Christopher Roy Chilton was Hull City’s finest ever goalscorer – let’s say that from the off. Granted, 136 of his goals were scored in the third tier and the balance of 86 goals were scored in Division Two. But the length of career at Hull City and the list of bigger clubs that sought his signature and were sent packing is testament to his quality.
Chilton was born and raised in Sproatley in the Holderness badlands. His father Albert was a former trophy-winning sprinter who worked as a security officer at the Saltend chemical plant. His mother raised five children and took summer work at local farms. Chris had an austere post-war childhood spent fashioning a makeshift football from a pig’s bladder obtained from the local butcher, and played local amateur football for Bilton in his mid-teens. The 16 year old Chilton wrote to Hull City to express an interest in joining the staff – he attended a trial at City and had done enough in ten minutes of play to earn a contract, an option the young Chilton preferred to a place at Hull Art College. Only two months after his 17th birthday Chris made his debut for the Tigers at the start of the 1960/61 season, and he opened his goalscoring account in his second appearance, a 5-1 thumping of Newport County. Chillo missed only six matches in that first season and scored 20 senior goals before his 18th birthday.
The following season, 1961/62, saw the Tigers recruit Cliff Britton as manager and the Bristolian former England international quickly resolved to build his Tigers side around the prodigious talents of Chris Chilton. It was perhaps alarming that Chilton’s goals then dried up – in 30 league starts he scored only seven times, though he did contribute a further six strikes in Cup competitions. Having scored five goals in the first seven league matches and struck a brace in the League Cup against Bury, Chilton failed to score in the league for nearly five months between early October 1961 and mid-March 1962. This drop in form saw him left out of Britton’s first eleven for a ten week period, before returning and scoring against Crystal Palace in late March. This was to be Chilton’s only serious dip in form for practically all of his eleven season career at Hull City.
For the next two seasons Chilton was restored as a reliable goalscorer and a near ever present in the first team, scoring 23 and 24 goals in the two terms. The 1964/65 season saw perhaps the most pivotal moment in Chilton’s career – in November Hull City signed Ken Wagstaff from Mansfield Town, on the recommendation of former Mansfield manager and Hull City legend Raich Carter. Chilton had started the season goalless in the opening two months, was dropped and had requested a transfer. But prior to Wagstaff joining the club Chilton had decided to stay at City and had scored 12 goals in seven games during October (including 4 against Barnsley and 3 against Brentford). The combination with Wagstaff, along with a new supply line of Ian Butler and Ken Houghton, was immediately productive – some would say magical. Chilton was a powerhouse battering ram type striker, Wagstaff was the brave, nippy predator. Both were well versed in the darker arts of forward play. The returns were immediate and Chilton ended 1964/65 with 27 goals (Waggy contributed another 23) as City scored 91 league goals but finished fourth in the Division Three table, missing out on promotion by a single point.
In 1965/66 there was perhaps doubt whether the Tigers could go again – but with the 22 year old Chilton at the pinnacle of the attack that question was soon emphatically answered. He scored his 100th league goal in October 1965, the middle goal of a hattrick in a 5-1 win against Oldham Athletic. And by the following May The Tigers had powered to the Third Division title, watched by regular giant crowds not seen at Boothferry Park since the days when Wagstaff’s mentor Carter was manager. City also reached the Sixth Round of the FA Cup, losing to First Division Chelsea in a replay. Chilton scored 29 times in all competitions, 25 in the league, as City’s fearsome forward line of Chilton, Wagstaff, Butler, Henderson and Houghton ran amok. Tigers history was made, not to be repeated for 55 years.
