the real fa cup

Hull’s Non League Travails

Roughly speaking, the teams left in the 5th Round of the FA Cup can be split into two groups: teams historically in the top two tiers who very rarely face non league opposition (Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, Blackburn, Man City, WBA, Man United, Spurs, West Ham and Leeds); and teams who have spent (long) dreary times in the bottom two tiers frequently playing and (occasionally embarrassingly) losing to non league opposition (Watford, Hull, Bournemouth, Reading, Crystal Palace and Shrewsbury).

Of the teams in pot one only Leeds and WBA have relatively recently lost to a non league side – and both occurred when they were at a very rare low ebb, in the 3rd tier. WBA lost 4-2 to Woking, yeah, Tim Buzaglo, in the early 90s and Leeds lost to Histon only seven years ago. The rest of them have either never lost to a non league side, or haven’t lost in generations, like for example when the mighty Blackburn Rovers lost to those amateur flapper hipsters, Corinthians, in 1923. Oh for olden times.

Of the teams in pot two, Shrewsbury stand out as the underdogs but it’s Hull City who pique our interest as not only very recent cup finalists but also as a club who spent a relatively recent decade in the doldrums, constantly having to prove themselves against non league opposition. Hull are unique in that the most and least successful periods in their history have both happened in the last 20 years. Narrowly avoiding relegation to non league on the one hand, promotion to the Premier League and an FA Cup final appearance on the other. This season Hull have again been mysteriously drawn away at Premier League Arsenal and in FA Cup betting they are priced as the 5/1 underdogs with Bet365, among other bookmakers.

In the ten years between 1991 and 2001 Hull played non league sides eight times and, although they eventually came out on top in most, by ‘eck they had to work for it. Here’s how they fared, it’s quite interesting. A little, anyway.

In 1991/92 Hull had just been relegated to the third tier of English football after five years of treading water in what is now the Championship. After a disastrous start to the new season Hull were on a confidence-boosting run of four wins in five when they received what lower league clubs perceive as the most annoying of FA Cup 1st Round draws – a trip to a non league pace-setter.

Morecambe 0-1 Hull City 1st Rnd 1991/92
Although recently at a low ebb in their history, Morecambe were enjoying a period of resurgence and were among the leading pack in a strong Northern Premier League. A tight game was only won by Hull after Russell Wilcox leaped prodigiously (should have used the salmon analogy – Ed) to loop a header over the Morecambe keeper.

Runcorn 0-2 Hull City 1st Rnd 1993/94
Two years later Hull were dealt a seemingly more tricky trip, this time to a bona-fide Conference side. Although doing well on the pitch Runcorn were about to be hit by a number of off-field setbacks that mostly involved their rickety old Canal Street ground.

Around a thousand Hull fans made the trip across to Cheshire and were overjoyed 30 minutes in when Graham Atkinson headed them in front. The crowd surged forward in celebration only for the perimeter wall to collapse spilling dozens of Hull fans on to the pitch with a number crushed on top of the fencing or between each other. As the Amber Nectar blog points out here, it was incredibly fortunate that only four fans required hospital treatment. The tie was obviously abandoned and restaged 10 days later at Witton Albion’s ground where Hull ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.

Whitby 0-0 Hull City 1st Round Replay 1996/97
In 1995/96 Hull were relegated to the 4th division for only the second time in their history, a very brief stint in the early 80s. They started the 1996/97 season solidly, only losing once in the first ten games but, by the time they were drawn against Whitby Town in the 1st Round of the FA Cup, they had collapsed and had managed just one win in ten to set them up very badly for a trip to a side many, many tiers below them in the Northern League.

Due to Whitby’s tiny ground and the relative ‘derby’ nature of the game, Hull once again had an away day at a ground that was not their opponents. Unfortunately for them that ground was Scarborough’s, thanks to the intervention of the Police. The misfortune lay in the fact Hull had already been knocked out of the League Cup there two months earlier and had also been beaten in the League only three weeks previous. Scarborough 2-0 Hull.

Given the fractured anticipation, it was unsurprising the game ended goalless and without incident but this would change dramatically in the replay. Even though Whitby were top of the Northern League and flying, Hull should have been routine winners in any tie against the seasiders. But this is the FA Cup and there was nothing routine about the replay.

