Brian “Nobby” Horton was appointed the Tigers’ player-manager in June 1984 in the aftermath of Colin Appleton’s rapid departure to Swansea City a month earlier, which followed 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 took over a fully formed squad that had been crafted by Appleton, minus only Brian Marwood who had departed to Sheffield Wednesday. The 1984/85 season started steadily before exploding into fine form in mid October after a defeat at promotion favourites Derby County. City embarked on a fourteen match unbeaten run in League and Cup, 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 himself in February 1985 as it became clear City were proper promotion candidates. A run of twelve wins in 15 consecutive League games during March and April 1985 culminated in 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 football scene to unearth young talent – Luton Town striker Frankie Bunn and Portsmouth midfield maestro Bobby Doyle joined early in the season, Oxford United midfield creator Garry Parker and Watford defensive master Richard Jobson were acquired 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), Andy Flounders and set piece specialist Stan McEwan. However in the end just two wins in 9 games during March and April put paid to promotion hopes and Horton’s Tigers ended the 1985/86 season eighth in the table.
Horton’s game time in his second season was greatly reduced and that trend continued into the 1986/87 season when Nobby started only seven games, the last of which was a 0-4 thumping at the hands of Plymouth that came three weeks after Brian 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 nine draws interspersed with five wins in the last 16 League games of the season saw the Tigers ease into the safety of 14th place in the Division Two 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 superb 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 wins against Crystal Palace and Oldham Athletic 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 that 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 thirteen game winless run, plus 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 Town side raised the hackles of City 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 pivotal in defining his future management career, he inherited a decent Division Three side that had fallen short of promotion and in five years moulded it into a squad that was a genuine contender for promotion to Division One. 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 Division One (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 Brian 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 inside forward with an eye for goal at Cannock Athletic (he scored 39 goals in the 1964/65 season) and was involved with Birmingham City until he was 15. In April 1965 he joined Walsall as an apprentice professional and by the early months of the 1965/66 season the 16 year old Horton was playing for the Saddlers’ Reserves side, however he was released by Walsall in the 1966 close season and joined his local West Midlands League side Hednesford (the ‘Town’ was restored to the club name in 1974), combining part-time football with work for a building form. Hednesford were managed by Granville Palin, father of former Tiger Leigh Palin, it was the Hednesford fans that gave him the nickname “Nobby” due to his similarity as a player to England World Cup winner Nobby Stiles. Horton was attracting the attention of Football League scouts during a successful 1969/70 season that saw him net 32 times and his final appearance for the Pitmen in May 1970 was a victory in the Staffordshire Senior Cup.
In June 1970 he signed professional terms thirty miles up the A34 at Port Vale. Horton made his senior debut against Preston North End in September 1970 and scored his first senior goal two months later against Bury. He was a Valiants first team regular for six seasons as they hovered around the middle and upper reaches of Division Three. In total Horton made 258 appearances for Port Vale and scored 37 goals, his best haul coming in the 1974/75 season when he scored thirteen times as Port vale ended the season in sixth place.
Division Three rivals Brighton & Hove Albion paid £30,000 for Horton’s signature in March 1976. He was immediately made club captain by Seagulls’ boss Peter Taylor and when Alan Mullery took over for the 1976/77 season he commenced a period of success that saw the club rise from Division Three to the top flight with promotions in the 1976/77 and 1978/79 seasons – Brian contributed nine and eleven League 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 established himself as a capable top flight player and had scored 41 goals in 252 appearances for Brighton.
Horton moved to Division Two side Luton Town in August 1981 to play under Hatters’ manager David Pleat, captaining the Kenilworth Road side to the Division two title 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 June 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.
Having left Hull City in early April 1988, Horton was appointed assistant manager at Oxford United in May 1988 under his former Brighton team-mate Mark Lawrenson. By October 1988 he had succeeded Lawrenson as first team manager and 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, while his appointment was seen as a surprise by some Brian’s team performed 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. However 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 spring time 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 in January 1999 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 two 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 Town at the end of that year, his final act in football career that spanned over fifty years.
Date/Place of Birth: 4 February 1949, Hednesford, England
Appointed by Hull City: 12 June 1984; 35 years, 129 days old
Left Hull City: 12 April 1988; 39 years, 68 days old
Tenure: 1.400 days
Hull City (1984-1988), Oxford United (1988-1993), Manchester City (1993-1995), Huddersfield Town (1995-1997), Brighton & Hove Albion (1998-1999), Port Vale (1999-2004), Macclesfield Town (2004-2006), Macclesfield Town (2012)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 204, Won 81, Drawn 60, Lost 63, Goals For 283, Goals Against 268
Achievements: 3rd in Division Three, 1984/85 season; 6th in Division Two, 1985/86 season