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PODCAST: The two sides to Sheffield

Here we go then, we’ve managed another podcast for you. Under discussion this week:

* transfer window closure
* off the mark at Hillsborough
* League Cup tie at Bramall Lane
* visit of Blackburn
* academy branded correctly
* new third kit
* Fulham opener, 08/09

Here you are…

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What price a City World Cup winner?

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The greatest tournament on earth – no, not Super League – has kicked off, and it’s hard not to be impossibly excited. World Cups are evocative occasions, summoning up memories of competitions past and a time of your life long gone.

You never forget your first World Cup. As a member of Club mid-30s, it’s always going to be Italia ’90. I don’t care that older viewers sniff about the quality of football, and anyway, retrospective viewings support that analysis. I only need to hear the opening bars to Nessum Dorma, the Puccini aria that BBC Grandstand and Luciano Pavarotti made famous in UK households, to be transported back to being a wide-eyed eight year old discovering football for the first time.

They still quicken the pulse. There’s nothing quite like a World Cup – and FIFA’s sordid machinations, the astronomical sums of money involved, the nefarious antics of pantomime villain players, nothing can remove all of the lustre associated with Jules Rimet’s gift to the world.

But one thing has different changed for City fans in adulthood and beyond:  the merging of two different components of our football-watching lives: City, and the World Cup.

You don’t have to go back too far for the World Cup and Hull City AFC to have nothing to do with each other. The demarcation zone was stark and the reason obvious: we were nowhere near good enough to have anyone involved. After all, Italia ’90 coincided with the beginning of the worst decade (so far) in City’s history as we tumbled down the divisions and into semi-permanent financial disarray.

But now look at us! Stricken as we are now, we’re about to enjoy another World Cup with Hull City involvement. The novelty has not quite worn off, but it’s still a real pleasure. But what are the chances of a Hull City player WINNING the World Cup?

They’re obviously not great. Australia are a remote 1000/1 to win the tournament; Jackson Irivine is unlikely to return to East Yorkshire adorned with gold and with tales of antipodean glory. Escaping a group in which they look distinctly fourth best would be a significant achievement for the Aussies. Advancing into the latter stages looks frankly impossible.

But what of Kamil Groscki’s Poland? Progress from a weak group H is probable, and assuming England and Belgium both qualify from neighbouring Group G, they’d hardly be rank outsiders against either. At 80/1 to go all the way, they’re scarcely a shoo-in, and you’d expect them to come unstuck when they encounter the tournament’s serious big hitters. Still, it’s roughly akin to Brighton winning next season’s FA Cup. Even a no deposit free bet may not have you scampering to the bookmakers, but if it happened, it wouldn’t be seismically shocking. Denmark and Greece were even bigger outsiders win Euro 2004 and 1992 respectively.

And even if Grosicki grates, there’d be something exciting and new about City having an actual World Cup winner (though you can already see the pound signs in Ehab’s cold eyes) – even if he didn’t feature in our hypothetical final. Then again, as he’s just left, wouldn’t there be something magnificently TypicalCity about Seb Larsson lifting aloft that magnificent trophy in July…

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Things We Think We Think #304

 

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1) Farewell then, David Meyler. It’s been on the cards for a while, ever since the player himself disclosed that no new contract would be forthcoming. It’s still immensely sad to see him go. He was a mainstay of so many of the good things, and he leaves a sizeable hole not just in the midfield, but in the character of the City squad. An engaging personality on Twitter, a courageous player on the pitch and a (belated) cult hero in the stands, he’s left to join another former fans’ favourite at Reading. Best wishes, David. And thanks for everything.

2) Abel Hernández signing a new contract with City never felt remotely likely, and so it proved. An accomplished goalscorer in the Championship, Premier League and at international level, who cost £10m, leaves on a free transfer. Such colossal ineptitude is par for the course, and we’re largely immune to it now. Again, we must just offer best wishes to a player who often surprised us with his workrate even in unglamorous surroundings. Even if we were going to try to replace him, it’d be difficult and costly. However, we aren’t going to.

