To the surprise of everyone – not least ourselves – today marks the 20th anniversary of Amber Nectar being founded.
We started, as you did in the late 1990s, as a paper fanzine being hawked on the streets approaching Boothferry Park, before migrating – as you also did in the early 2000s – exclusively online.
To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we’re going to become even more insufferably self-referential than usual by casting our minds back to the best 20 things we’ve done or seen during that couple of decades. If nothing else, it serves as a handy recap of our generation’s life and times, and as grey hairs, families and mortgages increasingly occupy us, let’s seize the opportunity to celebrate a milestone. So here goes:
20. Sponsoring Mike Edwards’ kit (1999-2000)
AD: One thing that a paper fanzine has over a website is that they tend to make money, rather than lose it. And at a quid a throw, the fanzine usually had a surplus at the end of each edition. Keen to put at least a little something back into City (remember, this was when the players’ and fans’ wages and were not wildly divergent), we decided to sponsor Mike Edwards’ kit. It was £50 for the season for the privilege, which guaranteed a place in the programme. The prominence of the mention depended upon what you sponsored – you could, for a mere £15, sponsor Gregor Rioch’s shinpads. Being all flash, we decided to blow some cash on a full kit. Only for those bastards* at City Independent to trump us by having a proper hoarding on the perimeter of the pitch.
* they’re not really bastards, in fact despite the mild but weird antipathy that once existed between our forum’s users and theirs, the CI editors are some of our best mates, we’ve regularly travelled away with them and – when CI was TOSS! we jointly formed a 5-a-side team in 1998 that, insanely, still exists
LM: It’s not true that we did it because we fancied his sister.
19. Standing in the pissing rain at Scarborough (1998)
AD: October in Scarborough. Glamorous it ain’t, but 1998 did at least see a real collectors’ item during the ill-fated reign of Mark Hateley: an away win. Neil Mann scored early, then Jamie Hoyland levelled, only for the City “player”/”manager” to score what would ultimately be the winner. We’ll remember it for something else though: drinking too much before the game and thinking it would be a great idea to tough out a North Yorkshire monsoon.
Because it rained, and rained, and rained some more. Early on, the uncovered overspill terrace to the right of the seated and covered away end behind the goal had almost emptied, as the stewards compassionately opted to let the seated area become over-full. But too young and too stupid, we thought that editors of a new fanzine should probably stick it out. I’ll never understand why. By half-time we were drenched; midway through the second mild hypothermia was setting in. “Still”, we optimistically opined, “at least this sort of caper is sure to get a mention in Steve Weatherill’s match report” – for then, as now, Mr Weatherill’s match reports and general air of scholarly magnificence inspired awe.
We never did get that mention, and upon traipsing forlornly back to the post-match pub, too sodden to care about the win, all we got was a derisive “what on earth were you soppy c*nts up to?” (see also: breakdancing on the away end during an Auto Windscreens tie at Chester, sharing a full bottle of whiskey en route to a League Cup tie at Watford, etc).
LM: What utter meffs we were (/are). I remember one bloke constantly berating us about how shit Hateley was and that he had to go (as if it was somehow our fault), but when Hateley scored he was the first person on the pitch to hug him.
18. Teletext entries (1999-2002)
AD: Like more and more of the stuff we used to like, this is one for “those of a certain age”. It’s been a while since Teletext was a thing, but once upon a time ITV’s Teletext service in the Yorkshire TV area used to give over a page every Thursday to each of its regions clubs’ fans – Leeds, Bradford, City et al, usually provided by a fanzine.
And so, they asked us. And we happily obliged. But it was oh so tricky. Each line was a fixed 39 characters long, and they wanted three paragraphs of text. No exceptions (and no hyphenation either). So we bought some graph paper to help us plot things, and agonised over how best to use our allotted 11 lines, usually deployed in an 4-4-3 formation.
Still, at least we tried to talk about City. Younger viewers may not remember, but back when City were scuffing in the lower leagues, all of the other local clubs were desperate for our fans’ attention. York, Rotherham, all of them anxious to generate a rivalry with the bigger boys. We’ll never forget how this culminated with Rotherham, who became weirdly fixated with us between 1998-2001: to them, we were “Dull Pity” from “Toothfairy Park”. No wonder Teletext was shut down.
LM: The fewer words there are to work with, the harder I find it to write articles, and as much fun as writing for Teletext every week was, conveying the events and emotions of a game, or week, was quite painful at times. After a while we started having fun with it, and began cultivating rivalries with other club’s fanzines. Andy mentioned the Rotherham fanzine ‘Moulin Rouge’ and their odd obsession with us, but my favourite ‘Teletext Rivalry’, which sounds weird, was with a Hartlepool fanzine.
We’d made some offhand remark about making them pay for crimes against simianity after beating them, and the week after they had a dig about us with their last paragraph. It set in motion this odd short attention span soap opera… they’d insult us one week, we’d retort the next, it was quite enjoyable seeing how hurt they appeared to be by a jibe that was tame enough to get by the Teletext editors as you ate your Coco Pops every Thursday morning. Then a quick game of Bamboozle.
17. Getting the Hull Daily Mail banned (2003)
LM: We’d been asked to write a weekly column for the green Sports Mail starting in 1999, and we took it in turns, Andy one week, then me. It was tricky to write sometimes, given that the articles went in a paper that came out about an hour after a game, and you’re talking about events from the previous week. We were largely uncontroversial, although someone once had a go at me in Spiders one Friday night because in his words “I disagree with every single thing you write!”, which was both funny and odd as I was complimentary whenever City’s performances allowed me to be.
