Former England right half Cliff Britton was appointed Hull City manager in July 1961, eight weeks after previous boss Bob Brocklebank had resigned and taken a job at Bradford City. Brocklebank’s tenure was characterised by financial constraints and limited on-pitch aspirations during the late 1950s, whereas Britton’s appointment was a signal that chairman Harold Needler was ready to back his manager with the resources needed to progress through the leagues, as had been the case 13 years earlier when Raich Carter was appointed. After a slow start Britton didn’t disappoint his new paymasters.
At the start of the 1961/62 season Britton bought in reinforcements to the forward line in the shape of Ray Henderson from Middlesbrough and John McSeveney from Newport County, and the Tigers began the season well before poor form in the winter months saw the club finish the season 10th in the Division Three table. Further resources were added in the 1962/63 in the shape of Len Sharpe from Scunthorpe United and ex-Everton and Irish international forward George Cummins, but the outcome was another 10th place finish. The 1963/64 season saw a similar pattern emerge – early signings in the form of Dennis Butler, a full back from Chelsea, Ron Rafferty, a striker from Grimsby Town and Maurice Swan, a goalkeeper from Cardiff City, all strengthened the squad, and young talent from City’s juniors squad continued to be introduced, but results on the pitch remained stubbornly variable as the Tigers ended the season in eighth position.
In the 1964/65 season a new approach emerged that saw Britton encouraged to invest heavily in his squad, backed with a greater level of funds made available by chairman Harold Needler. The forward line with reconfigured with Terry Heath joining from Leicester City, Ken Wagstaff joining from Mansfield Town and both Ian Butler and Ken Houghton signing from Division Two side Rotherham United. The latter three attracted significant transfer fees that were akin to £1 million signings in early 21st Century money. The impact was palpable, these squad additions coupled with the improving resources that Britton had already assembled – none more so than young centre forward Chris Chilton – fired the Tigers up the Division Three table. Between mid-December 1964 and the end of February 1965 City won eleven of 15 League games and rose from mid-table to first place. That form sustained until mid-April when two defeats at Southend United and Mansfield Town allowed other teams to overtake and the Tigers finished in fourth place, just a point behind promoted Bristol City.
Undeterred, the Tigers tore into the 1965/66 season in fine style. Although sometimes open at the back – York City came to Boothferry Park in mid-September 1965 and struck four goals, a feat Swansea Town repeated a month later at Vetch Field – City’s forward line was irresistible. The Tigers went second in the table in late November 1965 and remained in the top 2 for the rest of the season, while an impressive Cup run saw Division One side Nottingham Forest defeated on the way to a Sixth Round tie against Chelsea – City took the Londoners to a replay before losing 1-3 at Boothferry Park. A May 1966 1-0 victory over Southend United, the club that scuppered City’s promotion a season earlier, sealed the Division Three title for Britton’s men and the city of Hull was once again optimistic about its footballing future.
Elevated to Division Two, City’s momentum saw them reach the top of the table when Wolves were defeated in mid-October 1966. But that win was followed immediately by five defeats that saw the Tigers’ challenge fade and despite a partial revival in February and March 1967 the club ended its first season back in the second tier in 12th place. The 1967/68 season saw a drop in form and the Tigers finish in 17th position, but Britton’s side bounced back in the 1968/69 season to finish 11th. Despite this revival it was apparent that Britton had reached his ceiling as the Tigers’ first team manager and in November 1969 he was elevated to a General Manager role while the Directors took charge of day to day decisions and commenced a search for a new manager. In many ways Cliff Britton followed in the footsteps of Raich Carter nearly 20 years earlier, galvanising a talented squad and a sizeable fanbase to bring Division Three promotion to Hull City – but both Raich and Cliff ultimately proved unable to take that next step and challenge for promotion from Division Two. Despite that, Cliff remains a totemic figure in Hull City’s history.
Clifford Samuel Britton was born in Hanham, then a Gloucestershire village near the River Avon known for the manufacture of boots, now a suburb of Eastern Bristol. His father was a bootmaker though Cliff was a joiner by trade as a young man. He played football for local sides in Hanham and Bristol before joining Bristol Rovers in August 1928 after an April 1928 trial for the Reserves. He made his first team debut against Swindon Town in December 1928 and by the end of the 1928/29 season Britton was Rovers’ regular right half. A year later in May 1930 Cliff’s tally for Bristol Rovers had risen to two goals in 53 senior appearances and top flight scouts were closely following his progress.
