Hull City's Song of Sixpence by J.A.H. Catton
This account of the formation and early years of Hull City was written by James Catton and published in All Sports Weekly in November 1926. Catton (often writing with the nom de plume ‘Tityrus‘) was the pre-eminent football journalist of the Victorian/Edwardian era, and edited the Athletic News.
To the modern reader, his light-hearted style, often laced with an anecdote or two, can come across as superficial, but his shrewd insight and vast reporting experience outweigh this. It is unclear how many sources Catton has used for this account, although he references Ernest Morison’s anecdote about the sixpence, suggesting that the latter’s 1913 account of the club’s beginnings as published in the Hull Sports Mail, was known to him.
The subtitle of the article mentioning the ‘Secret Society of Three’ reinforces the idea that Morison’s first-hand account is the chief source, and that Catton himself had little idea who the three young men were. It was after all some 22 years earlier that the two groups mentioned in the text met and decided to form a football club, and the detailed minutiae of the subsequent events were not openly chronicled at the time, nor almost a decade later by Morison, and certainly not 22 years later by a Manchester-based general sports journalist. Morison may have opted to maintain the anonymity of the three young men for whatever reasons, but Catton almost certainly had no choice if he relied solely upon Morison’s account. Morison in the early Twenties left Hull to live and work in London, his practical involvement with the club, by necessity, ceases almost completely
Morison mentions the growth in a rugby stronghold, and that idea is echoed by Catton, further suggesting a familiarity with the 1913 account. Yet more common features are the mentions of early financial troubles which beset the club.
Ultimately, the most notable aspect of Catton’s piece is the unintentional reinforcement of the secrecy surrounding the names of the three young men who started the club. The reader is made aware of a group of young men whose identities have not been (or cannot be) revealed to the public for whatever reason, but yet Catton (as did Morison before him) relates the story, making no explanation of this key omission, thereby creating an even bigger mystery.
Secret Society of Three who Founded the Fortunes of the Club.
by J.A.H. Catton.
Have you ever seen a new sixpence, mounted and framed, and hanging on the wall? No?- well I expected such and answer. It has only been my lot once, and it was when I visited Hull City, and I found such a unique decoration in their suite of offices.
That sixpence was the first coin paid for admission to the first match on the Anlaby Road ground when it was opened by Hull City, Blackpool being the visitors on March 24th 1906. Mr. Ernest Morison, one of the directors reckoned it an honour to put down that sixpence - a coin which incidentally reminds us all of the days when this was standard price for a view of a League match.
Just a little over twenty-one years after that sixpence dropped on the plate of the turnstiles Hull City have been looking down on the other twenty-one clubs in their group. It is a choice distinction, and if the club could keep that premier position until next May everyone would be compelled to admit that they had earned promotion by the sweat of their legs.
Let me anticipate the question whether Hull City have ever been in such coveted eminence before. Yes, I recollect that the club was at the head of the Second Division in the autumn of 1907.
Their figures were not quite so good as this season for in 1907 they had played 12 matches for 17 points and a goal average of 21-10; but for 12 matches in this campaign they earned 18 points and had an extraordinary return of 18 goals to 4.
However at the end of November, 1907, Hull City were at the top of the table with 10 wins out of 16 matches and 22 points. At the close of 1907-08 Bradford City (54 points) and Leicester Fosse (52) went aloft but Hull City had 21 wins and 46 points for 38 matches. That was excellent; but let them smash that record next spring.
It was a bold business to start an Association club in such a Rugby centre as Hull – although, of course, when Hull City was brought into being the third port, as it used to be described, was devoted to the Northern Union phase of the Rugby code. That Soccer should be able to survive the opposition of two such fierce rivals as Hull and Hull Kingston Rovers is really remarkable.
However that may be, Hull City came into existence in a peculiar way. At Hull there were two groups of men secretly arranging to found an Association club. Neither had any money at command, nor any experience. It was a pure adventure.
But when a group of three men who met in July twenty-two years ago found that they had been forestalled by another set who had decided to form a limited company, and had their proposals sanctioned by the Football Association, they said to themselves: “Here's a how-do-you-do! Here's a pretty mess!” However, the three young men of Hull found their fellow-pioneers quite willing to give way and pool ideas for the object common to them both.
These three young men engaged players, rented a ground, gave guarantees to visiting clubs for a series of friendly exhibition matches, and floated a company- quite a big affair with a capital of £2,000 to be raised in ten shilling shares.
But the joke of it. The framed sixpence and the two groups of visionaries were as nothing compared with the fact that this Soccer babe was nursed on a Northern Union ground! Hull City's fantastic promoters approached the Hull Northern Union club for the use of their ground, the Boulevard.
They agreed to rent this area for three years for all dates when the Rugbeians had no use whatever for their land.
As all the Northern Union members had the free right to watch the Soccer matches, Hull City were not only nurtured on the lush pastures of the enemy, but they had the chance of making converts by a series of object lessons.
But Hull City had also secured the privilege of playing on the Hull cricket ground so that they were well-off for playing pitches.