Later on the pieces got switched to the main Hull Daily Mail on a Monday, in the sports pull out, and we were asked for extra bits to go into a side column: ‘best player, chant of the match, pub team moment’ and others. I wasn’t fond of those bits, they felt like a gimmicky add-on to a column we took seriously, I always did them last and often I was scratching around for something to include if it had been a poor game with little atmosphere.
After starting the 2003/04 season like a house on fire, City had a real wobble that lasted a month, starting mid November. The collapse of 2001/02 still felt raw, most City fans thought promotion was a certainty that year after spending a shitload of money (relative to our fourth tier standing) and playing sexy sexball football, but our arse fell out when it mattered, and here we were two seasons later, now in a shiny new stadium and more desperate than ever to get out of the bottom division, and a comprehensive loss at Huddersfield, an insipid 0-0 against Yeovil and a loss at Bristol Rovers gave many the jitters. What didn’t help matters was Peter Taylor having a thin-skinned spat with fans over his preference for the average at best but mostly crap Marc Joseph over Justin Whittle, a hero from the Great Escape year and very much beloved on the terraces.
When we lost quite feebly against Mansfield, I thought Joseph was particularly culpable so I took aim in the Mail piece after that game, using the sidebar columns to really stick the boot in. After that City went on an ace run, seven league wins in a row, and midway through that winning run, City took the step of banning the Hull Daily Mail from interviewing players. The Hull Daily Mail didn’t tell me about this, the first I knew of it was reading the Friday preview and John Fieldhouse wrote that he couldn’t offer a view on our match prospects as he’d been denied access because of my piece. There was a picture of John Fieldhouse outside the West Stand getting a dressing down from Adam Pearson a few days later, which I found a little bit funny but it also made me feel quite bad. I didn’t have a great deal of respect for John Fieldhouse from a professional standpoint; I thought his stuff was cliché-riddled bobbins, but I didn’t ever wish being prevented from doing his job properly on him, and I told him that.
I was summoned to see Adam Pearson and he gave me a real earful in his office, properly shouting at me, after which I said I stood by what I’d written in the main column and that I thought waiting till we’d won several games on the spin before calling me out on an article about a string of defeats was a bit cynical. The tone of the meeting changed at that point. He said the manager was upset at the article and he was going to back his manager, which was admirable. But then he said it wasn’t the column that Taylor took exception to, it was the sidebar stuff, in particular the ‘pub team moment’ box. Normally I’d deliberately choose an opposition player’s actions to mention there, but after the Mansfield game, full of righteous anger about Marc Joseph’s lame showing, I put him in it. Taylor, said Pearson, thought referencing professional players at an upwardly mobile club in terms of a ‘pub team moment’ was massively disrespectful, and frankly I was in agreement, I didn’t like the ‘fanziney’ sidebar bits which didn’t reflect how we did things at Amber Nectar and I resented doing them. We left the meeting with a good relationship restored, but the Hull Daily Mail decided Peter Swan should decide the pub team moments going forwards, and John Fieldhouse went back to calling players ‘big hearted’ and upcoming games ‘showdowns’.
AD: If we admit now that we always used to make up the comments and names for the “Fans’ Vox Pop”, the Hull Daily Mail will want their money back? Or that we sometimes used to sneak in deliberately wanky terms (“pastoral care”) in order to win bets with workmates at the time?
16. Meeting Tom Belton in Tropical Knights (1998)
LM: With City fans hoping for a new, new owner little over a year after David Lloyd strode into town, dummy in mouth ready to be spat out, the Hull Daily Mail‘s Matt Barlow and I were invited to meet Tom Belton, Lincolnshire pig-farmer and one time Scunthorpe United chairman in, of all places, Tropical Knights on the Marina to talk Tigers and takeovers.
It was a surreal rendezvous, attempting to talk over Corona’s ‘ Rhythm of the Night’ on seemingly endless repeat and the braying of slags, meffs and meffoslags. Belton seemed happy as a pig in shit (if you’ll forgive the obvious metaphor) speaking of the city of Hull in glowing terms, “it’s got TWO casinos!” he beamed, like the type of TripAdvisor contributor Ehab would rather keep happy than City fans.
He spoke of Hull City in equally positive terms too, convinced the club was worth investing in, hinting that he headed a consortium keen to do just that. He spoke winsome words about how the population of Hull should be involved in part owning the club, noting that no one person owned more than 10% of the shares in Scunny during his tenure. This was all music to our ears, as was his assertion that he had no interest whatsoever in rugby and little time for the quasi-merger of City and Hull FC that David Lloyd was working towards.
An interesting night came to an end, and we left hopeful, but knowing optimism tended to bite you on the arse when you’re a City fan. As it happened he was part of a consortium that bought City, but the undoubtedly genuine Belton was soon cast aside by a malevolent group that would become known as the ‘Sheffield Stealers’. Hull still has two casinos, and thankfully better hostelries than ‘Tropical Knights’.
AD: I didn’t go, because I was still under 18 and didn’t think they’d let me in. Bah.
LM: Pffft! You looked 36 in 1998 Andy.
15. Being bottled in Belgium (2014)
MR: The preliminary round of the Europa League was memorable for numerous reasons, although the actual football match was, for the second tie in a row, not one of them. City lost the game 1-0 and, with a 2-1 win at home the following week, went out on away goals, leaving supporters gutted at missing out on a jolly-up around more continental beauty spots and war zones via the group stage, giving us something genuinely new to look forward to in between the usual turgid, predictably one-sided occasions the Premier League forced us into.
