Thursday, 21 October 2010

Crying out for a bit of banter...and Bunter!

Tuesday 19th September - Hull City 0 Sheffield United 1

Mark Yeates gives me another reason to hate 'Sheff Unarted'

I went to the KC Stadium on Tuesday in the hope of temporarily erasing memories of  poor football fortunes closer to home.  Given that my previous two visits this season had yielded two 2-0 wins and that reports from the second half at Leicester  had suggested that City were on the up again, I was confident of having an enjoyable night. 
Suffice to say I came home bitterly, BITTERLY disappointed. 
My disappointment was exacerbated by the fact that the beneficiaries of an awful Tigers performance were Sheffield United.  For Hull City supporters of a certain age, "Sheff U" are our main rivals.  They would certainly have been the subject of any "Viva Hate" piece I'd have submitted to When Saturday Comes in the days when that most estimable of publications carried features under this banner, in which supporters explained a serious dislike for one of their rivals.
To the younger among you the choice might seem strange.  Leeds, Scunthorpe and Grimsby may be offered up as more deserving of the "Public Enemy No.1" tag and each has its merits.  No doubt most Sheffield Utd fans will also play down the strength of the rivalry and suggest I'm over-egging its importance.  And their view is backed up by their apparent unwillingness to travel to Hull; by my estimate barely 400 being at the Circle on this particularly cold October evening.  
In his programme notes, Head of Football Operations Adam Pearson claimed the poor away turnout was part of a "worrying trend, particularly in the Championship". In a way I hope he is right and that the reason is not any loss of attraction of such Yorkshire Derbies?
Mind you, despite being few in number, those Bladesmen there still easily outsang the home support, whose loudest offering of the night came via the sarcastic cheers that greeted the substitutions of Richard Garcia and (especially) Caleb Folan, as part of a triple switch made by manager Nigel Pearson in the wake of one-time City loanee Mark Yeates having stylishly fired the visitors into a second half lead.
It's something I can't bring myself to comprehend or defend.  As bad as any player performs (and for what it's worth I didn't feel Garcia was that much worse than any others in the black & amber - sorry, sonic gold - on the night) I find it particularly distasteful when "supporters" turn on a player in such a way.
I've witnessed some shocking Hull City performances over the years, and some pretty dire players have played a part in them.  But I can safely say I have never booed any of them while they're wearing the colours.  Shame on those that do.
And despite the removal of the aforementioned targets and the introduction of loanees Bostock, Simpson and Vine, the toothless Tigers never looked like breaking down a fairly average looking Blades defence.  It was all very abject.  But being in the West Stand it was accepted in almost silent resignation.  Our mood was only temporarily lightened by an invitation to text our vote for the "KCFM Man of the Match", with some twenty minutes to go.  I opted for the absent Bullard, for whose touches of quality such a dire game was crying out.  Sadly those creaking knees had sidelined him yet again.  For the record right back Paul McShane won it, quite fitting given that he adorned the front of the programme.  Ironically, he's normally a boo-boy target as well!
My reluctance to turn on individual players was really put to the test during my first season of regular Tiger-trekking.  This was 1981-82, the club's first ever in the old Division 4 after "Mike Smith's Super Black & Amber Army" had clinched relegation in style the previous April.
The "Boothferry Boo Boys" could take their pick during this period, with centre backs Steve Richards and Stuart Ecclestone prime targets, along with full-back Bobby McNeil and a certain William Whitehurst - in the days before Chris Chilton helped turn him into one of the most feared forwards in the lower leagues.
But there were also heroes to be found.  Goalkeeper Tony Norman, midfielders Garreth Roberts and Steve McLaren, forwards Keith Edwards and Les Mutrie and my personal fave, winger Brian "Bunter" Marwood.
A member of the 1978 title-winning Juniors squad, Marwood was a regular in Smith's side by 1980-81 and would go on to make 186 appearances before joining Arsenal for £600,000 in March 1988.  He earned an England cap the following February.
Of course he had his flaws and was often criticised by some fans for his apparent lack of bottle.  And let's face it, he wasn't the sort of player you'd find rushing to get involved in a real "muck or nettles" scrap.  But City didn't need him to be - they had "Big Billy" for that!  What Marwood brought to the side was something that the current City team could do with - certainly on the evidence of this game - and that was an ability to take his man on and provide dangerous service for his forwards.  A sort of Eighties Peter Halmosi...oh, hang on a minute! 
He also knew where the goal was, scoring 53 for the Tigers, many of which live long in the memory. Perhaps a theme for a future blog...
But if the absence of a Marwood was galling for me as a City fan, even more saddening was the lack of any real passion in the contest as a whole.
I've already stated how I rate the rivalry between the two clubs.  But then that's perhaps because my memory stretches back to when the meetings mattered - on and off the pitch.

