Brian “Nobby” Horton joined the Tigers in June 1984 as player-manager in the aftermath of Colin Appleton’s rapid departure a month earlier following City’s failure to secure promotion to the Second Division by the narrowest of margins. Horton quickly set about working with his inherited staff, Dennis Booth and Chris Chilton, to put in place a secure management structure and develop the squad ready for another tilt at promotion. Horton inherited a fully formed squad minus only Brian Marwood and while the season started steadily it exploded into fine form in mid October after a defeat at promotion favourites Derby. City were unbeaten in 14 league and Cup games, winning 5-4 at Orient when 4-1 down deep into the second half and thumping Brentford 4-0 the week before Christmas. Horton was a regular presence in the City midfield but dropped out around February as it became clear City were proper promotion candidates themselves. A run of 12 wins in 15 consecutive league games in March and April culminated with a 1-0 win at Walsall courtesy of a Peter Skipper header, and Horton’s first season in charge saw City promoted to the Second Division with two games to spare.
City required squad additions in order to compete at the higher level and Horton used his contacts in the Home Counties league scene to unearth young talent – striker Frankie Bunn and midfield maestro Bobby Doyle joined early in the season, midfield creator Garry Parker and defensive master Richard Jobson were signed up after Christmas as City spent much of the season in the top six fuelled by the goals of Bunn, Whitehurst (until his sale to Newcastle), Flounders and set piece specialist Stan McEwan. In the end just two wins in nine games during March and April put paid to promotion hopes and Horton’s Tgers ended the season eighth in the table.
Horton’s game time in his second season was greatly reduced and that trend continued into 1986/87, when Nobby started only seven games, the last of which came in a 0-4 thumping at the hands of Plymouth, which came three weeks after Nobby was red carded in a 1-5 defeat at Crystal Palace. City struggled to string more than two wins together as the season progressed and they hovered around the lower reaches of the table, though 9 draws interspersed with 5 wins in the last 16 games of the season saw the Tigers ease into the safety of 14th place in the Second Division table. New signings Alex Dyer and Charlie Palmer were an important part of that recovery, as was the old head of Pat Heard in midfield doing the job that Horton himself was famous for in his playing days.
The 1987/88 season was both Horton’s finest in his time at City, and his eventual downfall. City began the season in fine form and remained unbeaten until early October, with the goals of Dyer, Bunn and Parker lifting City into the top two alongside Bradford City. This good form faltered slightly in November but by the end of December two wins against Crsytal Palace and Oldham meant the Tigers were still proper promotion contenders. The confidence in the team was dented by a 0-5 defeat at Aston Villa on New Years Day, a match could have ended very differently if Pat Heard had converted an early penalty against his former side. A tumultuous 3-1 win over Leeds United two days later cheered the City faithful greatly as the precocious talent of Andy Payton was seen in full flow for the first time. However that win over City’s Yorkshire rivals proved to be the last victory of Horton’s tenure as a 13 game winless run, plus a defeat to Watford in the FA Cup after three games, left Horton’s team drifting in mid-table by the end of March. A mid-April thumping at Boothferry Park at the hands of a limited Swindon side raised the hackles of colourful chairman Don Robinson, who hastily sacked Horton minutes after the final whistle. The repentant Robinson attempted to reinstate Nobby the next morning, but the manager’s wounded pride meant he was unable to accept the reversal and he left the club.
Brian Horton’s tenure as manager of Hull City during the 1980s was noteworthy, he inherited a decent Third Division side that had fallen short of of promotion and in five years moulded it into a squad that was a genuine contender for promotion to the First Division. The bad run that led to Horton’s sacking was immensely frustrating at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight was reversable and his dismissal was probably premature. It was therefore welcomed when Horton returned to Hull City in May 2007 to work as assistant manager to Phil Brown – City won promotion to the First Division (by then rebranded as the Premier League) and Horton helped achieve the elevation of Hull City to the top table of English football for the first time. Horton remained Brown’s assistant during the two seasons the Tigers spent in the top flight, until Brown was placed on gardening leave in March 2010, and was an important part of the backroom staff that created the amazing scenes experienced in the late Summer and Autumn of 2008, when Hull City defeated established top flight teams, held their own against giants like Manchester United and Liverpool, and momentarily reached the top of the division. In 2008 Nobby Horton finished the job at Hull that he started in 1984.