No, the whole social, and indeed sociological, experience of following City abroad remained the most stirring memory of the campaign. And the visit to Belgium to take on KSC Lokeren evokes plenty of vivid memories, one of which was more vivid – and less pleasant – than the others: namely, the moment City fans were rendered sitting ducks for local hooligans wielding bottles.
We wrote a contemporaneous travelogue about the 48 hours in Belgium and it remains the most reliable account of the whole episode, but the upshot was that after the final whistle, we were kettled outside the ground by mounted, armed East Fleming rozzers with the keys to a water cannon, despite there being zero trouble before and during the game. Eventually, after much delay and annoyance (and a few uneducated songs about Belgian involvement in global hostilities) we were led down a residential street towards the town centre, the same residential street that in early evening springtime sunshine had featured homeowners waving to us amiably as we strolled happily towards the ground. This time it was dark, surprisingly unlit, and very few locals were hanging out of their windows. A small, unremarkable looking pub called De Mierennest (on the “no go” list issued pre-match) was built within the terraced housing, (think Malt Shovel, but with cleaner brickwork), and as the police and the front swathe of City fans approached it, the first of many bottles came flying over the driveway gate from the covered beer garden.
Innocent fans of all ages were injured, some tried to fight back but were kept at bay by the police who nevertheless didn’t seem inclined to put an urgent stop to the sharpened missiles continuously aimed over the top, nor move the City fans forward quicker to alert danger, nor regard those hurt as in need of any urgent medical attention, despite some deep cuts to faces and heads. Young fans were seen using the flags of other supporters to try to mop up the blood, in the absence of any actual first aid paraphernalia.
Eventually the aggro was brought to an end and it was to the enormous credit of the City fans that they didn’t go apeshit as they continued their walk towards the town centre, complaining bitterly but not without reason to the few officers on duty who had a smattering of English. There was still much chuntering going on at Lokeren station as City fans boarded trains for Antwerp and Gent, where many were staying for the night prior to heading back to Zeebrugge the next day.
Two of us were asked to describe the ruckus and comment on it for on the radio the next morning – over a bucket of boiled eggs in our hotel breakfast room, Andy spoke to KCFM and I chatted to BBC Radio Humberside, both of us making it amply clear that there was zero culpability to be attached to the City fans, who were ambushed, isolated and furious. When we alighted from the ferry the next day (well, some of us did – Andy’s absence from that ferry is another story which the travelogue will tell) we were filmed by Look North, because hooliganism will always get more publicity than the sport it follows. If we’d lost 1-0 and then spent the rest of the evening playing charades with the locals, it would have been less of a story.
For all this, we bear no ill will to Lokeren, either the club or the town. The fans who attacked us were already on the banned list, so had no dealings with us prior to their attack and evidently the club had done as much as they could to deter their nefarious ways. Those we did meet in the daylight were very hospitable, the town itself looked after its visitors impeccably and there was a No To Hull Tigers banner unfurled in the home end during the first half.
14. Asking Brian Little if we could go home (2001)
LM: I remember how giddy with excitement we were when we found out Brian Little had agreed to do an interview with us, and we figured he might give us 15 minutes of his time at most. So we went down to the training grounds at the University of Hull and watched the players train and then hung about in the lounge bit next to the changing rooms and I remember thinking as the scheduled time came and went that he had far better things to do than talk to us dickheads and if he forgot or sacked us off then fair enough, he owes us meffs nothing.
13. The paper fanzine (1998-2002)
LM: I was an avid collector of City fanzines, from On Cloud Seven, Hull Hell and Happiness, From Hull to Eternity, Last Train to Boothferry Halt, the fabulously surreal Fearful Symmetry to Tiger Rag. With David Lloyd in charge of Hull City and merging the business side of the club with Hull Sharks (nee Hull FC), there was lots to talk about but Tiger Rag seemed to be gone for good. I was stood on the South Stand terrace talking to a few fans I knew and said “there really needs to be a new City fanzine”.
I wasn’t meaning that I’d write one, but a voice behind me said “I’ll help you”, and that voice belonged to Andy Dalton. I didn’t know him, but I did recognise him from waiting outside Y.E.B. for Simon Gray buses to away games. Within a few weeks we were sat in his house working on a paper fanzine and a rudimentary website hosted by Angelfire, while his mother provided an ongoing supply of refreshments. On February 21st 1998, the first issue of Amber Nectar went on sale before the Scunthorpe United game, with City third bottom in Division Three and fans driven to ‘Thank God for Donny Rovers’. It was an amateurish first effort in truth, but it was an arch to build upon.
AD: In some ways it’s a shame the internet so rapidly supplanted the paper fanzine, which was ideal for both pre-smartphone half-time reading and then a few days of bogside perusal. We admire CI‘s doggedness in sticking it out for so long, loved Three O’Clock at Kempton‘s brief and vivid time and the nostalgic part of us welcomes FanaticHull‘s recent resurrection of the tradition.
There was definitely something to be said for it. Working out how many pages you’d need (always divisible by 4, of course). Creating a page order. Chasing up promised contributions. Meticulously arranging pages on screen – we used Coral Draw, which was pretty ancient technology even around the turn of the century. Then we’d save it all, Les would obsessively check and re-check it all, take it to the printers, they’d create lithographic films and a few days later, thousands of sheets of paper would arrive. Then it was on with the really back-breaking task: folding and stapling. It’d generally take at least a day of solid effort from a team of several. I don’t miss that bit. But seeing your creation in a physical rather than digital format was always very satisfying.
