Today, we revisit the topic of barmy kick off times. Matthew Rudd is a failing radio host, club DJ, newly-qualified lifeguard, prolific tweeter and, most relevantly, lifelong Hull City supporter and senior writer for the Amber Nectar fanzine, which is 15 years old this year. He also contributes to talkSPORT and When Saturday Comes on matters concerning the Tigers.
There is something about Hull City supporters that seems to bring out the worst excesses and prejudices in West Yorkshire Police. For many years they have shifted the club’s fixtures on their patch to more “manageable” (ie, wildly inconvenient) kick-off times on the non-existent proviso that it would prevent drunkenness and disorder and consequently uphold public safety.
It’s a very long time since the Tigers kicked off an away game at Leeds United at 3pm on a Saturday; indeed, the force lean on the football authorities each summer to doctor the fixture computer when Hull and Leeds adorn the same division to make sure that the game at Elland Road is always at 7.45pm on a weeknight. The last time Hull visited Bradford City, eight long seasons ago, the police enforced a Sunday lunchtime kick off. But now they have gone a step too far in stamping their feet over the scheduling – and rescheduling – of the Tigers’ Easter fixture at Huddersfield.
The Football League printer spat out a standard 3pm kick off on Easter Saturday and instantly the police made sure this was altered to 12.30pm. The usual worthless platitudes about ensuring public safety were trotted out, but at least ample time was given for supporters to work out their routine for a game that was, after all, only 70 miles away on the M62. It wasn’t ideal, but it was predictable and few people got stroppy.
Then this week, it was leaked on Twitter that Sky had stuck their charmless oar in and flagged up the game for live coverage. Presumably a clash with a Premier League game already on its radar meant the 12.30pm start time couldn’t remain and so they requested a switch to 5.20pm. Initially, this was the only information received ahead of the official announcement, and so again there were grumbles about messing about the fans and a spot of confusion over whether Sky were actually more powerful than a whole police force. Only when the news became official did Hull fans learn of the full, horrific terms of the game going ahead.
The police, presumably as a condition to allow Sky their game while maintaining some element of supremacy, insisted that only 1,500 Hull City supporters could attend the match and they all must do so via official club coaches, setting off from the KC Stadium at an allotted time and returning at another allotted time, without delay or diversion. This automatically ruled out law-abiding supporters who did not live in the Hull area any more (there are lots of these – the Southern Supporters Club has a huge membership) while also ruining the prospect for family days out, planned Easter weekend breaks and so on.
Hull City fans have gone apoplectic over this. Many have pointed out the counter-productiveness of it all; lack of tickets and closely guarded movement by coach could just prompt a large number of Tigers fans to take trains to Huddersfield and watch the game on telly in the pubs, something that would test the police’s resolve and numbers far more than if they were simply allowed into the John Smith’s Stadium like grown-ups. There is also a considerable likelihood of Hull fans buying tickets for the other areas of the ground and the potential strife that could cause – most will know someone with an HD postcode who can purchase on their behalf.
A joint statement has been issued by the official supporters club and two highly influential fanzines, imploring Hull City to refuse the ticket allocation until the supporters are shown appropriate trust and respect. The club issued their own statement at the outset, claiming to have done all it can to dissuade the police from such a crazy hardline stance, but hasn’t helped itself with long-serving fans’ ability to compare the current regime with previous paymasters when it comes to speaking on behalf of fans.
West Yorkshire Police tried this ruse in 2005-06, severely restricting the attendance for a New Years Eve fixture at Elland Road until club chairman Adam Pearson publicly slammed them for their conduct and heavy-handedness, not budging an inch until they backed down. Even the now discredited Paul Duffen, the face of the club at boardroom level during the era of promotion to the Premier League and subsequent survival, was unwavering in his disgust at Colchester United’s act of belatedly postponing a fixture at Layer Road in 2007-08 due to a waterlogged pitch, despite non-league neighbours Braintree Town being able to play on their similarly affected surface up the road.
The stupidest thing about this whole business is there is actually no need for it. Hull City has few unlovely varmints, no more than any other club, and do not indulge in violence, pitch invasions or unlawful chanting. The forces that provide policing for these two particular clubs continue to use an altercation between sets of Hull and Huddersfield lamebrains in the KC Stadium car park as an excuse for cocking up everybody’s plans for an enjoyable, trouble-free afternoon of football, even though the scrap itself did not involve anyone who had been to the game (nor was known as a fan of either club) and occurred a whole eight seasons ago (the last time until this season that these two clubs have been in the same division). Moreover, if these same prats want to start a fight with each other again, they’ll still do it irrespective of when a game takes place.
In Hull, football supporters are forever looked upon suspiciously by the local Humberside police force and the newsroom at the local paper, the Hull Daily Mail, both of whom see rugby league as the friendly, family oriented sport, despite there being far more instances of opposition coaches being bricked by Hull FC fans than by Hull City fans (for the record, the number of opposition coaches bricked by Hull City fans in recent years is a round zero). Indeed, whenever fisticuffs or other disturbances break out at Hull FC games, Tigers supporters suffer the double-whammy of the newspaper failing to report the incident and the police blaming “infiltrating football fans”. Fortunately, on this occasion, the local media as one seems to have cottoned on to the injustice of a groundless bit of weight-throwing by West Yorkshire Police and have begun to question the decision, which may prompt the club to develop some bottle and respond to the police’s orders and the fans rightful exasperation. And while nobody is perfect, Hull City’s excellent following deserves a break from authoritarian suspicion and to be given an opportunity to revert to normal supporting life and encourage their progressive team back to the Premier League, as that’s all the fans want.