Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A Quiet Summer

Spending the off-season in turmoil is nothing new to Hull City. Many a summer has been spent fighting off administration, attempting to gain access to our own ground or simply coping with the latest turnover of owners, managers or players. Rarely in the history of Hull City has a tumultuous period been so needless and so self-inflicted. The Tigers finished the 2011/12 season in 8th place in the second tier of English football, a finish bettered less than a dozen times in the clubs 108 year history. There was plenty of cause for optimism; we had a young and hungry playing squad led by a loyal and committed young manager playing an attractive brand of football. Thanks to the generosity of the Allam family, the club’s once-dire financial situation could be described at the very least as stable.

Then, like clumsy cowboys, the Allams shot themselves in the foot. Nick Barmby was suspended by the club. The Allams took offence to remarks he made in media interviews after the Tigers trip to Portsmouth. Barmby urged the owners to share his ambition and take the club to the next level. In doing so, he also intimated that funding previously promised in the January transfer window had not been provided. It wasn’t the wisest thing for the manager to say whether it was true or not. The reaction of the owners was baffling. Instead of sorting out the situation behind closed doors and forming a united front, they suspended Nick Barmby. 

Taking personal feeling out of the equation and the fact that Nick is a club legend and genuinely “one of our own” the owners had taken a manager they spent a great deal of time convincing to take the job, a manager who’d provided continuity after the mid-season departure of Nigel Pearson and a manger who the players trusted and respected and dismissed him over a minor row. The disciplinary and appeal processes were a charade. The owners’ damaged ego meant their decision was made and was final. Nick Barmby’s stubborn nature meant he was never going to accept a u-turn once he’d been wronged. If firing a local legend as manager wasn’t a large enough public relations nightmare the Allams also terminated the consultancy agreement with club saviour Adam Pearson. The reasons have never been revealed and may well be valid (if rumours are to be believed) but the statement that appeared on the club’s official website stating only that Pearson’s agreement had been terminated “without notice and without compensation” was vulgar.

While our Championship rivals were busy preparing for the new season, trimming squads, opening contract negotiations and starting player recruitment, Hull City hit the pause button. It took a week for the owners to confirm the sacking and another fortnight for the sham appeal process to conclude. It would be another three weeks before a new manager took charge. The Allams shouldn’t be criticised for taking their time making a crucial decision but for causing the six week hold-up in the first place.

It was an excruciating six weeks for Tigers’ fans because, aside from the dismay over the decisions being made, the whole saga took place in near silence. An article appeared in the Hull Daily Mail in early May which was so one sided it could have been written by the Allams. Confirmation of Nick Barmby’s sacking and the end of the appeal process were the only other communications between owners and fans in the six weeks. And this at a time when the fans hadn’t received season ticket renewal forms. Some may suggest it’s quite the noble act for the owners not to ask fans to stump up the money for season tickets before slaying one of their favourite sons. In the realms of the football business it’s extremely odd. The renewal forms did eventually make it through with the still seething Tigers fans asked to pay 15-20% more for season tickets, 150% if disabled. Those in the South Stand were told that it was to become the football equivalent of a crèche without any consultation. And all the while, the club didn’t have a manager, the fans had no communication from the owners and the media, local and national, threatened us with candidates such as Kevin Blackwell and Gary Megson.

The Allam family saved Hull City football club. They committed over £50m to buying the club and paying off existing and future debts. That’s FIFTY MILLION POUNDS. Their contribution to the football club must never be under-stated and never taken for granted. Without the Allam family, Hull City would exist as a lower division football club if it existed at all. The Allams earned, and deserved, a lot of goodwill from the people in Hull and East Yorkshire. In six weeks, they almost wiped it out. They aren’t above valid criticism. Complaining that a man who’s spent £50m on the football club won’t spend £3m on a new striker isn’t valid criticism. Complaints over the treatment of Nick Barmby, the season ticket fiasco and the lack of respect for the paying customers most certainly are.

The summer finally began moving in mid-June as Steve Bruce became the 38th permanent Hull City manager. Bruce, best known for captaining Manchester United to their first English league for 26 years (and the first of many Premier League titles), has extensive experience in the second tier having managed Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and Birmingham City at this level winning two promotions with the latter. That experience of taking a team up from the Championship was one of the key items on the Allams list of qualities they wanted from the next manager. They don’t appear to be concerned with appointing someone who’ll provide continuity and will play in the attractive manner that Nigel Pearson established at the KC and Nick Barmby was so keen to continue. In fact all the talk of continuity and of appointing members of the coaching team who would remain in place should a manager up and leave that the Allams were so keen to stress after Pearson left was forgotten. Stuart Watkiss, Steve Wigley, Sean Rush and Kevin Kilbane have all followed Barmby through the exit door.

Instead the reins have been handed over to Steve Bruce. He’s appointed his own backroom staff. Steve Agnew left Middlesbrough to become Bruce’s assistant manager while Bruce raided his old club Sunderland to take on Keith Bertschin as first team coach and Stephen Clemence as reserve team manager. While contrary to their original plan this is normal practice for a football club. Bruce will be in charge. He’s an experienced and well-travelled manager who’s enjoyed relative success at a number of clubs. He had a reputation for spending lots of money which will be tested at Hull City were funds are limited. He’s signed a number of expensive flops in his time as a manager but has also unearthered some gems. He has a well-pencilled little black book. He has contact with some of the biggest clubs in the country. He has experience of scouting world wide. His teams play a reasonably attractive style of football but one that is far more direct than we’ve been used to for the past two seasons. He has a reputation of being more of a mentor than a tactician. He’s old-school. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. One thing is for certain, it’s going to be a different season at the KC Stadium in 2012/13.

The summer hasn’t had a great effect on season ticket renewals. Getting people through the gate could prove a difficult challenge unless the Tigers roar on the pitch. Despite a steadily growing number of transfer rumours, there have been no additions to the squad as the players gather for pre-season. Steve Bruce’s only bit of business so far has been to ratify the contract extension offered to Andy Dawson which is most welcome. The squad looks a little thin at the moment and there are vultures hovering around some of our prized assets. The Allams have been ambitious in their choice of manager. That ambition will be tested further this summer by the players we recruit and the players we retain. Some have opined that Steve Bruce is “just a big name”. The football world outside of east Yorkshire disagrees. Despite finishing 8th in the Championship in 2011/12 and appointing a “big name” manager, the Tigers are less fancied than newly promoted Charlton and Huddersfield to win promotion to the Premier League. Outsiders have under-rated our young squad for over a year, so it’s not a complete surprise. It does suggest that there is still plenty of work to be done if the Tigers are going to worry the rest of the division this season.

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