Saturday 24th April. It’s around 4:50pm and Hull City have just beaten Lincoln City 2-1 to secure promotion to the Championship. It’s only the 12th promotion in City’s near 120 year history. Half of those 12 successes have come since the turn of the century. As a City supporter since 1980, I’ve been present for eight of those. Only, I wasn’t present…..
My love affair with City started over 40 years ago, as an impressionable 7 year old. Thankfully I didn’t let the first-game 1-0 defeat to Oxford United put me off. The following 20 years or so were probably memorable for all the wrong reasons, languishing in the bottom two divisions of English football with a series of dodgy owners, financial problems and generally average football. The monotony was broken in ’83 and ’85 with promotion campaigns, brief moments of joy for a fanbase used to mediocrity. It would be another near 20 year wait for the next batch, a move to a new stadium being the catalyst for the best period in the clubs history, culminating in the 2008 Play off victory over Bristol City and the clubs first elevation to top-flight football in over 100 years of existence. Further forays into the Premier League would come in 2013 and 2016. By then, I and many other City fans had voted with their feet and boycotted games due to the current owners, the Allam family.
Taking control in 2010, the Allam’s – Father Assem and son Ehab – were at first greeted as hero’s for rescuing City from financial oblivion. Several run-ins with fan groups and the local council later, the heroes had turned to villains. Many old-school fans walked away, painfully breaking their Saturday match-day routine in protest at the owners running of the club.
For the last 10 years or so I’ve got my own personal football fix watching North Ferriby FC. The club currently operate at Step 6 of the Non-League pyramid in the Northern Counties East League. Similar to near neighbours City, Ferriby have had a large portion of their success since the turn of the Century, reaching as high as the National League, ironically under the control of the Allam’s daughter Eman and her husband Steve Forster. This brief spell in the top-flight signalled the start of a downward spiral that within three years would see the old club North Ferriby United go bust and a phoenix club North Ferriby FC form. Prior to winning promotion to the Step 1 National League, Ferriby would have their moment in the limelight beating Wrexham in the 2015 FA Trophy Final.
The difference in supporting a Non-league side to a Football League side has been well written about. The last 20 years or so has seen top flight football propel itself away from being “the peoples game” to a game for Billionaire owners, financed by huge TV contracts. Ticket prices for matches have hit near treble figures, players earn more in a week than the average fan earns in a year. The actions of certain owners in the last week or so – organising a European Super League for England, Italy and Spain’s top clubs – has seen a fan resistance like never before. Finally fans have woken up to the direction football at the top is going.
Back to Saturday. Now despite me no longer attending at City, you never lose the love. Once a Tiger, always a Tiger. It might be cheesy – and many might question how you can be a fan and not go, indeed watch another team altogether – but all those years supporting City the length and breadth of the country never leave you, or the feelings associated with it. In an ideal world of good owners, reasonable ticket prices and decent football, I and many others wouldn’t have walked away. For all Ferriby are my team, my club will always be Hull City. It’s a subtle and yet massive difference. Like any adult relationship, you don’t just turn your feelings on and off, certainly not where football is concerned. For many people a football club is their first love. I’m no different.
At 4:50pm on Saturday as the scores came through, all those feelings came to the fore. Delight at the promotion, tempered by the fact it’s no longer my club to cheer on. Social media was awash with positivity, something not normally associated with City fans ! Certainly parts of the season had seen us falter, but a late run of form sealed first the promotion and then the title, the clubs first for 55 years. Few people would begrudge the fans something to celebrate, but then again football is tribal and the nature of the beast suggests you’re bound to get envious looks from other parts of the country. Personally – like many others – I quite happily raised a glass to the champions. I took to Twitter and posted how I was feeling. I didn’t go overboard as most on there have put the hard yards in this year, watching religiously on i-follow ( a fairly soulless experience, but better than the alternative ) but my overwhelming message was one of eventually returning to the Kcom Stadium one day. Let’s hope that the lifting of current restrictions is the first step in that process, followed by new ownership and a return to the club the whole city can get behind again.