‘Daddy, daddy, it’s Saturday, what shall we do today?’, ask Dean and Turgoose, clambering out of their pyjamas and bubbling with excitement and anticipation about the fun to be had on this late bloom of summer.
‘Well’, smiles the tots’ proud father, ‘what would you like to do?’
‘Flamingo Land!’ screams Dean eagerly, ‘Sewerby Park!’ counters Turgoose, ‘no, no, Withernsea, let’s go to the beach’ suggests Dean intrepidly, ‘or what about going to see Full Circle at the Freedom Festival” offers Turgoose, who even at the age of six is showing artistic inclinations.
‘Ho ho’ chuckles Daddy, his eyes bright as he surfs the waves of youthful glee. ‘I’ve got something even better!’ And he draws from his pocket tickets for the afternoon’s Championship fixture between Hull City and Derby County.
Lips tremble, eyes moisten. ‘D-d-daddy … what have we done wrong?’ asks Dean plaintively. Turgoose dissolves into helpless sobs, his fresh-faced enthusiasm now a crumpled mess of stolen dreams and greying misery.
It’s no fun watching City any more.
A generation, the Circle generation, has revelled in unprecedented triumph, as the club has played at Wembley, romped to promotion, competed in English football’s top tier, played in the Cup Final and participated in the Europa League. For the first time in my lifetime supporting Hull City had become the simple and natural choice of the youth of the city. All gone, all torn apart, all trashed, and wilfully so.
So, those of us eschewing the delights of Full Circle trudged towards the mostly empty Circle. The announced crowd was 12,285, but it was smaller than that in reality and, taking account of a decent away following, there were certainly a lot fewer than 10,000 Hull City fans in the ground. The sun was hot. The mood was chill.
We lined up in a 4-4-1-1:
Lichaj Burke de Wijs Kingsley
Bowen Batty Henriksen Kane
A bit lightweight, especially down the spine of the team? O yes. No hindsight needed for that insight.
The game opens in orthodox largely formless fashion although, surprisingly, we are slightly the better side. The first moment of note arrives on 12 when a free-kick awarded to Derby is taken by Chelsea loanee Mason Mount, Peggy Mount’s grandson. You remember the terrifying way that Didier Drogba used to take free-kicks, running up without giving the ‘keeper any clue which side of the goal he’s going to aim at and then whipping an unstoppable shot into one corner or the other? He put one past Myhill in this style in the first game of the season in 2009 at Stamford Bridge. Mount has been working at this. But Drogba didn’t usually thump it miles over the bar and then look rueful. You gotta lot to learn, young Mount, a lot to learn!
You take your pleasures where and when you can find them in this wintry ground zero of a Hull City season, and an opponent blootering the ball over the crossbar is as joyous as it gets. All the more so as ten minutes later Derby take the lead.
It’s comically poor defending. One of theirs runs at De Wijs just inside the box, out wide. De Wijs should be shepherding him away from danger, but he lunges in recklessly, and referee Brooks, well positioned, points to the spot. Simple as that. Clumsy as that.
The penalty is rolled past Marshall by Martyn Waghorn, who was so briefly a Tiger that he’s probably forgotten all about it. Don’t worry Martyn, we’ve forgotten about it too, that file of ‘ordinary journeyman’ has got better than you bulging its sides.
Graciousness and respect? From me? I think not.
On 37, a corner played in by Mount, and a header by David Nugent hits our bar.
There’s legitimate moaning to be done about referee Brooks and his unwillingness to show cards in the face of a calculated barrage of spiteful fouls by Derby players whenever there is even a slight hint of danger to their lines (which is admittedly not that often). Super (sic) Frankie Lampard has very much got his charges playing the Premier League way. But the honest truth is that Derby’s team is a huge amount better than ours.
I don’t really blame our players. We know that a stream of footballers who are far superior to the current lot has left our club lately and, in the case of those who contracts were coming to an end, it’s clear enough they’ve been offered new deals on vastly reduced terms by the Allams. Perfectly sensibly, they’ve gone and found another employer. I don’t know our current wage bill, but I have a strong sense it will look more like a Division One budget than a competitive Championship budget. Which is to say that we have a number of players who do not look good enough for the Championship to me, but I don’t think they are being paid as if they are Championship players. They aren’t Championship players, though they do happen, by footballing mischance, to be playing in the Championship. I like Lichaj, a solid and committed performer, but I see little merit in the rest. We’d have a decent centre-back if we could combine Burke’s athleticism and pace with De Wijs’s animal energy and aggression, but as it is we have one centre back, Burke, who isn’t tough enough and another, De Wijs, who clomps around clumsily like a Shire Horse asked to try dressage. Oh, and we used to have a promising young wide player called Jarrod Bowen. Does anyone know what happened to him?
