Hull City FC turns corner at centenary

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Hull City was considered the worst club ever to have played league football in Britain – but the ‘sleeping giant’ is now awaking to success…

For 100 years, the somewhat geographically isolated East Yorkshire port of Kingston-upon-Hull has been cut off from the footballing elite.

Its club, Hull City AFC, holds the unenviable record for being the largest town in Europe never to have had a team in top flight football.

But now Hull are well and truly on the up. The club won its first promotion in 19 turbulent years last season and have finally made it out of Division Three. They have a brand spanking new 25,000 seater stadium and an extremely well-known and well-respected manager in the shape of Peter Taylor.

They are preparing to attack the newly named Football League One, more commonly known as Division Two. And the second-favourites for the Division Two title will attempt to gain their second promotion in as many seasons with the help of the city’s most famous sporting son, Nick Barmby.

The former England international, who scored the first goal in the reign of both Glenn Hoddle and Sven Goran Eriksson as managers of England, has joined his home town club for the first time.
Barmby has played for no less than five Premiership clubs, but has always expressed his ambition to play in black and amber.

But who would have thought that the former Tottenham Hotspur, Middlesbrough, Everton and Liverpool star would have joined Hull on a free transfer from arch-rivals Leeds, therefore accepting a £28,000 wage cut?

It just emphasises the passion and desire that Barmby has to turn out for his beloved Tigers.

The 30-year-old striker can’t complain one bit about his career so far. He joined Tottenham as a trainee in 1991 and went on to score 21 goals in 89 games. He then signed for Middlesbrough for £5.25m in the summer of 1995 and went on to score eight goals in 42 games before moving to Everton for £5.75m.

After spending just less than four years with one Merseyside club, playing 116 games with 18 goals scored, Barmby secured a historic switch to the other. The move, worth £6m, was less than popular with the Everton faithful.

There were concerns for Barmby’s safety whenever a Merseyside derby day came around. He played 32 times with the likes of his England team-mates, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard, before being snapped up eagerly by Terry Venables, the then Leeds manager, for £2.75m.

Barmby’s international career to date (many Hull locals feel that he is still at an international footballing standard) has been memorable. He has been capped 23 times by his country and has scored a total of four goals. After his debut against Uruguay in 1995, Barmby played a part in both Euro ’96 and Euro 2000 and helped England to their glorious 5-1 victory over Germany in Munich in 2001.

But Barmby’s career turned sour shortly after he joined Leeds. He fell out of favour with Peter Reid and had to settle for playing in the reserves. Not even a short six game loan spell at Nottingham Forest was enough to resurrect his fortunes. In the end, Barmby was delighted to accept a move to the team he has longed to play for.

He told the Hull Daily Mail: "I really wanted to make this happen. I don’t think anyone would know just how excited I am by this. I’ve always wanted to play for my home town club and it’s been a burning desire of mine.

"I haven’t just come here to put the pipe and slippers on. I’d like to think I could be here to stay. It’s where I’ve always wanted to be. I hope I’ve got a lot of years in me and this is long term."

Barmby has undoubtedly become the biggest signing in the club’s 100 year existence. Never before have the Hull City faithful looked forward to seeing a player run out in Tigers colours more.

The Tigers have had a ‘seesaw’ existence to date. Their closest moment to reaching the top flight came in the 1909/10 season. They finished third in Division Two, within a whisker of gaining promotion. They played Oldham on the last day of the season and lost 2-0. The result meant that Oldham piped Hull for second spot by a 0.29 goal average, one of the slimmest margins in football league history.

The club has achieved five promotions and numerous agonising relegations. Their best ever cup run saw them reach the semi-finals, only to be defeated by Arsenal 1-0 following a 2-2 draw.

The most famous match at Boothferry Park, Hull’s home for most of its one hundred year rollercoaster, came in 1948/9 season when they were drawn to cup holders Manchester United.

A record crowd of 55,019 crammed into the ground and witnessed the most controversial moment of the club’s on-pitch history. The winning Manchester United goal was scored by Stan Pearson from close range but, in the build up to the goal, the ball reportedly went over the dead ball line. Despite raging arguments, the goal stood.

Hull City, a club often considered as a ‘sleeping giant’, nearly lost its football league status in 1999. Former Great Britain Davis Cup tennis team captain David Lloyd, chairman of Hull at the time, sold up after becoming very unpopular amongst fans.

A consortium, headed by Sheffield Businessman Nick Buchanan, took over the club and sacked manager Mark Hateley. At this point, Hull were bottom of the Third Division and had won only four of their first 24 league games.

Then entered Tigers defender Warren Joyce, who became player-manager and attempted the mammoth task of keeping the club up. Hull finished 23rd and saved their football league status by the skins of their teeth. The season became known as ‘The Great Escape’ and Joyce became, and will remain forever, a hero.

But that was far from the end of club’s problems. Shortly after the appointment of high-profile manager Brian Little, David Lloyd, who still owned Boothferry Park, sent in the bailiffs after a dispute over outstanding rent payments.

Despite being eventually let back in, Hull faced mounting financial difficulties and was placed into administration in February 2001. Whilst yet another temporary ‘lock out’ took place, the administrators were given just two weeks to find new owners.

Both players and fans realised that the situation was deadly serious. The Tigers had a storming sequence of five victories in a row, a record not achieved for nearly 16 years.

Off the field, the administrators received a number of offers before recommending one potential candidate to the club’s creditors. Both the creditors and shareholders voted to accept the deal and Hull City AFC was saved from extinction.

The Former Leeds United Commercial Director, Adam Pearson, revealed himself as the mystery man. After a devastating play-off semi-final loss and a change of manager twice, the renewed hopes and dreams of the Hull fans became reality three years later with promotion under the leadership of Taylor.

Throughout recent decades, the mention of Hull City to football enthusiasts nationwide has been met with giggles and sniggers. Five years ago, children having a kick-around in one of Hull’s parks wore the red strips of Manchester United, the white of Leeds or the red of Liverpool. Now you’d be hard pressed to find any colour but black and amber.

With a new all-seater stadium, a well-off chairman, a former England manager, a successful former England international and thousands upon thousands of growing supporters, Hull City is most definitely a club on the up.