26 May 2008

Hull City are in the Premier League

Wembley is a fantastic place. For all the overspend, the political struggle, the total inadequacy of the transport, walkway and the general area, it's still a most amazing place to visit. It's also a great place to win.

It's almost 48 hours after our game kicked off and my thoughts are now with the Bristol City supporters. I don't know how they're feeling, because although the very nature of supporting Hull City means devastation, disappointment and injustice (ask most of our chairmen in the 1990s about that), those feelings are rooted in general failure and humiliation. Bristol City had success taken from them, not failure enhanced. I don't know what it feels like to lose a major final or miss out on the biggest day of our lives.

I have to say I'm grateful I don't know that feeling, and while I'm sure Bristol City fans don't want or need my sympathy, they're getting it. Their club is a credit to the Championship, their fans are a credit to their club and their manager is a credit to football.

To have our two teams in the Championship play-off final when there were supposedly more glamorous, ambitious and affluent clubs (Charlton Athletic, Wolves, Sheffield United, Crystal Palace), on the scene was a terrific achievement and a boost to the division.

To have our teams there when last season one (Hull City) survived relegation on the penultimate day, and the other (Bristol City) were being promoted from the very division the Tigers were trying to avoid, was also a terrific achievement and a boost to the division.

As for my feelings now, well it started sinking in when long(er)-haired Tony and I were in our local last night. Text messages were still flying around from all angles as supporters still asked each other if they'd woken up yet, if the Tigers were really playing Mansfield away tomorrow night for the privilege of rising to 18th in the bottom division.

Towards the end of the evening, Tony and I stared momentarily at each other and - just then, just then - it sank in.

We are Premier League.

Tony wanted us to write Dean Windass as the answer to every question on the pub quiz sheet.

Later today there is an open-top bus parade around Hull city centre, then a civic reception for the players and staff.

Then we return to our lives, eagerly awaiting the fixture list for next season, which comes out usually in the middle of June.

A home game against Wigan to begin with, then Liverpool away. Manchester United at home on Boxing Day, and a trip to Arsenal over Easter. Newcastle at home on the last day.

Or something like that.

Depending on your view of Middlesbrough's geography, we are now Yorkshire's top team. Even if we believe Middlesbrough is in Yorkshire (and, for what it's worth, I do - they have the same problem as we had with Humberside, except they haven't been handed their county back yet) then who's to say we can't be Yorkshire's top team by being better than the Boro?

We outplayed them in the FA Cup two seasons ago.

And we beat Wigan in the League Cup last season.

This is me rambling now.

Wembley shouldn't be any good, by the way. It's lush to look at, the archway is gorgeous as it glints off the sunlight and the view from the seating is excellent, even if you are high up. The concourses are spacious, air-conditioned and safe. Even the lavs seemed well looked-after.

But Wembley Way (sorry, Olympic Way) is a disaster, especially on exiting. One lunatic could cause severe carnage if he chose to de-pack his rucksack as a match ends. In an emergency there is no means of escape whatsoever.

And I'm not paying eight quid for fish and chips. Eight quid! That's three portions of undoubtedly better tasting food at my local chippy.

The Hull City supporters with a thirst before the game (ie, the Hull City supporters) were hemmed into a pub called The Parish. Here we drank, sang current songs (and retro ones - the one about our ex-striker Gary Alexander's request for a DIY implement to depilate his pet endangered species who hailed from the African mainland)* was especially nice to hear again) and then headed for the stadium.

I was entirely sober. I drank four pints of Guinness in The Parish and none of it touched the sides - the place was so hot that it just sweated straight out.

Normally, we leave the pub at the last minute and go straight into the match. This time, we wanted to enjoy the walk, see a few familiar faces, laugh at the exploitative unofficial tat being flogged by fly-pitchers at the side of the road.

(Next time we get to Wembley fellas, try using amber wool instead of yellow for your unsellable, unwearable, unspeakable rubbish. We are not Cambridge United).

We got into the stadium. I was offered a drink, and as I wasn't paying (it was four quid for a pint), I accepted. My dad would be proud.

Then the game.

Apart from the goal, I can't remember a bloody thing.

I'm glad I can remember the goal though. How could anyone with a black and amber bent forget it?

The final whistle, the tears, the rapture. I hugged one total stranger with a facial hair issue (she apologised...) and another with a severe hygiene problem. Or that could have been me. I shouted and sang and screamed. I felt like I was standing on magic legs, or feet that I'd had to borrow off somebody else.

Upon leaving, Bristol City fans shook hands with us and wished us luck.

A handful of their more meatheaded support sang "going down" at us from the sanctuary of their coach and police cordon.

My louder supporting pals were in total shock. They were smiling, gleeful, delirious, but couldn't actually say anything. I still don't know really what to say now, despite all this typing. It could be all bollocks. It probably is. Well done if you're still reading.

We got to Kings Cross and I headed for McDonalds. I'd had nothing to eat since my hotel breakfast at 8.30am, having had a skinful in a Camden Town pub for Goths the night before. Hunger had suddenly taken over me. I'd assumed it was butterflies until then.

The queue stretched round the corner and down York Place (is it York Place?). Everybody in the queue - everybody - was in a Hull City shirt. In central London. The tourists were confused.

I ate something plentiful. I get McDonalds urges every so often and this was one such moment.

Then into the station, where the Duke of York bar had been declared dry. Understandable, as although Hull City fans could celebrate with their own, Leeds and Doncaster fans were due in anytime for their game the next day.

