Hull City look as if they’re going to be in the playoffs for promotion to the Premier League. This is what I wrote (for the LRB Blog) the last time they were promoted. Predictably – and as mentioned below – it was followed by a lot of sarky Southern comments BTL.
(May 2013.) I’m not sure that Hull City deserved to win promotion to the premiership on the grounds of their football – they’ve been rubbish in recent games – but it’s terrific for the city, and for its owner. With so much worldwide interest in the Premier League, playing there puts this poor, isolated and much denigrated town on the map. Quite literally: I remember the last time they were (briefly) in the Premiership checking into a hotel in Copenhagen, giving my Hull address, and saying (based on my experience abroad) ‘I don’t suppose you know where that is’. ‘Oh yes I do,’ the man replied. ‘It’s in the Premier League!’ Those of us who live there, especially if we originally came from the South (as I did, in 1968), greatly resent the way it’s generally presented by our softer neighbours. Being placed top of a list of ‘Crappiest Cities in Britain’ a few years ago hurt. My son, who lives and works in London, gets it all the time – though he copes well with it (mainly with humour). I must say it has added a personal dimension to my dislike of the metropolis – Tories, bankers, media and so on.
In the month that its football team was promoted, Hull was appointed Britain’s ‘City of Culture’ for the year 2017. Whether or not it deserved that is probably just as moot as whether it really merits being in the premiership. It has one or two great players, contemporarily and historically: William Wilberforce, Andrew Marvell, Philip Larkin, the Hull Truck theatre, the Housemartins, a big aquarium, and a university that is far better than its name makes it sound. (‘Hull’ is such a dull word, especially in a Hull accent: ‘’ll’.) The university was what drew me to the place originally. I’d hardly been north of Watford before, and I didn’t really know where the place was myself. But I like it here: decent and pretty friendly (as Yorkshire people go), laboring under terrible burdens inflicted on it by those said Tories and bankers, and with some wonderful country around. (Ask David Hockney.) I was happier at Hull University than at any of my others: which have included Cambridge and Yale; none of the latters’ airs, graces and snobbery. And housing is cheap. Where else can you buy a 4-bedroom Victorian house in a leafy inner suburb for under £200,000?
There’s another reason for welcoming the Tigers’ promotion. Like many football clubs now they’re owned by a millionaire capitalist: a trend I generally abhor; but in this case one with a difference. Assem Allam originally came to the UK as a refugee from Nasser’s Egypt, and to Hull to study Economics at the University. So he has a real connexion; unlike that crook Roman Abramovich with Chelsea, for example. He was so impressed with the welcome he got there that when he got rich, he decided to give something back to the city in gratitude. Rescuing the football team from near bankruptcy was his gift to us. I think it’s another thing the city can be proud of.
(Addendum, 2016: since then the fans have rather fallen out with Allam, for wanting to change the name of the club. But the main point stands.)
(Addendum II: Leicester’s much more miraculous rise this season must be doing the same for that city. Everyone’s supporting them, against the millionaires. I was even half-hoping they’d beat West Ham last week. In the event it was a 2-2 draw, with the help of a dodgy last-minute penalty for Leicester. So, Come on You Foxes, too!)