Hull City: Mes que un Club, Mes que un Juego?

Hull City
Image available under Creative Commons (c) acroamatic

I blame Barcelona. Barcelona and Bill Shankly. ‘Mes que un club?’

But what if that club isn’t more than a club? What if they aren’t a great bastion of Catalan nationalism, the collective klaxon of an embattled inner city working class, a cultural front against Francoism, a buzzing wave of souls embodying a Socialist ideal?

What if they’re just Watford? Or Newport County? Or Hull?

It doesn’t matter any more. Nowadays, we’re all more than a club. And better than a club while we’re at it.

When did this start, this holier than thou collectivism? This aggressive takeover of football fandom by campaigners and petit communards?

And who are they to tell us to drink their Kool Aid?

In an outstanding article for this website last month, Ben Woolhead took to task The Economist’s assertion that it may be time to let the North of England rot in hell, and with it, those bastions of community spirit, their football clubs. There was much in it to merit – not least the central notion of sporting outfit as community asset, cultural anchor and projection of local consciousness on the national stage.

As a born and bred Cumbrian living and working in London, I identified my own connection with Carlisle United in his words. The longer I am away from the county of my birth, the more the club becomes a beacon and a cultural identifier. My support for the team has, if anything, become more fervent in absentia.

Forgive the indulgence of my breaking the fourth wall, but it’s important. I’m not a Young Turk, I wouldn’t forgive my own football club, the Football League, or the Premier League anything. Carlisle United’s place both within the local and my own personal culture is unimpeachable.

And yet, despite this, I find the possessive actions of fellow football fans increasingly desperate.

Let me explain by considering a couple of examples– Assem Allam’s decision to remove the ‘City’ from Hull’s sobriquet and replace it with Tigers and AFC Wimbledon fans’ ‘Drop the Dons’ campaign.

The former is currently in the public eye due to Allam’s ham-fisted handling of the situation, his seeming suggestion last week that those supporters not onboard with the idea ‘can just die’ has done nothing to promote his own cause.

His unsubtle phrasing notwithstanding, though, is it not right to say that he has a point? This is a man who rescued a football club from the brink of administration and has, in double quick time, steered them back to the promised land. He is also a pillar of the community in East Riding circles – a philanthropist and local entrepreneur of some renown.

This isn’t to say that Allam is right and those campaigning on behalf of the ‘City Til We Die’ are wrong. It’s merely urging a little perspective.

In an article for The Guardian, the group’s leader Mark Gretton eloquently suggests ‘the history of the club is in the name’ and details how he and fellow fans will chant the refrain ‘City Til We Die’ on 19 minutes and 14 seconds, the year of Hull’s inception, until Allam reverses a decision.

Forgive my gracelessness, but what the actual fuck?

‘The history of the club is in the name’? No it isn’t, it’s in its achievements, its past glories, legendary players, its place in the locality of Kingston upon Hull and in you – the fans. It is resolutely not in the word ‘City’.

It is a word. It isn’t a mythical creature, an magical elixir or the secret of everlasting success. It’s a word. All this heat and light about a word, and a prosaic one at that.

The same is true of AFC Wimbledon and ‘Drop the Dons’. Some may argue that MK Dons’ act of industrial sabotage in uprooting the South London club to the home counties and stealing their identity is enough to merit such a public campaign.

I’ve urged before on this site that it is, perhaps, time for Wimbledon to move on – that their saintly passage to the Football League is the closure of a dirty chapter with an identifiable and celebratory happy ending. It’s time for them to look toward their own future, back in the Borough of Merton itself, and it’s great to see this week that they’re beginning to do so.

Nevertheless, this time last year the leader of their fan owned consortium allowed himself to become embroiled in a windy war of words only fit for the playground.

Quoted on the eve of his club’s first tussle with the club they became he stated that he’d only shake hands with MK’s chairman Pete Winkleman on condition that he ‘give us our name back’.

This echoed a year long campaign for MK to ‘Drop the Dons’ in the local Wimbledon Guardian. What next, asking Aberdeen to ‘drop the Dons’? Or the Corleone family?

The puerility reminded me of my own pathetic reaction to being called by my surname throughout secondary school as there were three ‘Johns’ in my teaching year. It was unedifying, embarrassing and gracelessly detracted from Wimbledon’s ability to appear the bigger men.

