Friday, 11 December 2020

Stuck On You: All Hail Panini!

(First published January 2018)

I am a grown man. It is a World Cup year. So what excites me most? The plethora of televised football? No. The chance to see new stars from around the world? No. The prospect of England reaching the latter stages? Don’t be ridiculous.

The Panini sticker album? OF COURSE! 

Pin on Sport
Panini's Mexico '86 - England squad


There has been plenty written about the rebirth of the football sticker since the Brazil World Cup in 2014 but, truthfully, I never grew out of them in the first place. I was just too embarrassed to buy them. Too afraid of my local newsagent to buy them there and too worried by what my wife would think to buy them online. I collected the album for most of the tournaments, free with some magazine or newspaper, but lacked the balls to commit.

The awakening of interest in Panini and the history of the company and football stickers in the UK has been brilliantly told by Greg Lansdowne in his book “Stuck on you”. It was then turned into a documentary of the same name by ITV – also marvellously done. It’s a fascinating story and one with huge aspects I was unaware of. 

I started collecting football stickers in the mid-80s through Panini’s Football ’85 or ’86 album and the 1986 World Cup sticker book. My most vivid memory though is of collecting Football ’88 with the oval stickers. I stuck Tony Cottee on my new, white wardrobe and got a hammering. I’ve no idea why my Mam was annoyed – it was only a swap! 

These were some of Panini’s most successful years in the UK having jumped into the market in the early 70s. Originally, their distribution was done through WH Smith and some key personnel who’d helped set up that network would have a major role to play in the formation of Panini’s greatest rival – Merlin. I was fascinated to see this story play out in “Stuck on you” having never known quite what happened to Panini in the late 90s or where Merlin came from. As far as I was concerned, Merlin were a cheap imitation although I did collect their (admittedly very good) Premier League sticker books in my early teens through lack of any other choice.

Panini were formed by brothers Benito and Giuseppe Panini in Modena, Italy in the early-60s when selling stickers became far more popular than the newspapers they’d previously distributed. Success in Europe led to their first World Cup sticker collection in 1970 and they entered what would become a hugely popular market in the UK not long after. Football cards had been around in this country for decades going back to the old cigarette cards and albums weren’t new either. However, the market for self-adhesive stickers was very small and Panini grew very quickly into the market leader and their association with Shoot! Magazine was very much the catalyst. Giving away their sticker books free with copies of Shoot! was a genius move that helped sell millions of packets of stickers.

Competition to Panini came through several companies such as Transimage and Quadriga but it rarely lasted, and they dominated the market place until 1990. Panini’s partnerships with magazines such as Match and Shoot! and the Daily Mirror newspaper had been key in establishing their dominance. However, in 1987 The Sun newspaper wanted a slice of the Panini pie and their then-Editor, and vermin, Kelvin McKenzie flew out to Modena to pitch against the Daily Mirror for the partnership. More than just The Sun vs. The Mirror, this was Sun-owner Rupert Murdoch vs. Mirror-mogul Robert Maxwell and Maxwell was furious when Panini chose to take the deal on offer from the Sun. After failing with his own foray into the Sticker world, Maxwell just went out and bought Panini.

Peter Dunk and Kelvyn Gardner who had been the backbone of the Panini operation in the UK didn’t fancy working for Maxwell so they formed Merlin along with Peter Warsop from WH Smith. They found that taking on Maxwell was far from easy and within a couple of years they were faced with losing everything they’d gambled on the business. An unlikely saviour appeared in the WWF – the wrestling version, not the big Pandas. A licensing deal to produce WWF sticker albums was a major success and it turned around Merlin who then secured those rights to produce the Premier League sticker books. 

As unaware as I was about where Merlin came from, I was equally stumped as to where they went. The ITV doco revealed the men and their investors sold the company to Topps in 1996 for $50m and lived happily ever after!

