It was the oldest running pub-quiz question – Name the biggest city never to have hosted top flight football ? – but in 2008 Hull City finally relinquished the title and reached the Premier League on the back of a goal from home town legend Dean Windass. So ended 104 years of footballing mediocrity ( mostly ). However, the visit was brief, and within two years the club found itself in a financial meltdown, rescued by local businessman Assem Allam. As many of you will know, this ownership hasn’t been without it’s problems, Dr. Allam and his son Ehab have driven many City fans away with their bullish attitude and ludicrous business decisions, many seemingly to the detriment of the clubs most loyal supporters.
The next highest placed club in the vicinity of Hull ( although not technically in the city ) are North Ferriby United. Currently batting above their average in National League North, the tiny club from a small East Riding village ( population 3,000 ) are probably best known for last season’s amazing FA Trophy victory over Wrexham at Wembley. Even this momentous occasion wasn’t without drama, as within weeks of the victory, club owners Steve and Eman Forster ( Son in Law & daughter of Hull City owner Dr. Allam ) announced the club was up for sale. A period of uncertainty engulfed the club, and many of the team’s highest earners were released. Talk of a voluntary demotion down two divisions thankfully came to nothing, and by the start of the 15/16 season a squad was assembled, and at the moment of writing sits in 2nd place of National League North. However, another dark cloud is hovering over the club, as owner Steve Forster has had health problems, and once again the club is up for sale, for the second time inside 12 months. Rumoured to be pumping in a six figure sum every year just to insure survival ( gates rarely get above 500, even when Hull City are playing Away ) it’s hard to see many buyers knocking on the door at Church Road.
You have to go a further four steps down the pyramid to find the next batch of Hull clubs, but in the Northern Counties East League ( Step 6 ) Hull is represented by 3 clubs, and this is where the water’s are even murkier. The oldest of these sides is Hall Road Rangers, followed by newcomers ( relatively ) Hull United and Westella VIP. Only one of these sides ( Hall Road ) actually plays in Hull. Located in their new home at Haworth Park, Rangers have arguably had better years on the field, but off the pitch the club is making the best of it’s new surroundings. Their original home was Dene Park, located in Dunswell, but when Hull United were promoted from the Humber Premier League ( HPL ) into the NCEL Division 1 ( Step 6 ), the club were displaced as Hull United owner Jamie Waltham wanted the ground purely for his new club. Hull United were born out of the original HPL side St. Andrews. Local entrepreneur Waltham was the driving force behind United. His vision was football for all ( a catchphrase taken from Assem Allam, who called his purchase of Hull City a gift to the people of Hull ) even nicknaming United “The Cityzens”. Waltham offered free entry for supporters, giving away season tickets to the locals who had fallen foul of the Allam’s regime at City. At one point a car was raffled off amongst those in attendance at a game, drawing a crowd approaching four-figures, unheard of at that level of football. However, upon acceptance into the NCELfor the 2015/16 season things began to unravel. A boardroom coup saw Waltham voted off the board of his own club, and a new Chairman put in place in the shape of local legend and ex-Tigers captain Ian Ashbee. In response Waltham locked the gates to Dene Park, and what followed was a month of claim and counter claim over the validity of his lease to Dene Park. It would later emerge that his 99 year lease was invalid,( the land currently sits empty, awaiting sale for the development of houses ) but Hull United were now homeless and under new direction. Previous talk from the owners and chairman was of reaching the National League within 10 years ( what is it with non-league sides and outlandish statements ! ) and the club were bullish in how they went about it, winding up several teams in the HPL with their attitude and poaching of players. Indeed talk on the terraces was of contracted players and a £50k playing budget, double that of some teams in the division above. A groundshare at local RL side Hull Kingston Rovers lasted less than half a dozen games, as concerns over the pitch and cost of hiring the ground meant United were homeless for the 2nd time this season. A plea to share with anyone in the locality fell on deaf ears, namely at one time tenants Hall Road, whose pitch was criticised by Hull United manager Curtis Woodhouse after their Boxing Day “Hull Classico” defeat. With mounting pressure from the league, and now dwindling crowds ( not to mention points deductions for failing to register players ) United were forced to see out the season playing all their “Home” games on the road. Something that in principal looked like a fantastic idea against a back drop of supporter unrest at the cities professional club, now looks like another failing non-league statistic, on the back of a few individuals megalomania.
Perhaps the crying shame in all this is the fact that in 2017 Hull will be the City of Culture. Millions of pounds will be spent on a lasting legacy, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to it. And yet from a footballing point of view, the City has no representation in the top 5 tiers of non-league. The 8th biggest city in England has only Hall Road playing in it’s boundaries ( Westella play over the water in Barton, Lincolnshire ). Oh for some money from the local council or government to build a facility for community use, that more than one club could use, as a base for football from juniors to 1st Team. If anywhere is crying out for such investment, it’s Hull. The very existence and progression of grass roots football in in the city may well hinge on it. Until then, Hull will prove to be a footballing outpost in more ways than one.