Colin Appleton was appointed first team manager at Hull City in June 1982, leaving his post as General Manager at Scarborough. Appleton’s appointment came weeks after Don Robinson, former chairman at Scarborough, purchased a majority shareholding at Hull City and it looked a little like a case of ‘jobs for the boys’. If that was indeed the case, it was an inspired inside job because Appleton’s record over his first two seasons in charge of the Tigers was unrivalled in terms of results and building squad value.
Appleton inherited a talented squad from previous manager Mike Smith, a mixture of raw talents (Tony Norman, Billy Whitehurst) and up-and-coming products from the City Juniors side (Brian Marwood, Steve McClaren, Garreth Roberts, Gary Swann). Skilful midfielder Billy Askew was signed by Appleton and he formed a team that was exciting up front and capable of repelling opposition attacks – a potent combination that led to promotion from Division Four in his first season in charge. Colin’s Tigers side lost only six League games all season and were top of the table for four months until two draws in the last three games allowed Wimbledon to breeze past second placed Hull City and claim the title.
Appleton added forward Steve Massey and defender Mike Hollifield to his squad at the start of the 1983/84 season and City remained unbeaten until late October. The Tigers were in the top three until January 1984 when bad weather led to several postponements and ultimately it was the resultant fixture congestion, coupled with occasional odd team selections, that saw City drift into fourth place in the closing weeks of the season. Despite three defeats and a draw in the preceding six League matches the Tigers entered the final match of the season at Burnley with their fate in their hands – victory by a three goal margin would seal promotion and squeeze out local rivals Sheffield United. An oddly tri-partite atmosphere abounded at Turf Moor as supporters of the Tigers and the Blades inhabited different parts of the ground, ultimately the Tigers fell one goal short as a 2-0 victory proved not quite enough for a second successive promotion.
Appleton’s reaction was swift and incisive. Within an hour of the full-time whistle at Burnley he had tendered his resignation and agreed to become manager of Division Three rivals Swansea City. Thus came an abrupt and rather messy end to what had been a superb two seasons in which Appleton piloted the Tigers from the depths of Division Four and recovery from financial ruin, into a squad that was capable of vying for promotion to Division Two.
That promotion was indeed achieved the following season by Colin’s successor Brian Horton, and Hull City were an established part of the Division Two furniture when City chairman Don Robinson dispensed with the services of Eddie Gray at the end of a disappointing 1988/89 season. In May 1989 Robinson turned once again to Colin Appleton and former Tigers full back Dale Roberts, now Bridlington Town manager and assistant manager respectively, in an attempt to rekindle the success of the early 1980s. Alas it wasn’t to be, Appleton inherited an experienced and headstrong squad that paid little regard to either his managerial or carpentry skills around the home team dressing room. After fourteen winless League games Robinson departed Hull City in late October 1989, handing over the chairmanship to fellow City board member, property developer and Needler family representative Richard Chetham – Chetham’s first act was to dismiss Appleton with immediate effect. Only one of Appleton’s 56 Hull City victories came in this second spell in charge – a League Cup first leg tie against Grimsby Town.
Colin Harry Appleton was born and raised in Scarborough on Yorkshire’s North Sea coast and came through the ranks at his hometown Yorkshire League side in the early 1950s. Despite playing outside the Football League, left half Appleton’s footballing talent was attracting considerable attention and he enjoyed a trial at Division One side Leicester City and selection for an FA Youth XI during the winter months of 1953. In March 1954, on the recommendation of former Fox and current Scarborough manager Reg Halton, Colin signed a part-time professional contract at Leicester City, combining playing duties with an apprenticeship as a joiner for a Leicester-based building firm. Colin’s carpentry skills stood him in good stead for decades to come, but his introduction to first team football came in much shorter order – an injury crisis at Filbert Street meant the 18 year old Appleton was drafted into the Foxes’ first team in September 1954 and in four starts he acquitted himself well. After staying on the fringes of the first team for two years he won a regular first team place at Leicester in November 1956, helping the Foxes to win promotion back to Division One after relegation two seasons earlier. Appleton was again on the first team fringes during the 1957/58 season but regained a regular first team place, this time in the top flight, in February 1959.
By the end of the 1962/63 season Appleton had been appointed club captain as Leicester finished fourth in the Division One table and reached the 1963 FA Cup Final, only to lose at Wembley to Manchester United and repeat their experience from two years earlier in 1961 when Tottenham Hotspur delivered Appleton’s first Wembley defeat. These twin disappointments were partly expunged in April 1964 when Appleton captained Leicester City to victory over Stoke City in the two-legged League Cup Final, in the days before this competition culminated in a Wembley face-off. This medal win came days after Appleton had celebrated ten years at the club with a testimonial match against an All Stars XI. He remained with the Foxes for another two seasons but was an irregular starter in the 1965/66 season – when Colin left Leicester City in the 1966 close season he had scored 22 goals in 333 appearances for the club.