There was a major lull in the football sticker market for almost a couple of decades after that with cards such as Match Attax taking over as the must have football collectable for kids. Panini held on to the licencing for the European Championships and World Cup collections and continued to do very well but away from the conscience of most in the UK. I picked up the books for Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the very enjoyable Euro 2008 (enjoyable because England weren’t around to ruin it) but they remained empty due to my pretending that I’m a grown-up and not the (very) large 8-year-old that I really am.

I noticed the start of the revival of Panini in 2010. They produced a very clever “Virtual sticker album” online in conjunction with Coca-Cola. It let you “open” packets of stickers and fill the album as well as swapping with other people online. Several packets a day were free and bonus packets could be opened with codes from Coca-Cola and the actual stickers. Millions of people were reminded of the excitement of opening that little packet of mystery, the agony of needing that last sticker and the joy that came from finding it.

By the time the 2014 World Cup came around, stickers were back. A grown man buying stickers was still shameful but it was a shame shared by millions of overgrown 8-year-olds riding a wave of nostalgia and enjoying the fact we could actually afford these things. No sweeping your Mam’s kitchen or mowing the lawn to earn sticker money. 

The benefits of adulthood and the joy of childhood. Where else are those things ever “stuck” together? All hail Panini.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Assessing Hull City's summer signings

Hull City signed ten players last summer. Last week I lamented the fact that it is December and we still haven’t seen them play but what impression have they made through the mediums of TV and occasionally wonky streams?

Josh Emmanuel's Hull City journey from unheralded arrival to undroppable  star - James Smailes - Hull Live
Pic: Hull Daily Mail

There’s a loose order to this list - from best to worst - but its fair to say that even the “worst” have been far from disastrous. I’ve not included Mallik Wilks and Festus Arthur, who both joined City permanently whilst we were still playing Championship games in June and July, in this list as Wilks isn’t a “new” signing and Arthur isn’t a first team player.

1.       Josh Emmanuel

Who saw this coming? Big Josh left Bolton at the end of last season after their relegation to League Two and joined City as (right-) back-up to marquee signing Lewie Coyle. Bolton fans said he was exciting going forward but defensively weak and they were half right. Emmanuel has been City’s best attacking weapon in open play. His speed and desire to get forward and support has been crucial but he does so responsibly and makes excellent decisions. Even if you’ve only taken in this strange season in highlight form, you’ve seen a lot of Emmanuel marauding down the right wing and putting in tremendous crosses. His ability to cross on the move is unmatched in Tigers’ full backs despite the outstanding ones we’ve had in the past couple of decades.

There has been nothing wrong with his defensive work either. Playing 27 games for the worst team in League One would not have been fun for him last season but it will have improved his game immeasurably. I don’t like to heap too much praise on players this early into their City career because we’ve seen many fall off a cliff recently but Emmanuel can certainly step up at least one level. He’s a complete modern full-back who has size as well as speed. If he keeps making good decisions and improving his reading of defensive situations, he’s going to be a top player.

2.       Richie Smallwood

The Tigers have been crying out for a leader in midfield for years and Smallwood’s experience along with the revitalised George Honeyman has made the team unrecognisable from the garbage we saw in the first half of the year. He’s a functional footballer but he’s an excellent reader of situations and a good leader and communicator. Ian Ashbee will be the benchmark in this position until many of us are very old men and women but Smallwood has a lot of his qualities at this level. He doesn’t complicate the game and he has no pretention. He’s an honest grafter but he really understands the game which is an asset we were badly missing before. 

3.       Alfie Jones

City signed Jones after letting Ryan Tafazolli join Wycombe and it made sense to balance out the centre halves as we had three left-sided and only Reece Burke on the right. Not only has it balanced it but it’s been an upgrade. Jones is a good footballer, schooled at Southampton, and has shown his versatility playing in midfield and centre-back and would have no trouble at full-back either. He’s another player with League One experience having spent last season on loan at Gillingham and is another win for the much maligned recruitment team. Unfortunately, he’s just picked up an injury after making himself a first choice at centre half and that being such a blow shows how quickly he’s grasped his opportunity.