Hull City 8-4 Whitby 1st Round Replay 1996/97
There’s too much to say about this insane game so here are the highlights instead, they’re well worth a look, partly because Duane Darby scored 6 goals and partly because came so very, very close to oblivion:

Hull led, Whitby equalised and went in front, got pegged back to 2-2 and then went on to lead 4-2. Hull got a late goal back to trail 4-3 and then equalised in the last minute of normal time. Professionalism told in extra time and Hull went on to score four to restore some pride and ruin the narrative of FA Cup magic.

Hull 0-2 Hednesford 1st Rnd 1997/98
Hull’s flaws against Whitby were totally exposed the following season. On paper this looks like a massive shock nowadays but at the time Hull were 3rd bottom of the football league and only two clubs separated the sides thanks to the wonders of English football’s pyramid. For their part Hednesford were top of the Conference and full of confidence after beating two league sides in the FA Cup the previous season, as well as taking Premier League Middlesbrough to the wire before losing 3-2.

In a pulsating game, Hednesford scored twice but both keepers were in excellent form and, but for one of them, Hull could and should have got something out the game after hitting the woodwork twice. A new low in Hull’s history, this season was the worst their fans had known, finishing third bottom of the football league and being knocked out of the Cup by a non league side.

Salisbury 0-2 Hull 1st Rnd 1998/99
Again struggling in the bottom flight, Hull had won only one of their previous thirteen matches including a run of seven consecutive losses that ended, ironically enough, with victory at Scarborough. Hull won 2-0 in a game that has become buried somewhere in the internet, or books if you’re old school.

Hull City 3-2 Hayes 2nd Rnd Replay 1999/2000
Hayes 2-2 Hull City 2nd Rnd 1999/2000
In the year of Manchester United’s FA sanctioned absence, Hull’s league struggles had eased a little and, thanks to the Red Devils, they had not one but two chances to progress to the FA Cup 2nd Round after somehow managing to hold middling Conference side Hayes 2-2 at their Church Road ground. Due to United’s absence the FA had decided to draw one 2nd Round loser to be reinstated into the competition. Ergo, all losers including those awaiting replay defeat had a second chance to progress in the subsequent draw*.

The second tie was equally close, the 90 minutes ended with the score tied at Hayes 1-1 Hull City. Half way through the second period of extra time that old face-saver ‘professional training’ reared its ugly head. Hull were the fitter and stronger side and easily and moved into a two goal lead. Despite a late consolation Hull went through 3-2 to face Chelsea in the 3rd Round, where they lost, exactly as they had done 8 years earlier in a rare foray into the 3rd Round.

Kettering 0-0 Hull City 1st Rnd 2000/01
Hull City 0-1 Kettering 1st Rnd Replay 2000/01
By the middle of November, when this game was played, Kettering had won just 3 games and were struggling in the Conference as they would all season. By contrast Hull were on a run of one defeat in nine off the back of finishing 6th (and narrowly losing the play offs to Orient) the previous season. In the first game both sides had few chances as Kettering surprisingly held firm, although Gary Brabin had hit the post for the Tigers. In the replay Hull’s upsurge came to an abrupt halt when Matt Fisher’s 25 yard volley won the game.

Northwich Victoria 2-5 Hull City 1st Rnd 2001/02
In the final game in this run Hull were starting to put their decade of woe behind them. 3-0 up at half time they cruised past the mid table conference side with Faroe Islands skipper Julian Johnsson (he of that goal against Scotland) opening the scoring. Faroese fans were familiar visitors to Hull and came to watch him regularly before he left due to his wife’s inability to settle (no jokes please).

Within a couple of years Hull went on a run that saw the club drag itself off the floor and climb the ladder all the way to the Premier League and the big-day-out that is the FA Cup final. Of course, Hull rather unfortuitously got knocked over that day but, since those barmy days of non league strife, Hull has had the (mis)fortune to develop an otherwise more annoying regular foe.

For now, it’s back over to you, Hull City, and your obsession with Arsenal. Not since January 2013 have Hull City lost to any other side in the FA Cup than Arsenal. And, so, for the third consecutive season …

Saturday 20th February, Emirates Stadium, FA Cup 5th Round … Arsenal v Hull City

*The lucky team turned out to be Darlington, who became a trivia question by being knocked out in both the 2nd and 3rd Round that year.

Phil Ascough – ‘Never Mind the Tigers: The Ultimate Hull City Quiz Book’
Mike Collett – ‘The Complete Record Of The FA Cup’

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