A legendary playmaking forward during the Tigers successful years in the 1960s and early 1970s, Ken Houghton had returned to Hull City in May 1976 in a youth team development role, working under the management of John Kaye. When Kaye, and his short-lived successor Bobby Collins, departed the Hull City hot seat during a tumultuous 1977/78 season it was Houghton that accepted the caretaker manager’s role at Boothferry Park in February 1978 before being appointed to the role on a permanent basis in April 1978.
Houghton was not able to arrest the decline that saw City relegated to Division Three at the end of the 1977/78 season, but during the 1978 close season he initiated a squad rebuilding exercise that bought several talented players to Boothferry Park, notably forward Keith Edwards who signed from Sheffield United. The Tigers started the 1978/79 season in fine form and were top of the Division Three table in early September 1978. A nine-match winless run between mid-September and the end of October saw Houghton’s side drift into the bottom six but an unbeaten run comprising seven wins and three draws in March and April 1979 reversed that decline and City ended the season in eighth place after beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 on the final day of the season.
The Tigers started the 1979/80 season poorly, immediately being dumped out of the League Cup by Sheffield Wednesday (a rare occurrence of three consecutive first team fixtures against the same club) then failing to win any of the opening four League games. Consecutive early September wins against Sheffield United and Bury created some relief but an eleven match winless streak that started in mid-October and culminated in an early December 2-7 defeat at Brentford saw the Tigers again sink into the bottom six. Houghton was dismissed after this Brentford shellacking, drawing an end to his sixteen year association with the club and his employment in professional football.
Born in Rotherham, Kenneth “Ken” Houghton was on Sheffield United’s books as a youngster but opted for a coal mining career at Silverwood Colliery when no professional football contract was forthcoming. He joined Division Two side Rotherham United on amateur terms at the start of 1960 and signed his first professional contract in May 1960. He made his Millers debut in September 1960 against Middlesbrough and when he returned to the first team two months later he started to score regularly – his first goal came against Charlton Athletic in November 1960. He ended his first senior season with 14 goals and played in the League Cup semi-final first leg against Shrewsbury Town.
In August and September 1961 Ken started both legs of the League Cup final that the Millers lost 2-3 on aggregate to Aston Villa, and went on to lead the line for Rotherham for the rest of the 1961/62 season. He continued to be Rotherham’s main striker for two further seasons, netting his first hattrick in December 1963 against Bury and repeating the feat in October 1964 against Cardiff City. By December 1964 Houghton, already linked with a move to Division One side Newcastle United, was seen as one of the most promising forwards in Division Two having scored 68 goals in 176 appearances for the Millers. It was therefore a considerable coup for Division Three South side Hull City to pay £40,000 – broadly equivalent to £1 million in early 21st century money – for his signature in January 1965, the culmination of Cliff Britton’s managerial masterplan to assemble a high quality forward line that would equip the Tigers to challenge the higher reaches of Division Three and, it was hoped, Division Two as well.
Matched with the raw power of Chris Chilton, the prowess of Ken Wagstaff and the creativity of Ray Henderson and Ian Butler, Houghton was the mastermind whose powerful shot and eye for a pass drew the plan together. He quickly struck up a rapport with his fellow strikers, scoring his first City goal in February 1965 against Queens Park Rangers. In the 1965/66 season, his first full season with the Tigers, Houghton was pivotal as City swept most teams aside with a storm of attacking threat and scored over 100 league goals – 22 of which were contributed by Ken.
Restored to the second tier, the Tigers continued to excel but Houghton missed much of the second half of the 1966/67 season due to a stomach muscle injury that needed full bed rest to heal. He returned at the start of the 1967/68 season and was again a first team regular but with a somewhat reduced goal threat – though that didn’t prevent Ken from netting a hattrick against Millwall in November 1968. He missed much of the second half of the 1968/69 season due to a knee injury before again returning to first team action the following season, bagging another hattrick in April 1970 against Birmingham City. He remained a part of the first team for another three seasons although more injuries hampered him as he entered his early 30s. By then he was a venerated part of the Boothferry Park furniture, a part of two extremely successful City sides, in the mid-60s and early-70s, and one of the club’s highest goalscorers in its history.
Houghton left the Tigers in May 1973 in a swap deal that saw Scunthorpe United’s centre half Steve Deere join the Tigers, scoring seven goals in 44 starts for the Division Four side during the 1973/74 season. In May 1974 he dropped out of the Football League and joined Northern Premier League side Scarborough as player/manager – after a season at the top end of the NPL table Houghton led out the Seadogs at the FA Trophy Final in April 1975, his first career appearance at Wembley Stadium, after defeating Bedford Town in the semi-finals. Scarborough lost the final 0-4 to Matlock Town and two months later in June 1975 Colin Appleton, the man that Houghton had replaced a year earlier, was appointed the club’s general manager – Ken, feeling pushed out of the club, resigned. In July 1975 Houghton joined Yorkshire League side Bridlington Town as player/coach and over the next few months he bought several of his former Scarborough players into the Brid squad before joining the Hull City coaching staff in May 1976.
After football, Houghton was a manager at a freight forwarding company based at Immingham on the south bank of the Humber.
Date/Place of Birth: 18 October 1939, Rotherham, England
Appointed by Hull City: 10 February 1978; 38 years, 115 days old
Left Hull City: 12 December 1979; 40 years, 55 days old
Tenure: 670 days
Scarborough (1974-1975), Hull City (1978-1979)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 92, Won 27, Drawn 27, Lost 38, Goals For 109, Goals Against 132
Achievements: 8th in Division Three, 1978/79 season