THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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The striker, who died this week, caught Hull’s attention after his goals against them in the 1980-81 FA Cup and he went on to be a ray of light in a rotten team

4 October ~ In December 1980, a second round FA Cup tie between Third Division strugglers Hull City and Northern League champions Blyth Spartans kicked off at Boothferry Park. Two centre forwards scored in a 1-1 draw – Keith Edwards for Hull, Les Mutrie for Blyth. Three days later, a replay in the north east. It ended 2-2 after extra time, and among the scorers were Keith Edwards for Hull and Les Mutrie for Blyth.

Six more days later, Edwards didn't score but Hull, at neutral Elland Road, finally found a passage to the third round, again after extra time, thanks to goals in a 2-1 win from Craig Norrie and Stuart Croft. The Blyth scorer was, again, Les Mutrie, via a penalty. Hull had won the tie but Mutrie, with a goal in all three games, had won the attention. Another four days later, Boxing Day 1980, and Hull were playing Rotherham United in the Third Division. Edwards scored in a 2-1 defeat and his strike partner that day was Mutrie.

Les Mutrie was 29, had only briefly played League football before (for Carlisle in 1977), and was now a record £30,000 signing by Hull City who had decided, not unwisely, that the tall, uncompromising but obviously clinical centre-forward who had given their defenders so much bother over nine days and 330 minutes of FA Cup football would be useful in their team. Merely hours after scoring the last of his three goals against Hull, he was signing for them. And so began a short but clinical spell in black and amber that would endear him to the Tiger Nation forever, leading to an outpouring of grief following his death from cancer this week, aged 66.

Under ex-Wales boss Mike Smith, Hull were pretty rotten in 1980-81 and Mutrie became the fourth of four strikers desperately trying to find any kind of consistency in front of goal. Although the defence was dire and ultimately led to the club's first-ever relegation to the Fourth Division, there had been a period earlier in the campaign where, in a run of 12 league games, Hull had won one, lost nine (including seven in a row) and scored just twice.

Mutrie scored five times that season, making him the second-highest scorer behind Edwards, the only player in the side clearly punching above his weight. The following season, with Edwards now back at Sheffield United, Mutrie plundered 27 in a remarkable campaign that saw him score 14 goals (including four against Hartlepool) in nine consecutive league games. Not even the greatest scorers in the club's history had been able to notch up a sequence like that, and it remains a club record. And Mutrie's brilliance in front of goal was against a backdrop of financial crises that culminated in the announcement over the winter that the club would be liquidated at the end of the season if a buyer could not be found.

The summer of 1982 saw a saviour step in, Don Robinson, and a new manager take over in Colin Appleton. The team were prolific all over the pitch and Mutrie scored 12 and made goodness knows how many more as the Tigers finished runners-up in 1982-83 and earned promotion back to the Third Division. The Mutrie story had now peaked. He managed five more in the first three months of the 1983-84 season before Appleton sold him to Colchester.

He didn't stay long there, and after returning to his native north-east with Hartlepool, he played one season before retiring at 34. He lived a quiet retirement while enjoying the lifelong adulation from Blyth fans for his exploits there but those who took trips to Boothferry Park during days that were both awful and exultant in the early 1980s regard him as a legend just as equally, and it was thanks to his exploits for one, against the other, that both sets of fans could love him together. He will be hugely missed. Matthew Rudd

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