Hull City owner Assem Allam has pressed on with his idea of changing the name of the club to Hull Tigers by formally submitting an application to the FA.
“…but the Tiger didn’t take just one sandwich. He took ALL the sandwiches on the plate and swallowed them in one big mouthful!…and he still looked hungry.”
Judith Kerr, The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
Around the turn of the century, I wrote a piece about the precarious financial position that Hull City AFC were in, which was published in the Manchester United fanzine “United We Stand” (UWS).
The “Save the Tigers” campaign struck a particular chord with me, not least because a friend of mine was a Hull City supporter. Also, the thought that one of the biggest cities in the country might lose its football club concerned me.
This was not long after United’s treble-winning season and in the middle of a period of near total dominance for the red devils—why would their supporters care?
It is testament to the general overview of football that Andy Mitten, the editor of UWS, has—and a symbol the importance of football clubs to supporters and communities everywhere that he felt it was worthy of publishing.
UWS published the article for the same reason that fans of many different clubs “sponsored” seats at Gigg Lane at around the same time. This is the same reason why supporter groups of the likes of Manchester United apply to protect their stadium as an “asset of community value” and why Real Oviedo now have an international brigade of supporter/shareholders.
It is also the same reason why a shudder still goes down the spine at the mention of the name MK Dons.
Football is big business, we are all aware of that. As an almost captive audience, we are customers with incredible loyalty. But football clubs are not brands. History, tradition and community play a vital part in why supporters are loyal to football clubs. And we don’t follow the sport to delight in financial reports.
Sadly, an almost daily battle between the business of football and traditional support is being waged. The latest battle involves the city of Kingston-upon-Hull’s football club yet again.
We are now just over a decade on from the rescuing of Hull City from the brink. A decade of great change that has included a move to a new stadium, a quick-fire progression to the Premier League, a relegation and now another stint in the top flight.
Oh, and a change of ownership.
At a time when Hull City supporters should be enjoying themselves, they find that the man who has admittedly helped a lot of this happen recently, has decided to make a giant leap in to a future that only he can see clearly.
And that future does not include a football club called Hull City.
In August, it was announced that the business name of the club was to be re-registered as “Hull City Tigers Ltd” and that the nickname of the club would replace “AFC” so they could be marketed as “Hull City Tigers.” These moves were merely paving the way for the wholesale renaming of the club to the shortened “Hull Tigers.”
The rationale for the change is Allam believes a shorter name is more powerful in the world of marketing. Apparently, “City” is to be dropped, because it is a “lousy identity” used by too many clubs and, therefore, too common.
It is a move that has echoes of Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan’s decision to re-brand the “Bluebirds” with dragon imagery and red shirts. Tan will probably feel vindicated in his decision to shred over 100 years of history, thanks to the club’s rise to the Premier League. Mr Allam is obviously quite taken by the image of the tiger and it is hard not to think that he will only be encouraged by what has happened in South Wales.
However, the issue is a little more complicated than simply the folly of one rich man. He is also upset that Hull City council do not want to strike a deal with him over the stadium and surrounding land. Has this spat led to him bringing forward the naming issue?
His plan was to buy the stadium freehold, so that he could increase capacity and redevelop the surrounding area to create a “sports park.” (Ironically mirroring what has happened at another football club called “City”—with the development around Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.) The council use part of the land that would be developed for an annual fair and they refused to budge.
Allam claims that these ideas are all strands that make up a masterplan which will create additional revenue for the club so that it can become self-financing.
Although aware that as he owns club he can practically do as he wishes, supporters feel that a name-change is a step too far. They have attempted dialogue with the owner, they have marched, sang and unfurled banners.
Most notably a few weeks ago a protest banner was unfurled during a match, in front of the TV cameras. Stewards raced to have the offending sign confiscated. The banner stated the rather inoffensive slogan “WE ARE HULL CITY.”
