When former Wales international manager Mike Smith took over the manager’s job at Hull City in January 1980 he quickly set about rebuilding the moribund squad he inherited. His first two signings were Welsh goalkeeper Tony Norman and Ipswich Town’s reserve central defender Dale Roberts – a decent piece of business. Roberts and Norman both made their City debuts on the same day in February 1980 and both assisted the Tigers through tough times and the subsequent rise up the Football League.
Roberts quickly slotted into the City back four for the remainder of the 1979/80 season and scored his first City goal in a 2-3 defeat at Wimbledon in April 1980. During the following season Roberts played less regularly as he duelled with Welsh namesake John Roberts and City stalwart Paul Haigh for a centre back shirt. The same pattern formed in the early stages of 1981/82 season, but Dale finally secured a long term place in the first team from November 1981 onwards. As the season progressed the financial effects of Smith’s investment in players in an attempt to deliver promotion out of the Fourth Division took hold – and in February 1982 the Tigers fell into receivership. Smith was jettisoned and the manager’s job was handed to coaches Bobby Brown and Chris Chilton – Roberts stood firm in a defence that went on a springtime run of impressive victories.
When 1982/83 started the club had been taken over by colourful Scarborough-based leisure entrepreneur Don Robinson and Colin Appleton was appointed manager. Appleton favoured the calm defensive skills of Dale Roberts and he missed only three matches all season as Appleton steered the Tigers towards an emphatic promotion. Elevated to Division Three, City benefited from many of the assets assembled by Appleton and Smith and the squad needed only minor additions. Roberts was a fixture in defence until December 1983 when injury forced him out of the team. He returned to the first team slowly during the remainder of the season, missing out on the final fixtures that culminated in the extraordinary final league fixture at Burnley when a 3-0 win would have sealed a second promotion but City only won 2-0. In 1984/85 Appleton had left and Brian Horton took over the reins at City, and Dale was selected at right back for the first three months of the season. He suffered a career ending pelvic injury in a reserve game in October 1984 and was unable to play another senior match for the Tigers.
Dale Roberts was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne but he received his football education on the Suffolk Coast with Ipswich Town. He was part of the successful youth team that lifted the FA Youth Cup twice in 1973 and 1975, but the senior team was in the throes of a successful spell in the top flight and Roberts’ chances of first team experience were limited – injuries also hampered his progress. Dale had made only 24 first team appearances in six years as a professional when he signed for Hull City in February 1980.
After retiring from the senior game in 1985 Roberts had a spell in the non-leagues playing for North Ferriby United and Bridlington Town, while working as a driving instructor. Roberts gained football coaching qualifications and in the 1989 close season he joined the Hull City coaching staff under the returning Colin Appleton. Appleton lasted only three months but Roberts remained on the City coaching staff for four years until leaving in 1993 to join former Ipswich teammate George Burley as assistant manager at Ayr United. When Burley took over the reins at Colchester United in 1994 Dale followed, and he was briefly caretaker manager when Burley resigned after six months to join Ipswich Town. Once Colchester appointed Steve Wignall as their new boss, Roberts rejoined Burley as assistant manager at Portman Road. Relegated to the second tier in their first half-season, Burley and Roberts took Ipswich to the upper reaches of League Division 1 but it took four shots at the play-offs before they returned to the top flight in 2000. After a successful season in 2000/01 that ended in qualification for the UEFA Cup, Ipswich were relegated again in 2002 and Burley left in the following October. By this time Roberts had moved to become reserve team manager.
In 2002 Roberts was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphona, a cancer that affects the immune system, and he died in Ipswich on 5 February 2003 at the tragically young age of 46. An obituary to Dale penned by Ipswich Town historian Susan Gardiner can be found by clcking here.
Date/Place of Birth: 8 October 1956, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Hull City First Game: 16 February 1980, Millwall H (Division Three), 23 years, 131 days old
Hull City Final Game: 6 February 1985, Mansfield Town A (Associate Members Cup First Round Second Leg), 28 years, 121 days old
Ipswich Town (1973-1980), Atlanta Chiefs (1979, loan), Hull City (1980-1985), North Ferriby United (1985-1986), Bridlington Town (1986)
Hull City Record
Career: 182 apps, 7 goalsDale Roberts
|1980/81||20 (3)||1||1 (0)||0||-||-||-||-||3 (0)||0|
|1981/82||34 (0)||0||6 (0)||0||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|1982/83||43 (0)||2||2 (0)||0||2 (0)||0||-||-||3 (0)||0|
|1983/84||28 (1)||2||1 (0)||0||2 (0)||0||-||-||4 (0)||0|
|1984/85||11 (0)||0||-||-||4 (0)||1||-||-||1 (0)||0|