In May 1966 Appleton was mulling over offers from Plymouth Argyle and Walsall and nearly joined the Saddlers until a late £8,000 offer from Division Two side Charlton Athletic satisfied both Appleton and the Leicester City board. He spent one season at The Valley and scored once in 29 appearances, but a cost cutting exercise in the 1967 close season meant the Addicks were willing to listen to offers for their captain. In July 1967 he joined Division Four side Barrow as player/manager and led the Cumbrians to an eighth place finish in the 1967/68 season, however in January 1969 he resigned his manager’s post after suffering severe symptoms of influenza that had kept him away from the club for several weeks. He returned to fitness in April 1969 and briefly resumed his Barrow playing career, making six appearances that took his tally for the Cumbrian side to one goal in 49 appearances.
In August 1969 Appleton was appointed player/manager at Scarborough, an ambitious Northern Premier League side owned by former professional wrestler and latter-day fruit machine magnate Don Robinson. With Colin ensuring professional standards from his team while also turning out regularly in the Scarborough defence, he and Robinson oversaw a period of great success for Scarborough that saw the club reach the FA Cup First Round Proper in three consecutive seasons and regularly finish in the top four of the League. Though Appleton was unable to take the further step and win the Northern Premier League title, he did pilot the club to the FA Trophy Final against Wigan Athletic in April 1973 – leading out his side at Wembley as captain for the third time in his career, Appleton finally tasted victory at the national stadium as Scarborough prevailed 2-1.
After close season rumours that he might depart Appleton led Scarborough into the 1973/74 season until November 1973 when he was offered the role of trainer/coach at Division Three side Grimsby Town. Colin remained at Blundell Park until January 1975 when he was sacked after a poor run of results and by June 1975 he was back at Scarborough, who had just been to Wembley again but lost the FA Trophy final to Matlock Town. Appleton was appointed general manager by Don Robinson, an act that upset the first team manager Ken Houghton, and within three weeks Houghton had resigned and left the coast clear for Appleton to resume first team duties. He continued to bring success to club, winning further FA Trophy finals against Stafford Rangers in 1976 and Dagenham in 1977. He also led the club to four more top 5 finishes in the Northern Premier League and oversaw the transition to a fifth tier club when the Alliance Premier League was formed in 1979. In January 1981 Colin resumed his general manager role as Robinson appointed a new first team manager, a role Colin fulfilled for eighteen months until June 1982 when Robinson took over the chairmanship at Hull City and immediately appointed Appleton as the Tigers’ first team manager.
Colin was appointed first team manager at Division Three side Swansea City in May 1984 but he was unable to repeat his success at Hull City and was dismissed in December 1984 after just 22 matches in charge, only four of which ended in victories. In June 1985 he took the helm at Division Four side Exeter City and led the Grecians to two lower mid-table finishes before resigning in December 1987 midway through his third season – he managed Exeter City in 132 senior first team fixtures. In May 1988 Appleton was on the shortlist for the manager’s job at Grimsby Town but two months later he recalibrated his sights and took over as first team manager at Northern Counties East League Premier Division side Bridlington Town, a club owned by colourful chairman and conflagration enthusiast Ken Richardson. Working with assistant manager Dale Roberts, who played for Colin’s Hull City side in the early 1980s, Appleton’s Brid side was top of the table and unbeaten by mid-November 1988 and ended the 1988/89 season in third place. He left the club in May 1989 when he was reappointed manager at the Tigers.
After leaving Hull City in October 1989 Appleton was linked with the managers’ jobs at Gateshead and Goole Town during 1990, but neither appointment came to pass. He scouted players for Manchester City in the early 1990s before finally leaving the game he had served for nearly forty years. Appleton spent his later years living in his home town Scarborough, where he died in May 2021.
Date/Place of Birth: 7 March 1936, Scarborough, England
Date/Place of Death: 31 May 2021, Scarborough, England; 85 years, 85 days old
Appointed by Hull City (1): 8 June 1982; 46 years, 93 days old
Left Hull City (1): 15 May 1984; 48 years, 69 days old
Tenure (1): 707 days
Appointed by Hull City (2): 22 May 1989; 53 years, 76 days old
Left Hull City (2): 30 October 1989; 53 years, 237 days old
Tenure (2): 161 days
Barrow (1967-1969), Scarborough (1969-1973), Scarborough (1975-1981), Hull City (1982-1984), Swansea City (1984), Exeter City (1985-1987), Bridlington Town (1988-1989), Hull City (1989)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 123, Won 56, Drawn 40, Lost 27, Goals For 177, Goals Against 110
Achievements: 2nd in Division Four, 1982/83 season; 4th in Division Three, 1983/84 season