3) Also departing is our club captain Michael Dawson. We also won’t be trying to replace him, not when there are plenty of mediocre, parachute-payment-non-disrupting loanees out there. On the field, he might not actually be impossible to replace, for it’s impossible not to have seen his decline this season. If their scouts have seen what we’ve seen, Nottingham Forest cannot possibly hope to still be fielding him in their first team towards the end of his two year contract. Still, it’s a nice story for him to return to his boyhood club in the late-autumn of his career, and who could blame him for wanting to leave us anyway? He’s clearly a model professional, evidenced by the fact that his best football of a decidedly patchy season came after he was declined permission to leave in January. So many players would have sulked; he resolved to improve. We’ll miss his leadership, which was understated but effective, and he leaves us with thanks.

4) On and on the exodus goes. Allan McGregor has rejoined Rangers, where he started his career 20 years ago. A big earner who had a big season, the presumed negatives of the former were always going to outrank the latter with the price-of-everything-value-of-nothing cretins who are befouling our club. And he too leaves with nothing to prove, having amassed a fine body of work while at City. Pointing to his occasional errors is a fool’s errand; all keepers make them. A combative attitude coupled with a capacity for remarkable shot-stopping make him a legitmate contender for City’s finest post-war keeper. We’ll miss him.

4a) It leaves City in need of a keeper, too. At the end of 2016/17 we had three: McGregor, Marshall and Jakupović. The last of these opted to become Leicester’s third choice after an insulting contract offer, while it hasn’t remotely worked out for Marshall here. However, yachts aren’t cheap, so we’ll have to assume that we’re just going to have to make the best of it with Marshall, presumably with a yoof on the bench – and, in the event of injury/suspension, in the first team too.

5) Overall then, summer has gone largely as expected. No attempt has been made to retain senior players, and obviously replacements haven’t arrived. Not only do we presently have a squad a long way from being able to stay up next season, we’re not likely to either. Little wonder City’s odds of relegation have halved in the past few weeks.

6) It won’t get any better, obviously. Grosicki will probably be next, while anyone else with the acute misfortune to have Ehab Allam as their employer must be instructing their representatives to explore other options. It may be cricket and World Cup weather, but a chill wind assails the Tiger Nation. Already, the good times that were bookended by Peter Taylor and Steve Bruce are fading in the memory, like teenage romance a dozen summers ago.

7) Still, City have probably made football history this summer. With the announcement that prices for next season will not be confirmed until October, they have surely become the first club ever to wait until AFTER a season has begun before confirming the cost of going. We’re not laughing, and we’re not crying. We’re just numb.

8) Given the toxic miasma that envelops Hull City, it should come as no surprise when almost everything that is associated with the club is regarded with cynicism and disdain. However, the launch of the 2018/19 primary kit by Umbro was pleasingly free of negativity: it was executed well, the club’s name was used prominently in marketing (even if it is ludicrously absent from the kit itself) and as for the new shirt, shorts and socks, they appear to be widely admired.

9) No wonder. Umbro have delivered another doozy of a kit. Stripes have been retained, but given a modern and fresh look. There’s enough of a field of amber to prevent black raglan sleeves, used in concert with black stripes, from making the shirt and kit overall look dark.

9a) Consider us big fans. Sure, we don’t like what the 1 904 crest represents, and TIGERS on the back of the neck shows that the club are so inept at marketing that they break the branding guidelines they claim to work to. Neither of these things can be laid at the feet of Umbro though, the brand with the double-diamond are doing an exceptional job of making Hull City look good in an aesthetic sense, even if everything appears to be falling apart.

10) Amid the stark contrast of City plumbing sub-subterranean depths and the growing excitement of seeing whether our attempts to navigate the World Cup betting odds were successful, there came an unexpected glimmer of good news. Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, widely criticised for ignoring the obvious appeal of safe standing earlier this year, now appears open to it. Well done to her for having the courage to admit her original stance may have been wrong, which is probably not a common trait among politicians, and of course to the tireless campaigning of the FSF.

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PODCAST: The present and the glorious past…

Our penultimate podcast of 2017/18 reviews the season as a whole, eventfully turbulent and not one we’ll miss, nor look back on in a hurry, fondly or otherwise. Still, we end on a high note, as our anniversary retrospective of ten glorious years ago centres on the play-off semi final games against Watford.