The climb up into the Second Division didn’t seem to affect City’s forwards at all. As City powered to the top of the table with 9 wins in the first thirteen league games, Chilton contributed seven goals as Waggy slammed in an incredible 12 strikes. Unfazed. However City’s form dropped away from October 1966 onwards and they secured a mid table finish come May 1967, with Chilton scoring 19 times. In 1967/68 a similar story unfolded. with a fast start ruined by a slow finish. During that fast start, in September 1967, Leeds United approached City with a view to signed Chilton but the advances were rejected. Then in 1968/69 Chilton, who had been appointed first team captain, suffered his first lengthy spell out of the first team since his teenage dip in 1961, missing the last five months of the season due to injury. In 1969/70 he returned to the first team and scored 19 times as Cliff Britton’s tenure came to an end. In 1970/71 new manager Terry Neill was rejuvenating the Tigers once again and Chilton had his best goals return since the Division Three promotion season, scoring 26 times as the Tigers finished fifth and again reached the FA Cup quarter final. In August 1971, eleven years and one day after his Tigers debut and with his body creaking after a career of all-action forward play, Chilton and City finally succumbed to the lure of the First Division and a £92,000 fee was accepted in return for a transfer to Coventry City.
He played only one season for the Sky Blues and scored three goals in 27 starts, but struggled with a chronic back injury that was exacerbated during pre-season training in the summer of 1972. Coventry released Chillo and he quit the professional game at the age of 29. He returned to East Yorkshire and served Bridlington Trinity for two years, then in 1974 he moved to South Africa and spent four years playing for Highlands Park, twice winning the South African League/Cup/Cup treble and spending two years as player-manager.
During his time at City, Chilton was twice chosen to represent the Football Association in overseas matches – in September 1968 against Guernsey and in May 1971 in Australia.
In 1978 Chilton returned to East Yorkshire and began a seven year long second career as coach and assistant manager with Hull City. He initially joined as a coach, working with former City teammate Ken Houghton. He tutored young talents like Steve McClaren and Brian Marwood, and was responsible for the transformation of Billy Whitehurst from violent but hapless battering ram to goalscoring First Division striker (who was also still violent). Three times he performed caretaker manager duties – at the end of Houghton’s time in the City hotseat in 1979; jointly with Bobby Brown when the cash-strapped Tigers had to jettison manager Mike Smith in 1982; and when Colin Appleton was lured to Swansea City in 1984. Chilton was keen on taking the manager’s job on a permanent basis in 1984 but City plumped for Brian Horton instead with Chris as his assistant. A year later Horton elevated Dennis Booth to his assistant and offered Chilton a youth team coaching post which he declined, ending his employment with Hull City. Chris had a brief spell selling cement products before he returned to football as assistant manager at North Ferriby United. In 1987 he had a short spell as assistant manager at Lincoln City under ex-Tiger Peter Daniel, but three months later The Imps were relegated and Chilton ended his involvement with the professional game.
In his later life Chilton suffered from vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, a condition in footballers thought to be related to repeated heading of footballs. In 2020 the Chilton family launched an appeal for financial help to support the cost of respite care, the generosity of Hull City fans was overwhelming and over £40,000 was raised. Chris died on 20 May 2021, just three weeks after Hull City won the League One title and finally repeated the table-topping feat last achieved by Chris and his colleagues in 1966. His passing unleashed an outpouring of grief amongst the Tiger Nation.
Chris Chilton was a hard working, brave and selfless footballer who collected many personal achievements, but would always put the cause of the team foremost. He is Hull City’s record goalscorer and will forever remain a genuine Hull City legend – perhaps the club’s greatest legend of all.
Date/Place of Birth: 25 June 1943, Sproatley
Hull City First Game: 20 August 1960, Colchester United A (Division Three), 17 years, 56 days old
Hull City Final Game: 21 August 1971, Oxford United H (Division Two), 28 years, 57 days old
Hull City (1959-1971), Coventry City (1971-1972), Bridlington Trinity (1972-1974), Highlands Park (1974-1978)
Hull City Record
Career: 477 apps, 222 goalsChris Chilton
|1965/66||45 (0)||25||7 (0)||3||2 (0)||1||-||-||-||-|
|1966/67||37 (0)||17||3 (0)||2||1 (0)||0||-||-||-||-|
|1967/68||37 (0)||14||3 (0)||1||1 (0)||0||-||-||-||-|
|1968/69||22 (0)||5||1 (0)||1||2 (0)||1||-||-||-||-|
|1969/70||36 (0)||18||1 (0)||0||2 (0)||1||-||-||-||-|
|1970/71||37 (0)||21||4 (0)||2||1 (0)||0||-||-||2 (0)||3|