Welcome to another outstanding edition of ‘Who are You?’ as Sunderland prepare to visit Hull for the crucial follow-up to derby joy. This is a bit out of sequence given Hull’s return to Spurs tonight (league cup) but other commitments mean that can’t be helped. Ian Waterson,* editor of the Hull City fanzine City Independent and a frontrunner in the campaign to preserve the club’s name as Hull City AFC rather than change to Hull Tigers as the owner wants, bears a proud Hull name of his own, one shared by the original members of the Watersons folk group (Norma and her late siblings, Lal and Mike). Ian turns out to be a ‘very distant relation’; it’s a little like the Sunderland connection that means any Wearside family called Morris may also be among Monsieur Salut’s “very distant relations” …
Salut! Sunderland: Assem Allam saved Hull City but has now chosen to destroy the name. How do you assess opinion among fans on the Hull City AFC, Hull City Tigers/Hull Tigers issue?
This is something that has seen a gathering of the clans amongst Hull City supporter groups. Between us, we’ve launched City Till We Die – a campaign group geared up as #notohulltigers and something I’ve been actively participating in and representing our City Independent fanzine members. There is a significant majority of fans who are opposed to the name change, so obviously, we’re pushing our owner for proper consultation (there hasn’t been any) with the fans, to present our case.
It should be noted however, it’s difficult, because our Egyptian owner is not the archetypal foreigner who has purchased a Premier League club. Assem Allam came to Hull 40 years ago. Since then, he has set up business here, raised his family here and made his fortune here, during that time. The owner and his family are hugely popular amongst our support and very much part of the fabric that makes our great city. Yet, on this one matter of changing our name, this is something we the fans have to take exception to and feel compelled to make the owner aware of the popular belief across our support. We are Hull City AFC, please don’t change our name, despite all the good you have done for the community.
Very early in the season but so far, so good, 10th as I write which is nine or 10 places higher than some critics doubtless predicted for you. How comfortable do you feel, especially in the knowledge that it tends to get tougher for promoted teams after Christmas?
Sorry, but there is no such thing as comfort in the Premier League in my opinion. Our tenure in the top flight has been fleeting in comparison to most, but if there is one thing Hull City fans are acutely aware of, it is the fact you’re never far from a relegation scrap in this league barring a few elite exceptions. Nobody is complacent in this city about that and neither do we expect that from the players or the manager. Nothing changes, in our first season back. It’s target 17th – and although you always strive to be better – anything beyond that is a very welcome bonus.
Which leads on to this: is our old friend Steve Bruce the man to carry your forward and should we wish we still had him?
What better manager could Hull City fans have expected after the sacking of home town hero Nick Barmby? City fans were pretty miffed at the time, but bringing in Steve Bruce demonstrated genuine intent. Not only to get out of the Championship with a manager holding a proven track record of doing it, but also how to stay in the Premier League once you get there. I confess the intricacies of his Sunderland managerial plight may have been lost on me a little, but from the outside looking in, his sacking appeared a tad harsh. So, whether Sunderland should have taken him back or not, I’m not really in the best position to say. What I can say with confidence is; right now, Hull City fans are grateful he’s here and not anywhere else.
How surprised, if at all, have you been by Sunderland’s catastrophic form and did PDC’s abrupt dismissal shock you?
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Paolo Di Canio’s appointment was made, I can tell you. It was always fraught with danger appointing a volatile foreign manager with no Premier League management experience. But is it Di Canio’s fault, or is the blame laying with the people who appointed him? The board most have done some (any?) diligence on his character, surely? The perception from the outside looking in was; it always had that feeling of this is going to end in tears. Which makes the Gus Poyet appointment all the more intriguing…
You got Tom Huddlestone (which was disappointing for us), Danny Graham (a great relief for us); you still have David Meyler (much liked by SAFC fans) and Paul McShane (less so, though all heart) while Phil Buckingham, who reports on you for the Hull Daily Mail, is a Sunderland fan (as was Harper as a lad). What do you make of all these Sunderland links, plus the past ones, Kilbane et al?