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Things We Think We Think #303

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1. Eight days after 2017/18 sidled to its conclusion, the overriding emotion remains relief. It’s a sentiment that’s two-fold. Relief, of course, that the season ended with City avoiding a relegation that (for a time) seemed quite possible. As Nigel Adkins turned Leonid Slutsky’s free-scoring chaos-merchants into grimly dull loss-accumulators, the fate that was befalling Sunderland appeared ours too. It’s scandalous for a side with the distorting benefits of parachute payments to be anywhere near relegation, and this season will be remembered, if at all, as being an atrocious one. But it could have been worse.

2. Therefore, our relief is also for it being over. Never mind the occasional highs – pulverising Birmingham in September, the customary win at Nottingham Forest, the 0-5 and 5-5 insanity of April – this was mostly a season of gruelling inadequacy laced with regular off-field malice. 2017/18, goodbye and good riddance.

3. We said farewell with a 1-1 draw at Brentford that was actually one of the better days of the season. A hot day, a proper terrace, affable surroundings and a non-defeat all made for a better send-off than the campaign as a whole probably deserved. And it was a useful reminder that whatever else the Allam family are stripping away from the club, our fundamental spirit remains. Seeing City fans cavorting on the Griffin Park concrete well after the final whistle was an uplifting experience to take into the summer.

4. Already, the exodus begins. We’re fortunate that in the Allams we have owners who know better than to treat employees correctly and persuade them to sign new contracts; and so, another summer in which the first team – not that great to start with – is dismantled. Nigel Adkins is making brave little noises about doing our business early, but that won’t happen. We’ll sell or release anyone who’s any good or who may have the temerity to request a wage befitting their skill and experience, and stuff the squad half-full of mediocre loanees in late August. There’s no point in pretending anything else will happen – it’s the Ehab Allam way, and just because it’s pathetically failed twice doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near bright enough to have spotted a pattern yet.

5. As we’ve already touched upon, it isn’t a great first team that’s been dismantled, though it’ll probably end up being better than what replaces it. But among those leaving is a genuine star of the past decade, and someone who deserves to be recalled fondly in years to come: David Meyler. Long-term possessor of a few obstinate detractors, he won everyone over towards the end of his time here, and participated in so many of the famous achievements in our recent past. A player of unswerving committment, under-rated ability and unerring courage, he’ll be greatly missed. Thanks for everything David, and best of luck for the future.

6. It isn’t just first teamers going – as always at this time of year, youth team players judged not to have made the grade are being released. That’s always pretty sad, and we hope that as many of them as possible make it elsewhere. However, it was galling to see a common thread running throughout the departing comments of so many early 20s players: that they were never given enough time on the pitch to prove themselves. It’s understandable that opportunities in City’s first team have been limited given our recent Premier League past, but why were so few sent on loan instead of being abandoned in the U23s? Now past the first flush of youth, they’re having to find new clubs with younger prospects already coming up behind them and virtually no first team experience on their CVs. That’s epic, tragic mismanagement.

7. The club is going to meet with the FSF and SD over concessions. We hope those two fine organisations are ready for the full technicolour horror of meeting an Allam, because even though they’ve been extensively warned, there’s nothing like the real thing to make you realise just how unqualified they are to run a football club. Meanwhile, City continue to haemorrhage members and we still no fixed prices for next season.

8. A new crest! That we get a say in! You can see why this looks superficially good. However, the mechanism for selecting it is ridiculous. Phase 1 (yes, there are phases) requires fans to choose other fans, who’ll then sit alongside “community voices” and “influencers”. The issues are so widespread here we’re staggered (or perhaps not) that no-one’s thought of them. But just in case they haven’t: “community voices” doesn’t even require one to be a City fan. Therefore, some Leeds or rugby supporting bell-end could actually end up having a say on our future crest. And that won’t end well. As for “influencers”, the club has managed to alienate pretty much all of them anyway, from ex-players to local media. So, that’s phase 1, with fan nominations, non-City fans and uninfluential influencers, all to be revealed on (naturally) an unspecified date. So far, so shit.

