Hull on earth: Why this slandered city is struggling to draw football fans

Where the Hull and Humber rivers meet you can hear water lapping at the Pierhead, the unused reminder of East Yorkshire’s prosperous trading past. It’s where exotic fruits were delivered, to then be scattered across the British Isles, shocking the stomachs of diets dulled by the rationing that prevailed until 1954.

Now, much like Hull itself, the Pierhead is washed up; reeling due to the automation of manufacturing and the Cod Wars of the 1970s that killed its fishing industry. And it’ll never recover, if you believe the city’s nomination as Britain’s most “Crap Town” by Idler magazine in 2003, and the damning statistics each time there’s a survey on some aspect of socio-economic wealth.

“You find with these ‘studies’ that they’re done by people who probably haven’t ever visited the city and have their conclusions first and find the stats to match,” Danny Longhorn, a DJ for KCFM and former writer for the Hull Daily Mail, told theScore.

“Hull generally is one of the most deprived areas in the country, and probably above average unemployment, but it is one of the cheapest cities to buy a house and generally to live in. Exam success continues to improve year-on-year and the amount of people unemployed is as low as it’s been for years.”

Academic achievement did make a notable progression in 2016, with ITV reporting that 55 percent of students passed in both mathematics and English in their GCSEs, up from 49 percent the previous year. In turn, this improvement has seen the unemployment figures for people aged 18 to 24 drop by 37 percent from between the worst records in the 1980s and 2015, according to the Hull Daily Mail.

Still, there’s a long way to go from the figures picked up by the Guardian’s Fred McConnell in 2014, stating that Hull had more people signed on the dole than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

While demographic factors would affect Hull City, particularly when the Tigers vie for attention with two professional rugby league teams that divide the east and west of the city, this is not predominantly to blame for the drab turnouts at the KCOM Stadium lately.

Besides, things are looking up for this corner that has traditionally been down-trodden by Conservative governments and ignored due to its distance from the economic centres of London, Manchester, and even Leeds. German company Siemens has moved into town, creating 1,000 jobs in wind turbine production and installation, and there is excitement surrounding Hull’s UK City of Culture year in 2017, when its impressive cultural past and a better future will be celebrated through the hosting of prestigious events and the re-generation of some pockets of Hull.

Need owners who ‘care’

Instead, in a psyche typical of this settlement, the population is turned off trips down the KCOM Stadium due to City’s hierarchy. A disdain for authority has lingered on Humberside since Charles I was denied entry into Hull in 1642 – an event which marked the first major action of the English Civil War – and that shunning of jurisdiction exists in football.

“I don’t think you need to look much further than the current owners (the Allams) and a relationship which is frosty at best,” Longhorn explained. “An attempted name change, and a controversial membership scheme with a lack of concessions among the issues. It’s priced out some of the older and younger fans – the loyal who have stood by the club through thick and thin, and the future, who would have stood through the club through thick and thin.”

Longhorn added: “The fans need to have owners who we feel care about us.”

The attitude surrounding the club’s ownership is deserved. A billboard erected on a busy road in the city pointed out the increase in price for a child’s season ticket since Egypt-born Assem Allam assumed control, and the proposed name change from Hull City Athletic Football Club to Hull City Tigers – no consultation with the fan base sought in coining this idea – unsurprisingly sat uncomfortably with supporters. An outfit from such a proud region was going to have its history unceremoniously wiped out for a name more suited to rugby league – or worse, the NFL.

(Courtesy: Hull Daily Mail)

It’s not just the stoic perspective of those from the East Riding passed down from those that shut the doors on Charles I’s face, but perhaps also a slight distrust for outsiders. Sixty-eight percent of locals voted in favour of Brexit, and there is a strong feeling that their backyard is to be commended for its rich history, not condemned by surveys and politicians. There’s a reason why many Hullensians tend to stick around.

The Housemartins, a four-piece that combined wit and social commentary of the most cutting variety, with guitars that could soundtrack youths kicking up daffodils, blew the final whistle on what Humberside made of the country’s capital – and, in fact, everywhere else – with the title of their 1986 debut: “London 0 Hull 4.”

Northern outpost

Nearby to the Pierhead is Oss Wash, the place where people used to wash their horses in the orange water, and, in the correct spot, you can hear a blend of the rivers’ confluence lapping and cracking on each, surrounding you with sounds reminiscent to a tiny desert island.

(Courtesy: Hull Daily Mail)

Coventry-born yet Hull-honed poet Philip Larkin described the town as “a city that is in the world, yet sufficiently on the edge of it to have a different resonance.”

It’s reminiscent of the city and its football team’s plight. As long as the Tigers’ ownership is continued to be at the whims of outsiders, shunning its past and changing its future, the club is at risk of being cast off even further from this naggy, northern outpost.

And the stubborn population, unlike Mike Phelan’s bottom-placed lot, will always win; the Allam family turned away like Charles I.

“If we can just improve the main road through the city and see this Northern Powerhouse come to fruition then the future looks bright,” Longhorn stated. “We just need Hull City to start winning a few games and survive in the Premier League.”

Hull aims to climb the three-point deficit between it and 17th-placed Crystal Palace in the Boxing Day visit from Manchester City.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.