12. Being threatened by the Sheffield Stealers (2000)
LM: We’ve gotten used to breaking bread with chairmen over the years. Adam Pearson regularly sought our views at Fans Liaison Meetings and we met Assem Allam at the abortive attempt to respectfully make the case for not vandalising the club name (more on that later), but frankly our first encounter with club hierarchy was the most memorable. It wasn’t planned either, we were just doing what we did after every Boothferry Park home game: drinking in Three Tuns.
On this occasion, a load of suits swarmed into the place, oh look there’s marketing type Andy Daykin, oh and now there’s Nick Buchanan, and oh my! Vice-Chairman and convicted company law criminal Stephen Hinchliffe is now propping up the bar, flanked by a pale looking chap wearing a worried look. Daykin introduced ‘Hinch’ to us as we queued for a Riding Bitter (Les) and a Fosters (Andy), at which point the man who definitely wasn’t involved in the day to day running of the club said “If you say anything negative about us I’ll have your legs broken”. There was an amazed, amused silence before the wan-faced chap, clearly a legal professional, added “That definitely wasn’t a threat.”
Righto. “Err, barkeep, we’ll have some pork scratchings too.”
AD: Nick Buchanan’s dead now. So I guess we’re in the clear. But they was a real stench of unpleasantness about those two – and we’ll never understand why some City fans who really ought to have known better fell for their palpable bullshit.
11. China (2009)
AD: Have City ever done anything as utterly preposterous as spending a week in the People’s Republic of China? Perhaps not. Rather than attempt to distil that chaotic week into a few paragraphs, the diary of those days is probably the best starting point. Enjoy.
LM: Bah, my biggest regret in life is not going to China to see City. It just edges going out with that bog-eyed wretch who made me miss seeing Daniel Cousin’s goal at the Emirates live by being an attention seeking divomeff.
MR: I couldn’t afford it. But at least Andy hasn’t spent the subsequent years randomly reminding Les and I that he went to China and we didn’t, with any level of smugness or superiority. Not the sort of thing he would do, at all. He is also convinced that the tournament over there was official enough for him to add the host stadia over there to his ‘ground tick’ list, which is preposterous.
10. Attending that bonkers meeting with Assem Allam (2013)
LM: Have you ever walked out of a building and thought “What the hell was all that about?” A Christopher Nolan film can do that to you, a few Hull 2017 events evoked that too, but those things are positively abounding in accessibility compared to an audience with Assem Allam.
He talked about prostate cancer for nearly an hour, to the bemusement of the group waiting for a point relevant to the meeting to be made, then made libellous and implausible remarks about several local Councillors (this was the reason minutes weren’t released, as the collective of fans were concerned about embarrassing the club, we needn’t have been so conscientious), before praising Coventry City for monetising the Ricoh Arena with a Jaguar showroom, oblivious to the fact Coventry were playing in Northampton even after this was explicitly stated.
Looking back now though, what’s notable isn’t the surreal, non-sequitur conversations that made sense to only one person in the room, it’s what a spectacular waste of time the whole exercise was. Reading notes about recent meetings between fans and the Allams generates a sense of déjà-vu, or history repeating itself, as they clearly have no intention of genuinely working with supporters, they just want the illusion of fan consultation, just as they cultivate the illusion of philanthropy which looks more like tax avoidance and buying goodwill in the absence of people who’ll speak highly of them (unless they gain from it monetarily), the more you scrutinise things.
AD: “Yes, I will definitely consult the fans before trying to change the name”. He gave that assurance, three times, in a room full of people (and another Hull City official). Then tried changing it a few days later. Man. Of. His. Word.
9. First steps online (1998)
AD: As AN formed in 1998, so the internet was becoming increasingly more mainstream, with fully 9% of UK households having access to the newfangled “World Wide Web”. And it was an opportunity to make AN a multi-platform operation. So we borrowed access from that sliver of the populace with connection, or used my college access, and scoured “the web” for free website providers. Everyone seemed to favour Geocities, but a competitor named Angelfire seemed to offer a better service and less intrusive advertising – so off we went.
It’s easy to scoff, but this was new and interesting stuff, and the nline City community was burgeoning. Andy Medcalf’s Tiger-Chat was in its pomp, and new City-themed offerings were popping up on a regular basis, some destined for greater longevity than others. Our stay with Angelfire was brief – by March 2000 we were confident enough to buy our own domain and host our own website – but it got us going. Incredibly, it’s still there, with its last ever page suggesting just how long ago it all was.
And, because you’re no doubt all itching to either remember or discover afresh what we looked like online in 2000, that’s also possible. As if we were ever found enough time to list the juniors’ fixtures…
MR: I joined the site as a forum user in about 2001 and one of the first things I remember reading was a debate about the shape of Sophie Ellis Bextor’s face.
LM: Shaped like a BSB Squarial, obvs.
8. The FA Cup Final (2014)
MR: The FA Cup final is a bit like a multiple orgasm – something you read about it in magazines and only other people experience. The prospects of City reaching one (an FA Cup final, that is), even after promotion to the Premier League in 2008 and again in 2013, seemed absurd. We’d managed one semi-final, back in 1930, and even quarter finals were usually beyond our reach, though in 2009 we had a decent run that ended with Arsenal scoring a blatantly offside goal to knock us out.
