Hull City: Why record-breaking Andy Davidson will always stand as Tigers' greatest servant
Today marks the 60th anniversary of Andy Davidson’s Hull City debut. It would be the first of 520 league appearances for the club and the start of a record that remains unsurpassed. Philip Buckingham charts the career of the Tigers’ peerless servant.
IT TAKES one to know one. And Chris Chilton, Hull City’s goalscoring icon of the 1960s, is well qualified to shine a light on the legendary figure he would so often overshadow.
“As a captain and a motivator, and as a guy who led by example, Andy Davidson was second to none,” Chilton once said. “It was total commitment.”
In an era dominated by the Tigers’ attacking exploits, typified by the golden pair of Chilton and Ken Wagstaff, Davidson’s role in City’s history can be too easily left in the shadows.
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Yet even the briefest recollection of his countless records should set Davidson apart as the ultimate one-club man.
After making his City debut 60 years ago today, Davidson went on to make a total of 579 appearances for the Tigers in a playing career that spanned 16 seasons.
Seven of those saw the tenacious defender end the year as an ever-present and, if not for three broken legs during his injury-blighted formative years, those records would surely have been even greater.
Davidson is simply peerless. Tony Norman and Garreth Roberts, two mainstays of the 1980s, came as close as any to emulating his appearance record but still fell well short. Andy Dawson, the club’s current longest servant, would need to play for at least another five years just to stand a chance.
Davidson, known affectionately as Jock, was part of the club’s fabric for over three decades. Even after his retirement in 1968, he would remain in a coaching capacity for another 11 years.
The club has never seen his like since and, you suspect, never will again.
City would eventually become “his life” but Davidson was born and raised in Douglas Water, a small coal mining village in South Lanarkshire, as one of three children.
The harsh landscape engendered a natural fortitude in its residents and just eleven miles to the west over the Ayrshire border was Glenbuck, the home of Bill Shankly. As a distant relative of the would-be Liverpool great, football was clearly in Davidson’s blood.
Davidson had just turned 14 when he was first alerted to the name of Hull City.
His late brother David, six years his senior, had joined the Tigers in 1946 after his work as a long-distance lorry driver brought him south to Hull docks and a brazen request for a trial had been enough to win over manager Frank Buckley at the newly-opened Boothferry Park.
By February of the following year, David had convinced the City boss his younger brother was worthy of a similar break and Andy duly seized his opportunity in a practice match.
Unperturbed by his sibling’s exit to Scarborough in 1947, Davidson had worked his way to the brink of the City first-team by the age of 16 and travelled regularly with Raich Carter’s lauded post-war side.
Davidson would never play for Carter but had his manager’s contacts to thank for a generous National Service posting at RAF Finningley, now the site of Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster.
The first of three leg breaks and a two-year spell in the forces delayed Davidson’s progression through his teenage years, but after being granted a return to the City fold ahead of the 1952-53 campaign his big moment arrived on September 8, 1952.
With injury ruling out former England star and club record signing Neil Franklin for the trip to Blackburn Rovers, new manager Bob Jackson’s re-jigged side saw Davidson handed a debut as a makeshift centre forward.
A 2-0 defeat at Ewood Park represented an inauspicious start and it was not until 1955-56, following a three-year absence due to a twice-broken left leg, that he was truly able to make his mark on the first-team picture.
It was not a season to savour for the Tigers as they sank to the bottom of Division Two but for Davidson it was the first of seven campaigns where he would finish with an ever-present record. A definite sign of things to come.
Davidson’s versatility, much to his frustration, was a huge asset to manager Bob Brocklebank and the Scot would regularly be found plugging holes all across the City defence during his early years. The captaincy was at least an uplifting reward.
A wonderful insight into Davidson and his generation comes from a picture taken by the Mail’s photographer in August 1958.
After suffering a suspected fractured leg in City’s 2-0 defeat at Swindon Town, a suited Davidson is captured arriving back at Paragon station helped along the platform with the support of team-mates Doug Clarke and Bill Bradbury.
Davidson, missing his right shoe, even manages to crack a smile. Ever the professional, ever the leader by example.
A three-month lay-off followed but Davidson returned in time to help City to promotion out of Division Three in 1958-59, finishing second behind title-winners Plymouth.
It proved to be another false dawn at Boothferry Park when the Tigers were relegated back to the third tier 12 months later, but by the time Cliff Britton was appointed in 1961, Davidson was becoming the father figure to a blossoming crop.
By the start of his thirties, he had developed into City’s immovable rock, and between March 3, 1962 and New Year’s Day 1966, Davidson did not miss a single fixture. A staggering run of 201 consecutive league and cup games was only eclipsed by goalkeeper Norman 22 years later.
A brilliant team was assembling around its natural leader and it would find its vintage year in 1965-66.
City were simply unstoppable on the march to the Division Three title and only the “cheating” of referee Jack Taylor, who went on to officiate the 1974 World Cup final, prevented the Tigers from knocking Chelsea out of the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Two penalty claims were ignored at Stamford Bridge and, after City lost the replay at Boothferry Park, it was a sin for which Davidson would never forgive Taylor.
The 1965-66 season proved to be the peak of Davidson’s powers and, by November 18, 1967, he had reached the end of his playing days.
A 3-2 loss at Aston Villa saw Davidson forced off injured after just 10 minutes. “I could hardly limp, let alone play,” he said.
Futile attempts were made to extend his career but, after 579 league and cup games for City, Davidson had played his last.
A testimonial game against the famous Manchester City side of 1969 saw a fitting tribute to Davidson at Boothferry Park. Striding out on to the pitch ahead of kick-off dressed in a suit and beige mac, players and officials joined in a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” for the man of the moment.
Davidson remained with City until 1979.
A succession of scouting and coaching roles paved the way for him to take up the position of assistant manager to John Kaye and Ken Houghton but the Tigers’ plummeting fortunes found no role for the trusted old servant at the end of the 1970s. It was the end of a remarkable era.
“Hull City was my life,” said Davidson who, together with Susan, his wife of 53 years, is now enjoying a peaceful retirement in South Cave.
“I had two occasions where I was asked if I wanted to leave. Newcastle and Sheffield Wednesday both made bids but I wouldn’t go.
“Hull City was all I had ever known.”
Davidson, the defender, was all City fans knew for 15 years or more. To a certain generation, “Jock” will always stand as the club’s greatest servant.