9. Phase 2. Another sodding vote, on “crest elements”. Presumably they’ll be shortlisted by either Ehab or whichever stooge is doing his bidding at the moment, in order to avoid anything remotely good. Then we can choose a tiger (seriously). Then the “creative panel” will meet twice with the club to decide things, which appears to arm Ehab with a right of veto anyway in case the whole pointlessly torturous process has resulted in anything non-terrible someone sneaking through. And good designs don’t happen by committee anyway. Then there’ll be a BIG REVEAL at another unspecified date next year…all announced on a page that finishes up by calling us Hull City Tigers. What a joke.

10. That’s us done for a bit. We’ll pop up occasionally during the summer, chiefly to despair about whatever idiocy that family inflicts upon us next, but like you, we need a break from the whole circus. Enjoy the World Cup, the summer’s cricket and whatever else it is you do away from City, thanks for the comments/criticism/insults/reading/listening to our exasperated output, and we’ll see you in August.

10a. Allam Out.

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Things We Think We Think #302

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1. Thank God it’s almost over. A season of wretchedness on the field and malice off it had a fitting finale on Saturday, as City crumpled to a characteristically scruffy 2-0 defeat to a dour but organised and motivated side. It had everything that’s made 2017/18 an ordeal: flickers of promise, a pathetically cheap goal conceded and a pitiful response thereafter. City were crap, and got exactly what they deserved from the game.

2. A dead rubber at Brentford aside for those of an especially masochistic bent, the ghastliness is at a close. We’ve hated this season, and while a summer without City is usually a cause for sadness, we’re frankly glad we don’t have to put up with them for a few blessed months.

3. The class of 2017/18 has been deeply uninspiring, and even if its major deficiency has been quality rather than application, it’s been hard to warm to them. That’s part of the problem with mediocre loanees signed in a panic at the end of the transfer window – apart from not being especially good, their transient nature makes the fan-player bond harder to establish. And sure, there are exceptions, but generally speaking a player who’s only here for a short, defined period can’t create the same supporter relationship as one whose service spans years rather than months.

4. That didn’t make the “lap of honour” any less tragic. Barely 3,000 can have stayed to witness the limpest of mutual appreciations, and on one level we feel a bit for the players – it must have been quite embarrassing for them, and goodness knows they aren’t the real reason the club is a total mess. Players like David Meyler, Abel Hernández, Allan McGregor and Michael Dawson, sturdy servants of the club, probably deserved a heartier send-off than this.

5. But how can anyone blame City fans? After a dismal defeat at the end of a rotten season, why on earth stick around to insincerely acclaim those who are, in part, responsible? We’d like to think that the near-empty stadium for the post-match trudge would worry those in charge. But we know they aren’t listening, and don’t care anyway, so to them and the despicable handful of remaining apologists it’ll just be our fault anyway.

6. Which leads us nicely onto the latest sham ballot. It’s causing considerable consternation inside the club, with no-one knowing what on earth to do about it. Needless to say, turnout was reduced from the previous vote, with City fans rightly boycotting a poll when the previous one had been disregarded on account of an inconvenient result. That Ehab is completely clueless about how to proceed will surprise no-one, but his subordinates are suffering equal paralysis and the mood is not good.

7. It means that at the time of writing, City aren’t especially close to even announcing whatever the result of the second ballot is, and don’t expect them to announce the turnout either (or at least truthfully announce it – though there’ve been enough complaints raised to the Supporters’ Trust to render the whole enterprise highly suspicious anyway). Which means that on the final day of April, no-one has a clue what a 2018/19 season ticket/membership will cost or whether concessions will be reintroduced. The rest of the Championship is eagerly imploring its fans to sign up; City can’t even tell their fans the basics about next season’s costs. It’s a joke, and those responsible should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

8. Brentford next. It means nothing, to both clubs. Let’s just stand on a terrace (which worked out alright last time, and, Sports Minister, no-one got hurt), drink some beer and try to remember that while the club is presently stricken with a particularly vicious disease, it won’t last forever.

9. Sunderland, of League One and also very much of the north, have just been taken over. It’s almost as though the notion that non-Premier League clubs who aren’t near Heathrow Airport don’t attract buyers is a total fucking lie, isn’t it?

