Hull City's Ian Ashbee, Unsung Hero of English Football

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Hull City's Ian Ashbee, Unsung Hero of English Football
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

English football is littered with heroes from every generation, from every team, and every division. Manchester City's Bert Trautmann's heroics in the 1956 FA Cup final playing 17-minutes with a broken neck instantly springs to mind.

Steve Bull of Wolverhampton Wanderers is another, who was one of the most prolific goal scorers of his generation. Winning a call up to the England team whilst in the second tier of English football, yet despite this refused to leave the Wolves and play for a Division One club.

However, none come bigger than Hull City skipper Ian Ashbee, who just won an extended contract with the club 'til 2011, even though he is not expected to play again due to injury till March 2010. 

Ashbee was born in Birmingham on Sept. 6, 1976, and was a Birmingham City fan as a kid, but it was with Derby County that he got his first chance in professional football. He made one senior appearance for the Rams in Roy McFarland's last match in charge at the Old Baseball in the 1994/5 season.

He would make a couple of preseason appearances for the Rams under Jim Smith but  would not make another first team appearance for the Midland's club. The following summer, Ashbee was loaned to IR Knattspyrnudeild of Iceland, where he scored three goals in eight games.

In December of 1996 Ashbee made the switch to Cambridge United, joining up with Roy McFarland again, as his first signing. Ashbee would go on to 11 goals in 204 appearances for the club. During his tenure at Abbey Stadium, Ashbee became a fans favourite for his tenacious style of play.

Ashbee was able to play in the midfield holding role and right across the back. It was this versatility that made Ashbee an ever present in the U's 1999 promotion winning team that were runners up in the Football League Division Three.

It was Ashbee's no-nonsense style of play that attracted Hull City's new manager Jan Molby. He signed Ashbee on a free transfer as his third signing of his less than distinguished time with the Tigers in 2002. Despite Molby's inability to progress with the Tigers, Ashbee would go from strength to strength.

However, Ashee's debut for the East Yorkshire club was less than auspicious when he was sent off for a second bookable offence against Southend United at Boothferry Park. His combative no-nonsense style of play quickly made him a great addition to the Tigers team that were clearly a mid-table team in the fourth tier of English football.

His clear authority on the pitch made him an ideal choice to lead the Tigers and Molby made him the team skipper. After Molby was replaced by new manager Peter Taylor, he remained the custodian of the Hull City, Captain's armband.

In Peter Taylor's first game in charge at Torquay United, Ashbee scored a fantastic volleyed goal that was voted "Goal of the Season" by City fans for the 2002/3 season. Unfortunately, his season was cut short when he suffered a season ending ankle injury against Shrewsbury Town.

The 2003/4 season would prove to be the start of the Tiger's rise through the divisions and Ashbee's first historic promotion as Hull City's captain. It was fitting that it was his stunning goal away to Yeovil that would be the goal that secured that elusive runner's up place.

Ashbee would go on to produce another piece of Hull City history when he captained the club to back to back promotion in the following season. The 2004/5 season was were he scored his first goal for the club at home with one of the goals in the 6-1 demolition of Tranmere on the way to winning promotion.

Peter Taylor was so convinced that Ashbee should lead the Tiger's in the Championship that he confirmed him as captain for the Championship campaign before the start of the season. Unfortunately again for Ashbee after leading the Tigers to a fantastic start to the season, leading the Tiger's to ninth in the Championship he was diagnosed with a fractured knee.

Under further examination, it was discovered that his injury was much worse. He was suffering from a osteochondral defect. The doctors weren't saying that he might not play football again, but that he might not walk again.

He underwent surgery which involved having 14 holes drilled in his knee to promote new bone growth to try to save his career. It also mean that he would miss the rest of the 2005/6 season.

Fortunately, for Ashbee and Hull City, the surgery was a success, and after four months of walking with crutches, even more months of rehab, and slow hard work with physical therapists, he managed to recover.