Ah yes, Sunderland B or perhaps A looking at the league table… but anyway, Elmo, Meyler and Macca have been superb additions to our squad. You wouldn’t recognise McShane these days, he’s not the young error strewn player that left you all those seasons ago, he is a very accomplished addition to our squad and a cult hero in the stands. Meyler was way too good for the Championship but is still finding his feet in the Premier League after a career riddled with injuries. You can see he’s “got it” though.
From having no keepers to getting two keepers is a novelty for us. While McGregor will always be our number 1, a man of Steve Harper’s experience is invaluable at top flight level and a more than able deputy for a newly promoted club. Meanwhile, Danny Graham is afforded a little patience here. He’s proven he can do it at this level with Swansea, but needs to find the consistency that you know is in there somewhere. I’m pretty sure Steve Bruce will find a way to coax it out of him and he can be the success we all know he can be.
Finally on Tom Huddlestone, what a player! He is the marquee signing we required when stepping up to Premier League level and he has been simply splendid for us. Part of the secret has been having an able foil in Jake Livermore (on loan from Spurs) alongside him in midfield. The pair have formed a solid platform for us to build upon and give us realistic hope of success this season. Your loss, is our gain, I guess…
Tip of the hat to “Killer” by the way, he was a model professional while with us.
And Elmo of course. Sinned against at White Hart Lane is the general view but he was never a great favourite at our place. Are you seeing more of the “Egyptian Beckham” in him?
Heh! Everyone knows that wasn’t a penalty v Spurs, surely? Anyway, that aside, Elmo was our player of the season during our automatic promotion campaign and can definitely play a part in the Premier League. I think the “Egyptian Beckham” tag is a little far-fetched though – and certainly not used by City fans! There are question marks when asked to play as an out and out full back in the top flight, but as a wing-back, he’s proved useful. Well, in a nutshell, he destroyed the Championship from there.
Who are the best players you’ve seen – or wish you’d seen – in Hull colours and the one who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
Well there’s certainly one with heavy Sunderland links and that is the great and legendary Raich Carter. Very much revered around these parts and a true icon of Tiger folklore from a bygone era. Of course, this is way before my time, but nonetheless, the educated City fan knows all about exceptional playing and managerial talents of Raich Carter. He is very fondly remembered with all those connected with Hull City (one of Ian’s City Till I Die colleagues, Andy Dalton, adds that Raich’s son is a confirmed City fan – ed)
I wouldn’t sully this prose with personnel that shouldn’t have been anywhere near the black and amber, suffice to say – as our laboured history suggests – we could adequately fill a telephone directory of rogues that were not fit for purpose!
Honest thoughts on Sunderland: the club, the fans, the city, the region?
I cannot really knock the club or the fans it is fair to state. I only ever visited Roker Park once, but the passion was evident and left an impression on me. We lost (typically) 1-0 and since then, it has proved to be a fruitless journey to Wearside more times than I care to remember. The similarities to Hull are evident with a strong, working class feel about the place. As always, remaining fiercely proud of your heritage is to be admired. Long may that continue.
Give me this season’s top four in order, and the bottom three
Tricky one this. Have Manchester United already blown it? Not sure, but if they do, Liverpool are looking a good bet to pounce. Chelsea would be my team of choice to win the league, closely followed by Manchester City. Arsenal will be in there, but something tells me Manchester United will sort it out before long and make the top four.
At the bottom, frankly, I don’t care as long Hull City aren’t in the bottom three. Crystal Palace look doomed, with a horrible stench of relegation already hanging over Selhurst Park. Quite what Norwich City have done to look so poor after spending a shed load is beyond me. Has there been too much transition too quickly? Obviously Cardiff City and ourselves are not going to be far away, and Fulham appear to have moments of genuine weakness. And of course, I am sorry to say folks, but it appears Sunderland have an awful lot to do to convince people of your credentials to stay up. Welcome to our world!