So, lots of Coca Cola as we waited for the 8pm train, and still nothing to say. People in amber shirts of all ages were walking around, guppy fish at feeding time. The magnitude of what we had achieved was hitting home, gradually.

Maybe most supporters refused to believe we could win the game. It was Wembley, we had no history of playing there, let alone winning there. We had no history of being one game away from top-tier football. But we did have plenty of history of cocking things up at the last minute. It was the Hull City way. We also had failed to beat Bristol City during the regular season - they got a goalless draw at ours and then beat us 2-1 at theirs.

Maybe we'd sub-consciously gone along looking for a performance. We were being told by the club to "dare to dream" but maybe a lot of us daren't dream.

For what it's worth, I didn't feel like this. I was petrified, but I knew we could win. The question was whether we would win, whether we'd get our slices of fortune, our moments of magic.

We got them.

The train arrived and I slumped in my seat, utterly spent. A wreck. A maelstrom of emotions and feelings were ripping through my body and brain, trying to establish what this victory meant. Capacity crowds all next season. A better image for a city I adore. The greatest players on our turf. Hopefully the odd headline-grabbing win, as well as (even more hopefully) enough less eye-catching wins to see us through. The possibility of a Hull City player (ie, Michael Turner) playing for England while with the club, something we've still to manage (we have had our share of Welsh and Northern Irish representatives, though).

We've already shattered some records. Our first £1m-plus player (Caleb Folan), our biggest League crowds at the KC, our highest post-war finish (and joint highest ever - though obviously wherever we finish next season will set another record), our first visit to Wembley, our first ever promotion to the top tier. Ian Ashbee will become the first player ever to captain a team in all four divisions when he runs out on the opening day of next season.

And we've also lost the infamous tag of being the biggest city in the UK (some still say Europe but doubts have been cast over that lately) never to have hosted top-flight football.

The UK one, if not the Europe one, goes now to Plymouth.

We can't do anything about that one involving the pools coupon and some doodling, mind.

Crikey. Are you still reading? After all this, I might not click PUBLISH POST. I dunno.

One of my supporting compadres sent me some photos on text. One was of the team celebrating with champagne; the other of Ashbee raising the trophy (I've always thought you shouldn't get a trophy for play-off success, but I'm prepared to overlook this particular presentation). I made the team shot my wallpaper on my phone straightaway.

On the final leg of the journey home, I happened to show the bloke next to me the picture. He approved, and asked for it to be Bluetoothed. Word spread. I switched on my Bluetooth and found that every single phone on the carriage was waiting for the picture. Awesome.

I then watched Leeds (whom we despise) lose to Doncaster (whom we don't mind but barely notice) in their play-off final, from the comfort of my settee the next day. It means we're two divisions above the Champions of Europe** next year.

Stockport County are my second team, having covered them on the radio for four seasons. So if they win the final play-off game later today, the weekend will have been perfect.

Hull City are in the Premier League, everyone.

I've read a few cheerless messages on various forums making the predictable comment about us "coming straight back down" but let these joyless Chelsea and Tottenham fans have their moment to patronise us. I don't care. Hull City are in the Premier League.

I want to know which of our players is going to feature in Match Of The Day's opening titles. Will it be Windass hitting a volley, or Ashbee staring menacingly at the camera in the new kit, a la Roy Keane five years ago? Wow. We'll be on Match Of The Day every week. We'll be last on every week, and Mark Lawrenson will say witlessly condescending things about us all year, but we'll be on.

Monday night games! Sunday lunchtimes! Those dreadful 5.15pm Saturday kick-offs! And I may have to subscribe to Setanta, which I promised I wouldn't do after their website kept breaking down on me last year.

I'm back at work this evening. I have a panel of fans coming into the studio who may be able to now articulate their feelings and emotions. I'm not sure I still can, not properly. I'm not intelligent enough, nor have my feet reached the ground enough to reflect with wisdom and sobriety.

I'm still in the clouds. Up there. Look for me, I'm waving. It's nice to be at the top for once.

*"Oh Alexander, can I borrow your sander, to shave my panda, he's from Uganda..."
**That's what they arrogantly called themselves less than a decade ago after reaching the Champions League semi-finals, which they lost. How the mighty... etc.


Lee Slator said...

Congratulations! As an East Yorkshire resident I'm pleased that Hull have got into the Premier League. I really hope that you can prove all those people wrong by staying up.

The only word of caution is that Hull don't overspend and get themselves into the financial mire like my club did and are still paying for it six or seven years on!

It's a great story for the general football fan, locked out of Boothferry Park, consecutive promotions into the Coca-Cola Championship and to have no debt at the end of it as well (hope that I'm right on this fact?). You are a credit to the football league!

This is a Leeds fan wishing you all the best (I'll get my coat now!).

All the best,

Callum said...

This is the bottom of the Football League, ten years ago

Swansea 46 8 8 7 24 16 5 3 15 25 46 50
Cardiff 46 5 13 5 27 22 4 10 9 21 30 50
Hull City 46 10 6 7 36 32 1 2 20 20 51 41
Brighton 46 3 10 10 21 34 3 7 13 17 32 35
Doncaster 46 3 3 17 14 48 1 5 17 16 65 20

All the other teams have new stadiums and are at least a division above us now!

Mind you, Scarborough FC (who finished 31 points above Hull that year) are now in the, er, Northern Counties League div 1.

Congratulations. I hope we end up like you, and not Huddersfield town, when we get a new stadium.

Matthew Rudd said...

Brighton need their new ground urgently. Thank God it no longer invoilves Prescott, the fat get.

I can't bring myself to commiserate for Leeds, despite Lee's magnanimous words. Too much history.