A craggy Scotsman in his early thirties joins your club after a dozen or more seasons turning out week after week in the middle ranking English leagues. Your mind’s eye is immediately drawn to a giant moustache, a wild lifestyle and a no-nonsense attitude to the Laws of the Game. You picture Victor Kasule.
But that wasn’t Bobby Doyle at all – he was in fact a tall, slim, handsome and artistic midfielder with a sublime touch and the ability to conduct the pattern of a game around him. He orchestrated a season in the Second Division that saw the Tigers finish in the top six, twelve months after promotion from the third tier. He scored goals. He created goals. He was a positive and calming influence. He was a fine player in a thoroughly decent team led by the redoubtable Brian Horton.
Born in Dumbarton the day after Boxing Day in 1953, Bobby Doyle’s footballing career started at Barnsley in the early 1970s. An ever present first teamer before he was 20, he remained a first choice on the teamsheet for several seasons at Oakwell and then at Peterborough (where he settled, after his retirement). As the 80s began he had a short spell at Blackpool before impressing the Portsmouth faithful for five seasons with his flair, goals and ultra-reliability. Only as he entered his thirties did Doyle drift out of the Pompey first team, and he joined Hull City in late August 1985 with over 550 senior appearances under his belt, mostly in the second tier of the English game.
After a couple of range-finding appearances, he hit his straps as autumn loomed and soon became the first name chalked up by Brian Horton on the dressing room blackboard. He scored his first goal for City in a 4-0 cuffing of Carlisle in late September, when City were half way up the league table. By the end of 1985 an uptick in form inspired by Doyle found the Tigers in the top eight, where they remained until May.
Perhaps Doyle’s finest hour came on New Year’s Day when he led the midfield charge against the club where he first cut his teeth, Barnsley. Bobby was imperious that day, stroking the ball around the pitch with aplomb, hardly touched by Tyke hand or foot for the 90 minute duration. Early in the second half Doyle received the ball in midfield, weaved his way past a couple of hapless defenders with the dip of a shoulder and sway of the hips, then looked up and stroked the ball over Barnsley keeper Clive Baker from 20 yards. Baker shook his head in sorrow as the ball nestled in his net. City rampaged to a 4-1 away victory. Mauled by Bobby Doyle.
Rising as high as fifth by mid-March, a four match winless run in April saw City fall away to sixth, a dozen points behind an upwardly mobile Wimbledon side occupying the third (pre-play-offs) promotion berth. Talismanic striker-cum-wrecking-ball Billy Whitehurst had left the Tigers in November, but it was Doyle’s assured presence in midfield that did much to maintain City’s momentum as they finish in what, at that time, was among the highest league positions attained in the club’s 82 year history. Doyle was voted Player of the Season by a number of supporters’ organisations, and claimed the coveted Hull City Southern Supporters POTY shield.
Football gave. And football took away. In a July pre-season friendly at Doncaster an appalling lunge by anti-football exponent Dave Cusack broke Doyle’s leg. Bobby needed seven months to recover and when he was gently restored to the first team Horton’s Tigers were in the bottom six, not the top six. After four starts it was clear that Doyle, now reticent and shorn of his imperious ball playing swagger, was not ready or able to continue his professional career. After 628 senior appearances and 50 senior goals he retired in May 1987 at the age of 34.
Bobby returned to his Peterborough home and took work as a milk truck driver. One can imagine that he swooshed milk around the dairy with style and accuracy every time he made a delivery. In 1988 I had the great honour to meet the big man at his home, ostensibly to collect the Player of the Year shield but mainly to genuflect at the feet of the master. He was a friendly, quiet and humble man who gave me half an hour of his time when five minutes would have been polite enough, as he talked about his time at City and what his post-football life was like. Like the tit that I am, I couldn’t avert my gaze from his busted leg to see if it still showed signs of Cusack’s criminality.
Bobby Doyle died at the end of February 2019, at the age of 65, a less than decent innings for a kind and talented man who was central to a memorable and near-record-breaking season for the Tigers. City fans who saw him play will be devastated to hear of his passing.
City fans who never saw him… well, trust me. He was bloody marvellous.
Date/Place of Birth: 27 December 1953, Dumbarton
Hull City First Game: 31 August 1985, Oldham Athletic A (Division 2), 31 years, 247 days old
Hull City Final Game: 14 March 1987, Reading A (Division 2), 33 years, 77 days old
Barnsley (1972-1976), Peterborough United (1976-1979), Blackpool (1979-1980), Portsmouth (1980-1985), Hull City (1985-1987)
Hull City Record
Career: 53 apps, 2 goalsBobby Doyle
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