4.       Greg Doherty

We’ve not yet seen the best of Doherty since he arrived from Rangers for a good fee in the summer. He’s a busy midfielder who is quick and always on the move. I like that he’s generally looking to play forwards or carry the ball into spaces and hurt teams. He hasn’t got into the box as much as I thought he would and his quality around the area, passing, crossing and shooting hasn’t been up to his previous standard. He scored an excellent goal last week which should give him a boost and there is a suggestion that he’s been playing hurt which won’t have helped. I’d like to see more goals from him and getting into the positions he did so easily against Doncaster recently will help him do that.

5.       Lewie Coyle

Coyle is the biggest surprise of the eight signings listed and it’s nothing to do with him and everything to do with the form of Josh Emmanuel. City paid good money for Coyle, around £350,000, with the expectation that he would be a first choice at right-back and a real leader in the team. There’s no doubt about his quality, we’ve seen that in cup games particularly the disappointment at Stevenage when he was by far our best player. Emmanuel has just made himself undroppable to this point.

I wonder if McCann has considered trying to get them both in the team. City are wedded to 4-3-3 which rules out them playing on the right together so that could only happen if one played left-back. Given their quality going forward, that would stifle one of them somewhat but it does remain a shame having such a quality player in reserve.

6.       Hakeem Adelakun

Adelakun is the biggest disappointment of the summer signings to date. That’s not a major criticism as none have been bad but considering how long City have chased him and the reputation he joined his parent club, Bristol City, with, we expected far more from him. There are flashes of excellence such as his debut goal against Plymouth but they’re rare and it’s not been a surprise that he doesn’t have many 90 minutes under his belt. He allows games to pass him by and rarely looks likely to go and start dictating the game, he’s just either in it or he’s not. It’s easy to see why he’s not stepped up to the Championship because the level of consistency just isn’t there.

At the moment, he looks the definitive “luxury” player. When all of Wilks, KLP, Magennis, Doherty and Honeyman are fit, he doesn’t make my team which is a surprising thing to say about a player City have coveted for so long.7.       Regan Slater

Slater is a signing that with hindsight, seems unnecessary. I like him, he’s another mobile midfielder who works box to box, passes neatly and likes a tackle. He seems like a really good kid too. However, he was never going to play ahead of Smallwood, Honeyman and Doherty and he’s not an upgrade on Batty. The use of Alfie Jones as a midfielder and emergence of Callum Jones was perhaps unforeseen and he’s unlucky there but so far it’s a signing that hasn’t done much bar limit opportunities for Max Sheaf and Billy Chadwick.

8.       Thomas Mayer

Mayer was a bit of a gamble on a free transfer. The Austrian joins a line of similar punts like Martin Pusic, Tejani Belaid and David Milinkovic and like those, hasn’t pulled up any trees - so far. His debut was promising, creating the winning goal against Crewe for Mallik Wilks with a tremendous cross but in the other games he’s played, we’ve got seen the same quality. Games he’s started have passed him by and when he’s appeared in league games as an “impact sub”, he hasn’t got into the game at all. I’m not really sure what he is. He doesn’t have pace or a trick and doesn’t see a pass others wouldn’t. He feels like just another body in the squad.

 

It would be interesting to get some feedback on whether others see it the way I do. Use the form below or let me know on Twitter what you think!

Friday, 4 December 2020

Hull City fans. We're not really here.

If a football fan screams at a TV, does anyone hear?

It goes without saying that this is the strangest year there has been to be a football fan in living memory. I haven’t been to a Hull City game since the 29th February. I was still in primary school recently indoctrinated and not yet aware of the football club on my doorstep the last time I went that long without seeing them live.

Familiar stories, no urgency, lessons required and sparse positives –  talking points from Doncaster Rovers' defeat to Hull City | Football-Addict 

 

I’m not an "armchair" fan. I’ve no particular problem with anyone who is. They’re as valid as any other fan and given the way football is funded these days, probably more vital to the game than the match going fans. The last eight months support that. The game has carried on without fans in stadiums. It certainly wouldn’t have without fans watching on TV. Lots, perhaps even most, of the people who support big clubs have to be armchair fans because getting a ticket is difficult and eye-wateringly expensive. It’s just not for me.