10. City are off to Kenya, which is all very exciting. But with a familiar tin ear for the requirements of fans, a match that would require a significant outlay, very short notice travel to the southern hemisphere, time off work and so on hasn’t even seen City confirm whether tickets are going to be made available. Come on City, this sort of thing really isn’t difficult.

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PODCAST: Silly scorelines and survival

We’re safe, thanks to a 5-5 draw! Dumbfounded but grateful, we are back with another podcast as the season’s end draws nearer. Talking about…

*A bonkers occasion in Bristol
*A euphoric occasion in Burton
*An exotic possibility in Nairobi
*The day when automatic promotion was lost in 07/08

Behold…

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Things We Think We Think #301

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1. What an utterly preposterous football club we support. Not for us the usual pattern of sublime-to-ridiculous that lesser claimants to ludicrosity may submit; in the last three games we’ve gone sublime-to-shit-to-ridiculous. 5-0, 0-1, 5-5. It’s the kind of scoring sequence you’d associate with pre-war Division Three (North), not the ultra-professional 21st century Championship.

2. Days after the biggest away win in a century, City served up utter dross against Sheffield Wednesday and followed that up by sharing ten goals in Bristol. Our first ever 5-5 draw; the first time both sides have scored more than 4 in a City game, and so on. It was a crazy afternoon of football.

3. It didn’t look as though that’d be the case until the end. 2-1 at half-time rarely begats 5-5, and for long spells of the game City looked set to offer up another dispiritingly slovenly defeat. Some of the defending – in fact, almost all of it – was farcical, genuine pub team stuff, and that was before the goals started raining in. If Nottingham Forest are still preparing to offer Michael Dawson a contract in the summer, he’d better hope their scouts were elsewhere on Saturday; while he was offered scant support as City were wide open in midfield, on the flanks and indeed practically everywhere. Given the way the first half ended, it wasn’t a massive surprise that City ended up shipping five goals.

4. It was far less predictable that we’d score another four, but with Harry Wilson and a point-to-prove Abel Hernández, we do have a goal or two in us. We have throughout this grim season in fact, with 69 and counting, something no side outside the top four is likely to match. However, those two are clearly far too good for this level, and it’s really shown in recent weeks.

5. Wilson in particular has raced through the grades of appreciation, from promising loanee to highly effective loanee, and he’s probably now entering the “just enjoy him while we have him” stage. He won’t be here next season, and that isn’t even necessarily a slight on City – if Liverpool decide he isn’t quite ready for their matchday squads then he clearly merits a season-long loan in the Premier League instead. He’s got two more games with us. Best to make the most of them, and spend the next decade telling anyone who’ll listen that his time with City is what made him what he’ll become – which is clearly outstanding.

6. Those two games are now dead rubbers, with safety mathematically assured by Saturday’s draw at Ashton Gate. Credit to Nigel Adkins: for a long time survival itself looked far from certain, so to have it officially determined with two matches to go (and, effectively, with four remaining) is more than we’d hoped for. He isn’t a stellar name, and he doesn’t inspire us, but his overall work with City has exceeded our modest expectations, and he’s sure to be here next season. So be it.

7. With survival now guaranteed, we now have the opportunity to knack things up a bit for clubs with loftier goals. We’d ordinarily applaud what Cardiff have done this season, but Colin is their manager and he’s every bit as detestable as ever, so while we wish the Bluebirds no particular harm it’d be fantastic to ruin things for him. It’d also be nice to beat a side in the top six this season, and end the home season with a decent performance and result – goodness knows we deserve it.

8. Then it’s Brentford, who could need a result to pinch sixth place, and the chance for another terrace – and then that’s it.

9. Thank God. Summer beckons, and exhaustion racks the Tiger Nation. The bitter feud with the rotten Allam family won’t end until their reign is over, while gates fall, membership votes are the subject of untruths and pathetic bribes, and the club remains as hopelessly fractured as ever.

10. There’s no point in hoping for anything but big talk about our close-season plans followed by a clear out and hasty loans in late August, all as a precursor to another season of struggle. The future is bleak for now, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. All we can do is enjoy a few more goals before the torrid 2017/18 finally ends, and we can look forward to the World Cup, an interesting Test series with India and the chance to half-forget what’s been done to our club.

