Hull City AFCorigins and early history


Ernest Morison

“Football Club Secretaries will oblige by sending in their fixture cards immediately to Morison’s Advertising Agency, 58, Whitefriargate, for insertion in the “Hull and District Football Guide”, out on Saturday next”. Hull Daily Mail September 1st, 1903.

The above paragraph is one of the very few documented connections Ernest Morison had with football before he helped found Hull City in June the following year.

Unlike most of the founders of Hull City, Ernest Morison had no known history of football involvement, either as player, fan or administrator. His participation in the establishment of the club was, therefore, something of a mystery. Was he invited to do so by another founder, or did he just, as a ‘sportsman’, wish to get involved in the establishment up of an ambitious new sporting enterprise in an increasingly popular activity whose time had finally come in Hull?

It seems likely that he would have come into contact with football enthusiast, Eastern Morning News advertising agent and fellow founder William Hay, whose two sons were prominent local amateur players. Perhaps his involvement in the publishing of a local football guide alerted him to the increasing popularity of the sport and he spotted an opportunity. It could also be that some other founders of the club identified Morison as someone whose skills and contacts made him an extremely useful ally (he had been involved with organising sporting activities at the city’s premier venue (the Boulevard) and may have retained important relationships with people there (despite its sale to Hull FC).

Morison’s father, William, had been in business as a brush manufacturer, employing over 30 people, before becoming the proprietor of the London Hotel in Queen Street. He also represented wine and spirit merchants Wheatley and Son for more than 40 years, and was a familiar figure among the commercial travellers of the time, especially in Yorkshire. He had a passion for the theatre, and his extremely good memory enabled him to recall dates of theatrical visits and events. His sales skills and energy were traits which would be passed on to his son Ernest, whose chosen profession would be journalism. The drive and vision of Morison junior manifested itself in a thirst for launching a succession of new projects.

Morison was unique among the founders of Hull City. As a newspaper journalist for the Hull Daily News and the as the owner of a publicity agency and editor of various periodicals, he was a confident and eloquent communicator, extremely well-versed in the art of articulating a desired message in print in the most effective and appropriate terms.

A 1914 biography of Morison (by now 46 years old) relates that he was “ educated privately. Following a sojourn in High Street and the Post Office was apprenticed to the Hull News reporting department , this being the only instance of an apprenticeship in this department in Hull.” The piece later asserts that he “ has always been closely connected with sport of all kinds, especially swimming, cycling, hockey and football. Director of the British Billposters Ltd., and Hull City A.F.C. Co., Ltd. Is Vice-President of Yorkshire Association Billposters. Member of the Humber Lodge of Freemasons.”

Although not a key founder of the club, he nevertheless came to be seen as a trusted spokesperson and the director most adept at communicating with the media and the supporters via the written word, in an era before such roles had been officially conceived, and someone whose word was respected and authoritative. Some may have privately questioned his football background and the substance of his words , but few could question his aplomb.

His sporting enthusiasm first manifested itself when he co-edited ‘The Hull and East Riding Athlete’ in 1889 with G.A. Shaw (whose nom de plume was ‘the Scorcher’, then a popular nickname for a speeding cyclist) and the magazine was subtitled ‘a weekly journal devoted to sports and pastimes’. The magazine allowed him to combine his expertise and leisure interests to co-produce a specialised periodical some fourteen years before the established local newspapers brought out an equivalent. Indeed it was a typically Morison-esque touch to proclaim inside the publication that the periodical was ‘the only athletic journal in Yorkshire’. Featuring prominently in the in the journal was cycling. Hull had several cycling clubs, and both Morison and Shaw were involved with the Grosvenor Cycling Club, in Morison’s case as honorary secretary. ( The Grosvenor started in 1887 with 21 members, but by 1892 already had over 300 members.) Morison would later become involved in playing hockey for Hull Old Boys and establishing the Hull Patriotic Rifle Club before he joined the directorate of Hull City. He would briefly continue his involvement with the hockey team after the start- up of Hull City. (His restless energy and belief in the service of the nation would later see him serve as an officer in the First World War in the 12th East Yorkshires (Sportsmen’s Battalion) , having also assisted in recruitment efforts. He was awarded an OBE in 1919.)

Other Morison publishing ventures included ‘Publicity’ ( ‘a journal for businessmen’) in 1898, and ‘ Amusements’ which was an entertainments weekly (no doubt enjoyed by Morison senior). He brought out a succession of niche interest publications aimed at a specific sector of the local population. Morison continued to become involved in new commercial venues as well as running his own advertising agency which used billboards, sandwich boards and periodicals to communicate with the target audience. The initials ‘M.A.A.’ (Morison’s Advertising Agency) were a common sight in early twentieth century Hull, adorning countless hoardings and other advertising spaces where, bills, posters and notices would be plastered. Upon Morison’s retirement in 1934 his company became Mills and Rockley.

His enthusiastic and positive outlook meant he was involved in several enterprises in which his shrewdness and copy writing skills could be put to good use. His agency started to publish Hull City’s official programme in 1907, becoming its editor, and in effect, the voice of the club. They also handled publicity on the ground and advertised its fixtures on billboards across the city. The initials ‘M.A.A.’ could be detected by the keen eye, discreetly signalling who controlled that particular advertising space. Naturally this would include suitable locations within City’s Anlaby road ground, such as this one which featured on a souvenir postcard crowd scene.

