It was a beautiful opening Spring-time morning on the 21st March 1970 and the Tigers’ fixture that afternoon was away to Millwall at their notorious Den.
The away coaches that I and most fellow fans regularly travelled on for any long distance matches south of Bawtry usually departed about 11.30pm from outside of the YEB showrooms in Ferensway. A much slower journey by today’s standards had us arriving in London normally around 6.30am and we were dropped off outside the Houses of Parliament where we similarly re-boarded the coach at a likewise departure time of 11.30pm. (The coach fare being all of 30/- to 35/-).
Thus the many away trips to London not only enabled us to support the Tigers but also afforded us the opportunities to do plenty of sight-seeing. There were no bag searches or bombings to fear and for e.g. Downing Street was always open to walk down whatever the time and pose for a photograph with the sole and agreeable Police Constable standing outside the door at number 10.
On this particular morning I was with another four regular City fans, being Ian White, Paul Spavold, Arthur Smith and Dick Marr. Unfortunately I lost touch many years ago with Arthur and sadly Dick has passed on. However, both Ian and Paul have always remained loyal to the cause and are signed-up to the current thoroughly mis-guided membership scheme.
We had previously visited many of the sites and buildings on earlier trips, e.g. Trafalgar Square, Palace of Westminster, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, etc. but had never visited Regent’s Park. Hence, after breakfast in an adopted Wimpey Bar (forerunners to McDonalds?) we decided to put the record straight as it was such a pleasant sunny morning.
By the time we arrived into the park it was mid-morning and it was already well populated with plenty of fellow sightseers and locals. We thought we would begin our little tour with a lakeside walk and we were soon attracted to a boat-house from where rowing boats could be hired. We thought what a good idea it would be to hire a couple of boats for a nice ride around the lake but unfortunately each boat had only a capacity for two people. However, Paul quickly declared himself to be a strict land-lubber and rapidly withdrew his interest. This left Ian and I to share a boat whilst Dick and Arthur took the second one.
The boats’ hulls appeared quite shallow. There was a seat for the oars person and another at the stern for the second ‘crew member’ to use the rope guidelines attached to the rudder for steering purposes. The oars rested in oarlocks which in turn were extended on outboard riggers.
We set together off together in jovial spirits for a leisurely one hour ride around the lake. However, we soon split off meandering into different directions and after about half of our designated time we slowly came across Dick and Arthur simply drifting whilst enjoying their home-made sandwiches. As we slowly rowed away again from them I called out, “Come on lads, catch us up!” Dick who was in the rowing seat quickly leaned and stretched right across to his port side rigger to reach out and grab hold of the oar but in so doing promptly capsized the boat!
Fortunately they were able to swim to the lakeside where they were both greeted, not with any sympathy from a startled crowd, but with shrieks of laughter from many passers-by and particularly from a rotund lady of obvious Caribbean origin and her similarly colourfully dressed tribe of kids who were prattling all around her. Their volume increased into a crescendo of noise when Arthur realised his City scarf was still entwined with the rudder’s guidelines and he swam back to recover it!
Soaking wet through they trundled back to the boat-house whilst we tentatively rowed back to forewarn the boat operator of the mishap. I can never forget Paul’s reaction when he heard of what had happened which was exactly as he had earlier jokingly predicted. He leaned against the nearest tree trunk thumping it with a clenched fist whilst doubled-up with laughter and tears streaming down his face.
We found our way out of the park and luckily got some quick directions from a passing beat-bobby as to the whereabouts of the nearest launderette. Upon approach I noticed some big signs around the windows all of the same type, each bearing a picture of a little yellow chick chirping the words, “Look your Chic fresh for Easter!” (it being the next weekend).
We all entered the shop which was extremely busy with, not surprisingly, lots of women using the washing and drying machines. The two ladies who were in charge behind the counter were acquainted with what had happened and they together with many of their customers also found the episode highly amusing with laughter gathering apace with as the story unfolded.
So much so, that their immediate suspicions were that it was a Jonathan Routh “Candid Camera” stunt which was a popular ITV show in that era. However, we convinced them it was reality and not fiction with Dick’s waterlogged watch, stopped at 11.10am, serving as evidence of the precise time of the capsize.
Amidst all the laughter the two ladies readily agreed that Dick and Arthur could use the private toilet cubicle behind their counter to take off all of their sodden clothes and footwear. It was very tiny but the very heavily built Dick and the much slimmer Arthur shoe-horned themselves into it and slowly but surely all their clothing came out for transfer into two spin driers. I have vivid memories of taking the last batch from them with big Dick sat on the toilet pan and skinny Arthur precariously perched upon his left knee – both completely starkers! — and there we left them for a full hour’s drying programme whilst most fortuitously we other three could spend the time inside the next door pub!
Henceforth, an hour later Dick and Arthur got re-dressed into their relatively dried out clothing and shoes and we paid a quick visit into the next door pub again to enable them to quaff some much needed whiskies after which we set off to go to the match. With little time to spare we eventually arrived outside the Den in time to greet the arrival of our team coach outside the Players’ entrance.
Mr Brian Taylor the highly respected Hull Daily Mail/Sports Mail sports journalist had travelled on the coach too and having known him for some time I was able to quickly attract his attention before he also disappeared via the Officials’ entrance. I described to Brian what had happened and in-turn he wired the story back to Hull.
In those days when the paper’s multiple editions were all printed in the Jameson Street premises the story caught the Daily Mail’s final edition of the day making the front page and bearing the sub-headline, “City Fans Make A Splash In London!”
Footnote: The Tigers won the match 2-1 with a brace from Ken Houghton — happy days!