R.I.P Edwin Huitson “Eddie” Blackburn, former City apprentice who made 75 appearances in goal for the Tigers between March 1975 and January 1980.

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Things We Think We Think #300

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1. After scoring nine without reply in two games, we felt like we could touch survival in the Championship for another year, something which rarely felt anything close to inevitable since the turn of the year. As we approach the last triad of matches and shut the door on a pretty wretched campaign, we can at least regard the culmination of the season as successful and entertaining.

2. Well, that was the case until Sheffield Wednesday rolled into town at the weekend. They and their six billion supporters are nothing special at all, yet City’s infuriating apathy against them made for a brutally unwatchable afternoon at the Circle. Defeat when safety was ready to be assured is frustrating; a total lack of commitment after such an enjoyable couple of weeks of vibrant, flowing football is something approaching unforgivable.

3. Still, we ought not to dwell on defeat to the World’s Biggest Club for too long. Firstly, it might give their supporters undue belief that we give a toss; beyond that, we have a much more fun occasion from the last seven days to look back upon – namely, the jolly at Burton Albion.

4. A ground tick, of course. And we got to stand on a terrace, a rare treat indeed (and with the Government this week short-sightedly claiming nobody should want to do this at a football match any more, timely and apt – more on this shortly); and then we saw City tear apart the minnows of the Championship with an incisive, positive performance that contained some fine goals and seemed to allow for a re-connection between fans and players that hasn’t always been prevalent in these turbulent times for our club.

5. It was quite the evening for Kamil Grosicki. He scored two fine individual goals, hit the post and did a quite ludicrous dive in the area towards the end that got him a yellow card. Widely regarded as our best all-round footballer, he is nevertheless capable of acts of amateurishness that possibly contribute to the reason for his lack of suitors earlier in the season. But if we are to rise from the lousy troughs of this season under Nigel Adkins, you can imagine he’d quite like a focused, professional Grosicki to be at the forefront of it.

6. Meanwhile, Adkins has declared that he wants to keep Allan McGregor at the club, while there is strong rumour in circulation concerning an about-turn on David Meyler’s future, and he will be offered a deal. Of course, what the head coach wants and what the hierarchy are prepared to offer are likely to be a million miles (or a few thousand quid, or a year or two, apart) so we’ll take the prospect of the last two survivors of our FA Cup final squad remaining at the club next season with a few shovelfuls of salt.

7. It’s now mid-April, and City are still dicking around with votes no-one wants on an issue everyone’s already in agreement on. To re-iterate: City lost the original vote heavily, and are now resorting to offering “unique prizes” in the second poll in order to get turnout into double figures. It doesn’t appear to be working, though that means that City will invalidate the first vote on the spurious grounds of turnout while refusing to disclose the result; then declare concessions “unwanted” on the second vote while refusing to disclose both turnout and voting figures. This, we imagine, will all seem terribly clever and funny to Ehab. Which explains why his family’s reputation is in the gutter.

8. The club also promised it would start calling itself Hull City by now. Another broken promise, another lie from a club that seems institutionally incapable of being straight with supporters.

9. Ehab isn’t the only apparently uncomplicated individual who’s had a rotten week. Step forward Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, Hull University alumnus and MP for Chatham and Aylesford, who inexplicably contends that the desire for safe standing is the preserve of a “vocal minority”. She doesn’t even have the excuse of former Sports Ministers, who’ve been elevated to the Cabinet with no apparent knowledge of sport – she’s actually an FA coach. So her ignorance is positively inexplicable. But it may actually be useful in the long run. The backlash has been loud and sustained, and has galvanised afresh the overwhelming majority who favour safe standing as an option. Quite why this, or any other Government, feel they have the right to bar football fans from watching their chosen event in a way that virtually other sector of society is permitted to is beyond explanation – but, Minister, safe standing is an idea whose time has come. Probably better to get on board now.

10. It has been announced that Greg Abbott, a stalwart at City during rotten times in the 1990s, has had to step down from his behind the scenes role at Bradford City in order to start treatment for prostate cancer. Naturally, we wish a man who gave us great service a very speedy recovery.