The Tiger With A Muted Roar
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on January 29, 2017
The removal of concessions, a constant name change catastrophe, three managers within the space of twelve months and a refusal to re-invest in an attempt to combat the impossible task of Premier League survival – none of this could have been predicted, in 2010, when the Allam family saved Hull City A.F.C. from slipping into a never-ending downward spiral of obscurity.
Set the clocks back to 2010, Hull, according to Assem Allam – the senior member of the ownership family – were “four days away” from “having a padlock on the game”, alternatively known as the beginnings of ends; administration. Amongst the masses on the concourse, the Allam family were labelled as heroic saviours, and rightly so. Not content with only saving Hull City A.F.C. for the local community, as he suggested: Assem further heaped investment into Hull, which he called his hometown, donating £1,000,000 to Hull Kingston Rovers (one of two local rugby league clubs) whilst also funding improvements for Hull Truck Theatre and Castle Hill hospital situated in Cottingham.
For many, April 2013 was the initial spark which lit, in many’s eyes, an unforgivable, uncontrollable, endless feud with Hull City A.F.C’s – or perhaps Hull Tigers’ – owners. Ehab, and his father, Assem, were to rebrand the club ‘Hull City Tigers Ltd’, and internationally as ‘Hull Tigers’; dropping not only the City and A.F.C. from the clubs’ rightful name but also its entire heritage, which stemmed back to 1904.
Following on from this “business decision”, a fans group, set up to oppose the name change was formed, known as CTWD (City ‘Till We Die); what followed was simply extraordinary. In response to the formation of CTWD, the Allams, specifically, Assem, explained “I don’t mind the singing of ‘City Till We Die’. They can die as soon as they want”, and went on to label the ever-growing group as a “militant minority”, who were “hooligans”. Obviously, this sparked further protests, with the ‘City Till We Die’ chant featuring at every game, home or away, infallibly at 19:04 – the club’s founding year.
Continually protests occurred against not just the name change, but now also the Allams’ ownership itself, with cries of ‘Allam Out’ a common feature of any fixture. Nevertheless, the owners, were not to revert from their mission and continued to explain, to anyone who would listen, that in order “for the club to become financially self-sustainable” the name change would be mandatory and that “no one on earth is allowed to question my [Assem Allam] business decisions”. A year later, April 2014, the FA council formally rejected the club’s application for a name change – to which the Allams, of course, appealed, claiming they “owe it to the silent majority…to fight on”.
Continuous rejection was all the name change was ever met by, that, plus a chorus of boos and unsavoury chants ordering the derailment of the Allam ownership: 2010’s actions were unseeable anymore. The problems in the boardroom were reflected on the pitch, despite Steve Bruce’s best efforts, the Tigers were condemned to Championship football for the 2015/16 season; only for them to unimaginably bounce straight back via a Mo Diame Wembley wonder goal in the play-off final. Whilst City fans have forever been plagued with these constant ownership problems, what cannot be denied, is the remarkable memories that Wembley has brought them, whether that be Dean Windass’ unforgettable volley, their most recent promotion or the 2014 FA Cup Final, in which they led 2-0 after eight minutes, where they were most definitely not the bridesmaids that all had presumed.
After the 2016 play-off final victory over local rivals Sheffield Wednesday, despite the name change and ownership issues, there was a sense of excitement surrounding the club, and in fact the city as a whole, which was to become the UK’s 2017 ‘City of Culture’. In typical fashion, the excitement quickly wore off and patience ran thin, as Steve Bruce – whom I see as a club legend following on from his guidance to the club’s first ever European experience – parted with the club, later it was suggested that Bruce could not cooperate with the club’s ownership regime, and ultimately, had to go.
Skip forward to August 2016 and Hull still hadn’t made a first team signing, going into their opening fixture against reigning Premier League champions, Leicester, with just thirteen fit senior players, including two ‘keepers. No one would have foreseen a 2-1 victory over the current champions, thanks to Adama Diomande and Robert Snodgrass’ goals, followed by a repeat performance away at relegation candidate, Swansea, securing an almost perfect away display, coming out 2-0 victors. At this point, City fans had learnt to not get carried away and despite caretaker manager, Mike Phelan – who ended up spending more days as caretaker manager then official full-time head coach – working wonders, the fact was inevitable, without serious investment the club’s fate would be sealed, before the month of August had come to a close; relegation.