Vote for me or else...

I'm too young to remember the so-called "Battle of Bramall Lane" from 1971 but "battle" could still be an apt way of describing my earliest encounters with the Blades.
The first came on a fine mid-September afternoon in 1981 when "Sheff U" arrived at Boothferry Park for the Tigers' second home game of the season.  I seem to think they had Bob Hatton up top for them that day, while we had "their" Keith Edwards in our ranks, following the first of several moves he would make between the two clubs.  "King Keith" scored the first (a knack he would perfect in such encounters) and Dennis Booth added the other in a 2-1 win played in front of a crowd that numbered just over seven thousand but made far more noise than was generated by three times that number at The KC on Tuesday.
As well as raucous, the atmosphere that day was also intimidating.  Indeed it was the most frightened I'd felt at a football match - from the moment I stepped off the lunchtime Connor & Graham service bus at Baker Street to the time I gladly re-boarded it at twenty-five to six for the return journey to Holderness.
Within minutes  of alighting the bus in Hull my two companions and I were herded by a copper into a throng of "Bladesmen" being marched along Ferensway and onto Anlaby Road.  As this was slap (bass) bang in the midst of my "rockabilly rebel" phase I was in de rigueur donkey jacket, complete with obligatory sew-on confederate flag.  This garment now came into its own as, despite the mild late-summer temperatures, it remained buttoned-up to the top, and therefore hid the Europa Sport striped City shirt I was wearing underneath.  However, not only did this gain me unwanted attention from the  more Casual-attired South Yorkshiremen around me but by Christ did it make me sweat!  I needed to escape and just past the hospital, along with my mates I did, stepping out of line at a bus stop and making our way to the ground via the side-streets.
I watched most of the game from The Kempton where both sets of supporters were separated at the time only by a wooden barrier some four-feet in height, which ran from back to front of that famous old stand.  Apparently this had gone up after clashes with Bradford supporters during City's first game of the season and it proved wholly inadequate as not only was there a constant procession of missiles flying back and forth for the duration of the match but proceedings were also held up on several occasions as fighting erupted therein and spilled onto the pitch.
With five minutes remaining we opted for the relative safety of Bunkers before catching a Corporation decker on North Road for a roundabout trip back to the city-centre.  My abiding memory of the day is the sight of about 20-30 "City Psychos" standing in an otherwise deserted home section of The Kempton while the massed ranks of Sheffield supporters mocked the exodus of the remaining Tigers fans from around them.  
I've hated Sheffield United ever since, a feeling reinforced  in October 1983 when my satisfaction at a glorious 4-1 rout of the Blades at Boothferry was spoilt by becoming caught up in the confusion down Anlaby Road and being pursued down Walton Street to Hull Fair...the first time I'd ever been to the annual event!
I've since gone on to see countless Hull City-Sheffield United games, at both Boothferry and Bramall Lane.  City have always been guaranteed a good, noisy following at the latter and, to be fair, it's usually been matched by a vocal home crowd.
For me "City v Sheff U" always jumped out of the calendar as a game that would be enticing both on and off the field (several unsavoury examples of the latter were recalled by Shaun Tordoff in his City Psychos memoirs).  And in spite of our generally poor record against them, one thing you could always be sure of against  "Unarted" was atmosphere and proper footballing "banter" between both sets of fans.  At least I thought you could.
It was definitely still there when I'd last seen them at the KC (a New Year fixture back in 2006) but for whatever reason it was sadly absent from this week's meeting...mind you, so was a "Bunter"!

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