Where will Hull finish, in the likely event you didn’t have them in the second list, and what about Sunderland, in the unlikely event you didn’t?
Target 17th for us as already alluded to. That is perfectly acceptable for a newly promoted side in their first season. I am cautiously optimistic we have enough in our armoury to fulfil that objective, injuries and favourable luck permitting. As for Sunderland, with another unproven and fiery foreign manager… only time will tell. From the outside looking in, it looks grim for you.
And how far can the club realistically go, given the massively greater amounts of money sloshing about higher up and the relative unattractiveness of your part of England to top players (something we’re keenly aware of ourselves)?
For Hull City there has to be a clear strategy to work to. City can be forgiven for looking to survive in season one. It’s like winning a trophy in itself in the Premier League as the top flight is hyper competitive. Consolidation in years two–four is reasonable, but beyond that, unless financially you’re put in to a different stratosphere, it appears you’re always going to hit a glass ceiling. Everton are a case in point here. Would Hull City fans be happy with that? Probably for now, sure. Should things turn out favourably financially speaking in the future, our geographical position will be the least of worries for tomorrow’s world superstars, I would think. As always, money talks.
What most inspires you about the modern game and what appals?
Home grown talent blossoming into a top class player genuinely still excites me. We haven’t got anyone imminently in the pipeline, but give it a few more years, the signs at Hull City are encouraging. On the downside, the atmosphere generated by home teams is abysmal these days. A worrying trait that continues to concern me – and one I am sure that doesn’t just affect Hull City.
Club versus country: which means more to you and why?
You know, Hull City have been so poor for so long, I’ve always held England in high regard and wanted our national team to do well. There never was a club v country debate to be had! Now we’re in the Premier League the argument is brought a lot closer to home than it ever was. The game needs an overhaul in this country if we’re serious about establishing ourselves as a world great. We’re miles off the pace as it stands. The international break helps, a winter break could really help, but until we sort out the grassroots of English football, the lazy attitude is to stick up for my club first. But honestly, I’ve got to question myself if that is the right attitude to have…
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Of course I will be there! Rarely this season have I been predicting wins for City. On local radio I correctly predicted we’d lose at both Everton and Spurs in the past two weeks to my eternal shame. I’m just being a realist. However, I do think with a host of first teamers ready to be recalled after injuries and our encouraging, undefeated start at home in the Premier League, I’ll boldly stick my neck out and go for a home win (this is rare for me) this time around. So… Hull City 1-0 Sunderland? I’ll take it now!
* Ian Waterson on himself: I’ve been following City for three decades and watched our decline from the old Second Division to oblivion – and the very real threat of non-league football – assuming we could even stay open for business. The Great Escape season of 98-99 is warmly remembered as we staved off Conference football from a perilous position, while following on from that, our first promotion for 19 years arrived one sunny day in Somerset as we beat Yeovil 1-2 away to clinch the runners-up slot and seal elevation to the dizzy heights of League One in 2004. After that, the club has largely enjoyed an upward curve of success culminating in local lad Dean Windass taking us to the top flight in 2008 with a simply stunning winning Wembley goal. Moments like these provide the unbridled joy to savour, when 20 years earlier there was a very real possibility there may not have been a Hull City Football Club at all.
** Ian Waterson’s book, Live Through the Dream, is described as “an epic journey depicting Hull City’s first season in the top flight of English football”. We always bang on about the cheap deals available via Salut! Sunderland‘s Amazon link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1449027555/salusund-21. This time the advantage is just 97p, the amount clipped off the RRP of £13.95, though postage in the UK is free and there are cheaper purchase options in stock. Follow the link and navigate from there to other Amazon items: a few pence in commission helps towards paying the site’s rent.
Interview: Colin Randall
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