Deadline day signings of Markus Henriksen, Ryan Mason, and David Marshall were enough to give fans hope, albeit minute amounts. Mike Phelan’s, or ‘Mick’ as many players affectionately called him, luck with the owners ran out very quickly following on from nine straight defeats. Whilst this may seem justifiable, contextually, Mike Phelan had still been doing extremely well with the threadbare squad which he had acquired with very little allowance made for investment, from the Allams, who were yet to really back their manager and were still, as ever, subject to constant protests, especially due to another of their ‘interesting’ “business” theories.
To further fuel the fire, the club had announced they were to introduce a membership scheme, in which customers – or fans as many other clubs would call them – were to pay monthly in a zone system which would apparently reduce the cost of viewing football for the majority. The regime that was introduced, saw adults save money, however, this slight amount would not justify the externalities of the membership introduction. Concessions were to no longer exist in the Allam’s idealistic world. To explain this further, there were to be no discounts offered on tickets, at all: whether you were a fan aged 4, 34, or 84, you were all to pay the same, adult, price. Not only does this price out many of the older generation, which includes many elderly supporters who would have been following the club 50+ years, it also priced out juniors, the future of the football club. Whilst football is the prime example of a customer’s brand loyalty (the fan to the club, of course), many were pushed away refusing to line the back pocket of the Allams.
The never disappearing disdain towards the Egyptian owners was epitomised before the home game versus Crystal Palace, as John Oxley, a fan of Hull City invested £2,500 pound of his own money in becoming a match day sponsor. On the match day versus Alan Pardew’s Palace side, before kick-off, Oxley nervously strolled onto the KCOM Stadium’s turf and prior to the pre-match photo with all of the corporate sponsors of the day, unveiled a banner calling for the Allams to leave and the removal of concessions, parading it around the centre the circle, much to the amusement of the onlooking crowd. The banner was swiftly removed from Oxley, the perpetrator and he was handed a ban from all KCOM events. Again, from an outsider looking in, this may seem pathetic, a minute occurrence in fact, but what it outlined was the views of nearly every City fan, young or old, who had grown fed up with the running of their club.
Surprisingly, following Phelan’s enforced departure, Ehab recruited Marco Silva, formerly of Estoril and Olympiakos. Many pundits, including the likes of Paul Merson and Charlie Nicholls scoffed at this decision to appoint yet another foreign manager in the English top-flight, However, so far, to Ehab and the Allam’s credit, Marco Silva has remarkably turned Hull’s fortunes around so far, defeating Manchester United in the cup most recently. Hopefully, this will continue.
However, as expected, alternatively, the rough always comes with the smooth at Hull City and despite Silva’s installation and Ehab’s insistence that they are “not a selling club”, the non-selling club saw Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass depart, arguably City’s two best players, for a combined value of £20.2 million to West Brom and Crystal Palace respectively. For the former, Livermore, £10 million seemed like a reasonable fee for a player who only as little as two years ago, was banned from football following a problem with cocaine – it was assumed that he may never play again at that point, so two years later to garner such a fee for him, should not be looked down upon. The latter, Snodgrass’ departure, is extremely disappointing, whilst many fans would complain, rightly, that Snodgrass may just be chasing the pound signs, I, personally, would point out who in their right mind would want to play under the current ownership, who previously claimed deals were done for the sale of the club, but kept on altering the conditions of the financial incentives surrounding the deal, therefore ultimately will a deal ever become complete? Do the owners actually even want to sell the club?
One will never know.
What remains unseen, is whether the club will re-invest the finances sourced from selling the club’s key players. Whilst many may suggest the obvious answer would be yes, it is entirely likely that the money could never be seen again, as the Allams continue to strip the club of its assets, in an attempt to protect, or increase their personal financial investment. The club’s asset stripping has always been a common theme, when the Allams, upped the cost to use the Airco Arena, an indoor sports centre next to the KCOM, this effectively blocked multiple sports groups from the use of the facility, including disabled footballers and young gymnastic groups, once again aggravating the local community the one which they had previously attempted to appease through financial support, and also displayed the extent to which the owners would go to secure finance.
Most recently, the negative air clouding the boys in black-and-amber looked ever cloudy, as despite being in their first ever League Cup semi-final, the club only sold 16,000 tickets (including 2,000 odd Manchester United fans), as fans continued their refusal to line the owners back pockets.
Ultimately, the Allams saved the club from the brink of administration, although, sadly (for them), they were never be remembered for that, what they will be remembered for is their endless attempts to alter unalterable mantras surrounding many a football club, and that, is why Hull City, if they are not careful, are on the verge of something extremely dangerous.