The tabloid headlines following Hull City’s victory over West Ham read predictably…
‘London 0 Hull 4’.
The latest win over a team from the capital (Hull had already claimed the scalp of Fulham, Arsenal and Tottenham earlier in the season) not only replicated the title of the famous 1986 Housemartins album, but maintained the Tigers highest position in the club’s 104 year history — third in the Premiership.
Hull City AFC have dropped just eight points from their opening eight games in their first campaign in the top flight of English football. Not bad for a team written off by pundits (myself included) before a ball had even been kicked this season.
Hull are ten points better off than Newcastle United and have 14 more points on the board than Tottenham Hotspur — a side tipped by many to challenge the top four this campaign. They even managed to avoid the dreaded curse of manager of the month — winning both games since Phil Brown received the accolade for the Tigers performances and results in September.
Hull’s story is more than a mere case of a club exceeding expectation, or an underdog punching above its weight. Their meteoric rise from the bottom to the top division of English football in just five years provides a beacon of hope to others that success can be achieved without a sugar daddy or a programme of unsustainable investment. That even teams with the most un-glamorous of pasts, can one day dine with football’s elite.
The Tigers have had a particularly rough upbringing. In a city steeped in rugby league tradition, the natives have traditionally cared little for their football side. Prior to Hull City’s move to the swanky KC Stadium in 2002, they played at the archaic and ramshackled Boothferry Park, in front of crowds rarely exceeding 5,000. The scoreboard didn’t work and the ground was affectionately dubbed ‘Fer Ark’ in the later days, due to those being the only letters that illuminated on the large ‘Boothferry Park’ sign on the main stand. With sell out crowds at every Premiership match and talk of expanding the KC Stadium’s capacity from 25,000 to 30,000, how those days have changed.
Not only have Hull City AFC’s achievements warmed local interest in football, it has gone a long way to address to negative stereotypes and perceptions of the city of Hull. Kingston upon Hull, to give it its full name, has always had something of an image crisis. It was declared as the UK’s number one ‘Crap Town’ in the book of the same name in 2003 and only two years later came out on top of a study by Channel Four’s Location, Location, Location programme on the worst place to live in the country.
Hull is the ninth most deprived of 354 English districts and has seen a steady population decline over the last few decades. Only London was bombed more than Hull in World War Two and the city was battered, pardon the pun, by the cod wars of the 1970’s, which destroyed it’s main traditional industry — fishing.
Away fans and football writers, most of whom are visiting Hull for the first time, are finding out the city is not as bad as some may have you believe. There’s more than £1.5bn worth of regeneration projects on-going in the city at the moment, including a major expansion of Hull University. As well as the visible improvements to the Humber Quays and Albion Square, a vibrant arts scene livens up this perceived grey and dingy city. No longer can it be joked the best thing about Hull is the road leading out of it. What’s more, there are ambitions plans for the KC Stadium to host World Cup matches in 2018, should England win the bid to host the games. A move that would well and truly rubberstamp Hull’s improvements on the football field and as a city.
For the meantime, Hull City AFC’s focus is on maintaining their excellent standing in the Premiership. Despite everything they’ve achieved so far, Phil Brown’s men are still the bookies fifth favourites for relegation. And there’s scepticism from the English media regarding how long Hull can maintain their good run of form, with Lee Dixon condemning suggestions the Tigers can qualify for Europe as “crazy”. But why not? Ipswich Town proved in 2000-01 that it is possible for a newly promoted team to achieve such a feat – finishing sixth and qualifying for the UEFA Cup on their return to the top flight.
Phil Brown won’t be bothered by the opinions of others – he hasn’t been from day one in the Premiership. His side play a neat brand of passing football, as opposed to the usual hoof-ball approach employed by newly promoted teams to the Premiership. With matches against Chelsea and Manchester United to follow Hull’s trip to West Brom on Saturday, it will be refreshing to see Hull stick to their principles and attempt to play against the big guns, rather than park the team bus in front of the goal as a certain Jose Mourinho might say.
Brown’s use of Giovanni is especially cavalier and again it will be interesting to see if this is altered against Chelsea or United. The Brazilian has played a floating role behind Hull’s strikers this season, which has bared dividends already with three goals and one assist so far this. Why would Brown change anything about his Hull team at the moment? This is a side that blends well from front to back. From central defensive pairing of Paul McShane and Andy Dawson, to the frontline Marlon King and Daniel Cousin, the system works. George Boateng has proven to be an inspired signing in midfield, offering steel, a good engine and a wealth of experience. Former Spurs player Dean Marney has also proven inspirational in the centre of the park.
Hull City’s success to date is a triumph for simplicity. While other Premiership clubs have directors of football, whose role in the English game few will ever understand, the Tigers put all their trust in Phil Brown. No confusion at the KC Stadium over who picks the team, buys the players etc. How Tottenham and Newcastle fans would love to see their club run in the same manner. Playing players in position is another supposed no brainer Hull advocate. You wouldn’t find Robbie Keane playing on the left of midfield for a Phil Brown team, nor Andy Johnson on the right wing.
In the increasing saturated Premier League, dominated by season-on-season by the ‘big four’, Hull’s emergence has been a real breath of fresh air. To be moving towards November with the Humberside club still ahead of Manchester United and Arsenal in the table is a truly joyful sight to behold.
Here’s to Hull happy hour and long may it continue.