Addiction is something that can be very destructive in anyone’s life. Drugs, alcohol, etc., can kill. My addiction though has left me in a reasonable state of health but instead quite often penniless.
Hull City is my addiction. I was first taken to watch the Tigers at the age of eight in 1957 and though it was not love at first sight by the early 1960’s I was smitten. Initially, I was a regular at home matches and then in February 1965 a whole new world opened up for me, the away match. I was allowed by mother to travel on a day excursion from Paragon to see City play at Carlisle United. Though it was a bitterly cold day that ended with a 0-0 draw (City though had a goal chalked off because the linesman said the ball had crossed the dead ball line prior to being crossed and put in the net) I was hooked on the away day with City.
Gradually I increased the number of away games I went to but then I hit a major stumbling block which was finance. I could not keep asking mother for her hard earned cash. So I hit on the idea of hitching to games. I could probably pin down the first match I hitched to by looking carefully at the fixture lists of the mid 1960’s but it is of little consequence as needless to say I was soon a dedicated ‘thumber’ along the Queen’s Highway.
I could ramble through the many excursions I enjoyed, or endured but I thought it best to describe a couple of excursions taken in the late 1960’s. Two eventful trips come to mind, one because I hitched with a friend Pete Lincoln, which still raises a chuckle between us even though over forty-five years have passed since the trip, and the second an equally eventful trip because it proved totally disastrous.
Cardiff City v Hull City on 22nd March 1968
I do not know how this madcap idea came about, hitch-hiking away to Cardiff for a match on the Friday evening, but we did. We set off from Fiveways roundabout on the day before the match. We made good progress and two lifts saw us just north of Sandy at the junction of the A1 and A421 which stretched westwards towards Oxford, Swindon and ultimately Wales. Almost immediately after our second lift dropped us off we were picked up by an American military chap who was stationed at one the US air bases in the area. I elected to sit up front of this large American car he was driving. It had a bench front seat, as was the custom with American cars of that era, and the car was exceptionally long and wide. It was very dark and the man sets off as if he was demented as he completely ignored any speed limits or hazards on the single carriageway road. He would pull out from vehicles in front of him with complete abandon to see if he could overtake. I, of course, would see the oncoming traffic before him. He twice reached a speed in excess of 100 m.p.h.!
It scared the pants off me but he reassured us with a phrase uttered in a strong Texas drawl, “I know this road like the back of my hand”. These words still raise a laugh between Peter and me after all these years. The fourth and last lift of this first day was by way of stark contrast – we sat in the back of a blood transfusion van upon rattling crates containing empty glass blood donor bottles. This took us as far as the Oxford ring road where we breathed sighs of relief at having made it in one piece and by this time it was well past 10.00 p.m. so we decided to stop for the night.
Unrolling our sleeping bags we promptly laid down for the night in some bushes in the middle of a roundabout. The next morning we set off and made very good time and reached Cardiff in the early afternoon. As the match was a Friday night game we decided to look for a B&B to stay in for the night after the game. It proved to be somewhat difficult as the Welsh rugby union team were playing the French at Cardiff Arms Park the next day in the Five Nations Championship. In fact this was the reason the football was on the Friday evening. After finally finding a bed for the night we dropped our rucksacks off and went to the game. It was worth all the effort as we won 3-2 with a goal from Waggy and two from Ray Henderson one of which I recall as being an overhead kick. Mind you Cardiff did make it somewhat easier for us as on the Tuesday of that week they had had a European Cup-winners Cup Quarter Final tie at Torpedo Moscow so they were probably not at their best mentally or physically.
After the match we had a few celebratory beers and leaving the pub at closing time we made our way back to the B&B only to find the crafty Welsh landlady said there had been a terrible error and she had double booked our room by mistake. Mistake my foot. She had sold our beds to some French rugby fans. She knew that she had us over a barrel as we would not find alternative accommodation at that time of night so we were forced to accept sleeping on camp beds in the kitchen.
The next morning we were then woken up at 6.00 a.m. as some lorry drivers who were staying there wanted to be away early. I have hated the Welsh since that day! As we had an early start we made good progress back home helped by a very nice couple who not only dropped us off at Sutton Coldfield which is to the north of Birmingham but also bought us a meal. Our last lift which was back into Hull was from a driver who was obviously related to the madman from the USA who we had encountered on the Thursday evening. This time it was Peter’s turn to need a change of underpants occupying the front passenger seat. This was another mad driver who again seemingly broke every rule of the Highway Code, for e.g. overtaking on the double white lined ‘S’ bends road leading out of Rawcliffe (near Goole) in a mad dash to get to Paragon Station in time to pick his girlfriend up off the train.