Football clubs also were not interested in winning the FA Cup, really. If they did so, it was done by accident, because their second string teams kept turning up and winning. In 2014, Steve Bruce was evidently interested little in the FA Cup, as proved by his selection of the ultimate duo of castaways in Aaron Mclean and Nick Proschwitz to play up front in the inconvenient third round tie at Middlesbrough. Each scored in a 2-0 win and were sold afterwards. Matt Fryatt, another player unable to make a Premier League impact, scored both in a fourth round 2-0 win at Southend. Yet another backup striker, Yannick Sagbo, scored a late equaliser at Brighton in the fifth round, prior to City winning the replay. Fryatt got another during a 3-0 win in the sixth at home to Sunderland and then our second ever visit to Wembley saw us chuck all our dreams away in a rank first half against League One side Sheffield United, before turning the 2-1 deficit into a 5-3 win, with Fryatt and Sagbo among the scorers.
And so, we were in the final.
Europe would welcome us in the summer, which was a separate headfuck we’d have to deal with later.
Obviously, nobody gave us a chance. We didn’t give ourselves a chance. There was a defensive crisis going into the match, with Paul McShane and James Chester ruled out, while Robbie Brady was also injured and Bruce couldn’t trust anyone except Fryatt to run around selflessly up front while Arsenal inevitably dominated possession. But then we didn’t know that Chester had miraculously passed a fitness test, McShane had declared himself fit enough for the bench, and Bruce was going to deploy the hitherto criminally underused Stephen Quinn as a roaming forward behind Fryatt. Arsenal, blatantly thinking this was a cakewalk, didn’t know where they were.
My experience of the day was a bit rushed. I worked all morning and hopped on a 1.25pm train, which was supposed to get me to London for 4pm, allowing an hour for the tube journey and light jog up Wembley Way. The train was delayed arriving, the tube kept doing those unexplained stops in the middle of nowhere, and I didn’t just jog, I ran like my life depended on it. I walked along my row and found my seat next to Andy and the City Independent lads just as the players were waiting for the referee’s whistle to start the game. I missed Abide With Me, which I regret still, but I didn’t miss the kick off, mercifully.
The celebrations when Chester, then Curtis Davies, put us 2-0 ahead early on were among the most intense acts of mayhem I’ve ever seen grown, mature humans put themselves through. I was in the middle of them. We all were. We didn’t think we could win. And, in truth, we probably still didn’t. It was back to 2-1 at half time, and we all knew what would happen in the second half.
The Arsenal comeback, which included 30 minutes of extra time, was like watching a beloved pet die slowly after receiving the shot of cyanide. It was horrendous, and slow, and we suffered. There was no way I was going to stick around and watch Arsenal lift the trophy, so I walked through to the concourse and waited. I wasn’t a sore loser, but I was upset and I hated Arsenal, so the combination was quite a pungent one.
I cannot possibly foresee City getting to an FA Cup final again. But that word ‘again’ is so important. It wasn’t so long ago that we failed to get past the third round for 20 whole years. Now we had at least experienced the grandest of football’s occasions. Nobody can take it away. My match report for AN was included in the Guardian‘s Pick of the Week and I might say that I’m still very proud of it, written as it was the next morning via a mixture of coffee, Resolve and tears.
7. FLC meetings with Adam Pearson (2001-2007)
AD: Keen to do things differently, and better, upon assuming control Adam Pearson created a new Fans’ Liaison Committee. A mix of fans’ reps from the fanzines, websites and individuals representing the different stands, it met roughly every two weeks, with Pearson always in attendance.
And yes, they got bogged down in minutiae every so often, with easy-to-caricature stuff about pie flavours, hot water in the toilets and so on. But they did also represent a genuine opportunity to place fans’ concerns to an owner who cared, and where possible, acted.
He was also a great figurehead. No matter how City were doing, Les and I would leave meetings convinced that a brighter tomorrow was inevitable and imminent – and he delivered that too.
Post-Pearson, the meetings faded when Duffen took them over, and clearly couldn’t be arsed. Nick Thompson half resurrected them with a Fans’ Liaison Advisory Group (FLAG – geddit?), but that didn’t last. James Mooney vainly acted as the Allams’ human shield for a bit (though improved the quality of the catering), while the present rabble want nothing to do with us. It’s mutual, however.
LM: I loved FLC meetings, though at times it felt like we were the only ones who took it seriously. In terms of fan representation that is, we’d canvas questions and opinions via the Amber Nectar forums and dutifully take these to the monthly meetings, doing our damnedest to be the terrace equivalent of parliamentarians representing constituents. The meetings always started with Andy and I, we’d raise six or seven points and then it all went quiet. Hardly anyone else had anything to say and sometimes you wondered why some of them bothered, and then you realised that they just felt special being around the chairman and participating fully didn’t come into it. There was that one bloke that made just one suggestion of note all the time he attended, and that was to answer Adam Pearson’s request for suggestions about improving half-time entertainment by saying “I’ll bring my dogs if you like!” Err.
Meanwhile, and I’m not really one for trumpet blowing, we’d helped Amber Nectar readers effectively shape how many club processes would work when City moved to the KC(om) Stadium: ticketing arrangements (Away Direct was Andy’s idea), stadium details (I insisted on World Cup style box nets but was overruled on amber and black striped nets by a superstitious Michael Branch *shakes fist*) and even kit design, which being a kit geek was really my bag (Adam Pearson changed the 2005/06 home shirt at my behest because I was adamant it had too much white on it). Better than what we suggested, many AN Forum member suggestions were implemented too, This was real fan engagement, so no wonder we scoff at the current sham that passes as consultation. What really irritated me was meffs on forums such as Hull City Mad questioning why we got invited, well if you ever read our copious notes from each meeting you’d know, and why did you never question anyone else, such as that bloke who only seemed to go to get a free packet of crisps? Or Bill Holt who used to love to say ‘Get it done!’ to Adam Pearson in order to feel important, or who when asked who City should play in pre-season responded thus: “Any Prem. Mega draw.”