How have we lost our grip on reality so much that what upsets human beings to the point where they engage in public protest is not the state of our economy, the living standards of the poor? It’s not even the cost of match tickets, the scourge of diving or the increasingly monopolistic nature of our national game.

It’s words. Words and names.

But it’s not just those words and names, but what they’re indicative of, the leviathan of the modern game – fans’ own sense of entitlement, their demagogic assertion that they are the club they support.

Blame Barcelona. Barcelona and Bill Shankly. Nowadays, we’re all ‘mes que un club’.

Even when we aren’t. In fact, even more so where we aren’t.

Far too often now that famous Shankly quote about the meaning of football is used as a ruse to excuse petty mindedness and an unfathomable missing of the point.

Best remind ourselves what he exactly he said:

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

It’s open to interpretation of course. But I’ve always felt at its gnomic heart was the assertion that football is just a game, a pastime, a distraction. And what isn’t more important than that?

Not words. Not stuff and nonsense. Not ‘the fans as the soul of our club’. Not the browbeaten few who claim to talk for the many.

No matter what David Conn and Henry Winter might urge, each and every one of us fell in love with a man kicking a ball into a net.

And that endures regardless of change, and in spite of change.

Surely that’s much more important than anything else. Isn’t it?

thinks about Carlisle United all the time. His stock in trade is viewing the world of football in embittered fashion with a Cumbrian bias. Seldom does he fail to invalidate an opinion by slipping into lamp-jawed gobshitery. Like any sane man, he prefers his defensive midfielders to read the play and only ever pass sideways.

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7 Comments on "Hull City: Mes que un Club, Mes que un Juego?"

  1. Lanterne Rouge says:

    Although it’s a typically brilliantly written post, I can’t say I agree John. Although the action Allam is advocating in no way matches Cardiff City and their red shirts, the Hull fans’ reaction is perhaps an instance of the ‘if you tolerate this’…’ mentality – for it’s very easy to be dispassionate about things if you aren’t a supporter and it’s good to see the supporters so up in arms about this after the supine acceptance most of the Cardiff City support have shown. No, it’s not all about being in the Premier League and simply doing well on the pitch – identity is important.

    As a Reading fan, I would probably accept some level of tinkering such as this given that the club has changed its shirt colour before and although it is now identified with hoops, it did start off with the stripes. Even a name change to Reading Town would likely see me renew my season ticket although the dropping of the ‘Royals’ nickname and reinstatement of ‘Biscuitmen’ would be a move I would positively welcome with open arms.

  2. Andy says:

    The list of things seemingly lost forever to football fans (terraces, affordable tickets, etc) s a long one. So forgive us for wanting to keep hold our name, the one thing we always thought would be a constant.

  3. Neil - Row Z says:

    Quite a brave and interesting point of view here. I’d have to say that I’d agree to an extent. I wrote a bog post earlier in the year about my observation that changing shirt colours at non-league Eastleigh (from white to blue to sky blue and back to white) hadn’t resulted at any point in a batted eyelid, mainly because at non-league people feel close to the club in other ways – they chat with the manager and players in the bar afterwards, travel to away games on the team-bus, help out around the ground, edit the programme and turn up with shovels to clear snow off the pitch. Because of this there is less importance attached to symbols such as the club badge, or the team colours. I think what it shows, is your point that the further we are from a club the more we hold these symbols sacred and that as the distance between clubs and fans – even those who show up week-in week-out – grows we hold on tighter.

    Saying that I’d agree with Lanterne Rouge that identity still important and owners need to bear in mind their role as custodians of a shared identity. The way things have been handled at Hull seems to show that this isn’t a responsibility some owners take too seriously.

  4. Steve says:

    I enjoyed the article and agreed in parts but my main concern is the idea that money buys you anything and that a single rich man can dictate absolutely anything to lifelong fans. I know historically clubs were often owned by the local big businessman or a committee of them and that in this case Allam has been in Hull for a long time and supported the city in many ways beyond football over those years, but finances have shifted so much that it seems we will do anything to woe wealthy (and often questionable) suitors and some defence against that is required by fans who are uncomfortable with the financial and ownership structures of the game.

