1. We’re back in the Premier League for a third separate spell in less than a decade, and can look forward to another period of big occasions, big signings and big attention. Immediately we say congratulations to Steve Bruce and the team for achieving an instant return to the big time, even if it did come via the über-tense method of a play-off final at Wembley. But there are plenty of sub-issues that preceded, encapsulated and will now persist after Saturday teatime’s triumph.
2. On the pitch though, well that’s the easy bit to discuss. City let Sheffield Wednesday take an early foothold in the game and then, from roughly the 20th minute onward, took over, with naturally better, more experienced footballers able to control the flow and pace of the game, and by the time the halfway period of the second half had come, it was obvious who the better side were, and just one goal would likely finish the game.
3. And so it proved. Mohamed Diamé bent in a divine, gorgeous shot and won promotion there and then. The timing, the exquisiteness, the effortlessness, all combined in one moment of footballing artistry that killed our South Yorkshire opponents’ spirit and belief there and then. Hairy moments in the remaining 26 minutes, injury time included, were most rare. City had the ability to win the game and not lose it in equal measure and, gallant though they were in their efforts all afternoon, Wednesday simply couldn’t respond.
4. Diamé is such a good player that it really is baffling how his season has fluctuated between Championship colossus and half-arsed also-ran, because he has been noticeably both through the course of the last nine months. On his day, he was the best player in the division. His day, however, didn’t come often enough, a self-inked blot on his copybook. Mercifully, one of the handful of days that did come for him was on Saturday May 28th because even putting aside a wonderful goal, he was unplayable.
5. Everybody who started the game deserves praise, in variant quantities. We reserve special mention for Eldin Jakupović, who didn’t have a serious effort on goal to make look difficult but did deal with the bread and butter stuff in a most competent manner, and Moses Odubajo, who was the only member of the starting XI not to have played Premier League football before but over the course of three play-off matches looked the most obviously Premier League standard of them all. Kudos also to Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies, their combined ages and avuncular personalities inspiring total belief in those who play around, behind and in front of them; Tom Huddlestone, who topped the stats table at Wembley and Jake Livermore, whose back story is such that only the most churlish, stone-hearted moron would not wish him good cheer after his all-action display on the big stage.
6. Jakupović and Huddlestone have both spoken since the final about the lack of action by City on the contractual front while, notably, bringing up the fact that other players with deals due to expire this summer have had talks and put pen to paper. Whether they will now re-sign is now up to the manager, but of course, we go into the summer not knowing who that is going to be – and it seems the incumbent doesn’t know yet either.
7. Many have commented that City have been very low key in celebrating this quick return to the top tier, and with all the fresh riches a place in the Premier League brings. Much of that is because it hasn’t been a club that has been comfortable in its own skin this season thanks to the eternal stand-off between ownership and supporters, something that has managed to filter through to the players and coaching staff during the course of the year. But more than anything, the muted shindiggery has been because Steve Bruce doesn’t know what he’ll be doing next.
8. The manager looked knackered as he raised the trophy in the the Royal Box. The cheer he received was deservedly huge but the passive, watery smile and long sighs that dominated his demeanour said plenty, and he confirmed what we were all thinking in his usual candid way afterwards. This is a man who has achieved, then been knocked back, then achieved again, all while fighting an eternal inferno between his paymasters and his team’s supporters, trying to not offend either and probably ending up hacking off both. It seems he doesn’t want to do it any more if the club remains in Allam clutches, especially as he always got on well with Assem while not having the greatest of working relationships with Ehab. The ailing health of the patriarch and lack of likelihood of his recovery suggests a harder rain could fall for Bruce at City, even with Premier League money to spend, if he remains in place.
9. But, of course, the club is for sale. The Allams have said this ever since the FA’s decision not to endorse their preposterous rebrand, and building up to the climax of the season there have been rumours of buyers from various locations across the globe. The Wembley bathwater in the players’ dressing room had barely gurgled down the plughole when news of interest from consortia in the USA and other areas started to seep through and at least one seems to have made it fairly plain that they would wish Bruce to work for them. But, true to hypocritical form, such interest and the promise of mega Premier League money has made Allam jr. change his stance as vendor somewhat. The club may still be for sale but it now appears to be not as vehemently a slavering fox in the chicken coop of their business portfolio as they had allowed us previously to believe. Money talks, as ever. A person not prone to mistrust or misanthropy would just say the Allams were understandably holding out for the highest possible sum to pluck Hull City AFC from their grasp; the more cynical – ie, the City fan who has seen the Allams drop clanger after clanger and dissemble their way through their stewardship of the club without an ounce of shame – would just say Ehab has seen the cheque that promotion proffers and has decided to hang about.
