The boy was a larker… Neil Mann

Each generation has their city era that’s purgatory. For my Dad’s age group it was the late seventies and early eighties as we fell ignominiously to the lowest league for the first time ever and the disinterested Christopher Needler starved the fans of any real hope. I guess for the younger ones now it’s the last three to four years of the Allams ownership with dwindling support, poor communication and a toxic atmosphere at games. Perhaps I’m biased (ok, take out the “perhaps”) but my generation of the latter Dolan years followed by Hateley and David Lloyd makes the two previous catastrophes look like a champion’s league run…

1995-96 was far and away the worst Hull City team I’ve ever seen, several of the players weren’t anywhere near professional levels and their names still strike fear into the hearts of fans of a certain age. Simon Trevitt in and of himself being a case in point, yet somehow the 1996-97 team was standing by saying hold my beer, as a newly relegated City team not only failed to compete in Division 4, but they were lucky to be around a couple of worse teams than us or we could have been headed to the non-leagues. The fan base were infuriated at the lack of any ambition from the then chairman Martin Fish and the appalling long ball style of Terry Dolan whose comfort in the abject failure we were witnessing just inflamed the situation all the more. 1997-98 would see new ownership with well-known tennis related twerp David Lloyd taking the reins and putting in place Mark Hateley and his receding mullet with aims of turning around our fortunes. It didn’t, but you knew that already.

Each stage from 1995 to 1998 just got worse, even when you thought it couldn’t, we were a horribly ran, car crash of a club and disaster after disaster unfurled before our eyes. For a period of time Dean Windass was the shining light that kept us above where we should have been and gave the fans a reason for hope, but when he was inevitably sold, the cupboards were barer than ever… apart from one or two shining lights… and Neil Mann was just that.

In 1993 Manny came to City to no great acclaim, after being released by Grimsby and playing in non-league football for Spalding and Grantham. However in two seasons where City flirted with the play-offs at the third level he was a major contributor. Operating from the left either on the wing or left back he was a bundle of energy, playing on the front foot, making marauding runs from front to back. The City fans loved the energy he brought and the positivity. Twisting and turning, wriggling past full backs and running at opponents. To be fair, he didn’t shirk the physical side either and more than held up his side of the bargain on defensive duties.

He had a sweet left foot, and when he arrived he had Linton Brown and Windass up front, so some decent targets to pick out. Richard Peacock was brought in during the same era and when on form the two made city a threat coming forward. When both strikers were sold Manny continued to be one of our brighter sparks but injuries robbed him time and again. Knee injuries seemed to haunt Neil and he had two long periods out, if memory serves me correctly one was vs. Scunthorpe in a local derby and the second time (and what would prove to be the end in real terms of his run) in 1999 vs Liverpool in the league cup.

I’m sure the ever brilliant Tigertube will have a Neil Mann section, getting after players relentlessly with some audacious moments too. His lob at home to Swansea in a 7-4 demolition was a piece of skill that the City fans rarely glimpsed. Dropping his shoulder after a zig zagging run Manny left the Swans keeper standing as he cheekily pulled out a sublime lob. City players in that era just didn’t do things like that. This was Manny’s party trick, the old grey matter is stretching to think of another carbon copy, I’m going to say it was at home to Orient but I could be wrong.

After he retired City kept him on as a coach in the youth team and I had a really interesting chat with him at a game in the new stadium, where he waxed lyrical about the young talent coming through the club. Later on he’d relocate to Australia where he still resides.

I’ve pontificated on this before, but it’s definitely a factor that when your team are starved of talent, the one or two decent players you do have occupy a special place in your heart. The City team of the mid to late nineties were workmanlike at first and by the end absolutely rotten. The players that managed to shine in those circumstances were few and far between. Neil Mann was one of those that offered hope when there was precious little to be had, entertained when frankly the pub before the game often trumped the talent on the pitch. He gave us everything he had and scraped us out of some holes we might have never got back out of if not for him and a handful of players. Neil Mann was definitely a larker.

Thanks for reading.


Pictured Neil Mann with the next best left winger we had in 1997.