Nevertheless, this prompted Mark Lawrenson on Match of the Day to make the ridiculous complaint that such protests should be kept out of the ground. It would be distracting to the players and the fans should just be supporting the team inside the stadium, he opined.
Are 109 year-old traditions not supposed to be important to supporters? Surely that overrides the result of one game? Those distracted players will come and go from the club, so will the owner.
The supporters, many who were with the club in its leanest times, will remain.
Do they not therefore have the right to at least protest against something that they hold dear being defaced?
And if those protests had stayed outside the ground, would the tv cameras and media even have bothered to film anything? Would anyone have noticed?
We then had the unfortunate comments that were published in The Independent earlier in the month, where Dr Allam called those that protested, “hooligans” and in reference to the chant “City Till I Die”, he said, “…they can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who want to watch good football.”
Hull City manager Steve Bruce attempted to dampen these inflammatory comments, claiming that Allam was misinterpreted. The damage was already done, though. They may have tried to keep the banners away from the watching millions on TV, but his comments were spread over all the newspapers. And the campaigners’ resolve will only have been strengthened.
Jon, the friend I mentioned earlier, is a Hull supporter of over 40 years standing. He had these passionate views on the situation:
“I’m completely against it. Our owner…is a very arrogant man, a typical self made man. He does what he wants and no one has ever stood up to him.
He has no interest in football and neither do his family. He was never at any matches prior to his ownership. All the money he has put in to the club is by way of loans, so he earns a substantial income from the club.
He won’t back down I fear. He doesn’t understand the history of football, you can’t mess with clubs’ names.”
Although in a very difficult position, a few weeks ago Steve Bruce had alluded to the same fact. He had said, following his comments, that he might have to educate the owner on some of the etiquette and tradition surrounding football. However, Bruce’s very latest comments seem to admit defeat on the subject as he told TalkSport that supporters need to “accept the name-change and move on.”
I wonder whether the supporters of AC Milan or Athletic Club de Bilbao would accept a name-change from their traditional anglicised names? Away from football, these names seem to make no sense. However, they are intrinsically tied to the roots and history of the club (Athletic even reverting back to their original version after a politically enforced change).
The supporters behind the website citytillwedie.com have started a campaign called “No To Hull Tigers.” They are not looking for the owner to leave, nor to bring negative publicity to the club. They are not “hooligans”— rather, their campaign is a peaceful protest aimed, at least, at informing Dr Allam and the FA of their feelings towards this idea.
“Hull City AFC is the thread which connects Boothferry Park, the KC Stadium and Wembley; that links Raich Carter, Chris Chilton and Ken Wagstaff to Ian Ashbee, Dean Windass and the team of today. It represents our community.”
As supporters of other clubs, we may not be able to empathise with all of those points. They are part of a shared history that unites Hull City supporters. But what we can identify with is the feelings we hold for our football club.
We may be scorned by some for holding on to romantic tokens such as club colours, crests and names. But they are all part of a club’s identity and the reason why we were drawn to them.
The notion of football being “the people’s game” may be anachronistic, but it is still the support of the people that keeps the game going—whether it be from the sofa, the bedroom or the terrace.
No matter who “owns” the club legally, just like players and management, they will always be transient. Fulham’s new owner Shahid Khan claimed that he understands his role, saying upon his takeover, “I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham, but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans.”
Taking that view, Hull City’s fans deserve to be heard.
The application is with the FA at the moment. Don’t hold your breath that the FA will turn it down and uphold 109 years of tradition—after all, let’s not forget what was allowed to happened to Wimbledon. But the least we can do as football supporters of all teams is to support the #NoToHullTigers campaign and call for proper discourse.
(UPDATE: The FA have said that their full council has absolute discretion on name-changes and that they will consult with fans before considering Dr Allam’s application, as reported in The Guardian)
Click through to citytillwedie.com for further information on the campaign or follow @NoToHullTigers on twitter
(many thanks to Kate from citytillwedie.com for her help with this and good luck to them!)