6. Wembley (2008)
MR: The 2007/08 season became all about firsts. We paid £1m for a player for the first time, we got to Wembley for the first time and ultimately, faintly ludicrously, we were promoted to the top tier for the first time. Really, nobody could see this coming, ever. It was my 20th year supporting City and even though the first four of those, plus the last three, had been in the second division of the game, the very idea of a team as lacking in history as City actually fighting its way into the Premier League, or its less wanky predecessor, was as crazy as any you could think of.
But in 2007/08, the chutzpah of Paul Duffen, the new man in the boardroom, and the brazen confidence and not inconsiderable coaching ability of Phil Brown got us there. It wasn’t easy, sometimes it wasn’t convincing, and for a long time it didn’t even look on the cards. In January 2008, City began a run that prompted a sharp rise up the table, getting us into the play-off positions by the spring and greedily challenging not just for automatic promotion, but the Championship title. Alas, we didn’t quite manage that but we were already in unprecedented territory for the club in finishing third and immediately being installed as favourites for the play-offs.
City were as cool as cucumbers in the midday sun at Watford in going 2-0 ahead in the semi-final first leg, then finished the job with a 4-1 pummeling of our fading opponents in arguably the greatest night occasion the Circle has seen to this day. A first ever trip to Wembley, then. Bristol City were to be our opponents (the only team in the play-offs we’d not beaten during the regular season) on Saturday 24th May. My birthday. And that of Les, too.
Because of the restrictions and logistical stuff that comes with a trip to Wembley at such short notice, we all made our way down to London at different points of the weekend, but the AN regulars made a rendezvous to meet up for a magnificent pre-Wembley beano at a gothic pub called The World’s End, in Camden Town. Though we all drank plentifully and had a fine night out, you could even sense then a bit of tension. We were going into so many unknowns, all at once. The fixture would make history by itself; victory would make further history. We almost dared not contemplate it, not tempt fate. It was notable just how little we talked about the game as we shelled out London ale prices until closing, prior to catching the tube back to our respective accommodation in different parts of the capital.
My birthday morning was spent in the company of a chum at talkSPORT, who had offered me a guided tour of the station. This helped take my mind off it, although the hacks in the newsroom who noticed my amber replica shirt were quick to remind me once again of the momentous occasion that awaited. I had only ever been to Wembley twice before and on neither occasion was I emotionally involved in the fixture. Today I couldn’t have been more emotional if I’d tried. I felt like breaking down a few times. I think a lot of City fans who had experienced the succession of disasters and catastrophes that befell the club over the years were feeling the same – we could touch tangible success, national respect, international fame. All it needed was 90 good minutes.
In the afternoon, I met up with everyone else at our allocated Wembley pub. We sang a lot of retro City songs and I drank a lot of Guinness, my tipple of choice at the time, but it was so bloody hot that none of it got far enough to lighten my head or fill my bladder, because the perspiration was so immense. I was a fair few quid lighter but absolutely no drunker by the time Andy and I wandered down Wembley way, trying to calm ourselves before it got seriously crazy.
The overpriced fish and chips, the massive concourses, the enormous seats, the pre-match pageantry. We saw it all. Our beloved club crest was emblazoned on a huge kite from some carrying contraption or other on the pitch, next to that of our opponents. The referee blew his whistle.
And so, the game.
Can’t remember a bloody thing.
Well, I remember Deano’s goal. It’s a beautiful thing to this day. It was at the opposite end to us, but I was central enough to see the mild swerve to the shot after the ball left his instep following one of those perfect connections that footballers bemoan usually happen during five a sides in training, rather than life-changing occasions at the national stadium.
I remember nothing else until Boaz Myhill caught that ball at the end and the unexpurgated cheer of total relief enveloped the stadium. The rest of the day was bedlam. The final whistle, the trophy presentation, the laps of honour. Then there was something I’ll always treasure – the moment when City fans of my acquaintance, whom I’m proud to call friends and whom I’d not seen all day because they holed up in a different pub and a different bit of Wembley, spot me and dash over for manly celebration. We’d grown up knowing little more than failure, disappointment and mistrust in our club and now we were, for once, the hip kids, new on the Premier League block.
By the time I got back to Kings Cross, I was spent. I sat down on the platform, drained of all emotion, feeling, articulacy. Things perked up on the train and I remember getting a photo text from JR showing Ian Ashbee raising the trophy. You couldn’t relax, no matter how tired you were. You didn’t want to. You wanted to talk about the game, the achievement, the history, with anyone you saw on the train, whether they were City fans or not.
I got home at 11.30pm, cracked open a final beer and watched the whole thing on telly again. And although we’ve experienced different highs and greater successes in the decade since, this victory remains the sweetest and most beautiful, because it allowed us to feel something we’d never felt before, and never thought we would. The 07/08 team and coaching staff will be forever unique, and they have my gratitude for life.
LM: I blubbed like a girl. I don’t even do that at family funerals.
