Tough tackling centre back John Roberts joined the Tigers in August 1980 to add steel and experience to the squad being assembled by City manager Mike Smith. Roberts slotted straight into the City back four and kept things fairly tight in the first 21 league games of the season – alas a goals scored tally of only thirteen in those 21 matches meant that City won only twice and sank to the foot of the table amid growing financial concerns in the boardroom. Despite the poor league form City managed an FA Cup run that took in Halifax Town, Blyth Spartans (from whom the great Les Mutrie was immediately signed), Doncaster Rovers and a fine battling performance in the Fourth Round against Tottenham Hotspur that saw heroics from newly signed netminder Tony Norman, who only conceded two winning goals in the closing minutes of the tie. This game at White Hart Lane was Roberts’ final battling appearance for City (as befits an ex-Arsenal player) as he succumbed to a toe injury. He remained on City’s books for another year but didn’t return to the first team and left in the 1982 close season.
John Griffith Roberts was born in Abercynon, a coal mining community and transport hub in the Cynon Valley 14 miles north of Cardiff. As a youngster he worked in the railway industry, stoking the fires of steam locomotives while playing for local Welsh League side Abercynon Athletic. In July 1964 he signed for Swansea Town (the club only became Swansea City in 1969), at that early stage of his career he was a burly striker who scored 16 league goals in 37 appearances during three seasons. In November 1967 Roberts signed for Northampton Town, where he was converted to a centre half and played in 62 league games.
His form at Northampton prompted First Division Arsenal to sign Roberts in May 1969 for a £35,000 fee. He made his First Division debut in October 1969 and played a supporting role in that first season. He started 1970/71 as first choice centre half and played 22 times in the Arsenal team that lifted the League and FA Cup double. Roberts was awarded a League winners’ medal although he was out of the side in the closing months of the season and did not play in any of the Cup ties that led to victory at Wembley. In 1971/72 he had a further run in the Arsenal first team, contributing three league goals scored exclusively against West Bromwich Albion – a 1-0 winner in September 1971 and a brace in the December 1971 return fixture.
By October 1972 John was a peripheral squad player for Arsenal and he switched to First Division rivals Birmingham City for a £150,000 fee. He was a regular in the Blues’ defence for two seasons but a string of injuries limited his game time during both 1974/75 and 1975/76 seasons. In the summer of 1976, restored to fitness, Roberts joined Wrexham and dropping down a couple of divisions clearly suited him as he was a near ever-present for three seasons between 1976 and 1979. In 1978 Roberts won a Division Three champions’ medal and lifted the Welsh Cup, the latter success leading to a European Cup Winners’ Cup appearance against Yugoslavian side Rijeka that John added to ten appearances in European competitions he assembled while at Arsenal. By the time he left Wrexham for Hull City in 1980 Roberts had added 81 senior appearances for Arsenal, 69 senior appearances for Birmingham City and 178 senior appearances at Wrexham to the 100 plus appearances he made earlier in his career at Swansea and Northampton.
Roberts was appointed player manager of Northern Premier League side Oswestry Town in the summer of 1982, but ended his playing career after the 1982/83 season. After football he worked in the stationery industry and later became a driving instructor. He settled in Sydenham in South London, where he died in January 2016.
In the late 1960s Roberts won one Wales under-21 cap, between 1967 and 1970 he added a further five Under-23 caps. He made his senior debut for Wales in May 1971 in a Home International Championship 0-0 draw against Scotland and went on to win 22 international caps during his time at Arsenal and Birmingham City, joining the Wales squad that reached the European Championship quarter finals in 1976. Between 1974 and 1976 he played under Wales manager Mike Smith, a connection that was later re-established when Roberts signed for the Tigers.
Date/Place of Birth: 11 September 1946, Abercynon
Hull City First Game: 9 August 1980, Lincoln City A (League Cup First Round First Leg), 33 years, 333 days old
Hull City Final Game: 24 January 1981, Tottenham Hotspur A (FA Cup Fourth Round), 34 years, 135 days old
Abercynon Athletic, Swansea City (1963-1967), Northampton Town (1967-1969), Arsenal (1969-1972), Birimingham City (1972-1976), Wrexham (1976-1980), Hull City (1980-1982), Oswestry Town (1982-1983)
Hull City Record
Career: 31 apps, 1 goalsDave Roberts
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