  5. Rick says:

    An interesting piece, but I can’t agree.

    The “Drop the Dons” campaign, hyped during the build -up to last season’s MK Fanchise v AFC Wimbledon 2nd round FA Cup tie, was not initiated, or officially supported, or even particualrly encouraged either by AFC Wimbledon or by the Don’s Trust, the fans’ body that owns and runs the club. Whilst it had undeniable support from a number of AFCW fans, the campaign was organised solely by the local newsaper., the Wimbledon Guardian, as the piece mentions.

    The cynical amongst us may suggest it was little more than an attempt to boost circulation, particularly given that the paper’s own website for the campaign has not been updated for over a year.

    As for ” what next, asking Aberdeen to ‘drop the Dons’?” , that’s a trite comment which serves to indicate that you are missing the point somewhat . If it’s only about words and names, then surely Wimbledon FC fans should not have been even remotely fussed about the removal of the word “Wimbledon” – something that Pete Winkleman, just a year before the name was changed, had sworn blind would never happen once they moved to MK. After all, it was only the name of their hometown and of the area the club had been established in for over 100 years. So, not in any way significant, then.

    I think AFCW chairman Erik Samuelson’s comment about not wishing to shake Winkleman’s hand was both humourous in intent and not entirely unreasonable , given that no AFCW fan would be happy touching Winkleman without at least a barge pole to wield. Indeed, in the end Samuelson chose not to even attend the match, like a great many other AFCW fans.

    I would ask you to imagine your feelings should Carlisle Utd’s owners ever be allowed by the FA to move the club to, say, Newcastle (which is less than the distance that Wimbledon is from MK) and were allowed to rename themselves as ‘Newcastle Cumbrians’.

    Now, would that not tick you off just a little bit, or would you be so objective as to be able to shrug it off as merely a name which makes no difference to anything?

  6. Iain_6 says:

    I also disagree with the opinion of the author. Football is part and parcel of our culture and the history and stories of our clubs form a major part of that. Sure, certain aspects change, but ultimately changing Hull City AFC to Hull City Tigers or Hull Tigers is an insult to those supporters who are there through thick and thin, and lacks respect for that culture and history, however modest.

    If I bought St Pauls Cathedral and decided to paint it bright green and call it the London Megadome it wouldn’t make it right, just because I forked out a fair wedge of cash for it.

    As a Wimbledon supporter, I echo what Rick has posted above in reply to the article. Personally, I don’t particularly care whether they keep ‘Dons’ as their suffix, if anything it serves as a reminder of their grotty origins.

    One last point – @LanternRouge – Reading Town FC exists. I remember seeing Wimbledon playing them in the Combined Counties Premier Division. Wikipedia helpfully tells me that their Scours Lane home in Tilehurst is the second biggest football ground in Reading behind the Madejski. Well I never!

  7. Ben says:

    Thought-provoking post, John, and one I found myself somewhat uncomfortably in agreement with on a few occasions. However, even if an attachment to names can be critiqued as pointlessly clinging on in the name of ‘tradition’, I’d still maintain that owning a football club in financial terms shouldn’t be sufficient justification for someone to do just as they please with that club. Allam has obviously upset a lot of people with the tone of his comments, but at the root of their anger is his apparent lack of concern for the views of supporters who are the emotional shareholders in the club. Owners may have the power to act unilaterally, but surely conversation and consultation should take place for proposed changes of this magnitude.

    As a Newcastle fan, I of course had first-hand experience of this kind of issue recently, when Mike Ashley attempted to rebrand St James’ Park as the Sports Direct Arena. As with Hull, our owner claimed it was for marketing purposes – to show potential sponsors what impact sponsoring the stadium might have. Of course, the reaction was very negative because it involved trampling over decades of tradition in the pursuit of a quick buck, and the rebranding was dropped when it became clear that no sponsors would touch the idea with a barge pole as a result…

    Part of Allam’s problem is that he’s made little cogent attempt to justify why ‘City’ should be dropped – saying it makes the club more marketable is far too vague and will never win over hardcore opponents. Which makes it all the more remarkable how Cardiff fans have largely embraced Vincent Tan’s decision to change their shirts from blue to red on the bizarrely spurious grounds that teams who play in red are more successful…

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