Going to football has been the biggest thrill in my life for over 30 years (Sorry Mrs S). The football is great, the players important and the result vital. But the sights, the smells, the travels, the tribulations and the company are what make the games. For every game you remember because Geovanni smashed the ball into the top corner or Dean Windass made history, there are a hundred others you remember because of a puncture on the side of the M25, a curry and a pint in the pub, a terrible, watery pie, your mate getting a black eye from Aaron McLean in the pre-match shooting warm-up or a meet up with exiled City fans in the South or abroad.

Most seasons, we’ve seen new signings up close in pre-season. It’s been part of the joy of going to North Ferriby, Winterton, Harrogate, Canvey Island for the HCSS mob, and others down the years. T-Shirt weather. Little kids getting photos and autographs. The surreal sight of England’s Nick Barmby in black and amber. In 2020, it’s December, it’s pissing down and there are lads who joined Hull City six months ago that none of us have seen play. TV, or more precisely iFollow streams, are a hideously poor substitute. We can watch anyone on TV. These days you can easily watch clubs who like Boca Juniors and Fluminese, who once upon a time only existed in the pages of World Soccer magazine.

The level of detachment is impossible to get used to. Barely being aware of the fixtures because there are no tickets to buy, no plans to make or travels to arrange. Remembering little about games because there are no incidents or goal celebrations flashing through your mind. Missing that connection between the travel, the food, the company, the atmosphere, the opposition fans, the injuries caused by tripping over chairs or down stairs, the hugging and dancing with complete strangers – you can try and replicate that last one but you might get banned from Sainsbury’s like me. Just no feeling of “I was there”.

Fans are returning to grounds this week, though sadly not for us poor schmucks in tier 3 areas, and that is a great first step but it’s still a million miles from being what watching football is about. I’m desperate to see my team again but that will be another surreal experience. Though at least we’ll be there. At least we’ll be making plans again, digging out shirts and scarves again, seeing the players again and being heard again.

At least we’ll exist.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Phil Brown: Hull City's Mission Impossible

Ten years ago this week, Hull City parted company with Phil Brown. He was undoubtedly, to that point, the most successful manager in the club’s history. 

  
Brown left an incredible legacy of unprecedented success but soured by his abrasive personality and a year and a bit of horrendous results. Results though, that came in the Premier League and when Brown took on the job in December 2006 - City couldn’t have been farther from the Premier League if they’d been playing on the moon.

Brown joined City initially as assistant manager to Phil Parkinson. He’d served, with distinction, in a similar position under Sam Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers for years before his first foray into management at Derby County had gone to pot earlier in 2006.

Parkinson’s City side had won only four games in the Championship as he struggled to reproduce whatever had made him successful with Colchester United and his tenure ended after a 2-4 defeat at home to Southampton.

Brown inherited a decent squad featuring a lot of the players who’d served Peter Taylor with such distinction before his departure and players Parkinson had been allowed to bring in at some expense – funded in part by the sale of Leon Cort for a club record fee. Seven of the starting XI from Parkinson’s final game played in the play-off final in 2008 (spoiler alert!) Myhill, Ricketts, Turner, Ashbee and Barmby started while Marney and Fagan came on as subs at Wembley.

The squad lacked know-how and a focal point up front with Jon Parkin struggling. Brown saw the problem and signed Ray Parlour and Dean Windass on loan. There were early signs of positive change despite a loss in his first game at Plymouth. City hammered Cardiff at home, picked up a creditable 0-0 at Leeds (when Michael Turner was restored to the side and looked every inch the player he would become) and an enjoyable 2-1 win at Hillsborough, through a Barmby brace, was one of three league wins on the bounce after Christmas.

