The Tigers embarked on their end-of-season tour to Florida following one of the most famous tales in their history. Just a few weeks earlier, they had missed out on promotion to Division Two by the narrowest of margins – just one goal! That sparked the resignation of manager Colin Appleton, which resulted in the City squad boarding their flight to the US without a boss.
The tour consisted of just two games. First up was a friendly against Fort Lauderdale, which was won 1-0 courtesy of a Garreth Roberts goal. Next up was a game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, which formed the second leg of the Arrow Air Anglo-American Cup. City went into the game with a 3-0 lead following the first leg at Boothferry Park two months earlier. The second leg went in favour of the hosts by a single goal, meaning the Tigers took the trophy with a 3-1 aggregate scoreline in front of almost 5,000 fans at the Tampa Stadium.
Of course, football was the main focus for the squad but there were one or two interesting stories that came out of the Tigers’ USA trip. Former goalkeeper and current Tigers Sport and Education Trust Manager John Davies was on the tour and recalled: “Don Robinson (the then Hull City chairman) suggested, or rather insisted, that we all wore these particular sweatshirts and shorts – things that players certainly wouldn’t wear in today’s game!
“We also had to walk around Disneyland wearing bowler hats and carrying umbrellas for some reason. It made us part of the attraction. It was all to do with publicity and Don was very good at that type of thing. It got us in all of the local papers over there and people in Florida certainly knew who Hull City were during that three-week period!”
Pete Skipper – who made over 300 career appearances for the Tigers in two spells at Boothferry Park – was also on the tour and has one or two fond memories from it involving a nightclub and a birthday party.
“We used to go in a nightclub called ‘Confettis’ and it was so called because every now and again these machines in the ceiling would pump out confetti, covering the whole place,” remembered Skipper. “When it started to happen we would all put our hands over the top of our glasses to stop the confetti getting into our drinks.
“But one player – who I wouldn’t want to name and shame – didn’t get the hang of it and would turn round and say ‘who’s put this in my drink?’ He just didn’t have a clue what was happening and the rest of us looked at him as if to say ‘why do you think we’re stood here with our hands on our glasses?’
Two of the City squad, Billy Whitehurst and Stan McEwan, celebrated their birthdays whilst out in Florida and that is another occasion that Skipper remembers well.
“Don (Robinson) held a joint party for Billy and Stan at his luxury apartment. Everyone was stood around having a laugh and a drink when suddenly there was a knock at the door. Someone opened it and there was a woman stood in a police uniform. She said that the police had received complaints from the neighbours about the noise and that she needed to come in. We could see that she had a mini ghetto blaster behind her back so we all clicked as to what was going on.
“Once inside the apartment, she said she needed to speak to Mr Whitehurst and Mr McEwan and asked them both to assume the position. So they were both up against the wall being frisked when the music came on and she started to take her clothes off. I have to say though – she only stripped down to her underwear – she didn’t do the whole lot!”
McEwan remembers the incident – and the tour – well and admits that he and Whitehurst were completely taken in by the whole prank.
“Myself and Billy really didn’t have a clue what was going on,” he laughed. “The apartment was plush with big security gates outside so it looked like the kind of place where a bit of noise would draw a few complaints. When the woman came in she’d completely got me and it was only when drugs were mentioned that I realised it was a wind-up. But it was brilliant the way the lads set it all up.”
Brian Horton was introduced to the squad as the Tigers’ new Player/Manager midway through the tour and, as you would expect, things stepped up a little bit following his arrival. Training became slightly more intense and McEwan recalls one session in particular which resulted in one of his team-mates feeling a little ill.
“We weren’t expecting as tough a session as we got and Brian Horton really ran us. None of us were expecting it and Mick Hollifield ended up being sick. He told the gaffer that it was something that he’d eaten the night before but it was probably more to do with the number of pints he’d had!”
When it came to the game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Americans added their own special off-the-pitch features which McEwan admits were rather strange.
“There was a guy on the tannoy who was commenting all the way through the game. They also had some organ music, which would be blaring out every time anything happened. They even played it when there was a throw-in for either side!
“But the biggest thing was the smoke cannons which went off when Tampa scored the goal. There was an enormous ‘bang’ followed by loads of smoke and we just didn’t have a clue what it was or where it’d come from! The smoke was still hanging about for some time after they’d scored. But the whole trip was a great experience and one that I’ll never forget.”