Apart from the lifts off the Stig’s relatives and the Welsh landlady’s underhand behaviour it was a great trip as we had seen City win away from home. The whole experience cost us each about 30 shillings (£1.50) the bulk of which was 17s and 6d (80 pence) for the lodgings and Waggy gave us complimentary match tickets.
Portsmouth v Hull City on 8th February 1969
By 1969 I was at university in Manchester. Manchester was chosen for two reasons, one because I could get home relatively easy, and two you could watch a football match somewhere in the Greater Manchester area on most evenings. When City were at home I would hitch-hike home on the Friday afternoon complete with dirty washing for mother to sort out. My university friends all thought I was mad as we had the European Cup holders just down the road complete with Best, Charlton, Crerand, Stepney, etc. But let’s face it a true supporter does not change his or her allegiance over such minor things.
City were away at Portsmouth at the beginning of February 1969 and it seemed at the time a good idea to hitch-hike there. So on the Friday, the day before the game I caught the train to Altrincham to start hitch-hiking along the A56 which led you down to the incomplete M6. You have to remember at that time that the motorway network was very fragmented, in fact coming home to Hull on a Friday at that time was a problem as the M62 was only complete westwards from Hull as far as Outlane near Huddersfield.
It was starting to snow as I left my flat in Levenshulme but by the time I reached Altrincham it had developed into a full blown blizzard. The traffic was nose to tail and almost gridlocked. I found I was hitching along the road into the teeth of a blizzard as well as moving faster than the traffic I was trying to entice a lift off! Luckily I got a lift which took me as far south as Gloucester. Unfortunately the weather conditions had meant it had taken us till after teatime to get there.
The temperature was dropping rapidly by then and it was impossible to get a lift. I took refuge in a pub so as to warm up. By the time I came out the roads and pavements were sheet ice and almost impossible to walk on without falling over. After near freezing to death by the side of the Gloucester inner ring road for a couple of hours I gave up trying to get a lift and got into my sleeping bag. I laid it down on a park bench behind some public conveniences. Though I had a top class sleeping bag I do not think I ever been so cold in all of my life.
The next morning I awoke to a bright sunny day and very slowly I moved south. As an aside it is amazing how you often connect events or places in your life with certain songs. As an example I always associate the song, ‘Simple Simon Says’ with a hike to a midweek game at Norwich where we won 2-0. And whenever I hear, ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely?’ by Peter Sarstedt this reminds me of the trip to Portsmouth as it was in the charts at the time and seemed to be playing on the radio of every lift I got that weekend.
After lifts in an ice cream van and a horse-box I arrived at Eastleigh which is some twenty miles North West of Portsmouth at about 2.00 p.m. I realised I was cutting it close for getting to the game in time. Then a guy in his brand new sports car stopped and even though he was not originally going to Fratton he offered to take me there. Off we zoomed. Unfortunately we hit a traffic jam a few miles down the road. The traffic was gridlocked. The sports car driver reluctantly had to drop me off and turn around. By then it was about 2.45p.m. and I was still about 15 miles from the ground. I was panicking. I walked along the road and found a railway station. Then luck ran out on me one last time. I just missed the train to Portsmouth. After waiting for an hour for the next train I arrived at Fratton Park just in time to see a couple of minutes play and hear the final whistle blow in a 1-0 defeat.
Utter dejection. I had missed kick-offs before, in fact I am renowned for it, but never had I previously missed the whole game. I walked back to Fratton station where I found I just had enough money for a single fare back to Manchester. Funny really because I could have probably got a day return from Manchester to Portsmouth for about the same price! By this time I was starving but had no money left for food. However, on boarding the train I found I was sharing it as far as Waterloo with the City team. Cliff Britton the then manager on hearing of my story invited me to share the team’s large picnic hamper provided for their tea. A true gentleman. Older readers will remember the Sports Mail used to carry a weekly article called ‘What you are Wondering?’ The next week a couple of lines asked, “What was the City fan thinking when he arrived at Portsmouth in time to hear the final whistle?” I presume Brian Taylor the superb Hull City reporter for the Mail at the time, who was on the train, put it in.
Footnotes on that dismal trip. There were only four matches in the whole of the Football League played that day and Portsmouth versus Hull City was one of them. The highlights of our match were shown Sunday afternoon on Yorkshire TV. Also the night I slept out was the coldest night in Gloucester at the time since records began.