Ashbee said in 2008 of his injury, "I'd felt the knee a year before and it was niggling. I didn't think it was going to be as drastic as it was.

"The bone was coming away so if I hadn't gone in at that point and the bone had come away, I might not have been walking again, never mind playing football. Not walking again is a different scenario to not playing football again, but I was lucky.

"I wasn't thinking about not playing again at that point. I was thinking about not being able to go down to the park with my kids and stuff like that. That's how serious it was, but we were lucky enough that the bone had not come away and we just drilled the holes and luckily enough it grew back".

The season was not a successful one with Parkinson's time with the club far from auspicious but Brown managed to do enough to help the Tiger's survive in 17th place. For some fans it was seen as Ashbee's inability to "step up" that was one of the factors in the club's poor season.
However, Brown stuck with Ashbee as the club captain for the 2007/8 campaign, with fantastic results. The 2007/8 season was the most successful seasons in Hull City's 104 year history. The Tiger's had done so well over the season that they were challenging for automatic promotion for much of the second half of the season culminating in a first trip to Wembley for the club for the Play-off final against Bristol City.
Ashbee had the proud distinction of leading the Tiger's out at Wembley Stadium as the Tiger's beat Bristol City one nil with a stunning volley from Hull native Dean Windass. He also had the added privilege of leading Hull City into the top flight of English football for the first time in the club's history.
Another achievement for Ashbee in winning promotion to the Premiership along with Boaz Myhill, Andy Dawson and Ryan France was wining promotion through all four professional tiers of English football. Ashbee also had the singular distinction of captaining the same club through all four professional English divisions.
So, during the short summer of 2008 the Tiger's rebuilt for the club's first assault on the Premiership. Signing some quality and Premiership experience in Geovanni from Manchester City, George Boateng from Middlesborough, loaning Marlon King from Wigan Athletic as the main new additions to the club.
However, on a beautiful early August afternoon, Ian Ashbee stepped out onto the Kingston Communication's pitch leading the tiger's into their first game as a Premiership club. Brown had once again entrusted the Captain's armband to Ian Ashbee and yet again some fan's questioned his ability to make the step up to the next level.
Could his no nonsense style fit in with the silky smooth skills of Premier League midfielders? The answer was a resounding, yes. In a very tense opener, the Tiger's managed to gain three valuable points in their first outing as a Premiership club, in no short part to the sterling leadership on the field of the calming leadership of Ashbee.
Ashbee's leadership and committed presence was invaluable in the Tiger's fine start to the season that saw the pundit's relegation favourites rise to the lofty heights of third in the Premiership. It wasn't too last though as by the end of November despite one of the finest openings to a Premiership season from a Play-off winning team result's started to slide.
Once again, fans started to question whether Ashbee was able to cut the mustard in the Premiership but it is an interesting fact that during the season the Tiger's only managed to two points when Ashbee wasn't playing.
By the end of April the wheels had totally come of the Hull City wagon. The early season adrenaline and form had dissipated. The established Premiership clubs had discovered how to counter the Tiger's counter attacking style, but the early season victories against the likes of Arsenal, West Ham, Spurs and Newcastle United were enough to ensure survival for another season for the Tigers.
Unfortunately, not for Ashbee who sustained a posterior cruciate ligament injury in the away game to Aston Villa in early May 2009, which has so far seen him miss the start of the 2009/10 Premiership campaign for the Tigers.
During the 2008/9 season with his goal against Balckburn Rover's Ashbee marked another remarkable high point by been one of a very small handful of players to have scored for the same club in all four divisions. He was awarded the Piers Morgan on Sport, Sport's Personality for 2008 at the end of the season beating out Christiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard.
A fitting achievement for such a loyal and passionate player who lives in the community and is always open and willing to talk with fans, but he deserves much more for his achievements so far in a remarkable rags to riches career. Long may it continue.
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