still in football. Here I bring you five players that I had no idea or recollection of seeing from that early age.
- Sam Allardyce. Yes, the pint-of-wine drinking former England Manager once graced the Boothferry Park pitch. It’s fair to say he saw more success and recognition in management than he did in a fairly average playing career. I saw him play for Sunderland at a testimonial match for Malcolm Lord, on a Tuesday evening in May 1981. Lining up at centre half in his only season with the Mackems, following a nine year career with Bolton, he would go on to play for another nine clubs and amass 479 games. A coaching career that started in Limerick would culminate in his infamous one game spell as the National team manager. Love him or hate him, “Big Sam” had varied success or failure at Bolton, Newcastle, Crystal Palace amongst others, before finally being ousted at Everton last season.
- Larry Lloyd. Towards the back end of his career, Lloyd found himself Player-Manager at Wigan Athletic. In 1981 he brought his side to Boothferry Park, having taken the role halfway through the previous season. The European Cup winning former Nottingham Forest player was described in the programme notes as “a battle hardened England International….fierce competitor….with over 400 Football League games under his belt”. He would go on to manage only two clubs, finishing back in Nottingham at Forests rivals Notts County.
- Nigel Winterburn. More known for his decade with Arsenal, in 1985 he appeared for Wimbledon at Boothferry Park. Signed from Oxford United the previous season, the 21 year old would go on to become both the Players and Supporters Player of the Year. Described in the programme as “tough tackling”, Winterburn had recouped his transfer fee for the club by winning the £25,000 Capital Radio Goal Rush Award with his first goal for the club ! In 1987 he moved to Arsenal at the start of a 440 game career that would bring only two England International caps.
- Luther Blissitt. January 1989 would see a now 30 year old Blissitt visit Hull with his Bournemouth side. He’d signed from Watford in 1988 for £60,000 ( not even a weeks wages for the average Premier League footballer these days ). The previous season Blissitt made his Home debut ironically against Hull City in a 5-1 victory, scoring 4 of the goals. He’s probably better known – certainly to me – for his two spells at Watford, propelling them from the 4th to the 1st Division scoring 186 goals in 503 appearances, either side of a £1 Million move to AC Milan. His three years at Bournemouth would see him net 56 goals. Blissitt played 14 times for England, scoring a hat-trick on his debut.
- Alan Ball. We’ve had England Managers, how about England World Cup winners ? In February 1981 Ball was Player Manager for Blackpool. He’d returned to England following a spell in the NASL with Vancouver Whitecaps, after an illustrious career with Blackpool, Everton and Arsenal amongst others. He would go on to Southampton to further his playing career after this, before taking up Full Time management at Portsmouth. His playing career saw him rack-up 833 games and a further 72 for England. He died in April 2007 at the age of just 61.
Going through the programmes made me realise how many fantastic players I’d seen play at Boothferry Park, and later the KC Stadium. The football in the 80’s seems far removed from today, but still holds a special place in my heart. It’s when I fell in love with football, something that is still going strong nearly 40 years on from my first professional game. The five players I picked above could be joined by many others. They weren’t listed in any particular order, as some arguably became more famous from things other than playing football. I’ve listed England Managers and World Cup winners. However, I have missed out an England Captain, and possibly the best pub-quiz question ever – Name the England Captain to play for Scunthorpe United at Boothferry Park ?
Answer – Ian Terence Botham ( England cricket captain )