Two added minutes to conclude a dispiriting half, but we finish on a high note, as a slick move from left to right culminates in a shooting opportunity for Henriksen, unmarked on the edge of the box. He thrashes the ball high over the bar. I can’t and don’t dislike Markus Henriksen. He is trying his best and, though I don’t suppose he particularly wants to be captain, he is doing all he can to lead by hard-working example. I just wish he was better at football.
Second half. More misery? Well, not quite. We play pretty well from here on in.
On 49 David Nugent, who, young people, once played for England (at football), sprints clear of our defence – yes, I’ll pause there, we do have a defence that allows David Nugent to sprint clear of it, that’s how grim things are at the back. Nugent has only Marshall to beat, but he punts the shot wastefully over the bar.
And within a few minutes we are level. Yes, level! That means we scored a goal. It really does. Not only that. It’s as peachily elegant goal as you could feasibly expect to witness.
Evandro spins a glorious through ball into space beyond the exposed Derby back-line, Todd Kane, making an intelligent run free of any defensive cover, receives the beautifully weighted pass and strokes a confident right-foot finish across and beyond Scott Carson. Miraculously we have scored, and even more miraculously we have done so with a flash of glorious improvisation. This was Football As It Is Meant To Be Played. For The First Time In A Long While.
Derby are rattled. This feisty comeback is not what they anticipated and, to be fair, they are not alone in their surprise at the shift in the pattern of play. The home support is, if not agog, then beaming with wholly unexpected glee. We are playing really decent stuff now. On 58, astute combination between Bowen and Campbell, a stramash, Evandro bundles the ball wide of the back post. A minute later, Kane flashes a ball across the box, but no one is able to apply a finishing toe-end. Derby repel the threats and enjoy a good spell themselves after the hour mark, but they create no chances, and on 70, after a lovely move, we come mightily close to taking the lead before we are finally crowded out by massed defence.
Will Keane for Campbell, and then Dicko for Evandro and Toral for Kane, but we are the better side during this second half. And, should you not yet have had every last smidgeon of hope malletted out of you by our owners, you might want to argue that this second half performance, by far our best of the season, combined with the acquisition of solid old pros Chris Martin and Tommy Elphick (o, how we need a proper commanding centre back), might be enough to let us squeak our way to 21st position come May. Well, I hope so. The gloomier among us will note that we did play pretty well against Derby, but we still lost, and in doing so recorded our sixth straight home defeat, stretching back to last April. That stinks of relegation. Sure, objectively, it’s been worse than this – six points adrift at the bottom of Division 2 worse than this, the crookery of the Sheffield Stealers worse than this. But it all feels so hopeless now, we are so powerless now. It seems more personal too. The Allams, Ehab in particular, give every vindictive indication of taking profound pleasure out of damaging the club and a spiteful glee in doing the precise opposite of what the fans want. They take targeted malice to a new level. I find it hard to truffle my way to any spark of optimism, or even hope.
Meanwhile, we give up a winner to Derby with just three minutes remaining. It’s rank poor defending. The ball is worked down the left, our defenders are pulled out of position and when the ball is pulled back towards the penalty spot absolutely no one has been alert enough to track Jozefzoon’s run. Under minimal pressure, he rams a low shot into the net, and Derby lead.
Five minutes are added and there is a moment after four of them where we create danger in the Derby box but a combination of resolute defending and uncommitted attacking leads to the move petering out.
Bah. Another loss.
I don’t know whether Dean and Turgoose enjoyed their day, but I fully appreciate that you are asking why their sister Woodmansey wasn’t also threatened with a trip to watch City. What’s she meant to do, stay at home with her dolls?
Yes. This Sunday morning little Woodmansey is sitting on her bedroom floor with her dolls. She picks up one made out of wax. It is a figurine which bears a precise resemblance to Ehab Allam. Woodmansey, freckled brow furrowed in rapt concentration, picks up a knitting needle. She slowly brings it into place, targeting a spot between the doll’s eyes.
Youth supplies the future of our club. Woodmansey, we need you to cast your spells wisely.
Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)