It wasn’t all plain-sailing. The 0-3 defeat at Barnsley in mid-February was embarrassing and a couple of weeks later, it was topped by a 2-5 defeat at home to Ipswich during which Danny Coles had one of the worst games anyone has ever seen in black and amber. City were massively improved though in ability and attitude. That dreadful defeat at Oakwell, for instance, was followed by a gutsy and much deserved win over table-topping Birmingham at the KC. City picked up nine wins under Brown, the last being the 1-0 victory at Cardiff with Dean Windass’ goal securing Championship safety save for a massively unlikely swing in goal difference.

Brown came from a working class background in South Shields. He played most of his career at right-back serving unglamorous sides Hartlepool, Halifax, Bolton and Blackpool. With his perma-tan and “interesting” dress sense, he exuded confidence/arrogance, but underneath, he held values similar to most supporters, had pride in where he came from and where he lived and set about changing the mindset that we were little Hull - miles from anywhere and going nowhere.

In the summer of 2007, Adam Pearson, feeling he’d taken the club as far as he realistically could, sold up to Russell Bartlett and Paul Duffen. Duffen had many faults (most of them mathematical) but like Brown, he was determined to change the impression of the club. With the backing of the new owners, Brown made shrewd signings, taking Richard Garcia and Wayne Brown from Colchester and Henrik Pedersen after his release from Bolton. There were grumblings from supporters about the lack of investment given the signings were ones we could have made under Pearson. That started to change with the arrival of the supremely talented Nigerian superstar Jay Jay Okocha and the acquisition of Caleb Folan who became the club’s first million-pound signing from Wigan Athletic.

The signing of Okocha was particularly important in changing the perception and ambition of the club. He was long past his best, though still utterly brilliant, but his reputation was as important as his impact on the pitch, both to outsiders and the dressing room.

The start to the 2007/08 season was fairly unspectacular but it started to turn in October with the loan signing of little-known young striker Fraizer Campbell from Manchester United. Campbell scored twice on his home debut against Barnsley and barring a terrible few days in December when Preston and Southampton both stuffed us, City improved and started to ascend the league table. Performances were becoming consistent as the team assembled by Brown gelled and the attitude he fostered started to take hold in the squad.

Defeats became rare but plenty of draws meant City were never quite in the play-off mix but were on the cusp. On the 23rd February, almost a year to the day of that horrific defeat at Oakwell, City travelled to league leaders and Champions-elect West Brom. Magnificent goals by Campbell and Folan sealed a famous win that validated Brown’s belief in his side. He said afterwards "We've shown we can come to places like this and turn over a really good side.”

That match changed the course of City’s history - I’m absolutely sure. It’s still amongst the most enjoyable games we’ve ever seen outside the top-flight. Forgetting the play-offs, City won seven of their next ten games, the last a rearranged game at Barnsley that swung automatic promotion our way. In typical City fashion, that was then thrown away at Sheffield United when we succumbed to ten men (Stephen Quinn scored for United) and while it went down to the final day, we had to settle for the play-offs.

As a club, Hull City didn’t (and doesn’t) have a habit of winning big games. Brown’s brash, bubbling side were a different level altogether though and dismantled Watford over two-legs. Watford had been promotion certs when we went there in October. By mid-May, they weren’t on the same level as City and goals from Barmby and Windass, and a magnificent save by Myhill, secured a 2-0 win in the sunshine at Vicarage Road. A 4-1 win at a gleeful KC sealed the deal and a first ever trip to Wembley. You all know how it ended. Windass. 1-0. Promotion. Premier League. History.

Brown master-minded that promotion along with Brian Horton, whom he wisely brought back to Hull to serve as his number two, and Steve Parkin. He coached and improved the players he inherited who wanted to be part of it. He made intelligent signings. He built the spine of a team with leaders in Brown, Ashbee and Windass who had guile, bravery and class. He encouraged a team spirit and a winning mentality that is unmatched to this day.

