Wednesday 16 July ~
Ten years ago Premier League newcomers Hull City were struggling in the bottom division. Continuing our daily trawl through the WSC archive, Andy Medcalf explained in WSC 134 (April 1998) why a new regime had failed to revive their fortunes
When tennis supremo David Lloyd rescued Hull City from the claws of owner Christopher Needler last summer it was hoped the good times would return to East Yorkshire following the Terry "doldrum" Dolan years. Gone were those mind-numbing goalless draws without a single shot on goal, the endless trips to the High Court for unpaid taxes and the fans' bitter alienation from those in charge. Last July in front of 1,500 at an all-ticket public meeting Lloyd's front-man – ex- Hull rugby league player Tim Wilby – told us what we wanted to hear: we were going to have a big name manager and a new all-seat stadium.
The first coup of the season was the appointment of Mark Hateley (closely followed by predictable Attila the Hull** newspaper headlines), with ex-Dundee Utd man Billy Kirkwood as his assistant. It was a bold move. As easily the highest-paid management duo in the bottom two divisions they had a lot to prove, but possessed little management experience themselves with which to do it.
Hateley's little black book has been well thumbed this season, as experienced pros Kevin Gage, Glyn Hodges and David Rocastle (yes, that one) have all queued for attention at the Boothferry Park treatment table (in between turning out in the odd game), but the simple fact remains that the current squad of free transfers and trainees just aren't good enough for even this poor division.
Lloyd's involvement has turned sour ever since that opening day as the dub continues to be the PR disaster it was previously under despised ex-chairman Martin Fish. In an attempt at reducing the wage bill the club physio, the new commercial and marketing team, the original club chief executive, and Lloyd's first chairman Tim Wilby all received the bullet. (Wilby was already in his Australian hotel room by the time the press conference announcing his forced "resignation" had been called.)
Unhappy at reports that the players were tiring 20 minutes from the end of matches, Lloyd ordered that a fitness trainer be brought in to sort them out. After only a few months it seemed that the players had had enough, exhausted at pointless weight-training and strenuous exercises even though the season was nearly over. Tales of "touch-rugby" sessions on the concrete club car park went some way to explain the mysterious number of "training injuries" the club seemed afflicted with. It was only the intervention of club PFA rep Warren Joyce – along with a rumoured sit-down protest by the players – which is believed to have brought about a relaxation of the strict regime and allowed them access to a ball, of all things, in training at long last.
So where do us long-suffering Hull City fans go from here? It seems that Lloyd is having second
thoughts about his ownership of the Tigers as he sees his other investment – our newly promoted rugby league neighbours – more profitable in the short term (the Sharks will receive over a million-pounds from Sky in 1998). Lloyd's plans for a super-stadium have also been scuppered after the council refused to donate acres of ratepayers' land gratis to build it on. He has since revealed he can't even sell "fer ark" (as the ground's faulty illuminated sign now describes Boothferry Park) to developers as Kwik Save, a supermarket with a 125-year lease on the North End, won't sell out, claiming it's one of their most profitable stores. Added to this, Lloyd has recently tried to convince us that he doesn't now, in fact, have a £200m personal fortune remaining, but a meagre £4m, not enough to build a new tennis club complex, let alone a new sports stadium and winning football side.
So the club stumbles on, albeit amazingly with terrific terrace support (Hull City have the third best average home attendance in Division Three even though they've rarely been higher than 20th) but who are destined to finish in their lowest-ever league position for the second consecutive season, capped off with the worst away record in England. The fans generally see Hateley as doing the best job he can with his hands tied and have written the season off. Using Hateley's name to lure the cream of the large pool of players whose contracts are up in the summer appears to be our only hope. Until then, thank God for Donny Rovers...