5. Helping to found City Till We Die (2013-14)
AD: What, if anything, can you remember about City’s 1-0 victory over Huddersfield in the League Cup on Tuesday 24th September 2013? If it’s anything at all, well done. But it could be one of the more interesting dates in our recent history – because before this eminently forgettable affair, an angry group of people convened in the Halfway House pub on Spring Bank West to grouch about Hull City AFC’s bizarre sudden decision to stop calling themselves that. Except that something actually became of it. Plans were hatched. A new group suddenly coalesced, with the means and will to try to protect the club’s heritage. That group was City Till We Die, and it announced itself to the world two days later.
What happened next was quite crazy. From nowhere, a team of committed and capable individuals (and us) began an extremely professional campaign that was quickly running rings around Assem Allam and his unimpressive lackeys at the club. A huge petition was organised, No To Hull Tigers badges were produced, leaflets were distributed outside the stadium, a website with accompanying social media emerged, and as support grew a membership scheme was even launched.
There were wristbands, scarves – well, it’s all stuff fairly recent so much of it can be recalled easily. The CTWD group, including both fans’ groups and enthusiastic individual volunteers, created an internail mailing list for discussing ideas and tactics that eventually generated over 20,000 e-mails. It was close to a full-time job for some, and such a pressurised campaign – we were fighting for our club’s identity – inevitably didn’t always run smoothly. There were occasional missteps and internal quarrels. But Allam panicked and got almost everything wrong, evidenced by his weird fans’ meeting in late 2013, and his subsequent slandering of City fans as “hooligans” who can “die when they want”.
We thought we were winning. Eventually CTWD, with AN representation, was invited to Wembley in February 2014 to put the fans’ case. The OSC was invited separately, though whether they represented the fans or the club is open for debate.
It was thrilling, exhausting, and absolutely well worth every single moment, and on 9th April 2014, when the FA announced we’d won and Assem Allam had deservedly and humiliatingly lost, we partied long and hard. And though it’s easy to knock City fans for letting the Allam family get away with too much lately, it’s always worth remember that collectively we all took a stand against the name change, and made football history.
4. Winning the FSF’s podcast of the year (2017)
MR: We first did a podcast in the summer of 2013, in readiness for our second crack at the Premier League. It was shambolic for quite a while, utilising a cheap microphone covered by an Absolute Radio muffler perched on a suit hanger, itself standing on a small round table, to give us the height we needed to talk semi-intelligible guff about Vito Mannone’s likeness to Serbian warlords while making up brand new swear words and gabbing on about the sponsor’s positioning on the away shirt of 1995/96, all for far too long for people’s attention spans to manage. But eventually it became more sophisticated, with the addition of live streaming that allowed the audience to enjoy the splendour of the matchworn kit collection attained by Les, a desk containing a few well-chosen props, and a few distinguished guests among the local media – Dave Burns, Simon Clark, Phil Buckingham – and former playing staff, including Mark Greaves, Lawrie Dudfield and Adam Lowthorpe, as well as semi-regular AN alumni who always had plenty to say.
But we still genuinely don’t know how this fun but somewhat niche and tinpot operation snowballed into us walking onstage in the hospitality area of the Tower of London in December 2017 to pick up the Football Supporters Federation’s Podcast of the Year. Prior to the ceremony, we’d spent the car journey and the meal at our plush table (at the back of the room, natch) simply wondering, repetitively and loudly, what the hell we were doing there. When our category came up, we imagined how much more slick and professional and well-researched and all-inclusive the other nominees were, especially as most were following Premier League clubs and seemed to have official backing.
Then we were announced as the winners and ventured on to the stage like the proverbial guppy fish at feeding time, our only aim to not trip on the steep steps leading up there. Afterwards in the bar, strangers grasped whichever one of us was clutching the elegant trophy to talk about how amazing our podcast was and how appalling City’s owners were. We ended the evening replete with a solidified kinship with fans of Brentford, Nottingham Forest, Doncaster and even Leeds, who were all up for the fanzine award. Of our fellow nominees, the Watford guys were most affable and sporting and chatted to us for ages afterwards, mainly about Marco Silva, the 2008 play-offs and Richard Jobson. The Arsenal guys told us we deserved to win the FA Cup final. The Manchester City guys congratulated us on Twitter. The Liverpool guys invited one of our number on to their podcast.
Notably, the footage of our onstage chat with host James Richardson and the interview we did for the FSF in front of their cameras afterwards has never been released, unlike all other acceptance interviews and reactions on the night. Let’s face it, only we had previously been responsible for all our unexpurgated opinions on some City-related subjects that can cause anger, dismay and bitterness (though we were disappointed that the world couldn’t enjoy a final description from Les of Leonid Slutsky, sacked 24 hours earlier, as “a man who looks like he’s about to vomit a basketball”). But the state of our club since promotion in 2013 is solely responsible for the strong opinions expressed and, to that end, a podcast can only be as good as the topics it has to discuss. So thanks Ehab, sort of.
LM: I consider this a total vindication of my sweariness. Oh and, having met the Queen a month before, meeting James Richardson of Football Italia fame was far better. Is saying that treasonous?
3. Selling the first copy of Amber Nectar (1998)
AD: “New City fanzine, Amber Nectar, only 80p!” So we began nervously exclaiming on North Road from about 2pm on Saturday 21st February 1998. We’d made about 500 copies of the fanzine at our own expense, and were now frantically seeing if anyone would buy it. God, it was nerve-wracking.
Eventually, a few people did. Then a few more. And as kick-off neared and the queues grew outside the Ark, so did the people shovelling a pound at us, wondering what the hell we were arsing around with 20p change for (we never sold it for 80p again). When we convened on Bunkers to swap stories about how it’d gone, we were flushed with delight that it’d gone so well. Costs had been covered, and more. Best of all, as we digested a half that’d seen City take the lead against Scunthorpe, only for Andy Dawson to peg us back, people could be seen reading our humble offering.
