Hull City and Manchester City studiously ignored each other for fifty years, meeting only sporadically for a brief flirtation here and there, when few were looking and even fewer gave much of a damn. Then nothing. For years. A strangely neglected fixture has now been played nine times in since 2008.
Apart from a solitary defeat in February 2010, City have remained largely unscathed.
The sky blue and the amber, then, have a short but graceful story to tell. And here it is.
ABOVE 1985-86 The Full Members' Cup, an unloved little corner of 80s football, supposedly foisted on us in order to fill the void left by England's European sabbatical, a short break from club combat after slightly too much open warfare from the supporters. A dreadfully forlorn competition, played out in front of sparse and disinterested crowds, it meant almost nothing until you suddenly got the scent of Wembley in your collective nostrils, after struggling to stay awake in the early rounds. Then, as you sat up and took notice, the crowd swelled and the noise told you that something worthwhile was happening at last. Northern Area Final it was. Hull City. A completely unknown opponent not faced since the 1970 1-0 win in the FA Cup at Boothferry Park (see below).
Sensibly, to eke out the agony a little further, it was deemed necessary not only to have an "area final" but to make it two legged. Wembley faded in and out of view. Away in the first leg, manager Billy McNeill wisely opted to stay at home with a heavy bout of flu. Those of us with no excuses, watched a weak and fumbling 2-1 defeat, orchestrated by the padded philosopher that was Jimmy Frizzell. "Not good enough," said Jim, "We will not tolerate this at Luton in the league at the weekend." said Jim. What hadn't we already tolerated from Luton that was beyond the realms of nomal endurance?
Hull, Wembley and the full glory of the Full Members' would have to wait another week.
The second leg at Maine Road (above), dragging some 10,000 or so out of their slumbers to the roomy and decidedly freezing terraces of the Kippax, brought City to the edge of Wembley. A 24th minute diving header from first leg scorer David Phillips and a last minute scuffed toe poke from Jim Melrose (see photo above for proof of how close it was to a complete air shot) put City through by the skin of their teeth.
The final, played against Chelsea, would give the tournament an incongruously glorious finish, 5-4 to the Londoners a single day after a full league programme had been played, in City's case the small matter of an Old Trafford derby.
An FA Cup meeting in 1970, won 1-0 by cup holders City with a piece of typically balletic impudence from Neil Young was all that went before in three decades of emptiness.
In the late 80s City and Hull met up for two seasons' worth of combat. The first, 1987-88 featured two poor games, a 1-3 defeat for the Blues at Boothferry Park and then, in March, with promotion a distant pipedream, a 2-0 win in front of just over 16,000 at Maine Road. A season later the season opened at Boothferry Park and a 0-1 loss, before City welcomed Hull, now managed by ex-Leeds legend Eddie Gray, to Maine Road:
BELOW The City programme welcomes Gray's side to Maine Road for the afore-mentioned clash in 1988-89. It was only the sixth season of league combat between the two sides.
Wayne Biggins wheels away after scoring one of the four that sailed into Hull's net that afternoon. Newly signed Gary Megson and prolific striker Paul Moulden celebrate the feat. A brace for Biggins in a 4-1 win gave the City faithful plenty to applaud as the club picked up momentum towards a second placed finish and a return to the top flight behind Chelsea.