Friday, 30 October 2009

"I'd never seen a game with three lots of supporters watching..."

Hull City travel to Burnley this weekend, and while the game has an obvious importance for the present day, it nonetheless does not stop City fans of a certain longevity recalling past encounters at Turf Moor. A 93rd minute winner by Michael Turner in what became the promotion season two years ago leaps to mind, but for ever and a day this fixture is really about an infamous win-or-bust encounter of 1983-84.

The background then - the Tigers under Colin Appleton were playing superbly and set to climb into the old Second Division after a season which had been lengthened and sent slightly cockeyed by a harsh January prompting a hasty and complicated rescheduling of numerous games. With three to go during a hectic climax to the campaign, promotion seemed likely but then a bore draw and an unexpected defeat suddenly left Sheffield United in the driving seat. All other games were over by the time City travelled to Burnley, needing to win by three clear goals or else the Blades would take the final promotion spot.

Boyhood Dreams spoke to STEVE WEATHERILL, a City supporter of 40 years' standing who is also the main match reporter for the Tiger Chat mailing list...

"It was weird to be going into a game knowing exactly what you needed. Sheffield United would have been bitterly aggrieved by it as we'd failed to show up for the original game. I'd made it to Turf Moor when it was scheduled, as had other City fans, but there was a snowstorm that day and the team bus turned back on police advice and so it had to be rearranged.

"We had a good team and we knew it. I remember Billy Whitehurst was magnificent at the time, and he was described by journalist as 'like a centurion tank'. We were better than Burnley, and we also had something to play for and they didn't. We needed to win by three clear goals and yet went into it thinking it was more a real chance than a long shot.

"We scored early, probably too early really, through Brian Marwood though I can't remember it. I do remember it was really fast, exciting football which we'd played all season. Yet the second goal didn't feel like it was coming. I remember Garreth Roberts had a shot which hit a defender's knee on the line and went over the bar, which seemed impossible. We could have scored four early on.

"The second goal came on about the hour mark and it was Marwood again, who ran on to a long ball to score. We had about half an hour to get one more but then Burnley started fighting back as they knew they could be battered if they didn't. We got tired and the one goal we needed just didn't happen.

"There were about 50 fans of Sheffield United that turned up, and they were on a different terrace to us. It was obvious who they were, and two sets of supporters turned on them, which was really peculiar. It was only verbal stuff, even though this was an era when it got ugly a lot. I'd never seen a game with three lots of supporters watching.

"Losing out on promotion by the smallest of all margins is not a worse feeling than going down, and particularly not at that time.. It was a good time for the club and we knew it. It was painful to lose out to Sheffield United but it was only three years since we went into receivership, when the club was in an appalling state. We'd got through that, and got promoted into this division and had a fantastic season, playing really well. We deserved to go up and didn't, but it couldn't alter the fact that the club was on a really fast forward momentum. It was not an irreparable loss.

"Then we found out that Colin Appleton had resigned. That was a shock and surprise but the main feeling was that the club was moving in the right direction. The main emotions were positive. We were promoted the following year under Brian Horton anyway.

"We did expect Marwood to go. He was a tremendous and too good for the defenders in that division. We knew we had other good players.

"After the game it was very emotionally draining. It flew past very quickly and everyone felt really drained. It remains one of the most intense matches I was ever at."

Steve Weatherill is the main match reporter for the Tiger Chat mailing list. You can read his reports at On Cloud Seven.

City ended the season equal with Sheffield United on points and goal difference but missed out on the third and final promotion spot due to a more meagre number of goals scored. Oxford United were promoted as champions and Wimbledon finished as runners-up.

Colin Appleton quit the same day and became manager of Swansea City, later returning for a winless (and, therefore, extremely brief) second spell in charge at Boothferry Park in 1989.

Oddly, the season was still not over as City had to play Tranmere Rovers in the semi-final of the inaugural Associate Members' Cup (currently the Johnstone's Paint Trophy). They won 4-1 but lost the final to Bournemouth, despite it being peculiarly held at Boothferry Park. First team coach Chris Chilton acted as manager for those two matches before Brian Horton succeeded Appleton in the close season.

Brian Marwood (he is pictured scoring one of his goals at Turf Moor) was sold to Sheffield Wednesday during the summer and subsequently won honours with Arsenal and one England cap. He has gone on record to say he partly blamed himself for City's failure to earn promotion in 1984 due to a couple of missed penalties during the season, and that he would not have left the club had promotion been achieved.