13 May ~ Every club forces its players round the pitch after the last home game of the season for the "lap of honour". Though for many the honour belongs to the supporters rather than the players as seasons end with disaster or mere disappointment. At the KC Stadium last Sunday, following a turgid goalless draw against Liverpool, the majority of the Hull City first team squad were not so much thanking the supporters, more bidding an untearful farewell. And, in return, the fans were not so much applauding out of gratitude, but out of duty.
George Boateng's outburst about Phil Brown after relegation was effectively sealed against Sunderland tried to deflect blame from the players for such a rancid exit from the Premier League, but those players needed to be told. There was no out-and-out catcalling as the players trudged with mixed interest (Steven Mouyokolo thumping his heart, blowing kisses and waving; Jimmy Bullard hiding in his training shellsuit behind taller team-mates and rarely looking at the crowd at all) but the response of the main singing section of the Tiger Nation told the players everything they needed to know.
Stephen Hunt, heroic and feisty in every game until his foot injury brought his season to an end, was able to give a salute by crossing his crutches above his head each time his name was enthusiastically chanted, almost certainly for the last time. Boateng, carrying his children, was afforded a brand new chant and responded with a proper acknowledgement. Mouyokolo, who will probably bring the club the most money in the summer fire sale, was given the biggest ovation via a song that adapts his surname to the melody of Do The Conga. The rest were, essentially, ignored.
Many folk hadn't bothered to wait for the players to re-emerge to begin with, knowing how appalling the traffic on Walton Street can be after a sell-out game against one of the giants of football. Those who did stay had specific goodbyes to offer. Hunt, Boateng and Mouyokolo are three of probably no more than six players whose heads can remain high after this season and they have undoubtedly played their last games for the club. By vocally appreciating their efforts, the fans were making it clear to most of the other players that their performances were not good enough. The general atmosphere was one of mutual resignation. As for Iain Dowie, he clapped the supporters with real enthusiasm and exuberance. He didn't get any kind of ovation, good or bad, singled out for him in return. He was just, well, ignored.
Nothing seems to have quite become the Tigers' season of turmoil and demotion as much as the way the fans reacted to the well-paid personalities who, as a unit, had failed, and yet expected sturdy and unflinching adulation upon returning to the pitch. The body language and morose expressions of a good few of them suggested they had to be threatened before agreeing to get out there and stroll round the turf. It wasn't even raining. Matthew Rudd