Brian Horton was born in the Staffordshire coalfields town of Hednesford, his father was a miner and his mother worked in a school kitchen. Brian was a junior at Walsall in the mid 1960s before being released at the age of 17. Horton worked for a builder for four years while playing for his local West Midlands League side Hednesford (the ‘Town’ was restored to the club name in 1974) – it was at Hednesford that fans gave him the nickname “Nobby” due to his similarity as a player to England World Cup winner Nobby Stiles. His final appearance for the Pitmen in 1970 was a victory in the Staffordshire Senior Cup, after which he signed professional terms 30 miles up the A34 at Port Vale. Horton was a first team regular for the Valiants for six years as they hovered around the upper reaches of the Third Division. In total Horton made 258 appearances for Port Vale and scored 37 goals, his best haul coming in 1974/75 when he scored 13 times, before Brighton & Hove Albion paid £30,000 for his signature in March 1976.
Horton was immediately made club captain by Seagulls’ boss Peter Taylor and when Alan Mullery took over for the 1976/77 season the club rose from the Third Division to the top flight with promotions in 1977 and 1979, Nobby contributing 9 and 11 goals respectively in those promotion seasons. Both times Horton was nominated in the PFA Team of the Season alongside 36-goal Brighton striker Peter Ward in 1977 and talented Brighton defender Mark Lawrenson in 1979. By the 1981 close season he had made 252 appearances for Brighton and scored 41 goals. Horton moved to Luton Town in August 1981 to play under Hatters’ manager David Pleat, captaining the Kenilworth Road side to promotion in his first season. Brian was famously on the end of Pleat’s joyous cavort across the pitch on the last day of the 1982/83 season when Luton avoided relegation by defeating, and relegating in their place, Manchester City – a day that ended with Horton brawling in the Kenilworth Road tunnel with Manchester City striker Dennis Tueart. In the 1983 close season Horton discussed a transfer to Chelsea but couldn’t agree terms so renewed his contract at Luton. When Horton moved to Hull City in 1984 he had made 132 appearances for Luton and scored ten goals. Adding in his 47 appearances for the Tigers, Horton’s seventeen year senior playing career between August 1970 and January 1987 saw him score 88 goals in 689 appearances.
In May 1988 Horton was appointed assistant manager at Oxford United under his former Brighton team-mate Mark Lawrenson, by October of that year he had succeeded Lawrenson as first team manager. During the next five years Oxford hovered around the middle to lower reaches of the Second Division in a solid but generally unspectacular way during a time of financial turmoil for the club. In August 1993 Horton was chosen to replace Peter Reid as manager of Premier League side Manchester City, and while that appointment was seen by some as a surprise Nobby performed reasonably well in his two seasons in charge at Maine Road, taking the Citizens to sixth in the Premier League table in December 1994 with an exciting brand of attacking football before a collapse in form similar to that seen at Boothferry Park six years earlier saw City finish 17th in the Premier League. Horton was sacked by Manchester City in May 1995 and was rapidly picked up by Huddersfield Town but after two seasons he was dismissed in October 1997 – the 1995/96 season at Huddersfield again saw a challenge at the top of the League Division 1 table before a collapse in form in springtime saw the Terriers fall away.
In February 1998 he was appointed manager at former club Brighton & Hove Albion, but after less than a year Horton moved on to manage Port Vale, another former side. While he was unable to avoid relegation to the third tier in the first few months at Vale Park he stabilised the club in League Division 2, won the Football League Trophy at Wembley in 2001 with a 2-1 defeat of Brentford and developed to talented future City players – centre back Anthony Gardner, who Horton sold to Tottenham for a £1m fee, and Stephen McPhee, who Brian recruited from Coventry on a free transfer. Boardroom wranglings led to Horton’s resignation in February 2004 and he took over as manager of Macclesfield Town two months later, where he nurtured the uniquely bulky talents of future Tiger Jon Parkin. Horton left Macclesfield in October 2006 and had been out of the game for eight months when he returned to Hull City as assistant manager in May 2007.
When Phil Brown took over as Preston North End manager in January 2011 Horton joined him as assistant manager, a tenure that ended December 2011. Horton returned to manage Macclesfield in March 2012 with the club struggling to avoid relegation to the Conference, but he was unable to reverse the slide and left the club a second time in May 2012. Between 2013 and 2015 Horton was Paul Dickov’s assistant manager at Doncaster Rovers, in 2015 he was reunited with Phil Brown again at Southend United where he worked as the Shrimpers football coordinator. Horton left Southend in 2018 and briefly worked as Brown’s assistant at Swindon at the end of that year, his final act in a nearly 50 year football career.
Date/Place of Birth: 4 February 1949, Hednesford
Hull City First Game: 25 August 1984, Lincoln City A (Division Three), 35 years, 203 days old
Hull City Final Game: 3 January 1987, Plymouth Argyle A (Division Two), 37 years, 333 days old
Walsall, Hednesford (1966-1970), Port Vale (1970-1976), Brighton & Hove Albion (1976-1981), Luton Town (1981-1984), Hull City (1984-1987)
Hull City Record
Career: 47 apps, 0 goalsBrian Horton
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