Those We Have Lost: Boothferry Park, Hull City
For the third part in our series about the football homes that we have lost over the last quarter of a century or so, we are delighted to welcome Marcus Dysch to Twohundredpercent. Marcus supports Hull City, and had predictably mixed at the club’s departure from Boothferry Park, which was only finally demolished earlier this year. Marcus writes about Hull City here.
The final stages of the demolition of Boothferry Park were completed in early April, eight-and-a-half years after Hull City’s final league game at the stadium. As the football ground at which I saw my first game, led my beloved side out as mascot, and spent the formative years of my life as a football fan, it obviously holds many great memories for me. As well as a fair share of bad, but more of that later. Trudging under the fairly grim West Stand every fortnight, climbing those grotty stairs, urinating against disgusting walls – it was wonderful. Every now and again I will walk past someone smoking a cigarette and a particular whiff, a certain scent, will take me immediately back to Boothferry Park. I loved it.
After City’s flirtation with the Premier League and the now-regular 20,000 attendances at the KC Stadium, the idea of City having so recently run out at a ground which was falling down, with a supermarket dominating one end, now seems rather ridiculous. Of course, back then, first as a young lad and then a teenager, the idea that I would one day watch my team at grounds such as Old Trafford, the Emirates or even, deep breath, Wembley, was inconceivable. My final ‘visit’ to Boothferry Park came towards the end of last year when I stopped the car for a few minutes to see what state the place was in. It was worse than grim.
Bizarrely, one of my happier memories is from the moments after the final game against Darlington in December 2002 (lost one-nil, textbook City, ballsing up a big occasion – the Darlo fans added to the ‘fun’ by singing ‘piss on your party, we’re gonna piss on your party’). There had been much talk of what would happen to some of the stadium’s artefacts when the ground closed. Would they be moved to the shiny new KC Stadium? Would they go to museums? I vaguely recall a brochure being produced displaying items for a possible auction. Deep down I knew such measures would probably never happen and that ransacking, rotting and neglect were far more likely to be the end result. So after the final whistle, while some fans crowded on to the pitch and made their way towards the tunnel, above which chairman Adam Pearson stood (understandably weeping), I decided to take measures into my own hands.
My season ticket seat was in the West Stand, relatively low down towards the supermarket end of the pitch. As others left – for the final time – I hunted around for possible souvenirs. It struck me that the upper back pieces of the seats were fairly lightweight and in most cases terribly damaged. I seized my chance. I located one seat-back which was only loosely attached to the iron rods holding it in place. A completely uncharacteristic, and fairly swift, kick did the job, removing the back of the seat from its home of probably more than 50 years. I grabbed it and partially shoved it inside my jacket. One old man immediately spotted me and croaked “what on earth do you think you’re doing?” I thought it was fairly obvious and replied: “I’m taking it home.” I knew that the fans would never get their chance to have proper mementos from Boothferry. This would be my only chance. And all these years later I’m delighted I took it, because that seat back remains in my flat, probably my most treasured piece of City memorabilia, and, as fully expected, the only piece of Boothferry Park that ever became available to me.
Not that many of my Boothferry memories are of great victories or stunning performances – probably not a surprise as during my time following City there we had only relegations to mark ‘memorable’ seasons. One of the games I recall most regularly is the absolutely ridiculous 8-4 FA Cup first round replay victory over those bastions of world football, Whitby Town, on November 26, 1996. As the plucky boys from the coast scored late on, and their management team, subs and assorted hangers-on ran onto the pitch I clearly remember turning to my Dad and saying something along the lines of “this is their cup final, Boothferry Park is their Wembley, let them enjoy it”. I honestly remember the moment like it was yesterday. Thankfully Duane Darby saw them off in the extra half hour, finishing with six goals on the night.
Another night that now brings a shiver to the spine came just the week before that Whitby game – Hull City 2 – 0 Torquay United. Not a particularly memorable night you might think, a clean sheet for Roy Carroll and so on, but it was of course infamous as City’s lowest ever attendance for a league match. The fact that I can recall the attendance being 1,775 off the top of my head some 15 years later probably does me no favours. The only other images in my mind from that night were that it was bloody freezing and the Torquay fans had a bloody drum. Another Torquay game provides perhaps one of my worst moments in my Tigers-supporting career. Leading 3-1 on October 4, 1997, City somehow capitulated in injury time, leaving me to walk home shaking my head at how the game had turned from three points in the bag to a devastating draw. Again, textbook City. A pattern continues here. I’m fairly sure that the dull 0-0 draw with Barnet in August 1996 – attended by just 4,605 fans, was Boothferry Park’s 50th anniversary game? There were a few balloons, but little else by way of celebration. You could never underestimate City’s potential to fail to rise to the ‘big’ occasion.
Another example – April 3, 1999. Hull City 1 – 1 Scarborough. The titanic showdown between the two east Yorkshire sides battling for Football League survival. The build-up to the game had been immense. There was talk of Boothferry Park being a sell-out, the crowd potentially being left to queue round the surrounding streets. And so it came to pass. Kick-off was delayed, the turnstiles ticked over at a rate not seen for years. The eventual crowd figure released by the club was 13,949 but was clearly far higher. The possibility of being docked points for over-filling the ground beyond its official capacity only added to the tension. That Great Escape team, led so masterfully by Warren Joyce, remains in many ways both the best and worst City side I saw at the ground. Having some cloggers at the back and a bouncer in midfield is hardly a recipe for success, but the names of Justin Whittle, Gary Brabin and Joyce himself have gone down in Hull City history, entirely because they ensured our history would continue.
One final, brilliant Boothferry memory. In April 2000 I was taking part in a school charity magazine project. Knowing I wanted to have a career in journalism I offered to write stories. Somehow, with two fellow young City fans, we pitched for, and got, an interview with then assistant manager, and two-time European Cup winner, John McGovern. We entered the hallowed territory of the manager’s office deep in the West Stand. I vaguely recall sitting for a moment in Warren Joyce’s chair while waiting for the Scotsman to arrive for the interview. The wallpaper was peeling, the wall-chart mapping every game of the season was fascinating, there was clutter everywhere. I remember little of the interview itself, other than putting a question to McGovern regarding the then club owner Stephen Hinchliffe’s five-year plan to get the club from the bottom division to what is now the Championship. McGovern laughed so hard at the prospect that he nearly fell out of his chair. He was right to laugh – less than a year later Hinchliffe had a new five-year plan: he was jailed for fraud.
What’s done is done. Boothferry is gone, City have experienced top flight football, and tens of thousands of families now enjoy watching their side in comfortable, safe, surroundings at the KC. But I have to admit, I’ve never enjoyed going to see City at the KC, primarily for the reason that it is not Boothferry Park. It is, ultimately, no different to any of the other ‘new’ grounds which line the country from Southampton to Sunderland. The KCs, St Marys and Stadium of Lights of this world are no Boothferrys, no Dells, no Roker Parks. Perhaps in 20 years we will look fondly at the KC and its years of history. The atmosphere before the first Premier League game against Fulham, the night we beat Swansea to top the division, that sort of thing. But it will take a few more years yet. So for now, only Boothferry Park can truly hold a special place in the hearts of long-standing Hull City fans. Driving into the city from the west, down along the top of Boothferry Road by the Humber Bridge, will never be the same again.
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