They dared to dream ... and gave us all reasons to believe in Hull
May 6, 2013
So here we go again - but this time it is likely to be so very different.
Hull City AFC have gained promotion to the world’s richest football league on a remarkable day of drama. But the story behind the promotion glory is perhaps even more extraordinary than how it was achieved.
It’s easy to forget that, little over two years ago, Hull City were perilously close to going out of business following disastrous financial mismanagement during their first spell in the Premier League.
At that point, Assem Allam and his son Ehab stepped forward to set in train a sequence of events that ended in the owners being hailed by thousands on the pitch at the KC Stadium after a tortuous wait ended with confirmation of elevation to football’s “promised land”.
The Allams ploughed in £27 million to pay off the taxman and the banks. Fast forward to today, and their “investment” in a business which doesn’t even own its principal property is more than £60 million.
So, why is this time so different from 2008 when Dean Windass’ unforgettable volley propelled the Tigers into the top flight of English football for the first time in the club’s then 104-year history.
Yes, that promotion was thrilling and, for a time, so was the experience of Hull’s footballing heroes mixing with the big boys. Who can forget the astonishing performances at Old Trafford and Anfield or the quartet of victories that made The Housemartins' London 0 Hull 4 album title a wonderful reality?
The two years in the Premier League lifted spirits after 2007’s devastating floods and were solace as the recession hit in 2008.
But, ultimately, Hull City’s first experience of the Premier League came at a terrible cost. The opportunity - and the huge revenues that come with membership of football’s top tier - were squandered. The then owners mortgaged the present and the future on vast wages and exorbitant transfer fees for recruits who delivered appalling value for money. As players like Jimmy Bullard earned millions, the club hurtled towards extinction.
Without the Allams, Hull may not have a professional football club today, let alone one with prized Premier League status.
But now the situation is so very different. Back then, it soon became apparent that Russell Bartlett and his boardroom colleagues did not have the financial means to give the club security. They were also incomers with little affinity with, or commitment to, the city of Hull.
In the Allams the club have shrewd and committed owners, with a family wealth of £317 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. Assem Allam can sometimes be controversial, but Hull is his city - the place where he created his business, made his fortune and raised his family. His love for Hull cannot be doubted. Hull City AFC could not have better owners.
There is also a huge contrast in the dugout. Phil Brown was a novice manager who, despite his relative inexperience, did remarkably well, particularly in the opening months of the Tigers’ debut top-flight season. However, he seemed to get carried away with the glamour of the Premier League - his behaviour reflecting the club’s financial departure from reality.
In contrast, Steve Bruce is a vastly experienced manager, with a decade of stewarding clubs in the Premier League. He is tactically aware, calm, modest and hugely respected. Unusually for someone in the pressure-cooker world of football management, he is also likeable. Journalists say he is a joy to deal with - a sure sign of a man confident in his abilities and comfortable in his job.
Despite his glittering career as a player with Manchester United and two previous promotions to the Premier League, Bruce described taking the Tigers up as one of the proudest moments of his professional life. He has rapidly connected with the club, the city and its people.
Bruce has proven to be a brilliant choice to succeed hometown hero Nick Barmby as Hull City’s manager. Assem Allam will probably consider appointing him as his best-ever business decision.
On the field, Bruce has a young, improving team in need of judicious, not radical improvement. Experience and a cutting edge up front are required - let’s hope the Tigers can unearth a goal-scoring gem from the lower leagues or a star in the making from abroad. Two of this year’s Premier League’s leading scorers, Swansea’s Michu and Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke, prove that bargains can be found.
Swansea also provide a template for how a community club employing financial restraint can prosper in the big bucks Premier League world. Wigan are another example for Hull to follow.
Promotion is wonderful for Hull City and also for the city of Hull. As the most watched football league in the world, the Premier League offers the city a unrivalled global promotional stage.
It will also provide a much-needed boost to a brittle local economy. It’s estimated that Hull City's elevation could inject around £100m into the city and region, predominantly through the TV deals income which will flow to the club.
But the biggest factor is intangible - confidence. Promotion brings a huge injection of confidence and optimism at a crucial time for Hull.
It comes as the city stands on the cusp of a remarkable renaissance. Promotion to the Premier League could be the prelude to a hugely exciting year - a year of sporting, cultural and economic resurgence.
In sport, even before the Tigers kick off in the big league, this summer will see Hull’s Luke Campbell make his professional boxing debut in the city, beginning his quest to add a world title to his Olympic gold medal.
Culturally, Hull is blossoming as a place to enjoy music, artistic expression and heritage. All of that is reflected in a credible bid for the city to be chosen this year to be the UK’s Capital of Culture in 2017.
Economically, Hull is on the brink of a new era of prosperity. Already hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in renewable energy projects in and around the city. Meanwhile, the Humber region’s economic significance and scale as the UK’s “Energy Estuary” is finally being fully recognised.
And the long-awaited decision by global giant Siemens to commit to a wind turbine manufacturing facility on Hull’s waterfront would be the catalyst to an unprecedented wave of investment and job-creation, transforming the economic landscape and employment prospects.
2013 could just be the year when Hull finally arrives as a city to take seriously - as a city of remarkable people doing remarkable things.
None of this is to deny that Hull has many problems. Unemployment, particularly among young people, is cripplingly high and the city has many social and economic challenges. But, equally, there are many, many opportunities and reasons for optimism.
Perhaps because of its difficult history, Hull is blighted by a stubborn scepticism. The city needs reasons to believe in better. The Allams and Steve Bruce believed - they dared to dream, in the often-used phrase. Now their dream has become reality.
So, after Hull City's incredible turnaround from near oblivion to elevation to the richest football league in the world, surely we can all believe that, at last, this is Hull’s time to shine.