The club was fortunate in this respect for as soon as Hull City began to take the public fancy and capture adherents the executive of the Northern Union, if I remember rightly, ruled that Hull could not be allowed to let their ground to any such rival as a Soccer bantling. Hence Hull City had to play on other pastures and eventually they found themselves, as I have already stated, at Anlaby Road, really part of the estate of the Hull Cricket Club, which rented twenty-two acres from the North Eastern Railway Company.
Of course, the cricketers had far more ground than they could utilise, and having devoted some of it to bowls and lawn tennis, they let a large portion to the footballers. So we have got the club founded , and on the home that is familiar to most people nowadays.
When this great adventure, with a capital of £2,000 began, there were 15 directors, and Mr. William Gilyott was the chairman. On the board was Mr. Alfred E. Spring, who was the other day presented with the long service medal of the Football Association.
Matches were arranged with the principal clubs of the League. The mayor actually kicked off in the first match in mid-week at the Boulevard against Notts County, and the result was a draw. At the end of the first season, Hull City had lost £1, 850 – an amount almost equal to their capital.
But brave hearts never quail. Early in the history of the club that quiet little gentleman, Mr J.F. Haller, one of the group of opponents who gave way to the three young men, became the secrctary, the Board of Directors was reconstructed, and Mr. Gilyott gave way in the office of chairman to Mr. Alwyn D. Smith, a Cambridge University man who had retained interest in the game from his playing days.
Now, Mr. Alwyn Smith was a banker, a financier, a courteous and true gentleman, and therefore a man with high ideals of sport. He thought the player should have a percentage of his transfer fee before such provision was in the rules of the League.
A great influence for good, he secured the assistance of Gordon Wright, the Cambridge and England outside-left, who became captain. Every professional in the camp would have taken his coat off to fight for Gordon Wright, but the young gentleman was quite able to take care of himself. Last of all the photographer from Horncastle, Ambrose Langley, who gave up everything to become a professional full-back for Sheffield Wednesday, was, at the end of his activities, engaged as team-manager. Langley had manners, particularly correct, and he set up his own private life as the standard he required from the players.
The result of all this endeavour, with the capital of the company quadrupled, was that the East Riding club was elected a member of the League. The application was not successful, as Chelsea squeezed in by a majority of two votes, but they gained admission, for the Second Division was extended, Hull City and Burton United being taken in for 1905-06.
I have already told readers what happened in 1907-08, but let us not forget that in 1909-10, when Manchester City and Oldham Athletic gained promotion, Hull City and Derby County had as many points as Oldham, namely 53, but were beaten on goal average in a desperately close finish. Never since have Hull City been so near, but clearly this is a season of great expectations.
It was about this time when Hull City had Spendiff in goal, Hedley, of Tyneside, Nevins, of Washington, McQuillan, of Boldon, as backs, George Browell, of West Stanley, W.S. Robinson, of Prescot, D. Gordon, of Leith, as half-backs, and Joe Smith, of West Stanley, Jack Smith, of Hebburn, J. Shaw, of Sunderland, A. Temple, of Wallsend, and E.G.D.Wright, of Hull, as forwards.
Afterwards they were reinforced by many good men, and especially by Andrew Browell, a centre half-back, and a slip of a boy called Tom Browell, as centre-forward.
It was a treat to see the three brothers Browell in the side, for “Andy” was a handsome fellow and a stylish player, while “Tom” was a born centre. How Gordon Wright used to rave about “that kid Tom Browell” who is still playing, as we know!
Tom Browell, as most of us who have grown grey beards will remember, simply created a furore. But he had the peculiarities of genius, and was transferred to Everton for £1,500, a big sum in those days.
Ambrose Langley was as an old owl for he got three centre-forwards for £24 and sold them for over £3,000. He simply had to transfer them, as they were too good for the club- Jack Smith, Tom Browell and Stanley Fazackerley.
Hull City have gone along comfortably, and it is not a matter for surprise that with William McCracken as their manager for the last few years they have a defence which has during this season been the despair of forwards. Once a letter from Belfast was addressed to “The Best Full-Back Playing in England”. The Post Office delivered it to McCracken at Newcastle - and he was the right man.
If Hull City do join the First Division they will have much to be thankful for to Maddison, of Birtley, Gibson, of Philadelphia (U.S.A.), and Bell, of Hartlepool – gallant and skilful defenders.
Hull City have caused some commotion in Association Cup-ties, but never so much as when they knocked out Burnley in the season of 1920-21.
They had to meet the East Lancashire team at the zenith of their fame when they were beating everybody in the First Division and were destined to carry off the championship of the League. Burnley were regarded as almost invincible, but the boys of Hull City rolled up their sleeves , girded their loins, and actually won by 3-0.
I should say that Hull City have rarely suffered a Cup reverse on their ground at Anlaby Road, I remember once going to this arena for a replay. I think it was against Bristol Rovers fifteen years ago, when McQuillan, the right-back, was so injured that he had to hobble about at outside-right. But the lame duck, lagging all the way, scored the only goal.
The three young men who started this adventure of launching a Soccer club at Hull have reason to be satisfied with the step they took just over twenty-two years ago.
All Sports Weekly, November 13th 1926
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