LM: Ugh, I hated this part of fanzine production. It made staying up till 3am on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then spending Friday evening stapling the frigging things together feel joyous.
2. Mariánske Square, Žilina (2014)
MR: City in Europe! Honestly, if it wasn’t actually happening you’d have laughed. Yet here we were, boarding a plane at Luton Airport at 7am at the end of July 2014 to fly to Košice, prior to catching a train to Žilina, with the ultimate reward of watching Hull City AFC, a Fourth Division club a decade before, playing in proper continental competition, earned for reaching the previous season’s FA Cup final.
The team we were playing in the Europa League third qualifying round were Slovak top tier side FK AS Trenčín (now just AS Trenčín), but their ground wasn’t up to snuff for the visit of a club representing The Greatest League In The World, apparently, so the tie was shifted to nearby Žilina and it was into there that the trains stopped to allow hundreds of City fans to disembark after the sort of picturesque journey not normally seen when heading for away games at Stoke or Blackburn.
But the memory so many City fans will treasure the most of the 48 hour beano has nothing to do with football – the game was a tedious goalless draw and we missed a penalty – but everything to do with the hospitality. Žilina’s transformation in the 25 years or so since communism fell had clearly been done with love and appreciation for itself, and the very long spells in hot sunshine and evening breezes while enjoying the bars of Mariánske Square were utterly delightful, to the extent that you felt genuinely bereft when it was all over and we were back to avoiding dog turds on Spring Bank West. The beer was cold and refreshing (and worked out at 58p a pint), the waiting staff utterly tireless on our behalf, and the place itself completely beautiful to look at. And we were there because City were in Europe, forchrissakes.
Even with the years that have passed, it sometimes feels like it didn’t actually happen. The fact that we so quickly exited Europe at the next stage (after beating our Slovak opponents 2-1 in the return leg, we went out on away goals to Belgian side Lokeren in the preliminary round, see entry 15 above) and are unlikely to get back there anytime soon means we need to hold on unyieldingly and eternally to the memory of Žilina and its glorious, vivid, scenic centrepiece.
LM: Teaching locals City chants at 4.30am while drinking throat-scorching slivovica (plum brandy) was truly amazing. Matt’s shorts were not.
1. Tennis balls at Bolton (1998)
LM: The more things change, the more they stay the same eh? As now, there was protest in the air in September 1998: City fans were less than impressed with owner David Lloyd (he of gym club and tennis tossery fame) and his half baked plan to merge the financial sides of the Tigers and egg-chasers Hull Sharks (as Hull FC were then known). When he announced that he’d decided to relocate City to the dilapidated Boulevard ground so he could sell Boothferry Park as part of his not quite concrete plans to build a new stadium (ooh, another similarity to current events) it was the straw that broke the Tiger Nation’s back.
After a game of 5-a-side, the ‘Amber Tossers’ (a combined TOSS and Amber Nectar fanzines team was named) plotted to draw attention to the ghastly Lloyd’s schemes and encourage him to put the club for sale. The forthcoming League Cup tie at Premier League Bolton seemed the perfect time, and it was agreed that in order to truly grab the attention of the media, and in turn the sporting public, we needed to delay or disrupt the game somehow.
A pitch invasion was deemed unacceptable, as the publicity would be wholly negative, so what to do? “What about throwing tennis balls on the pitch?” I asked, and quickly the group saw the potential: it was non-violent, highly visible and amusingly ironic as former tennis pro Lloyd was the current Davis Cup captain.
A few hundred tennis balls were purchased and randomly distributed to willing supporters on the coaches bound for the Reebok Stadium. Just before kick off, they were hurled onto the turf, a few at first, then en masse creating a vivid shower of luminous orbs to the bemusement of the players, officials and watching media. Radio Humberside’s Gwilym Lloyd, despite having been tipped off about the protest, curiously stated on air that it was apples being thrown at Steve Wilson, musing that maybe it was a twist on the old ‘oranges for Ian McKechnie’ ritual of yore. Nonetheless the media lapped it up, and each subsequent report in the national press increased the estimate of tennis balls used, a few hundred had become ‘thousands’. The protest worked better than anyone could have anticipated, and a humiliated Lloyd soon announced he was putting the club up for sale. Game, set and match to City fans.
AD: who said that protest doesn’t work? People who are wrong, that’s who. This was our finest hour, and I’ll remember seeing the first luminous yellow orb arcing from the upper tier just before kick-off – well worth having a police dog set on me by local rozzers angry at this all being done under their nose…
Finally, if you’ve made it through all of this, thank you. Sincerely, thank you – to anyone who’s contributed to us over the years, read our articles in print or online, offered feedback (good or bad), sent us criticism, death threats (yep, we’ve had a couple), chucked money into our occasional appeals so we can pay our hosting fees and remain ad-free, sold the fanzine in exchange for a pint in Three Tuns, let us appropriate match reports, given us juicy gossip, offered us lifts to away games, tolerated our drunken excesses all over Europe, voted for us to win anything, listened to or appeared on the podcast, done techy stuff (huge pops to Steve Broadbent here), to our WAGs for putting up with this madness, to the Hull City Association Football Club themselves for being both total bastards and utterly amazing while being a permanent and ultimately compelling part of our lives, and basically anyone who’s made the past twenty years possible and an absolutely brilliant bloody time…thank you.
PS. Allam Out.