In June 1930 Britton transferred to Division Two side Everton, who had just been relegated for the first time in the club’s forty year history. He made ten appearances in his first season as the Toffees bounced back to win the Division Two title, then became a first team regular for the next six seasons as Everton hovered around the middle of the Division One table. Britton was an expert playmaker who was crucial to many of the goals scored by arch-striker Dixie Dean, who joked that Cliff’s crosses were so well delivered he ensured the laces faced away from Dean’s forehead. In April 1933 Britton (and Dean) won an FA Cup winners’ medal as Manchester City were defeated 3-0 in a Wembley final notable for being the first to feature numbers on the players’ shirts.
Between September 1934 and May 1937 Britton won nine international caps for England, scoring once against Hungary in December 1936. But when Everton won the Division One title in the 1938/39 season Cliff started only one match to take his Toffees tally to three goals in 242 appearances. By the time World War Two commenced in September 1939 Cliff had returned to Hanham and worked as a joiner.
During the War Cliff was a physical training instructor for the Army, initially stationed in South Wales which led to him making regular wartime league appearances for Cardiff City in 1940 and 1941. He also played for Liverpool, Everton, Northampton Town and Aldershot during the War as well as playing in several Army representative XIs and featuring in England wartime international squads. During 1944 Britton served the Army in Normandy and was elevated to the rank of sergeant-major instructor, when he returned in early 1945 he was stationed in Yorkshire.
In May 1945 Cliff travelled across the Pennines and was appointed first team manager at Division Two side Burnley. When the Football League resumed in the 1946/47 season Britton’s Burnley side won promotion to Division One and reached the FA Cup Final, beating top flight sides Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Liverpool before losing 1-0 to Charlton Athletic in the Wembley final. Cliff led Burnley to third place in Division One in the 1947/48 season, his pre-war reputation as a skilful and elegant player was embellished by an excellent start to his managerial career.
In September 1948 Britton was appointed first team manager at former club Everton – he had led Burnley in precisely 100 matches of which 49 ended in victory. Everton were languishing towards the bottom of the Division One table and Britton was unable to quickly rectify that, though he did pilot the Toffees to the FA Cup Semi-Final in the 1949/50 season only to lose to arch rivals Liverpool at Manchester City’s Maine Road stadium. Everton finished bottom of Division One in the 1950/51 season and Britton spent three seasons rebuilding his side, reaching a second FA Cup semi final in the 1952/53 season (losing to Bolton Wanderers) then winning promotion back to Division One in the 1953/54 season. He consolidated Everton in Division One but grew disillusioned at Goodison Park and resigned his post in February 1956 despite his players writing to the board to plead for his retention. He managed Everton in 341 senior matches.
After a short sabbatical Britton returned to football in late August 1956 when he accepted the manager’s role at Division One side Preston North End. He led Preston to two top three Division One finishes in the 1956/57 and 1957/58 seasons but by the 1960/61 North End were struggling at the foot of the Division One table – Britton resigned in April 1961 after 230 matches in charge. He took the helm at Division Three side Hull City three months later.
Cliff remained general manager at Hull City, overseeing the work of team manager Terry Neill until October 1971 when he left the club a few months after his original ten year contract expired. Britton remained living in Anlaby, where he died in December 1975.
Date/Place of Birth: 27 August 1909, Hanham, England
Date/Place of Death: 1 December 1975, Anlaby, England; 66 years, 96 days old
Appointed by Hull City: 12 July 1961; 51 years, 319 days old
Left Hull City: 7 November 1969; 60 years, 72 days old
Tenure: 3,040 days
Burnley (1945-1948), Everton (1948-1956), Preston North End (1956-1961), Hull City (1961-1969)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 421, Won 173, Drawn 105, Lost 143, Goals For 712, Goals Against 612
Achievements: Champions of Division Three, 1965/66 season, FA Cup Sixth Round, 1965/66 season; 11th in Division Two, 1968/69 season