City went into the Premier League on the crest of a wave. The place was buzzing. Brown was backed in signing players like Geovanni, George Boateng, Daniel Cousin and Marlon King who were a class above what we had. In fairness, he also signed Bernard Mendy, Peter Halmosi, Antony Gardner, Tony Warner, and numerous other signings who, with few exceptions, were only a drain on the wage bill. Where the money came from wasn’t particularly a worry as fans rode along on the wave. After the unprecedented success, there was a (na├»ve) trust that Duffen knew what he was doing and finances were far from anyone’s thoughts when Hull hosted its first ever top-flight game, and win, as City turned over Fulham 2-1 despite Seol’s opening goal. Geovanni and Folan wrote themselves into Hull City folklore that day.

The Tigers settled brilliantly into life in the Premier League with the sobering hammering by Wigan the only negative. We picked up creditable points against Blackburn and Everton while turning over Newcastle at St James Park 2-1 – our first away win. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that would be as good as it got but on 27th September, City went to Arsenal and won 2-1 again. Brown set up with a front three of King, Cousin and Geovanni at the Emirates, in what looked a suicidal decision but turned out to be a tactical masterstroke. Geovanni scored one of the best goals in our history to equalise Paul McShane’s own goal before Cousin flicked in a corner at the near-post and City fans experienced a joy unknown to man before or since. Whatever the combination of sheer ecstasy and disbelief equates to – that was the corner of the Emirates that Saturday night.

That was the first of four successive wins. City repeated the trick the following Sunday, winning at Arsenal’s great rivals Spurs thanks to another Geovanni wonder-goal before a Michael Turner header beat West Ham at the KC and we thrashed WBA away again. The Tigers went joint-top of the Premier League. For a bit anyway.

Things started to turn with a six-match winless run following that victory at the Hawthorns but it wasn’t all that gloomy. Chelsea outclassed us but we gave Man United a hell of a fright in a 3-4 defeat at Old Trafford. Defeat to a savvy Bolton side was sobering while draws with the newly-rich Man City, Portsmouth and Stoke were hard earned. A win over Middlesbrough followed and then City led 2-0 against Liverpool at Anfield before being pegged back for another very creditable draw.

The period from WBA away in February to that day at Anfield in December is as good as we will ever experience as City fans. It deserves to be remembered in all its glory. Phil Brown deserves to be revered for over-seeing that period of utter, utter joy.

It was all downhill from there, as all fans know. Brown and Duffen started to talk about City qualifying for Europe which made everyone’s skin crawl. Brown had changed the mindset of everyone involved with the club but that was a step too far. He enjoyed the limelight too much. The attention played to his brash character and he and his team forgot the principles behind their success. Sheer bloody-mindedness, incredibly hard work and togetherness.

You can point to the hammering at Manchester City on Boxing day and Brown’s ridiculous team talk on the pitch at half time as the turning point but it was always coming because the values had been lost. The group of players had been watered down with characters not fit to take the shirt off the ones who’d got us where we were. Brown signed Jimmy Bullard for £5m in January - huge money to Hull City – and he was immediately injured which didn’t help. He would have been earning more than anyone else in the squad and far more than the players who’d achieved promotion. It was another hammer-blow to the morale of the group.

City never really recovered. The unravelling of the financial situation due to Duffen’s inexperience with football accounting was the death knell. City survived in the Premier League by the skin of our teeth and due only to the greater incompetence of Newcastle United. We’d won one of twenty-two league games with a decent FA Cup run papering over some cracks.

Recruitment the following summer was haphazard. The financial problems forced the sale of Michael Turner, the heart of City’s defence, while “football decisions” apparently led to the sale of Sam Ricketts. The replacements were inadequate and save for the outstanding Stephen Hunt, all of the recruitment was a gamble. It didn’t pay off. City won two of the first ten league games. Adam Pearson returned to the club to replace Duffen whose financial “incompetence” (to avoid being litigious) had caught up with him. The rumour-mill suggested Burnley away would be Brown’s last game in charge. City suffered an unfair defeat at Turf Moor but perhaps the manner of the performance saved Brown when it really shouldn’t have.

