Hope Springs Eternal

Let me take you back about fifteen years. Wimbledon were worthy winners of the FA Cup, proving that any team, no matter what their background, history or tradition, could rise to claim the English game’s top honours. Hull City, a provincial side with big plans were riding high in Division 2, entertaining real hopes of ‘doing a Wimbledon’ and playing top flight football for the first time in their history.

‘Doing a Wimbledon’ was the ultimate ambition of approximately 70 of the 92 league clubs. Not just surviving in the first division, but positively thriving.  Who wanted to be Southampton or Coventry, when with the right manager and ‘crazy gang attitude’, you could win actual, real silverware.

And how magnificent the Cup Winners Cup, or even the European Cup, would look bedecked in the mighty amber and black once English clubs were allowed once again to sweep all before them in Europe (note how already, the UEFA Cup had been bypassed as a trifle, somewhat below the Anglo-Italian Cup in the list of  tiger striped priorities).

If Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa can win the thing, then how easy would it be for Hull City once we entered? There seemed no limit to how far a club could go, even as recently as 15 years ago. Of course, the ‘big five’ of Liverpool, Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton and Spurs would have the advantages of money, support and tradition, but English football was a place filled with hope. There was nothing to stop the lowliest of clubs from having the mightiest of aspirations.

Fast forward 15 years. Your own personal hopes for the futures have undoubtedly changed. You dream no longer of glorious sex with Cindy Crawford, but instead hope for a brief fumble with Rose from accounts. Your dream of playing for England has long been replaced by a vague hope that you’ll lose your paunch in time for summer. What you were convinced you’d make in a week, you now have hope to make next year.

But what of your hopes for Hull City? A football club is immune from the natural ageing process that affects the rest of us. Should it start to droop or sag, then a fresh injection of new blood works more effectively than an injection of botox works on the rest of us. The hopes of a football club should therefore be largely static from one generation to the next. They may never come to fruition of course, but as far as the local football club is concerned, the hopes of the father can be passed on to the son with only a change in the name of the trophy sponsors (praying for a good run in the Milk Cup has long since ceased to be a requirement of most forward thinking football clubs). So what are your hopes for the club now? Almost certainly, to win promotion, and ultimately consolidate our position as a solid first division club? Am I wrong? You know, deep down, that should we ever be promoted to the top flight, we would either bankrupt the club chasing that mythological ‘fourth from bottom’ position, a la Bradford, or spend nothing, and come straight back down again, a la Watford. Sustained success is just not possible for a club like ours, and in your heart of hearts, you know it. European competition is unrealistic, as is cup success in any competition not forever associated with windscreen wipers.

So, that’s as good as it gets? In our wildest dreams, we become Crystal Palace. A respectable first division club, with occasional and brief visits to the Premier League.

You’re reading this no doubt, as a dedicated Hull City fan. Nothing short of the club’s extinction would stop you supporting them, but ask yourself, what does Hull City have to offer a younger fan, as yet, with no firm allegiance?

The start of any meaningful and long lasting relationship should be filled with expectation, the promise of the unknown, and hope. Contrast your first love, with a visit to a prostitute. One fills you with excitement, promise and long term possibilities. One is a grubby encounter that offers no real prospect of a meaningful and rewarding relationship (I’m sure you can work out which is which).

So it is for the next generation of football fans. Without hope for the future, why should they support Hull City? They can watch Arsenal play much better quality football, much more regularly and cheaply than they can watch Hull City. They have the prospect of success and glory, and not merely first division consolidation. Without the continued support of younger crowds, the club will die. Instead of offering them a sexy new girlfriend, you’re offering them a visit to a dying grandmother. One whose hopes have long since been extinguished, whose better days are behind her, and one whose daily highlight is avoiding the cold touch of the reaper.

“What about our new stadium / chairman / manager? Hardly the actions of a dying grandma!” I hear you cry. And I say it matters not that Grandma has bought herself a new cardigan, it just means she’ll be warm when she dies. Even with a new stadium, generous chairman, and top quality manager, we still know Premier League football is virtually impossible. And without even the prospect of top flight football, the club’s support will wither and die, warm in its new stadium.

Sky, Murdoch, the G14, Dolan. Blame who you like. They’ve all contributed in some way or other to squeezing out the very lifeblood of our club, the hope of the fans who follow it. Without hope, there is no reason to support it, and without support there is no club. So be sure what the future holds. The big three red clubs will leave to play in a full time European competition. The Premiership will become invitation only, ensuring Rangers and Celtic can play, and also that no clubs have to suffer the crippling threat of relegation. The rest of us will be cut further adrift from the TV money, resulting in part-time players, even less interest locally, and eventually, liquidation. Or at best, a merger with Grimsby or Scunthorpe. Humberside United. Has quite a ring to it don’t you think?

There is a solution. Regionalisation of the lower leagues. But that’s a whole different article.

Bristol Jim

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