10. If the Allams stay, then there’s no end of trouble ahead as Premier League status will likely allow them further ammunition, misguided and badly argued though it may be, to push their abominable membership scheme upon us. However, an astute piece of thinking is that even if other parties fail in a bid to buy the club, any opposing view they would hold on this scheme might make the Allams think again. They don’t listen to the fans – we’re irrelevant and we can die when we want, remember – but they do listen to people with their kind of wealth.
11. The empty seats. Yes, they are a source of embarrassment, though the people who should really be embarrassed about them are the club’s owners, as it is a reflection of how many fans have come to find their stewardship of the club repugnant. Having sought to vandalise the club’s identity, using it as collateral in a spat with Hull City Council, the Allams have sought to punish fans for daring to value the name the club was born with by calling them ‘hooligans’, telling them ‘they can die when they want’, they’ve stated to the FA that fan opinion is ‘irrelevant’, hiked up pass prices following relegation, evicted supporters from seats they’ve sat in for years with no consultation and abolished all concessions under the guise of ‘making football more affordable’.
12. The red seats made conspicuous by their emptiness on Saturday are a follow on from the red card protests at recent home games. While we personally took a ‘support the team not the regime’ approach to the play-off final, we have every sympathy for someone priced out in 2016/17 feeling that there was no point in paying a premium to see the game that determines what division we play in next season when they won’t get to see next season’s home games in person. Some have proffered cost and the rugby teams having games as reasons for the less than stellar turnout in the eastern half of Wembley, but those who have spoken to us about why they didn’t go have given just one reason: alienation. A feeling of disconnection from a club that no longer values their support.
13. There’s an odd morality in football fandom that decrees glory-hunting fans are something to be derided if they turn up en masse to, say, a home cup game against a big side when they’ve been absent at all other games, but should you get to Wembley for a play-off final then suddenly glory fans are a good thing, and it’s their absence that’s criticised. Somehow Sheffield Wednesday selling out their Wembley allocation of nearly 40,000 is a sign that they’re a ‘proper club’ who ‘deserve to be in the Premier League’, not a sign that they’ve more bandwagon jumpers than us. The average gate at Hillsborough this season was 22,640, but we’re supposed to view them as a ‘big club’ because many more than that wanted a day out at Wembley? Meh.
14. That’s not to say that Wednesday’s fans were not impressive in their bouncing full-throatedness (well, until we scored). They were, and they have a unity that we can only envy at this time. Let’s hope that the fracturing of our fanbase can be repaired and the passion of the Tiger Nation can be obvious once again.
15. Back to the membership scheme, in particular its odious removal of discounts from kids and seniors. As some eagle-eyed City fans discovered over the weekend, this is explicitly contrary to the Premier League’s own directives, as seen in their own 2015/16 handbook. In section R it plainly declares that such concessions must be made available. Did City realise that that they are instantly defying Premier League rules by pricing out the next generation?
16. And what happens if City don’t back down? The Football Supporters’ Federation are aware of the club’s dismal plans and are making representations on the fans’ behalf. It seems almost inconceivable that we could be denied promotion if Ehab doesn’t change tack and breaks a fairly obscure rule in a 582 page handbook – but then again, why would the Premier League seek to let little old Hull City AFC pick and choose which of its rules they abide by?
17. And most damningly of all, how on earth have we arrived at the situation whereby the Premier League, that ultimate manifestation of greed in the game, is being turned to for help in safeguarding the club’s future support? When they’re the good guys and your owners are the bad guys, it’s a reminder that the sooner they get the hell out of this club, the better.
18. Hopefully, whoever’s decision it was to put “Tigers v Sheffield Wednesday” on our play-off final shirts will be following them out of the door. It meant the Owls’ shirts had our name on them more than our own. Pathetic, spiteful, tiny-minded shite, City.
19. Let’s try to end on a positive note. As mentioned before, we can at least chart a path towards a happier future now. The advent of Premier League football makes shedding the Allams easier, and it’s good in its regard, right? We aren’t the wide-eyed fanbase of 2008 and we know the reality of the Premier League doesn’t match the glossy brochure, but it’s still the division we’d choose to be in. Let’s not be blasé and arrogant about this – Hull City AFC in the top division of English football is a very special thing. And it’s great news for the city of Hull too, the place so many of us are proud to call home. Hull, the Premier League City of Culture. We’ve come a long way.
20. Thanks for all of the comments, queries, tweets, e-mails and insults throughout what’s felt like the longest and most draining season of our 18 year existence. They’re all appreciated and we’re still quite touched that fellow fans take the time and effort to read our stuff and get in touch. There’ll be one final celebratory, hoarse podcast recorded live on Periscope tonight and then online to download tomorrow, then we’ll be posting only sporadically through the summer while we enjoy Euro 2016 and the cricket (some of us). See you in August, hopefully with new owners of our beloved club, and let’s see just how far we can go.