The current incarnation of Hull City is desperate for nourishment in this January transfer window, something that in times of feast rather than famine we have happily gorged upon since the restrictions were imposed on clubs outside the Premier League in 2005/06. But, of course, transfer windows are as much about acquiring good money for good players as they are for acquiring good players for good money, and so we present a quintet of memorable, for any reason you choose, January sales…
1: Craig Fagan
The most telegraphed January departure from City since the window was founded, by dint of his rather prominent refusal to extend a contract that expired at the end of the 2006/07 season. It was a torrid campaign and Fagan’s stance as one of the better and more experienced players didn’t help, though with his personal reputation growing and City on the verge of dropping back into League One he was perfectly entitled to let the weeks of indecision drag on until January came.
Derby County were the club that bit, and Fagan signed for £750,000 as City cashed in rather than risk letting him go for nothing. He missed the game against his old club a month later but started at Wembley in May 2007 as Derby won the play-offs and promotion to the Premier League. Their subsequent season was a record-breaking disaster with just one win, but an out-of-sorts Fagan blinked and missed the worst bit after returning to City on loan, in amber boots, 14 months after leaving.
His contribution as City got to Wembley was minimal, although he managed to get on the pitch as a late sub at Wembley for his second Championship play-off final in a row, before making the return permanent in the summer as City gave Derby every penny of their money back.
This time he knew where the greener grass was to be had and he stayed at City steadily, uneventfully, sometimes frustratingly, occasionally brilliantly, until 2011 when Nigel Pearson released him, three senior appearances short of the 150 mark.
2: Aaron Mclean
In City’s first season in the Premier League under Steve Bruce, perennial reserve striker Aaron Mclean was barely anywhere to be seen. He played just six minutes in the top flight – the only experience of the highest level he would have in his career – before being shipped off to Birmingham on loan until Christmas.
But his return in January 2014, and to the shop window, allowed him a wonderful, symbolic, vital last hurrah. He scored one of City’s two goals in the FA Cup third round win at Middlesbrough, setting the Tigers on their way to Wembley for the final. Less than a fortnight after scoring that goal, Bradford put in an undisclosed offer and Bruce let him go. But what a terrific parting shot.
Mclean fitted the classic lower division profile of a player whose effort and attitude made actual limited ability much easier for supporters to bear. A warm character and consummate professional, Mclean couldn’t properly make the next step up, despite a prolific record with Peterborough, when signed by Nigel Pearson to form a brand new strike duo with Matt Fryatt at the beginning of 2011.
It took a long time for him to score at the Circle – indeed, it was the following season before he was off the mark at home, by which time he had scored at Scunthorpe, Coventry and his old club Peterborough, but even though he helped secure victories in all three games – indeed, in two of them his strike was the only goal of the game – he never convinced anybody of his ability at Championship level while concurrently proving he was a proper, admirable trier who, despite not being the tallest, was very good at winning aerial duels.
Nick Barmby indulged Mclean but Bruce saw through him early in his tenure in 2012/13, despite scoring the only goal in a big win at Sheffield Wednesday. Nonetheless, Mclean’s impeccable attitude meant he wasn’t hastily shipped out, regarded as a good egg around the dressing room. City’s promotion back to the Premier League under Bruce featured him more as a cheerleader than player, and his only further goal that season came during a loan spell at Ipswich.
If the Championship was beyond him, then the Premier League unquestionably was, yet there was something endearing about Mclean being around, and it was befitting that a thoroughly decent man could start the ball rolling on a history-making moment that City fans may never see again, even if he was long gone by the time we – and he – were able to appreciate its full significance.
3: Jason Price
Price’s sale took everyone by surprise, as he was a player in form, regularly starting games in the Championship and not angling for a move or very obviously letting his contract run down as the first ever January window for lower division clubs began in 2006.
Yet when Doncaster Rovers made a bid for the fleet-footed winger, City manager Peter Taylor accepted it and Price, who had just partaken in a 3-0 shoeing of Stoke City and seemed a settled presence in a squad that was adapting to Championship football after two straight promotions, duly dropped a division.
Taylor said at the end of season fans forum that he thought long and hard about the offer for Price, who was still only 28 at the time, but in the end let him go because the deal was good for all parties. Price lorded it back in League One and was a success at Doncaster, most notably when he played in their play-off final win at Wembley over Leeds United, 24 hours after his former club had secured Premier League football for the first time on the same turf.
4: Robert Snodgrass
Another one of those deals that felt like it was only a question of time when the bongs sounded on a new year. Snodgrass was the creative force and the form player of a squad weakened by lack of Allam investment, or interest, from the summer of 2016, during which time Steve Bruce finally declared he’d had his fill of Ehab Allam’s dimwittedness and walked away.
The saga of Snodgrass was interesting, as he’d spent more than a year on the sidelines with an appalling knee injury, suffered on his league debut for City in August 2014. City had nursed him back to health, as was their duty to a player badly injured while playing for them, but when attention to his good form in a misfiring squad under the ill-equipped Mike Phelan began to grow, it seemed he wasn’t inclined to dampen it down.
On one level, he was entitled to his inaction. After all, City were a basket case, with a hateful owner, a head coach out of his depth and a squad desperate for experience, form and just more bodies to select from. Yet there was also a perception that City’s patience with the well-paid Snodgrass should be replicated by the player, even though other clubs were fluttering their eyelashes his way, knowing that the Allams were far more interested in acquiring money than preserving good footballers.
Burnley and West Ham both bid, and it was the £7m offer by the Hammers that eventually won the day, with Snodgrass heading to London. It smarted with many, illustrated by the photograph of one City fan laughing at Snodgrass after he was substituted following an indifferent display for West Ham when returning to the Circle with his new club. City won that day but were still relegated, while Snodgrass was told in the summer he was surplus to requirements at West Ham, merely six months after joining and now he’s on a season-long loan in the Championship at Aston Villa. No-one won this battle, in the end.
5: Ian Ashbee
Nine years, three promotions, appearances in all four divisions, two career-threatening injuries, lifting a trophy at Wembley… all of this was going to make the exit of our greatest ever leader in January 2011 so much harder to bear.
Although 34 and slowing down, Ashbee seemed to be focused again after missing an entire Premier League season with injury, and under new manager Nigel Pearson, and back in the Championship, he was leading, contributing, tackling and encouraging in his usual manner. He even scored on the opening day of the season in his first match for 15 months. But the lure of working again with Phil Brown, the manager with whom he’d enjoyed the most glorious of days, was too much, and when the ex-City gaffer asked his former club to let their skipper join him at Preston, they agreed.
Despite a testimonial season potentially looming, Ashbee wanted to go, and after nine years of immense service it would have been harsh if City had stood in his way. And yet, just sometimes, one wonders what could have happened if they had…