Thursday, 23 December 2010

Allams be praised!

Saturday 18th December - Hull City 2 Bristol City 0

Thank God for the undersoil heating at the KC Stadium (and lack of snow in Hull) last weekend.  While another programme of local football - and indeed a large chunk of the professional game  - fell foul of the seemingly never-ending 'cold snap', The Tigers managed to provide me with my first taste of live match action for over a month.
What's more, they not only also came up with a win but one that was achieved by a performance offering plenty of hope for the future.  And I don't just mean the two goals that finally kick-started Jay Simpson's Hull City career.
The days leading up to the game had finally seen completion of the Allams' takeover.  It was a deal that has reportedly cost the Hull-based Egyptian father & son duo an initial £40M - some £21M more than was originally envisaged.  Such was the state of the club's finances unearthed by the "Period of Due Diligence" that the vast majority of this sum will be used simply to clear the club of debt.  How the hell did it get so bad?  Perhaps we'll never know.
But while the murkier details of what went on under the previous regime will no doubt be a subject of much debate by people far better qualified than me, the vast majority of those at The Circle appeared more concerned with the present and future rather than the apparent misdemeanours of the past.  And for most, me included, the future would appear bright.  Sonic gold in fact!
Given that the last Saturday before Christmas is usually notorious for poor attendances and with few Bristolians having braved what must have been a daunting trip north from the snow-bound West Country, another crowd in excess of twenty thousand was very creditable.

Not that such a figure appeared likely when my chauffeur for the day - Tiger Chat maestro, one-time fanzine editor and current Eastenders programme design guru Andy Medcalf - parked up his 4x4 with some ease; the lack of cars allowing a thorough investigation of the potholed-ridden surface that is Walton Street car park.
"Apparently it's gonna cost four million to tarmac this", said fellow passenger Kev.
"Funny how you never notice it's this bad at (Hull) Fair", came my somewhat weak response (I always prefer to park at t'Boulevard).
Also accompaying me was The Elder Slushette, about to enjoy her third ever City match (and second of the season).  I was hoping she would complete a winning hat-trick given her "success" in the previous two - Stoke last season and the 2-0 win over Swansea on the opening day.
It was the final instalment in a busy day of activities for daughter and me, which had begun with an early trip to the hairdressers.  "Dad, Mum's going to hate that", the Elder Slushette had commented as the final touches were made to my return to a crew-cut look of old.  She was right.
The last time I had had such a "close shave", it was a decade ago before heading off to see England's cricketers endure hard times in warmer climes.  And the latest incarnation had just about completed a second successive day of woe in the Third Ashes Test as we moved to the opticians, where I couldn't help but admire my eldest's crafty attempts to cheat her eye test.  After this it was off to drop her at the weekly Dance Class at the local leisure centre, which finally allowed me time to grab a welcome coffee and sausage sarnie in the excellent Castle Cafe.  
Those who know me will be aware that my praise for anything connected with the town of Withernsea is not given lightly, so when I describe this place as a little diamond you'll guess how much I like it!  And when the aforementioned Mr Medcalf contacted me to say he was now running an hour late due to Kev's "plumbing issues", I was allowed to sample it's delights again, this time in tandem with Elder Slushette on conclusion of her latest attempt to become the next Darcey Bussell.
Suitably fortified and wrapped up against the sub-zero temperatures, we arrived at the KC about an hour before kick-off.  The original plan, to make a bid for Pave Bar, had been thwarted by the aforementioned reasons beyond our control, although given the damage that some wonderful pints of Hambleton Stud and Brooklyn Beer had inflicted on me in the same venue only two nights before (works' bash), I can't say I was too disappointed to miss out!
Tickets collected and a nice new hat purchased for one's daughter from the club shop, we were up among the gods (well the media hacks!) at the back of West Stand Upper just in time for the first chords of "Tigers, Tigers Burning Bright..." and the eventual emergence of the teams.

The weather could hardly have been in starker contrast to the warm spring sunshine  which had accompanied that never-to-be-forgotten May afternoon at Wembley in 2008, the last time these two teams met.  Still, just in case the vising Wurzels had forgotten it, the E1 choir were only too kenn to remind them of that particular occasion.  I actually found these taunts a touch uncomfortable.  One of the things that had struck me at the Play-Off Final was the fantastic manner in which most Bristol fans had taken defeat; in many ways it appeared to forge a new bond between supporters of both clubs.  It would have been nice to have reflected that rather than continue to gloat - if only to have shown some appreciation for the sterling efforts our visitors had made in making what must have been a hellish trip up here.  Perhaps I'm going soft!   
The ensuing ninety minutes has already been extensively reported and blogged about.  Suffice to say a goal in each half from Jay Simpson proved the difference, although Man Utd loanee Cameron Stewart and homegrown youngster Jamie Devitt both passed up the chance to add to the tally.  Meanwhile, defensively a superb last-ditch clearance by Anthony Gerrard typified another no-nonsense display and a tenth clean sheet.  Overall, it was the best I've seen the Tigers play without a certain Mr Bullard in the side and it probably ranked alongside the Derby game in terms of enjoyment.
Aside from the obvious bonus of Jay getting rid of his unnecessary "Homer" tag with two instinctive finishes, the main plus-points for me were the performances of  Gerrard and central defensive partner Zayatte, the leadership of Ashbee (again!) and the flair of young Stewart, whose pace and willingness to run at defenders caused the visitors problems all afternoon.  It is something that was sadly lacking from the City side on the occasion of my last visit.  Meanwhile, if you're looking for omens for a brighter second half to the season, it's perhaps worth recalling that a loan player from the same parent club as Stewart played a significant part the last time these two teams met...and look where he helped get us!
Given that my aforementioned last game at the KC was the Sheffield United defeat, the atmosphere inside the ground couldn't fail to have been better, although in truth it wasn't quite the "cauldron of noise" urged for beforehand as a way of showing the Allams the depth of people's appreciation.
Still, at least the crowd came to life at half-time, when welcoming Stuart Elliott back on to the pitch for the first time since the Ulsterman's scoring feats helped City to back-to-back promotions.  Currently in Hull training to be a pastor, his reception almost matched that given the Tigers' other "saviours" prior to kick-off.
All-in-all, the welcomes afforded the Allams, Elliott and the first of hopefully many goals in amber & black for the boy Simpson helped augment a new feel-good factor sweeping around the Circle.  Not to mention helping me overcome the disappointment of yet another barren weekend on the grassroots front.  
Long may it continue, especially as next Tuesday, Elder Slushette and I will be looking to clinch her a third 2-0 win!

No comments: