1965-66: The Three Musketeers

Last updated : 03 January 2002 By Historian
After and illustrious playing career with success at the highest level, Britton's managerial vocation was more sober than swashbuckling in content, and his achievements were not the stuff that books are written of. Early success at Burnley moved him up the ladder to Everton. There, his heavy reliance on youth and a reluctance to spend in the transfer market brought turbulence on the terraces, mutterings in the Boardroom and, following relegation from Division One, his P45.

Resuming his career at Preston he maintained his policy of relying on youth rather than spending money, and even though they flirted with League championships, the end result of Britton's five-year stay was relegation for Preston and resignation from Britton. Then, in 1961, he moved to Hull.

Given his background and track record in management, it didn't seem an inspired move by Hull City's Board of Directors - appointing Cliff Britton. They were desperate for topflight football to come to Hull, they wanted it yesterday, and Harold Needler appeared willing to incur any expense to achieve that dream. What they got was a man steeped in frugal football spending and more concerned with building solid foundations before erecting promotion castles in the air.

It would be two years after Britton joined City before those castles in the air started to take shape. They were helped by a gift to the club from Harold Needler of £200,000 worth of shares in his company, Hoveringham Gravels. Those shares rose in price and whilst most of the money was spent on the ground, Britton finally broke the habit of a lifetime and spent some serious money.

He bought the 'Three Musketeers': Ken Wagstaff, Ian Butler and Ken Houghton; men of action and flamboyance; men whose acquisition indicated that Britton had switched sides. No longer an avid disciple of the Cardinal, his Tigers were now adventurous, afraid of no-one and were confident in their ability to outscore anyone. Britton had switched from frugal to flamboyant; his change of philosophy paying handsome dividends.

Wagstaff was the first to join, in November 1964. By January 1965 Butler and Houghton were also signed up, and whilst the Tigers pushed hard in the latter half of the 1964/65 season , spending most of it in one of the top two places, a disastrous Easter programme - one point out of a possible six - gave their final position of fourth a disappointing hue, but offered hope.

The Tigers went through the opening month of season 1965/66 unbeaten; they lost only four games in the first half of the season and, just like the last time they won a championship, that first half of the season ended with a Christmas double header against their main rivals. This time it was Millwall who offered the biggest threat to the Tigers championship hopes and both games went the way of the home side, although City's victory at Boothferry Park was courtesy of a Millwall own goal.

In the first half of that season, the Tigers failed to score in a game only twice, With Wagstaff and Chilton taking advantage of the promptings and probings of Houghton and Butler. The latter two were no slouches in front of goal either.

The second half of the season followed a similar pattern to the first, City and Millwall, out in front with the Tigers having to contend with a prolonged run in the FA Cup as well. Of the remaining 28 League and Cup games they played that season, they failed to register on the goal sheet only once, scoring two or more goals on 18 occasions. Attack was their forte, defence was no major problem as they kept a clean sheet 11 times in those 28 games.

Whilst progress in the League was steady and sure, advancement in the Cup was becoming spectacular as each opponent was overcome. Consecutive home victories over opponents from a higher Division - Southampton and Nottingham Forest - brought increased national publicity as Britton's team launched their bid for glory on two fronts.

The quarterfinals of the FA Cup took the Tigers to Stamford Bridge, facing the glittering array of stars that were Chelsea. It would be a stern test of their talents and a 2-0 scoreline in favour of the London outfit with 10 minutes remaining, suggested that it was test too far. Then the Musketeers took over and a cross cum shot from Ian Butler found the net to give the Tigers hope. A Wagstaff equaliser in the final seconds gave them stature and a replay back at Boothferry Park.

The replay proved an anticlimax. On the day the nation voted for a new government, Chelsea gained a comfortable 3-1 majority that took them to the semi-finals. It left the Tigers approaching Easter needing to capture points to revive their promotion hopes and Championship aspirations.

There would be no repeat of the previous season's Easter egg on faces this time though. The holiday programme brought three victories out of three, six goals for Ken Wagstaff (including 4 in one game) and promotion was looking increasingly likely. Consecutive defeats at Grimsby and Peterborough caused mild concern in the ranks but three wins from their next four matches gave them promotion; victory in their last game - at home to Southend - would give them the championship.

They did not disappoint and a goal from one of Britton's musketeers (Ian Butler) gave them the necessary victory in a match that was more memorable for the result, rather than the performance. The season was memorable however; the Tigers finishing on 69 points (four ahead of second place Millwall) and scored 109 goals in the process. The three musketeers accounted for 62 of those goals, with Chris Chilton - doing a more than passable impersonation of D'Artagnan - responsible for 25 of the remainder.

The Musketeers had triumphed and Britton's men now had new fields on which to do battle.