In June 2002 Ian Ashbee, Cambridge United’s auxiliary left back and midfielder, had a choice between a transfer to Hull City or Barnet. Obviously he chose the former – and there is not a soul on this earth that could have predicted the next nine seasons of heroism, crashing lows, incredible highs and record breaking achievements. Ashbee’s career was defined by his relationships with City’s managers. He was signed by Jan Molby, whose tenure at City ended almost as soon as it started. But Molby had spotted Ashbee’s midfield capabilities during the short period he led the Tigers. In October 2002 City appointed Peter Taylor as manager, a move that transformed Ian Ashbee just as much as it transformed Hull City – in fact, these are two ways of describing the same thing, such was Ash’s influence over the next four seasons. Taylor built a talented fourth tier side around Ashbee’s clenched-fisted leadership and captaincy, and in 2003/04 the Tigers powered their way to promotion. Ashbee’s role was significant, but it was often the goalscoring exploits of Burgess, Allsopp and Elliott that were pivotal to City’s rise up the table. Yet when the season drew to a close and City struggled to find the final win that would confirm promotion, it was Ian Ashbee that stepped forward and curled a delightful twenty yard shot into the top corner of Yeovil Town’s net, unleashing a burst of Tiger Mayhem that would propel the club to unknown heights over the next five years. 2004/05 saw City sweep through the third tier with Stuart Elliott’s goals to the fore. Taylor signed more midfielders but they failed to dislodge Ashbee – a pattern that persisted for several years. In 2005/06 Ashbee suffered his first low, a degenerative bone disease causing him to miss almost the entire season. The gruesome prospect of having holes drilled into his femur to aid regrowth was borne by Ash and he returned to the first team fold in 2006 as captain of a second tier side.
Time to reset. Taylor helmed City to safety in an unspectacular season, then left the club to be replaced by Phil Parkinson. That didn’t last long, and when Phil Brown took over the manager’s seat at City it was Ashbee that was again turned to, to be the club’s talisman. Investment in the prosaic skills of Jay-Jay Okocha, Ray Parlour and tyro striker Fraizer Campbell was clearly pivotal as Brown’s Tigers, relegation survivors in his first season, were turned into play-off candidates. But it was the organisational high standards and constant cajoling of Ian Ashbee that was the bedrock of a third promotion push. Ash again contributed a vital goal towards the end of the season – a winner at home to Crystal Palace that sealed a play-off berth – then stepped back and allowed hometown boys Barmby and Windass to score the goals that secured play-off victory and the long-awaited elevation of Hull City to the top flight.
The records soon fell. Ashbee was one of four City players to play in all four senior divisions for the club – but only Ash had captained the side at all four tiers. And in March 2009 he became the only player to have scored for City in all four tiers. These were remarkable achievements. But then came the second dip – a nasty cruciate ligament injury sustained in May 2009 against Aston Villa meant Ashbee missed an entire season. When he returned, City were relegated back to the Championship and Ashbee was shorn of his swaggering influence. After half a seaon back in the first team Ashbee was moved on to Preston, reunited with his former City gaffer Phil Brown.
This was an inauspicious end to a stellar nine year career. Ian Ashbee was not the best footballer to ever pull on the black and amber for Hull City. But he almost unarguably was the most influential. What a man!
Ian Ashbee was born in Birmingham but signed his first professional contract at Derby County in 1994. He made one appearance for the Rams but did not establish any foothold in the first team, and after a loan spell in Iceland Ash signed for Cambridge United in 1996. In six seasons Ashbee played in over 200 matches for the U’s, often showing his versatility by playing a number of positions.
Ashbee signed for Preston North End in January 2011 but his contract was terminated a year later as the injuries finally caught up with him and he retired from playing. Ashbee remained living in the Hull area for many years after his retirement, selling posh wrist-watches, getting involved in the local non-league football scene and supporting the No to Hull Tigers campaign in 2013.
Date/Place of Birth: 6 September 1976, Birmingham
Hull City First Game: 10 August 2002, Southend United H (League Division Three), 25 years, 338 days old
Hull City Final Game: 22 January 2011, Reading A (Championship), 34 years, 138 days old
Derby County (1994-1996), Ibrottafelag Reykjavikur (1996, loan), Cambridge United (1996-2002), Hull City (2002-2011), Preston North End (2011-2012)
Hull City Record
Career: 264 apps, 12 goalsIan Ashbee
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