Pitchside advertising for Ernest Morison’s ‘Amusements’ magazine at the Anlaby Road ground.

In a rare example of rash opinion-driven writing, Morison allowed his partisan zeal to overstep the mark in November 1912. The club’s official programme carried an article about the previous week’s defeat at Grimsby, and included the following passage:

“No one who wished to do Grimsby justice would deprecate their busy bustling tactics but oh! how horribly they spoilt their good play by despicable football ! Their sheer brutality at times – I refer particularly in the treatment of Shaw and Fazackerley – could not possibly do otherwise than arouse the contempt of everybody that such players should find a home in any club. I am, and always have been, an advocate of good, healthy, vigorous play as opposed to the milk and water variety, but I shall never allow my partisanship to degrade itself by supporting such ‘play’ as this. Undoubtedly, Referee Eccles was greatly to blame for his want of backbone in not dealing out the utmost severity to these offenders, because ‘marching orders’ was the only possible treatment fitted to the occasion. It is the referee’s duty to discourage, not encourage, disgusting behaviour of this kind, and Referee Eccles failed lamentably to rise to the occasion. What it may mean on March 15th next in the way of reprisals time alone can show. Much as ‘dirty’ players deserve equally dirty play meting out to them, it is to be hoped it won’t become necessary on the return match at Hull.”

The passage triggered an FA Commission enquiry which culminated in written apologies from the club to the Football Association, to Grimsby Town and to the referee Eccles. The letters written by secretary Jack Haller dissociated the Board from the comments published in the Official Programme stating that they had no knowledge of them before print. For once, the assured and experienced Morison had crossed the line of what was acceptable, and the Grimsby Town programme the following week noted “There is no doubt that the writer in his blind partisanship has committed a grave indiscretion.”

With the start-up of a second Hull Saturday sports edition newspaper in 1913 to rival the by now well-established Sports Express, the prolific Morison started to write a weekly column for the Hull Daily Mail Sports Mail in which he regaled the readership with opinions and anecdotes from his involvement in show business and sport. (One of these columns was used to recount the story of the formation of the club - the first time this had been done in print.)

Morison’s earlier sporting life had encompassed hands-on engagement with the staging of cycling events. Whilst honorary secretary of the Grosvenor Cycling Club in 1891, Morison became involved in organising race meetings at the Boulevard or ‘the New Track’ as it was informally billed at the time, which pitted the cyclists of Hull against their counterparts from other towns and cities such as Leeds. He was an active cyclist and notably completed the 130 mile ride from New Holland to Biggleswade in 12 hours.

This initial sporting involvement appeared to be as an enthusiastic administrator rather than as a serious commercial backer, and Morison would have seen how competitive cycling at the Athletic ground (aka the Boulevard) floundered after an enthusiastic opening period. Indeed an editorial in the Athlete had presaged this, as it railed against the apathy of local sports folk who refused to buy shares in the company which launched the stadium scheme.

Other editorials in the Athlete raged against the creeping influence of money in the rugby game and its corruptive influence on the nation’s sporting instincts. In 1892 Hull Kingston Rovers rented the stadium for its matches and 3 years later Hull FC, looking for a new home, entered into an agreement to play its games there thus forcing Kingston Rovers to relocate east of the river Hull. Morison would have been aware of the crowds that the stadium with a successful team could attract. It was reported that over 15.000 people watched Hull beat Bradford on Good Friday 1896. A new lucrative form of sporting competition was emerging and sports such as cycling and hockey were being eclipsed, as the public flocked to see competitive professional team sports, pitting town against town as civic and municipal pride grew in Hull, as it did elsewhere .

Like Hull City’s first chairman and fellow founder William Gilyott with his Hull FC directorship connections, Morison would have been no stranger to the Boulevard ground – these connections would prove to be strategically important as the club attempted to start off on a sound footing in its first season.

Morison would leave Hull for London in the early 1920s whilst still City’s vice chairman, but would not sever connections with his native city and its football team, despite his extensive travels in Central and East Africa promoting shipping with Hull. He was to write a series of articles in the Hull Daily Mail recounting his progress and encounters on these trips.

Even in the late 1940s he would write to the local press from his north London home, wishing the team well and commenting on its doings. In one of these letters he claims to have “originated the yellow and black “Tiger” stripes”, the unique colours which have been associated with club ever since, even if they are more commonly described as ‘amber’ rather than ‘yellow’ .

A founder markedly different to the other directors, and with no known football background, he would go on to enjoy one of the longest associations with the club’s board and one of the most prominent. His account in 1913 of the club’s formation is valuable in that it is both contemporary and uses first- hand knowledge- it became the template for future articles of this nature and its authority was unquestioned. Despite not being part of the two major groupings at the foundation of the club, his view of events has become the orthodox account of the events leading to the birth of Hull City.

However, his intimate familiarity with the goings on compromises his objectivity when an assessment is made of the completeness of the account. The fact that the account was written as a light-hearted column-filler for a local Saturday evening sports paper detracts slightly from its value as a serious objective definitive account of the beginnings of the club. Morison would also have been keen to present a sanitised version of events, and one which showed powerful and prominent figures in a favourable light. His loyalty to fellow board members and major shareholders came before a more complete and dispassionate account of the first years of the club, and the conscious or unconscious bias has influenced all subsequent accounts of the club’s origins.


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