A brief Jimmy Bullard inspired act of defiance that autumn brough two wins and two draws. But then Bullard was injured again at Villa Park and City’s season never recovered. In early February we beat Man City and drew with Chelsea. The last good memories under Brown. Four defeats later, he was done. And so were City. It was too little, too late and the inevitability of relegation scared off any potentially decent replacements. Brown maintains, years later, that he would have kept us up. Respectfully, he’s wrong. We were doomed and, while Duffen’s financial mismanagement is culpable, Brown is equally to blame.

Does the subsequent collapse overshadow Brown’ achievements? Absolutely not. The rise was the most enjoyable period in living memory and perhaps, objectively, in the club’s history. It certainly made history, but it did so unexpectedly given the situation Brown inherited from Phil Parkinson. No one in their right mind thought that Hull City could be a Premier League club.

Phil Brown did though. Every orange inch of him believed the impossible was possible.

Then he proved it.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Hull City: If I hadn’t seen such riches…


…I could live with being poor. 

The brilliant, if over-quoted, lyric from James’ “Sit Down” over the years applies to Hull City’s past, present and future as much as anyone. Conventional wisdom suggests that the good times are over. And the future is bleak.

For nearly twenty years, we’ve had it good. Since Adam Pearson picked the locks of Boothferry Park in 2001 we have seen five promotions, three to the Premier League, two at Wembley, we’ve played in the FA Cup Final, qualified for Europe and seen the best players we will ever see pull on black and amber shirts. We’ve gone from bust to boom to bust to boom to gloom and doom to now – whatever now is.

Pearson rescued a “sleeping” not-quite-giant in Division Three in 2001. After two false starts under managers Brian Little and Jan Molby, we moved from Boothferry Park to the shining beacon of the KC Stadium where Peter Taylor assembled a squad of club legends who dragged the club out of the bottom tier and straight through the newly forms League One. We brought Nick bloody Barmby home from exile in Leeds and marched straight into the Championship. Honestly, I never dreamed it would get better than that.

Taylor moved on and after a brief struggle under Phil Parkinson, Pearson appointed Phil Brown as manager and sold the club to Russell Bartlett and Paul Duffen to take us to the next level. Dean Windass came home too while Brown brought and Jay Jay Okocha (which still makes no sense written down) and Caleb Folan became the club’s first million pound signing. From nowhere in the spring of 2008, his side just missed out on automatic promotion to the Championship before winning that play-off final at Wembley. The greatest day in the club’s history.

We started brilliantly in the Premier league and we’re still banging on about those wins at Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle twelve years later. We didn’t even win at Old Trafford or Anfield but the performances filled us with pride. The joy didn’t last as we all know. Brown and Duffen got ideas above their station, the cost of the signings made to compete in the Premier League bled the club dry and neither Duffen nor Bartlett owned a calculator or a copy of Microsoft Excel. We survived, just, but were relegated the following season with Brown having departed to be replaced by… Iain Dowie. The club returned to the Championship in turmoil. We were haemorrhaging money, selling players to survive and the future was as bleak then as it is now.

Unlike now though, knights in shining hieroglyphics arrived to save us – the Allam family. The family, originally from Egypt, own local business Allam Marine and live in Kirkella. They were local-foreign owners saving the club for the sake of the community. Allegedly. For a couple of years, things went pretty well. They rid the club of some crippling costs and personalities and allowed Nigel Pearson to spend money in building a competitive side in a tough league. When Nigel Pearson left, they appointed Nick Barmby as manager, to their chagrin as it turned out, before sacking him unceremoniously at the end of the season. That was the first warning sign that not all would be rosy under Allam ownership but they appointed Steve Bruce as his replacement and backed him in the transfer market – appeasing most City fans.

Bruce oversaw a glorious four-year period taking us up from the Championship, automatically, at the first time of asking, kept us in the Premier League and through that FA Cup Final appearance in a spirited but losing effort to Arsenal, qualified for the Europa League. We were relegated from the top flight when we really shouldn’t have been close but bounced back via another play-off final win against Sheffield Wednesday.

