Tall Irish centre half O’Brien signed for City in June 1924 for a £750 fee and was a Tigers first team regular for two seasons. He scored his only City goal in January 1925 against former club Leicester City in the FA Cup, and missed only one league game during the 1925/26 season.
O’Brien is listed as born in Kilcock, a town on the Royal Canal 20 miles west of Dublin. However research undertaken by the Brentford programme editor suggested that O’Brien was actually born at Ushaw Moor, a pit village west of Durham City, and O’Brien concocted a story about his Irish roots in order to qualify for the Ireland international side.
Whatever the truth, Mick only started playing football at the age of 18, when his family lived in South Shields and he had aborted a short spell enlisted as a gunner in the British Army at Plymouth. Mick had spells playing for Walker Celtic, Wallsend, Blyth Spartans and Newcastle East End, quickly attracting the attention of Glasgow Celtic who signed him in 1912. After failing to break into the Celtic first team, O’Brien returned to Blyth Spartans a year later then joined Brentford in 1914, playing for the Bees in the last season before the Football League was suspended due to World War 1.
O’Brien joined the Royal Navy during World War 1, serving on HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland in June 1916. HMS Chester was badly damaged by German gunfire during the battle, which led to the loss of life of all deck crew including a 16 year old Jack Cornwell, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery and became a contemporary poster boy for the war effort.
Later in the War O’Brien also served the Royal Flying Corps. After hostilities had ended he returned briefly to Brentford then had spells at Alloa Athletic, Norwich City and South Shields. In 1920 he joined Queens Park Rangers where he began to build his reputation as a strong centre half, having previously been a utility defender and forward. Switching to Leicester City in 1922, O’Brien continued to be a first team stalwart prior to his move to Hull.
O’Brien left Hull City in May 1926 for Brooklyn Wanderers in the American Soccer League, the first professional football league competition to be established in the United States. O’Brien returned to England a few months later and joined Derby County in December 1926, then completed a long and varied playing career with a further five seasons at Walsall, Norwich City (again) and Watford.
O’Brien then immediately moved to bench duties, becoming manager at QPR in 1933. After two years in charge at Loftus Road, Mick has a spell as assistant manager at Brentford before again taking the manager’s job at Southern League side Ipswich Town in May 1936. He fulfilled this role for a season that ended with Ipswich finishing top of the Southern League, before he was dismissed rapidly in August 1937 under something of a dark cloud that was never fully explained by the Town board. It was suggested that his dismissal arose after widower O’Brien was discovered to have had a relationship with the wife of a landlord at a pub owned by the Cobbold family, which also owned the football club (Mick’s wife had died in 1936, a year before the incident). He took a coaching job with the Middlesex FA after his dismissal from Ipswich. Three years later he died in Uxbridge in September 1940 at the sadly young age of 47.
O’Brien was a decorated international footballer during the 1920s and 1930s. The complications that arose from the partition of Ireland in 1920 extended to football – the Ireland FA had jurisdiction only in Northern Ireland but was still able to select players from across the island. O’Brien won 10 senior international caps for the Ireland FA between 1921 and 1927, including 4 won while at Hull City. Between 1927 and 1932 O’Brien won a further four international caps for the Irish Free State, the association that eventually became football’s governing body in the Republic of Ireland.
Date/Place of Birth: 10 August 1893, Kilcock
Hull City First Game: 20 September 1924, Portsmouth A (Division Two), 31 years, 41 days old
Hull City Final Game: 1 May 1926, Wolverhampton Wanderers A (Division Two), 32 years, 264 days old
Walker Celtic (1911), Wallsend (1911), Blyth Spartans (1911-1912), Newcastle East End (1912), Glasgow Celtic (1912-1913), Blyth Spartans (1913-1914), Brentford (1914-1919), Alloa Athletic (1918, trial), Norwich City (1919), South Shields (1919-1920), Queens Park Rangers (1920-1922), Leicester City (1922-1924), Hull City (1924-1926), Brooklyn Wanderers (1926), Derby County (1926-1928), Walsall (1928-1929), Norwich City (1929-1931), Watford (1931-1933)
Hull City Record
Career: 80 apps, 1 goalsMick O'Brien