Almost all the success under Bruce played out against a backdrop of owner/fan division. The controversial attempt to change the club’s name to “Hull Tigers” and subsequent backlash and campaign to keep it caused a rift that still exists seven years on. Despite the ongoing battle, the Allams still backed Bruce, and he was able to succeed, in a fashion, on the pitch. Off it, the Allams refusal to use the club’s name, having lost their appeal to change it, and introduction of an unpopular membership scheme, which axed concession pricing, further disenfranchised many in the fan base.

Following that second play-off final win, the Allams relationship with Bruce broke too. He left in the summer of 2016 and that and the lack of recruitment after Wembley, left the club woefully unprepared for life in the Premier League. Mike Phelan was given the unenviable task of challenging at the top-level. He failed and while we had some respite under the brilliant Marco Silva, he ultimately failed too. Since that relegation, Leonid Slutsky, Nigel Adkins and Grant McCann have all taken on the job of reviving the club in the Championship but as ambition and finances have decreased, so has the quality of the playing squad.

We’ve been spoiled for twenty years. We’ve cheered on Ashbee, Elliott, Burgess, Price, Allsopp, Myhill, Dawson, France, Green, Delaney, Duke, Cort, Fagan, Barmby, Turner, Ricketts, Marney, Pedersen, Brown, Garcia, Okocha, Campbell, Windass, Folan, McShane, Zayatte, Geovanni, Boateng, Cairney, Koren, Rosenior, Fryatt, McLean, Chester, Evans, Dudgeon, Stewart, Brady, Hobbs, Elmohamady, Bruce, Aluko, Faye, Meyler, Boyd, Quinn, Davies, McGregor, Livermore, Huddlestone, Long, Jelavic, Dawson, Hernandez, Diame, Snodgrass, Robertson, Maguire, Jakupovic, Clucas, Odubajo, Grosicki, Rannocchia, Markovic, Niasse, Tymon, Wilson, Clark, Elphick, Bowen and many, many more. They’d be all over a list of the top 50 players in the club’s history along with the stars of the mid-60s and the mid-80s. But what now?

In January, Bowen, Grosicki and Henriksen left. The last players left to have played in the Premier League for City. They leave behind a squad of young and hungry players signed for low fees to develop and sell-on. The few players left who cost multi millions (Dicko, Stewart, Kingsley, Toral) are unlikely to survive this next summer.

Thanks to a reasonable start and a good Autumn, City still sit 7 points above the relegation zone despite a run of 8 league games without a win. The play-off challenge is a distant memory as we’ve picked up 12 points from the last 42 available. Staying in the Championship is far from certain but to be relegated this season would still take a monumentally dreadful effort. But, even if we stay up, what then?

This is a dying club under the Allams’ ownership. It has been for years and years. In all fairness, they have tried to put right some wrongs. They have used the club’s name on the badge and all communication, they’ve brought back concessions, they’ve appointed good people in key roles, they’ve run good events for kids and adult fans, and they’ve stopped saying incendiary things. However, it’s all been fruitless. There are people who will never forgive them. There are plenty more who just won’t support a team that isn’t winning or challenging for success.

So, those of us who are left, a dwindling number but still more than there were when Adam Pearson came to our rescue in 2001, are left to watch what happens. The squad is surely about to get even worse as we try to replace £3 million signings with cheap players of promise from League One or the Scottish Premier League. McCann has a nigh impossible job to keep putting a brave face on the task he faces. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he succeeds but it’s being made harder and more unlikely by the week.

Tonight is Barnsley at home. In December, it would have been a much fancied three points to close the gap on the play-of places. Now it’s a relegation six-pointer in front of three men and a dog. The stadium is no longer a shining beacon of hope. It’s the soulless bowl most Rugby fans cried about when the capacity was first mooted two decades ago. It’s tired and it’s a miserable place to be.

It fits Hull City AFC in 2020 to a tee.

Stuck On You: All Hail Panini!

(First published January 2018) I am a grown man. It is a World Cup year. So what excites me most? The plethora of televised football? No...